Word is on the street that you’re a talented crafter. (Don’t blush, you know it’s true.) After years of ignoring the pleas of friends and family members to hurry up and start selling your wares already (because seriously, people would pay good money for that!), you’ve finally decided to dip your toes into entrepreneurial waters. You’re going to become a crafterpreneur.
But which platform is best for a newbie like you? If Etsy is the first thing that comes to mind, you’re not alone—Etsy is the biggest and most popular site available for individual craftspeople, and it can be a fast route to exposure. But there are downsides to the site too, and those downsides are big enough to draw many of the more successful crafterpreneurs to sell through their own e-commerce sites instead.
So, which is best for you: Etsy, or your own e-commerce site? Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches, as well as how to do each best, so we can prove your friends and family right and turn you into a full-blown success story.
Selling on Etsy
- Ready to go. Sure, you’ll have to do some work in getting it set up, but an Etsy store is far closer to being done “out-of-the-box” than any e-commerce site. This is true not just in terms of layout and design—a real relief to those of us who aren’t web designers—but also when it comes to freight tracking, stats on web traffic, and that all-important payment process system, which can be difficult and cumbersome to design and navigate on your own.
- Instant customer trust. When you link your own brand with Etsy’s, you’re tapping into all of the branding work and business development the site has done to gain customers’ trust and respect. There’s a reason, after all, that the site attracts so much traffic. And because motivated niche customers are already visiting in higher volumes than they do on any other e-commerce site, getting on Etsy means potentially exposing your products to an audience it would take much longer for you to find on your own. That means instant viewership and marketing, right from the get-go.
- Help is only a community board away. Even as the site has grown, Etsy has maintained an engaged, passionate, and inherently helpful community of sellers. Should you have any questions—whether they concern set up, marketing, or anything else—on the community boards you’re likely to find a fellow seller willing to help you out. Community boards are also a great place to connect and swap stories, which can often lead to marketing partnerships in the future (see the tips section below for more on this).
- Lack of control. Of course, all of that ready-made convenience comes with a cost. When you’re on Etsy, you’re subject to any company policy changes or administrative decisions, and it’s not unheard of for well-meaning sellers to have their shops shut down for inadvertent or trumped-up policy violations. Even if the decision is reversed, your store and loyal followers can be lost, and you might have to start over from scratch.
- Limited design options. Likewise, when you use Etsy, you’re pretty limited by their template store designs. This might be fine as you’re starting out, but it makes it difficult to brand as you grow, which in turn makes distinguishing yourself from other sellers more of a task. It’s also hard to optimize for marketing with various calls to action (CTAs), like placing email list signups in multiple places throughout the page. Again, this means you put much more of the marketing in Etsy’s hands, rather than in your own.
- Heated competition from other sellers. With so many similar products on the site, it can often be difficult to keep a customer on your page, particularly when competitor products are listed in the sidebar. This is especially frustrating if you’ve done the hard work of, say, going to a crafts show in person, schmoozing a customer, handing out a card with your Etsy store on it, only to have them turn elsewhere because they see a better (yet you might argue, unfair) price.
- It takes a chunk of change (sort of). Each product listing costs 20 cents per item. On top of that, Etsy takes 3.5 percent of the selling price. However, if you break out on your own, you’ll also have to pay for web hosting, and most payment platforms like PayPal have a 2.9 percent (plus 30-cent) fee anyway. So whether or not Etsy is more expensive will depend on how well you’re doing on the platform. And of course, as we covered in the pros, Etsy comes with plenty of benefits that may still be worth any investment.
Building Your Own E-commerce Site
- More control over design, marketing and SEO. When you operate from your own e-commerce site, you’re in control of just about everything. You decide on the layout, design and branding of your site—and if that changes, all you have to do is change your site. Want to add an extra mailing list signup button so you can further your list building? Do it. Want to change your policies? Do it. On your own site, you won’t have to worry about a sudden change in regulations, or having your store shut down and having to start again. In both the back- and the front-end of your site, you’ll have far more search engine optimization (SEO) opportunities as well. And if you want to change your site to promote a big marketing push or product launch, you can just—you guessed it—do it.
- Fewer on-page customer distractions. On your own site, you won’t have to worry about a competitor advertising their product right next to yours (essentially in your store). Your page, your show. End of story.
