5 Critical Lessons from an Etsy Entrepreneur (Kimberly Palmer)

Kim Palmer

When I first got the idea to launch my own Etsy shop back in 2011, I thought it was going to be pretty easy. I’d read success stories on blogs before, where a busy mom or frustrated artist starts sewing baby clothes or carving furniture and a few weeks later, they’re quitting their job because the orders just keep coming in.

Well, I learned first-hand that it’s not always quite so easy to make money on Etsy. Getting the initial idea for my shop – digital money planners based on specific life goals – was the easy part. Creating the products and setting up shop wasn’t too hard, either. That was all done within two weeks of my initial brainstorm.

The hard part was what came next – making sales. When my first one came in, about two weeks from my first launch, I was ecstatic. But the next one didn’t happen for many more weeks until I started doing some more serious marketing to my target audience of fellow creative moms through so-called “mommy blogs.” Here are five lessons I learned the hard way from being an Etsy entrepreneur – I hope they can help you in your own entrepreneurial ventures.

1. Creating is the Fun Part

For me, the biggest rush still comes from getting my next idea for a new planner. I want to run away from my email and work responsibilities and just start crafting it. I enter that Zen zone where time disappears. Like many creative entrepreneurs, this is as good as it gets, and it’s important to savor it because the other parts of running a business aren’t quite so tranquil.

2. Marketing is Everything

Without any outreach to blog or my target audience, my sales figures were less that sluggish – they were nonexistent. But as soon as I developed a pitching strategy of reaching out to blogs who might be interested in covering my planners, sales picked up. In fact, I noticed a direct relationship: My revenue always seemed to hover around 10 percent of the total number of page views my Etsy shop received. That means the more publicity I do, the more sales I get.

I don’t exactly love marketing and it’s not something that comes naturally to me. But a fellow entrepreneur shared a secret with me that’s stuck with me: You’re not selling a product just to make money on Etsy. You’re doing it because you believe your product (or service) will help people and improve their lives, even in a small way. That mindset shift helped me feel good, and not icky, about getting the word out about my planners (and later, my book).

3. Negative Reviews are Hard to Deal with But Inevitable

Usually, I love scrolling through my Etsy shop reviews. People tell me how much they love my planners, how they’ve helped them get motivated to manage their money, and how they look forward to sitting down with them with a cup of coffee nearby. I love those stories. But every now and then, a less-than-positive one pops up. Someone writes that they were expecting something different than what they got, or they didn’t find the planner helpful. I’m not going to lie, that makes me feel really sad. For a brief moment, I question the entire worth of my planner shop, and whether I should just give up.

Then I snap to my senses, remember that the overwhelming feedback is positive, and try to shake off that criticism. The truth is, you can’t run a business (or write a book, or a blog, or do anything in public) without sometimes running into negative feedback. That’s okay because it’s not possible to make everyone happy. You can just listen, take anything useful from the feedback, and move on.

4. You Can Learn a Lot from Fellow Entrepreneurs

Some of my best and most popular planner ideas came from suggestions from fellow Etsy sellers. In fact, my annual 2014 money planner originated out of a suggestion from one of my first buyers, another Etsy entrepreneur. I’m so grateful she took the time to share her thoughts with me, and think of her every time I sell another copy. Taking the time to brainstorm with people selling similar products to your own can generate new and creative ideas for both your shops.

5. The Most Successful Shops Constantly Evolve

My shop has undergone many transformations from those early days of 2011. I’ve expanded my line of custom planners, which come with half-hour coaching sessions, and built out my starter kits, which are bundles of planners around different themes, such as launching a business. I even teamed up with my husband to create an Excel-powered Net Worth Tracker. Many of these changes came out of customer feedback. When I noticed people kept buying multiple planners at once, I put them into themed bundles with a discount attached and started selling even more.

The bottom line: Launching an Etsy shop can be an incredibly satisfying, lucrative new undertaking. It’s also a lot of work. But every time you get an alert that you made another sale and a customer tells you how much they love what you’re making, you know it’s worth it.

economy of you by palmerKimberly Palmer is the author of the new book, “The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life,” and senior money editor for U.S. News & World Report, where she writes the popular Alpha Consumer blog.

In addition, she is the creator of Palmer’s Planners, her own line of digital financial guides and money organizers for major life events and goals.

You can connect with her at bykimberlypalmer.com, where you can also download worksheets to help you build your own side-hustle.