Next week, Etsy is celebrating 13 years of supporting handmade businesses by hosting a site-wide sale, and I’m participating by offering 15% off my entire shop from June 18th-22nd. No coupon is necessary. (Custom orders and made to order designs are not included in the sale).
I’ve had a handmade shop on Etsy for over 8 years of their 13 year history, and before that I was an Etsy customer. Back then, things were small– crafters and artisans offered a few of their wares and there was definitely a feeling of unique, experimental sharing. Many of the shops I visited were like me– making things on their kitchen tables, photographing them with a dinky point-and-shoot camera.
As Etsy grew, many businesses, like mine, grew with the site, and the decision-makers at Etsy seemed to be makers themselves, or at least understood the unique dilemmas makers face when running a business– Etsy supported us and we blossomed. Many of us were able to support ourselves by selling our work; a truly marvellous thing. I met other shop owners who remain friends to this day and we continue to support each other in myriad ways. There was a community of sellers sharing knowledge in Etsy Teams, and we celebrated each other’s work by making Treasuries– visual collections of selected pieces that would sometimes be featured on the front page, leading to great exposure for everyone, and a constant source of inspiration and friendship.
Of course nothing stays the same. The CEO of Etsy changed, and those of us who made a modest living had to hang on for dear life– despite Etsy’s “Quit Your Day Job” blog posts, those of us who had done just that knew that it harder for us succeed. Etsy had opened its doors to resellers and drop-shipping, and suddenly we had to compete with people who were not making their goods at all but buying them from the 3rd world, often from sweat shops employing child labour.
Etsy has had a crisis of identity: the front page is no longer curated by Etsy members via the Treasuries. Long time Etsians have noticed the site looking more and more like eBay. Also since Etsy has gone public on the stock market it must now answer to share holders rather than makers, and this has changed everything.
I have learned a great deal on this rollercoaster ride with Etsy, but these are the biggest lessons:
Be ready to spend at least half your productive hours creating a business. This involves trying to anticipate Etsy’s continued changes as you think on your feet.
Lastly, loyal customers are like gold, and if you have read this far, I know you are one of them. Every day I am filled with gratitude for the customers who continue to return to my shop, year after year. Without you, I wouldn’t be here!
I’m a point and shoot kinda gal. I admire people with fancy cameras– I look at them like they are carrying tardises (tardi?) around their necks. Yeah, the idea sounds great but how would you make sense of all the buttons and dials and stuff? I’m no photographic Time Lord.
I was slow to come to smart phones (see previous Luddite posts) but once I did I realized the camera is intuitive and made for monkey photographers like myself. The first photo editing app I loved was Plastic Bullet. It hasn’t been updated since 2011, and I kind of wish they would update it; even if more sophisticated tools are available now. I loved the fruit machine/jackpot aspect– the results seemingly randomized.
I still take most of my product photography with a point and shoot camera, but increasingly I’ve started to use my iphone for certain images, to execute specific ideas or edit and post on the go.
A Beautiful Mess– A self-titled photo editing app by lifestyle bloggers, this is useful for cute overlays and suprisingly lovely filters. It offers a quick and dirty way to add text and visual interest for sale graphics, though to be honest I use it mostly for personal stuff, as I find scaling to change the size of the font very fiddly. Still, I have used it on the fly satisfyingly.
Instagram, how I love thee. I almost forgive you for being owned by Facebook. Not only is it a wonderful source of community and daily inspiration for me, it’s a nifty photo editor. Perhaps the filters a cliche but with the new, subtler ones, I still embrace them.
Afterlight is a filtering app with more subtle-to-dramatic variations available. It also has a useful framing feature with prints available that are all pretty adorable.
Snapseed– Google’s photo editing app has been updated but I am using the old version. If you are using the new one, how is it? I have not heard good things and I love it so, I’m unwilling to update it to the latest version. The grunge filter makes me nostalgic for Plastic Bullet, and has a bit of that random, luck-of-the-draw feeling. I love especially the Drama filter to set and instant mood, especially when I’m photographing landscapes, architecture or certain jewellery. The HDR scape when used sparingly, can really bring out the colour and texture of not-so-great phone photos. I’m sure if I actually invested in a DSLR and learned to use it I would be much better off but until then, Snapseed is a life saver.
