Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter,maker,artist…
Hello, my name is Sand and I’m the mother of a 19-year-old daughter, and two sons aged 11 and 8. I’m the family coordinator for our town’s football (soccer) team, I’ve just rented a display space in a local Artisan shop that is a hub for local arts and crafts businesses to sell their handmade items from and I’m a carer for my youngest child who has additional needs. I do like to be busy it seems. From a young age I’ve always enjoyed arts and crafts and after leaving school studied Jewellery and Metal Art at our local art college. After many years making jewelry and silverwork items in my limited spare time around family and work I expanded my skillset and started making different items. I learned to crochet and experiment with different mediums and I’m always looking at new ways to do things. I would describe myself as a Maker and often do describe myself as a ‘Maker of shiny things’, although many of my items are Halloweeny so maybe I should change what I say to ‘Maker of Creepy Things’.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
After doing a few craft fairs and not really selling much, barely covering costs and spending a day away from my family I decided to reassess how to sell my items so I threw myself in at the deep end of online selling, built my own website and sat and waited, and waited. I’d get a sale every so often, mostly I’d get requests for a bespoke silver jewelry item. I learned fairly quickly to take a deposit for any bespoke orders. I donated items for charity raffles, I posted on social media, I tried to market myself and my products as best I could. Over time I started working less with silver and metals and when I first heard about Etsy I think my store had mainly items made with PMC and only a few hand sawn pendants, and some bead jewelry. My Etsy store now is nothing like the one I first opened.
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 wall decals, mugs, wand party favors, wand crochet hooks, and many other items. The design process is different for each item, but many have come from requests to try and make something different. I initially made the wand party favors for a Harry Potter event I was running at the soft play area I was the manager for, then people kept asking me to make them for weddings, birthdays, and other events. Eventually, I was asked if I could make some with beads on to coordinate with a wedding theme, these then became popular for gender reveal parties. I also got asked if I could make an ‘adult’ version for a Harry Potter themed hen party, and the Willy Wand was born. The wand crochet hooks are my bestsellers and these were actually designed by myself, for myself as I have carpal tunnel syndrome (another reason I had to scale back my metalworking) and needed crochet hooks that I could work with comfortably. It was my daughter who suggested I made them look like wands when I was sat thinking of how to make the handles for my set of crochet hooks. I make each one individually and although I have streamlined the process and altered the designs to make it easier for myself it still takes time I still love making them even after all this time.
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
As I mentioned I had been to art college to study Jewellery and Metal Art, other than that I’ve mostly taught myself different ‘hobbies’, although I did get a good friend to come and teach me how to crochet and when possible I will attend workshops run by local arts and crafts businesses to see what new skills I can learn. My creations evolve every time I make them as over time you figure out different ways to make the process easier on you, make the item function better or look better, learn better materials to use or a different technique you can apply.
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?
I opened my Etsy so I could contribute to the family funds whilst raising my children, then my marriage broke down in 2017 and my Etsy became a focus between working and my children but it wasn’t something I had planned to do full time or concentrate fully on, so if I didn’t make any sales I wasn’t disappointed and was quite happy to sell a couple of items a, month. In February 2019 I was made redundant, it was becoming increasingly obvious that my youngest child needed more of my attention and assistance with navigating his issues so I decided now was the time to concentrate on my Etsy and working/being at home more. As part of my role with our Town’s football team, I get to do craft days for the junior fans at the stadium (before the pandemic) and have attended schools to work on art projects with the pupils, and I have now signed up to sell my items in a local artisan shop too. So my art and craft hobby has now become my day to day job via Etsy, and my other outlets.
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?
When I opened up my Etsy I was worried about never selling anything, I was constantly checking I wasn’t making anything like anyone else was. Since then I’ve seen plenty of items similar to mine but I guess that will happen on such a large, worldwide market. Before I started I was concerned about pricing my items fairly but also making a profit and covering costs. I found that having a lower price wasn’t working as people didn’t seem interested. Underpricing items tend to work negatively as people perceive it as being a cheap/poorly made item. At the start I would review my prices on items that weren’t selling every month and raise them a little each time, this seemed to work as sales started coming in. I honestly think my biggest mistake so far was underpricing my full set of wand crochet hooks and having to make what felt like a million sets whilst barely covering costs. Shipping costs is also an area that makes or breaks sales. I found it better to absorb the shipping costs via your listing prices rather than charge a lot for shipping. In the beginning, I was mostly selling to US customers with hardly any UK purchases because my shipping prices were the same for both and with the low pricing on my listings I was losing out on lots of sales. Now UK shipping is free, items or transactions over a certain price are free worldwide and smaller items have a smaller shipping fee for international sales as the listing price absorbs any underpayment for shipping charges.
