I’m no stranger to “the hustle.” I’ve worked as a bartender, waitress, art camp counselor, swim coach, and Etsy seller over the years — just to name a few. Some ventures were more sustainable than others, but figuring out how to run a successful Etsy shop proved to be a challenge from day one.
For starters, Etsy is a gigantic network with thousands of sellers, which can make standing out difficult and time-consuming. Even so, the allure of working from home drives plenty of creators to start their own online shop, which can be especially appealing to new moms. Emily F. Popek started her own successful vintage clothing and accessories-focused shop Bread and Roses Vintage in 2012 when her daughter was only 4 months old. “I was finishing up my maternity leave and was a little antsy after the break from my full-time job as an editor at a small daily newspaper in upstate New York.” Fast forward five years and she’s still running her shop part-time, but with a few improvements she figured out along the way.
As far as getting started goes, Popek recommends having an inventory of ready-to-sell products, as well as a steady supply of goods. "For me, that means lots of shopping at yard sales, rummage sales and secondhand stores. But I didn't realize when I started out that having a small inventory in my shop would limit how many people would see my stuff in searches. I started out with five or six items in my shop, and it's a miracle that I even made my first sale at all!" She's since upped her inventory to meet her shop's needs, and has learned to continuously add new listings to keep her customer base interested.
Not every Etsy seller relies on inventory, however. Made-to-order goods are also some of the best-selling items on Etsy — especially jewelry and wedding items. San Diego-based Etsy seller Brianna Hurley, owner of Whiskey & Wedding Bells, honed in on the popular wedding category in 2011 and is now in the top 10 best-selling wedding shops on Etsy and top 500 shops on Etsy worldwide. Less than a year after her shop's launch, she was able to leave her retail job to focus on Etsy full-time. But getting to her level of success didn’t happen overnight.
“If there was anything I’d do differently when starting my shop, it would be to not over-promise what I can’t deliver,” says Hurley. “The first year I was open, I set a super low price point for my hangers, which resulted in a landslide of sales, but led to me getting two to three weeks behind in production. It took me a solid six months to dig myself out of that hole, and I’ve used my price point as a tool to control my production since then. When orders start getting overwhelming, I raise my prices. When I need to be a little more competitive, I lower them.”
This type of dynamic thinking applies to her search engine optimization (SEO) strategy as well, as Hurley explains that she invested time in perfecting her approach in order to up her product views. "I had family and friends give me a list of terms they’d use to search for my items, which helped my listing tags. I also basically lived on the Etsy message boards, which are an invaluable resource for both SEO, and general advice from other sellers.”
Popek echoes Hurley’s sentiment about tapping into the hive mind of other Etsy sellers, and recommends using them as your first line of expertise as you research. “Browse other seller's shops — paying particular attention to their sold items. Follow their social media, and ask yourself, ‘What are they doing that I'm not? What could I be doing better?’ Comparing your shop to others can be painful if you have a lot of room to grow, but it’s also really fruitful if you can stay positive and think of it in terms of goals.”
Her final piece of advice? Don’t ignore advertising opportunities.
“One I always recommend is blog advertising — I feel like you can get a lot of bang for your buck with a blog ad. There are a lot of fashion and lifestyle bloggers out there with whom you can really develop a relationship as an advertiser, well beyond just having your banner ad in their sidebar. Bloggers will write posts about your shop or items, invite you to participate in giveaways, add you to holiday shopping lists and things like that. This kind of exposure, in my experience, has a more lasting impact than a 30-day ad spot or a Google shopping campaign, if you can find the right niche.”
Aspiring entrepreneurs also have the challenge of finding enough time and help to flourish while also preserving a work/life balance. When it comes to tackling motherhood with self-employment, Hurley recommends separating the two the best you can. “When you work from home, friends and family can view your time as flexible, and it was important for me to set boundaries for both myself and my loved ones about my free time, just like they have for theirs."
Last but not least, Hurley reminds women to listen to themselves as they prepare for this new journey. “Just because something isn’t a traditional career path doesn’t make it invalid," she says. "Trust your instincts. Chances are if you would buy it, someone else will too.”