Monday, February 23, 2015

How to Make a Million Dollars Selling On Etsy

The internet was all a-buzz last week with the story of the California Mom who makes a million dollars a year from her Etsy shop.  I've been aware of her shop, Three Bird Nest, for quite some time, because, did you know you can search for the top Etsy sellers on this site called Craftcount?  Well you can, and it's worth a look.  I remember the first time I browsed Craftcount.  I was, on the one hand fascinated, and on the other hand discouraged.  I was discouraged because the "top sellers" on Etsy sell supplies.  The top "handmade" sellers sell downloads, patterns, and/or t-shirts, mugs and buttons with cheesy sayings on them.  In my opinion the top sellers on Etsy do not really sell anything handmade (in general).

That brings us to Three Bird Nest.  Beautiful photos, cohesive styling, and modern products make it easy to see why people are drawn to the shop.  As I'm sure you know, if you have been reading my blog, shops like these are something to be analysed.  My method of analyzing the competition is a little different than how some on the Internet choose to investigate *ah hem* I mean analyze.

As with any success story there are those who will come out in droves to poo poo the good fortune of others, and that is where the drama begins...

The first article that I saw pop up in my Facebook was this one titled "The Myth of Three Bird Nest" or "How One Woman Makes Almost $1 Million a Year on Etsy".  Ooooh I thought.  What is the myth?  She doesn't really make that much money?  No my friends, that is not the myth the article speaks of, because in fact it would seem the owner of Three Bird Nest does earn that much from her Etsy shop.  No the myth was that her stuff is not handmade.  Gasp!  Cough!  Blasphemy!  Crafters of the world are crossing their knitting needles and kneeling at their sewing machines.

Ok people are upset.  Etsy is a site to sell handmade items (and supplies and vintage).  It would appear that Three Bird Nest is buying socks made in China and selling them as handmade on Etsy.  They have been reported as adding the lace and/or buttons, but most believe that isn't sufficient or even entirely true.  You decide.

So why are people mad?  People are mad because they are jealous.  Ok I said it, and you can disagree with me, but let me tell you why.

1.  It isn't fair!

The first argument that comes up is that Etsy is a site for handmade items, and because this woman is selling items that are not handmade, then it is not fair.  Life isn't fair, I'm sure you've heard that.  Well it's true, it isn't fair.  It's Etsy's site and Etsy can do what they want with it.  You can bang your head against the wall trying to change it but what's the point?  It's a waste of time, and being all hurt that Etsy isn't your best crafty friend anymore won't bring back the relationship you thought you had with them.

2.  Shops like Three Bird Nest devalue my work!

I read articles all the time about the problem with sellers underpricing their work and how that effects others who charge a fair price for similar work.  Let's imagine you make knitted socks.  I did a quick search and found this shop GrietaKnits, who appears to make beautiful handmade knit socks.  From my search I determined that her price ($50-$100) was reasonable, although most knitted socks on the first page were more around $35 (but not nearly as pretty).  However I would NEVER pay that much for one pair socks.  They are beautiful, and honestly I would love to have a pair, but it doesn't matter how much I like them, I am not in the position to spend that much on a pair of socks.  I could however, maybe afford a pair from Three Bird Nest at around $28.  

The conclusion by most crafters is that because Three Bird Nest has provided me a similar pair of socks at a lower price, then GrietaKnits has lost business, but that is not the case at all.  I would NEVER buy a pair of socks for $50 even if all the socks in the world cost $50.

If you are running a business, then you should set your prices fairly, not for other crafters, but because it makes good business sense.  What the rest of the world is selling similar items for shouldn't matter in your pricing structure, because it will always be a problem for you to overcome.  Your customers will buy your items if they want to, or can afford it, whether or not another seller or Walmart for that matter, sells a cheaper version of it.  I've been convinced in the past to buy a $500 doll, but I'll keep buying my socks at Walmart no matter what you do, because that is what I value.  It's difficult to change the shopping values of people.  You might think $500 is too much for a doll and I think $50 is too much for socks.

3.  I have to wade through pages of crap to find what I want!    

Really?  And you blame this on stuff made in China?  I generally have to wade through handmade crap to find anything good, let alone China.  I never thought Etsy's search feature was very good at finding anything.  I even thought maybe their site should be juried like IndieCart a different site for selling handmade items.  I generally find all my favorite shops via Facebook, craft shows, and/or friends.  I don't think you are wading through China crap.  I think you are just wading through crap.  I would rather look at Three Bird Nest's beautiful photos then 90% of the other stuff on Etsy.

Of course there were many other comments and discussions about this, but most were too ridiculous to mention (and basically would fit under the "it's not fair" category).  So what is the point?  If you can't be outraged about it (or if you still are outraged about it) what can you do?  Well I believe this article on Wired called "How Etsy Alienated Its Crafters and Lost Its Soul" can help you out.  While I don't agree with some of the article, I do agree with the part titled "Successful Businesses Leave Etsy".  It's been on my mind for a while since I've been having more sales off of Etsy, via my Facebook page.  

The bottom line is that if your craft is a business then you want to make money, probably a lot of money.  Don't be sour because it's difficult.  Don't blame others because you aren't there yet.  Those are excuses that are holding you back.  If you want to make it big, you will eventually be outsourcing your work.  Let's face it there is no way to make it rich, or even a decent living in the handmade world, as a one man/woman show.  It is not possible.  You have to produce on a large scale.  You have to keep your prices low and your margins high.  Hopefully that doesn't mean undervaluing your work or undermining your ethics, but focus on how you can be successful within your company's limitations.

And finally, the advice I keep giving over and over: You should not be relying on Etsy to find your customers.  I have always seen my Etsy shop as a service to process transactions and display my work.  The few customers that come about through Etsy's search engine are lovely, but few.  If you want to sell your work you have to bring the customers to your shop plain and simple.  As soon as you stop relying on Etsy, and start working on your marketing, you will see that you never needed Etsy in the first place.  At that point all this hoopla about what other people are doing will disappear.

*Other article referenced but not directly.

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