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 a goal you were hoping for? How many sales an average you get per week?
My first sale on Etsy seemed to take forever and I can’t even remember what it was now. I must go back and look to see how far this journey has taken me. I never thought I would get a lot of sales in the first year or any year, it’s a bonus that I get sales every month now and cover my costs. Any months when I get lots of sales I tend to invest the money in new gadgets to use to make things with, such as an embroidery machine and a Silhouette Cameo vinyl cutter. Sometimes I get a spike of sales, my phone is pinging and sales are rolling in and I can’t understand why when usually it’s just a steady stream of maybe 6 or 7 orders a week. Those times of increased sales I usually get tagged in a post on social media where an article has come out with my wand crochet hooks in it, or someone has shared them in a crocheting group online or a gift idea catalog. I’ve had to start shutting my store near Christmas so I’m not making orders all over the Christmas period rather than spending time with my children.
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?
As mentioned previously I’m the Family Coordinator for our local football team, I’m selling my items at a local Artisan shop so do a shift in the shop once a week and I’m a full-time carer for my youngest child.
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?
My best selling item is my Wand Crochet Hook sets, I try to have some ready to go but they sell a lot quicker than I can make them. I make each hook handle individually using polymer clay, then they are accented with metallic paint and varnished. My products can be customized and most listings ask the customer to send me a message before purchasing to see if I can customize them as they wish. My main concern is offering something that the customers will love and I feel that by offering to tailor them to their needs I manage this.
What is the biggest impact on the profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
The biggest impact on my shop is the continually increasing costs of shipping, it’s hard to get the balance of pricing right especially when offering free shipping. I would say that quite a lot of my potential profit is eaten up by shipping.
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 think my creations are, to quote Bob Ross, ‘Happy little accidents’, I may start off with an initial idea but by the time I’m ready to start making it it will have evolved and every time I make it after that initial time it will alter and evolve further or give me an idea for something else
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?
I think I’ve covered this earlier, I ship all over the world with mostly free shipping depending on transaction cost. My listings are set to 4 weeks from ordering to when the item will be despatched, this is to allow for busy periods but I try to get items out as soon as I can. I do have customers that will message me saying they need an item for a certain date and whether I can do it for then before they order. I always state that I can not guarantee it but will try to make sure it arrives in a good time.
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?
I will actually try and find a customer an alternative seller if I know I can’t offer what they are requesting or they have left it too late to order. For example, I’m based in the UK but if someone in the US orders 50 wand party favors to arrive on their doorstep for the following week, I’m not going to be able to fulfill that order even if I have the wands made and ready to go due to shipping services so I will try and get them a US maker so they will still get their item on time. It’s hard to stand out in such a huge marketplace but I like to think that I offer excellent customer service and flexibility and I’ll always try to find a solution for any requests.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
I try to be reasonable, as they say, ‘the customer is always right!’ I’ll admit sometimes if a customer is being rude and demanding before a sale I’ll probably be polite and let them know that I won’t have time to do their order so they may want to find a vendor that can make their item, this has probably only happened once the whole time I’ve had an Etsy. Any negative messages/feedback is usually around parcels not turning up for ages but once they’ve left me I can’t pick when they arrive, especially in the current circumstances, in those times I’ll try my best to locate where parcels are, I’ve had a few parcels come back to me and had to reship but I always absorb the cost of extra shipping, I’ll offer to send replacement items and usually say if they receive both items to gift the spare one to someone rather than pay to post it back. Obviously I’ll never be a millionaire with my approach but it means more to have customers happy about their purchases.
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?
I’ve met a lot of people worldwide online via my Etsy and I love customers that message me and will often strike up conversations and see how they are. It’s been good to hear how things are in different areas of the world at present and it costs nothing to see if they are ok whilst they are waiting for their order. I might be the only person that asks them if they are ok and I get life stories and funny tales and they send me pictures of pets and what they are making with my crochet hooks and I love it.
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?
I don’t pay for advertising on social media other than at Christmas to say I’ll be closing for the holiday period so to get orders in. I use social media a lot, I find I probably don’t run my social media page as professionally as I should but I think I interact on a more personal level with people so they all feel like they are my friends and will engage with me, ask me things, have a laugh, make suggestions. I guess it works for me at the minute
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?
I’m quite happy with it, I like the ease of use and haven’t really had any issues so far.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
Selling my full set of wand hooks at a low price and ending up selling loads and barely covering costs with shipping and materials. What a lesson that was! I think I thought I wouldn’t sell many so it was ok but it wasn’t.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner’s mistakes?
I would say to read articles posted by Etsy sellers, ask Etsy sellers that may be selling similar items, use the marketing tools that are part of Etsy, set prices that are reasonable, not too low, absorb the shipping costs in with your items as offering free shipping makes customers happy.