Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
I got started with the fiber arts from an early age. I was about 9 years old when my grandmother started me with crochet. She had always knit or crocheted items and would send my brother and me slippers every Christmas. I still wear the hat she made me years ago every winter. She had tried to teach me knitting too but I just got frustrated with the two needles. The hook was a hit though and it is my first love to work up. I took up knitting though later on in life as an adult and have loved that as well. How I choose what I make on items depends on a pattern or the look of a stitch. I would consider myself a crafter/maker first. As I have gotten older and more experienced it has also evolved to adding teacher to that list as well. Helping people learn this craft is also a joy for me. I started out just making items for myself and the people I love. Mostly family at first. When I got married I made a couple of things for my husband. Then when I had my daughter I made baby hats and blankets. Knitting and crochet have always brought me a sense of calm and joy. It is a great stress releaser. Even today.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
When I branched out from just making things for the family I started selling a few items at farmers’ markets and craft shows. Mostly as a side thing. One day one of the vendors at a market had mentioned they had an Etsy store online and I asked them about it. I had not heard of it before then. She told me about it and I went online and checked them out. That was in 2014. Most of my experience selling handmade products was done in person at markets so the idea of selling online was new to me. I wasn’t sure people would buy hats and washcloths and items handmade like that online if they couldn’t touch and feel them but I checked out some sellers online and asked around and sure enough, I was seeing more and more online and making a go of it so I thought why not? I could do that. I opened a shop and just added a few items at first. I had no idea what I was doing though. and I didn’t really put a lot of time at first into it so of course, it took me a few years to start getting sales going online. I was still working part-time and had a young boy at home with some special needs that took up a bit of my spare time helping him so the shop went on the back burner. I still was able to sell more though in person. As he got older and more self-sufficient and independent I have been able to concentrate more on the online shop and start to study what was making it work. In the last couple of years is where most of my online sales have come to light. I guess to backtrack why I wanted to sell online as I wanted to see if I could make a go of having my own handmade business. I had a daycare of my own previously when my daughter was young and ran that for over 10 years. So the concept of being an independent business owner was not new. But having a handmade business, making money doing something I loved to do anyway seemed like a perfect fit.
What products do you sell, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out?
I sell hats/beanies for all sizes, I sell baby hats and booties sets, kitchen items like washcloths/dishcloths, scrubbier, potholders. And I have spa-like sets of face scrubbies and little washcloths and soap sacks to put bars of soap in for baths and showers. It was really in the last year that I started branching out a bit and started adding stitch markers and progress keepers to my shop. With the onset of covid, I started selling face masks and ear savers for the masks as well. As a knitter, I used stitch markers myself and had just bought the plastic ones you see in most craft stores like Michaels. Then a friend of mine I knit within a group showed me some she had made for herself and I began to think that would be something I could add and sell. I started looking to see what was out there from other sellers and what they were charging to get some feedback, there was some out there but not a lot. With my kitchen home type goods, I mostly use cotton yarns or cotton blends as they are the best and easiest to wash and reuse. With the stitch markers, I have some beads that I like and use jewelry items like headpins and split rings. I started looking at charms and finding ones that fit some themes I have like pet ones or dessert ones and holiday-themed ones. As far as the crochet and knit items I started designing hats myself a little by looking at stitches I like and trying to fit them into a hat. Or I would make from a pattern that someone else allowed me to sell the items. Giving them credit for the pattern of course. I guess you could say how I make my products stand out is I try to find things that are fun and meaningful like my tree of life stitch markers. Currently my number one seller next to my Halloween set. I look for things that I find interesting and have meaning or are fun like the holiday ones and think if I would buy that then maybe other people would too. It’s a work in progress though in how I present them online.
How was your experience in learning to craft, are you self-taught or did you have a mentor, how long did it take for you to be satisfied with your creations?
