Introduction: How to Start Selling on Etsy

About: Hi! I'm a slightly feral mountain hermit that likes to be helpful. I do community management at Instructables & Tinkercad. 🙌 Want to hear me chat about making? Search "CLAMP Podcast" on YouTube or your favorit…

I've been selling handmade goods in my making jiggy Etsy store for over four years now - I started in September of 2011 selling golden snitch necklaces. I quickly moved onto many other things, including LEGO jewelry, felt and fabric coasters, bags, purses, and hand embroidered goods. As of 2017 I'm only really selling downloadable patterns, but that is going well!

I recently got accepted into Amazon Handmade (and I've got an instructable about selling there too!) so I've been doing quite a bit of thinking when it comes to my prices, photos and even the way I'm charging for shipping. Since I've settled on doing a store overhaul, I thought I'd share some tips for getting started on Etsy while I'm at it. :D

Selling on Etsy can be very frustrating at times and super rewarding at others, so it's my intention to write this instructable to be as honest about the Etsy experience as I can be.

Also, in all honesty, getting started selling your products on Etsy can be very confusing! I'm going to cover all the major things you should be worried about to get your shop up and running without issue. :)

Before you decide to start a shop, it's also a good idea to head to Etsy's main seller page and read a bit. You'll learn loads about what is and isn't allowed on Etsy, and also some tips for getting started. It will also explain the fees that Etsy charges for selling - all good to know!

Step 1: Pros and Cons of Etsy

Pros of selling on Etsy:

  • The major "handmade" marketplace out there. I'm not sure that I've met a person recently that didn't know what Etsy is. It is the main place customers think of when they would like to buy something handmade.
  • At the time this was written, Etsy had 22.6 million active customers/buyers on the site. That is a huge customer base!
  • Etsy's customer base is loyal. Between 2011 and 2014, 75% of the purchases made were repeats, meaning the customer had purchased from that shop previously. I find this to be personally true - if you're good to your customers on Etsy, they come back again and again. :)
  • It's an amazingly easy way to get started selling your handmade items. You don't have to build a website and figure out how to integrate a cart into it and worry about security and all that other stuff. You just fill out a few forms and get selling instead!
  • Huge database of articles to help you figure out everything about selling on Etsy. Check out their Help section and the Seller Handbook.
  • Ability to network with other sellers. Years ago when I was feeling a little lost on Etsy, I started joining Teams and chatting in the forums and it was really nice to talk with other people who were doing the same thing. You can also learn about local craft shows that way!
  • Easy to link your Etsy shop to a pre-existing website. Etsy offers an "Etsy Mini" widget that will work on any site, but you can also do a bit of googling and find so many other options. If you use Wordpress, you can find all kinds of plugins! That's how I've connected mine.
  • Ease of shipping. You are able to purchase and print shipping labels from the site and the shipping interface on the site is easy to use even for shipping newbies.
  • Etsy can help you grow your business. There's an Etsy Wholesale program that connects sellers to larger companies, and they also just started Etsy Manufacturing to help sellers find local businesses to help produce their products.

Cons of selling on Etsy:

