Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
It all started on a yoga retreat that I went to in Rishikesh, India in 2018. I saw gorgeous beaded malas and bracelets in the little shops along the roadside. They were so beautiful and the variety was incredible! We had limited time there, and I bought a few. When I got back to Singapore, I looked everywhere for similar malas, but couldn’t find anything close to it. After a frustrating search through overpriced and limited shops, I figured I could make my own bracelets. How hard could it be? I ordered some gemstone beads online from Etsy and taught myself to make bracelets. (I shudder to think of the price I paid for those initial orders!). A gifted some to a few friends. They loved it, and so I started selling beaded gemstone bracelets at the yoga center I practice in. The owner is a friend, and he was happy to accommodate my stuff. Six months later, I had moved on to selling beaded malas. Sales were brisk. And when I thought about opening my own shop online, Etsy was the obvious choice.
What are your responsibilities as a business owner?
When you run an Etsy shop, customer service is very important. Responding and interacting on the Etsy platform is essential. Getting the right keywords in your title and the first few sentences of your description makes the difference between being found or not. Understanding SEO and learning to work it is huge. I am still struggling with that. You can’t just put your stuff up and wait for sales. The site and tags and categories need to be constantly adjusted and tweaked. Photographs need to be good and clear. As a business owner, the sourcing of raw materials is also key. You have to put in the time to search for reliable vendors who are able to provide good quality natural stones at a reasonable price. I have made many mistakes in purchasing. It is a learning curve.
What are your best selling products, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out?
I use natural gemstone beads in my pieces. I mostly sell malas with tassels made from 108 beads. That’s what sells best on my Etsy site. However, I also sell via Instagram and through friends, at the yoga center I practice in. And off Etsy, my best selling items are the bracelets and wrap mala bracelets. I do a lot of custom orders. Those are the most fun!
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?
I enjoy the process of putting together a piece. Seeing somebody wear something I design gives me a huge thrill, and I can be smiling for hours after that.
I struggle a lot with pricing. I deliberately priced my items low and with free shipping for over US $35. But looking at what sells in my shop, and what the competition sells, I realize that perhaps my prices are too low. There are many customers who perceive the cost as equal to quality, and I may be missing that category of customer.
Who do you sell to (and how do you get customers)? What marketing tools or strategies you use to boost your sales? Are you satisfied with the results?
Most of my sales on Etsy are through Etsy searches. I do not have a targeted marketing strategy- and that’s my problem. Because my prices are already so low, I cant afford sales offering discounts of more than 10%. As a result, when there are entire site sales, I barely get 4-5 hits a day. I need to relook at my pricing strategy, so in the future, I could offer more attractive discounts.
Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What is yours?
To be a successful entrepreneur, what you need most is patience and the willingness to take a risk. Success does not fall into your lap. You have to work at it. And if you are doing something you absolutely enjoy, the work becomes fun. If part of my brain tells me I can’t possibly do something- there is another part that says- why the hell not?
What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?
When I started on Etsy, I thought it would be easy. I put up 15 malas (the number recommended on some blog that I read) and sat back waiting for sales. All I heard were crickets…… After four months of absolutely nothing, I was prepared to throw in the towel. Suddenly, out of the blue, I had a custom order. I can’t describe the thrill I got from that first “Chi ching”! Then the pandemic happened. I was home a lot more, twiddling with my Etsy site, and sales started coming in slowly, slowly. I had time to make and put up more items. I fixed basic omissions that I should have addressed right at the start- like shop location, owner, policy, etc. These are things that give the customer a sense of whether you are a reliable source or not. The number of hits gradually improved. It is still very slow- but at least it’s moving in the right direction.
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?
My designs are usually simple combinations of colors. Some beads are easy, because they are just beautiful, no matter how you put them together. But sometimes, I can leave strings of beads for days on my table and not be satisfied with anything. I could string and unstring a mala more than a few times before I am ready to present it. Everything I make, is with the question – would I love to wear this? (LOL. Logically, that probably not a good way to go, but it makes me happy). I like looking at pictures of birds. Have you noticed what beautiful and strange color combinations they come in?
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 ship internationally. I offer free shipping because when I started, I figured that this would place me higher in searches. But, it can really eat into the profit margin. I use Registered Mail. On average, it takes about 3 weeks to reach most customers in the US or Europe. There were delays in the early months of the pandemic, but I found customers to be very understanding as long as you communicate and keep them informed. When I started, I would just pack my mala in a ziplock bag and place it in a bubble envelope (Shudder! Shudder!). Now, I gift wrap in tissue paper, with a nice bow and a card with care information, and a handwritten thank-you note. Watched some lovely YouTube videos on gift wrapping and saw was really no trouble at all…
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?
Of course, having a good product is the start. Then comes having the right keywords, tags, and descriptions. Your pictures need to be attractive and call to the customer. Marketing is important (I know I haven’t got that down yet). So is planning ahead and buying smart. You need another source of income so that you are not relying on your online business. This frees you to take risks and enjoy the challenges.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out?
The handmade jewelry market on Etsy is saturated. There are loads of talented jewelers and designers. You are competing with already established names who have been around for quite a while. They know how to work the site, have a lot more inventory, and have the confidence to price their items better. It is a tough market to break in. But, if this is what you love, jump right in.
How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?
I think business success is enjoying what you do and making money in the process.
Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?
I work as a lecturer, which keeps me quite busy, especially when assignments come in to be marked. There are also periods of stress when I struggle to manage my time. But, on the home front, between my husband, my adult son, and a part-time helper, there isn’t much to do around the house. So, my free time is for my Etsy business. And that’s the beauty of running an Etsy shop. I maintain a file listing ideas or things that need fixing in my shop. And when I have the time, I tend to it. I pre-make at least one copy of everything that is listed in my shop, so I am able to ship by the next day.
How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?
I definitely plan to have more inventory. I need to have a considered marketing strategy. I need to make better use of social media. I would also like to explore other online sales platforms. That’s the plan.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
Just because something does not sell quickly, does not make it a bad product. There will be somebody who likes it enough to pay for it. You just have to figure out a way to get it in front of them. Keywords, tags, and SEO!
Anything you wish to add, feel free to do so here. We value your opinion
If you are a hobbyist or selling online as a side business, Etsy is a good place to start. The site is well put together, and very easy to use. It is like opening a shop in a very crowded mall. Yes, there is intense competition, but there are also loads of shoppers trawling through the site looking to buy.