Collection of sewing accessories

Next month is an exciting one for my business.  August marks the 7th year of my online business anniversary.  That means I have spent 7 years selling on Etsy (and other various websites).

It also means that I have dedicated the last 7 years working to build the business of my dreams.  And to think it all started from my simple hobby of designing things and celebrating together.

But getting to my business’ 7th anniversary hasn’t been easy.  I think back to my first year selling on Etsy and I can’t believe the ups and downs that I experienced.  There were a lot of lessons learned, a bit of money lost and very little sleep.  (The lack of sleep was more about having a toddler at home then anything else.)

I’m proud of the results, though.  With over 11,000 Etsy sales and 1,500 positive reviews, I have carved a little place in the indie design sphere for myself. 

As I’ve said before, as much as Etsy doesn’t let your shop be completely independent, they are a wonderful place for you to start your creative business.  They send you organic traffic more easily then any other platform out there.  And you can easily connect with your audience without too much financial investment.

Although I’m currently exploring the next steps for my business, I am glad that I have spent the last 7 years selling on Etsy.  It’s been a great way for my entrepreneur self to learn about the basics of business and cultivate my love of design into a profitable shop.

If you are ready to start your own Etsy shop (or have started one and haven’t grown it much yet), I’ve come up with a list of 13 must dos for your first year selling on Etsy.  These are the things that helped me build a solid foundation for my business and go into my second year ready to explode my growth.  

Pretty lupine flowers with the text overlay "13 Things to Do your First Year Selling on Etsy"

Set Reasonable Goals

So, you’re starting an Etsy shop.  That’s wonderful.  What do you hope to achieve during your first year in business?

Did you answer make a million dollars?  Don’t worry.  I’ve heard that one before.

As wonderful as Etsy is as a sales platform, I’m not sure there’s a lot of chances to make a million dollars your first year selling on Etsy.  I would consider that goal unreasonable and potentially one that will frustrate you early on.  

When you start your Etsy shop, you need to have reasonable goals to what you hope to accomplish.  These goals will keep you motivated when the going gets difficult.

Let me be honest with you.  Not every moment of starting your Etsy shop is going to be perfect.  You will run into snags – disappointed customers, failed products and months that weren’t even close to your financial aspirations.

The thing that separates the shops that stay open for over five years and those that fold after one is the goal making process.  The successful Etsy shop’s know where they are going and why they make the products they do.  These shops understand how they help their customers with each purchase.

This understanding keeps them motivated to keep going when the going gets tough.  And it will get tough.  At some point during the next year (possibly multiple times), you will want to quit.  You’re goals will help get you through the discouraging times and find a way to fix things even when it looks dismal.

Before starting your Etsy shop, write down a set of goals that you hope to accomplish with your shop in the next year.  Read them over.  Are the things you wrote down realistic to accomplish during your first year?  N

I’m not saying to avoid pie in the sky kinds of goals, but try to keep them as realistic as possible.  You want to push yourself, but not get frustrated.  

Create a set of goals that you can work towards each day and actually accomplish.  If you actually get them completed during your first year selling on Etsy, you’re more likely to continue growing your Etsy shop in year 2.

Lime green binders on shelf

Organize your Finances

One of my biggest financial lessons my first year selling on Etsy was about making a profit.  The smaller my business costs were the higher the profit. You want to keep your business expenses as small as possible.  So, spend time looking for the most reasonable priced vendors (without sacrificing quality, of course).  Keep your materials costs lower so you make more money.

Make sure you are only using the apps and business tools that actually grow your shop.  It’s not very fun to pay for things that are not helping you grow your business.

Also, make sure you use pricing that makes you a profit.  Be sure to include Etsy’s fees when deciding on pricing, so you can recoup these costs.  

Before you get too far along on your Etsy shop journey, you also need to register your business name.   You can check out more details on how to do this process here.

You also might consider filing an LLC the first year.  There are lots of tax advantages to your business to have an LLC, so it’s something to consider. There are other types of corporations you can register as, so do your research to figure out which is best for you.

It’s also never too early to start organizing for tax season.  Keep a file box and file folders to collect business receipts as you make the purchase.  You can also start a log to write down your business’ different monthly expenses.

If you make a profit during the first year selling on Etsy, you will need to put aside some money to pay your taxes.  I recommend keeping these funds in a separate savings account.  That way there are no financial surprises when tax season comes.

Get Social

As a new Etsy shop, social media is one of the best ways to promote your shop.  For free.