  • Etsy is not really that "handmade" anymore - it's overpopulated with people selling things they buy elsewhere. If you spend any amount of time searching for home goods, apparel, jewelry or accessories on Etsy, you'll soon start to see a lot of the same stuff. That's because that seller bought it from Alibaba or a similar site and they're reselling it on Etsy as handmade. This is a constant source of contention and, quite often, fighting in the forums on Etsy.
  • Etsy relaxed its rules regarding what "handmade" is in October of 2013. You can view more info about that here. I have many opinions about this and none of them are good.
  • It's very easy to get your shop shut down, and pretty much impossible to fight the closure. If you google "Etsy shutting shops down" you will find pages and pages of horror stories from folks who've had their shops shut down. Customers, other sellers, and even businesses can contact Etsy at anytime about your shop to report you for any number of things. This why it is so important for you to stay on top of your shop - make sure absolutely all the information in shop policies and your about section is up to date and comprehensive. Your customer service (shipping, processing times, communication with buyers) is very important. Make sure you understand entirely what is and is not allowed before posting items.
  • Very minimal email and phone support. It's good to go in not expecting much help as a seller - if you're the sort of person that likes lots of explanation, you may want to find yourself a seller buddy. ;) Etsy has a very small staff compared to the size of its user base, so at best all you can do is request a phone call or email them. My dealings with their help team have not been the best to be honest - it can take a while to receive a reply and the reply is often not personalized to your situation.
  • You're competing with over 1,000,000 other sellers. And I would venture a (pessimistic but honest) guess that most of those are shady birds and not really true "handmade" sellers. ;) Depending on which categories you sell in, this may not matter - but this is why it is so important to market yourself OUTSIDE of Etsy.

Step 2: Fees for Selling on Etsy + Your Etsy Bill

Compared to Handmade at Amazon's 12% fee, Etsy seems to be much cheaper at a glance. Depending on how much you sell, though, the listing fees may build up quite a bit.

Here is the complete list of fees on the Etsy help website. I recommend reading through that so you're familiar!

Essentially, you pay 20 cents a listing. That listing is good for 4 months. If the listing sells but you want to make more of that item, you can renew it for another 20 cents. It the listing doesn't sell in the 4 months and you'd like to relist it , you can renew the listing for 20 cents.

If you put a quantity of two or more on a listing, you pay only for the first 20 cent fee. The rest of the fees will be taken out when the listing sells.

You pay a 3.5% fee for every listing that sells, and if you use Direct Checkout and Paypal, you can expect small fees from them as well. You'll also have to pay for shipping labels.

All of these fees end up on your Etsy bill. This bill can be viewed and paid by you at any time on the site, and it is updated constantly. If you do not stay on top of paying this, Etsy will not allow you to list new items, you won't be able to deposit money from sales, and they can even shut down your shop.

I have my Etsy bill set up to autopay. I highly recommend that!

Step 3: Know the Marketplace and Your Competition

Etsy has become increasingly competitive over the years - though some categories are way more competitive than others! It is really important to have a look in the categories where you plan to sell things - really dig in and look at many of the shops and their listings.

Keep in mind that sometimes your items could potentially be listed in multiple categories, so make sure to place an item in a category that will give you the best advantage. :)

Here are some things to watch out for:

  • How are successful shops photographing their products?
  • How are folks pricing items that are similar to your products?
  • Read "about" pages for shops to see the sort of information people are supplying about their work and products
  • Read the "policies" section on several shops too - it will give you ideas for your own section later on!
  • Check out the social media presence of those shops will loads of sales and reviews

Raitis also suggests checking out prices when you're stalking your competition:

One thing for pricing I don't usually see talked about is that you should research your competition (as for anything really) and see what is similar stuff going for. Then adjust accordingly (not necessarily lower). This is especially valid if you're making from a place where materials or living is cheaper than elsewhere.

Step 4: Creating Your Shop, Logos and About Page

The first thing you'll want to do as a new seller is set up your shop!

Once you have a shop name picked out, head to your shop settings. You'll want to fill out everything within the "Info and Appearance" and the "About Your Shop" sections.

You'll also want to get together some pictures of yourself, your products and your work spaces to place in your shop's "about" page. Doing this will make you look much more professional and also give buyers extra warm fuzzy feelings about buying something that's actually handmade. ;)

In addition to all the photos and information you'll be inputting, you'll also want to make up a couple logos. This can be as simple as a photo with some text on it. You'll want a small 500x500 px logo and a 760x100 px logo - the first logo will show up nearly everywhere, and the second is your shop's banner.

P.S. See the shop policies section? Check the next step for information over that!

Step 5: Set Up Shop Policies Right Away

Your shop policies are VERY important. These are essentially like the fine print on the back of a receipt - they tell customers how you operate and what they can expect.

