Mother and Daughter Etsy Shop!
January 3, 2011 10:51 AM   Subscribe

My mom and I are opening an Etsy shop. Yay! Can you offer us some tips and answer some questions?

My mother is a very talented knitter and crocheter. She can make anything from delicate baby clothes, to stylish infinity scarves, to soft afghans. I would be the manager of the shop, as her computer/photography/internet skills are lacking.

1. What knitted products sell best on Etsy year-round?

2. I offered to take 10% of what she makes over $2-300. Is that reasonable? Depending on what she creates, can we expect to make more than that in a month?

3. How important is it to do custom work? Is that where the money is?

4. Right now the plan is for her to make 10-20 things that are sellable (see question one!) once a month, then each month I'd trek up to her house (about an hour away), take professional-looking photos using my DSLR, and put list them in the store all at once. Next month, repeat the whole process again. Is it better to have a steady flow of work going up instead? I know that Etsy has a section on their front page dedicated to things that are newly listed. Is that a section that a lot of customers use when making purchases?

5. Do you foresee any problems with me being an hour away from my mom as far as running the shop is concerned? I am always able to reach her, so communication isn't an issue, and my mom is perfectly capable of packaging and mailing things out. She also works at a craft store, so she has access to everything she'd need at a discount, so that's not an issue, either.

6. What about taxes and business laws and licenses? What do we have to do as far as that stuff is concerned? We're in PA.

If you have any other general advice about being a seller on Etsy, let me know. We're still trying to think of a name, so if you have any clever ideas, do tell. One that I thought of was "Busy Bee Knittery". If it's relevant to name-choosing, my mom's name is Kelly and my name is Elizabeth/Liz. TIA!
posted by two lights above the sea to Work & Money (13 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I ran an Etsy shop for about a year - I sold knitted items, patterns, and hand-dyed yarn. I will tell you that knitted items were by far the hardest thing to sell. It's difficult to price them fairly, given the amount of effort and the cost of yarn involved, and it's hard to stand out from the crowd.

I think fingerless gloves are fairly popular. Knitted toys as well. The best idea would be to think of something tiny, cute, and unique - like these crocheted pomegranate charms. If there's something you can whip up in just a few hours, that's interesting to people, that you can price cheap enough for an impulse buy, that'll sell a lot better than a shawl or sweater. The general public isn't usually willing to pay for a hand-knit garment when they can pick up a cashmere sweater in a store for $25.

Definitely enable the Alchemy feature, which will allow her to take custom orders. I never had anyone take me up on it, but it's good to have the option open.

I will recommend to you, if your mother designs her own items (and she should be, because selling knits based of other people's patterns is questionable in ethics/legality), that she write up some patterns and sell those alongside knitted items. I had a couple patterns in my Etsy shop and they were by far the easiest sales I made - you only have to write up the pattern once, and then email the PDF whenever you make a sale. It's like making something that you can sell over and over again. Just make it very clear in the listing that what you are selling is a PDF pattern, not a finished item.

The Etsy forums are very valuable - if you search around there, and Google around a bit, you will find a plethora of resources. There are also several Etsy groups on Ravelry that you will want to check out. Running an Etsy shop is as much work as you put into it - you could spend an hour a week on it or several hours a day. Sometimes, it seems like there's no rhyme or reason to making sales.

In order to be making multiple hundreds of dollars a month, you'll have to fill your shop and be adamant about updating - recently updated shops come up higher in search results, making customers more likely to see your item. Tag your listings well and write clear descriptions. To be honest, you'll probably have to put a lot of work into your shop to be making that kind of money, but it all depends on what your items are, how well they're presented, how well you market yourself, and a good dose of luck.
posted by Gordafarin at 11:53 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As an Etsy seller almost since the beginning of the site, I can tell you that things have changed there a lot. If you really want to make any money off the business, don't think of it as "an Etsy store," think of it as a knitting/crochet business that happens to use Etsy to manage its online shopping component. You should still market the business outside of the site (your own web site, other craft sites, local craft shows, maybe consigning products with local businesses, etc.). Would her craft store let her put up a small display, sign, or business cards?

To answer your questions:

1. Really, everything sells year-round, and keep in mind that Etsy is a global site and therefore there are people in different climates at all times of the year. Often things get a little busier around the holidays as people shop for gifts.

2. Look at some shops that sell similar items to what your mother makes, and base your pricing on theirs. You will see that some people significantly overprice or underprice their items. Try to be reasonable and remember that underpricing can be just as bad as pricing things too high in terms of turning off potential customers. Once you see how well things sell, you can adjust your fees accordingly.

3. I don't think it's "important" to do custom work, but responding to Alchemy requests is definitely one way to get your work seen by others - even if they don't accept the bid, they have probably at least checked out the shop. Since your mom will not be on the site herself, it might be tricky to do Alchemy requests or other custom orders since they often involve a lot of communication with the client about what is possible to make, materials, design, and pricing. However, if someone contacted you directly asking for a custom piece (e.g. "I like this hat you have listed, can you make one in green?"), I wouldn't turn it down.

