Side Hustle Showcase: The Truth Behind Etsy

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Is there anyone left who hasn’t heard of Etsy? After 12 years in the online market, Etsy has become the go-to platform for artists all over the world to sell their goods. The site had $2.8 billion in gross sales in 2016, spread across 29.7 million active buyers!

What I love about Etsy is that it provides an easily accessible way to utilize your talents and start a side business at home. But how do you run an Etsy shop? How much time does it take? How much money can you make? To answer these questions, I interviewed 20 shop owners on their experiences. If you have ever wanted to open your own Etsy shop, or have a shop but want to make things better, read on to learn what it takes from real sellers!

Thanks to all the great shop owners who took the time to share their knowledge! Check out links to their shops throughout the post!

Table of Contents

What is Etsy?

Etsy, an online marketplace where users can sell handmade and unique goods, vintage items, and crafting supplies. The marketplace has seen incredible growth over the past several years. It started 2005, grew to 56,000 sellers by 2007, and now has over 1.8 million active sellers as of April 2017. Etsy defines an active seller as any shop that has had at least one product sale in the last 12 months.

The way Etsy makes money as a corporation is by charging the seller fees when they list and sell products. The site charges $0.20 to list an item, and the listing stays active for four months. If your product sells, Etsy charges 3.5% of the selling price as a commission. They also make money by charging a fee if you wish to promote your items for sale in their search or use their shipping label services. These costs vary.

Can Etsy be a good side hustle?

If you are looking to make a quick buck, Etsy probably isn’t the side hustle for you. It takes significant time to make your products, set up your shop, take great pictures, and optimize your product titles and descriptions so people can actually find your incredible products! The bigger the marketplace gets, the more competitive it is to sell a product. This means it can take a little time to make your first sale and gain traction.

However, there are plenty of small shops still making a decent side income from their products. 75% of the shop owners I interviewed were either stay-at-home parents or worked full-time outside the home. Only 25% viewed their Etsy shop as a full-time business.

Etsy shop owners fall on both sides of the spectrum when it comes to side hustle versus career. The time you commit to it, the amount of money you make, and how you view the goals of your shop is entirely up to you. But if you want to make a little extra money and really love the creative side, Etsy could be a good side hustle for you. Keep in mind though, Etsy is built for people with passion. It isn’t for the faint of heart!

How much can you really make as an Etsy shop owner?

Well, the sky is the limit. Some fantastic shops like Simple Shapes make a million dollars a year (or more!). And that is what Etsy wants you to look at when you’re opening a shop. But for every shop making the big bucks, there are at least 100 making almost zero. An Etsy shop is like any small business, there is significant potential for failure, and you have to be willing to put in a good chunk of upfront work before you see the cash start to flow.

That said, all the shop owners in the Showcase make some income from their shops. Many of them have seasonal shops that pick up significantly around Christmas or spring, though they tried to provide their best approximation of an average month to give you a good idea of how the business actually looks. In this section, I’m not going to mention any shop names to avoid outing anyone’s income or productivity, but there is a lot to learn from running the numbers just the same!

Sales

The 20 shop owners in the Showcase had a broad range of sales. The lowest volume shop had an average of 3 sales a month while the highest volume shop sold 700 products a month. At the median, Showcase participants made 20 sales a month. In reality, though, this doesn’t tell the whole story. There is a big difference between selling three quilts and 700 hair pins or printable menu planners. The pricing and time dedicated to the products will be vastly different.

At the median, shop owners brought in $537.50 in monthly revenue (or ~$518 after Etsy fees). The products sold ranged in price from $3 to $175, with an average product price of $40. Over $500 a month for a side hustle sounds decent, but what about the costs?

Profit

On average, our Etsy shop owners priced their products at a 68% markup to cost. I found those numbers staggering and expected them to be raking in major profits. But with the exception of a few high volume shops, after Etsy fees and costs, the median shop brought in $291 of profit a month.

The smallest shop in the survey group makes a whopping $8.50 per month, while the largest shop makes over $5,000. While I can’t name names, I can tell you that the biggest shop is also run by someone who works full-time outside the home AND has kids! Can you say “superhuman”?

Hourly income

Now here comes the scariest part when it comes to Etsy. Have you ever looked at something on Etsy and thought it was too expensive? Or thought there was no way the product costs that much to make and they are pricing in too much margin? You’re about to have your eyes opened.

On an hourly basis, a full 50% of Etsy shop owners make less than the Federal minimum wage of $7.25. Two shop owners make less than $1 an hour after taking into account hours making and shipping products, hours responding to customer correspondence, and managing their shop.