You can find your shop policies from the seller drop down.

Shop policies include things like:

  • shipping information - how often do you ship? what carrier do you use?
  • payment timeframes - if you accept special payment options, you may need to explain it!
  • return policies - are you willing to accept returns and exchanges and in what time frame? if so, which party pays return shipping?
  • general information about where and how you're working - do you smoke in your home? have pets? These are things a buyer should know.

I think it is very important to keep your policies brief, straightforward and happy. You can absolutely turn customers away if you come off as rude or condescending. Don't yell at your customers in all caps and threaten them before they've even purchased a thing. ;)

If you are unsure about any of these, have a look at some of the big shops on Etsy to get an idea. You can also take a look at the official Etsy guide to writing your policies.

Step 6: Focus on Selling the Things You Love to Make

I know this seems like a no-brainer, but many folks on Etsy (me included!) have spent way too much time on products they don't enjoy hoping to make an extra buck.

To be completely frank, I think that making products you're not excited about is a waste of your time, money and energy. Etsy's marketplace is insanely competitive, so you need to do something really well to stand out. If you're spending all your time making cheap jewelry, hair accessories or just gluing stuff to ready-made items, chances are you will never sell enough to make a job of it.

And then you'll probably just wind up with multiple jobs where you work too much and don't get paid appropriately. ;)

Don't turn your hobby into something you hate in the hope of making a few dollars. Don't waste time and money buying supplies for something you don't like to do. Focus on what you love to do and do it well!

Speaking of selling things you love - make sure nothing you love is in Etsy's list of prohibited items. They have a very broad "mature" items policy, too, so if you have any nudity or cussing on your items, chances are you will be told to censor your main image or lose your account.

Step 7: Learning How to Price Your Items

(Note those are NOT the actual prices, I just found old tags in my craft show storage :P)

Pricing is one of the major things new sellers have problems with. I think I still have a tendency to low ball my prices from time to time, but I've made enough changes that I feel great about my prices overall.

It can be tempting when starting out to price things very low in the hopes that you'll sell more, but I have to tell from experience that this doesn't work out. Chances are high you'll sell nothing at all for the first little bit - and when you do, you're going to end up losing money. I actually started selling more once I raised my prices the first time! (Not to mention I felt so much better about spending my whole evening on an embroidery once I was paying myself decently.)

My favorite way to explain this to folks is a formula posted on the Etsy blog:

Materials + Labor + Expenses + Profit = Wholesale x 2 = Retail

Materials: This includes everything. EVERYTHING. Your shipping supplies, your packaging supplies, every raw material you use in producing your product. If you've already got materials on hand, do a best estimate. :)

Labor: This is the time to make the item. If you're doing a custom order for someone, I suggest also paying yourself for design and consult time. This can also include time spent on shipping and packaging, including taking items to the post office.

Expenses: This will include selling fees from Etsy and Paypal, tools and equipment you need to accomplish your job, advertising, studio rent, etc. This will fluctuate a bit, so just try to use your best guess. For your first year, I suggest tracking everything you spend money on and even saving receipts if you're organized - that info will come in handy for the next year and for taxes!

Profit: And this is the most ambiguous part of this equation. How much profit would you like to make on your products? This is entirely up to you. You may not know at first, but as you sell more and more you'll figure it out!

Once you add all those pieces up, you'll have your wholesale price. If you ever get to a point where you can produce enough products to sell wholesale, you'll be doing beyond awesome. :D Times wholesale by two and you'll come up with your retail price.

Step 8: Take Great Product Photos

Taking amazing photos of the things you're selling is extremely important. Take a look at the front page of Etsy: appearance is everything! You get five free photos when you list on Etsy, so why not take advantage of all of them?

All you really need is a camera and good lighting - I promise! You don't need a DSLR to get clear photos. You can even use a phone camera, honestly. :D

I've posted a couple guides on Instructables over taking great photos, including how to take great photos with an iPhone and basic photo editing. Step 1 of basic photo editing is the most important part, so give that a read.

