My Biggest Failures Selling On Etsy

In 2010, I opened my very first Etsy Shop. I heard about it from friends, and was instantly interested because I occasionally did a lot of pencil sketch art and some paintings for fun. The idea was more exciting to be able to sell artwork online, even though I had no experience doing it. So I put up about 3 designs on Etsy really quickly, and let it sit there for probably 2 years. 

In 2012, I got my very first sale of a blue and grey abstract painting that was shipped to Florida through Etsy. I didn't really do anything to the list for 2 years. I just let it sit there, hoping that one day someone would buy it - not understanding how Keywords or SEO optimization worked. 

It was not until 2013, when I got married to Melinda, that we tried a lot harder to sell her handmade jewelry on Etsy. Within about 3 months, she got her first sale. She made the jewelry and I focused on things like Keywords, pricing, photography, and listing descriptions. 

From that little experience, we started getting regular sales and slowly ramping up to sustainable income every month - some high months, and some low months. But it is not easy to keep staying successful if you truly do not know what you are doing, and don't know all of the mistakes you need to avoid. 

 

Over the last 4 years, here are our biggest failures and things we've learned by selling on Etsy:

1. Don't stop progressing your Etsy Shop towards the future
Probably the worst thing you can do as a business is to stop looking towards the future and what's going on with sales. A big way to notice things need to change is that your sales start going down. If you sell the same thing over and over for months without a great improvement in your product designs, then sales will go naturally down because the world changes so quickly. We got really comfortable selling Printable Art on Etsy and making thousands of sales every month. But that only lasted for 2 years and start going down steadily every month. Now, we focus on other products, like high-end artwork, business courses, & furniture that do better than our Printable Art sales. We focus building on businesses for the future, instead of being stuck in the past.
 

2. Don't take too long of a break from creativity & growth
In October of 2017, I thought I should scale my web design business to hire more people and do more advertising to capture more clients. By January of 2018, I was the busiest I had ever been with my web design projects and needed to put 100% of my focus on web design. I spent virtually no time except maybe 1 day per week focusing on Etsy. Since January, sales on Etsy have stagnated. Fortunately, they haven't got down much, but they also haven't increased. I've lost several months of opportunity to scale my business on Etsy, and focused too much on custom orders and custom designs. Custom services constantly require finding new clients over and over each month. But selling small products on Etsy makes it easier to find sustainable, regular income - so I really regret not spending more time building my Etsy businesses and instead focusing on web design services. After nearly 5 months of trying to scale a custom web design business, I am burnt out from all the energy required to keep it up and missed a lot of opportunities I should have pursued selling on Etsy.
 

3. Don't disable too many listings or change your entire Etsy business concept too quickly
If things are going good, and you're getting bored of what you are doing, it can be tempting to remove a bunch of listings or try to scrap and redo your business model all together. While it is good to move in a new direction, it's not good to remove a bunch of listings dramatically or try to change strategy so fast that you give up on everything you were doing before. That's what I did back in October 2016 on our Etsy Shop. Sales were slowly going down and I didn't like a lot of the items we made anyways, so I disabling a bunch of listings to try and make a really "strong cohesive" brand, but that led to only seeing sales drop even further. About 1 month later, I brought back a bunch of listings that I didn't like, but other people did like, and sales popped back up again. 
 

4. Listen to your most valuable team member's feedback
All business owners will tell you to ignore the advice of friends and family that do not own a business. They'll either discourage you from trying, or tell you to do things they have no experience doing themselves. But the friends, family and team members that do pay attention to demographics, market changes and business principles are worth listening to. Once our Printable Art shop was doing really well, I stopped studying product design and focused more on keywords and optimization. But Melinda would often tell me that styles people liked were changing and I should start to make other kinds of designs as well. I would often say that we had too many listings, or it didn't match the style of what we were doing originally. But that was foolish of me to think. Melinda is the product design expert when it comes to trends and things that other women want to buy. I didn't listen to her advice, and sales slowly started dropping until I took her advice and updated the concept and overall look of the Etsy Shop. Your team members are your most valuable asset to your Etsy Shop, so listen carefully and implement ideas that are clearly correct - especially when it comes to focusing on adapting your business to the changes that are coming up in the future. 

Justin Wood

JPW Design Studio, California

Minimalist Website Designer