How I Made Nearly $12,000 from My Etsy Shop in the First Four Months

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Well that’s a doozy of a title. Writing that out makes me feel kind of sweaty for a multitude of reasons. For those who don’t know, at the end of August I started an Etsy shop on a whim. As of the time I’m writing this (Monday December 10, 2018, 2:15 PM) I have made $11,723.64 in sales between my Etsy shop (which is the majority) and my own e-commerce website. I’ve processed 346 orders, and sold 427 individual items.

I have done this all organically and have not been featured by Etsy or Buzzfeed or anything like that (although every day I wake up and hope to god I have been, HA!).

I certainly don’t share this because I want to brag, but instead because I’ve found plenty of things that I’ve done well and plenty more things that I could improve on, and I want to share them to help other people create successful shops and boost their profits.

So buckle up, this is going to be a HUGE post.

The Beginning

This all started because one night I was looking for a specific Dolly Parton themed mug (as you do) and couldn’t find any that matched what I wanted.

I started to play around in Photoshop and came up with an idea that I liked. As I was looking into inexpensive ways that I could have it printed up for myself, I stumbled upon the concept of Print on Demand.

Print on Demand is, really, exactly what it sounds like. You design and create a product, then list it for sale. When someone orders that product, you then go to the POD company you’re using (there are many and yes I will share my favorites later) and place the order for that product to be delivered to your customer. You pay whatever the material, production and shipping costs are then, and the rest of what your customer paid to you is your profit.

Basically, it means you can create and sell all kinds of products, from tee shirts and apparel to mugs to even some truly bizarre things like all over printed leggings or women’s high heeled shoes - without having to order in bulk up front or hold inventory or worry about packaging and fulfillment.

It’s the perfect way to start a product business with low overhead, gauge what works and what doesn’t with your customers, and allows a lot more room for experimentation. And needless to say, I was hooked from the first moment.

I’ve been a huge fan of quirky graphic tee shirts since I discovered Hot Topic in 2006 and have always sort of dreamed of creating my own (like I can’t count how many times I’ve said the phrase “omg I want that on a tee shirt” in my life). So this was the perfect way to do that without going broke or filling my tiny one bedroom apartment with (more) tee shirts.

The Stats

Obviously I’m not going to present you with all this juicy knowledge and not prove it. Here are the screenshots from my Etsy and Squarespace statistics. (So yes not ALL of this is from Etsy, but whatever. Most of it is.)

 
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As you can see, I’ve made $8,509.70 in sales on Etsy and $3,213.94 in sales on my Squarespace website. An IMPORTANT thing to note: this is not my take home profit, these are my sales. Obviously, my profit is smaller because of materials cost, business expenses, etc. Just so we’re 100% transparent on that here.

Side note: I had to redo these screenshots three different times and change the name of my post while I was writing it because orders kept coming in. I see all you last minute Christmas shoppers. 👀

Bestselling Products

I also wanted to share my bestselling products from this year. Most of them were total shockers, and honestly they are not my favorite pieces from my store. But hey - I’m not gonna complain about it. The main interesting thing I’ve found is that what is popular on Etsy and what is popular on my own site are vastly different and don’t really overlap at all. But here are my top products ranked by revenue from both sites.

Custom Weasley Sweatshirt - $3,189.82

Oh this by far and large has been my best seller overall. It’s so simple but so fun and everyone has really flocked to it.

I’d Rather Be in Stars Hollow Sweatshirt - $1,785

This has barely sold at all on Etsy (like, 7 orders I think) but has blown every other product out of the water on my own site. My guess is because it was really popular on Instagram and Pinterest, and I only promote my own website on social media.

Vintage Flannel Shirts - $1,628.80

Okay, story time. When I was a broke college student who loved thrifting, I started a different Etsy shop where I would sell all the fun vintage things I found. One day on a whim I created a listing for “Mystery Vintage Flannel Shirts” - people could pick their size and color preference and I’d send them a super soft vintage flannel shirt. It blew up. I processed like 150 orders in around 3 weeks before I had to shut it down since it was interfering with my work and school schedule (HA). As an experiment, I decided to make a similar listing on this shop to see if they were still popular. Bingo. They are. I don’t know why everyone loves old flannel shirts so much but I’m grateful they do I guess. Although finding and packaging them is kind of exhausting so we’ll see if this listing makes the cut next year.