4. Definitely don't list everything at once. The key to site visibility is to have a steady stream of items - stretch them out to one new item each day (though you could maybe list 5 for so just to get started, so the shop isn't completely bare). Many sellers will re-list items before the listing expires, just so they keep coming up to the top of the list in site searches.

5. The only problem I could see is communication with customers in the event of a custom order or other issue, and making sure your mom has the shipping information for any orders she is sending out.

6. I can't tell you anything about taxes or licenses. I am in PA too, but never really worried about that since I am not turning a profit at all. My Etsy shop is purely a hobby, and I am happy just breaking even with the cost of my supplies, if that.

My other tips are about customer communication, since I think that's really a big part of the Etsy experience. People are shopping there because they want a hand-made item from an individual. Make sure you check that the customer's mailing address on Etsy matches the Paypal address - sometimes one or the other changes, and you want to make sure you're using the right one. Most people appreciate a follow-up message letting them know that you have shipped their item (with tracking numbers, if applicable). I also like to include a hand-written note in the package, along with a couple business cards that they can pass along. And be sure to leave positive feedback for your good transaction.

Wow, that was a lot for someone who's barely done anything with her shop for the past couple years...

Good luck!!
posted by LolaGeek at 12:02 PM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not a seller but I sometimes buy from Etsy. I often don't buy knitted items because they are always much more than I am willing to pay, unfortunately. I like getting hand written thank you notes in my packages (especially if you've worked on your shops' branding and have a little stamp or use a notecard with a logo on it).

Look at what's selling before your mom makes a lot of things that aren't what people are looking for. Personally, I like more modern stuff. One last, very important point—I almost never search Etsy for items. Most of the time I see someone write about an item on a blog, see an ad or see the seller at a craft fair and navigate to Etsy from there. I concur with LolaGeek that you should have an online presence somehow outside of Etsy if you're really trying to draw people to your store. There's just too much to sort through on Etsy for me to both a lot of the time.
posted by Bunglegirl at 12:36 PM on January 3, 2011

You might find some valuable advice in the Biz Ladies columns from Design*Sponge. They aren't Etsy-centric but about running a small business in general.
posted by grapesaresour at 12:55 PM on January 3, 2011

One last, very important point—I almost never search Etsy for items. Most of the time I see someone write about an item on a blog, see an ad or see the seller at a craft fair and navigate to Etsy from there.

That's very interesting - the way my friends and I usually find items on Etsy is through search. I assumed most buyers did this as well. I suppose there's several types of buyers - usually if I'm on Etsy I'm looking for something specific, so I'll type it in (garnet necklace, orange alpaca yarn, cat notecards). Other people might more often stumble across something featured in a blog post or bulletin board. There's different techniques for attracting customers in these different ways - you can make tagging, photography, and descriptions your priority to attract in-site searchers, or you can ask for reviews on blogs, run ads and hand out your business cards for the second type.
posted by Gordafarin at 1:08 PM on January 3, 2011

We just started out on Etsy and have had some success. Biggest mistake we made was listing everything at once. Stretch things out and post them at night when the most people are searching.

You can also join Teams of people with similar products or regions, there's good advice there.

Picture quality is really important as far as being included in Treasuries. Tagging is also really important, it's what search is based on, so include tags for colors, location and other things.

Avoid Showcases, we never got any sales from them and I've seen them described as a tax on newbies.

As for deciding on products, our cheaper items (with cheap shipping) sell the best. Usually the funny/indie/funky items seem to get more interest. If you can find it offline, there's not much point in buying from Etsy.
posted by dripdripdrop at 1:25 PM on January 3, 2011

I realize this is a really small thing, but I beg you, for the love of God, please do not put any kind of scented potpourri "surprise" in the package when you send out an order. Little personal touches are great. A scarf reeking unexpectedly of Harvest Cranberry Spice, not so much.
posted by corey flood at 1:44 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Much of what I know from my ex-girlfriend's (still very close) experience has been stated here. She does hand-made books, feather quills and magic wands, so it's a different product style, but...

*Give it time. It takes awhile to build up a customer base and visibility.

*Remember to try to have a spread of low-cost and high-value product. The feather quill pens my ex makes are much less expensive than her other products. That gives the customers a low-risk entry that lets her prove she's a reliable vendor/craftsperson. She gets repeat business from that, which tends to scale up. It also keeps her busy.

*Don't forget that it's Teh Interwebz, and you can't possibly please everyone. My ex knocks herself out to make her customers happy and I've seen her get really down and/or upset over a couple of incidents where the customer was just plain unreasonable or didn't really know what they wanted.

*Remember to post stuff about your product on other sites like Facebook. The exposure helps.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:02 PM on January 3, 2011

Best answer: Etsy veteran here, making the transition toward my own e-commerce site and away from Etsy due to the recent changes/problems with the site. (Google Etsy+coralgate, Etsy+privacy breech, Etsy+sales tax problems, Etsy+telephone booth, or Etsy+muted sellers for more detailed information.)