- Media and customers take you more seriously. If your site is well-designed, the media tends to take you more seriously on your own site than on Etsy. That first part is a key caveat here, and it only really happens if your site shows that you’ve put time and effort into branding and design—far more than if you just entered information and uploaded a few pictures to Etsy. That won’t happen if your e-commerce site looks shoddily-made or outdated, in which case you might as well just do Etsy. For similar reasons, your own e-commerce site can be better for customer referrals, as there’s less brand confusion and customers have an easier time of remembering your personal URL than that of your Etsy store.
- You have to know what you’re doing. I’m not saying that you don’t know what you’re doing now, or that you can’t learn. But if you’re not familiar with web design, making your own site can be a recipe for disaster. Not only will you want your site to just generally look nice, but it’s also crucial to avoid a number of usability pitfalls. For example, you need to have an easy-to-use shopping cart, preferably from a trusted third-party platform that keeps on top of changing financial regulations, and an easy way to add things to your cart. You’ll want your site to load quickly and to be secure, and you’ll want a robust SEO strategy. As such, unless you’re a designer yourself, hiring one may be an important added expense.
- Increased marketing tasks. On your own site, there’s no chance you’ll be featured in a popular store from the get-go. You’ll need a comprehensive marketing plan to get the word out about your store. This might include a social media and blog presence, fliers and printouts, and lots of touring at trade or craft shows. While marketing is also an important activity for Etsy store owners, it’s even more important when you’re on your own.
- Web competition. We said before that on your own e-commerce site you won’t face competition directly on your store page. However, on the wider web, you’ve got a world of competition, including all of those Etsy wares. Because Etsy is so popular—pretty much the go-to place for handmade crafts for many buyers—attracting customers your way can be a daunting task.
Have you made a decision yet, or are you more confused than ever? Don’t worry. Etsy and e-commerce platforms actually aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, many first-time craft entrepreneurs cut their teeth on Etsy before moving on to their own site once they’ve developed their business and marketing skills and a loyal customer following. Other popular crafters say, “The more the merrier!” and operate on both Etsy and their own site, and sometimes even on further platforms beyond that. And hey, why not? As long as you’re not spreading your energy too thin or diluting your traffic, the more exposure you can get, the better.
So how can you make the most of either (or both!) of these routes?
Tips for Etsy
- Give yourself a primer. Setting up a basic shop on Etsy may be intuitive, but to really be effective, we highly recommend starting with a guide to Etsy to give your approach a little more expertise.
- Make the most of branding opportunities on your page. Complete your store profile with plenty of information both about your products and about you, as Etsy buyers like to know who they’re buying from (this will also be great for SEO purposes). Find or design a banner photo that really feels like you as well.
- Display excellent product photos. It doesn’t matter how amazing your product is, if it doesn’t look good in your store, it’s not going to sell. Consider investing in professional photography, or follow certain basic tips, like using a high resolution camera, using soft lighting that doesn’t cast shadows, and shooting either on a white or solid background that doesn’t distract from the product.
“Social media and mobile devices inundate us daily with selfies and filtered images. It’s easy to forget that taking a quick photo of something beautiful, doesn’t make it a beautiful photo. Brands need to embrace high-quality, professional images and photography, so their websites stand out enough for consumers to take notice.” – Brian Masefield, Bigstock Photo
- Use the community boards. Not only will you find lots of helpful tips here, but becoming a frequent commenter will raise your profile in the community, driving fellow sellers to your page and upping your visibility. As you connect with other sellers, you may find excellent ways to co-market, like joining or making a treasury or Pinterest group in which products are curated for a feature. This will make it more likely that you’ll be featured on the Etsy front page.
Tips for E-commerce Sites
- Value usability over design. Don’t get me wrong: you don’t want a clunker of a site that looks like it’s from the past decade. But whether you’re working from an original design or a template, the biggest thing you should look for is usability. It should be easy to add products into your cart, and users should trust the security of their financial details when going to payment. The fewer clicks required to buy, the better. Last but not least, build in automated upselling with related or complementary products.
- Build your site around sales and marketing. Give every product on your site an alluring and keyword-rich description, for both sales and SEO purposes. Create a content strategy as well, using a blog with articles you can share across the web. And of course, make sure you have an easy-to-find “About” page that lists all of your social media profiles, so potential customers can connect with you across the web.
- Be clear on your policies. Will you take returns? How long will it take to ship each product, and how much must the buyer pay of those costs? When you’re on your own, you’ll no longer have a neutral third party to moderate, so it’s important to be as clear as possible.
Whether you decide to work just on Etsy or on an e-commerce platform as well, there are many paths to entrepreneurial success in the craft world. So get going! Your crafting career awaits.