Selling on Etsy: Getting Past the Learning Curve

I was pleasantly surprised when I logged into Etsy on the weekend and noticed that I had a pile of free listings. After a minute I realized that it meant that a few of you have found my referral links down at the bottom of my page and used them to start your own store! Congratulations on your new shops and best of luck selling on Etsy!

In my post, Early Retirement Extreme isn’t our Goal, I mentioned that we had some side hustles. But, we don’t really “hustle”.  If someone is going to pay us to learn new skills, enjoy our hobbies or share our knowledge, then we’re going to let them! One of those sides hustles selling on Etsy. It definitely falls into the “being paid for your hobbies” category.

Setting up my Etsy shop was quick and painless. But I found that selling on Etsy had a pretty steep learning curve. So, seeing as a few of you readers have started your own shops, I thought I would pass on what I’ve learned in my first year (alright, only eleven months) of selling on Etsy.

Photographing Items with White Backgrounds for Etsy

There are a few different styles of backgrounds for items on Etsy, but the standard background is plain, bright white. I figured I could just photograph items on a white background and I’d be good to go. I was wrong.

After the Little Miss would go to bed I would head to the basement and try to take crisp white photos like I saw on everyone else’s stores. I tried all the different lights we had including holding lightbulbs at different angles. I used white sheets and towels for backgrounds. I tried to rig up a lightbox using blankets in a laundry bin. All the photos turned out dark and made my shots, and therefore my stuff, look amateur.

Thankfully the Little Miss was still napping at that point and I discovered sunlight. Sweet, bright sunlight. The neighbors must have thought I was a bit kooky photographing a chair covered in a sheet on the front porch, but it worked and I didn’t need to buy expensive photography equipment.

Later I learned that sunlight isn’t just outside. Amazing revelation, right? I don’t get nap time to play around anymore (I miss nap time), but I can take a quick snap on the floor in a beam of sunlight when needed.

Once I had the new brighter photos, I used a free online photo editing tool to boost the brightness by 50% and contrast by 20%. I found that the sweet spot was usually around there for getting the whites and colors to pop and getting the colors to match how they look in real life. You don’t want to overdo it. I think when I started I used BeFunky, but now my main editor is PicMonkey. I have Gimp on my computer, but I find it confusing, so I only use it when absolutely necessary.

Tagging your Listings to get Found in Etsy Search

Not only was I new to photography, but I was new to SEO stuff too. It spent a lot of time playing around with different approaches for titles and tags. I discovered that long keyword rich titles with matching tags were what worked best for me.

You get 13 tags and you should use them all. Each tag should be a short two or three word phrase like “red dress”. Don’t bother with descriptors like “cute” or “red”. The categories you choose will be added as extra tags, so don’t worry about working those in and wasting a tag.

Try to add as many tags into your title as you can without it getting annoying and off putting. The goal is for people to find your stuff. Your listing will be what sells them.

As far as I can tell, this is not the same system that Google uses. But most of your traffic will come from the Etsy site, so target your approach for Etsy. Play around with things a little and see what works for you.

What to Sell on Etsy?

If you’re thinking of starting up a store, you know what you’d like to sell already. But, not everything is a good fit for Etsy. Here are some tips to help you decide things to sell on etsy

  1. Is your product unique?

    Some categories, like jewelry, have a lot of competition.

    If you want your items to sell, they’ll need to stand out from the pack.

    Do you have a unique story or outstanding stuff?
  2. What’s your price point?

    Because there’s so much competition, buyers will be able to comparison shop prices easily.

    What does your competition charge?

    Could you still make a decent profit by pricing lower? Or better yet, is there anything special about your pieces that would let you charge a premium price?
  3. How will you ship your product?

    Etsy buyers come from all over the world to buy your stuff. How will you get it to them?

    How much will shipping be? How much will it cost to pack your goods properly? How much will it cost to insure your packages? Will you price shipping separately or group it in with the cost of your items?

    Shipping can get pretty expensive and can make it difficult for cheaper, heavy, or bulky items to turn a profit.

My Etsy shop sells cross stitch patterns.

When I first opened the shop I also listed my finished cross stitch pieces. I decided that if I was going to sell them as a business that I would price them with time, materials, and mark-up.

Cross stitch is incredibly time intensive, so the prices were ridiculous when compared to the competition and it was pretty clear that it wasn’t a winning strategy. I figured I’d get cranky pretty quick by pricing my work at a penny or two a stitch, so I stopped listing the finished stuff and stuck with the patterns only.

I’ve also pared back on my patterns over time too.  I have one that sells regularly.  A few that sell occasionally and the rest are just there for show I guess.

My Etsy Shop Experience

It was a pretty steep learning curve for me at the beginning, but honestly, I haven’t done much with the shop since last summer.

My patterns are PDFs. When a buyer places an order, Etsy collects payment, sends my buyers their pattern, collects their fees, then deposits my money in my bank account or my PayPal account. The items are automatically re-listed. I don’t need to be involved in the process.

Every once in a while I get a message from a buyer. Last week I even added some lettering for a buyer for the first time. That’s about as much work as I’ve done since the initial setup.

I had my first sale in my first month. Which was awesome. Things were kind of slow through the spring and summer, but after about 6 months things started taking off more in the fall. I think people get craftier when the weather gets colder and the days get shorter.

My store opened in April last year and so far my revenues are $305. Last month I made $80. That’s pretty sweet for the amount of work put in if you ask me.

Yes I need to pay Etsy fees, but I think it’s fair because they’re doing most of the work!  ($0.20 to list an item plus 3.5% when it sells.  There are also payment processing fees for Etsy or PayPal, however the buyer pays)

Do you Want to Start an Etsy Shop?

I hope things go awesome for you!

Unlike with bricks and mortar stores, there doesn’t have to be big start up costs. There is no monthly fee to have an Etsy shop. But it costs $0.20 to list an item.

There’s a lot of trial and error at the beginning and it can be intimidating to start spending money before you’ve made any.

But, when you sign up for Etsy with a refer a friend code like mine, we both get 20 free listings. So, you can list 20 different items to see what works best without having to pay anything out of pocket.  The only fees you’ll pay will be when something sells.


Congratulations to those of you who have opened your own stores. I really hope things take off for you!

Cross stitch is a hobby for me and it’s great that there are sites like Etsy that help me make some money for my hobby. I imagine most Etsy shops are a lot of work, but I honestly don’t spend much time on mine and just watch money trickling into my bank account.

If you’ve been thinking about starting a shop or making some money from your hobbies, what are you waiting for? 

What About You?

Do you sell on Etsy?

Do you make money from your hobbies?

Do you have any side hustles that are pretty much on autopilot now?

If you enjoy my blog, tell a friend about this awesome new blog you’ve found!

Oh, I almost forgot! If you’re not interested in selling on Etsy, but are interested in shopping on Etsy I have a link for you too. Sign up to shop on Etsy using this refer a friend link and you’ll get $5 off your first purchase on Etsy! 

This post contains affiliate and referral links.

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