Do you sew, craft, paint, or make pottery? Have you ever wondered if your handmade goods would sell in markets or online?
I have spent the past year running my own Etsy shop selling aprons and kitchen goods that I design and sew, and in that year, I have learned a thing or two about selling handmade goods. I’m no expert yet, and my sales certainly aren’t paying my mortgage. But, I have attracted steady customer flow and made over a thousand dollars this year selling on Etsy.
Here are three mistakes I made in my first year selling online and what I’ve learned from them.
1. Know your market.
When I first got the idea to sell what I sew online, I thought a great product to make would be little girl skirts. They are really easy and quick to sew, look adorable, and the fabric choices are endless. Without researching the market, I made ten little skirts, took photos of them, and listed them on Etsy. Six months in, no sales and the number of customers clicking on my listings was low. What did I do wrong? I didn’t research what was already out there in terms of similar products. Turns out, one search for “girls skirt” on Etsy showed me that the market was super-duper flooded with makers selling skirts. No wonder I hadn’t made any sales! The chances of a customer clicking on your item listing and then purchasing it drastically drop if that item is competing with ten thousand similar listings.
How I learned from this mistake: I did some snooping around online to find products that weren’t being made by one million other makers. Finding selling categories that aren’t overly crowded gives your items a better chance of selling.
2. Pick a product that you can make in a reasonable amount of time.
I had the idea to make little boy camp shirts – short sleeve, button-down, collared shirts. There are so few options for boy clothing in fun, unique prints, so I thought I had found my market that was under served. While I was right, there was one problem. One camp shirt took about three hours to make, and some of the components were really tedious to sew. I found that maintaining a shop filled with enough merchandise to show up in Etsy’s search meant that I just didn’t have the time to spend three hours per shirt.
How I learned from this mistake: Here’s a dirty little truth about making money from what you make – you probably won’t be able to fully get paid for the time you put into making that crafted item. If I actually gave myself a living wage for what I sew and put in my shop, I would be charging so much more than what I charge now. The reality is we live in a world of Amazons and Targets, and someone who wants a cute apron can pop into any big box store and get one for really cheap. Like it or not, that’s what we are competing with when we sell our goods online. My aprons are more expensive than Target or Walmart, but they can’t be THAT much more expensive or they just won’t sell. Find a handcrafted item that you can make in a reasonable amount of time knowing that you probably won’t recoup all of your hours in wages earned. Boys shirts took too long to make, so I had to find something else.
3. Charge what your product is worth.
I just said don’t charge too much, but don’t charge too little either! Again, the world of Amazon and Target has changed shoppers’s expectations for online retail. They expect everyone to be able to ship something as fast as Amazon Prime. Well, guess what? I’m not Amazon Prime. I don’t have a billion-dollar-deal with Fed Ex to ship your purchase cheaply at lightening speed. I’m a stay-at-home mom sewing aprons in my laundry room who has to bring two kids to wait in that always-long-line at the post office to mail your purchase to you. So many customers will want to treat you like Amazon. They will want you to ship for free. They will want you to knock off half the price because they are buying two. They will question why overnight shipping to another country costs so much money. When I first started, I felt too timid to stand up to these pushy customers.
How I learned from this mistake: I just started saying “no.” No, I can’t give you a discount because I’ve already given that item a fair price. Do your research with other online retailers to see what price similar items sell for, set your price fairly, and stick to it with confidence.