MORE about: Etsy (part 2)

With success and expansive growth, Etsy has undergone a lot of significant changes that impact the individual artist-seller. I wanted to hear a more personal, in-depth view from the artist-seller's perspective, so I’ve interviewed a couple friends who come from very different backgrounds in relation to this platform. Below are highlights and findings from these conversations. This is 2 of 2.

Janille Hill is the charismatic and ambitious force behind HilltopKnitwear, a made-to-order knitted fashions shop. She's pretty new to the biz and to Etsy, so she has a fresh perspective on what it's like to start out in today's competitive market, and shares tips on how to make that learning curve a little less steep.

You just opened your Etsy shop this past November. What made you choose Etsy compared to other platforms, and how have you found this experience?
I just went with it so that I could list my knitted styles and they would have a place to live (I amassed a bunch of stuff first before starting my Etsy shop). It was easier than I expected. For example, you can copy the whole description of one product and then edit it for the next product. I also looked at other people's products that were similar to mine to help me with the description, and asked customers to describe how they would search for the item and find it. One thing I wished I had known more about beforehand was I thought you could change the order of things. Since I didn't name all my colors in the beginning, I now have to go back in to edit each color. Once you decide on the content, everything is super accessible. You don't have to know anything to achieve a polished look.

It was a lot of work going back, but I learned so much going forward....Just get started!
— Janille Hill

How did you figure out how to price your products?
I decided to do it by the cost of the yarn/materials instead of how many hours were put into it. I then decided how much I wanted to make in addition to that. I also looked at other people's prices. I thought, even though I would never work for $10/hr, it wouldn't make sense to raise the rate higher than that because the price of the scarf would double. Thinking of it another way, $10/hr while watching Grey's Anatomy and knitting was better than $0 while watching Grey's Anatomy and knitting. I figured out shipping costs after the fact and did not include it in my pricing—I just gave ballpark pricing.

The advantage to selling outside of Etsy's platform is that people can see and feel the product for themselves in person, and then they feel it's worth more or that the price is justified. It's word of mouth/wanting to support a friend/impulse buying vs. competitive price buying.

What do you think are the most important factors to a satisfied customer?
When people are involved in the process, they like it. I've made adjustments based on their feedback. People also like a fast turnaround.

HilltopKnitwear's Maughn beanie with Corco buttoned scarf

HilltopKnitwear's Maughn beanie with Corco buttoned scarf

Now that you've had your business for a bit, what kind of essentials do you recommend figuring out before you begin your own business/shop?
For in-person sales, Etsy doesn't take a cut besides the listing price, and you can still get a review. With PayPal + Etsy, it wound up totaling almost 10% cut of your sale, so I took off PayPal.

It's easier to figure things out off-season; the hardest part is just getting started. It was hard to figure out the name of my store...but you can change the name. So my advice is to just go on Etsy and use whatever email address to check things out. I was working on the site for months before launching—you can hide it until you're ready. It was a lot of work going back, but I learned so much going forward. I also had a huge support system help me launch. Even if you're just mildly good, people will love what you make more than something by someone they don't know. Just get started!

Thank you, Janille, for sharing your Etsy experiences and tips with us as a start-up shop owner. You've made an Etsy launch seem like it has such a soft landing, anyone would feel inspired and encouraged to try it out!

You can check out HilltopKnitwear's shop for more cozy offerings or click on my favorite items in the image above.


MORE about: Etsy (part 1)

As someone in the arts who also loves all manners of handmade things, Etsy has been on my radar for years. It’s a great place to find special gifts for your loved ones, or unique objects for a pinterest/instagram-worthy home. With success and expansive growth, however, Etsy has undergone a lot of significant changes that impact the individual artist-seller, and I was curious to hear a more personal, in-depth view from their perspective. I’ve interviewed a couple friends who come from very different backgrounds in relation to this platform, and will be sharing some highlights and findings from these conversations. This is 1 of 2.

