Woman standing with 10K balloons

Last month my little stationery shop reached a huge landmark.  We made our 10,000 sales on Etsy.  Wahoo!

It was so exciting to hit 10,000 sales on Etsy.  Like really exciting.  I love seeing the five digit sale number across my screen every time I click on our shop’s home page.  It makes me feel like my shop that started as a dream at the corner desk in my master bedroom has actually turned into something.

But like everything else in life, we had to start somewhere.  You don’t just make 10,000 sales on Etsy.  It takes a lot of hard work, sweat and tears.  During this process I have learned so much about business, sales and marketing.  I’ve met amazing customers and learned how to cultivate a shop with products that sell.  There have also been many stumbles along the way, lots of mistakes made and some brush myself off moments.

If you’re striving to get to the 10,000 sales on Etsy mark, remember, that it’s a day by day process.  Sales on Etsy add up.  Slowly it might feel sometimes, but every one counts.  If you are making a little bit of progress every day with your sales numbers, before you know it you’ll get there.

Whenever a major milestone happens, I like to reflect about the things I learned along the way.  This journey took about five years.  That’s a long time.  To be honest, I wish it had been faster, but I was also taking care of my kids at home.  And there have been so many lessons learned during it.  Here’s some of the most important ones from my adventure to 10,000 sales on Etsy.

Green succulant close up with the text overlay "What I learned from 10,000 sales on Etsy"

Customer Service is Number One

The best way to build a successful Etsy shop is through excellent customer service.  This has been especially true as competition has grown.  You can’t stand out as easily as you used to even with the most amazing designs.  But if you provide amazing customer service and communication, your customers will return (or at least talk about you to their friends).

Customers want a shopping experience where they have access to you – the shop owner and artist.  That’s why they shop on Etsy in the first place.  If they find the shop owner unhelpful, terse or rude, they will go somewhere else.  They will also tell their friends to go somewhere else.

By keeping customer service your number one priority, your shop (and your sales on Etsy) will naturally grow.  Use this organic growth to your advantage.  It doesn’t cost anything.  I learned in the beginning that customer service is one area most people don’t think about competing in.  But if you can out service your competition, you will always end up on top.

Etsy is Just a Platform

When I started on Etsy, it was a community of artisans and designers.  We supported each other in beautiful ways.  Looking out for copyright issues, answering each other’s questions in Facebook groups and providing feedback on new designs.  Over the years, I’ve found this Etsy community has crumbled a bit.  Sellers are frustrated and new vendors are trying to compete based on price alone.  We don’t have a way to communicate with each other like we did before.

These behaviors really frustrated me at first (just like when many of my fellow designers were selling Disney copyrighted designs), but I have had to look at Etsy in a new way.  For better or worse, Etsy is no longer a community.  It is a platform – just like Shopify.  It has more rules than Shopify (and more fees), but it is really just a selling platform.  It’s a place to get my design work in front of potential customers.

As much as I would like it to be a community where we get inspiration from each other, I don’t think that exists any more.  That’s okay.  I have learned to find that inspiration in different places.  Instead, I am now using Etsy as a platform.  It is a place that I sell my designs and has a wonderful check out platform that keeps my customer’s valuable information safe.

Unlike the good old days, Etsy also doesn’t just send customers your way any more.  As a platform, you need to find your own customers and do a lot more marketing (or spend more money on it).  This is similar to Shopify.  I knew this day would come eventually. We couldn’t always live in a world where Etsy or its community just sent customers for free through organic reach.  But changing my mindset about how Etsy works has helped my business grow more.

The Shop will Always be There

I dreamed up my stationery shop when my first was a nursing baby.  I used to sit during breastfeeding sessions with a sketchbook and talk to her about all the wonderful things I could design.  Through the years, my kids and shop have grown.  Sadly, there have been times when I’ve had to spend more time with the shop than the kids.

As much as I love my shop, keeping it contained to the hours I feel I can give it has been important for achieving balance.  The truth is my shop will take as many hours as I have.  So if I have forty hours in a week, I will work on it for forty hours.  If I only have twenty, then it will only take twenty.

During my journey to 10,000 sales on Etsy, I’ve had to learn how to block my time off for the shop and for family.  It’s not always easy, but this little stationery shop has allowed me to craft a mommy lifestyle that I enjoy and feel in control of.  I have spent all of the important moments with my kids and have loved the challenge being an entrepreneur has brought.

When the shop has it’s busy seasons, I have to remind myself that it will always be there.  No matter how much time I spend on it.  The shop isn’t going any where.  My family will continue growing and changing.  I need to spend time with them now.  The shop can wait.  (Sometimes difficult when you are trying to keep up your customer service).