Create a social media profile in the major networks that you like to use – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.  Although you can create a social media profile on each platform, choose one of the platforms to establish your audience on during your first year selling on Etsy.  

Even if you don’t use one social media network at all this year, you may expand onto it during your second year in business.  At least you will have the profile name secured for the future.

A strong social media presence can be difficult to build if you are too thinly stretched between too many platforms.  Select your favorite platform that you feel the most comfortable on.  Post relevant information from your shop, share your work and make connections with others.  During the year, your presence and authority will grow.

Leverage Pinterest

Up to a few months ago, Pinterest was also considered a social media network.  It has since been reclassified as a search engine – more like Google than Facebook.

Your followers or even number of views doesn’t really matter any more.  The important part of Pinterest is clicks.  You want to use Pinterest to get your work shared with potential viewers and clicked on to make sales.

But just a photo of your product will not work on Pinterest.  You need to create product pins that showcase your product from different angles and how it’s used.

Etsy shops are also successful on Pinterest when they feature their products in blog posts.  The viewer clicks on the pin that takes them to the blog post.  They can read more about the product and then click on the link to the product to purchase.

If you have an Etsy shop, start a Pinterest account.  Create Pinterest boards that showcase your products, related interests and different themes. Then, start pinning.  You can find out more ways to use Pinterest to grow your Etsy shop here.

Balls of yarn and the text overlay "Starting an Etsy shop?  13 Things your must do your first year selling on Etsy"

Connect with your Customers

My first year selling on Etsy was chaotic.  But the thing I liked the best about using this platform was that it was really easy to connect with my customers.  You’ll notice pretty early on that customers love to ask questions through Etsy’s conversation system.

Use these inquiries as opportunities to build relationships with customers.  Answer their questions, tell them about your products and see what kinds of things they are shopping for.

Conversations with customers also hold clues for what is currently trending.  Pay attention to the products your customers request and the customizations that they’re looking for.  Customers will request different design themes or types of designs that I don’t currently carry it in my shop.  These clues help me decide what I should design next.  

Perfect your Product Photos

When I look back at my product photos from my first year selling on Etsy, I definitely laugh a little.  My lighting is dark, my photos are sometimes blurry and I hadn’t quite figured out photo props.

Fast forward to today and, through practice, I’ve improved my lighting and have started to select props related to what I sell.  Spend time your first year perfecting the look of your product photos.  Learn how your camera works best, the types of props that give you the best feel for your brand and how to capture the most natural light.

Don’t be afraid to make changes as you go along.  No one takes perfect pictures on their first try.

If you are struggling with product photos, this might be a business task to hire out.  I have seen Etsy shops fail not because of their products, but their products’ photos.  Consider finding a local product photographer who could take professional photos for your shop.  Some Etsy sellers even have them on a rotating photography schedule.  The photographer will come by on a monthly basis to take photos of all of the new products made during that month.

Purchase a Separate Domain

As much as I’ve loved starting a shop on Etsy, you definitely need to have a plan to grow onto your own platform to expand your marketing efforts.  At least eventually.  

Before you get too into your shop name and branding, make sure to purchase a separate domain for yourself.  Secure this website domain for the future.

It’s never fun to grow an Etsy shop for a year, go to GoDaddy to purchase your domain name and discover that it (and all its variations) were bought last year.  Not even by someone who wanted to create a website with a similar name.  But by a domain business who will now sell you that website domain for triple what it’s actually worth.

So after a few months of getting used to your website and name, buy the website domain.  You can grow the rest of your web presence when you’re ready, but at least you know that the domain will be there when you need it.

Brand your Business

Once you secure your website domain and get used to the vibe of your business, work on branding your Etsy shop.

Branding basically is the visual why behind what you do.  It gives your business a purpose.  Through your business branding, you create a consistent look and feel for your business that makes it memorable.

When you brand your business, you can keep it simple.  Choose colors and fonts that give your business the feel you want and express your why visually.  Your goal with branding is to make your business memorable and stand out amongst visual clutter.  Not to become an expert graphic designer.

Add your branding to your shop’s banner, shop icon and featured listings.  Choose photos that highlight what your brand is all about.

Also, make sure that your shop’s About page is completed.  On Etsy you can add a video and up to five photos, so use that space wisely to showcase different elements of your shop.

While you are working on your branding, make sure that your shop’s policies are clearly written and filled out.  As you grow your Etsy shop, these policies will be constantly changing.  Just keep them updated as you learn better ways to serve your customers.

