Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
I was never really planning on starting a business like this. A couple of years ago I just made some customized birthday cards for friends and family. They suggested I started selling them as a designer. So I started out with just a laptop and a small printer learning and growing on the go.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I knew Etsy before I started on my own. I used Etsy from time to time when I wanted something special not available from a factory. Using Etsy as a selling point was a no-brainer. An actual store is costly and attracts little audience these days. Online I can reach people worldwide and since all my products are hand-made, Etsy was the logical home base.
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 ?
Though I started out with cards, I am now mostly focused on customized journals and books. Both with softcover or with a hardcover which I make from scratch. Designing them in Photoshop, cutting the cardboard for the hardcover, printing the designed cover on the hardboard and binding the pages into the cover. And most recently I added a 3D printed to the collection of printers so I can add three dimensional covers to the books.
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?
The cards were relatively easy to make. I gained Photoshop skills years before just for fun. The harder part was to learn to make the books and journals without any large and expensive factory machines. This took a lot of internet research, investments in supplies and small machines. It was a huge gamble, but after a few months of studying, investing and practicing, I was ready to sell them in bulk. And luckily people liked them.
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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 was still in university at the time I started selling. I started at the advice of friends and family to urged me to start selling the cards I designed for them. It was only always meant as a second side-job. I already had a side-job besides my studies. But after a year or so, the Etsy sales started to be a constant form on income and a lot of fun to do. So I quit my other job (not my studies). I have since graduated and have another primary job, but I still keep the Etsy shop going since it’s just way too much fun to do!
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?
Oh yes I had reservations! Not necessarily about profitability or competition. It was not my primary income so I could just experiment as much as I wanted to grow. But I was more concerned about how to do all the accounting, the shipping and the taxes. This was all relatively new so there was not clear guide on how to start a legit company based on this. This probably took me the most preparation, study and meetings with the Chamber of Commerce to sort this out.
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?
My first sale were 2 birthday cards about a month after I started. It only got a 3/5 star review, but the comments I got I took to heart and improved. It took another month for the next sale. But it really started flowing when Christmas came. Maybe I started at the right moment (3 months before the holidays) but I made enough money from that first Christmas to invest back into my company and expand based on conversations with customers and reviews.
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?
Yes, I do have a full time job outside of Etsy. I am an aerospace engineer. I make all the Etsy orders during the evenings and weekends outside of my primary day-job. This is more challenging during the holidays when the number of orders increases.
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?
I do not create products ahead of orders. I make everything after the order comes in. Since I do offer multiple versions of each product and customization, they cannot be made beforehand. People can ask me to put their name on the cover, or add pages to the book with personal content, or even ask me to make a complete new design. The tools I use are Photoshop, 3-2 photo printers, a 3D printer and a manual hardcover book binder. Usually all at the same time.
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 is the number of sales. To be competitive, I try to sell my products at lower prices than the competition so I have to sell more of them to make the desired 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 try to listen to requests from customers asking for a custom design. They often give me great ideas for new projects. And I also have a muse who gives me inspiration for new products that I would never have thought of.
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 do indeed ship internationally. The pricing depends on the weight of the final package. Since I know the average weight of a single product, I can estimate the shipping cost quite accurately and add different shipping profiles in Etsy. I am unable to offer free shipping as the products I sell are often heavy and therefore the shipping costs are not negligible. Usually the postal services can ship my products within a week or two to their destination worldwide. I package the projects in bubble wrap and paper envelopes / boxes. I try to use environmental friendly packaging as much as possible, but there is no good substitution for bubble wrap that I know of. But besides that I order from eco-friendly suppliers and use as little plastics as possible.
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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 standout?
In the beginning I was indeed worried about competitors and searched a lot on Etsy. These days it worries me less. There is very little I can do about them anyway. So it is a lot more peaceful to just focus on improving my own products instead of constantly comparing them with others.
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 always answer messages within a day. Even on holidays or when on vacation. I personally hate it when I have to wait for email responses so I certainly don’t want my (potential) customers to have the same irritations with me. When getting bad feedback I always contact the customer and ask why their impression of the products differed from the actual product. I don’t want them to be disappointed. In the beginning there were some misunderstandings based on language barriers. Based on those experiences I adapted the listing descriptions so those don’t happen that often anymore. The biggest source op complaints are the shipping time if an order gets delayed. Especially in these strange times with the Corona virus putting strain on the postal services worldwide. When this happens I contact the postal service and try to keep the customer up to date with anything I learn. In the worst case in which an order gets lost or damaged, I always offer either a free replacement or 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?
Yes, Etsy has changed my life a lot! I liked buying from Etsy before I started my own shop (and still do), but I now cannot imagine a day in which I don’t say the word ‘Etsy’, look at my shop on the Etsy website or the Etsy app. I cannot imagine my life without Etsy in it anymore. I never thought I would get this far when I started. I also never thought I would be able to make the products I can make now. It’s a continuous strive to improve. And yes there is stress involved. Not necessarily in dealing with costumers since any inconveniences can be solved with good communication. There is a Dutch saying: “The costumer is King”, which is something I try to live by. More stressful can be keeping the stock of supplies. I require a lot of different materials from a lot of different suppliers and not everything is always available. At a moments notice I can get an order that requires a lot of something which I haven’t needed for months. Keeping a good record and trying to guess which products will sell in what period of the year is key here.
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 sometimes make use of social media. Usually influencers stumble upon my shop and contact me to see if we can make a nice deal. Those arrangements increase traffic to my shop and therefore I like to work with them. Within Etsy there are also possibilities for paid promotion. Those I usually only use during the Holiday periods.
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?
There are things here and there that I miss and would like to see included. For example more listing variation option menus. We only get 2 now, but for some products I would like to use 3 or 4.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
I have to admit, it involves a lot of luck next to hard work. Not all ideas make it. Etsy itself offers a lot of advice on how to make a successful shop. One of them is to try to add a new product every week. Also, I learned to be very precise when it comes to describing my products. Ambiguous descriptions will lead to different views at the customer which will lead to disappointment. I had to revise a lot of the descriptions in the beginning after talking to disappointed customers.
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?
My advice would be to just give it a go! Start with something simple and let the customers do the thinking for you. They will contact you with wishes they have. Learn from their requests! And although the profit looks nice at first, reinvest it back into your shop if you can. That way your one small great idea can lead to a life changing business!