I've spent the last three (maybe four...) years meaning to open an Etsy shop. It’s been on my “in 6 months” list the entire time. This summer, I decided enough was enough and I would slowly start to set it up, giving myself a goal of just two weeks. Wouldn't you know it – that night it was live! It just suddenly clicked. It wasn't all perfect, though - despite having read 20+ articles and guides on the topic, I wish I had been more prepared for the amount of decisions that needed to be made right in the moment. Today I wanted to share what they were, and how I ended up where I did.
Decisions To Make When Opening an Etsy Shop
- Types of items to sell. I don't know about you, but I have so many things I want to do someday. All the ideas sound like fun, it was challenging to realize I was never going to get this thing off the ground if I didn't narrow things down. One thing really hanging me up was whether to sell digital or physical prints. There are so many of both on Etsy, but there does seem to be a shift toward digital over the past 5+ years. Some of the pros and cons I had to consider were:
- Theft of digital images. Having your artwork so accessible to someone else digitally can be nerve-wracking. There are so many stories of someone's work being ripped off, and having to prove it was yours first. It took my realizing that there is risk in putting yourself and your work out into the world no matter how you do it, and without risk I wasn't ever going to achieve anything.
- Customer service. Buyer's having the option of printing at home can be great - it's convenient, they can re-print if something goes wrong, and it cuts down on cost. However, no matter how much you emphasize in your listing that they should use archival inks and a quality paper, many people won't. And when the print doesn't look or feel great, they will be disappointed. Even if it isn't your fault, when they go to leave feedback it could end up reflecting poorly on you. Once you send that digital file, it's out of your hands!
- Managing expectations. Similarly to above, it can be hard to manage a buyer's high expectations. Colors can look different on a computer screen than in your hand, and so a physical print may not always be exactly what they had pictured when they purchased it. Likewise, with digital files a buyer may not realize what software they have on their computer, or what file size they have space for, or that it won't look quite as good printed on regular weight computer paper.
- Shipping costs and packaging materials. While Etsy still takes both a listing fee and percentage of the sale on digital items, there is almost (or actually) no cost to selling a digital file to someone. However, selling a physical print not only means packaging and mailing it to a buyer but doing so with cute packaging and in a sturdy, safe way that ensures it gets to it's new home without getting too banged up. I went ahead and bit the bullet, and bought in bulk a lot of packaging material in different sizes including clear bags, sturdy mailers, and cardboard inserts. I even printed some postcards with a pretty design on it, as a freebie to include.
Ultimately, I knew I had artwork I felt compelled to sell as a physical print; it just felt right that way. I also knew I wanted to eventually add seamless patterns available to download, because I enjoy making them so much. I decided I would diversify my offerings to have both for now, and eventually could roll back on a type of listing if it wasn't doing as well.
- Images! Of all sizes and types! This I was actually prepared for, but ended up changingthings at the last minute when I didn't love how it looked. I recommend looking at other shops you intuitively are drawn to. For me, that included Yao Cheng Design and Emily Jeffords (two amazing artists - see photos of their shops below!). That can give you clues on if you prefer the look of shops with or without header images, what sort of logo stands out to you, etc. For now, I have a raindrop design in watercolor textures chosen to represent what it is I sell and to be a little "neutral" in terms of audience. I anticipate changing it, but for now I'm just getting started. For a logo, I wanted it to connect with the header image and otherwise kept it simple - someday, I hope to whip up a fancy logo! I had a lovely college student I worked with take some head shots a couple of years back (thanks, Patricia Wall!) and have used this one as a profile picture ever since. Also, that pineapple shirt is still one of my favorites.
- Deciding on a consistent “look”. I tested out a few "mock-up" images of blank picture frames, and put them side-by-side to see which I preferred. Originally, I tested out using a variety of mock-up frames all in one color, but I realized I was missing that clean, consistent look I prefer from other shops and which has a higher-end, more polished look. However, when I've added digital pattern & clip art packs, I've gone with a different look completely in order to showcase what those packs include. I may eventually find a compromise, to help them blend in with the other listing images - let me know if you have any suggestions!
- Setting up for future plans. While I'm open to seeing what works and what doesn't, I also have some future ventures planned. If you're setting up a shop or website now and know you plan to head things into a particular direction a year down the road, you might as well make sure your current set-up will work for it to. You don't want to have to re-do everything! I would recommend looking over your "big future idea" list (if you don't have one, jot those down asap!) and see how your current work can be moving you towards accomplishing those goals.
- "Categories". I'm still torn about this one! I started by listing physical prints, and set categories based on their theme (geographic, fruit & vegetable, floral & botanical). When I went to add digital prints, I realized Etsy limits each listing to only one category; so, I couldn't have a digital image of a head of lettuce, for instance, in both a "digital" category and a "fruit & vegetable" category. I wish I had thought that out a little more, ahead of time!
- Determining pricing. Ugh - this is a tough one. On the one hand, there are sellers on Etsy listing almost anything for dirt-cheap. On the other hand, you want your work to be valued and to be compensated appropriately for your time and skill. I wish I had an easy answer to this one; balancing the value of your work with competitive pricing is daunting. My personal opinion is that there are many buyers out there who understand value, and that listing your work at a reasonable price will indicate to them that it is of good quality.
- Having various price points. One of the main reasons I felt compelled to list both digital and physical prints is to be able to offer a variety of price points to a variety of shoppers. A digital print can be sold for only a few dollars, and a physical print can reach a much higher price point depending on size. Since I'm just starting out, I want to see what works best for buyers and adjust over time.
- Whether to use an online print service, and choosing paper and sizes. After some research, I realized I don't have the budget for a good enough home printer to produce the quality of prints I want to sell, not to mention the archival ink and 100% cotton paper! While printing at home would give me the advantage of quickly producing prints "made to order", using an online printing service means they do the work and have the fancy equipment so I don't have to. So far, I have used FinerWorks and had a good experience. I did invest $25 in a sample pack of their papers, but it came with a giftcard that reimbursed me for that money on my first order. While the process of having prints made online has gone smoothly, choosing papers is just plain hard! My first order turned out lovely, but I plan to try out some different fine art papers next time.
- The amount of competition and feeling overwhelmed. Isn't this true for every artist or crafts-person, no matter how you share your work? The struggle of being your own unique, authentic self or catering to what appears to sell. Personally, I believe both are achievable with a little compromise. I've just opened my shop this summer, and as I was warned would be the case, sells are very slow. I am not feeling bad about it, though! If you're feeling down about your success, the best advice I can give you is what I'm giving myself: Just keep doing the work. The rest will come.
A few sources of inspiration
- This Lisa Congdon interview on the Etsy Success Podcast (I listen via my Podcasts app on my iPhone).
- The Source of Creativity episode on the Ted Radio Hour podcast. I love this podcast, but this one in particularly helped get me through a rough week.
- A daily dose of my favorite artists and makers on Instagram. I seek out artists who are genuine and hardworking, and who are successfully making their art every day, for a living. Check out the Instagram accounts of Gemma Correll, Sarah K Benning, Jenny K, and Jenna Rainey.
If you’ve also been trying to launch a new endeavor for what seems like forever, I hear you and I’m sending you all the hard-working-go-get-‘em vibes! What decisions are you making right now?