Before I started my Etsy shop, I did tons of research - I wanted to be well equipped for any challenge that came my way. For the most part, I thought I did a pretty good job at that, but there were some things that I wish someone told me before-hand because that would have saved me a lot of time, effort, and money. However, you can’t always predict how things are going to go. Here are some of those things that I wish I knew about Etsy, crafting, and running a business in general:
1. I was going to be spending a lot more money on materials, supplies, and tools than I thought I would.
Whether it’s finding a better laminate, getting business cards made, acquiring storage bins, buying photo props, better lighting for video, shipping fees, Etsy fees, or miscellaneous services and subscriptions - they all cost money. If you think that you’re going to be prepared going into this (and I’m sure you will be) just account for the fact that there’s going to be a lot more that you’re spending money on that are business-related necessities. Some are things you really can’t avoid and that you have to get, but there are other things that you don’t need, but it would make life so much easier. If you don’t have the money to spend on all the things you need, then prioritize and ask yourself the question: “will this purchase help make me money”?
2. Figure out the legal and tax situation before making any profits.
If you intend to make money on your business, apply for an LLC, S-Corp, Sole Proprietorship, or another legal business format - but make sure that you do it. Generally, the whole process is very easy but varies by state. The thing to know is that if you’re the only person legally attached to the business, your business taxes and personal taxes are put together - everything goes on your personal taxes. To help with this, I signed up for Quickbooks Self Employed, which I was able to get discounted through my $10 monthly Etsy Pro license. It’s a great online software that automatically pulls transactions from your credit card, bank, and everything from Etsy - sales, shipping fees, transaction fees, everything! It’s super helpful to have and keep track of all the money that’s coming in, out, and how much you have “in the bank”. You can also keep track of how much you owe in taxes, whether they’ll be paid quarterly or annually. While taxes are a good chunk of change, there are a few things that you can add as tax-exempt. How many times do you go to the post office? Every day? A few times a month? That mileage is tax-exempt! You can add all those trips in and you’ll see the money fall off the total tax payment amount. If you’re not sure what the right situation is for you (LLC, S-Corp, etc) talk to your tax person and they can give you much more in-depth information and help make the right decision for you. If you have never done your taxes in person, you can always call a local office to ask some questions!
3. Sign up for a designated credit card for business expenses.
This doesn’t necessarily need to be a Platinum American Express business credit card that’s $500 per year, but just a simple credit card that is only being used for business expenses. This is an easy way to keep track of purchases and know what specifically is business vs personal (and could help boost your credit score too). There are plenty of great cards out there that have no fees and offer travel points, cash back, or other perks. If you’re buying things for your business, you might as well be paid back for a little bit of it (hey, free money is free money). I do know that the Chase Ink Preferred and the American Express Blue Business Cash cards offer 2-3 points per dollar on shipping costs - that’s huge! Depending on what your business is, if you’re shipping heavy stuff, internationally, or oversized items, and spending a lot in shipping costs, these cards could be a really great way to get some of that money back. I signed up for the American Express Hilton Honors Surpass card, and while it’s a personal travel card, it still gives between 3-6x points on basic spending. These points add up to free hotel stays, and the signup bonus allows for almost 8 free Hilton nights (depending on the hotel)! If you do your research there is a card out there for everyone, and if you can get a mini vacation or your next shipment of sticker paper for free, then why not?
4. Use Etsy Shipping.
Etsy does a really terrible job of explaining how their shipping service works, but it's super easy and it's free to use. There's no need to stand in line at the post office to get shipping labels or stamps. The big thing is that I can use Etsy’s $0.55 stamp labels and have them printed directly on letter envelopes with my printer. Etsy uses the Pitney Bowes tracking system that does actually offer tracking for the $0.55 stamps, but it is not the most reliable - but hey, it’s something, right? This is super helpful and the charge is deducted immediately out of my account - and shows up in Quickbooks too. It’s very similar to stamps.com or PirateShip, however, stamps.com isn’t a free service, and PirateShip doesn’t allow letter-size envelopes (or stamps) - everything is considered a package and gets a full tracking number and would have to use a box, or bubble or rigid mailer. If you’re shipping stickers, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to pay $3.50 to ship something that was purchased for $2, and it definitely doesn’t make sense to the customer.
5. It is impossible to predict how customers will react.
This is a tough one because everyone can approach this in their own way - they're still going to be right, and they're still going to be wrong because every customer interaction is different. The problem is that most people have no idea how Etsy works. They've either never bought something from Etsy, or they're so used to Amazon or buying from large retailers. The concept that somebody is physically making and producing their product and that it doesn't get immediately zapped to their house is completely foreign. Some people don't like that, they don't understand it, and they won't stand for it. They also don't really understand how custom orders work. But, I give people the benefit of the doubt because if I wasn't selling on Etsy, I would have no idea how any of that worked either. It’s best to help customers along in the process because the better that you treat them, the better review they're going to give you, and they may actually come back to your shop.