Stars Hollow Camp Mug - $1,339.91

I love camp mugs. I love Gilmore Girls. Apparently so does everyone else.

Trend analysis: Everyone loves nostalgic pop culture references and 90s style. Big shocker, lol.

Print on Demand Companies I Love

There are tons of POD companies that you can use to source your products, and it’s just all about experimenting to see which ones carry products you like, which have better prices, which are faster, etc. Here are the big three that I use and love.

Printify

Printify is where I source 99% of my products. They have a much wider selection of print providers which means lower prices and faster shipping times as they’re all competing to get your business. I like them a lot better than what I originally started using, Printful, as I began having issues with Printful’s shipping times, customer service, lack of variations and high pricing.

Printed Mint

Printed Mint is SO cute and well branded and I wish they had more in the way of apparel options because I’d use them for way more things. As it stands, they have a few great options for mugs that you can’t seem to get anywhere else. But their customer service people are so friendly and responsive, and they go out of their way to help extend your brand by adding cute stickers and twine to packaging free of charge. I highly recommend them!

Gooten

Gooten is a recent addition because they have a few extra things that I can’t find elsewhere, like my new favorite eco-fleece sweatshirts, some bandanas and things like art prints and greeting cards. Their production times have been kind of slow unfortunately, but it is the peak season, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Pros of Print on Demand

There are so many amazing things about POD, especially as a growing company. Here’s what I love about this model.

No Inventory

The fact that I have over 50 unique products in my store but yet none of them are in my apartment is a blessing. Enough said.

Ability to Experiment

I’ve already retired countless things that I’ve designed this year. Ideas that seemed great at the time but then didn’t sell or didn’t really align with my vision are able to be removed with no hassle. There’s no ordering $1000 worth of shirts in bulk and praying that people will like the design or that you got enough or not too many of one size over the other, etc.

Less Overhead

Again, you don’t have to place massive orders for new products, you don’t have to buy label makers and packing tape and boxes and envelopes, etc. etc. There’s minimal overhead and you don’t have to pay anything until you’ve already been paid by your customer.

No Fulfillment

The fact that I don’t spend my days stuffing packages, taping labels and going back and forth to the post office is another blessing.

Cons of Print on Demand

There are plenty of not so great things too, so here are my major sticking points.

Lower Profit Margin

Because you’re not getting bulk discounts, and of course because the POD companies need to make their own profit, the items are marked up more than they would be if you were ordering in bulk straight from a printer. So therefore you have a smaller profit margin for each item. But if you can find the sweet spot of pricing your items so they still sell plenty, but you’re also making more than $3 a shirt, you’re golden.

For 100% transparency, my profit margins are between 50% and 60% all told.

Longer Processing Times

Since these items are only printed once an order has been placed, it means they can take up to a week, or in extreme cases even longer, to ship out. This doesn’t have to be a problem as long as you communicate clearly to your customers that they are made to order items and processing time can take that long. Etsy lets you set processing time for each item so it automatically shows up when they order and they can make their judgments by then (though keep in mind that many many MANY people do not take the time to fully read a listing. So you may find yourself reiterating this over and over.)

Less Control Over the Process

Since you’re not the one overseeing the process from start to finish, that means that when there are issues, it can be a lot more convoluted to get results and keep customers happy. I will say that out of alllll the orders I’ve processed this year, I have had very few issues. A good example of this: I did have a customer mistakenly give me the wrong shipping address. We didn’t realize it until she reached out to ask why she hadn’t gotten her package in nearly 3 weeks. I checked the tracking and found it was marked undeliverable and sent back to the shipping facility. I immediately contacted Printify and asked what I was able to do in this situation, as I didn’t really want to send out a whole new shirt. Luckily they had received the package back to their returns department and were able to send it to her correct address. However, it took them quite a little while to do this, and the customer was getting very frustrated since it was meant to be a birthday present (though that’s not exactly my fault but a lot of customer service is sucking it up and smiling while some angry woman yells at you for a mistake she made 😁). It had a happy resolution, but took a lot longer than if the package had just come back to me in the first place.

Fewer Options

There are a wide variety of options available for products on POD sites, but there are still plenty of limitations. If you want to go too far outside the general graphic tees, sweatshirts, and basic white coffee mugs, your options are really limited. I really wanted to do some of those awesome ceramic camp mugs that everybody has this time of year, but there’s nowhere you can get those via POD. Other things like enamel pins, keychains, patches and things like that simply aren’t doable with the POD model. It is what it is, but if you want to venture outside of graphic apparel, you may begin to feel some growing pains.

