The Top 5 Hard Truths About Selling On Etsy

The Top 5 Hard Truths About Selling On Etsy

I have been selling on Etsy for ten years.  TEN YEARS.

That's like eight thousand internet years.

And boy have things changed since I started. 

You have maybe been around as long as I have or even longer.  You may be a newbie.  You may be somewhere inbetween.  No matter how long you've been an Etsian, proud or otherwise, there are some hard and cold truths about running your business on the only site for handmade.

Etsy is a corporation.  

This may seem like a silly obvious point.  But it didn't start out that way. It was started by a guy with an idea, just like your business started.  But it's not that anymore.  That guy is off knitting underwear and doing other genius things. 

The people running the show now are those who have run all the hated corporations you've dealt with as a customer. Ebay, Walmart, etc. When you think about the things they do, remind yourself that they are doing it for the same reasons Ebay or Walmart would do them.  

Etsy went corporate and took the granny squares with it.

Their decisions may benefit you as a happy coincidence, not by design.

Corporations are about profit.

5 Hard Truths About Selling On Etsy

There's nothing wrong with that.  But it doesn't mean they care about your bottom line.

"But doesn't Etsy make money if we make money?" 

Yes, and no.  Etsy needs to make money.  But it doesn't necessarily need your little stained glass shop to do it.  If they say, eliminate your category (happened to me), it's not going to hurt them in the long run.

When they eliminated 'geekery' they eliminated my business.  And yet Etsy has still made millions and millions of dollars since then while I have been struggling to rebuild from my erased foundation ever since. 

So take no comfort in the 'Etsy changes are meant to benefit you' arguments.  They may be right a few times.  But there will come a time for YOUR shop when they will not be.  And you will be powerless.

Your profit is not Etsy's profit.  Remember that. Always.

Etsy will change.

Those of us who have been around for awhile know this.  But even some of us don't really believe the changes will make our business more useless than a three armed sweater on a slug until it happens to us personally.

You must always be prepared for the ride to end.  

You must always be prepared for the bottom to fall out.

You must always be prepared for the Etsy gods to smite you.

Sure, this sounds fatalist and absurd to some degree.  I am just warning you.  There are a shit ton of things that can change on Etsy.  Your category can disappear.  Your competition copies you and grows faster and swamps you.  Etsy starts search localization.  Etsy starts free shipping filters.

You are a ship in the ocean of Etsy and the waves are coming.  Get a life jacket or at least a bucket for all the puke.

Your passion is unlikely to be a sustainable business on Etsy.

5 Hard Truths About Selling On Etsy

There, there. Don't cry.  It's hard to hear, I know.  But it'll be okay.

Etsy was intended to be a place where you could make a living making things. 

That sounds so quaint today, doesn't it?

It is so far from what the Etsy of today has become it's almost laughable.  Still, there was a time when it was almost true.  There was a time when someone like me could literally build a full time business making crochet coffee cozies of all things.

When I look back on it, it was really quite amazing.  

As they say, all good things come to an end.  And that time on Etsy is basically over.  I'm not saying there are zero shops still in existence which are thriving off someone's passion.  But I will say they are harder to come by.

When I join almost any Etsy group and a shop owner is stating how awesomely their shop is doing, it's inevitably a 'mass produced' item they are making.  I don't mean they are resellers.  I mean they are printing stickers, mugs, etc.  These are all cool things (mugs, ahem).  

But there was a moment in history when I could spend an hour making a coffee cozy and MAKE A FULL TIME LIVING ON ETSY.  I was addicted to yarn, taught myself embroidery and used my sense of humor to begin to build a cozy empire... muwahahaha.

Now my cozies are seen by exactly three people each year and ordered by... well, less than that.

My passion was never to paint mugs.  Nor stamp jewelry.  I did those things as I utilized some other talents to move into the markets available to me after Etsy recategorized my cozies from 'geekery' and 'humor' into 'covers' and 'pillowcases.'

Alas, you will find all sorts of Etsy gurus giving the advice of 'look for what sells on Etsy and make it to earn vast amounts of cash!'

This isn't how it used to be.  We didn't do market research to sell on Etsy.  We made the market.  People came onto Etsy to find the next trend, not copy them. 


All the challenges of running a business on Etsy are the same as running any other business anywhere else.

This may be the coldest truth yet.

We can bitch and moan about Etsy all day long... AND I WILL.

But the fact of the matter is that businesses fail.  Even long standing businesses with storied histories often disappear into faded memories of abandoned drive in movie theatres and myspace pages. 

There is no sure thing.  There is no free lunch (except at your Mom's house).

So if you are willing to grind it out day in and day out, you can make it on Etsy as much as you can make it anywhere.  

This may mean the following:

  • Totally changing what you sell.
  • Taking new photos of every one of your 1326 items listed.
  • Changing the tags for all of your sixteen thousand widgets... multiple times per year... every year.
  • Spending money you don't have to make money you already spent on bills to advertise, promote, get new supplies, etc.
  • Pissing and moaning and taking it up the tailpipe.
  • Doing this whole list over and over again until you retire or die... whichever comes first...

All those things sound good? Then you might be fit to not just be an artist, artisan or crafter... but a gosh darn, real live, genuine entrepreneur. 

It will be hard.  You may literally sweat glitter. You will at the very least strangle a unicorn and piss rainbows.  But you can do it.  It's a marathon, not a sprint.  It's a long string of cliches wrapped up in a cupcake with a mustache.

And yes, it is complete and utter bullshit. But that's Etsy. That's life. It's a piece of shit when you look at it, but it's all we got.

Five Hard Truths About Selling On Etsy


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