I came across this phenomenal post on Reddit, written by an etsy seller who just surpassed 10,000 orders in 5 years time. I was so impressed with the post that I immediately reached out to the etsy seller, PowerOfTheShow, who operates the etsy store ArtofBarbell to ask if I could repost this Reddit on our blog. I was absolutely stoked when the response was "Sure!".
To begin, Art of Barbell successfully sells pretty bad ass customized merchandise on etsy. These items are primarily focused around working-out and range from awesome mugs to empowering clothing to daily journals, shopping lists and more. Here's a small sampling of a couple of their listings:
Being that I haven't been to the gym in quite a while (AKA: A very long time!) I was immediately drawn to their absolutely adorable greeting cards because if there's one thing I HAVE been to recently, it's bacon and cheese!:
So as you can see, not only does their selection target the "gym types", but also totally appeals to people like me... who write about the Gym Types, while sitting and snacking in my computer chair.
So, without further ado, here's the Reddit post ArtofBarbell provided (*I have chosen to bold-face things I find important because we discuss them on this blog on a regular basis! Enjoy!!!!) :
Just two days ago I surpassed 10,000 sales after having my shop open for almost 5.5 years - I've always heard that it takes 5 years for a business to finally mature and thrive, and I never believed it until the 5th year came and I finally saw all of my work payoff.
Now it could be that from 2020-2021 many more people were shopping online than ever before, and Etsy's ads were helping (I have about 1/4 of my sales coming from Etsy Offsite Ads that I can't opt out of) but the momentum has still continued through this year.
When I started back in 2015, I didn't really anticipate it taking off into a full time venture...it was rather a side-gig and hobby that I used to make extra income alongside my full time job. I would mainly work on my products on weekends or an hour before I went to work each day.
What do I sell?
I originally started my shop selling illustrated greeting cards that had a very specific niche (CrossFit & fitness)...which meant I had very few competitors as long as the cards I made were absolutely the best in their category. People weren’t just searching for “birthday greeting card” but “weightlifting greeting card” and that specificity really narrowed down my audience but also guaranteed more conversions and purchases because it was a topic hardly anyone else did.
Shortly after I wanted to make some passive income as well and sell digital items. I was helping my husband with his nutrition coaching business creating food diary journal templates, and decided to make some generic ones to sell online for people to download. From these templates I got requests from customers to make printed journals...which brings my shop to where it is now! I actually rarely sell greeting cards now except for bundles around Christmas (because the profit margin on those is much lower for the time I spend to make single ones). About 80% of my sales come from physical nutrition journals. I really researched what people were looking for when they recorded their nutrition through my husbands own clients or actually using one myself, so it wasn’t some simple generic thing. The product was way more comprehensive than something you’d pick off a shelf at Barnes & Noble.
Having digital items has helped to keep some steady flow of income (and make up for shipping costs for my physical items since I offer free shipping) but also allowed my shop to stay open without putting it on vacation mode if I have to take a break from physical products.
Top Things I've Learned the Last 5 Years
These are just a list of things that have helped me specifically based on the types of items I sell...they won't necessarily apply to all shops depending on the uniqueness, price, or craftness of your items. Though I think they are generally good guidelines to help really polish off a business.
Rarely take custom orders…or if you do, make the customizations extremely limited.
I found that when customers asked me for custom requests, they got way too detailed and ended up taking me more time than I intended (when you total up all of the messaging time and mental energy you also have to put into it). What I decided to do was LIMIT the options my customers could customize…in fact any customization would only take me at most 5-10 extra minutes total to complete (such as changing the color of a spiral, adding text inside a card, or adding a name onto a cover). I set up systems and templates to make my customizations super quick (so all I needed to do was open a file, type it in, print it and BAM done!). The cool thing is just by adding in these few limitations, the customer already feels that they are customizing their purchase because they have choices.
I also learned somewhere that the fewer choices the customer has, the more satisfied they are with their purchase (versus being overwhelmed with so many options). This is because the customer has less to compare to, and less “what if I got this instead?” buyers remorse doubts after the purchase, because their options were already limited.
Create products based on special requests that people ask for to modify an existing one.
Literally my best-selling products have been ones I made based on unique customer requests, and not the ones I originally sold when I first opened my shop.
I’ve actually modified and added several listings based on recommendations that customers have asked with custom orders and messages. For example, one of the first listings I ever offered was a printable PDF fitness journal, and someone asked if I made a physical journal. I decided to buy the supplies to make one and ended up turning it into a real listing and selling 30 of them that year! These physical journals are now my best sellers and basically 80% of my revenue. Another example was someone asking if I could add in "protein, carb & fat" sections to the journal...which I did and surprisingly a lot of people ending up purchasing more of them.
Think of this as making items that YOUR CUSTOMERS WANT TO PURCHASE! If they ask for it, chances are more people out there probably want it too! The majority of my listings were created based off of conversations I’ve had with customers on what they want.
Set up your business like you could easily transfer it over to someone else if you needed to (even if you don’t intend to).
One day a couple years ago during peak holiday season, my husband asked if I needed any help with my Etsy shop in order to get my orders done. The problem was, I had no idea HOW to have him help because I had such a very specific and unique process that only I knew in my head that there was no way he would be able to do anything without lots of in-depth explaining.
Since then, I decided to set up different templates and systems in order to make my products so they ended up being a factory-like process (such as create a consistent way I name files on my computer or create templates for my printed journals, or create a consistent list of tasks that could be done in order of easiest to most mentally demanding so I could outsource it to my husband if I needed to.) This helped me immensely when I also had a baby last year and had very minimal time to get orders done…if I didn’t have all of these templates and things in place to do easily, it would have taken me much longer (or with mom brain I would forget and have to remember how to do stuff).
