Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter,maker,artist…
I didn’t ever intend to start a business with my designs – it was all very accidental! I was a portrait photographer and as I’d just had my own child I specialised in children’s photography. As part of my set up I purchased a top of the range photographic printer so I could control the quality of my prints from home and my very tech-minded husband pointed out that when I only printed a few photographs from each commission I was wasting a lot of ink with the cleaning in between. That’s such a tech head thing to notice! So, I thought I would put my arty side into designing some graphic prints that I could sell in between photographic commissions. Before long I was so busy with the print side that I had to give up the photographic side completely, so my accidental business really took off!
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I’d started out on a couple of other selling platforms and I really loved the idea of being online. A physical shop presence just seemed totally beyond my capabilities. At the time I had a four-year-old and still wanted to be home as much as possible for him. And the huge setup costs and running costs of a physical shop scared the pants off me. Still does if I’m honest. A couple of friends mentioned Etsy to me but I thought it was a much more appropriate place for the American market when it started, so I didn’t get going with it straight away. Before long though EVERYONE was telling me I should have a shop on there and they were right!
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 ?
We started just selling prints – mostly because we only had a printer so that was our only product we could sell! Now though we have added other creative machinery to our kit bag; a couple of laser cutters, a digital foiler, a heat press – we view them all as toys and our little team create and play whenever we can around actually making orders as they come in!
We have one rule – everything we design must be something we would proudly display in our own homes. There are lots of makers out there and each one I’m sure sets their own parameter of what they are happy to make, but we hope we stand out by only creating beautiful thoughtful designs. Nothing we do is too trend-led so we hope it has a shelf life longer than your average product. I hate the idea of disposable products, being made just to fill a need for a passing gift moment. I think it’s our responsibility as makers to design something that fills that gift need, but doesn’t become landfill in a year or two! The best gifts can stay in someone’s home for a lifetime if there is good thought behind it and beautiful timeless design within it.
So, keeping all that in mind, we use the best possible raw materials and try to apply unique design processes to it. Our moon metallic prints are a great example. They are lasered into metallic substrates and are extremely hard-wearing! They are gorgeous and enthralling to look at and the price point makes it a considered purchase. We’re the only ones in the world making a moon print like that. We don’t sell hundreds of them as there are cheaper moon prints out there, but we love them and our customers are always delighted with them.
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
I have an artsy background and I was pretty confident in my basic skills. When I needed help I recruited a graphic designer! She’s taught me a lot of the skill set in illustrator that I needed and we’re a pretty good team! When we buy new machinery there is always new learning curve as we start to figure out what it’s capable of!
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’d spent a decade in corporate event management before starting my photography business which then became my gift business. Online selling was a way to carve out something for myself where I could control my hours, my lifestyle and my future. It’s more than a full-time job for me and I love it!
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?
My main worry before going on Etsy was the sheer size of the platform and worrying about getting found. I’m sure some of our products have still hardly been seen. But we put as much effort as we can into writing good and keyword heavy copy, taking excellent photographs, and giving our customers a great experience which reflects in our reviews. I think that’s the best ground work anyone can do.
How long did it take for you to get your first sale? Did you ever thought 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?
Oh, I can’t remember actually how long before our first sale. A nice steady stream comes in now, but I think it was patchy to start with. On rare occasions, we’ve had an item featured in an Etsy mailer and then things go wild!
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?
Betsy Benn is my full-time job and we employ two others as well. For a while the business was based out of my home, but, as we built stock up and had more people involved it out, grew even the extension! We moved into a studio in 2012 and have never looked back. At Christmas time we add three part-timers to the team to cope with the seasonal uplift! When you run your own business I’m not sure you ever have any real downtime. I’m always looking at orders, answering questions, playing with my social media, developing new products, photographing products, writing product descriptions – it’s never-ending. But I love it and I don’t think I could ever go back to having a “normal” job.
How does your manufacturing process looks 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 tools that you are using in manufacturing process?
Our making process differs across the range. For our Christmas decorations, we cut them and engrave what we can before orders are placed. We have a rough idea of how many to make before the season starts and we’ve not been too far out. Prints though start out as a template but are fully bespoke so they are artworked individually by a designer for every order. It’s important to us to give each order individual attention like that.
What is the biggest impact on profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
So several things impact our profitability obviously! the price we pay for materials is just the starting point. We always review our suppliers and it’s amazing how much the price fluctuates, even for something simple like paper. Postage has an impact as we try to roll postage costs into our product price. Customers don’t like adding it in at the end of the shopping experience. We’ve just had notification that postage to America is going to massively hike upwards and this will really hit our Etsy shop as a lot of our Etsy customers are still from the US. Time is the next factor. If something takes an hour to make over something else that takes two minutes, then obviously we need to charge for that. I think that’s the biggest mistake new sellers make is not charging for their time.
