Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
I guess I have evolved over a number of years as I can’t think of actual start date. I have been crafting and sewing since I was a small child and started to sew more things for the home once my children were at secondary school and I had more time. I love to be creative and design, so I designed my own campervan sewing machine cover. Some friends had asked me to teach them to sew and they encouraged me to sell the sewing pattern for my machine cover on the Internet, so I started up selling it on Etsy. That was 2 or 3 years ago, and ever since I have been thinking of new patterns in my spare time. I’ve since become addicted to sewing my own clothes and adore fabrics. At the beginning of 2020, I decided that my dream of owning my own sewing shop would only become a reality if I gave it a go, so I invested just over £1000 in stock, focusing on a gorgeous selection of fat quarter bundles and have expanded so much this year that I’ve taken on 2 staff and (also thanks to coronavirus) my main job (hypnotherapy) has become my occasional job and my time and passion is now focused predominantly on crafty girl Maria!
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I think I was about 11 years old when I first made little mouse characters from a book, called Bramley Hedge. My mum had bought me a book detailing how to make your own little mice with their own little clothes. I had then sold a couple at a church fair. The first things I sold online were onesies for bears (Build-a-bears), which I had made for my children’s bears and then sold a few more in my spare time which gave me a real buzz, though I discovered I don’t like making the same thing over and over again and I have to wait until I’m in the mood to sew. I chose eBay to sell on at first, as this was often the place I went to buy things. For a while I did sell my own handmade items at a local market once a week, though it wasn’t well attended, partly due to being in a small town and on a Friday lunchtime; and would feel frustrated at sometimes sitting there all morning and selling nothing. This drove me to sell online. I then discovered Etsy whilst looking for craft and sewing goods for myself. I find it’s the best place to discover unique designs and also a place to find exactly what you want. I usually have a particular thing in mind in my imagination and I want to find exactly that. I started extremely young in selling handmade products! I focused on selling my sewing machine cover pattern on Etsy, as they allow you to sell downloadable goods. I also made a few doorstops and sold them on Etsy. However, I have RSI (repetitive strain injury) which affects both arms and restricts how much sewing I do, or indeed anything hand related. This got me thinking about helping others to make and sew, by selling fabrics, haberdashery goods, and craft supplies, as well as doing more teaching. I love selling online, as you get so much more coverage and I don’t have to sit around waiting for a sale in a cold hall. I love the fact I can be sitting on my couch and “cha-ching” you’ve made a sale! Though I must say there’s not much time sitting on my sofa is it still very time-consuming! I still get interactions with my customers through the Etsy chat, and people can share what they make and I love the feedback I get.
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 many of the basic haberdashery goods and sell a wide range of fat quarter bundles as well as craft kits. I love craft kits as they are a great introduction to creating, and you have everything you need in the kit to make it, so it makes it so simple and they are a great way to introduce children to creating and sewing. I feel that being creative is part of who we are and that we need to express it in some way, and I would say it’s essential to my well-being! In terms of my fabric selection, I am drawn to modern designs, bright colors, polka dots, and stripes. I stock Tilda as her fabrics are simply gorgeous and they are very versatile, great for crafting, quilting, and making clothes. I love Tilly and the Buttons, so I stock her brilliant organic range of jersey fabrics and (my own website only) sewing patterns. Life is too short for boring and dull clothes. I feel you need to wear clothes that make you feel great, and I especially love to wear clothes I’ve made myself, as I know the love that has been put into them. I love color and how a fabric feels against your skin is very important to me, so I love the softness of viscose and don’t often buy in polyester unless it’s a beautiful drapey crêpe. I buy in fabric colors that sell well like yellow, sage green, teal, and the good old staple, navy blue. I love seeking out gorgeous gifts too and love vintage, so I have a great range of gifts for those who sew and craft, like my vintage sewing tins, Polkadot retractable tape measures, and cactus pincushions.
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 began young, taught by my mum to sew, bake, knit, draw, paint, and so on. I would try out any craft when I was young. My family was all quite artistic and I was forever making Christmas cards and whatever the latest “this is one we made earlier” handmade creation from Blue Peter. I got my first sewing machine when I was about 10 and then had my granny’s old electric Singer (and at some time I had a manual Singer sewing machine). I was also taught a bit of sewing at school, with a sewing machine, though I have always been happy to teach myself, and now with the Internet, there is an amazing abundance of videos to help you.
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 started out selling on Etsy as a bit of a hobby. My main job was hypnotherapy and I felt I needed something more creative to do in between clients. I realized I enjoyed it much more than hypnotherapy so has wanted it to be my main job for a while so that I can give up hypnotherapy and focus on my creative business. Covid has helped that, as I haven’t been able to see many clients at all, and with all the rush to buy fabrics and craft supplies I’ve been very busy.
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 started selling my sewing pattern, I was just eager to find out how it sold. I was a bit anxious to find out what people thought of the pattern and get my first reviews. I had nothing to lose financially until I then later invested money in buying stock to sell. Then I was a bit anxious about making a loss, though I quickly gained confidence as I sold more and more, gained great reviews, and was able to then reinvest money into more stock. You never know how many sales you are going to get my so it’s difficult to manage stock levels, I just have to keep an eye on stock every day and get deliveries most days!
