This week I announced a closing down sale in my Etsy shop, and I returned to Instagram/Twitter to a flood of "whyyy!?" messages.
I started selling on Etsy by Accident
Back in 2012 I was studying illustration and graphic design at university. "Hmm." I thought. "I wonder what would happen if I printed one of my designs on a card and told people it was for sale?"
I think my axolotl friend here was weird and niche-y enough that he sold relatively well considering I had no online platform, had never sold on Etsy before, and had no idea what I was doing.
From that day, this axolotl card was in my shop. I made it my logo at the time, and enjoyed telling people that it was not a crab, but in fact a neotenic salamander. I sold enough to encourage me to put some more things into my shop, and enjoy a slow erratic trickle of sales over the years. It's never been insanely busy, but it's never been quiet enough for me to justify closing it for good.
Over the years sales were always slow. Etsy charges relatively high fees, and I think of all 173 sales, about 5 of those were people who found me via Etsy marketplace. The rest were friends and people who 'knew' me online. A gradual increase in fees saw more outrage and virtual shouting and stomping from other sellers, but since I only sold about 3 things a month I never really cared.
I just let my Etsy shop float along. Every now and again i'd make something new, stick it in the shop, send out an email and sell some but it was never a huge turnover or overwhelming. The most successful items I sold on Etsy were my Meatlumpz Zines (How to Not Have a Meltdown) and yearly calendars.
At time of writing, Etsy are charging a 0.20 listing fee, as well as other bits. This page from Etsy is about as clear as mud. But all in all, you end up paying a listing fee, transaction fee, processing fee, vat, delivery transaction. There are all small amounts - 5% or thereabouts - but they do add up. On a £10ish item, you’ll end up paying £1ish in fees. Very scientific and mathematic, I know. Add to that postage expenses, time spent packing and going to the post office, and printing costs and you are not left with a huge profit.
I didn't really mind paying the fees, but it was a deciding factor when I looked at my finances earlier this year and realised how Etsy was impacting on my business.
Profit vs Time vs Enjoyment
As part of my 2019 new year new me #notahobby personal campaign, (thanks, AOI) I crunched some numbers. For me, in the past 6 months - including the run up to Christmas - I saw that the biggest chunk of my time was being spent on packing Etsy orders, wrapping Etsy orders, thinking about Etsy orders, and chasing up Etsy orders. Guess where the smallest profit was too?
That's right! Turns out i'd been ploughing all this time and energy into my Etsy shop, even though it was my least profitable endeavour. I had this realisation back in January but it's taken me up until now to finally shift my shop.
I have also been really inefficient with packing and posting in the past, doing it in drips and drabs whenever the fancy took me. I think it's much wiser to batch this kind of activity into a half-day slot and do it all in one go.
A quick word on profit and creativity. Creating things does not always have to be profitable. Making things just for yourself is fine too. But if you realise you’re doing something that actually costs you money, when the intention was to make money, it’s time to shuffle things around. Remember, it’s not a hobby.
Don't get me wrong, I love Etsy.
I have bought some of the coolest things on there; plants, linen clothes, cool jewellery, prints, paintings etc. BUT on a personal/business level, I had my eyes opened once i'd looked at the numbers closely.
I had a message via Twitter saying that someone was considering setting up their first online shop with Etsy, and should they abandon their mission since I obviously hated it so much. NO! I'd say, if you're starting out and you want to test the waters and see what sells well, then Etsy is an excellent place to start. It's all set up for you, you can do discount coupons, send emails, easily communicate with customers. It's a no-brainer. I know a lot of people who make a good chunk of their income using Etsy.
That being said, I think it's well worth looking at where you are spending your time, and how much revenue that is bringing in. If you're spending most of your time, to earn the least of your money, then doesn't it make sense to shift the balance?
More free time
Closing my Etsy shop means opening up free time, space where stock was being held, and breaking off my long-term relationship with the Post Office ladies. (I'll miss standing in the queue at Asda and inventing a reason to go and buy chocolate every.single.visit.)
The Future of Selling Online
Going forward I will still have an online shop front, but i'll be moving it to something more easily integrated into my website. Here I'll just be selling up to 5 of my best sellers, and seasonal products like calendars etc. I'll also be streamlining packing and posting to one day a week in an effort to be more efficient.
Long story short, this is not the end of having an online shop, but it's shuffling my priorities so that I can get on with other stuff. Thank you for understanding!
Pros and Cons of Etsy
It's all ready to go. No coding or programming, super easy to understand, lots of helpful FAQs and support.
They teach you how to make great listings.
Lots of photos encouraged.
Etsy marketplace = users can stumble across your items.
Appears on Google.
An excellent way to get started.
Listing fees and final selling fees all add up, and then Paypal jumps in and takes a slice of the pie too.
Etsy is a hungry beast - you need to feed it new listings often, and promote it regularly to see results.
Competition can be high, so it's hard not to be swayed by other sellers' crazy cheap prices.
Time. Posting and creating listings, packing orders, going to the Post Office. It all takes bloody ages.
People don't often leave reviews unless you ask them nicely.
What about you? Have you looked at how much time you are spending on different aspects of your business?
Let me know if you do!
If you’d like to shop the sale, my Etsy is here and there is 25% off until Sunday the 19th May 2019. (After that date it wont exist anymore.)
My new web-shop is now open. All i’m selling these days is my India Sketchbook, and the Meatlumpz zine.
Take a look!