I am neither lawyer nor accountant, nor do I live in PA, but here is what I'd recommend:

1. Research Etsy thoroughly. Not just the happy-awesome-potential, but the dark side as well. (Yes, it has one.) I'm not saying this to dissuade you from opening shop - quite the opposite. Etsy was an amazing boost to my business in its first year. However, your Etsy shop should be a component of your business and marketing - make it work for you, not the other way around.

2. BEFORE you open your shop...BEFORE you make your first sale...Get legal. I don't know what the laws are in PA, but it took me approx. 6 weeks in Illinois to get legit. It saved me a lot of headache from a bookkeeping/accounting perspective.

In Illinois I needed to:
...........File for a DBA (doing business as) from my county clerk.
...........Take the DBA and apply for an EIN (employer identification number) from the IRS. Even if you don't have any employees, do this. It is free & takes 30 seconds online. Think of your EIN like your business's social security number - if you are a sole proprietor/partnership and you probably are - it will save you from having to use YOUR social security number on lots and lots of paperwork. This is a good thing.
............Take the DBA + EIN and register my business with Illinois.
............Take the DBA + EIN + Il business license and apply for an Illinois resale license. This permits me to make retail sales, collect sales tax, and then remit sales tax back to the state. It also allows me to open wholesale accounts with vendors - I can purchase materials for my business and product lines tax free.

3. Hire an accountant. Or at least talk to one. They should work with small businesses, in particular, retail businesses. You need to familiarize yourself with tax laws - both as it regards to income/profit AND in sales/use tax. Sales taxes could be a thread of their own - make sure you are collecting what you're supposed to collect, remitting what you should be, and paying use taxes as needed. In this economy, cash-strapped states are cracking down on folks who are skirting the system. Trust me, you do not want to audited. It doesn't just happen to the big guys.

There's so so so much more but I don't want to hog the thread. Feel free to MeMail me if you'd like more info or have any specific questions.
posted by muirne81 at 3:03 PM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not a seller, but I have bought a lot through etsy (though never knitted items), and spent a lot of time on the fora, and I have friends who are sellers. I hope you are asking these questions on the fora too.

- consider whether you will sell to overseas customers. Some US etsy sellers think it is not worth the hassle. This is annoying to those of us from other countries.
- I know some people like very elaborate wrapping, but I find it annoying as if I am giving something as a gift I want to unwrap it first to see what it's like, and if it's for me I feel faintly guilty if it's wrapped as a present.
- consider spending a lot of time contributing to the fora. I have bought lots from people whom I've found through there, and I can't be the only one.
- the fora guidance always says the important things are photographs, photographs, photographs.
- I agree that original products sell best. You may want to start out with a range and then narrow it down as you see what sells.
- Lots of knitters hugely underprice on etsy.
- an interesting blog really helps sales, from my experience and things others have said.
- I've never used a separate newly listed section, but as I recall items are sorted by how recently they were listed, most recently first. I think you can renew listings so they appear higher up the list for a fee, but the guidance should tell you this.
- I think it is really hard to make money on etsy, especially without a niche product, and knitting is probably one of the hardest areas. So many etsy buyers already knit so are less likely to buy knitted things.
- I have requested items through alchemy lots of times, with fairly rubbish responses. A lot of sellers obviously respond to almost all requests even if they have no experience of making whatever it is. If you respond to requests in good faith and are able to point to links of similar things you've made, I'd think you have a good chance of getting your offer accepted.
- I think icons are important - here's one where I do look at a shawl and think of the seller, as stoneweaver says.

Sorry if this sounds discouraging - it's a great thing to try and I'm sure you and your mother will get enjoyment out of it.
posted by paduasoy at 3:03 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and tagging - very important to get your tags right, as this will mean items come up in the right searches.
posted by paduasoy at 3:05 PM on January 3, 2011

I only buy on Etsy, but if I have to say: if you are going to ship outside the US, please, please, please do not use UPS. Purolator and US Postal Service are fine, but UPS charges a ridiculous "brokerage fee" to "navigate" their parcels through customs. The last order I recieved cost me an additional $80 in UPS brokerage fee in addition to what I'd initially paid for shipping and the item.
posted by Kurichina at 10:30 AM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A lot of good advice given by others above... Just to say again: DON'T list everything at once. Like others noted, listing an item at a time gives you more exposure and more views lead to more sales.

Otherwise, don't sweat things too much. The worst you can do: no sales, lost some time and a buck or two due to listing fees for items that didn't sell. That's not bad, right?

I'm an Etsy buyer and seller, but I've never bought or sold anything knitted (or even textile-like), as my interests are completely different, so I can't give you tips on that specifically.

But here's a collection of articles and forum threads I found useful when setting up a shop:
posted by gakiko at 4:26 AM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

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