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?
It took a month or so to make my first sewing machine cover pattern sale, and then they sold more frequently once I had reviewed. Once I started selling sewing goods, the sales came quite quickly and I was making about 10 sales a day at first. My sales ramped up so quickly as the UK went into lockdown and sewing goods rocketed. I was reinvesting all of my money into buying new stock and expanding what I had available. I was soon taking 50 parcels every day to the post office and finding I couldn’t keep up with sales by myself. I have to say I didn’t have a goal in mind. I had no idea what would happen and who could have predicted coronavirus hitting! I tend to focus on the short-term and to be honest, during lockdown I was so glad to have a positive focus when all around was chaos and uncertainty. I couldn’t see any hypnotherapy clients, we weren’t allowed out and so I focused on what I could do.
Recently I’ve been shipping out about 70 also parcels a day Monday to Friday.
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?
Currently, we are in lockdown again, so I can’t see face-to-face hypnotherapy clients. With the run-up to Christmas, I’m too busy anyway. I get to my computer around 8:30 AM to stop the printing of orders and postage labels ready for one of my packers to come. Then I tend to do all of the computer-related work (uploading new items, checking stock levels, replying to queries, ordering in stock, sorting out custom orders, etc) whilst someone else does the picking, cutting, and packing. I then rush out to drop everything at the post office by 5 PM (usually with the help of my husband as there are so many postal sacks) before I come back and finish off by around 6 PM. Quite often I’m still replying to queries in the evening and sometimes sit with my laptop and order new stock. I try and take weekends off, but often there are bits to catch up with.
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 bestselling product at the moment is the Christmas craft kits by Trimits. They are gorgeous little felt to make your own decorations and only around £2.60 each. There is also another non-Christmas craft that I sell year-round, though not in the quantities I’ve been selling recently. I also sell a lot of fat quarter bundles, and the ones from the Craft Cotton Company are my best sellers. They have some great designs and they are really good value for money at about £10 a bundle.
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 take a look at prices elsewhere and have to factor in all of the other unseen costs: staff, postage, packaging, fees from Etsy/eBay/Shopify, and various apps I use to manage stock levels and synchronize orders. I take into account how long things take to prepare for delivery i.e. doesn’t need cutting or just placed in a postal bag, as this will add to the cost.
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 take a look at fashion to see what fabrics people are wearing, search Etsy to see what other people are selling and what people like to buy. I also love Instagram and Pinterest, as you can look at other people’s creations and get inspiration.
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?
Yes, I ship internationally. I weigh my products to work out pricing. It should only take about 5 to 7 working days to get abroad, though there have been delays due to coronavirus. I don’t offer free shipping abroad any more as it was costing me too much. I know Etsy has a program to promote sellers that offer free postage to America, but I didn’t see that as fair for everyone else, as I would have to put up my costs to everyone else so that I could offer free postage to the USA.
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?
Yes, there’s always going to be other competitors and it’s important to keep an eye on what others do. I pride myself on a great range of fabrics at an affordable price and an excellent service. I want all my customers to be satisfied, so I always look to help them and offer refunds for anyone not happy with their product. I aim to make the products stand out by well lit, good quality photographs
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
I feel very grateful to my Etsy customers as I’ve had great feedback. I think I’ve only had one not so good review, but that was solely based on it being delivered late, which wasn’t my fault. I get upset if someone leaves poor feedback without talking to me first. This has only happened on eBay. I always look to help resolve things to the satisfaction of the customer, so there is no need for negative feedback in my mind as if you don’t like it you are welcome to send it back and I will give you a refund.
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 didn’t think I would ever get this far and especially not this quickly. I’m so grateful for having the help of my family (who have had to help pack or take things to the post office at times) and to my flexible small team of 2! I have been quite stressed recently with the number of orders, worrying about whether we would get things out on time. I usually unable to send things out within one day of an order coming in, but this has been up to 3 days a few times recently and I don’t like to let people down. Luckily customers have been very patient and understanding.
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 do use Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. I’d like to have more time to spend promoting products on these platforms, but I’ve been too busy. I have occasionally spent money on ads outside of Etsy, to some success. I have many customers come back for repeat orders, so I’m hoping to build on that. When I’ve got the time, I like to make clothes from the fabric I sell and add pictures to my Facebook and Instagram, so that people can see what things look like once made up.
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?
Photographs. I would like to change the number of photographs you are allowed on Etsy as I sell some things with many variations and can’t upload all of the photographs I’d like to. Overall I think Etsy is great, though of course, I’d like to reduce fees!
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
The most important thing is to get your description right and make your photographs great. Your customer doesn’t get to touch or feel the item before they buy it, so they need to have an accurate description and detailed photos. My photographs weren’t that good, nor the lighting to begin with and I’ve now bought a lightbox and backdrop. I’ve made mistakes with descriptions and have had to refund people in the past because of this.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
Do your research to see what sells, get your price right but don’t undersell yourself. Also, start small with a few things and then build on it.