My journey of learning to craft is a continual one. I am constantly learning new things about my craft all the time. Though to begin with was my grandmother and then in my adulthood, it was some self-taught and having a good friend who owned a local yarn shop here in town and friends that I have gotten to have through this craft over the years. As far as how long it has taken me to be satisfied with my creations I guess really in the last two years I would say for the most part. Of course, with the start of stitch markers and those things I would say I am still learning and finding new ways and trying out new things with that so I am not fully satisfied yet. One thing about being a handmade crafter you are always learning new things and with the fiber arts there is always more to learn and create and perfect. Though right now I would say I am satisfied with the products I do have currently. From the feedback I have gotten from customers both in-person and online, it has shown me I am doing something right and they love it. So that makes me happy. It has given me the confidence to keep moving forward and creating more.
What was your original goal when you opened up an Etsy shop? What impacted your decision to start selling online? Do you consider online selling as a side-job, full-time job, or extra income to pay for your hobby?
My original goal for opening an Etsy shop really was just to see if I could sell a few things and make a little money on the side. Though I didn’t really put a lot of effort into it at first. Where it all changed is really in the last two years as I have gotten tired of working for a large corporation like Michaels I have really been pushing myself to improve my own business and trying to get it to a point where I could make it my full-time job. Right now it is a part-time job/side job as far as income just yet but my goal is to be able to do this as a full-time job in the next couple of years or sooner if possible so I can replace my part-time job at Michaels. I would rather be working for myself for sure.
Did you have any fears or reservations before opening up your Etsy shop? Were you worried about profitability or product competitiveness? What are some concerns and questions you had before you got started? How did you overcome them?
I was worried at first that people wouldn’t want to buy these products or they weren’t good enough. At first, I was worried that I was setting my prices too high so I would lower them. Then I started to look more closely at other shops and see where they were putting their prices and started taking some training and improved my prices. Now I think I have a good plan for how I set my prices for my products because I have become more confident in what I make and that gives me confidence in what I feel is a good price for them. It is still an ongoing process but having some confidence in yourself and what you do goes a long way to giving you the confidence to sell them.
How long did it take for you to get your first sale? Did you ever think you would make a lot of sales in the first year? What was the goal you were hoping for? How many sales an average you get per week?
Really it took me a few years from the time I opened the shop to get my first sale online. And that was really on me for not really putting a whole lot of effort into it. Once I got myself in the mode of taking it seriously and putting the time and effort it started to come. About two years ago was my first sale. I didn’t really think I would make a lot of sales that the first year though. I was still selling in person at markets and that was where the bulk of my sales came from. I was happy with getting maybe 20 sales at first online. Then last year I hit 200 sales which were awesome. I currently have 428 last I checked and am hoping to get closer to 1000 before the end of 2020. I would say later it is not really consistent in the last month but so far it has been averaging 3-5 sales a week.
Do you have a job outside Etsy? If not, are you able to commit full-time to online selling? How does your typical day look like? How do you manage time?
I do currently have a part-time job outside of my Etsy shop. I work as a support specialist for Michaels in my town of Bozeman, Montana. That means I work mornings and do the books and make sure prices are correct in the store. I also manage the yarn department in the store. My goal for the coming year though would be to commit full time to my own business and be able to leave that job. With my other job being in the mornings it allows me the afternoons to commit to running my business and the days off I have from Michaels. So I would say I typically give at least 20 to 30 plus hours to my business in a typical week. My busier times like the summer with markets and in-person sales it is more. I try to give myself the evenings for downtime and personal time with my family and Sunday.
How does your manufacturing process look like for e.g. your best selling product? Do you create products ahead of the orders? Do you customize your products, if so how? What are the tools that you are using in the manufacturing process?
With the stitch markers, I usually try to make a bunch of them in one sitting at a time. I do offer to do custom orders for some products like the hats and baby sets, etc where customers can choose a specific color or if they have a specific item they would like to add to a set or something like that I will consider it and if I believe I could do it I will tell them. My tools are your typical hooks, needles, etc and for the markers, it would be the jewelry items like headpins, split rings, crimping tools, and beads and charms.
