What You Need to Be a Successful Entrepreneur

what you need to be a successful entrepreneur

This topic has been buzzing around my brain for weeks. I told myself to just make this a “quickie” post and get the idea out there for us to discuss, but then I found myself with a lot to say and a whole bunch of inspirational and educational articles to share with you, so I’m making this a three-parter.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on being a hard worker. The most important things you need to run a successful business aren’t “tricks” or “secrets,” in fact they’re pretty much the opposite – really obvious:

  • To work hard
  • To work smart
  • To be in it for the long haul

Part one uses Etsy shops as an example, but it applies to anyone trying to run a business.

Are there two types of Etsy sellers?

I’ve been discussing selling on Etsy with the folks who have subscribed to my newsletter (just add your email address here to join – we talk about all kinds of great stuff), and it got me scratching my head a bit. See, the puzzling thing is that a handful of people said that Etsy sends them so much traffic that they are afraid to move away from there, for fear of having to build up their customer base again, while another handful of people said the opposite – that they set up a shop on Etsy, and nada! They feel like a tiny fish in a big pond, that no one can find them, and they feel Etsy is useless to them.

Clearly, there must be something different about the way these two groups of Etsy sellers are approaching business (on Etsy, and probably in general).

I have always told people that “if you build it, they will come” is the opposite of how the internet works. If you build it, and don’t constantly promote it, no one will ever step foot in it.

I wonder if because Etsy is set up as a marketplace, with a search engine, people think that all they need to do is build a shop on there, and the customers will start to roll in? I am by no means saying that people whose Etsy shops aren’t popular aren’t working at it – I’ve never had an Etsy shop of my own, and I don’t keep up with what best practices are as far as promoting an Etsy shop.

Maybe you can throw a lot of time and effort into promotion, and end up with a shop that’s a dud on Etsy. But then it would be time to look at your product, look at your target market, look at your pricing, your copywriting, your photography, your branding. There is no need to give up if something doesn’t work out for you the first time!

What makes a successful entrepreneur

I got some emails from frustrated shop owners who were unable to build an audience on Etsy, so they quit using it. That’s absolutely fine, if you have another thriving way to sell your goods, but if nothing at all is working for you, it’s time to evaluate what’s going on, why it’s going on, and what you can do to improve things.

These thoughts were going through my mind, and then I got the most honest and helpful email from one of my readers, which got me really considering this disparity in opinions about setting up shop on Etsy:

Etsy makes it easy to feel like you’re not selling enough. Like you’re not enough. You see featured stories about people selling thousands of items on day ten of their shop going live and haphazardly quitting their day job to keep up with the demand, and you feel like you should be able to do that too. Except, for some reason, you’re not.

Do you ever feel that way, yourself?

There are a few things going on here that create the divide between business success and feeling like your shop can’t be found.

  1. Hard work is vital. Successful entrepreneurs expect going into business to be hard work, and thus they don’t think of what they’re doing to be hard work – just what needs to be done to build a business. So, another person could imagine that the successful seller just got lucky or had connections, not seeing the hard work this biz owner doesn’t feel the need to mention. Sometimes, too, people feel awkward about mentioning how hard they worked, like it’s bragging or saying you don’t work hard, so may be purposefully (or unconsciously) downplaying their dedication.
  2. Smart work is vital. Successful shop owners also “work smart” – instead of doggedly doing the same thing (that’s not working) over and over, they constantly re-evaluate what they do, how they do it, why they do it, stick with what works, and come up with new things to try. You may feel like you’re putting in the hard work, but maybe it’s the wrong work, and another approach may make all the difference to your business.
  3. Curiosity and the desire to learn make all the difference. Successful biz owners put a high priority on learning and improving. Not sure how to get listed higher on Etsy’s search page? Etsy has written articles about this that will teach you – in fact, they have piles of help available on almost every topic. Know your photos need help? Search for some tutorials, learn how to use your camera, or try some new apps. With the power of Google in your hands, there isn’t an excuse to be confused about something you need to do for your business.
  4. You may not notice who’s working hard. Based on the principle of confirmation bias (our tendency to “notice” information that confirms our beliefs), people who are feeling negative and “unlucky” about their own shop may read stories of shop owners on the Etsy blog, and cling on to any mentions of sudden popularity or lucky breaks, not noticing how long the shop has been in business or what hard work was needed to get to the point where a “lucky break” was even possible. Confirmation bias may lead you to notice the truly lucky stories, wishing that for yourself, while ignoring the hard workers, if that doesn’t appeal to you.
  5. Don’t underestimate the power of a supportive community. Etsy has forums, street teams, online labs, and all kinds of resources for connecting with people to get advice and assistance. If you’re not sure how to start on your own, it is almost too easy to join a group or ask for help from someone who is more experienced.

What do you think?

How long have you been working on your business? Do you set specific goals, and create plans to meet the goals? If something doesn’t work, do you dig until you can find the reason why? Do you think “being entrepreneurial” is a personality trait, or something anyone is capable of?

Did I miss something important about selling on Etsy or working on your business in general? I’m really interested to hear experiences of all kinds.

I will share our readers’ thoughts on Etsy shops with you soon! But this “hard work” aspect of it has been on my mind. Stay tuned for part 2, which relates a parenting struggle to a business struggle, and has some links to inspirational articles about how far hard work will get you.

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About the Author

Arianne Foulks is a popular educator and small business enthusiast. As a champion for creative brands, she has a 15+ year reputation for thoughtful redesigns that help businesses level up. She loves having a problem to solve, and has focused throughout her career on building online homes for fascinating people. She is raising boys, will walk any distance, always has a pile of novels by her bed, and was once bitten by an elephant seal.