Amelia Cunard is the industrious genius behind Vector Cloud, a truly unique shop of wooden laser-cute (yes, that’s what I’m calling it) offerings. She began her business before Etsy grew so large that it allowed factory-produced items and became a publicly traded company. Thus, she has a unique perspective on how being an Etsy seller has changed over the years, and shares key lessons for running the biz that she learned along the way.

You opened your Etsy shop in 2009. Has Etsy changed since then in a way that directly impacted you?
Yes, Etsy has become more known as a marketplace of its kind, more sellers & buyers. The structure has also become more accessible both for sellers & buyers. They have way more tools that make accepting orders & mailing them so much easier. 

Vectorcloud's House Necklaces with custom families

Vectorcloud's House Necklaces with custom families

Would you still start your shop here if you were to start now, or how would you do things differently?
Yes. My main reason is because it requires very little investment. The structure is already there and you can start selling the next day, as opposed to creating my own website. Because Etsy is a marketplace, kinda like Amazon, your customer does not necessarily need to know who you are to buy your products. This expands your target market more greatly. 

It's interesting that you view the customer as not needing to know who you are to buy your products as a positive thing. Do you think there is any chance of building a loyal following after they discover you and purchase something?
Yes, I find that as positive (that customers do not need to know me to purchase my products). As a business owner, ideally you want to have both, new customers coming all the time, and repeat purchases from old customers. 

I included a small hand written note on every order, just to give a little bit of personal touch and attention to it. In the note, I invite them to like my Facebook (so that they are updated with new products & promotions) as well as a coupon code for their next order. This is what I do to build loyalty, but I do need more customers to build this with, so yeahhh the Etsy market place is great for this.

What do you think are the most important factors to getting the sale?
Marketing! It's very easy to get lost in the WWW as a small online store. In the first 2 yrs, I spent a lot of times buying online ads (not many results though) and pursuing bloggers to feature my products (this is pretty effective). The more your store is visited, the higher you are in the google search, and the more you would find your products/store to be reviewed by random blogs. I'm pretty sure this what helped me got noticed & featured on Etsy's front page. It brought hundreds of sales in the following weeks and more visibility for my store. Etsy used to feature their "Featured seller" on their front page, which was great, but now, you have to actually click a link :( 

It's amazing that you got to be a Featured seller. Were you strategic about your timing (for example, right before the holidays) in contacting bloggers?
Though I was aware of my timing (when to contact bloggers), I was more concerned about exposing more people to my products. There are just so many media outlets now that you won't really run out of people to contact with, so I'd suggest "throw out as many nets as you can."

Vectorcloud's Retro TV brooch with photo insert

Vectorcloud's Retro TV brooch with photo insert

What kind of essentials do you think you'd need to know before you begin your own business/shop?
I would say: make sure your products is recognizable, unique, and targeting the right audience. There are just so many 'stuff' out there and people see hundreds of visuals/images in a day, so you want to make sure your picture of your product is memorable—strong branding.  Also technical stuff, like getting a Tax ID number, getting a license to charge sales tax, etc.

Ooee. I know nothing about this stuff so I can't even envision what an "etc." could entail.
To be honest I didn't know much about tax/accounting, recording my inventory, etc. for the first year or two :D I was just good at keeping records for everything. In the beginning I did have some inventory that I did not have receipts for or that I did not claim (which was a loss on my side), but now I know better. So I suggest keep your receipts as many as possible, and early on. 

Just a tip: besides recording your sales & purchases, you need to record your cost of goods. In my case, its tricky because it's a lot of custom products, so they require different materials/details all the time. There are two ways to do it: 1. Calculate the cost of material into making each product 2. Record your inventory at the beginning & end of year—what I did.

Did you learn about your target audience beforehand or was it more organic?
I had an idea about my audience beforehand, but as I explore my craft deeper and am more critical & knowledgeable about competing products, my audience is becoming more specific and unique (in my case, I see this as an advantage).

