From the PBSW Archives: 20K Gold, or How I Sold a Truly Ridiculous Amount of Soap on Etsy, or The Part Where She Bangs on the Table A Lot
Originally published July 25, 2015:
Well, kids, here it is, the day I hit 20 THOUSAND sales in my Etsy shop!
When I opened my shop 5 1/2 years ago, I never expected to sell more than a few bars of soap, let alone quit my day job & build an empire. But, thanks to some major ass-busting on my part & a community of incredible customers, here I am, sitting pretty at over 20K sales.
I get asked a LOT about my growth on Etsy, & what new sellers can do to really nail that kind of success for themselves. The truth is, there’s no one recipe for success, & there’s no map I can draw that will lead every maker to the same peak, as it were. But, with this post, I’ll try to distill some Best Practices that will hopefully demystify things a bit, & help you get your business on the right path.
Disclaimer: I am a college drop out. I have absolutely ZERO formal training or education in business. I don’t know what a supply chain is, let alone how to use one. If your dream is to get on Shark Tank/find investors/go public/build a brand that you can sell & make big bucks, this information is very much not going to help you. I don’t think. But maybe it will? I don’t know.
Make What You Love to Make
Rule #1 of building a micro business – you are going to be living, breathing, & completely saturating yourself in the thing that you make, so be damn sure it’s something you really, really love. Don’t start a business making Shrinky-Dink eye patches unless you are 100% OK with them taking over your entire existence.
Loving what you make also pushes you to get better at what you make. Your main push to make a thing shouldn’t be “because it’s easy”. One of the most soul crushing things I can hear from a maker is “Oh my gosh, these are so easy to make, I can just crank them out & I don’t even have to think about it!”…
I am a firm believer in hard work. Work makes us better human beings. Work adds value, to things, to life, to ourselves. Making a thing that challenges your abilities & forces you to learn, adapt & grow has inherent worth, long before you put a price sticker on it.
Skill: it’s the new sexy.
I busted my ass for years in the food service industry, & then busted my ass in client services for a while. When I started making soap as a hobby, I pushed myself to learn as much as I could about it. Then I busted my ass some more. Noticing a trend?
Working really hard to get better at something makes you work smarter, too. You learn how to make things more efficiently, how to finesse your materials to do things that they normally don’t want to do. You get stupidly excited when you find a new way to do something that shouldn’t work, but totally does. You cackle giddily at no one.
Being passionate about what you do also makes it really easy to talk about your work, and talking about what you do is the fastest way to get to the next point…
Connect With People
Hiding yourself away in an airy, south facing studio at the top of the house & doing nothing but making felt nose cozies all day sounds like heaven, but at some point, if you want to pay the bills, you’ll actually have to talk to people.
Yeah. I know. You hate shilling. You hate “sales”. Your personal idea of hell is having to stand up in front of a room full of people & give a sales pitch about your nose cozies & why everyone needs one & why yours are the best & oh my GOD PLEASE BUY ONE, WON’T SOMEBODY BUY ONE.
The truth is, as micro businesses, sales pitches & elevator speeches aren’t what net us customers. What does?
I’m not talking about relationships with your family, or your besties, or even the regulars that you see every week at the dog park. Honestly, these folks are probably the worst group to pitch to, as they’ll tend to give very well-intentioned but really horrible business advice (see supply chains).
You want to start looking for other makers, other micro businesses, other people who value skill & substance over 3-for-$5 deals. Chat up the regulars at the local yarn shop. Get comfy in an online forum dedicated to indie beauty products. Trade contact info with the guy doing hand crafted furniture at the arts festival. Talk to anyone who will listen about what you do, why you do it, & why you love it. Hang onto the folks who talk back, & for the love of Pete, ALWAYS have business cards in your pocket.