There is so much more I could say about Print on Demand, but this blog post is already twice the size of Moby Dick so I’ll save it for another time. If you have specific questions or want to know more about it, leave a comment here and I’ll include it in my next post!

How I Promoted My Shop

Ah, the juicy stuff right? Here’s a (very) brief rundown of the tactics I used to promote my shop and how well they worked.

Instagram

Instagram has been instrumental in helping me build my brand. I’ve built my account to nearly 2,000 followers already, which sure, seems like small potatoes, but given the state of Instagram currently, I’m pretty impressed with. Furthermore, I get great engagement and see a lot of interest in my photos and products. Being able to tag products and allowing people to shop directly from Instagram is an awesome perk that I love to utilize.

Pinterest

Pinterest has also been a huge traffic booster, as their SEO is unparalleled. By pinning my Instagram and product photos to my account and to various group boards that I’m a part of, I’ve hugely boosted traffic to my website and increased my monthly views on Pinterest to over 300,000. That’s a TON of potential buyers if you look at it that way.

Brand Ambassadors

When I first started the shop, I decided to put together a brand ambassador program like a lot of similar companies do. Basically, bloggers and micro-influencers could apply, get a discount code to get their own product, then a discount code to share with their followers. If someone made a sale with their unique code, that person would also get 10% back in cash. It’s a nice thought, but I didn’t see much traction from it. Possibly due to the fact that I didn’t push it hard enough, and also that the shop was in its infancy when I started it. I may be making tweaks to the program and opening it back up again next year, but haven’t yet decided.

Instagram Ads

As always, I’ve had mixed results from using Instagram ads. There was one ad I ran not too long ago that I know for a fact resulted in about $300 worth of sales - a very good ROI for a $25 ad. But the rest have been hard to fully calculate ROI, and if anything, have helped grow my brand and audience more than driving actual sales. I will certainly continue to experiment with them into the new year.

Promoted Etsy Listings

I tried promoted Etsy listings on and off and had little to no luck with them whatsoever. I’ve totally sworn them off now, as they don’t ever seem to do much. But different things work for different products, audiences and people, so I’d encourage you to test them out if you have an Etsy shop.

Email List

I created an email list when I started the shop, and offered a 10% off coupon code as an incentive to sign up to the list. I have lots of sign ups and names on the list, but the open rates are dismal when I send out any promotional emails about sales or new products. That’s the risk of offering such an incentive - you know most of the people are only signing up for the discount code, and will probably ghost on you. I will definitely continue to refine my email list strategy in 2019, as there is a lot of room for improvement.

Sales

I had several random sales throughout these last few months, and the only one that did me any good was - you guessed it, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That week was INSANE and kicked off my best two months. November and this first part of December have been crazy, and I know it will die down a bit after the holiday rush is over, but it’s been so much fun.

Word of Mouth

I’m very lucky in that I had a large-ish audience already built up on social media, especially Instagram, who really vibed with my shop. I made sure to share the crap out of it when I was launching (and still do - hope y’all aren’t sick of it yet, ha!) and it really helped get it off the ground.

And I’m pretty sure my mom is singlehandedly responsible for half my sales (KIDDING of course). But it makes me so happy when I go home and see her cupboard stocked with BGC mugs or see her rocking her Stars Hollow sweatshirt. And she was the one that wanted me to make some Gilmore Girls stuff, so mom, this is a public acknowledgement that you inspired two of my best selling products. 💛

Understanding Etsy SEO

Okay, back to actual Etsy strategy. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m an expert in Etsy SEO (search engine optimization for the uninitiated - basically, how your product gets found on Etsy) because I’m super not, but here’s what I know about how to create a listing that has a snowball’s chance of being found:

Use Every Tag

Etsy allows up to 13 tags, or keywords, on every listing. Use every single one of them. Longer tags are better, and so are more unique ones. As in, don’t tag “tee shirt” tag “Gilmore Girls shirt.” You need to think about what people would be searching to find your item. And just adding in random popular tags so more people see your listing is bad news. Etsy ranks it based on how many people click on your item from a search. So if people keep searching for something, then scrolling past your item (because it’s unrelated or otherwise) then Etsy will assume your product is no good and move it further and further down into the results.

