This post by Jess Van Den will help you decide if you should sell on Etsy or your own website. Read through to the bottom to find out how you can get your questions about this answered live on February 10.
If you’re in business selling your handmade goods… where and how are you selling them?
Are you selling online? Via markets? Consignment? Wholesale?
Is what you’re doing now working for you?
All businesses go through a constant process of evolution, and the way you sell your work is often a vital part of the puzzle that will make or break your business.
A question you should regularly ask yourself is: should you be diversifying or consolidating your sales channels and venues?
The answer differs depending on the stage you are at in your business – not to mention your personality, product, business model, and your customer.
(In this article, when I refer to a channel, it is a method of selling – online, or via wholesale, for example. A venue is a specific channel – so, Etsy would be one venue in the online channel.)
I’ve been through this very process time and time again with my own handmade jewellery business, Epheriell.
I’ve tried it all – selling online in tons of venues; selling at markets; selling via ‘rental’ spaces in shops; consignment; wholesale…
These days – after almost 8 years in business – I currently sell online only, and my focus is on just 2 venues – my own site, and my Etsy store.
This works for my range – which is all made-to-order, and the majority of which is wedding bands. Therefore, each piece is custom sized, and having a bunch of rings lying around in potentially ‘wrong’ sizes makes no business sense. Ditto for selling them wholesale or on consignment.
It works for my customer base, because they are all over the world. It works for my lifestyle – I live in the country, and don’t have anywhere nearby that I could open a shop, or do regular markets. Nor do I want to! I like working from home, and not having to commute anywhere to sell my work. It suits my personality – I like having the freedom to shut up shop any time in order to travel.
So – how did I come to this particular business model? I went through a process of experimentation over many years before I settled on the model I use now.
Below, I’m going to take you through a similar process, with my suggestions as to what you should consider at different stages of growth in order to ensure you’ve chosen the right sales channel and venues for your business.
When you’re just starting out.
When you’re starting out, you need to try as many different sales channels as possible. Your business is unknown and new – so the more places you get get your work seen, the faster your business will grow. It’s highly likely that you won’t have too many sales happening at this stage, so you’ve got more time to devote to researching and trialling different sales venues.
This is the time to really stretch yourself and experiment!
Try selling online, via retail (consignment, wholesale, rental spaces), markets… whatever channels and venues you can get into or set up.
The point of this experimentation is not only to get your brand out there in as many places as possible, but also to discover what avenue of selling best suits your personality, your products, your business model, and your customer.
This may be obvious from the beginning, but more likely, it will be something you discover as you trial different selling channels.
Your business may even evolve in line with your preferred channel or venue. For example, as I became surer that online was the way I wanted to go, I started making more reproducible products, and I actually created new product lines with the mentality that I wanted them to be easy and affordable to ship internationally – which meant keeping pieces as flat as possible so they could ship in the ‘large letter’ class rather than the ‘parcel class’ (a difference between $3 and $11 postage charge for two pieces of the same weight).
You may make large items that are heavy to ship – in which case, online may only work locally for you. Or, you might find it better to sell via wholesale so shipping isn’t an issue.
As your business grows.
As you grow your business, you need to get more focused. You are making more sales, which means more time making your products, and less time to research and experiment.
Your goal at this stage is to find the sales channel that works best for you and focus on that – which includes narrowing down the venues within that channel. This doesn’t mean you have to give up any other channels at this stage – but you should be getting clear on which one is working best for you via your experimentation.
It’s time to become an expert in one particular sales channel, and work out how to use it to its full advantage.
Online was my chosen channel – so I threw myself into learning how to take top-quality product photos; writing SEO-friendly titles and descriptions; and ensuring I shared lots of photos of me, my work and my processes in my shops and via social media to create a strong online brand presence.
Online may work for you, too – or, you may thrive selling via wholesale, or focusing on markets and shows. It will be different for everyone – the key is working out what’s right for YOU. Don’t just follow what others are doing – because what works for one person may not be the ideal choice for someone else.
As your business thrives.
As you become established, you no longer have the time to experiment with so many sales venues and avenues.
It’s time to drill down to the few that really work for you and your biz, and relinquish the ones that aren’t working. This can be a scary stage, because you’re shutting down potential channels and venues, which may feel limiting.
However, if you’ve chosen well, it’s actually incredibly freeing – both mentally, and of your time.
You can stop trying to make something work that isn’t right for your business. You can give up the mental space and time that juggling different sales channels was consuming, and instead, devote that time and energy to becoming even more of an expert in your chosen channel and venues.
Am I suggesting you have to give up everything bar one channel? No. You may find that concurrently selling via wholesale and online works perfectly for your biz – so keep doing both. But don’t feel obligated to hold onto a channel that isn’t working, or that you don’t enjoy.
If you don’t enjoy markets – stop doing them. If you don’t want to sell wholesale, don’t. I never do either, and I have a profitable, full-time handmade business.
There is no one ‘right way’ to run a handmade business.
That said, one thing I would recommend is that you should never put all your eggs in one basket. For example, I would never just sell on Etsy. Or just on my own site. I would never rely on one set of markets. Or one particular retail store.
Why? Because if you rely on one avenue of sales, and that disappears, so does your business.
Is this likely? Probably not – but if this is your livelihood, you need to be prepared for any possibility. And that means having a ‘fall-back’ option if one venue stops working for you.
Finally, do remember that when it comes to business, you are never, ever, ‘done.’ There is always more to try, more to learn, and new ways to do things. Just because you currently sell exclusively via one channel doesn’t mean it will be that way forever. Don’t close yourself off to new possibilities that might come along, but do be discerning as to which opportunities you pursue.
Jess Van Den is a self-employed silversmith working under the Epheriell label. She’s been making jewellery since 2008, when she opened an Etsy shop to sell her jewelry as a hobby, and turned Epheriell into her full-time occupation in 2010 – bringing her husband Nick on board soon after. She specialises in eco sterling silver wedding rings, and works out of her solar-powered home studio in the countryside north of Brisbane, Australia. An ex-teacher, she’s also the founder and editor of the Create & Thrive blog and podcast, where she teaches makers how to turn their handmade hobby into a full-time business.