skill, price, and Etsy as business incubator

I’m so glad that Diane has finally posted my interview over at CraftyPod, because I’ve had so many post ideas revolving around the idea of the pro-am craft community that I’ve been just bursting to share.

I recently read this post on Button Maker’s Ball where she suggested that the low pricing on Etsy was a result of people getting their 10,000 hours in public.

10,000 hours is a reference to an idea in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, that to become great at something requires 10,000 hours.  At around 20 hours a week, this works out to roughly 10 years to reach your 10,000 hours.  (Though it can be accelerated.  Gladwell uses the example of the Beatles, who played in nightclubs for 8 hours a day for four years on the road to becoming the Beatles we all know and love.)

I was really struck by this for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I realized that a decade has passed since I started studying jewelry and metalsmithing.  I am tantalizingly close to my 10,000 hours, and I can attest to the fact that I’ve recently felt like my skills have progressed to a new level.

But more so, I was struck by this theory that prices are low because makers are gaining their 10,000 hours in public.  If you work from the theory that crafters should be paid well for their time and skill, then it would make sense that those who are less skilled (or who have put in less time honing those skills) would be paid less.  (Of course, this doesn’t account for the other I thing I think we should be paid well for, our creative vision.  But that’s an argument for another post.)

Sometimes I forget that my prices started out much lower than they are now.  But I had the luxury of trying to sell my work at a much less public format – student jewelry sales in graduate school.  I was much closer to my 10,000 hours before I started selling my work on Etsy or in more public forums.

But if this argument can serve as a rationalization for much of the low pricing on Etsy, then the question still remains, how does someone who has put in their 10,000 hours or beyond (and is thus pricing accordingly) fit into a marketplace where most of the prices are significantly lower?  And how do you communicate the value of this increased skill to the customer?

Etsy as business incubator

To answer the first question, I want to expand on an idea I brought up in the pro-am podcast.  As your business grows, at some point Etsy may no longer fit your needs.  And if that becomes the case, you are under no contractual obligation to stay on Etsy.  You can always close your Etsy shop and move onto a different e-commerce venue.  (Most likely something tied more directly to your own URL and branded exclusively for your business.)

But I know this idea can seem scary, especially for someone who has had much initial success on Etsy.  Even if you feel no sense of gratitude towards Etsy as a company, you probably feel very indebted to your Etsy fans who have helped make your business a success.  You might also feel a sense of community that you worry will be lost if you make a solo leap into the giant, unprotected world of e-commerce.

But instead of feeling like your Etsy shop is a permanent fixture, what if we started recognizing Etsy for what it does really well.  And what Etsy does well is serve as an incubator for craft businesses.

According to Wikipedia, business incubators are:

“programs designed to accelerate the successful development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services, developed and orchestrated by incubator management and offered both in the incubator and through its network of contacts.”

Sounds a lot like Etsy to me.

Etsy serves as this amazing platform for anyone in the early stages of building a crafts business.  Not only do they provide a low-cost entry point into the marketplace, but they also provide tools to help sellers develop their skills.

But here is where Etsy diverges from the traditional business incubator format.  In an incubator, once a business matures beyond a certain point, they graduate from the incubator.  They move on.

In the podcast, Diane asked me how I thought Etsy could better serve both professionals and amateurs, and at the time we recorded that interview, I said that I didn’t think they could.  I believed there was a certain point where Etsy would no longer meet the needs of a maker’s business.  And at that point the maker should move on.

But perhaps this doesn’t have to be the case.  What if Etsy continued with the incubator idea, but created a kind-of halfway house between Etsy as business incubator and the big, scary e-commerce world?  A new Etsy.  (With a different name, different branding, and a slightly different business model.)

Customers who were looking for the lowest prices could shop the original Etsy for work from early-stage businesses.  But those who were looking for products made with a higher degree of skill, a more mature design sense, or a more developed brand image could shop this new Etsy.

So maybe this is a pipe dream.  (Or maybe I just gave someone a really great idea for a new business. You’re welcome.)  But while we’re waiting for Etsy (or anyone else) to create this new solution for us, we can still shift our own mindset about Etsy.

What if you started viewing Etsy as an incubator for your business?  What if you put a plan in place to graduate beyond Etsy once your business reaches a certain level.  What if those of us running craft businesses stopped viewing Etsy as a long term solution and started viewing it as a launch pad?

Pricing from am to pro

The other important point to take from all of this is that as your skill level increases, so should your prices.  Which brings us back to the question, how do you justify this price increase to your customers?

And I think the answer is that you don’t.

At least not so overtly.

Ideally, as you move towards 10,000 hours of learning your craft, you are also developing two other aspects of your business – your creative voice and your brand.  Unfortunately, most of us live in a society that no longer places a high value on skill.  And while I think it’s important to advocate for this to change, it’s also not a strong foundation for a marketing strategy.

But time and time again, we’ve seen how both a designer’s creative voice and the branding of a company can compel customers to buy.  As you move through your 10,000 hours, you should also be developing your design skills, refining your brand, and ideally developing a posse of loyal customers who will follow you wherever you go.  Rise in skill, design, and brand should all lead to a rise in demand for your products, which will allow you to raise prices accordingly.