In order to keep customers seeing your shop often, use Etsy Shop Updates to let them know about what your shop is up to, new product listings and products you want to feature.  These updates show up on the Etsy home page for buyers who a purchased another item or favorited your shop.  It’s a great way to stay in touch with buyers organically.

Grow your Email List

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “The money’s in the list”.  If you’re wondering what list, they are referring to your email list.

This saying is no different for your Etsy shop.  Building an email list is so important for the continued growth of your business.  And you want to start right away.

The problem with starting your email list for your Etsy shop is that they don’t make it easy.  But it is possible.  Check out these creative ways to grow your mailing list for your Etsy shop here.

During your first year, I wouldn’t spend too much time creating the perfect email opt-in.  Your time needs to be spent on other things.  Save this step for your second year when you’ve gotten to know your customers better and can create something that they’ll really be interested in.  

Instead, offer your customers a percentage discount off their order for signing up to your list.  It’s a lot easier and encourages many potential customers to join.  Everyone loves to save money.

Figure out What Sells

This is a mystery to many first time Etsy shops.  Without doing proper customer research, it’s hard to figure out what will sell in your Etsy shop.  Many times product creation feels like throwing something onto the wall and seeing what sticks.

Use your first year to figure out what sells and the products your customers want to buy.  Scope out other Etsy, boutique shops and other mainstream retailers.  See what kinds of products are popular in their stores.  Visit local craft fairs and people watch for awhile.  Check out what items visitors are going home with.

Once you start to build an audience, you can also ask them directly what products they’d be interested in seeing during the next year.  This is a great way to get your audience engaged with your content and create something that they will buy.

Cluster of paintbrushes

Find time to Create

When you’re busy starting an Etsy shop, time to create can be one thing that gets pushed aside.  I remember talking to a lot of stationery designers when I first opened my shop.  The biggest regret about opening their shops was that they spent more time running them than creating.

If you are an artist, designer or other creator at heart, giving up your time on the creative process can be a difficult sacrifice.  It can also have adverse affects on your business growth.

As a creative business, you need to be creating often in order to make new products and grow your audience.

So find the time to create.  Make sure you carve it out into your daily schedule your first year selling on Etsy.  If you’re disciplined about it now, you’ll be less likely to lose it as your shop grows.

Start your Business Blog

As you know, I am a true believer that every Etsy shop needs a blog to grow organically.  It gives you a space to create content that will attract new customers to your shop.  For free.

Make it a goal to develop your website domain and set up a blog on it by the end of your first year selling on Etsy.  After you have your blog set up, write your first blog post.  If you aren’t great at writing, partner with someone who is.

Some might tell you that blogging is a waste of your time.  As the sole marketer of your Etsy shop, blogging is one of the best investments that you can make for your shop.  Especially if you don’t have a lot of money to spend on advertising.

Writing consistently for your business blog will secure the future of your Etsy shop.  You will create an organic traffic flow of raving fans who buy.  What can be better than that.

Focus on Reviews

I know, I know.  The dreaded subject of reviews has come up.  You either will love them or hate them.  Usually your feelings are based on how they’ve gone.

During your first year selling on Etsy, when no one (except maybe your family) has heard about your Etsy shop, reviews on one of the most important tools you have to making sales.  Good reviews that is.

Think about the last time you went to make a purchase on Etsy.  Did you skip over shops that had only 3 or 4 stars?  

It’s our natural inclination to seek out 5 star reviewed shops.  And your customers will do the same.

So work hard to delight your customers.  Respond to their inquiries in a timely manner and ship their purchases on time.

If you find that customers’ are less enthusiastic to leave any reviews, feel free to ask.  Include a little reminder in their package or send a request with their shipping confirmation email.  Just don’t ask directly for a good review.

Must do list for your first year selling on Etsy to make your shop a huge success.

Final Thoughts…

Congratulations!  Starting an Etsy shop is hard work.  Even just deciding to start your Etsy shop can be stressful.  But, remember, all you really need is one product to get started and you’re in business.

Once you hit the “Open my Shop” button, you’ve begun a fantastic journey of building your own creative business.  This is something to be proud of.

But your first year selling on Etsy can feel overwhelming.  There are a lot of moving parts and you can get distracted easily if you’re not careful.

Focus on the 13 things listed above and your shop will be set up to grow even more during its second year and beyond.

Need some help staying on top of the things during your first year selling on Etsy?  Check out our free printable Must Dos for your First Year Selling on Etsy checklist here to help you stay on track.

Here’s to a great year of business ahead!

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