Go out into the world (IRL or online) & sow the seeds of relationships, leaving a trail that people can follow back to you & your work. People will remember that awesome girl that came by the shop a few weeks ago & talked about raising goats & making cheese. They will remember the guy who gave really good advice on how to set up a composting system, & didn’t he make concrete planters or something, I know he had a link in his profile…
Our work is nothing without people to share it with. You gotta get out of your own head & find your people. Find the ones who Get You, who get what you do & what you’re all about. And then…
Listen to People (but not all of them)
It’s all well and good if you love to make wire sculptures of Jeff Bridges, but if no one wants to buy a wire replica of His Dudeness, well, you’ll have a hard time paying the bills.
Now, you can go all infomercial & try to figure out a way to convince folks that their lives are incomplete without a life-size 10-gauge aluminum Lebowski in their front yard… eeeeeh. This just sounds exhausting. And absolutely no fun whatsoever.
Or, you use the budding network of connections you’ve been cultivating to find something that people do want. Play around with your materials & your skills. Make some prototypes & put them up on Instagram & see what catches people’s attention. Invite some local makers around for a beer & to talk shop & show them what you’re working on. Ask people what they are missing, what they need, what they are always looking for but can’t find.
Now, you’ll probably get a lot of feedback. Some of it will be really helpful. Some of it will be awful. There’s always someone who thinks that crocheted doggie bikinis is A Sure Thing, and yeah, the Poo-pouri folks are making a mint right now, but really, is that what you want to spend your time making? (If it is, get on with your bad self, you are a better person than I.)
Weed out the impractical, the also-rans, the ideas that run contrary to your personal standards, and look for the genuine seeds of inspiration. Look for the ideas that speak to a larger audience. Look for the sparks that make you say, “You know what? I could do something with that…” & that keep you up at night with your brain on overdrive.
Fill. A. Need.
Even if it’s a tiny need. Even if it’s a frivolous need. Find that spot where your skill & an empty space intersect. Take a thing that works okay & figure out a way to make it work better. Make something that’s already really useful really beautiful as well.
Let’s be frank: there are a metric shit ton of makers out there. If you’re going to make yourself stand out in a crowded marketplace, you need to come up with a really good reason why people should buy your stuff. “Because I worked really hard on it,” isn’t enough; people will not buy from you just because you spent fifteen hours hand painting a Scrabble tile to look like a Cheez-It. A pity purchase isn’t how you net loyal customers.
This isn’t to say that you can’t succeed unless you literally reinvent the wheel. You just need to figure out how you could make it just a little bit better.
No, dammit, seriously, I mean it. Figure out what it costs to make one of your kimchi-stuffed marshmallows, from supplies & ingredients to packaging & printer ink. Then figure out how long it takes for you to make it, and add in an hourly wage for yourself. You are a maker, not a charity; if you want to quit that day job, you have to pay yourself.
More importantly, you have to value the work that you do before you can expect anyone else to value it.
If you don’t factor in labor when you price your items, your prices will be too low. Contrary to popular opinion, low prices do not net long term sales, not in the hand made world. Price your work cheaply, & people will assume that it’s cheap in quality, too.
There are a ton of pricing calculators out there, so I’m not holding your hand through that process. Just make sure at the end of the day, your work is working for you.
Here it is folks, the end game, benchmark, if-you-listen-to-nothing-else-I’ve-said-for-god’s-sake-listen-to-this moment.
Say thank you. Say it A LOT. Thank your customers. Thank your suppliers. Thank your connections. Thank your detractors.
And then thank your customers again.
Never let your customers think for one hot minute that you take their support for granted.
Invite them into your work space; host open houses, post in-process pictures, share disaster stories, let them see you doing what you do best.
Give them something; get super pretty business cards to put in each order, make a coupon code just for returning customers, send freebies, make a behind-the-scenes video.
Let them know you’re listening; answer emails & convos, send a hand-written note, maintain an active Facebook page/Twitter/Instagram that lets your customers talk to you in public.
Our customers are why we get to do what we do all day; without them, we’d be stuck in uninspiring day jobs, getting flack & making money for other people. Our customers set us free. Never forget that.
So yeah, you probably thought this was going to be a post all about getting found in Etsy searches & how to tag your products… Whoops
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