Wendy Conklin didn't have grand plans to start an Etsy business when she joined the site in 2012. All the Texas resident wanted was to put her newfound upholstery skills to work and recoup the cost of a recent class she took.
"I didn't know what would happen," Conklin says.
What did happen was a quick sale, followed by another and another. Four months after opening her Etsy shop, ChairWhimsy, custom orders began rolling in for brightly colored, reupholstered chairs. Four years later, Conklin quit her job to run ChairWhimsy full time, and today, she makes six figures a year on her business venture.
Etsy was founded in 2005 as an online marketplace for handcrafted goods. Over the years, it has evolved to include vintage items and craft supplies as well, but it remains one of the most popular places on the web to buy unique artisan goods.
"The beauty of Etsy's platform is that anyone with a creative mindset can find success on our marketplace," according to a statement from Etsy. "The sky's the limit in terms of who can turn their passion, hobby or side hustle into a financially viable small business."
[READ: Home-Based Business Ideas.]
However, the website can be overwhelming to first-time sellers. If you are new to the world of Etsy, here are tips to help you be successful.
-- Select the right product.
-- Post great photographs.
-- Tell a story.
-- Pin photos to Pinterest.
-- Tag items with relevant keywords.
-- Consider advertising and free shipping.
-- Use Etsy selling tools.
Select the Right Product
Before you open an Etsy shop, be sure your items fit into one of the website's allowable categories:
-- Handmade goods.
-- Vintage items that are at least 20 years old.
-- Craft supplies.
Traditionally, top categories on the site have been homewares and home furnishings, jewelry and personal accessories and craft supplies, according to Etsy.
In addition to selecting the right products, research the going price for similar items at other stores to determine if your business venture can be profitable. As you calculate your costs, don't forget to include Esty's fees, which include a 20-cent fee for a four-month listing, a 5% transaction fee based on the sale price and a 3% plus 25-cent payment processing fee.
Post Great Photographs
Since Etsy is an online marketplace, good images are vital to sales, according to experienced sellers. There's no need to invest in expensive equipment though, since most smartphones are capable of taking quality photos.
"Photography is everything," says Joni Morgan, owner of Fact + Fiction Toys in Big Rapids, Michigan. She has been selling handcrafted wooden toys on Etsy for seven years and has watched as some new sellers flounder because their photos aren't appealing or engaging.
While some sellers may use filters or photography boxes, Morgan has had success with a simpler approach. "I just use a white table from Ikea, and I put it near a window for natural light," she explains. To hone her technique, she watched YouTube videos to glean photography tips.
Tell a Story
For buyers, Etsy promises the opportunity to buy artisan goods unavailable elsewhere. "People love a story," Morgan says. "They want to hear your background and how things are made."
Being transparent about who is making your products -- whether that be yourself or a team member -- and what materials are used can help encourage sales from those seeking to support small business owners.
"Women and Etsy consumers today are more socially conscious and aware of sustainability, environmental impact and natural alternatives," says Suzanne Sachs, whose Etsy shop ArtDecoDiamonds sells vintage engagement rings and jewelry. Stressing the use of sustainable materials and business practices can be another way to draw in customers.
Pin Photos to Pinterest
Many Etsy sellers overlook the power of Pinterest to drive sales, Conklin says. "For a while, 50% of my traffic was coming from Pinterest," she shares.
Pinterest is a social media site that allows people to save -- or pin -- images to virtual boards they create. Other users can follow specific boards or people on the site. They can also search for images of interest to them.
In many cases, Conklin found that people would be following her photos long before they made a purchase. Since ChairWhimsy offers custom chairs, the photos also serve the dual purpose of sparking the imagination of potential customers and helping them envision their own chair.
Tag Items With Relevant Keywords
Both Conklin and Morgan agree that skipping keyword tags on product listings is a common mistake.
"The keywords you set up for your listings drives traffic," Conklin says. However, she adds that many people overthink the keywords: "You have to think like a regular person."
When tagging a listing, Morgan tries to envision what people might enter when searching for her products, such as wooden toy, handcrafted and organic. She also starts almost all her product titles with the term "wood toy" to help her listings jump to the top of the search results.
[Read: Best Small Business Apps]
Consider Advertising and Free Shipping
To help customers find her listings, Morgan uses both Etsy advertising and offers free shipping.
With Etsy Ads, sellers can set a daily budget that will help their products be highlighted in search results. "Right now, my sweet spot is $1 a day," Morgan says. She tried bumping up her advertising budget to $5 a day at one point but didn't see significantly more sales as a result.
Free shipping is another way to stand out in search results and encourage sales. "If you offer free shipping on orders of $35 or more, people love that," Morgan explains. Sellers offering free shipping should incorporate that cost into their prices to remain profitable.
Use Etsy Selling Tools
Etsy provides sellers with a variety of tools to help them be successful. These include a forum, seller handbook and the Etsy Summit, an annual community education program. Plus, there are newsletters with seasonal tips and insight into selling trends.
For instance, the company's 2021 Holiday Trends guide notes that nostalgia and a "cottagecore" aesthetic are expected to be cross-category trends this year. Meanwhile, the Fall 2021 Trends guide notes that searches for fidget toys have increased 3,697% while classroom poster searches are up 140%.
"On Etsy, someone searches for a gift box every two seconds, and someone searches for wall art every second," according to Etsy.
In the years since Conklin opened her shop on Etsy, she has watched as the company has grown. While that means more competition, it also signifies more customers and more opportunities. "I did try selling some things locally, but what I found was that there just weren't enough eyes on my chairs," she says. "Because (Etsy) has gotten so big, that's made it better."