Fill Out Attributes

Etsy now has all kinds of attributes that you can fill out about your product, like main colors, style, graphic type (if it’s a tee shirt or mug or something with a graphic on it), occasion, etc. These also help people find your items, and you should make sure to fill out as many relevant ones as possible.

The More Photos the Better

The more photos you can add to your listing, the better. Etsy allows for up to 10 photos, and highly suggests you use them all. It makes your item rank higher, but also makes customers more likely to buy if they can get a better idea of what it looks like and feels like, etc. Remember how you like to purchase things online and try your best to think like a buyer.

That’s your crash course. If you want more in-depth info, Etsy published a massive primer on everything you need to know about SEO in 2018 and beyond.

What I Did Well

Branding

I like to think, since I do branding as my other gig, I’ve been pretty good at building a cohesive brand and story around my products. That’s certainly what has helped me build my online following and find new customers. Anyone can create products to sell - but it’s about crafting a brand story and a unique experience that will make people interested in YOUR products, not somebody else’s who may even be doing it cheaper or faster.

Finding My Audience

The success of any shop or business hinges on finding and connecting with your ideal audience. I like to think I’ve done a good job at tapping into exactly which demographics are going to go for my stuff, then connecting with them and getting my items in front of them via social media, search, etc.

What I Could Improve

Undercharging/Overcharging

When I first opened the shop, I was wayyyy undercharging, so that my very first sale, which was made with a coupon code, I made about $4. Oops. I quickly realized THAT wasn’t sustainable, so I overcorrected and began charging a bit too much. I did have some sales, but when I looked at other similar products, the price points didn’t compare favorably. I finally feel like I hit a good spot in my pricing, but I would caution new or prospective shop owners to make sure you’re valuing your work reasonably and accurately.

Wholesale

I really wanted to love wholesale, but it’s just not an option that makes sense for the POD method. I joined the Faire wholesale marketplace, and got a lot of wholesale orders right away. For those who don’t know, wholesale is when you sell your items in bulk at a steep discount to boutiques and stores who will resell your products at a markup. That’s how all stores get their things to sell, and in theory it works out because, even though your profit margin is much smaller, you’re getting a guaranteed bulk order. But since profit margins are already slimmer on POD products, it meant that I was maybe making a profit of $40 on a $300 wholesale order. I think it’s cool that my products are in boutiques in several different states, and it’s not like I lost money, but I don’t think it’s what I want to focus my energy on going forward.

Not Getting Caught Up in What Other People Are Doing

This is the biggest one I keep coming back to. There are a lot of very successful graphic apparel companies out there. And they’re all doing their own amazing things. And sometimes it’s hard to block that out and do my own amazing things. I’m working on focusing on my own style and carving out a niche that makes sense and is at least a bit unique. That’s how product companies survive in oversaturated markets - creating a niche and experience with their brand that make people want to buy from them, not pick up something for $10 a Target.

What I’m Doing Differently in 2019

Switching to Shopify

For my main website, I think I’m going to make the switch to Shopify. I love Squarespace and I chose it initially because I know it inside and out and because I wanted to get things rolling quickly. But Squarespace will always be content-focused first and Shopify will always be commerce-focused first. Since I want to grow my own site more (Etsy has been an unexpected blessing and has really boomed, but I don’t own it and that’s always going to be a sticking point for me), this is the logical next step.

Focusing on Photography

Photography is so so important and the quality and consistency of mine has been spotty at least. Sometimes I do really well, other times not as much. I want to focus on getting really great, high quality product shots and styled shots for social media to help elevate the brand.

Creating a Community

And I want to continue to create a community feel around the brand and connect with my audience and customers. I think that’s the best and most prevalent way to ensure success as a shop, especially in such a saturated field.

Conclusion

That was definitely the longest blog post I have ever written. I’m exhausted. I have literally been sitting here for 2.5 hours straight.

ANYWAYS.

I hope this was helpful and not too dense or at the very least, interesting to my fellow nosey people. I get it. Hopefully next year I can update this post with a few extra zeros and even more tactics. If this is helpful and interesting, I’m happy to keep blogging about this topic, because there’s clearly a lot more I could cover. If you have specific questions, leave a comment, email me or send me a DM on Instagram and I’ll do my best to answer it there or in an upcoming blog post.