Here are some tips for getting the best product photos:

  1. Use a tripod or something else to balance your camera on while you take photos - this will ensure your photos aren't blurry. This is especially important if you're using an old digital camera or a camera phone or if the lighting is low.
  2. Use a neutral colored background that does not clash with or blend in with the product. For the best look, use the same background (or very similar ones) for everything. I tend to hang everything on my embroidery drying lines right now, but I may use a marble board later. Trying to decide at the moment!
  3. Don't use props in main product photos. You don't want any confusion as to what the product is or what the customer will receive. It's fine to use props in other photos to show scale, though.
  4. Take photos during the day in a well lit room. Using flash can wash photos out and alter their colors. Dark photos never look great and can be very grainy!
  5. Get photos of all sides of the product. For my embroideries, I take one image of the front (first image in this step!) and one of the back. If there are any details people need to see, I take close up photos of that too, or maybe just pieces of the embroidery that I really like. (check out the second image for an example of this!)
  6. If you wrap your products or have great packaging, take photos of that too! People get really excited about seeing how their items will come to them. :)
  7. Use the macro setting if your items are small - it's important to see as much detail as possible!
  8. If your item is meant to be worn (jewelry, accessories, clothing, etc) make sure to photograph it on yourself or someone else so customers can see how it looks.

And it's important to note that you may not get your photos just right the first time - it's all about trial and error. Over the years, I've changed up my photos several times and I'm about to do it again. Anytime you feel something isn't working, you should change it! :D

Step 9: Work on Your SEO - Titles and Keywords!

Much like when you post something here on Instructables, you need to make sure that people can find what you're making. I've written a more in depth guide about it also - you can read it here!

To do this properly, you have to concentrate on three things when building a product listing:

  1. Create a great title that explains what the product is and possibly what it does - but keep it short and succinct.
  2. Use your keywords to completely describe the product. Etsy allows you to insert 13 "tags" (up to 20 characters each) to describe the project. Try to think of different ways you'd search for your product on Etsy. Use as many phrases as you can instead of single words. For example: "hand embroidered art" instead of "art" :)
  3. Fill out the materials part of the listing part as well! You have room for 13 materials (up to 45 characters each) tags, so make sure to mention any of your materials that you think people might like. This is especially great for those of you selling art, woodworking pieces or jewelry. This is yet another chance to show your customers just how handmade you are, and also a chance to attract new customers if they like a material you use.

Step 10: Describe Your Products Clearly

As far as I'm concerned, making sure you entirely explain your products is just as important as the photos you take and how you title and add keywords! I don't often see this emphasized in other Etsy selling walkthroughs, though.

Think about how important it is to have alllllll the information when you're buying something online. Would you ever buy something with no real description or size information? Probably not.

Sit down and think about all the information you'd like to know about your product if you were the one buying it. Include things like these if they are relevant:

  • dimensions and size
  • weight
  • materials
  • cleaning instructions (if it needs special care!)
  • size chart if applicable

Step 11: Managing Your Listings on Etsy

Each product you post is a "listing" - one listing costs 20 cents and will be valid for four months. If the listing hasn't sold after four months, you'll need to renew it for another 20 cents. (You can set listings to auto renew as well, if you're not excited about maintaining your listings manually.)

If you create a listing and state that only one of the product is available, it will be listed as "sold out" when someone purchases it, and require you to renew it for 20 cents. If you say that two or more of the product is available, the listing will automatically renew for 20 cents when it sells.

You'll create and edit existing listings using the Listing Manager.

