The Etsy Experiment: Month One

One of the businesses I mentioned in Seven Businesses You Can Start for $100 or Less was opening an Etsy shop. With its low listing fees of 20 cents per item and its sales fee of 3.5% of the sales price of items sold, it definitely met my “$100 or less” criteria.

And according to this Inc. article, as of April 2010 “…the number of items sold on Etsy totaled 1.3 million, and the statistics have been increasing exponentially since its inception in 2005.” So I considered that proof that at least some sellers are able to make money through Etsy.

But could I do it myself?

Putting Etsy to the test

I decided to put Etsy to the test by opening a shop of my own. I had two possible types of handmade items that I could list: paintings and photographs. I decided to start with paintings since I figured my husband would be happy to have a smaller pile of them in the living room if they sold.

For fun, I’ve decided to track my progress there each month for at least 6 months, so this is my first report. (Six Four months is the length of an item listing.)

Opening my shop

The first step was to spend a little time getting familiar with Etsy’s rules and suggestions. They’ve got instructions on how to open a shop, a detailed set of selling FAQs, and tips from their community. I did a little bit of searching on Google too to see if I could get additional tips.

In the end, I decided to just get my stuff up there, and worry about doing things to promote my shop later. So I opened it up at the end of December.

This was probably a mistake, but it’s what I did. It was probably a mistake because 1) I opened it right after the holiday season, and 2) the name you sign up with becomes the name of your shop by default. You can change it (once, I believe) but you have to find a name that no one else has ever used on Etsy before. That can take some time. Since I used my own name — which is rather long — my shop name gets cut off when it’s displayed.


But before I could open my shop, I had to have photos of what I was selling. I asked my husband if he would shoot them for me. (While I have no trouble shooting creative photos or doing wedding photography, I’m just not very good at product photography. I don’t have the patience for it, mostly.) So he was kind enough to haul my paintings out and get the photography end taken care of.

If you don’t have access to a photographer, and aren’t good at it yourself, that would be something you’d either have to hire out or learn, because having good photos of your product is critical.

Once he got me the photos, I spent a few hours editing them so that the colors came as close as possible to the colors on my actual paintings. I also sprang for a couple of stock photos of home interiors from iStockPhoto that I could use to provide an idea of how each painting might look on a wall. I came up with 5 versions of the best photo for each painting. In all, I would say I spent about an hour per painting prepping them for listing.

Listing the items

Listing the items was relatively easy, but I did spend a bit of time seeing how other people listed their paintings and working at accurately describing each item. I would say I spent about 30 minutes per item getting them listed and getting the photos uploaded.

The waiting begins

Then of course, I sat back to wait. I wanted to mimic the experience of a typical Etsy seller, and that’s what I figured most people would do. My items got a few views, and a few “hearts”, and a few people marked my shop as a favorite, but that was all that happened.

I then deliberately made another typical newbie seller move, and paid $7 to feature my shop for one day in the slider that appears at the top of each category. I had read that people typically did not see increased sales from that, but would see increased views. In my case, I saw neither.

January’s results

My results so far?

$9 spent.
$0 earned.
1 shop category.
7 shop admirers.
9 items listed.
145 total item views.
11 total item admirers.

We’ll see how things go by the end of February.

Do you have an Etsy store? How has it gone for you?


  • My wife has a couple of ideas for Etsy. I will have to forward her this info, it looks like it’s too early to tell but I look forward to seeing the updates. Good luck!

  • Seems like it might be hard to get noticed on Etsy with so much competition. I like the idea, but I imagine you need to promote your products in other ways, too.

  • Promotion is key. Use your blogging friends to tweet, blog, facebook, your new shop. The good news is that your product isn’t a $1-10 item. So one sale is significant in recouping your costs. But yes, promotion and photography is the most important part of Etsy. Maybe take a photograph of each work from a distance, to place it in context.

    • Hm, I put each painting into an interior from iStockphoto to try to give it some context. I figured that would be better than trying to light our interior or having a not-so-lovely shot of the painting against our rock yard (which is where my husband shot the photos). But maybe there’s some other way to show them from a distance.

  • Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? At least you gave it a try, even if the next month or two turn out this way. Keep us posted on what transpires this month. Best of luck!

  • Interesting experiment. I would imagine that promotion and marketing are at least half the battle at Etsy. Probably more. Good luck!

  • I have been telling a friend to do this for months. She is a great artist and could do a lot with online sales. I will be sure to share.

  • Congratulations on your new store. I opened an Etsy store last summer. I didn’t really begin adding items until September. So far, I’ve had 33 sales. December was by far my busiest month. If you aren’t doing so already, I recommend checking out the forums. I’ve learned a lot that way. It does take awhile to get noticed. I have ads on both my blogs and recently started a Facebook page. It’s been fun to try something new and see how it affects my shop stats. Good luck! I look forward to this series.

    • I checked out your shop, and what a cool idea it is. I can see where your designs could become really popular. And that’s great that you’ve had 33 sales already. I will definitely check out the forums.

  • Good luck with your new Etsy shop!

    I love Etsy and regularly use it for birthday or holiday gifts. I just wanted to second Rebecca that you need to actively promote your shop. Start your own Twitter and Facebook pages, and get your friends to re-tweet/like/link to your shop. Use upcoming holidays to promote sales or featured items too.

    • I need to find some people who are promoting their shops via twitter & FB to see what kinds of things they say there. That’s always my challenge — what to say.

  • Rebekah is correct. As far as Etsy is concerned promotion and photography is the key.

  • I had an Etsy shop and didn’t see anything sold from it – I was going to blame it on the photos that I had going on. Here’s wishing you lots of luck with your online store! Once more folks hear about it, you’re on the road to riches. :)

  • My sister in law is all over Etsy, but I feel like she is having the same result as you so far…

  • Don

    I love doing experiments! In fact I plan on having a few myself this year. But not in the area that you are doing yours in. Very cool, I’ll look forwards to reading them :)

  • I’ve never done etsy. The concept of it intrigues me, but I’m tragically bad at crafting. Here’s to your store, though! I’m sure it’ll yield some $$$.

  • I’m interested to see how your Etsy endeavor progresses over the next few months. I have so many friends who have created their own little cottage industry on Etsy that I’m tempted to join in too… unfortunately, I have absolutely no artistic abilities…

    • What sorts of things have your friends been successful with? One thing I didn’t know about Etsy is that they also allow you to sell vintage items and items that are used for crafting, not just crafts. So there are wider sales possibilities than you might think.

  • Interesting. We have a friend who’s an artist (stay at home mom now) who makes custom children’s letter and knobs for drawers and whatnot. She does it all herself and customizes each order. I told her she should outsource the work and sell it on Etsy (not that I even know how it works myself, but sounded like a good outlet). She said she was deterred by the low prices expected and she feared losing the quality aspect by not doing it herself. Sounds like she’ll never be able to scale. Curious on your thoughts on scaling a business or if it’s more suited to stuff an artisan does themselves.

    • Well, I’m not sure what Etsy’s rules are on outsourcing, but I know that the crafts have to be handmade or heavily embellished. I would think that if your friend enjoys what she’s doing and is just looking for a wider market, that Etsy might provide that. I see no need to lower prices — I think people are willing to pay for quality. But yeah, it doesn’t sound like what she does is very scalable.

    • Yeah, I think this is true.

  • “I then deliberately made another typical newbie seller move, and paid $7 to feature my shop for one day in the slider that appears at the top of each category. I had read that people typically did not see increased sales from that, but would see increased views. In my case, I saw neither.”

    I don’t know if this will work with Etsy, but I had quite good success when doing this on ebay. Promote the URL of your items to a pinging service and put a good description into the title field. Result: more views, more bids (at least this is the way it turned out for me).

    Good luck with selling your paintings. Have to convince my wife to d the same :)


  • Monica

    Hi! Found your site through Smart Passive Income.

    I’ve been an Etsy seller for a long time and have done pretty well. It used to be a lot easier to get your items seen on Etsy without doing much outside promotion, but last year Etsy changed their “algorithm” and now SEO and promotion off Etsy is a must in order to get your items seen.

    Hope that helps and good luck with your shop!