Design studio of Dorothea Lee


Blog of Dorothea Lee's graphic design studio, fartherMORE, containing visual experiments, wonders, and the occasional throwback.

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.