I haven’t had to officially hire anyone yet, but actually outlining the process in which I made my items helped me to figure out more clear and efficient ways to do things. (Etsy does not allow you to transfer a business without completely recreating a new username & shop FYI but this tip is more about efficiency in the business and allowing you to take time off or let an assistant help you out rather than anticipating selling it).
Set up your business to mass produce instead of only produce single, one-time items. Dream of selling 1,000 items instead of 10 items? Then do EVERYTHING as if you already sell thousands of items.
Artisan / handmade doesn’t necessarily mean every item has to have a unique process. In fact, think about what you need to do to SCALE UP your business. I always dreamed of selling hundreds or thousands of listings, but I always purchased supplies as if I only had 10 items to sell because I was trying to be frugal. The thing was, because I limited my supplies and limited my process, I really limited my potential to scale up and BE BIG.
One day I decided I would buy enough supplies to anticipate making 500 journals one day instead of just 100 (even if it took me a year). I decided to have 20 of the same item in stock (and bulk make them like a factory) instead of just 2. I don't know what Etsy's algorithm is, but I feel that if something sells, then it attracts more sales like a magnet. I usually got several sales of the same item in a row until another item got traction and sold.
I had to get past the fear of spending $$ upfront to get more sales. But I framed it as "If I sell X items, then the cost of this new printer will pay for itself" or vice versa.
Suddenly I found in a few months after a few hundred sales, I was already running out of supplies! This is a tricky thing to do if you have an incredibly limited budget…but if you can afford to spend a little extra on getting a higher quantity of supplies at a lower cost, it will bring down your overall cost/widget.
If you plan to take a quick vacation or have limited items, then price UP your items rather than go on vacation.
There was a point in time where I took a road trip for 3 weeks and couldn’t be in my office to continuously make new items, so I could only take a boxful of things with me to ship. What I decided to do was increase the price of my items temporarily so that if someone really wanted one and valued my items as so, they would order it and I would get paid generously for it. I've also hear rumors that your shop gets shoved down the search list once you come back from vacation because you lost the momentum.
If you outright made a mistake on someone’s order, apologize, admit it was your fault and send another.
No need to try and shift the blame to the customer and keep a problem dragging much longer than It should be. For what I sell, it was more worth it to me to just send a new one (even if it meant I broke even on the sale) and just get it off my chest and move on than to linger on it.
Check how your cover photo looks in the search compared to other comparable listings and then adjust it so it stands out.
A simple way is to sign out of Etsy and do a search for your product (like you’re a customer) and see how your cover photo compares to the other competitive listing next to yours. Does yours look too dark or too vague? Does it catch the viewer’s eye with detail more than other listings?
It really helps to do some photoshop touching-up of your cover photos since it’s pretty rare that a photo (even from a really nice DSLR) will come out bright and perfectly enough. However, also having some photos that look more "at home" versus a perfectly posed studio can help your business feel more mom-n-pop and stand out from dropship items.
Add descriptions and details IN YOUR PHOTOS. I cannot emphasize this enough…people will view photos more than read the description, and they make a lot of assumptions based on what your photos look like. Make sure all variant options are shown as photos (and it’s OK to make a collage of photos in case 10 is not enough to show them all), and use labels or text to help describe things.
I hardly ever refer to my shop as "we" but purposely try to word things as if I am the only person running my shop, and that I am just a regular person.
As polished as having a perfectly crafted professional typed message may seem, I use lots of "OMGs", "lols" and "haha's" all the time in my messages to customers. I feel the casualness helps people realize that I am not this giant corporation or some weird China distributor but actually a regular person with a personality. It helps people to realize they are purchasing from a mom-owned small business and will therefore turn off their "Karen-ness." I've honestly gotten very few Karens in my shop history...either since my products, photos or description already help to wean away criticisms, or because I answer them promptly and with a friendly tone that acknowledges their confusion. "Ahh I'm sorry that you are having trouble downloading this...let's see if we can figure this out!"
Lastly, if you have a target yearly income in mind, do some math and figure out how many items you need to sell daily or weekly in order to make that amount.
A lot of people here eventually want to jump ship from their current job and use Etsy as a way to live full time (and honestly when my husband and I both lost our jobs early last year due to lockdowns & closures, my Etsy shop luckily kept us afloat for several months). It helps to know what you have to expect in terms of sales in order to make it happen.
Know: The exact cost of making + shipping your items (if you offer free shipping) as well as take into account tax percentages you'll have to pay.
Also know: an approximate percentage of fees Etsy takes from your product. Depending on if it's a sale from an Etsy ad, it's either 16% or 21%
Based on your prices, know your profit margin (How much you actually get after all fees, cost of items and sales tax). For example for me, let's say I make an average of $50/product I sell (this is a fake number). Some products I'll make more or less but I just use an average number to make calculations easier.
Then I use that average number to calculate the number of sales I need to average a day to know if I'm on track or not...based on a $/day I want to make. If my goal is to make $150 a day, then I need to average 3 sales a day based on my average profit-per-item. You would change the numbers based on your own costs & income needs.
I hope that some of these tips can help many of you sellers. I've found many of these also sprinkled throughout my lurking on this sub for the past 3-4 years.
Want to view this original post? Check it out here on Reddit or peep their listings! Also, be sure to follow them on instagram: @artofbarbell_ for helpful weightlifting tips and advice, or @mindfulhealthjournal.
AND CONGRATS TO THEM FOR BREAKING 10,000 SALES!!!!!! The Thompson Family and Staff at BigBrandWholesale.com in Michigan sends you a virtual fruit basket + best wishes for 20,000+ sales!
Where to Next? Popular Topics: