14 Tips from my first year selling on Etsy


Tomorrow marks one year since I opened my Etsy shop! I hit 100 sales around 9 months in, and as of this post, it’s climbed to 147. (09/2020: And now I’m over 3400+!) With my primary job of raising two little girls, I’m still very much in the part-time seller camp, but I am selling things and making a profit.

Other than some high school accounting classes, I don’t have any formal business or marketing education. That said, I have always had an entrepreneurial streak, and I secretly love bookkeeping. I’ve learned a lot during my first year and continue to learn new things every day. The following tips are based on my experiences.

1. You are creating a boutique.

When selling on Etsy, it’s understood that you should have clear and descriptive listings, beautiful photos, and a cohesive look to your shop. All of this takes a really long time to set up. This isn’t eBay. You can’t just throw up a bunch of stuff willy nilly and expect it to sell. If it does, kudos to you! But the majority of shops have to put some thought into it to show any success. Your goal should be to create a cute/pretty/pleasant shop full of related items.

2. Your shop won’t be perfect from the beginning

This was a hard pill for this recovering perfectionist to swallow.

I was trying to get everything just right before opening up shop. Keywords, tags, titles, descriptions, photos, policies, etc. Well, that was a next-to-impossible task. Try your best, open up shop, then see what needs to be changed based on how people are finding (or not finding) your items. As time goes on, every sale (or non-sale!) is a chance to learn more and develop your shop.

And you will make mistakes.

  • You will introduce products that don’t catch on.
  • You will undercharge for shipping.
  • You will buy a bunch of the wrong materials or shipping supplies that you will never use.

I’ll own up to all of those. Trial and error are my best friends.

3. Keep active

If you set up shop and don’t sell anything, don’t list anything new, and let the shop sit stagnant, your items will fall out of favor in Etsy searches. I don’t have any reference for that, it’s just my experience.

Etsy is not a “set it and forget it” type of thing. You have to tend shop. Etsy searches seem to favor “activity.” The more favorites you get, the more views that item seems to get. The more views you get, the more sales you get. It’s all related.

4. More is more

Filling your shop with 100 items on Etsy is some kind of mythical milestone that supposedly makes it easier for your items to be found in searches. In my experience, hitting 100 sales had much more of an impact. But I can’t argue that every listing is a potential entry point into your shop, so more has to be better. Personally, I see small bumps in views every time I list a few items, and with each tier I achieve (50 items, 100 items). I also saw improved traffic and sales as I built up one of my shop categories from just a couple of items to more like 10-15 items.

Sometimes I get a spike in views and no sales. Some days I get just a few views and multiple sales. I cannot make sense of that.

5. Add new listings a few at a time

After you’ve filled your shop initially with a page or two of items, add listings slowly. I tend to create a batch of items, save them as draft listings, and then publish one or two each day. Etsy favors “activity,” remember?

6. SEO is everything. EVERYTHING.

It kills me when I see shops misusing the SEO opportunities Etsy provides. I think people are either too quick to set up shop and just fill out the form fields Etsy requires, figuring they’ll change it later, or they haven’t done their research.

Entire books could be written about Etsy Relevancy and SEO, so here are just some basics based on the most common errors I see.

Your “Shop Title” is not your shop name! It should be a brief description of the items you sell. I see this mistake all the time.

Repeat the same phrases in your Shop Title, your listing titles, the first part of the item description, and in your tags. Bonus points if the Shop Section is also named similarly.

Your Shop Announcement is intended to be a note to customers that you can change, announce news, sales, etc., but the first part of it is also the description of your shop that shows up in Google searches (if your shop gets indexed), so you kind of have to weigh what is more important to you personally.

In your tags, use long-tail keywords (that is, phrases) that someone might actually search. Try not to use single word keywords, though some categories and items probably defy this rule. Don’t use “red” and “pillow” and “cover.” Use “red pillow cover.”

Even after your items are listed, you should tweak your titles and tags if your items aren’t being found in searches. If you start to type into the item search box at the top of Etsy, it will give you suggestions about what phrases you might want to use as tags.

If you label things right, your items will come up in Google Shopping results! That is huge. I have sales I can attribute directly to Google Shopping from first time Etsy buyers.

(If all this still seems really confusing, here’s a link to basic SEO information from Etsy.)

7. Figuring out what to charge for shipping is hard

Hoo boy. This is still one thing I’m trying to figure out. In these days of Amazon Prime or “any size order ships for $5,” people have an unreasonable expectation of what shipping charges should be. People don’t like to pay for shipping. Unfortunately, shipping charges are expensive. I live in St. Louis (right in the middle of the US) and to ship a 2-3 lbs package to one of the coasts can cost more than $10. I am sure it is worse shipping from one coast to the other. It makes no difference that the item value is only $15-20.

So when the shipping estimate is high, I tend to cut my shipping cost down a bit. Like if the estimator says it could be $10, I charge $8 and take a hit on my profit. Sometimes I adjust the price of an item to make up for it, but not always. My goal is to keep my prices affordable and reasonable, so most of the time I feel like I’m pushing my prices as high as I can. This is just what I do, and I’m still experimenting. Your situation and experiences may be different!