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?
Wow – literally everything inspires me. Colours of a window display I saw in a magazine once inspired a quote print. Boris Johnson and the lockdown rules have recently inspired me to make a welcome mat for my house that I wasn’t going to sell as a product, but so many people asked about them that I did eventually list it. I keep my iPad pro and apple pencil around and charged up all the time as you never know when inspiration might hit!
Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?
We ship internationally, though we add on postage at checkout in that scenario as it changes from region to region. In the UK we try to keep it free where possible. Royal Mail and the couriers we use alter their pricing structure quite often and we sometimes have fun trying to keep up with all the changes. When packing our products we’ve focused lately on trying to keep plastic free and have everything recycled and/or recyclable. We don’t gift wrap at the moment – but we might change that as more and more people are sending gifts direct.
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?
A little worried, I certainly keep my eye out for any of our unique designs being duplicated anywhere else and we would then politely ask anyone to stop doing that! There are genuinely enough customers out there for all of us and all artists should aim to respect the IP of other artists and then everyone would be happy! We try to make our products unique by making them high quality, well thought out and bespoke in ways that are difficult to replicate.
How do you deal with disputes or bad rating/feedback? How do you manage presale and post sale communication and customer satisfaction?
This is one of the more challenging aspects of running an arts based because art is subjective. If you’re selling a vacuum cleaner, it either sucks up dirt or it doesn’t – there’s not really a lot of aesthetic appeal to the process of buying a vacuum! With art, people have a lot of thoughts and opinions on how thick the paper stock should be, the brightness of the white, how pink the pink is, should it be mounted or not, rolled or flat, framed in wood with glass or acrylic, what the font is – EVERYTHING is subjective. You can run rings around yourself trying to please everyone. Online makes this process harder because people can’t see the product in real life first. We try to design to our own aesthetics and then photograph and describe the item exceptionally well. showing all the variations and options. We proof a lot of our very personalised designs so customers can see what they are getting before we print it. This saves a lot of issues – it’s amazing how many times customers order things with typos in them. Ultimately we try to delight our customers so that they genuinely love their purchase and come back time and time again. If they have any issues at all we try to deal with them in a fair way before it becomes negative feedback.
Has selling on Etsy changed your life in any way? If so, how? Did you ever thought you would get this far with your shop? Have you ever been stressed dealing with customers and manufacturing products? How did you deal with that?
Running my own online business has radically changed my life. I have a job that is part of my passion and I find it hard to take holiday from it. I also love the flexibility it gives me to structure my day that way I need and want. I don’t do 9-5.
There is definitely a big bag of stress that goes with it. Of course we’ve had stressful encounters with the odd customer here or there. Where I can I try to talk to them on the phone rather than deal online. Typed messages can be ready in very different tones of voice and people are much easier to talk to in person. I try to remember that I never know what is going on in their life or how stressed they might be about anything going on in the background. Ultimately, our products are gifts – which are very lovely – but not life-saving medicines! No-one will die from not receiving this gift in time no matter how important the occasion.
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?
We have a presence on social media and I know I could do more, but honestly, at the moment I’m too busy. I know we could hire someone to do it for us, and we tried that once but it never felt genuine when it wasn’t our voice! I don’t spend money on ads outside of Etsy, I find that we luckily are getting enough orders at the moment not to need to look at that. I definitely would though if order dropped.
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 customers satisfaction?
I wish there were more customised fields that buyers could complete. We have some products that are very customised and only having two fields to use can be very limiting. We then have to pick up comms with the customer which isn’t as smooth as it could be.
I’d also love to be able to speak to category selectors and merchandisers in the Etsy head office if I had a great product that I thought they would like. I have that on some other platforms and it’s a very valuable relationship.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
Product descriptions are the biggest learning curve ever. How to write for both the customer and google is a skill that is constantly changing. Make sure you get everything exactly correct or you’ll end up confusing customers and regretting it.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering to sell on Etsy? How can they avoid beginners mistakes?
Charge for your time! So many people undervalue their time and then struggle to make a profit. Having really low priced items then also makes it harder for the whole community as it devalues the concept of that product in the eyes of the customer.
Get your photography SPOT ON! So important. You wouldn’t buy a gourmet meal if it was presented on a bin lid instead of a plate, would you! Don’t present your products on the equivalent of a bin lid.