Handmade necklaces with the text overlay "What I learned from 10,000 sales on Etsy"

Custom Orders are a Waste of Time

About two years into my Etsy journey, they added a button that allowed a customer to request a custom order.  The button is located on the right hand side of your listing and can be activated under the Shop Options menu.  This button led to many creative customer requests.  My favorite it still the idea for a monster mini golf party.

After spending a good part of a beautiful weekend afternoon changing the colors of our vintage train party designs to match a customer’s favorite college football team, I realized that doing custom listings was not for me.  A custom listing is similar to a sponsored post.  Once you get paid to complete the work, it’s done.  You can never make money from that project again.

I like making product designs that I can sell over and over again.  My profit margins are a lot higher.  As much as I want to help my customers’ creative visions come to life, the time spent on them encroached too much on my creativity to make new designs and time I needed to spend with my family.

I am so glad when a customer wants to get creative.  Unfortunately, I am not the design shop to support their creativity.  And that’s okay.  I don’t want to be the shop that’s going to change layouts, font types, colors, add logos, etc. to make your invitation specific to you.

My most important lesson about customizations is that customers tend not to want to pay for them.  At least not for a professional designer.  The lack of compensation and complaining about cost can get frustrating after awhile.

In the end, I realized that you need to spend your time on the things that make you money.  Custom orders are not where that money is for me.  They aren’t worth my time.  As much as I want to make my customers happy and something unique, making it exactly match what they have in mind wastes too much time.

I am sure this has lost me sales.  What am I saying, I know it has lost me sales.  But instead of spending my time doing custom orders, I spend it making new designs, loading products into the shop and playing with my kids.  I have seen my business grow without needing to complete the custom orders, so for my stationery shop, I think it was a good idea.

The main lesson learned is that you need to figure out what your money maker is in the beginning.  What is the product or service that customers are willing to pay the most for?  This is the area that you need to focus on when building your business.

It’s also important to figure out the area that loses you the most money or takes up most of your time without pay.  For me, it was custom listings.  You might have a craft where you can charge a lot for a custom product (such as jewelry or fashion design).  This could be the most lucrative part of your business, but you find making new products a gamble.  Whatever your loss area is, figure it out as early as possible and adjust your business accordingly.  You will save a lot of tears in the end.

Trends are Important, Whether I like Them or Not

I have never been the person to follow a trend.  Actually, I’m the person who balks at it.  If everyone wants to go see the new Sex in the City movie, I will refuse on some sort of principle I’ve created.  Instead of just going and spending a few hours with friends.  It’s just the way I am.

Lately, I’ve been similar with the design trends coming out.  Stationery has been all about unicorns and llamas for the last two years (okay, llamas are a little newer).  They are everywhere.  Especially that unicorn horn.  For the longest time, I refused to even go there.  But I started to notice that my fellow stationery shops’ sales numbers increasing when mine were starting to stay stagnant.

As much as I might not like trends, running a design shop is not about me.  It’s about the customer and my audience.  And if my customers want unicorn horns, dancing llamas and cactus fiestas, then it is my job to deliver.  Or risk going out of business.

And if following trends wasn’t hard enough, I also need to be able to predict them as well.  My golden rule is if you find the trend in the Target Dollar Spot, you are too late (or at least on the later side).  You need to design or create products before they get to Target or any other big box store.

Trend spotting isn’t entirely easy, though, especially for a newbie shop owner.  You need to browse magazines (not just mainstream either – try some smaller and trade types), stroll by shop windows (especially in big cities like New York), visit trade shows (in my case an annual trip to the National Stationery Show is a must) and talk to people.

My favorite type of trend research is actually talking to other moms at school.  I love to hear about the birthday parties and other celebrations they are hosting.  I also like to understand the problems they’re running into when creating their celebrations.  It gives me areas that I might be able to solve with my designs.

Blogging Matters

Katarina’s Paperie didn’t really start as Katarina’s Paperie.  It started as a blog called Confetti Diaries.  When Little Bug was born, I wrote about celebrations, party trends and new motherhood.  Through writing, I remembered how much I really enjoyed sharing our tales of living in the “big” city with a baby and trying to celebrate along the way.

The early beginnings of my blog make me giggle now.  I look back at some of the those posts and think about trying to celebrate with a little baby.  She doesn’t remember any of them, but I was really convinced that it would matter.  I do still believe that celebrating with babies is important.  Those early celebrations set the tone for the years to come, but in reality I just really wanted to get started.  I wanted my own family traditions to start as soon as possible.

Once we opened the shop, I created my own website and moved the blog over there.  I continued to write about our celebrations, made crafts and developed recipes.  When Little M entered the world, I found blogging to be my personal escape from the constant demands of mothering two very small ones.  It gave me something to look forward to and I loved being surrounded by the party designing community.