If you have loads of products that are similar in size or weight, you can make one listing and then "copy" that listing to make the next. Copying listings speeds the process up because it leaves all the text you entered previously. All you have to do is edit in specific details about the product and change the title and keywords. :)

There are multiple ways to bulk edit your listings - you can either check the boxes to the left of the listings and use the drop down menu, or click the "quick edit" button in the upper right hand corner for more options. :)

Step 12: Learn About Shipping and Come Up With Your Prices

Shipping used to be one of the absolute trickiest parts of selling on Etsy. Back in the day, they really didn't give sellers the proper tools to figure out how much they should be charging.

Now you have a VERY awesome tool at your disposal - Calculated Shipping! Click through to read more about it - this should solve the majority of your shipping problems regarding prices and areas you can ship to. :D

Here's what you need to do to figure out your shipping costs:

Buy a simple scale

If you're going to be selling online, you absolutely need a little scale to find out shipping weights. If your products are tiny and ship in envelopes like mine, you can buy a kitchen scale and use that. If they're bigger and ship in boxes, you can buy a cheap shipping scale for around $30.

Weigh each of your products when they're wrapped up for shipping

The less variety you have, the easier this will go! If you have lots of similar products, just do one of each type. Wrap them up like they're ready to ship and weigh them. Round each of the shipping weights up and write them down. Now you'll know the shipping weight of each item.

Figure out how much shipping packaging will cost

It's best to buy things like shipping boxes/envelopes, packing tape, and other packing supplies in bulk. When you buy these things individually, they're often between $2-5. If you buy in bulk, you can expect to pay between $0.50-1.00 - which is a huge savings! I buy mine from Amazon, ULINE, or from Wrapping Me Up on Etsy.

Figure out which shipping provider you want to use

I use USPS First Class Mail for everything. The shipping prices are low, I can buy shipping insurance, and I can even ship internationally that way. Anything under 13 oz can be easily dropped off right in the blue mailboxes, too, which can save you loads of time.

Have a look around though, as you may find a better option where you are! The majority of shipping providers also offer package pickup, so that's one more thing to consider when choosing. :)

Once you've figured out all of the above, you'll be able to set a price. Add up the cost of shipping (+insurance if needed!) and the cost of packaging, and then round up to the nearest dollar so you can be sure you're not eating money on shipping!

Another thing you can try is build your shipping prices into your product prices and offer free shipping. I'm thinking about doing free domestic shipping and $5 international shipping!

Also: Etsy allows you to buy shipping and print labels right from the site, so HOORAY.

Step 13: Package Your Items Professionally and Include a Business Card

This isn't entirely necessary, but it can make you look pretty dang fancy and professional.

I buy cheap white boxes to put my golden snitch necklaces in and close them up with embroidery floss. I also wrap my embroideries in pretty tissue paper and a bit of twine. :)

I also make my own business cards - I've got a tutorial up for that here!

If you make your own business cards and buy supplies in bulk you can keep things really cheap:

200 sheets of tissue paper for $14 = about 14 cents a sheet

87 sheets of 4.5x6.5 cardstock for $10 = about 26 cents a business card, plus time to cut them out

50 white jewelry boxes for $30 = about $1.60 per box (more expensive, but keep the jewelry safe and looks nice!)

Step 14: Promote Yourself on Social Media

making jiggy on facebook // twitter // instagram

Social media is a great tool for online sellers! You can really get your products out there and promote yourself and your brand. I am very hit-and-miss with this - sometimes I do great and sometimes I forget about it entirely. Though I have to say when I do remember and post something every couple days I do get more sales. :)

You should really have three social media accounts - Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! You can link both Facebook and Twitter to your Etsy shop, so that is a good way to start.

Try to make sure your username matches across accounts - since making jiggy is my shop name, that's also my Facebook page name and Twitter account handle.

Instagram and Facebook are the most successful of the three for me because people can so easily like and comment on your posts. Twitter is sometimes like yelling into a giant void, but you can improve that by always including a photo with a tweet. ;)

I've tried posting my products to Pinterest, but again, kinda like yelling into a void.