Looking at the hourly income, I have to conclude that Etsy is only a good side hustle if you truly love your craft and would do it regardless of the income. If you want the most value for your time, there are hundreds of other things you could do for a higher hourly salary.

The exception is if you can make beautiful printables. If you can design printable journals, nursery art, organizers, or similar products, Etsy can more closely approach passive income. You won’t have to ship products, Etsy can just send the download to customers when they purchase. The two major printable shops in the Side Hustle Showcase both made well over $100 an hour and were some of the highest earning shops in the survey.

What do Etsy shop owners love about running their shops?

The Etsy shop owners who participated in the Showcase universally enjoyed running their shops. They all had a host of reasons they gained joy and validation from selling their products, but I asked them to each narrow down what they enjoyed to their top 3 things.

While everyone had their own personal views, I was interested to see three themes pop up in almost every response.

  1. The wonderful interactions with customers.
  2. The ability to work from home and on your own schedule.
  3. Having a creative outlet.

Etsy gives people a way to chase their artistic dreams and passions, while also making money from their efforts. A well set up Etsy shop often means the owner gets to experience the joy and satisfaction of seeing a product they made themselves being valued and loved by others. Maybe the owner didn’t expect their first sale to take a month, maybe they expected to make hundreds of sales instead of dozens, but the positive experience is largely still there.

Check out the graphic below for some of my favorite quotes from participants on what they love about Etsy!

What do Etsy shop owners dislike about running their shops?

Alright, so all these shop owners are giving us the feels and making us believe we need to go open our first shop right now! But first, let’s hit pause on the dopamine train and bring in a little bit of reality. Running an Etsy shop, like any business, is not all sunshine and daisies. There is some miserable stuff too. (Besides the whole potentially making less than minimum wage thing…) Here are the top 3 things people dislike about running an Etsy shop.

  1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Competition on Etsy is high, so you need to research keywords to ensure that your products show up in customer searches. This can take some time away from the fun creative stuff.
  2. Handling shipping: Trying to figure out costs, packing things correctly and handling random delays can be a real pain!
  3. Dealing with rude customers: Luckily, this seems somewhat rare, but some people mentioned having to deal with unreasonable custom requests and timelines from some customers.

Overall, Etsy is an enormous, standard platform for a huge set of non-standard items. The creative souls that love Etsy, also struggle with working within the bounds of Etsy’s set system. You have to treat an Etsy shop as a business and commit time to learning the rules of the marketplace to be successful, as well as making your products.

Check out the graphic below for some of my favorite quotes from participants on what they dislike about running their Etsy shops!

How do you become a great Etsy shop owner?

The hourly pay for most Etsy shop owners likely means it is only a great side hustle if your craft is something you would already be doing anyway. You aren’t going to get rich quick, and you’ll have to put in quite a bit of effort to get things rolling. The exception, which I have mentioned a few times now, seems to be high-quality printable products. If you have an eye for printable art, craft patterns, organizational tools, or how-to eBooks for a craft you love, Etsy can more closely approach passive income as you will spend less time making a product for each and every sale and won’t have to handle shipping. Either way, competition is high, and you will have to take the time to set up your Etsy shop in a way that differentiates you from other artists.

If you love your craft, you have nothing to lose! The cost of start-up is relatively small, as you only have to pay for your $0.20 item listings, send it out to friends, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook and see how it goes. Etsy has a very helpful Seller Handbook that all the shop owners surveyed viewed as highly valuable.

To visit the Etsy Seller Handbook and get started with your shop today, click here!

Top advice from Etsy shop owners

The shop owners surveyed had so much information they wanted to share with potential new Etsy artists that I can’t possibly include it all here. In a side hustle with so much competition, it was awesome to see artists all wanting to lift each other up instead of keeping others out. (Not so different from the blogging world!)

Overall, everyone’s biggest piece of advice was to jump in and take a chance! Network with other shop owners, love your product and treat your customers well, and don’t be afraid to self-promote. The shop owners also recommended reading the Etsy Seller Handbook cover-to-cover and joining Facebook groups specifically for Etsy shop owners. Both will give you a free way to get answers to your questions, which you are sure to have a lot of at the beginning!

What to know about opening your shop

Most of the shop owners in the Showcase started their shops at the encouragement of family and friends. People saw value in their talents, and the shop owners decided to give Etsy’s global platform a try. The owners went into the process with different levels of preparation and readiness, but no matter what, they’ve learned a lot along the way.

Some owners started their shops with only 1-3 items, while some had upwards of 40. On average, the figure was around 10 items. This compares to Etsy’s advised figure of 8 items. You want to be sure to have enough in your shop that you look established and customers can see the range and quality of your work.

All but three shop owners promoted their shops as soon as they started! Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and spreading the word through family and friends are great ways to start building a reputation for your shop. Create accounts or pages specific to your shop, so you can spread the word and build a following without worrying about customers getting blasted with photos of your family vacation. Adoren Studios says, to make your shop more established and legitimate when a random customer stumbles upon it,

“If you have a family member or friend that is interested in buying your product, have them do it through Etsy and leave a review.”

Getting your first sale

On average, it took the shop owners about a month to get their first sale on Etsy that wasn’t from a family member or friend. The setup takes some work. This is what surprised Scott from WLKRDSGN.

“How much work it took to get things moving. Honestly, I get discouraged at times when I see shops that have been open less than a year, doing the same thing I’m doing, and sitting on 4,000 sales. It’s hard not to compare yourself to people sometimes, but the truth is, if you really work hard you can see success in your shop, and have a good time doing it.”

InkAid said she spent over 20 hours just setting up her shop and she is a graphic designer! While the time may feel tedious, getting things set up beautifully and efficiently will make things easier for you in the future.

Tools to get started

The name of the game when it comes to winning at Etsy is Search Engine Optimization. Etsy’s marketplace is now so large that it effectively works as a search engine. For example, when I signed in and searched “blue shell bracelet” 4,237 results showed up! If you want customers to see your products, you need to be sure your shop and listings have the right keywords to bring your item to the top of that list. I might click through two or three pages to find what I want, but I probably wouldn’t venture to page 67.

Most shop owners said they watched YouTube videos, signed up for Etsy courses, or joined Facebook groups for Etsy shop owners to learn more about SEO. The Etsy Seller Handbook also has some helpful tips for improving your SEO.

Some other things to consider if you want to grow your skill base and Etsy sales are:

  • Photoshop course: Taking beautiful photos is key to securing customers. As an online, handcrafted marketplace, your customers can’t touch and feel your products. The quality of your photos helps you stand out and shows the care you put into your shop. If you aren’t comfortable with Photoshop, a quick online course may be worth the investment.
    • Personally, I love PicMonkey for editing photos and making great social media share images. It is cheaper than Photoshop and very easy to use!
  • Bookkeeping system: Etsy is a business, so you need to treat it like one. You will have to file taxes on your shop, which means keeping track of income and all expenses. Early on, a simple spreadsheet will do fine. But if your shop starts to grow, some shop owners recommended QuickBooks Self-Employed or another more comprehensive accounting system.

According to all the shop owners though, the key to starting your Etsy shop is to just jump in! Similar to blogging, or any other small business, if your initial set up is a little messy it is nothing to worry about. You won’t have much customer traffic at the beginning anyway! This sounds bad, but it means you can tweak and improve as you go! Good luck!

Want to know more about our Etsy shop owners?

To write this piece I interviewed 20 Etsy shop owners, with shops ranging from brand new this year to over eight years old. These awesome shop owners sell a wide variety of products including t-shirts, custom dog collars, wreaths, jewelry, ornaments, printables and more. For a few details on who these shop owners are, see the charts below.

Now, it isn’t surprising that the 20 shop owners I have interviewed have different goals and levels of success. Or that the longer a store has been open, the more sales it has had. The highest volume shop interviewed was Adoren Studio which has had over 8,000 sales since she opened less than two years ago. She sells printables which allow her to have higher volume and less hassle with shipping. The lowest volume shop was InkAid, another printable shop which opened in 2017, and has had 43 sales in its first four months.

The chart below shows total unit sales of each shop compared to how long they have been in operation, highlighting whether the shop is a side hustle or full-time career for the owner. The chart excludes to outliers that had significantly higher sales than the other participants, Adoren Studio (over 8,000) and Maple Shade Kids (over 5,000).

Mama Fish’s Main Takeaways

Etsy isn’t for everyone. Many shops make little money and while they are low cost to open, the time committed creating your initial products (Etsy recommends at least 8 to start) and setting up a pretty shop that can be found in customer searches can take significant time. If you are looking for a side hustle to pay off debt or save for a time-sensitive expense, I would look elsewhere. However, for many artists, Etsy has opened a whole new world. It has given thousands of people an easily accessible platform to turn a hobby or craft they love into an income stream. Shop owners describe complete joy upon seeing their products purchased, valued, and enjoyed by others. If that sounds thrilling to you, it never hurts to give it a try!

 

Are you an Etsy shop owner? Have you ever thought about becoming one? Let me know if you think it is a good side hustle down in the comments!

This post was proofread by Grammarly.

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