Building side income with Etsy and Ebay
June 29, 2015 5:13 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to build a side income source where I can reliably make an extra $500-$1k a month. I want to do it using Ebay and/or Etsy.

I have a good eye for things, so scavenging for items and reselling them comes to me easily. However, I am open to creating original products for sale, as well - depending on what it is and whether or not it is profitable.

I'm crafty in general; I also have intermediate sewing and knitting/crochet skills. I'm not bad with the Dremel. In general, I don't fear most craft projects as long as it doesn't come with a super steep learning curve or equipment investment (i.e. welding).

I'd like it to become profitable enough to yield an income of an extra $500-$1k a month, preferably $800 a month on average. I do work full time, but I'm willing to put in whatever additional hours are necessary to make this happen.

What can I sell? What niche markets should I consider? Am I dreaming?
posted by nightrecordings to Work & Money (13 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I think the first step is to do a little math. Find some sellers who are selling things that you think you could make. Regardless that you don't know whether they're actually selling or not, how much are they going for? If they're going for $20-30, do you have the time to make 35-50 of them every month? What is the price level of the things you're good at scavenging? Arbitrage is definitely doable in this world (don't forget about Craigslist, either), but you should know what level of activity you're aspiring to.
posted by rhizome at 6:15 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Research eBay and Etsy on the kind of product you want to create.
Follow them for a while and see how long it takes to actually SELL and for what price.
Calculate about 30% on expenses for listing fee, paypal fee and shipping.
posted by Mac-Expert at 6:16 PM on June 29, 2015

Honestly, having been on Etsy almost three years, I'd say you're probably dreaming.

Etsy has a blog called Quit Your Day Job which tells the story of various folks who have actually turned their Etsy shop into a full time business, which might be instructive.

Handmadeology is a great site that talks about the business side of handmade, and I would encourage you to read a lot of their archives.

Here's a post about the top 100 handmade sellers on Etsy for 2014 which should give you a fair idea of what the tippy top of the market looks like.

Were I going to seriously try to do this while also holding down a real day job, I would try to tap into the "digital supply" market on Etsy, where you basically find or make digital files people can use in crafts and sell the electronic files. These could be graphic images, knitting patterns, digital embroidery patterns, digital papers or other inexpensive and easy to download files. Because Etsy auto delivers the images, its very low maintenance. Graphique is one such shop (images), Velvet Acorn is a top five site that just sells knitting patterns. If you skim through that top 100 list you'll find more things along this line.

Even with auto delivery of digital you'll end up spending a couple of hours a day maintaining your shop, dealing with SEO and search terms, replying to questions, and finding and adding a new images/files/products more or less every week.

(FYI, Etsy charges a listing fee of .20, plus a transaction fee of 3.5% of the cost of the sale. Any electronic payment will also take a cut - you can use Etsy's in-house payment processor or Paypal on Etsy.)
posted by anastasiav at 6:30 PM on June 29, 2015 [19 favorites]

I tried to do the same thing. How much time do you think it will take? Multiply that many times over for a truly profitable site. I was just starting to get get some regular sales and I closed my shop. Waaaaaay to much work.
posted by harrietthespy at 7:16 PM on June 29, 2015

I looked into this on etsy, here is what I learned...

-certain things sell better on etsy versus ebay and vice versa.
-Etsy has a complex search system that means you have to put A LOT of effort into SEO and maintaining your shop. Ebay is much easier in that sense.
-There is so much product on Etsy, it's extremely difficult to find a niche. You will see a lot of copyright infringement (disney - so much, so much frozen stuff), but that stuff sells. Sometimes big companies will go after that stuff, but more just pops up in its place. Some categories are notoriously tough (crochet/knitting, jewelry among others)
-You won't get to $1000/month at first, in most cases. That's actually a large amount of product in a lot of cases.
-As stated above, digital sales can be a lot less work. No product to make, nothing to ship, and if you can figure out what people want, a lot less effort.
-You need a lot of various products on Etsy. More items=more shop views. It's been said that you see an uptick once you reach 100 different items. This is difficult when you have a full-time job because you need time to produce/ship/market current items and design new ones.
-If you're into the vintage thing, it can be quite profitable but there's a lot of 80s-90s stuff that is vintage by Etsy standards but is in low demand by vintage buyers. The nice thing about vintage is you aren't making anything, but cleaning or restoring items takes time, plus photography for all items.
-Supplies can be profitable too, but a lot of that is just breaking even with stuff you already own. I don't know many who buy things just to sell unless they are updating it somehow (dyed wool for example).
-Just to reiterate, etsy requires a lot of continuous maintenance. New items, marketing, refining SEO, etc.
-Pricing is a challenge. With so much stuff, it's hard to charge what you think something's worth if someone else is selling the same item for much cheaper.
-Etsy is tough, basically. Huge time suck for what you can make.
posted by Aranquis at 7:26 PM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Etsy is difficult. I have an Etsy shop, and when I was making a real effort with it, I was making maybe $200-300 a month, tops. Unless you are making truly niche stuff, you're going to be competing with tons of people with similar items, and many of them will be charging too little, undercutting you. I think it's doable, and there are Etsy sellers out there who make it work, but in my opinion, it's a lot of effort for minimal return. I still have the shop up there to sell the remaining inventory that I created in 2010-2011. It's been sitting there that long and I still have inventory clogging up my office.

eBay can be profitable, but you have to be careful. Sellers can't leave negative feedback for buyers anymore, and as a seller you don't have a ton of recourse if a buyer challenges you for any reason. Honestly, both of these options are doable, but take a lot of work. It really depends on how much free time you want to sink into this.
posted by bedhead at 8:08 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might do better with a cottage industry dealing exclusively locally for handmade stuff. Etsy is pretty saturated.

As for what's good to scavenge and sell, your niche should be something you know, inside out. You should know exactly what the marketplace for X is because you already love X and buy and collect X yourself. You should be so into X that you already know the best places to find awesome rare Xs, and have had so much experience with X that you've already got a tube of special X polish. Then you can be an X dealer, and make a decent per-hour wage because you are better with X than other eBay sellers who are selling X.

In re. cottage industries: check out your local Facebook for-sale groups, check out what sorts of things go quickly. Impulse buyers who hang out there (in my area, at least) like home decor and (unsurprisingly for impulse buying sorts) things that store other things. If you can knock out barn wood coat racks with "SMITH FAMILY" or whatever neatly lettered on them, you might do well.

My first response to the "Am I dreaming?" part was "No, that's totally easy and a very achievable target," and then I remembered I have been selling junk and handmade stuff for over a quarter of a century -- it's like anything else, there's a learning curve. But knowing what you sell and liking what you sell is really key to being a good junk dealer selling a nice grade of junk at a price that's good for both parties. Or at least that's what works well for me -- you can check out Reddit's /r/flipping for a wider variety of views.

Expect some stuff to not sell as you hoped -- have a marginally profitable thing to do with this cruft, be it holding garage sales, flinging it at local consignment stores, donating it for a tax write-off if applicable in your country, etc.
posted by kmennie at 8:24 PM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

A good friend of mine years ago made several thousand dollars in a few months buying computer and video game gear on the cheap on Craigslist, occasionally doing minor or cosmetic fixes, and then selling it on eBay. He used to say that the two most important things were knowing his product super well so he could spot great deals in the first place, and knowing the kind of easy maintenance and clean up that would let him sell beat up used stuff for way more than he could otherwise. Do you have anything (books, toys, etc) that you know really well?
posted by Itaxpica at 8:49 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

My experience with scavenging/reselling would mean that to profit $800 a month and hold a full-time job would take a lot of work and a fair bit of luck. Depending on what your area's like it could be completely realistic or totally out of the question.

Having a good eye for those diamonds in the rough is a great skill, but showing buyers that your middle-of-the-road items are worth bidding on week in and week out is the heart of the job.
posted by clorox at 9:32 PM on June 29, 2015

To make serious money on Etsy requires a workshop of more than one position) and full-time commitment, plus ability to source a proto-product from China or Asia that you customize here then list on Etsy or eBay.

If you want to go at it as a one-person shop, it's unlikely you'll ever make more than a few hundred a month, EVER. The real Etsy moneymakers have dozens, hundreds even thousands of their products available, not onesies and twosies that typical Etsy vendors sell.
posted by kschang at 3:08 AM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Building on the others: If you can get $30 for something you need to sell 33 a month, and take that times the amount of time it takes to make one....but keep in mind that calculation means you need to sell out of your entire inventory every month to make it work. It's difficult to run a business when you're selling that much but don't have any extra inventory sitting in the back.

We sell on Etsy as antiques dealers, not has handmade crafters, and in a good month we'll do $1,000, average months are probably about $200, but we need to have 300 - 400 items in the store at all times because in order to make 20 sales because we can't predict at any time what those 20 buyers are looking for. The structure may be different if you're selling all identical items, you may be able to do just-in-time inventory creation, but if you've got unique things you need to prepare for people who'd love that necklace, but only if it was blue -- you need to have all colors in there in order to sell just one of the colors, because you can't predict what color the customer is looking for.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:50 AM on June 30, 2015

A point to add to what everyone is saying about etsy - don't forget that when you sell something, a big percentage of it (fifty percent or more) will be your cost to make it. When you take your actual profit that's left over and divide it by however many hours you spent making it, plus doing all your marketing (you have to market like crazy to sell anything on etsy), you're likely to find that you're not even making minimum wage.

The artists who make it on etsy tend to be the ones who've spent decades perfecting a craft and who spend a LOT of time promoting their etsy shop, and even then, the etsy shop is usually just a sideline to their main business, which would be art shows and/or galleries.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:21 PM on June 30, 2015

There's definitely something to be said for selling locally. My girlfriend's mom does this. She typically finds things at garage sales or on Craigslist. Furniture items like dressers, desks and trunks can often be painted a fashionable color and resold at a decent profit, which she also does on CL.

Her other specialty is kitchen items. There are a lot of vintage brands of dishware, ceramics, bowl sets etc. that people want to get their hands on. She sells those on eBay. Also branded things... Disney stuff sells well, Coca-Cola... she often looks up on eBay whether similar items sell for a lot of money before buying at a garage sale. She has a good eye and brings in some solid cash.
posted by switcheroo at 9:09 PM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

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