And the most important rule of social media: post often and try to keep it interesting! Don't just rattle off your new listings or products - try to post beautiful photos and engage your audience. Run promotions and sales just for your social media followers. If you post great content and grow your audience, you'll continue to get new folks stopping by, which could mean another sale!

Step 15: Do Custom Orders

My favorite feature on Etsy! I know that doing custom work is not for everyone, but I love it and get loads of sales that way.

If you go into your shop settings and then click "options" you'll find an area that allows you to turn on custom orders.

Once you have custom orders on, a button will show up on the left hand side of your shop that says "Request Custom Order". When a customer clicks that button, it will start a conversation with you where they can tell you what they're wanting.

Everyone approaches custom orders differently. I don't charge up front and I don't worry about charging for design time since it's so short in most cases and I enjoy it. I always quote a price up front - and let them know that the price could change if we decide to add additional colors or elements.

The major caveat with custom orders is that you need to be VERY good at communicating. Stay on top of it, ask any question you think needs asking and make sure the customer knows EXACTLY what you're doing. I'm always very thorough and send progress photos of the piece to make sure there are no issues. :)

Step 16: Join Teams and Use the Forums to Keep Up to Date

Teams on Etsy are a great resource. You can use them to network, find other local crafters and artisans, apply for local craft shows, learn from other sellers, and even increase your views and likes. I spent a good deal of time in the teams for the first couple years.

Have a look to see if there are any local teams for your area and also be sure to look for teams related to the products you're selling. :)

The forums are also useful, but I find them less useful by far due to large amounts of censorship from the Etsy admins. Be warned that the Etsy forums can be a dangerous place. Many an Etsy seller has been banned or had their shop shut down for voicing negative opinions about Etsy policies or even other sellers, so be careful with your interactions there!

Step 17: Set Up Your Business Officially + Setting Up Tax

I can't give too much information over this, because it varies so much from state to state and even from county to county in some areas! And to be honest, it can be very confusing without someone to help. You don't have to do this immediately - it can be something you do down the road if you start to sell a lot of product or if you'd like to move into selling in person at events.

If you'd ever like to sell your products at a trade or craft show, you'll need to make sure you get a seller's permit. Out in CA, I set up a business by contacting the BOE and got the seller's permit along with it.

Contact your local Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Association to find out more - many places will walk you through it for free and there's no charge for registering a business.

Once you get your business registered, you should receive information about collecting tax as well. You can set up Etsy to collect tax automatically when things sell. Go into your shop settings, and then go to finances. Under finances you'll see a section titled "Sales Tax". Input which areas you'd like to collect tax from and how much to collect and you'll be all set!

Step 18: Advertising on Etsy

I wanted to make a quick note about advertising on Etsy, because I know it looked enticing to me as a new seller! I used it years and years ago before they made the change to the way advertising works on Etsy now. I didn't have much success with it, but I also didn't have much extra cash to spend to promote. I'm sure if you've set aside a marketing budget at all, you'll have better luck than I did!

Advertising on Etsy is done through something called "Promoted Listings" - you'll be advertising your listings instead of promoting your store entirely.

Your promoted listings will show up when people are browsing listings on the site. Search for anything for Etsy, and when the results come up - that first row is the promoted listings sellers have paid for.

You set a daily advertising budget of $1-10 and just let Etsy do the work for you. Etsy assigns a Cost-Per-Click value to each of your listings (though you can edit this manually) and will promote them all by default. You can choose to not promote certain listings as well. You'll be able to see the current charges for Promoted Listings every day in your Etsy bill, too, so you can see you how much you are spending.

Since I'm not as familiar with Promoted Listings, here's a great article I found over them that I really recommend you read if you want to try them out!

Step 19: Ask Me Anything + Comments & Shop Critiques!

If you find that there's something I have not covered, let me know in the comments! Etsy can be a confusing place.

I'd like to use the comments below for shop critiques and discussion, so if you have a shop and you'd like to get some feedback, post it in the comments below.

But be warned - anyone not able to use their manners will be kicked out of the discussion. ;)