There are a lot of sellers (and manufacturers) on Etsy now. I've heard it's hard to stand out from the crowd, and good SEO is essential. What strategies do you use to help Vectorcloud stand out from the crowd or be known to potential customers?
Try to do all Etsy guidelines, it helps you being found on Etsy. Use social media as much and as often as you can, without actually "spamming" your customers too much (you do not want you fans to 'unlike' you). I heard tips like...try to promote other people's works as well and post interesting things that your audience will like (without actually promoting your products intentionally). I use Pinterest & Facebook, make sure all your posts are correctly & directly linked to your store.

Currently I am doing only as much as I can handle. Being a mother of two young kids and having a part time job, I have been intentionally cutting down on my marketing as a way to control sales in the last two years. I also close down my shop every now and then. I guess It's kinda the great thing of being an Etsy seller—flexibility.

Thank you, Amelia, for sharing your experiences and tips with us as a successful Etsy veteran! It's encouraging to know it's still possible to "make it" in a more anonymous marketplace, and to get a glimpse "behind the scenes."

You can check out Vector Cloud's adorable shop for more offerings or click on my favorite pieces included above.


"All my work is much more peaceful than I am*"

As I enter my final lap of preparing to start something new, I find myself instead hitting the breaks and filling with fears and self-doubt. Hearing "real talk" like this was refreshing and encouraging, especially coming from a success like Design*Sponge's Grace Bonney. Beyond the comfort of knowing one is not alone, it also gave a few good practical suggestions to respond constructively to fears as well.

Also, now I want to attend WMC. Next year perhaps?!

*Title is a quote by Maya Lin.



Just went to my first AIGA seminar of the year, "Emerging Markets: Designing Youth with K-Hole" and came away with a few points I thought worth spreading.

Ceiling of lecture hall at Museum of Arts and Design

Ceiling of lecture hall at Museum of Arts and Design

art + business

While business and the arts are often viewed as separate industries, the truth is that marketing decisions are often artistic decisions informed by intuition. Similarly, artistic decisions are often marketing decisions. This probably comes as no surprise to graphic designers, since our role boils down to communicating a message in a way that maximizes its effectiveness to the target audience. Helping those outside our industry see this could facilitate collaboration and result in higher impact solutions—we can lend our unique expertise and creative thinking to the conversation earlier, and it equips us with greater understanding to design more effectively at the same time.

Being Different vs Empathy

K-Hole's most recently released analysis argued that in trying to be special and different, we wind up doing things that alienate ourselves from each other. Instead of all the differences becoming mainstream, everything became a subculture. Even those driven to exhaustion in trying to be different and therefore refusing to differentiate were still essentially trying to be different from those who were trying to assert their specialness. The "out" is to find a sameness that everyone can relate to. K-Hole asserted that this boils down to seeking empathy. This leads me to the question: what can we do to create unifying experiences that bring back the opportunity to empathize with each other?

Data Agnosticism

K-Hole view themselves as data agnostic, saying "Data has become a weird way of proving oneself...Some people use data as a replacement for critical thinking." I love analysis and information, but I also love the freedom to try something new without already having market research prove it's "tried and true" aka safe.

What do you think of these assertions? Did you attend and find any other points of interest worth sharing?


Arts + Being

Came across some inspiration and great truths in the commencement speech by Teresita Fernández (and highlights article by Maria Popova) at brainpickings.org via my talented friend, Lisa Maione:

An artist’s work is...focusing on how to hone your quirky creative obsessions so that they eventually become so oddly specific that they can only be your own.
— Teresita Fernández
We live in a meritocratic society, where accomplishments are constantly being measured externally...where comfort and lifestyle are often mistaken for success, or even happiness. Don’t be fooled. Our ideas regarding success should be our own, and I urge you to pursue it simultaneously from both the inside and the outside...
— Teresita Fernández
...being human is the wider circle within which being an artist resides, and that our art is always the combinatorial product of the fragments of who we are, of our combinatorial character...
— Maria Popova

Here's to pursuing and honing our quirky creative obsessions, defining our own version of success, and embracing the holistic experience of being more than just our careers!