But this only further reinforces my point that we should treat Etsy as an incubator to move away from as your business develops.  First, while Etsy does give you options for customization, it doesn’t let you showcase a full-brand strategy.  You are an Etsy shop first, your brand second.

The second reason to move off Etsy as your prices rise is that Etsy will always be filled with a nearly endless supply of cheap, low-skilled products.  Because Etsy functions very well as an incubator.  It’s the place where people set-up when they are at the start of their 10,000 hours.  And because increase in skill is difficult to communicate on a computer screen, and because you can’t build a complete brand identity on Etsy, you are left competing on that other variable – price.  And did you really start your business with the goal of becoming the Wal-Mart of the craft community?

Side note: I was browsing Supermarket the other day and was struck by the sheer absence of prices on category and designer pages.  In fact, it’s not until you get to a product’s main page that you see the price.  Contrast this with Etsy, where prices are featured everywhere you look, practically begging you to comparison shop by price.

Yes, perhaps everyone getting their 10,000 hours in the public marketplace provides challenges for all of us.  (Particularly when it comes to price and public perception.)  But instead of viewing these challenges as stumbling blocks, we should view them as opportunities.  By using Etsy as a launch pad (not a lifelong commitment) and creating a strategy where price rises in conjunction with skill, voice, and branding, you should be able to create a thriving business by the time you’ve reached your 10,000 hours.

If you’re interested in learning more about pricing your products, I’m running an online workshop on Tuesday all about pricing for profit.

Comments

  1. says

    I just love this post! It’s so important to remember the 10,000 hour rule, especially for e-commerce. Starting a new business takes a lot of patience, especially if you decide not to begin with low-ball pricing. I would say the bulk of your efforts starting out is just becoming visible, both on the Internet and in person. It often looks like sales are few while others are taking off quickly, but if you think long term, you should expect a slow start as the foundations are being built.
    I can see Etsy as being one of many avenues to build visibility. Where people fall into despair is when they think that Etsy will be a way to quickly become visible and soon find out that you have to do a lot more marketing. In the old days, you could put up an item on eBay and it would sell at higher bids rather quickly. Now, it isn’t as simple since eBay has the store function and bidders have gotten more savvy.
    Understanding that you are not likely to have sales right away is what keeps you from being tempted to low-ball prices.

  2. says

    Thanks for the interview you did with Diane on Craftypod. That’s how I found Crafting an MBA. I just started an LLC for my plush toy business. I am studying accounting. I am so glad you mentioned that more crafters should do that!

    This article is wonderful. I am struggling with figuring out my pricing. When I first started selling my plush toys I didn’t realize I hadn’t accounted for my time. Now I am trying to find the dollar value that accounts for both my time, labor, and materials and what a customer is willing to pay.

    I’m in the works of opening my Etsy shop but I’ve been worried because a lot of the prices are so low. Thank you for giving me a context to view Etsy as an incubator and a pro-am community.

    I can’t wait to read more of your blog!

  3. says

    Megan,

    I’m so glad you posted this article – in fact I was pondering these very questions about Etsy last night – I have so far just been selling locally and have plans to launch an Etsy shop this October, but I tend to dream pretty big and set goals, and you helped me realize that one of my goals over the next 3 years is to establish experience maintaining and online store (via Etsy, the incubator), and take that experience and use it to either create my own web-based store or possibly collaborate with other fine artisans. (I love your idea about a “new” etsy, by the way!!)

    I took an online business class for crafters a few months ago and one of the main things they focused on was Etsy selling, but the majority of the students, and even the teachers, seemed to have more assembly-line type products in a different price bracket than where I will need to be selling eventually with my chosen craft (my work can take hours, sometimes weeks to complete).

    And I keep thinking back to a point you mentioned a few weeks ago about the pro-am price ranges with etsy, and how selling yourself short (to beat the competition) can be really detrimental to other fine crafters. This all ties in.

    You raise a lot of good points. People are listening. Keep doing what you do, and thanks again!!!

    -Joanna

  4. says

    When you say *making* and *studying* jewelry, I totally identify with that. I started studying its history, culture, science, craft, etc. long before I started making anything, and my personal/biz library of jewelry books/resources is huge. I find that that and my incessant quest for perfection (not just selling) have helped shape me into the exacting craftsman I am now.

    I’ve been debating shutting down my Etsy shop for a while now, but I’m torn. I’ve done *everything* that’s been recommended to achieve success there (participating in forums, creating treasuries, high pricing, low pricing, being a member of a prestigious street team, re-listing like a mad woman, and the list goes on–it’s just not happening for me).

    I’m a wee bit jaded because I’ve had training from Revere Academy, I’ve apprenticed with a local goldsmith, I’ve logged tons of hours on my own in pursuit of perfection studying theory/application/etc., and I teach at a prestigious local art center–yet I feel like I’m always trying to prove my worth on *Etsy*–which I totally take issue with given some of the things I observe there in terms of (poor) craftsmanship, pricing, volume of sales for these things, etc.

    I guess my question is–on the other hand of what you presented, what if your shop never reaches “incubator status” on Etsy? Do you continue to keep it for the sake of it *hopefully* becoming an incubator at some point, or do you move on try to hone in on your audience elsewhere?

    [Not a sob-story–I’m just pondering strategy about how best to proceed, and this post really hit on some of the things I’ve been thinking about… ;-]

    Great post, as usual!

    • says

      Tamara – I think you bring up some really great questions. And I would respond by saying that Etsy might not be the right business incubator for every crafts business. I think it’s a great incubator if you are at the early stages of your 10,000 hours, but for someone who has put in as much time studying as you have, you may be better off seeking another site to build your business on.

      • says

        Awesome! Thanks! –It always helps to hear a confirming opinion on these types of things. (I think I’m going to let everything expire and then delete my accounts!)

        • says

          I think you’re ok to let everything expire, but I wouldn’t necessarily delete your account. (Especially if the name of your account is closely related to your business.) It can be important to take a defensive strategy for your brand and simply hold that URL so that no one else can take it and try to benefit from your branding that you’ve worked so hard to build.

  5. Jess says

    This is true! Etsy is trying to meet the needs of *everybody* and it’s getting to a point where it’s hard to search for more skilled product. They have added the category “metalwork” for jewellery, for example, but then again, item can be tagged however the maker feel like tagging them. Good post.

  6. says

    I’m desperately trying to get my branding down, so that I can launch my own website for my business. I think you are right on about Etsy as a launching pad. October will be two years for me on Etsy, and my skill has increased drastically, my product is better, more streamlined, and I have recently been discovering what pieces work best for me. As a result I’ve had to increase my prices. Given the environment on Etsy that has been a challenge and I still need to tweak my pricing further.

  7. says

    Another great post.
    I completely love Malcom Gladwell’s books. The 10,000 hour rule very much rings true for crafters.
    I like to think that all my previous day jobs have also aided in my efforts of fine tuning my business skills. From years of retail to secretarial jobs to several attempts at starting a business only to see those ideas go no where. All the trial and errors have helped me establish what my business is today and thanks to my efforts I have what is a strong brand, with great customer relationships. I only wish I had worked marketing or PR in a past life.
    In order for any business to grow you must constantly reevaluate what you are doing, what is and isn’t working and be willing to change and roll as needed.

  8. says

    Wonderful post, as usual!!

    I think you’ve pretty much nailed my approach to selling on Etsy. Unless you count my two-year stint making jewelry in middle school, I’m relatively new to jewelry-making.

    While I get a ton of compliments on my work, I’m well aware that I have a long way to go in developing my skills if I want my business to really succeed. I want to graduate beyond the point of simply ordering components for my jewelry and start making my own from scratch so I’ll have products that are truly unique… though I still love the idea of incorporating parts from old, broken, or unwanted jewelry into each piece, of blending old and new. Of course, I could always keep both approaches, combining a chains or beads from an old necklace with my own handmade pendants, or something to that effect. :-)

    Etsy is serving well as a business incubator for me. I’m able to gain a bit of exposure as well as direct people to a place where they can buy my jewelry online, without the work of maintaining a shop entirely on my own. And while I haven’t made a huge number of sales there, I’ve made enough of a profit through Etsy (largely due to their low fees) to justify keeping my shop open for the time being.

    But unless my sales on Etsy suddenly go through the roof (and stay that way once I’ve developed my products to a point that I feel I can charge more for them), I mostly view it as my e-commerce training wheels, a place to get started, but not necessarily to stick with forever.

  9. says

    I think that it’s going to take a lot of time, effort, and man power to change what has happened to craft in the online world. The damage has been done by blogs and bloggers telling everyone that they can become a success as a artists, crafter, or designer in “ten easy steps”.

    The truth is and has always been it is hard work. It has never been one size fits all. Some people just are not going to make it.

    • says

      Heather – I think this is a really interesting point. I think the online world has done a lot of great things for craft, but I also agree that there has been some damage done. In many ways, I think it has accelerated a decline in the value of craftsmanship and skill.

  10. says

    I’ve begun to see my Etsy shop as a cheap marketing tools. I get way more views on Etsy than on my website (I’m working SEO), and at $0.20 per listing it’s fairly cost effective. I did a price adjustment on my work last month across the board, but I will not lower them specifically for Etsy shoppers. The competitive price in my field is $5 – $15 per item and after 28 years of work I won’t sell myself short. I am in my first year of the fair circuit and I’m running a 50%-plus acceptance rate. I’m feeling that this is where my work will sell once I identify the right market (I’m experimenting this year), and Etsy is my e-commerce training ground and second portfolio. Once I get my market more clearly identified and my brand a little more polished I will probably move on.

    Thanks for voicing what I’ve been feeling about Etsy. It should be a tool that moves you to beigger and better things.

  11. says

    I love this post, Megan – and will add it to the podcast show notes.

    And I love your idea of two separate marketplaces, divided by expertise. It’s a cousin, maybe, to the YouTube Partner Program, where video-makers who’ve developed their skills to a point where they’ve earned an audience (in an extreeeeeeeeeemely pro-am environment) then become Partners. They get feature placement on the site and a small cut of ad revenues. It’s clear that these content-producers are the “cream,” and they have put in the work to earn that distinction.

    And also, I think you raise an interesting point that I notice everywhere – perhaps the value of craftsmanship needs to enter our community’s dialogue more. Maybe learning to value the truly well-made over the pretty an eventual, natural result of a pro-am landscape?

    • says

      Hi Diane – Thanks for letting me expand on this topic over at CraftyPod to begin with!

      I think getting people to value the well-made over the pretty is going to be a challenge – I would say it’s more likely that we work on getting people to value well-made and well-designed simultaneously. But I agree, it is something we need to talk about more. How do we communicate to people who have grown up in a throw-away society the value of long-lasting products?

  12. says

    I’ve come to many of same conclusions made in this article — etsy is a great launch pad, but not the final destination! It has given me a way to start a business with next to nothing — I’m now at the point where I’ve rented studio space outside my home and am now doing my craft full time. I’m a fiber artist, with a degree in fine art, and I’ve been spinning and dyeing (the products I sell) for 20 years now (though only as a business for two years). I’m amazed at how many people I’ve encountered who buy a starter dye kit and start listing their first efforts… or who contact me to buy a spinning wheel or take lessons and, having never spun before, announce that they are planning to open an etsy shop to sell the yarns they are going to make! It’s crazy – and I also think some of these people are going to drag down the crafts they love by selling low quality poorly made items (like hand-dyed yarns that bleed like crazy, for an example from my neck of the woods). I’ve benefited a great deal from etsy, and I’m not closing up shop anytime soon… but I’m not putting all my eggs in the etsy basket, either.

  13. says

    Excellent post! Etsy has been a great incubator for my business. It has been the perfect place for me to get things up and running, to test ideas, and to make contact with potential customers. The problem is it’s so cookie cutter-ish and limiting in terms of representing my brand and showing the personality behind my products. When a customer goes to look for me online I’d rather not be one of a bazillion soapmakers that they have to choose from. So, I decided to launch my own online shop a couple of years ago and have been very glad that I did. I have spent less and less time focused on my Etsy shop and tried to grow the business through my own website.

    The only thing that has held me back from closing my Etsy shop entirely is all of the wonderful folks in the Seattle street team that I have met. The value of that professional peer group for someone like me who works alone much of the time is huge. If I close my shop, I can’t be an EtsyRain member anymore!! So I’m content for now to leave it on the backburner. I’m quite grateful for the solid, manageable beginning that my business had, thanks to Etsy. Now I’m happy to be focusing on other opportunities.

  14. says

    Great perspective on what Etsy is and isn’t. Everyone keeps talking about graduating or moving on from Esty once you achieve a certain level, but move onto what? I know I can set up my website to do direct sales, but when you say you need to market the hell out of your product, I’m not really sure what that means exactly. Would love some hints on what’s comes after Esty and how I can start setting my sights on that even while I’m still incubating.

    • says

      Hi Heather –

      You might be interested in the marketing kick-start workshop, where I talk a little more specifically about how to “market the hell out of your products.”

      As far as “moving on” beyond Etsy, I think there are lots of great options. Supermarket is a site that kind of functions as the “half-way house” option I was talking about. (As someone pointed out in the comments.) Big Cartel and Shopify are both services that allow you to set up an easy e-commerce site and point it to a unique URL. (Big Cartel is probably the slightly easier and cheaper of the two.)

      “Moving on” may also mean expanding your business beyond e-commerce as well. For instance, you may use what you’ve learned testing product ideas on Etsy to build a successful wholesale business, or open your own brick and mortar shop.

  15. says

    This post seems pretty timely for me. At present, my brand new website with my own URL is in the process of being designed and developed. I wanted to do this because I wanted it for the branding aspects and because I got real tired of having to print my blog and etsy super long URLs on my cards, promo stuff, etc. I also really hate how hard posting things on Etsy is and I find that when people search, they can’t find me easily in all the other stuff there. What I am doing is adding my own shopping cart through the site Bigcartel.com. This may be that older cousin of Etsy. You can have it direct to your own URL, you can use custom CSS, and so it all looks exactly like your website if you want it too. While my site development is still in process, I really think I am going to like it this way. One thing I am was still debating is if I should leave anything up on my Etsy site or not, though now I think this article has convinced me I really don’t need to do that, I just need to redirect my old customers to my new site. Maybe I’ll even leave a promo/coupon code on the old Etsy to encourage them to navigate away to my new site for a while, but the whole point of the site is not to have to hassle with Etsy anymore 😉

    • says

      This is where I am. I like etsy for the easiness of it all but it’s so hard to be found even if you’re tagging correctly. I’m thinking of big cartel as well and adding it to my site.

      Great post as usual!

      • says

        thanks Rachel – I just went to your site, and I would highly suggest highlighting big cartel as your primary shop. instead of making your shop button connect to links to both, I would just have it send visitors right to your BC shop. you want visitors to have to make as few decisions as possible.

        • says

          Really?! I was thinking of putting most of my art on big cartel, and leave a few pieces in my etsy shop but maybe focus my etsy shop more on my pendants and some drawings I’m working on.

          Also, will you be making a transcript available of the marketing kick-start workshop? I have to work during at that time.

          I told my mom the other day I’m so overwhelmed with this but in a good way. I knew it was going to be hardwork starting a business but I guess I didn’t realize just how hard so I appreciate this blog and your kind words!

          • says

            Rachel – I would put everything on big cartel, and then just leave a few things (duplicates, smaller stuff, seconds, etc) on your Etsy shop. And I would direct all traffic to your BC shop.

            I won’t be making a transcript available right away, but I am going to release the marketing kick-start info in a different format sometime in July for all of those who can’t make the workshop. (I’m still working on the details.)

    • says

      Martha – this is the strategy I use with my shopcozycuff.com site. It’s actually a Big Cartel store pointed to a custom domain.

      For the time being, I am still leaving some products up on Etsy. I’ve had some fairly recent press that pointed to my Etsy shop, so I want to make sure that any traffic coming from there can still find my product. But I’m now focusing all my marketing and PR efforts on the new site with the goal of eventually phasing all the products out of my Etsy store.

  16. says

    Nice post. I totally agree with you on your assessment of Etsy and I advocate getting off of Etsy constantly on my blog. I think it’s fine to use it as another advertising venue, but I could NEVER run my whole business through them for a very long list of reasons.

    I actually think the big thing keeping people on Etsy is convenience and cost. Etsy makes it easy for anyone to start an ecomm biz selling handmade/vintage. If you want to do it without them you need to design your site, program your site, figure out how you’ll collect payment, figure out how you’ll get customers, etc. It costs more money and it takes more work. OTOH if you’re on Etsy only, you’re dealing with bargain shoppers, sharing your domain with competitors, publicizing your sales figures, no control over your brand, no control over customer experience, etc. etc.

    I think there’s a real mentality out there about staying small and indie and low budget and it keeps a lot of these businesses from growing. I saw some commentary on Etsy recently that the average seller on there sells 6 items/month. Unless your items cost $1,000, this isn’t really a functioning business. It doesn’t make sense for a serious business owner to sell exclusively on a site where most people are selling 6 items/month.

    And basically, a lot of Etsy’s limitations keep you from really growing beyond that. Probably at least half of what I recommend doing on Smaller Box, can’t be done if you only sell on Etsy, and some of it is pretty important stuff.

    Interesting that you mentioned Supermarket. I think they are closer to what you suggest about an alternative to Etsy. That said, they have an extremely specific aesthetic that they’re cultivating, so they wouldn’t work for most people.

  17. says

    Very interesting, Megan! I’m very intrigued by the idea of a new site for those more experienced in their craft/art form.

    I think that there are two key forms of experience at play here: (1) your art/craft/whatever form and (2) your business skills/acumen. You can be the most highly looked up to person in your particular field, but if you don’t also have online business skills, you’ll have a whole new learning curve in order to succeed at all on Etsy/other sites.

    You’re doing a great job (as are others) at helping people build up their business skills! I hope that Etsy sellers will spend time reading, absorbing and putting in to play the business basics that they learn here and elsewhere. And in particular, refocus on making truly remarkable products at reality-based price points, with a well defined niche market.

    I’d love to hear more sellers sharing that they no longer rely on posting in Etsy’s forums for “marketing” or business advice. I’d love to hear that folks are spending less time renewing and more time defining their niche, honing their craft and focusing on designing/creating/making higher and higher quality products.

    Like Meredith, Supermarket strikes me as a step up from Etsy. Any any of these sites really should be an arm to one’s overall business – not your entire business model!

  18. says

    My first time reading here – found you via Tamra Gentry who wrote on her blog about you. Very interesting post – I sort of have an Etsy shop but haven’t done much with it for an entirely different reason – I live in St. Lucia and our financial regulations prohibit using Paypal which renders Etsy almost useless to us! I hear that will change by year end though so I plan to make my shop active then…

    Your points are very interesting as the prices my work sells for in St. Lucia and Barbados is a bit higher than ‘comparable’ pieces I see on Etsy…but not all of them. However, I can’t help but feel my shop will not do well with so many cheap alternatives to choose from..I will probably just go for my own website, but also try Etsy at my real prices for a while and see how it goes. It is a lot of work though when you look at the photos, keeping active by posting new items and all…

    At least now with posts like this and others I’ve read, a newbie can get a decent idea of how it works – a variety of ways and importantly, what not to worry about :-)

  19. says

    Really enjoyed reading this post. I started Artfire, then etsy and am learning alot about ecommerce. And, as I learn it is exactly as you mentioned, esty is an incubator site for beginning businesses on the cheap.

    I have started my own web page, slow in progress, just to eventually market that site, I still don’t know all the computer lingo, CSS?

    So, for now as I get myself organized, I list on the above sites (mostly vintage), and do the social media stuff, where I am learning alot.

    I have been doing my craft, which would be sewing clothes for well over twenty years, have a degree in fashion design many years back, and am now reengaging, so I am starting out over with lower prices on those items. And, there is also the love of what I am doing.

  20. says

    This is a wonderful post in that it makes a clear statement that craftspeople who have truly worked the long hours and long years to learn their craft better should be able to charge more for their product than those just starting out. Yes, it is hard for them to be found on Etsy among the throng, and harder for them to get the higher prices for their work. And yes, a crafts-person’s work is worthy of proper economic reimbursement. I am in full agreement.

    What follows, in no particular order (sorry) are my thoughts that the craftspeople might think about before leaving Etsy:

    1. People who shop at Etsy don’t necessarily consider the lower-cost item an inferior item.

    2. Just because you spent 10,000 hours learning and honing your owl macrame, doesn’t necessarily mean that your owl macrame deserves a higher price or that buyers should be willing to pay a higher price.

    3. How many rings do you own? How many is the pricey diamond ring sort? And would you pay as much for a “nice” ring that isn’t THE diamond ring as the “nice” ring? Even if the “nice” ring took just as long to manufacture?

    4. The Web is a huge environment with billions of craft websites, can you afford to hire someone who understands SEO to get you higher in Google returns? Otherwise, you are are buried in the Web as you are in Etsy.

    5. What sort of marketing budget do you have? It will take a great deal of time to market your items to reach the world-wide audience. Or can you afford to hire someone — paying them what they are worth — to have them present and advertise your items.

    6. Can you afford to rent the Website, buy the domain name, and wait until you get either lucky — by somehow going viral — or your pages start attracting notice — usually at least three years.

    7. Do you really have enough of a following to make the shift to your own website — I am talking pure numbers here. What is the roi on your visitors?

    Note that I represent the regular folks who — once over the course of several years — can afford to pay more for something that “I” consider worth spending my very hard earned money to buy top quality for. There a a lot of us. We outnumber those in the upper economic strata by 90% to 10%, and that 10% is shrinking all the time.

    These are just the jumble of thoughts that this post engendered. Mea Culpa if I stepped on any toes.

    • says

      I loved your list Leslie! It is so true about being buried in the Internet. This is why I’m convinced that you have to still do face-to-face selling with any kind of handmade item. It’s a matter of having enough folks see your items, handle them, purchase them, and go out into the world to tell their friends and family where they bought them. Then they look up your website and Etsy page.
      Word of mouth takes the longest to establish, but it’s the most durable way to build a customer base. I’m willing to wait longer for that system to kick in, but then again I have a day job!

      • says

        Faith – I agree completely with this strategy. When I was first starting out, I did a lot of craft shows. And it was being at those shows and interacting with customers that helped me drive initial traffic to my website and Etsy shop.

    • says

      Leslie –

      You bring up some really great points.

      In response to #1: I completely agree. Which is why I’m arguing that people selling at a higher price point may find more success off Etsy.

      In response to #2: Agreed. What needs to happen while you are spending 10,000 hours honing your craft is that you are also building a brand and creating demand for your products – those are the things that will help you command a higher price.

      In response to #6: The cost for web hosting, domain registration, and even self-hosted e-commerce is falling considerably all the time. It is no longer the prohibitive cost it once was. (Which accounts for the sheer volume of stuff now being sold online.) I would also say that it’s usually not about luck, and that there are marketing strategies you can employ. And that three year mark is not exclusive to online businesses – it can often take that long for any product or company to take off. I’m not arguing that any of this is a get rich quick scheme. It all takes lots of work and lots of time.

      • says

        Hei, Viktor Viktorsen.(Av og til begynner jeg vreiilkg e5 lure pe5 folk.)Du kunne ikke falle pe5 tanken at jeg skriver her mest for min egen skyld? Jeg har nemlig ikke noen agenda.Misunnelig, i alle dager. Kan vi ikke i hvert fall prf8ve e5 late som om vi er voksne? Jeg tror faktisk at om jeg f8nsket det, se5 kunne jeg ogse5 ha fe5tt bloggen min lenket opp pe5 db.no pe5 akkurat samme me5te. De inviterer jo folk, hvemsomhelst, til e5 gjf8re det – det er derfor du har fe5tt lenka til din. Men jeg har valgt e5 ikke gjf8re det, skjf8nner du.’Bloggpoliti’, er det mulig. (La oss i det minste late som etc.) Du som har en se5 til de grader e5penbar agenda, og du som velger e5 promotere bloggen din (selv pe5 ganske usaklige steder) for e5 trekke mest mulig oppmerksomhet til den, du me5 da vreiilkg f8nske deg tilbakemeldinger. Det sier jo seg selv. Da me5 du faktisk regne med at ikke alle er positive. Hvis det bare er lov e5 komme med positive kommentarer pe5 bloggen din, og man ikke fe5r lov til e5 si noe som helst negativt om det du skriver der, se5 vil jeg ve5ge meg pe5 e5 pe5ste5 at det ikke er jeg som er ‘bloggpoliti’.Jeg signerer i hvert fall med brukernavnet mitt, se5 folk kan finne meg igjen, og gjemmer meg ikke bort bak ‘anonym’, Viktor Viktorsen.Hva jeg gjorde utenom e5 kritisere deg? He6? Ingenting. Jeg leste det du hadde skrevet, og se5 skrev jeg en kommentar om hva jeg syntes om det. Med andre ord nf8yaktig det du f8nsket at man skulle gjf8re da du valgte e5 lenke bloggen din til db.no. Du hadde dessverre glemt e5 legge til en disclaimer om at man bare fikk si snille ting.Om jeg har ‘ordnet opp i det jeg gjorde etter at jeg klaget’? Hva snakker du om? Jeg husker ikke engang hva jeg gjorde etter at jeg ‘klaget’ (selv ville jeg kalle det ‘kommentere’, men bevares, ve6r se5 negativ du bare vil du). Du fe5r dessverre bare fortsette e5 lure, for jeg skjf8nner ikke hva du snakker om.Du kunne forresten ha valgt et litt mindre TOTALT IRRELEVANT innlegg e5 legge denne kommentaren under, synes jeg. (For eksempel det om fritidsproblemer.) Jeg fe5r epost om alle kommentarer som legges til her jeg ogse5 skjf8nner du, se5 jeg ville ha sett den uansett.Jeg har lest innlegg pe5 bloggen din ff8r, en 5-6 ganger, etter e5 ha fulgt lenken fra db.no. Du skal ikke se bort fra at ting du har skrevet kan ha fe5tt meg til e5 tenke meg om en gang eller to. Men det kommer aldri til e5 skje igjen – du skal slippe e5 bli plaget av meg mer, for det kan jeg love deg, jeg har lest bloggen din for siste gang.Jeg trodde du ville ha lesere og respons, og kanskje starte litt diskusjon, men jeg tok feil, du vil bare ha en heiagjeng. Jeg tar konsekvensen av den feilen, lykke til videre.He5per ikke du kommer tilbake hit igjen, men hvis du vreiilkg ikke har noe bedre e5 kaste bort tida di pe5: Neste gang skriver du under ditt eget navn, ellers sletter jeg det irrelevante surret ditt.(Kanskje jeg gjf8r det om du ve5ger deg pe5 en signert kommentar ogse5. Jeg er ikke se5 opptatt av antall kommentarer, jeg, nemlig. >:-)Hvis noen mot formodning skulle ha blitt nysgjerrig pe5 dette barnslige ve5set:www.viktorviktorsen.blogspot.com… mener jeg det var.

  21. says

    From almost the beginning I’ve seen Etsy as an incubator (although not in such a concise term). My plan has been to use Etsy as a starting point while I get my website up and running. Initially my website will be a source of additional information about my products, myself, a future blog, gallery, etc. However, since I have much more control over SEO with my own website, my plan is to watch traffic to both. When traffic to my website is greater than traffic to my Etsy store, I plan to switch from Etsy to my own store on my website. :)

    It was nice to read a post the affirms my plan.

    • says

      Amy – I think that’s what Etsy does so well – it’s an instant e-commerce platform where you can test the waters.

      I also don’t know that I would wait for traffic to switch before setting up your own shop on your website. It may be worth running them concurrently for a while. But I would highly recommend focusing all your marketing efforts on bringing traffic to your own site.

  22. says

    I listened to your interveiw with Sister Diane on Craftypod this morning and this combined with this post has really got me thinking.
    I live in the UK and started selling on Etsy nearly 3 years ago. I am adveragng a sale a day, 99% of them travelling thousands of miles to the US. This is a wonderful thing, but taking on board all the things you spoke about has put a spanner in my plans! I have a shop on Big Cartel and until today have just let it trundle along. But now I understand how important having my own space on the internet is and how valuable it could be.

    I have decided to brave the world of html so that I can make the most of my BC shop and make it more of a site.

    Thank you again for wise, inspiring words :)

  23. says

    Excellent post! The other thing about the 10,000 hours is that some people have begun theirs before they started on etsy, as you said was your case. Someone who has a degree in art or design, as opposed to a craftsperson who just started knitting or sewing a few months ago, has started the 10,000 hours with a higher level of skill to begin with, as well as having done group shows, a thesis exhibit and some sales before graduation. Also, the time frame of 10 years can be accelerated by working 40 hours a week instead of 20. I loved your pro-am interview, it’s changed the way I see my business.

    • says

      Thanks Laura –
      I don’t think it’s that certain people are starting their 10,000 hours when they enter Etsy. It’s more like some people start selling on Etsy when they are 20 hours in, versus others, like myself or the examples you shared, where someone joins Etsy after putting in 2,000, 3,000, 5,000 or beyond hours. (and yes, there are certainly people who join Etsy long after they’ve arrived at their 10,000 hours)
      But I think there is a much higher percentage of sellers who join Etsy early in their 10,000 than the other way around.