Mextures is my all time favourite editing app. It’s fair to say I’m obsessed with it. Though I don’t use it for product photography often, it trumps all when it comes to creating a photograph that communicates the feeling of the place or thing you are trying to capture. It is quite a painterly app, where you layer filters and textures infinitely or minimally to create images that are either subtly enhanced or completely altered and abstracted.
What are your favourite photo editing apps? How do you use them?
Etsy’s IPO happened this month- this is not news. With damning headlines like “Etsy files for Handcrafted IPO,” I’d like to say I was prepared for this. For the last 3 years this transformation of Etsy has been looming. As a seller what does this mean for me? What will I do? I’ve written this blog post hundreds of times in my head, trying to make sense of it before committing it to cyberspace. It was procrastination born of a sad heart.
Many sellers have already left Etsy– I have been slow to make that decision because I have so many wonderful, loyal customers who simply prefer to shop on Etsy, but I feel I can no longer go on selling happily there. Luckily, I have built an independent shop to replace my Etsy shop– first on Indiemade and now on Shopify, which I’m much happier with than the Etsy platform. You can see my independent shop at http://feralstrumpet.co.uk.
Etsy’s initial public offering corresponds with my Etsy shop’s fourth birthday. Four years is a long time to work at something– it’s BA degree, a wacky high school journey. An elephant could have two really cute babies in that time. Those four years were ones of empowerment, creativity, cashflow and community. I grew from a hobbyist working on my kitchen table to one of Etsy’s “power sellers”.
When I look back at the countless treasuries on Etsy I made featuring the products of other sellers, I realize what an inspiring place it once was for me and I happily gave back to the seller’s community that continually gave to me. I’ve coached myriad newbie sellers during the Holiday Bootcamp sessions. Other wonderful sellers have included me in their treasuries, and have been incredibly supportive team mates– especially the Folk Reveries Team. We traded notes and ideas, ways to make Etsy work for us. The seller community was real and powerful and the vast majority of members were women.
The people who will be making decisions about Etsy will not be these women. The investors who buy into this are thinking about tech stocks being hot right now, not about who really made Etsy what it is today. A handful of wealthy people (men, I venture) will become even richer through this. Why does this bother me so much? Isn’t this the way the world of business always works?
Part of the problem is that many of the sellers on Etsy are like me, working hard at making things and balancing our books, managing to be profitable despite all odds. We think practically and literally about money. All this seems old fashioned and two dimensional in the topsy-turvy world of investment, where being unprofitable can still make you money and lots of it and where making money and growing are prioritized above all else. Etsy as a company still hasn’t turned a profit. Last year its net losses were $15.2 million, more than 15 times greater than its losses in 2o13. In its filing it even admits, “Our new offerings also may bring us more directly into competition with companies that are better established or have greater resources than we do..” (Read more at Market Watch) Already, the Etsy search function turns up countless listings for factory-made goods identical to those found on Amazon and Ebay, often from the same sellers that use those platforms in volume. The individual, genuine artisan is drowned out and the shopper is overwhelmed with the exact products they were trying to avoid. An unprofitable company whose changes have made it a redundant online marketplace can still go public with a 100 million dollar offering. Of course this wouldn’t make sense to someone like me who is actually trying to run a handmade business.
Tech crunch gets detailed about the IPO an explains, “In this regard, Etsy is outright compelling. Historically it has spent 40-70 percent less [on marketing] on a percentage basis than their competitors, while realizing similar, if not greater, growth rates than other marketplaces.” Guess why? The sellers, the visionary single moms, creative living-room risk-takers, the blister-fingered craftspeople did the legwork, got the word out on behalf of their shops and their fellow sellers. Etsy didn’t have to spend a dime. Etsy introduced an ad in the UK in 2014, perhaps as an experiment? It was too little, too late.