The major thing about customers I have learned is that people do not read product descriptions, which is absolutely wild to me. I've had people come and contact me complaining about something that was noted in the title, description, and photos. Well, if you read the description, it clearly says what it’s made of, so I’m not sure why you would think differently, and no I will not give you a refund because you didn’t read it. If you can't read the description, I can't help you. But of course, you can’t say that though, you’ll need to learn your customer service e-voice. However, if there's an actual issue with your product that really shouldn't be happening or something that should have been disclosed in the description that’s becoming a problem, then yeah, sure, refund or replacement is necessary. I'd rather give a refund than get a negative review. This is a delicate balance because it depends on what your product is. If your product costs a lot of time or money to produce, you don't want to give a refund. But if you're like me, and most of your products are between the range of $3 - $10, is it going to help or hurt you as the business owner? What's more important - not selling something that's $3, or getting a terrible and nasty one-star review on your shop? In the beginning, you thrive on reviews and you need those good reviews to give you credibility. If somebody comes right out of the gate giving you bad reviews, it hurts! You think about it all day, all night, and you're lying awake at night thinking about that negative review. Whether the person was in the right to give it or not, it still affects you as it’s there for the world to see. As time goes on, if you get more and more five-star reviews, that negative review is going to be buried down in the pile and will be outweighed by good reviews.
6. This is going to be a full-time job.
Between designing, making, shipping, maintaining social media, adding listings, updating listings, taking product photos, taking product photos three more times, responding to customers, analyzing data, and product and material research, there are a ton of things to do and they all take time. If you have a job or a family, it's going to be even harder. I really commend people juggling a full-time job, a family, or even if you have a lot going on in your life, in addition to running your shop. The biggest thing is learning to prioritize and what you can do in a day because your to-do list will always get longer. But the day won't, the day is not long enough! Even if you step away from your business to take care of other things in your life, you're still going to be thinking about your business - your business will be full-time in your head. It may not be going on physically, but it will take up every available ounce of space in your brain. If you're not working on it, you're still thinking about it.
7. Don’t be afraid to increase prices.
There's a fine line with pricing - you want them to be low enough so that people buy your stuff, but you also still want to make money and make this worth it for yourself. If a product uses higher quality materials, then charge for it. If something is labor-intensive, charge for your time. There's absolutely no reason to have an Etsy shop if you're going to overwork yourself for little reward. There are hundreds of thousands of other sticker shops on Etsy, so how do I differentiate myself from them? My prices are pretty comparable, but what can I do that other people aren't? I'm using top of the line, high quality materials, and designing products that are unique and fit a niche. After doing a ton of research and testing a variety of materials, I decided to go with Oraguard 215 as my sticker and magnet laminate, which is typically used by professional sign shops. It costs a little bit more money, but it's so worth it. It adds a special thickness and durability, and customers notice that. All of that mixed with the design process, printing, cutting, and shipping - the price better be worth my time and effort. If people want it, they'll buy it, and they do. So why not make the price more accurate? If you find that people are buying by the boatload, increase your price. If no one has purchased in a while, then decrease it every once in a while. Occasionally I'll do a quick search to make sure that my prices and products are still comparable and competitive with others that are similar.
8. Success does not happen overnight.
Expect to hit a lot of bumps in the road - there will be a lot of growing pains and uncertainty. As I always like to say, if you're feeling uncomfortable, then it means you're growing (which is kind of comforting). Learn the meaning of hard work and don't give up, but don't be afraid to change directions if things are not going as planned. Give everything your best shot then evaluate. I had a crummy January in sales after having a spectacular holiday season. I was feeling down and out so I decided to get to work on some other things that may monetize, but will keep me occupied and sharp. I started a Youtube channel with my tutorials, a podcast, and built a new shop website with a blog. I've been glued to TikTok with commenting, liking, and producing more content in the hopes of growth there too. As long as you are going forward, it doesn’t matter how fast you go. Even though it’s oh-so-easy to compare yourself to others, stop it right now! No one is doing exactly what you are, and no one is going to do it quite like you. Romanticize your life and think of this current time as the beginning of the book about your success!
9. Be ready to make tough decisions.
Should I spend $700 on a new phone? If I do, my videos will be better quality and if the videos are better, I may get an increased following, which may lead to more sales. Is it worth it? Do I need to spend $300 on a new desk set up? If I do, it will make my space more organized and I'll have more room to work. More room to work, means things get done faster and I can spend time on other things. Is my peace of mind worth it? How much should I spend on marketing? Will the ROI be worth the money? Can I handle the volume? I could have spent hundreds of dollars more in advertising in December to get me thousands of dollars more in sales. I was at working capacity so I wouldn't have been able to handle it, which is a really hard pill to swallow. It's there. It's in my grasp, but I can't physically handle it. I was having trouble balancing my shop with my regular job. Do I quit my job or my business? If I continue, then both will suffer. What do I value more? A job that I don't really enjoy, but gives me a steady paycheck and financial stability, or the ability to run my own business on my own schedule and to grow and expand. If not now, then when? Or, can I continue to manage by balancing for a little bit longer? What do my heart and my bank account tell me? (Spoiler: I quit my job) There are so many tough decisions that come along with starting a business and you're never going to know what they are.
10. If you're going to do something, do it right the first time.
This is something I've struggled with my whole life, but now that it's either me or no one that does these things, I've been getting accustomed to thinking this way. If you think you're going to need to redo something in the future, don't make it future-you’s problem, you might as well spend the time to do it correctly or the way you'll end up wanting it, rather than doing something that fits the need for today. Your time is precious, so spend it wisely. If you're not sure how to do something yet or not sure how you want something to look, don't rush into it. Do your research, plan it out, make sure that whatever you end up doing, it's something that you'll be happy with for a while. For example, when I was setting up the new website, there were a lot of things that could have been done the “easy” way, but I knew that in a few months or a year I was going to want to do it a different way. I bit the bullet and got it over with, and now present-me is really thankful for past-me’s decisions.