What is the biggest impact on the profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
I would say the biggest impact on the profitability of my shop has been the word of mouth. I have gotten to know a lot of people in this business over the years and have been fortunate to get feedback from them either through their podcasts online or on Instagram. I have also given some of them my stitch markers and they have expressed their interest and support. As far as the cost of my materials because I don’t have a huge budget just yet to spend on materials I try to keep those costs low but still provide a good quality product. So I will try to buy some bulk items online like through Amazon and or craft stores like Michaels where I get good discounts. I figure out my pricing for the products by the cost of my materials plus the time it has taken me to put them together. Since I ship these items I also figure in that as well in my overall price to allow myself some profit.
What inspires you when you’re creating? How do you get ideas for new products? What are some methods or tools you use to get creative?
I follow some designers on YouTube and through podcasts and Ravelry. I also look at products on Pinterest or Instagram to get my inspiration. Also, I will do a search on Etsy for a product to see if it’s something that other people are doing or thought of yet. That can also give me the inspiration to either tweak it or make something completely different. It can also come from just seeing a charm and that will start me thinking of what I want to do with it. It can also be from a holiday or a cause like cancer that motivates me to create an item.
Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is the average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?
Originally I was just shipping in the US but as I have added shipping internationally since updating my policies I have had at least a couple of orders to the UK in the last six months. I currently offer free shipping in the USA for customers and international orders pay to ship. As far as pricing for postage I follow what Etsy has figured by putting in my measurements with weight and measurements of products as shipped. I started offering free shipping when Etsy talked about that they were finding more people would buy from sellers if they had. Since it is not really expensive for me to ship items through the postal service so it made sense to offer that. Also, I appreciate it when I can get free shipping as well as a shopper so that’s why I did so. I mostly package my items with bubble mailer envelopes. As with everything, as prices go up for shipping though I have to adjust the cost as well. I typically figure in the cost of shipping to my prices for the products so I can offer free shipping here in the US.
Are you worried about competitors? Does it impact your business in any way? If there are a lot of similar products, how do you make your own stand out?
There is a lot of competition on Etsy I feel since it has grown to be a big marketplace for handmade sellers. That is a good thing and a bad thing at times. I haven’t really been too concerned as far as it impacting me business-wise. I use it as a tool to take from what other people have done and try to make it my own and to be a bit different or put my own touch to it. I can also learn from it as well. I think how I make my products stand out from others is by what I offer. I look at what others are offering and I try to find things that are just a bit different or not as common and present them as an option. I use the competitiveness on Etsy to my advantage as best I can. It is still something that I continue to work on through all the time.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
I have always appreciated quick responses to questions from other sellers with my questions and I try to do the same. I try to respond to everyone’s questions or concerns as soon as possible. The only low rating I have gotten recently as in the last few months was from a customer I sent a product to in the UK. It was in May and that was during the slowdown of service due to covid all over. There were long delays in customs getting packages through. What should have been a few weeks to get the product to her took almost two months. She ended up at first giving me a one-star review as she said cause she hadn’t received the product in the time it was supposed to have but also admitted to me that she knew why. She just assumed to had to give a review anyway. I had gone and tried to see if I could find out more on my end where the package was but because it was going to the UK it was not trackable by the post office. She did eventually get it in good condition and loves the product. So in that case the situation was not something I could control about the process but I tried my best to communicate with her what I was doing and that I was looking into it. I also had given her the tracking info I had so she could try to find out on her end. She ended up having numerous packages delayed due to covid. I will always do my best to make my customers happy with their purchase to the best of my ability. I expect as much as a customer and have always given myself high standards for that in my own business.
Has selling on Etsy changed your life in any way? If so, how? Did you ever think you would get this far with your shop? Have you ever been stressed about dealing with customers and manufacturing products? How did you deal with that?