Then, about a year ago, I stopped blogging.  The world of blogging had changed and I didn’t see as much of a point to it any more.  It didn’t result in sales (at least not that I could see directly) and I wasn’t sure why I spent so much time on it.  Especially when I had a family to raise and customers to take care of.

Looking back, my attitude was a big mistake.  I missed blogging immensely (hence why I started this blog).  Blogging also helped build relationships with other bloggers and designers.  It provided authority in this incredibly vast online world.  Blogging also drove new customers to the shop and added subscribers to our mailing list.

In essence, blogging matters.  And as a business, it is one of your best organic marketing tools.  It also doesn’t cost you a lot of money – maybe materials, maybe web hosting.  Blogging also provides you with something to share.  You can showcase your content with your social media followers, mailing list subscribers and other Facebook groups.  The best part is that your something to share isn’t something you are selling.

Remember, the number one rule of selling is that you don’t sell.  An item that is.  Your blog let’s you give a solution to a problem, brainstorm a lifestyle idea or provide value in some way to your customers.  All using your products as the background.  So, yes, blogging matters and I look forward to starting up again soon.

Algorithms Change, Often

Our shop was growing steadily by the second year.  We were so excited.  In one year, our sales doubled and then the following year doubled again.  It was amazing.

But I mentioned to Mr. Mountaineer one day that I didn’t have a strong email list or marketing plan yet.  All of our growth was based on Etsy and their choices.  If something changed on Etsy, there was a good possibility that all of our amazing growth would disappear.

Enter in Year 5…. that’s exactly what happened.  It took some time, but in the end the algorithms got us.  Etsy made some major algorithm changes in 2017.  They took about 6 months to catch up with us and by late fall of 2017 we started noticing a dip in traffic.  And it has gotten worse and worse.

It’s the nature of the business and I blame myself a bit.  I didn’t keep up with our audience outside of Etsy.  I failed to build a solid base of raving customers who would get us through a slump.

This is probably my biggest lesson from Etsy.  The sales Etsy sends you look great at first.  But Etsy tends to reward new businesses now more than old businesses.  It used to be the other way around.

Your most important job when you start your Etsy shop is to capture the email address of every possible customer that clicks through your doors.  Build your mailing list.  And then USE IT!  Your mailing list is helpless if it just sits there.  If you do any marketing your first couple of years in business, email your mailing list.  Get to know them.  Make them feel special.  Your efforts will be rewarded in the end.

Then, if the algorithm changes you still have an audience that you can market to.  This goes for social media marketing too.  As wonderful as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and other social media outlets are, the truth is how your posts are seen is based on algorithms.  The only thing that you truly control is your mailing list.  So, put your energy here and then you won’t have to even think about algorithms.

SEO is Actually Important

The other big lesson that I learned during my journey to 10,000 sales on Etsy happened this year.  It was the importance of SEO.  I used to look at the acronym SEO and want to hide.  Those three letters seemed so important.  And, really they are.  With the right SEO, you can bring in the right customers who are actually going to buy your products.

Traffic is important.  But you need to make sure you have the right traffic.  If you are advertising modern jewelry to the wrong audience, you won’t ever make a sale.  You need to find the customers interested in purchasing modern jewelry.

SEO is actually a free way to get that traffic to come to your shop.  You can spend money advertising, promoting on social media and doing other forms of marketing.  But if you are looking for a free way to build your business, SEO is it.

When our traffic started to slump last year, I took a look at our SEO.  I realized that when I set up the majority of my listings at our shop’s opening, I hadn’t paid any attention to our SEO.  I am actually surprised that customers were finding our shop’s products at all.  It showed how much Etsy’s old algorithm helped build our shop.

I focused this summer on researching keywords, updating titles, rewriting item descriptions and creating better tags.  After about a week of my updates, certain products that hadn’t sold in months, started selling.

Check out this free SEO tool called Etsy Rank.  It’s a great way to see if your shop is on target with it’s SEO and to write your new product listings with SEO in mind.

Now I can’t say for certain this was because of my updates, but I do think they helped draw some new traffic to the shop.  Making sure your SEO is up to date will help you draw in new buyers – for free.

Final Thoughts…

Although I know it’s only 10,000 sales, I am quite proud of this shop milestone.  I helped 10,000 customers have amazing celebrations and made childhood brighter for their kids.  We have provided designs for kids, parents, teachers, holidays and religious events.

My favorite part about running my shop is that I get to be a part of other people’s lives in a unique way.  It’s kind of crazy to think about it.  My designs are sent to their family and friends.  They are featured at their children’s milestones.  People talk about them.

I am looking forward to our next 10,000 sales on Etsy and many beyond.  And, in case you’re wondering, it seems to go faster now.  My sales on Etsy seem to climb higher than the beginning without me having to do as much work.  Here’s to our next big sales milestone!