View more articles written by Arianne >

  1. Great info! I have had my business since 2010 on Etsy and just leaped into my own website recently. Etsy a few years ago was pretty good, but they made changes that can affect your shop being seen in searches. I think you have a better chance if you are not in a saturated market. I know shops who have a unique item that does very well on Etsy. But unfortunately jewelry which is what is mainly contained in my shop is so saturated it is extremely hard to be seen even with great photography, prices and tags. I spent lots of hours re-tagging items and working hard to get new items on there. It takes lots of hard work and dedication to be a successful business owner. I am sure many of you are just like me. I am a one woman shop. I do everything myself. It can seem overwhelming at times but then I feel such a great sense of accomplishment.
    I started a great team 2 years ago to help everyone with Etsy topics. Team Serenity! I find that being part of a team helps in so many ways. I think being part of a team is a great resource.

    • Thanks for sharing, Jennifer! It sounds like you’re willing to roll your sleeves up and get to work – and so great that you’ve created a team to help others!

  2. Sherry says,

    Here is what I think are the 3 most important components to be successful AND TO MOVE MOUNTAINS!!! The 3 Ps!!!

    1.Passion ( Love what you are doing!!!! It won’t feel like work when you have to put in 80 hours. No one will do it better. Heck, maybe you won’t want to retire)!!!

    2. People ( Surround yourself with people who will love and support you in your creative endeavor! If there is a skill you don’t have, find People who can!!! You don’t need to know it all)!!

    3. Perserverance Don’t Give up!!! You will experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Get those PEOPLE to pull you up and back on your feet.

    • Sherry, such a good point to remember to gather people around you for support and/or tangible help!

  3. What a great and inspiring article! I literally felt a hand on my back pushing me forward :-D

    I think another aspect to it, is what you consider being successful. Although I don’t really make a living from my creative endeavors yet, I can see it on the horizon so I feel like I’m already achieving something.

    I started on etsy and made sales here and there but I didn’t start getting regular orders until I branched out to wholesale and galleries. It almost seems as though you need to “go viral”. Word of mouth is now word of twitter or pinterest or Etsy hearts.

    • Such a good point, Theresa! I think “feeling successful” = “being successful” – so if you feel like you’re struggling, you may need to put some more hard work into it. If you feel like you enjoy where you’re at and you’re achieving what you want to, keep up the good work. It sounds like you’re doing great!

  4. Thank you! As a new business owner I loved this! It was reaffirming. And helped me be aware of the pitfall mentioned in #4 thinking that others may be lucky.

    • Yes, if you focus on the lucky aspect to it, that is so bad for your motivation, because you can’t control luck, and soon can feel out of control of your own business. What you CAN control, however, is your own hard work that you put into your business, and that feels so much better than worrying how other people made it to where you want to be. Thanks for commenting, Lisa!

  5. I think your article did a great job highlighting what anyone online in this day and age needs to remember, you’re only seeing someone’s best side – you’re not seeing the hours of work and failed attempts behind the success.

    As a reasonably successful Etsy shop owner (I’m able to only have to work part-time outside the house because of my shop sales) the thing that I’ve found most helpful is to take the time to stock your shop with plenty of listings. If you’re only selling 6 listings, then you’re a needle in the haystack for Etsy’s search engine. If you’ve got 6 pages of listings, you have a significantly higher chance of being seen over and over again in searches. I hope that helps!

    • Thanks for the tip, Sydney, and the reminder that what you see on the surface is not necessarily all of what’s going on.

  6. I find etsys search engines are not very good unless you type the word exactly for a shop name then you can’t find it and it doesn’t go for the most obvious, I actually put my business name in my tag to my etsy shop so people can find my shop as my shop name is different to my etsy account name, this seems to work, unfortunately a lot of shops don’t do this on etsy so you might know a shop as “pink lady” for example but her account name is pink ladydesigns you will never find this shop typing in “pink lady” unless you add pink lady to your tags as well just an observation from someone who only opened their shop 3 days ago so wish me luck ( made by Kate ). K

    • I have noticed that too, Kate. Best wishes for your shop!

  7. I think the 3 dot points at the beginning of your post truly do sum it up beautifully.

    I wonder as well whether it’s the type of product being offered on etsy that influences whether you can reap rewards from the etsy search engine or whether you seem destined to remain a small fish :(

    There are plenty of sellers who are in my space but I’m still able to stand out and get good consistent sales by careful tagging and (hopefully!) good photos. While I’m looking to build a presence outside etsy, I’ll definitely keep a shop there as well.

    Other categories like jewellery designers, for example, must definitely find it tough with the thousands of shops that they compete with. Having a separate presence and getting social media attention outside of etsy may be a better way to go in that case?

    Anyway, love all your posts and thanks for the inspiration….

    • Yes, I’ve definitely heard from people who feel like certain categories on Etsy are oversaturated – stay tuned for my upcoming post that shares all of these thoughts directly from Etsy sellers!

  8. Keiana says,

    As I was going through previous blog articles I stumbled upon this one and wanted to leave some tips. I found that one of the keys to success in Etsy is understanding how keywords and listing titles work. The keywords should reflect the way potential buyers would enter keywords into Etsy’s search engine. Listing titles should contain keywords or phrases that describe your product, like “digital art” or “printable nursery art”, and they can’t be too specific. Titles like, “Under the Sea Art Printable for Baby Nursery” will not be found on the first pages of a potential customers search results.

    Etsy also allows each listing to have 13 keyword that will be used for searches. These keywords appear at the bottom on each listings page. The keywords or phrases used in titles need to be used in the keywords section to maximize the potential of being seen on the first few pages in search results. Once I started doing this listings were always found within the first 3 pages of searches. In many cases I was on the first page.

    It takes a little bit of research to find the best keywords, but it’s worth the time to increase traffic to your shop.

    • Good to know, Keiana! Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

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