Speaking from the last couple of years really as things have progressed on Etsy I would say it has changed some things. It has made me a bit more confident in my abilities as a maker. In the products, I produce for sale as well as for myself. I had hoped I could get as far as this but wasn’t sure I could at first. Now it has given me the ability to reach higher and see that I could do this as a full-time job and still is something that I want to do full time. I have never really been stressed so far when dealing with customers and making the products. As long as it’s something I knew I could do and do in the time I needed it to do and the customer wanted. Having a shop on Etsy has allowed me to start an online business from scratch with minimal costs with a small budget to start and given me a way to build my confidence to maybe branch out from there to my own online shop as well.
How important is social media for your shop? What are some common tactics you use to promote your products? Do you spend money on ads outside of Etsy? How do you generate excitement/hype around your products?
With having a small budget I have had to be careful with what I spend on marketing. Social media is important though for getting the word out farther than my local area about my products and shop. I still rely on word of mouth though as in sending samples to friends that have podcasts and they thankfully give me plugs to starting to promote more on Facebook and Instagram. I had started getting the Etsy plus membership on Etsy and using Etsy ads which has help drive traffic that way. I am currently adding Facebook ads to my list of ads to run. By providing handmade items I use them myself and I generate excitement by talking about it myself. I believe you are the bestseller of your products. But the word of mouth and satisfied customers are the second-best way to promote products. Social media is always evolving I believe so it is something I am continuing to learn how I can use it to help my business. I know for having an online presence it is very important though. The biggest thing that helps to promote online is having good pictures and descriptions. Talking about why I make what I do.
What are some things you don’t like about Etsy? If you could talk to the CEO of Etsy what recommendations would you tell him to improve sellers and customer satisfaction?
The main thing that I hear from other sellers and myself included that I am a little frustrated with is the number of fees that Etsy takes out from the sale of a product. Now I know that they don’t charge a fee to set up a shop on Etsy but they do offer a twenty-cent fee to list products for each item and then extra fees when they sell as well. The other frustrating thing as a customer I have noticed sometimes on Etsy is not being able to see the tracking of order very well. Now I’m not sure if that is because of a particular seller or on Etsy itself. But if that is Etsy I would hope that maybe they could find a way to improve that somewhat. As far as the fees I’m not sure what I solution is though I know it is a sore spot for a lot of sellers. I know other markets like Shopify and others charge a monthly fee for having shops and maybe don’t have as many fees but I don’t know.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
I started using Etsy ads to bring more traffic a bit. I started to work more on my pictures and how I was presenting the products in the shop. Using more tags and good descriptions. Still working on. I guess the one thing that I learned the hard way is if you don’t promote your items in the right format you don’t get the sales. Hence why it has taken me so long from the time I first started the shop to when I first really started getting sales online. Also realizing that you can only take care of the things that you have control of. The one bad review I got was because of something that was out of my control (with shipping overseas). I could have let that eat away at me but I didn’t. I took care of the customer as best I could by communicating with her regularly about what I was doing. She appreciated it and loved the end result when she got the package. I guess the end takeaway is to take care of the things you can and don’t let the things that you can’t cause you to overdo stress. It doesn’t help your business or your health.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
I would say be excited about what you are selling. If you want to make a profit selling whether online or in-person you are your best seller. Tell people why you think they should have this product and never give up on your dreams. Don’t let one bad customer or review get you down and learn from everything that you experience. Good and bad. Go all-in with your business and put your best effort into it if you really want to succeed. There is a lot of competition but if you believe in yourself and your business then you will succeed and reach the goals you want. A positive attitude is key. Most important.
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I really appreciate the opportunity to tell my story and thank you for giving me the space to do so. It has given me a chance to reflect on why I chose to do this and why I still do. Thank you very much. You are doing a great thing by offering this insight into more businesses.