Update 03/31/2015: Recently, Etsy has added an estimated shipping option for sellers. At this point, it’s completely optional and you can even have some items listed with estimated shipping costs based on weight and others listed with a flat shipping fee. So far, this is a great development to solve the problems I described above. If you sell items that weigh over a pound, give it a try!

8. Give customers as many options to pay as possible

An overwhelming majority of my customers pay via Direct Checkout. That is, paying with a credit card directly through Etsy (instead of using PayPal). If you don’t have Direct Checkout set up (you need a business checking account to do this, and really, you should have one anyway), then you are likely missing out on sales. As commonplace as PayPal has become, it’s extra hassle to some buyers.

9. Answer your convos (emails) ASAP

Convos are Etsy’s internal email messaging system. You might think answering messages promptly is just a courtesy to customers/potential customers, but it actually has a self-serving undertone.

Customers typically message sellers to ask questions about items before they purchase them. People send convos while they are shopping. Answer them quickly, and you’ll probably catch them while they are still on Etsy, or at the very least, still in the shopping mindset and at their computer. Many times, I will get a message asking things like if I think the item will arrive in time for so-and-so’s birthday, etc. before they purchase it. I answer quickly, give the buyer’s confidence in ME, and have gotten a number of sales this way. If I had delayed my reply, they probably would have moved on.

10. But take a breath before answering messages

I know! I’m contradicting myself. But sometimes, people ask strange questions. Or they’ll request something custom that doesn’t seem in line with what I do. Taking a breath to really think about what they are asking, makes my responses a thousand times better.

11. Keep a tight rein on spending

It is easy to spend money. It is easy to “need” something for your business. I’m a frugal girl at heart, and even I have a hard time with this. Be smart about how much you spend and how much you stock up on raw materials.

I keep my basic materials and shipping supplies in stock. If I am going run out of something I need to complete my work (like paint or printer ink), that’s sort of an automatic purchase. I also allow myself one “improvement” purchase each month as long as I am still making sales. In the past, this has been a new work table, a custom rubber stamp, new business cards. If I make a large raw materials purchase, I might hold off spending on anything else that month.

12. Use the Sell on Etsy app

This is a separate app than the regular Etsy shopping app. It’s just for sellers! Every time I get a convo or a sale (!), I get a notification on my phone. It’s pretty great. And it’s still a surprise every single time a new order comes in.

13. Use Etsy shipping labels

…and buy some self-adhesive mailing labels.

Etsy allows you to print postage at home, and at a small discount even. This has saved me so much time, not to mention printed labels look about a thousand times more professional than handwritten addresses. You can even print international postage with the customs form included. (Don’t forget to sign the customs form!)

This is the brand of labels I use. (*affiliate link). Other cheaper ones have spotty reviews. They cost about five cents per label. If you are printing your postage on plain paper and then just taping it on? Trust me, you are using more than five cents in packing tape. Just get the labels.

Update 09/2020: A couple of changes to the way I ship!
I now use a dedicated label printer and 4″x6″ thermal labels (*affiliate links), and I’ve been really happy with it! The labels print fast, there’s no ink to replace, and the labels themselves are very inexpensive (like 4 cents each). If you are shipping a lot of packages and are in business for the long haul, I highly recommend!

I also started using Pirate Ship to buy shipping labels both for my Etsy and Shopify shops. Why? A few reasons.

First, Pirate Ship allows you to access Priority Mail Cubic rates, which are cheaper Priority rates for packages over a pound, but that measure less than a cubic foot. You can save real money here! Second, Etsy started deducting shipping label fees out of your balance rather than billing them separately at the end of the month. This made it so you can’t use a credit card (and earn reward cash back) to pay for all those expenses. In good months, my postage bill can be hundreds of dollars, and I will take all the cash back I can get! Especially in tough times 2020. Third, as a bonus, it is easier to track postage expenses from multiple platforms when it is all filtered through Pirate Ship.

Once my packages are packed and labeled, I run them to the post office and drop them off. I’ve heard that you can also arrange home pickups, but I live close enough to a post office that waiting around for a pickup seems inefficient. If your items are small and light enough, you can even deposit them in the outdoor blue mailboxes. Beware though, that you need to mail them from your home zip code. If you don’t, you might be saddling the buyer with postage overages.

14. I believe in Etsy karma

That’s not an official thing that factors into any fancy algorithm; it’s just something I like to think exists. What do I mean by Etsy karma? If you sell on Etsy, you should be shopping on Etsy. I really do think it makes a difference. I am the last person that would suggest spending a bunch of money on stuff you don’t need, but should you need gifts or supplies, search Etsy first.

Thank you for your support over the last year and to everyone who has purchased something from my shop. Many thanks!

Want to stay up-to-date with my shop?
Sign up for my email list right here! >>

Get more tips about selling on Etsy >>

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through those links, I may receive a small commission. See full disclosure.

You may also like