Making it on Etsy

If you’re thinking about selling your handmade jewelry online, you’ve probably looked into Etsy. And if  you love shopping for unique and well-priced baubles, you’ve likely spent some time and money there.

Melanie Hazen's lampwork glass and sterling bracelet (photo by the artist)

Melanie Hazen's sterling bracelet with lampwork and amethyst beads (photo by the artist)

Yes, some of the jewelry on Etsy is a little cheesy but much of it is charming and creative. Etsy is like the main street of an artsy neighborhood: full of tiny shops, not real high-end but cozy, social, user-friendly, and laden with possibility – of finding treasures or sympatico buyers.

A collection of virtual shops for handmade goods, Etsy was founded in 2005 by Rob Kalin, a 25-year-old carpenter and artist. The site attracts nearly 500 million page views a month and did $89 million dollars in sales last year. According to Kalin, jewelry is the most popular category among Etsy’s customers, who are 97 percent female.

Sherry Truitt's Twilight New Moon hairpins made of sterling and vintage maps

Sherry Truitt's Twilight New Moon hairpins made of sterling and vintage maps

No wonder so many jewelry artists dipping into online sales for the first time are skipping the step of launching their own e-commerce sites and setting up shop on sites like Etsy instead. “The vast majority of sellers on Etsy don’t have their own websites,” says Etsy spokesman Adam Brown.

Successful Etsy sellers say making Etsy shops pay off takes consistent effort, even after you develop a following. Tennessee jewelry artist Melanie Hazen says that 60-70% of her sales come through her Etsy shop, launched in 2007. She spends an average of two hours a day on various aspects of Etsy: uploading pictures, writing descriptions, chatting on the forums, and reading the business articles posted there. “Obviously, I spend a lot more time doing that than working in my studio,” she says, laughing.

Sherry Truitt's Spirit level bracelet

Sherry Truitt's Spirit Level bracelet

When Sherry Truitt set up on Etsy in 2007, there were 39,000 sellers and it was easier to stand out than it is today, among nearly 200,000. Truitt’s moderately-priced sterling jewelry incorporates maps and levels and sells fast on Etsy—about 60 to 70 pieces per month for 60 percent of her income. Another 30 percent comes from sales on her own website and 10 percent from galleries who find her online. She has never done a craft show and doesn’t plan to.

“Etsy is the perfect place for people at all skill levels of jewelry design,” says Truitt. “There are people who just string beads and others who do fine metalsmithing. At every price point, things sell.” She warns newbies that it’s slow for the first few months, but to be patient and approach it like any small business launch. “A lot of people come to Etsy with good ideas but they’re not business people,” Truitt says. “If you really want to make a living at jewelry, you have to be a good business person too.”

Lori Anderson's beaded pendant

Lori Anderson's beaded pendant

Not everyone has success with Etsy, even successful jewelry artists like Lori Anderson, who discontinued her shop there after a year of experimenting. Her established customers were already buying through her website and didn’t like going to two different places. She also failed to attract enough new buyers to make the effort cost-effective. “With Etsy, there’s a particular look people seem to go for and my jewelry didn’t really fit,” says Anderson. “Things that sell there seem to be targeted toward a younger audience. My current demographic is women in their forties who are willing to spend a little extra on handmade glass and funky wirework.”

Anderson has her eye on 1000 Markets and hopes to launch a new line there of more upscale work priced between $500 and $2,000.

Etsy (etsy.com)

  • Purpose: selling handmade goods, vintage items, craft supplies to consumers
  • Juried: no
  • Registration: free
  • Fees: 20 cents + 3.5% commission per sale, plus renewal fees
  • Payments: PayPal or credit card

This post was adapted from a story I wrote for Lapidary Journal/Jewelry Artist.

9 comments for “Making it on Etsy

  1. November 21, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks for the tutorial on Etsy! I’ve heard about it, but never visited, so I’m going to check it out now. I also wonder if my cousin has a shop there….hmmm……

  2. November 22, 2009 at 4:48 am

    I had not heard of Etsy before, so thank you for introducing me. There is some lovely stuff on there. Just have to find out about shipping…

  3. November 23, 2009 at 12:15 am

    What a great site this is. I found this post interesting and would love a post on navigating my way through Etsy. There is so so so so much on that site!
    Thanks!

  4. Cathleen McCarthy
    November 23, 2009 at 12:56 am

    Thanks for the feedback, all. I know what you mean about the size, Meredith. I find it works best when I’m searching for something specific, but I always leave feeling like I’ve only scratched the surface. Maybe I’ll appeal to the experts for navigation tips. Thanks for the idea! -Cathleen

  5. November 24, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Thanks for the article. I have an Etsy shop linked to my main business, http://www.praiseart.etsy.com. I love buying off Etsy and there is a really cool community out there. Many people in the UK have both Etsy and Folksy sites, though I don’t now as I can’t keep up with the double listing. I love the ways to shop, via colour, location and all sorts of things and there is so much information there I could be on it all day. I go back to Etsy again and again to get cute and unusual presents for friends and relatives, especially something with a handmade touch and people really appreciate it. Etsy also has some great tools for facebook business pages.

    One of the biggest issues I’ve had is the photography side of things and that can take some time. I am getting there bit by bit. I can take fab landscape shots etc, but when it comes to indoors, lighting and staging that’s a different issue, especially when as with some of my things there is a reflective surface on the item itself. As an aside, I think people in the US are much more open to handmade on-line shopping than counterparts in the UK. Overall, it’s three cheers for Etsy and its user friendly and helpful attitude.

  6. Cathleen McCarthy
    November 24, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    Thanks for the UK perspective, Joanna. Folks at Etsy tell me photography can make or break an Etsy shop. I’m so impressed with the images on that site but I can see that trying to compete would almost require taking up photography as a second career – or at least a serious hobby. I’m working on a post of tips for photographing jewelry. Pros tell me it’s tricky but with good lighting, background and positioning, it can be done – without expensive equipment. Hope you’ll check back.

  7. December 23, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    I haven’t had many sales through Etsy other than customers that said they wanted to buy with a credit card so I asked them to purchase through there. It’s been a disappointment because I’ve spent monies promoting with showcases. You can never get into their “jewelry showcase” so I’ve had to use “weddings” “bracelets” and subcategories like that. I get good hits but not sales. My “day job” faded out 15 months ago and the jewelry business hasn’t filled in. So I’m back out seriously looking for full time office work. I’d love to make an income as a jewelry maker but don’t have enough knowledge or promotional budget to find the right type of customer.

  8. February 17, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Keep up the good work with your blog!

  9. February 26, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    nice read 😉

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