Crickets to Cha-Chings Episode 004
Lessons Learned after 12,000 Sales on Etsy
Last time I did one of these posts was after 10,000 sales, and I loved doing it as a way of reflecting back on my time on Etsy. It has been such a wild and crazy ride, and while I wouldn’t say I have loved EVERY minute of it, I have definitely loved many of them.
About a month ago I hit 12,000 orders on Etsy - 12,000 items that have been sent out from my shop, 12,000 customers who I’ve impacted with my little slice of the internet. 12,000 packages which have all (mostly) arrived undamaged, which is kind of amazing in and of itself. Shoutout to the USPS for being mostly wonderful to work with.
It’s gotten me thinking about those 12,000 orders, and where I started wayyy back almost 7 years ago in September of 2012. I can honestly say that I never dreamed I would get here. I don’t know if I never really thought I could “make it big” and have one of those shops with five figure sales, or if I thought I would lose focus and be on to the next thing before I got there….I’ve been a bit of a serial entrepreneur in the past, and sticking with things through the very tough times was not really my strong suit in my early adulthood.
But here we are, and I’m excited to share these top tips that I wish I had known when I started my Etsy shop, and what I’ve learned after 12,000 sales.
Don’t try to expand too quickly
I had a dream of having a lifestyle brand.
Not just being “an Etsy shop” which I talk about breaking out of often, but having an actual brand that would be curated and recognizable.
That people would come looking to my brand for a baby gift before they even knew what they wanted -- they just knew they wanted SOMETHING from Funky Monkey Children.
Because of my grand visions for how far and wide I could grow this whole venture, I tried to be everywhere and dabble in a million different things.
At one point I had burp cloths, bibs, several different kinds of blankets, shirts, baby gowns, coming home outfits, baby hats, beach towels, stadium purses, and so more.
It was almost a full time job just trying to keep track of the inventory, and I was almost NEVER in stock of everything at one time. I felt like I was constantly convo-ing people and asking them if they would be ok with a different color, or a different size, or a totally different item because I was out of stock and my supplier had it backordered.
The stress of trying to keep everything in stock, nevertheless organized in any sort of manner, was too much. I eventually cut way back, and I mean WAY back, and eliminated some of my best selling items in an effort to simplify.
Not only did it make my inventory management exponentially easier, but my orders are able to ship out faster, I have less money tied up in inventory, and I’m able to batch things quicker to get more done in less time. It’s been a win all around, and I wish I had done it sooner.
I don’t have to be married to my computer to be successful
I’ve talked a little bit about this one before, and this isn’t so much a recent lesson as it is a recent implementation of the lesson.
When I started my Etsy shop, I was married to my computer. I answered convos and questions at all hours of the day.
Dinging me in the middle of the night? I’m on it. Convo-ing me when I’m out to dinner with my family? Hang on just a second, I’ve got it.
I can remember pushing my baby in the stroller around the mall and trying to type answers to Etsy questions on my phone while I walked.
Over the years, I’ve learned that I don’t want to do that. And even better than that, I’ve learned that I don’t NEED to do that.
I realized that within the past year or so, but only within the past few months have I really internalized it, and guess what? My business hasn’t suffered in the slightest.
Even though Etsy tells me on my dashboard that shops with a two hour response time to convos have better conversion rates (uh, thanks for letting me know that, Etsy?) answering convos once a day, or heck even not answering them for multiple days on end hasn’t hurt my shop.
Now, I’m not telling you that you should just throw customer service to the wind and ignore people's’ convos or questions, but there’s a happy medium.
Several months ago I deleted the Sell on Etsy app from my phone, and the freedom of just not having that constant dinging to respond to has been amazing.
Now, I answer messages or emails in the morning when I’m starting work, and in the evening after my kids go to bed. If anything is more urgent than that, I’m probably not the right shop for that customer….and I’m ok with that.
Use the internet to make your life easier
This should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, we’re selling on the internet after all, so obviously we’re a fan of e-commerce and the convenience that buying things from your couch has to offer.
But when I first got started selling on Etsy, I really resisted buying supplies online. For some reason in my head, it made more sense to schlep my kids across town, which was almost 45 minutes in the town that I lived in at the time, to the nearest outlet mall to grab supplies to make a baby bodysuit or a burp cloth.
I want to smack my 2012 self, because there’s NO way this made sense. I was spending so much time running all over town buying fabric and thread and burp cloths and whatever else I happened to run low on at that moment. There was no regular supplier, just whatever happened to be in stock at the time that I went to the store, and no consistent ordering.
Everything was completely haphazard and random.
And man, oh man, how much time I wasted.
I can’t even wrap my head around how and why I thought this was a better alternative than paying a few dollars for shipping, but for some reason I did, and that’s definitely something I wish I had done differently.
Value my time
Which leads me to my #4 thing I have learned after 12,000 sales and wish I would have done differently from the beginning. Valuing my time. I honestly think it was because at the time that I started my shop I was very bored - I had one baby, he was about a year old, and I was a stay at home mom whose husband worked VERY long hours, so I spent a lot of time by myself with my baby.
And I was just so bored.
