Laptop on desk with colorful post-it notes on the back

When I started my Etsy shop almost ten years ago, my focus was on creating handcrafted stationery goods.  No matter how much customers asked, I refused to sell digital files at the time.

If I knew the things I know now about creating a product that meets my customers needs, I would have introduced digital files when I opened my shop.

But this was before I truly understood new marketing.  I didn’t sell digital files on Etsy for lots of reasons.  One was because I was worried about others stealing my designs.  It might sound silly now, but there weren’t as many safety guards that you could use to protect your work back then. 

I also worried about quality control.  What if someone purchased the file and had a horrible printer at home.  Somehow, I was convinced it would be my fault if the design that they printed looked awful in the version they made at home.

Back then, selling digital files on Etsy was a new business model.  We were the pioneers and I just wasn’t positive how to navigate this unknown frontier.

But the requests kept coming in.  At least a few times a day, a customer asked to purchase in this format.

Suddenly, it became an economics issue.  I started losing too much money saying no to selling digital files. 

Over time, I’ve created a stationery shop that does both.  And the truth is that both are successful.  But, I’ll admit I love selling digital files on Etsy better.  For me, it’s the perfect business model.  Especially if you set up your business to sell the files passively.

If you are considering opening an Etsy shop and are a designer, consider selling digital files on Etsy.  Here are some simple steps to keep in mind to set up your Etsy shop successfully.

Get Familiar with Etsy

The Etsy platform really is designed to sell digital files.  But these changes are more recent.  I use both Etsy and Shopify to sell my digital files.  Although I love that Shopify allows you to set up your own website, it’s easier to set up instant downloadable files on Etsy.  It’s also simpler to make sure that customers have downloaded the files after they purchase them.

Before opening your Etsy shop, though, become familiar with the features to help you sell digital files.  Figure out how you upload your files onto the listing.  (On Etsy, you can upload up to 5 different digital files.)

See if your files are the right size for instant download or if you need to make them smaller.  If you need to make them smaller, you might have to use an online tool to compress the PDF file.  

Then you can upload the files to your Etsy product listing.  Once your customer purchases the listing, the digital files are available for instant download in the Purchases section of their account.  

The best feature…  the digital files are available forever in the purchases section.  They never disappear.  Customers who might want to access them in a year, still can.  And they know where to find them.  This will help keep your customer service more streamlined.

Decorative designer's desk with the text overlay "How to sell digital files on Etsy"

Decide on Customization

When I started selling digital files on Etsy, the only way to allow a customer to personalize the file was using Adobe Acrobat Reader.  You set up the file with editable fields in this program.  This fields could be edited by your customer after they downloaded the file.  

To be honest, this process was a little clunky.  It was never clear which fonts the customer would have access to.  And you’d need a shared web license to allow the editing with specialized fonts.  Customers also had difficulty changing the size of the font.  Many times the final design would look funny because the wording wouldn’t fit.

There had to be a better way.

Today, customer editing programs have finally caught up with the times.  The introduction of the editing programs Templett and Corjl have changed how customers can interact with your files.  Although these services cost a little bit of money, by using them you build a completely passive business. 

Like everything, there are positives and negatives to using these programs.  I just started setting up my stationery designs in Corjl last month.  I find that the font selection is limited (even with the font extension).  Since I only have commercial licenses for most of the typography that I originally used in my designs, I need to update the typography used in every collection.

If you’re just opening a new Etsy shop, I recommend building the customer editing capability right into your business from the beginning.  It’s a lot easier to create designs using the current typography options than changing things up after you’ve created your designs. 

Brainstorm Digital Products

These days, you can create lots of different types of digital products.  From customizable wall art to planners and e-books, the only limitation on the kind of digital products you create is your imagination. 

Before building your Etsy shop, choose a niche that you want to focus on.  This will help build a target audience and focus your product designs. 

After you select a niche, research the kinds of digital products customers in your niche are purchasing.  With this list, choose the digital products that you think your skills are best suited to create.

For example, if you don’t have any background in web design, selling digital files that customers use to build websites is probably not the best idea.  Choose digital products that you can easily create and are in your expertise.

There are lots of different kinds of digital products that you can sell in your business.  The best ones will vary based on the type of business that you have.  Check out my favorite types of digital products to sell here.

Sometimes digital product designs require specialized design software.  Computer software will be your biggest investment with this business model.  Even if it feels like a huge investment at first, make it.  Designing in the right software programs will make your designs stronger and set you up for success in the future.  

I create most of my digital designs using Adobe Creative Cloud.  I used to own a version of Adobe Illustrator.  Keeping up with the updates to this program was costly.  Especially when I lost my student pricing. 

My subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud gives me access to the most up to date version of Illustrator.  This let’s me use the newest tools in Illustrator and explore my creativity with this amazing digital program without a full investment in the program.  You can check out more information about their Creative Cloud subscription here

But I’m not a graphic designer, how can I still create digital products?

You don’t have to be a graphic designer to create digital products, but having general design skills helps.  Take some classes on Skillshare or Google Digital Garage.  And remember, practice makes perfect.  So, keep working on improving your skills and you’ll be able to design like a professional before you know it.

Another option is to select digital products that don’t require graphic design background to make.  You could write e-books or make spreadsheet templates.  Not every digital product requires you to be design inclined.  When choosing your digital product, pick one that let’s your skills and background shine.

Create your First Product Listing

After you’ve established your Etsy shop – including your Etsy shop name and branding – it’s time to create your first product listing.

Select “Add a Listing”.  Next, you need to fill in the listing details.  This includes the title, details about the listing and your renewal options. 

You also need to choose the type of listing that you’re creating.  To sell digital files on Etsy, you need to choose the “digital” option for your product type.  By selecting “digital”, a file upload section is added to your listing.  This is where you’ll upload your digital files for customers to download upon purchasing.

Next, it’s time to write your product description.  Your product description should entice customers to continue reading, convince them to purchase the item (or at least think about it) and include keywords that can show up in Etsy search.  I know that’s a lot of details to include.   

In addition to describing your product’s details, you need to include information about how your customers can use your digital products.  

Your product listing should answer the following questions:

  • Is it okay to resell your digital files commercially? 
  • How can customers use your digital files? 
  • How do you recommend customers printing or accessing your digital files? 
  • What are the copyright terms of your digital files?

Need help writing your product description?  Check out our blog post here for writing a product description that will increase your Etsy sales.

After you’ve written the product description, you’ll need to add the product tags.  Product tags are keywords to help potential customers find your product.

You will also need to decide on the price of your product.  When choosing a price, research (not on Etsy since other sellers tend to price items too low in order to make more sales) how much your type of product usually sells for.  Also think about the value that you’re providing to customers with your product.

If your product helps solve a major pain point or has involved years of expertise to create, you can probably charge quite bit more than someone else who doesn’t have much experience.

Keep in mind that the price you choose is only an introductory price.  You can always adjust it if you find it’s too high or low.  Through sales, you can figure out how much the marketplace is willing to pay for your product.  Use this information to help guide your pricing in the future.  

Pretty pink desk flat lay with the text overlay "How to sell digital files on Etsy"

Add Photos

Selling digital files on Etsy is a little different than selling a physical product.  If your product is only available in a digital format, it’s a little difficult to photograph traditionally.

Instead of taking a tradital product photo, use a photo editing program to create digital image of your design. 

For example, I create digital images using a flat lay photo.  The image has props on the sides and a space in the middle for the invitation design.  I edit the photo in Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom.  I add the invitation as a layer into the image.  The props and lighting of these images makes them pleasing to the eye.  

You can find photos for all sorts of digital designs – from framed art prints to t-shirts – that will showcase your specific product.  It’s a great way to illustrate how your digital product will look in real life without trying to take a product photo of each one.

For more information about making your own photos with your digital products, check out this blog post to learn more about this process.  You can also find an assortment of flat lay photos to add your digital files to here.

In addition to including digital photos of your files in a flat lay format, you can also create an image that shows your product in use.  Whether it’s you reading your e-book or using your planner, print your digital file and showcase how it should be used.  You’ll be amazed how much your sales will increase.

Upload your Digital Files

As I mentioned above, Etsy has set up their product listings to make it easy to sell digital downloads.  Before your listing is complete, you will need to upload your digital files.

To upload a digital file onto your Etsy listing, each file can’t exceed 20 MB.  If your digital file is too big, just minimize the size on a PDF compression tool.  Check out my favorite one here.

Etsy supports the following file types for downloading:

Audio

  • .mpeg
  • .mp3 

Image

  • .gif
  • .jpeg
  • .png
  • .pdf
  • .tiff
  • .bmp

Text

  • .txt

Once your files are uploaded to the listing, your customers will be able to automatically download your digital files after purchase is complete.  Etsy doesn’t even provide access to the files until payment is cleared.  This is a great protection to sellers.

Build your Passive Income Business

As mentioned earlier, the best part about selling digital files on Etsy is that this business model is truly passive income.  Although I might need to answer customers’ questions every now and then, after the product listing is created, the business model goes into auto drive.

This freedom let’s me focus on creating new designs and marketing my business.  Like everything else online – if you build it, they will not come.  More likely your digital files will just sit there collecting dust.  

Once you’ve set up your product listings, it’s time to promote your business.  Develop a marketing plan mixing social media, blogging and other marketing tools. 

Remember, when selling digital files on Etsy you are building a business just like any other small business owner.  Most people are not successful just throwing up some files randomly on Etsy and crossing their fingers.  

You need to invest in building your audience from the start.  So, spend time taking amazing photos, sharing your work out consistently and finding an audience that can’t wait for your next design.  With these investments you’re sure to have a business that grows in the years ahead.

Final Thoughts…

Although I stumbled upon learning how to sell digital files on Etsy because of customer demand, it’s become one of my favorite business models.  I love that I can spend my time creating and sell the files using passive income strategies.

Before starting on your digital business journey, decide if it’s right for your business.  Do you have a niche that you can create digital files for?  

Then, get to work.  Create some digital files and make your first product listing.  More variety is better when it comes to digital files.  Be sure to include different listings (you can’t make variations on Etsy with digital files) with a variety of color and font options.  Give your customers lots of choices and your more likely to make the sale.

As your business grows, you can also experiment with different types of digital files.  Once you figure out the types of digital files that sell best, you can create more of the products that your customers crave.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *