Thursday’s post on skill, price, and Etsy as business incubator generated a lot of good discussion, and I wanted to elaborate on a few more points.
First, my key point is this, if Etsy isn’t meeting your needs, you’re under no obligation to stay. However, if Etsy is meeting your needs, that’s ok too. Stay as long as you like. But what I want to impress is that Etsy is not going to fit everyone’s needs, and then it’s ok to leave. Etsy has built itself into a powerful force in the crafts community (and rightly so) but with that comes the impression that now a crafter must sell on Etsy to reach success. Or that you must sell on Etsy forever. Neither of which is true. Etsy is just one option among the many ways (online and off) to build a craft business.
But since I brought up the idea that Etsy could be a business incubator, I thought I’d elaborate on how to use it as one. In my original post, I suggested that Etsy would function as a business incubator while you were developing your making skills. And while this is certainly true, there are many other opportunities to use Etsy to launch a successful business:
- Product development. The route to the best products isn’t to hide them away until you think you’ve got it perfect. Instead, great products develop from a constant cycle of prototype, ship, prototype, and ship again. Etsy, with its low barriers to entry, makes it possible to do this. Not only that, but Etsy’s feedback system allows you to get suggestions for product improvement directly from people using your products. (And you can always reach out to customers for more specific feedback.)
- Market research. There are actually many ways you can use Etsy to conduct market research. The first is simply to see if there’s even a market for your products. Now, if you employ a “build it and they will come” strategy (meaning you mostly list products and wait for customers to find you) then it’s difficult to know if the problem is your products or your lack of marketing. But if you’ve been marketing consistently and your products still aren’t selling, then the problem might be that there isn’t a market for your products.
The second way to use Etsy as market research is to look at the buying preferences of your customers to get a better feel for your target audience. (I wish I could take credit for this idea, but I can’t. Laura mentioned it, and I thought it was such a fantastic idea that I just had to share.) By going through the purchase history of your customers, you can see what other products they are buying and how often. This can give you invaluable information about your target audience.
- Pricing strategy. Pricing can be difficult, especially when trying to find the sweet spot between maximum profit and maximum number of sales. But Etsy can serve as the perfect testing ground for various price points. You can experiment with raising prices one day, lowering another, or with other pricing strategies like bundling and versioning. The ease of which you can make changes on Etsy makes it an ideal testing ground for finding the right prices for your products.
- Branding. While I still believe that with only an Etsy shop, you don’t have full control of your brand (no matter what, you’re stuck with the orange Etsy logo at the top) that doesn’t mean you can’t use Etsy to start to develop a brand identity. Everything from your photo style to your font, logo, and packaging contribute to your brand identity, and you can use your time on Etsy to refine all of these.
- Build a loyal customer base. For many people, Etsy is the first place where they truly build a collection of loyal fans. Etsy’s favorite system allows customers to keep track of you and your products, but if you’re using Etsy with the goal of someday moving off of Etsy, you’ll want to be able to take that fan base with you. Make sure you’re providing links to other places for fans to connect with you (like your blog, Facebook, and twitter). But the most effective way to try to bring Etsy fans with you is to get them to join your email list, so you can connect with them no matter where you move on the web. Include a link to sign-up for your list in your welcome message, and ask those who buy from you to sign-up for your list. (You should never automatically add them.) If you’re using Etsy as an opportunity to build a mobile fan base, then you won’t have to worry about losing traction when the time comes to move off Etsy.
I think one of the reasons so many people’s craft businesses get stuck is that they view Etsy as the ultimate solution. But instead, if you view Etsy as a place to launch your business, a place to test product ideas and learn about your target market, then there’s nothing holding you back from building the creative empire you’ve been dreaming about.