Because of this, I didn’t put a huge value on my time - after all, when I was first starting out it’s not like I was super busy and time consuming orders were taking away from time I’d be spending making other orders, so did it really matter?
I have mixed feelings about how I would do this differently if I started over, because I think that I got a LOT of great experience and learned a ton through taking every single custom order that someone put in front of me. I learned what works and what doesn’t, what sells and what sits, and how to really create things that people want to buy and master the art of getting them up on Etsy and selling.
But I did some ridiculous, time consuming, expensive orders and projects that were never going to pay off for me, and that I probably didn’t even break even, nonetheless make a profit, on. I’m talking stitching crazy quotes onto a baby quilt that would take an hour JUST on the stitching part of it. Or an applique design for a shirt that had, no joke, 47 steps.
I cringe just thinking about it. Looking back, I think I would have been far less burnt out through the process of building my shop if I had valued my time more and not taken on these massive projects which didn’t lead me to any profit and frankly, I didn’t enjoy just because they were so stressful to complete. Rather than think about it like a business and put a monetary value on the time I was spending making things, I was thinking like a creative and trying to enjoy the artistic part of the process - and because of that split I was feeling really pulled and overwhelmed.
The customer is always right...except when they aren’t.
I am a BIG proponent of good customer service. If you’ve taken my course, you know that I talk a LOT about providing a good customer experience and what that means for your brand and the future of your shop. I think it is incredibly important to provide a quality shop experience, because consumers have PLENTY of other options online that are vying for their attention, and they don’t have any loyalty to you unless you wow them to build that loyalty.
But here’s the truth, sometimes customers just aren’t right.
Sometimes they make a mistake when they are ordering, and then they are furious at you for not catching the mistake or reading their mind and fixing it telepathically. Or sometimes they enter their address wrong, and the package goes to the wrong place even though all you’ve done is print out a shipping label on Etsy and send it on its way. Sometimes they type a name wrong, and the monogram isn’t what they are expecting. And sometimes there are just scammers on the internet who try to swindle you out of your hard earned money but complaining about some non-issue and demanding a refund. While that doesn’t happen to me much anymore, because those kinds of scammers tend to be on the lookout for new shops without many reviews, it is definitely something that unfortunately exists.
But here is the thing about all of that (except for the scammers...they are just flat out wrong): how much do you want to argue with people? What is it worth to you to spend your time going back and forth with an upset customer, or having a case opened against you, or getting bad feedback, even though you can respond to it.
Now I am NOT saying that you should just refund any and every order at the drop of a hat and take the hit on everything. Please hear me when I say that I am NOT saying that.
What I’m saying is, there are times when there is a shared fault. When someone orders a color and the color you send them might be slightly off. Or when they send you a message after the fact to change a detail of their order, and you forget to update the order and they end up with someone other than what they were wanting. Should they have just ordered the thing they wanted to begin with? Of course. But part of customer service is recognizing where they’ve messed up, recognizing where you’ve messed up, and recognizing when it just isn’t worth it and you will make them happy to avoid the fight.
This has happened to me before several times, but one that particularly stands out in my mind was a purse that a lady ordered with a specific font. She told me that she wanted it to match something else that she had, but she didn’t specify what style the font was, just that she wanted it to match. I matched it with a block font, and felt good about it. She received the item and was absolutely incensed at the monogram - it was the wrong size, the placement wasn’t what she wanted, the scale of the letters was off, and the font wasn’t a serif font. I’m not a graphic design, and I had to google what even was a serif font, as that’s not really my wheelhouse of expertise. But in the end, I refunded the order because while she never specified that she wanted a serif font, she did send me a picture of one in the convos that she’d asked me to match.
It wasn’t without frustration though.
I was super frustrated that she hadn’t just asked for what she wanted specifically - obviously she had a certain size and style and scale in mind, as well as knowing that she wanted a serif font. So why didn’t she include those details in the order and give me a fighting chance to actually make what she wanted?
So yeah, it was frustrating, but ultimately this was only a $20 order, and the amount of time that I spent emailing her back and forth and dealing with her being upset and being frustrated myself wasn’t worth it.
Lesson learned. The customer is not always right, but it also isn’t always worth it to argue with them about who is right.
So there you have it, my top 5 lessons I’ve learned after 12,000 sales on Etsy, and how I would approach it differently if I was just getting started now. Ultimately I think that a lot of it has to do with boundaries.
When I was just getting started, and even several years into the business, I had a lot of trouble with setting boundaries between the personal and work life.
I allowed the customers to dictate when they needed things to arrive, even if they were ordering very last minute and it required me to drop everything I was doing and start on their order, and I allowed a lot of my personal life to revolve around the Etsy orders that were being asked of me. I just didn’t have a good line in the sand of what I was willing to put up with, and what I would turn down or not deal with as a business provider.
Part of this I do this is very normal for a new business, and so many of these lessons were learned the hard way and I’ve been able to move and grow from them, but my hope through this is that you’ll see the places where you are allowing customers to take advantage of you, or letting the business creep into your personal life in a way that you don’t want it to, or you are needing a break from the business because it is overwhelming you, and you’ll do a better job of drawing those boundaries and setting parameters for your shop.