  24. says

    Nice article, but I’ve seen a lot of high prices on Etsy too from full time artisans. So I don’t really agree that Etsy is only a business incubator. There are lots of sellers in there that have their Etsy shop as a bill-paying, profit-making business. And that’s one of the things I like about Etsy. Anyone can have a shop there and sell, whether it’s plain ol’ junk, or some high-end product, or even furniture, at any price range. How successful you are depends on you and how determined and committed you really are to make your business (on Etsy or elsewhere) succeed.

  25. says

    Another thought provoking & timely article Megan. Thanks for sharing that your initial approach to getting your brand & online presence out there was to attend craft shows.

    Unfortunately here in Australia we don’t have much of an art & craft show culture. There are plenty of open outdoor markets to attend but very few quality handcrafted/artisan markets. Those that do exist are next to impossible to get into, especially as a jewellery artist, because the market is so saturated with hobbyists & jewellery re-sellers like Etsy.

    Having said that a couple of years ago I managed to build up a reasonable customer base via attending local open markets, however when I stopped attending to focus on opening & running my online store, my market customers did not follow me online!

    So I’ve learnt the hard way of course not to rely on just one method distribution to sell my work.

    Also, I would love to do your marketing kickstart workshop but the time zone difference makes it next to impossible so I’m glad to hear you’re working on a new format.

  26. says

    I completely agree with this article and it totally justifies my recent move to a e-commerce site. Yes, I was a little nervous that the loyal Etsy community wouldn’t want to visit the shop but in reality, that hasn’t been the case. Something that might be tough to mention is that one has to remember that Etsy (and they aren’t the only ones) charges a transaction fee when someone purchases goods from a shop. That means that if you raise your prices, you are going to end up paying more to Etsy in the end. I don’t hold anything against them for their policy of doing that, but it’s another justification for moving to a customized e-commerce site where you won’t get charged to list and to sell (before pay pal/credit card fees) if you want to bump up your prices a little. In fact, even though we have a regular site, we still list on Etsy to sell our shop samples we’ve made to help promote our fabrics. I love your blog! Thanks for sharing this.

    Anna

    • says

      I have to say, that just to pick one was very difficult.But i made my cohice, and it is the I Love Tea pink felt brooch.it is really gorgeous, like everything you do!I wish you a very pleasant and productive new year 2010!

  27. says

    6Great post megan! Very interesting to me, a crafter still in the very early stages of my business – somewhere between a few hundred hours to 1,000 hours under my belt… which brings me to the question: Are you including the time spent on all business related activities in the 10,000 hours, or just the time you are actually crafting items? I really hope all business-building related activities are included in the 10,000 hours because I cannot tell you how much of my time I spend working on my craft business, but not actually on my craft. By that I mean all the time I spend just trying to figure out what I need to do to be successful by researching (anything business related from tips on getting etsy-worthy photography to how to sell wholesale vs retail, to how to ensure success at a craft show, etc.), working on the marketing of my brand, trying to build a strong social networking following and keeping my pages up to date, not to mention the time I spend actually photographing the items and the time it takes to write accurate, grammatically correct, brand-approporiate product descriptions and etsy listings for each item. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed just thinking about it!

    I’ve spent a TON of time on etsy, doing “competitive research” and browsing for inspiration and every once in a while I come across some beautiful, but outrageously priced item that raises a lot of the same questions you posed in this post. After reading your idea about an etsy-like halfway house i immediately thought of something I read about the sundance.com catalog. Are you familiar with it? Basically, the excerpt came from a section in a book im reading which covers the third party marketing sites available to crafters who dont feel setting up their own website is right for them. It said that online catalogs like sundance are really difficult to get your jewelry into, but the whole idea of the guidelines for submission plus the third party aspect reminded me of the half way house idea you mentioned (which I was previously thinking of as a very upscale, high-end etsy-esque outlet for selling jewelry once ive mastered my skills and dont feel like doing all the BS work i have to do to get my stuff noticed on etsy. The book said to get placed in sundance catalog they request you send photos of your product and pricing information to their merchandising department for them to review and consider for acception.

    the book also mentioned artfulhome.com (which I know nothing about other than it’s a “juried marketplace for many different types of artists.”

  28. says

    Timely read for me too – good stuff! I’m so grateful to etsy for helping us get this business off the ground. It was such a lark at first. I would have NEVER thought I could build an entire website off the few therapy packs I had been making for my mom. Etsy made it easy to just throw them out there to the world.

    Now, we’re building a stand alone site and know it is more than time to move beyond etsy. Now that this business supports our family, it is nerve wracking to know etsy’s whims have so much control over our lives.

    The 10,000 hour thing is so interesting. My own skill level is far far far beyond what it was when we started – both designing and creating. It is truly amazing what a difference loads of experience makes.

    I don’t think we’ll actually leave etsy any time soon, but we’ll certainly be promoting the website instead. I’d love to learn more about ‘marketing the hell out of our business’. Sounds like just what we need!

  29. says

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    are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

  30. says

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  31. says

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