It’s ironic that my last blog post gave 5 reason to bail on the day job culture, the first on being the ability to be The CEO of your life. I talked about my past life processing expense reports for Goldman Sachs and realizing how perverse it was that I was now chained to someone else’s priorities to make money no matter what, to grow like some malignancy that uses up everything in its path. Now, Goldman Sachs has underwritten Etsy’s IPO. I simply can no longer pretend this isn’t going to affect me. Sometimes you have to be bold, and make choices based on what is right, what you feel in your gut. As the CEO of my own life, I get to decide what my business stands for, and who I answer to.
I read my horoscope on March 20th– it was the Spring Equinox, power charged with a full eclipse and a super moon. I look to Rob Brezsny, in times like this as on the whole I don’t believe in horoscopes, but I believe in him.
“You have recently been to the mountaintop, at least metaphorically. Right? You wandered out to the high frontier and ruminated on the state of your fate from the most expansive vista you could find…Here’s what I suggest: Start building a new framework or structure or system that will incorporate all that you’ve learned during your break. “
I’d just returned from the Arctic Circle where I was caught in a storm at sea, had a drink in an Ice Hotel and went to the place of my ancestors in Lofoten. During that time away from my shop I made peace with being small and making changes so I can still feel good about what I do. Rob, as usual, was spot on.
Huffington Post has an interesting article about how to make seller’s happy– I’m cynical enough to think Etsy won’t be instituting these changes any time soon. I think years ago they stopped seeing sellers for who they really were, and wanted to court a new kind of mega-sellers who weren’t makers at all. Alex Moazed writes, “…the company’s culture and value proposition places a natural limit on its growth. There are only but so many hands to make and sell handmade goods.” Maybe that’s the issue. I am OK being small. I am good with my two hands, making things one at a time without interns or a factory. And this way of working is good to me. That’s enough.
Before I began selling my wares, I used this blog to write about my adventures around the UK and my London fascinations. It’s interesting to see that some of those posts are still being read and explored, while my posts about the difficult changes at Etsy have garnered many comments and visits from fellow artists and handmade supporters/shoppers alike. This is an end of year peek at my most popular posts in 2014– a bit late!
Beneath the history dusted off for tourists in ghost walks and Tower of London grotesques, the spurned of London persist in collective memory. We will never really know their truth, and this is even more so with women’s stories…(read more)
While my hours are sometimes very long, and my callouses are painful, I still don’t have the resources for interns and personal assistants. The new Etsy would like to cater to sellers who outsource the making of their goods because it means more volume and money for them. The decision makers at Etsy are looking a lot like the big businesses insisting on the bottom line, and the creative hands and hearts that originally built the site are ransomed in the process…(read more)
What has essentially happened is this: Etsy used to be like a lovely little beach where you could go and find interesting little stones. Combing through the sand was fun, with many delightful surprises: a shell here, a piece of beach glass there. And then one day the authorities decided to use it as a dump, piling up plastic junk. You could still go there looking for little stones and shells, but you would have to wade through tons of refuse to find the treasures…(read more)
Every place has its symbol that defines it, captures its genius loci.
In London I worked in the City for a spell– one of the darker times in my life. I would often look to the guardian of that place– the pizzled dragon with its heraldic erection, and wonder. To survive the alienation and everyday struggle I would often call on dark things to help me. They were always there, waiting.
What a contrast now to find the sigil of this city, York, to be a white, five petaled mandala. I fell in love with it when I first saw it…(read more)
The creep of Fairy Knowe is 18 feet long– I scampered in and found the darkness warm– the shadows ocher colored. Inside was a feeling of safety, and wild information there for the taking, if one were to crawl further into one of the rooms…(read more)
The new year begins with the best intentions, changes to be put in place, new goals to be met. If you run a one-woman business, these changes have to be made real with a daily, weekly and monthly practice. Having just revamped my various schedules, I thought it would be a good time to share some of it with you.
For the past three and a half years my handmade business has grown from a hobby-based whim to a full time job. It didn’t just grow by happenstance; I had a plan.
This plan changes every year and involves daily, weekly, monthly and yearly tasks. Yearly accounting and taxes must be done. Holiday planning begins in the summer and each year I set myself a goal of a skill I would like to master. Last year it was cold-forging, this year it’s soldering.
Monthly tasks are scheduled for different weeks of the month:
the Birthday Club must be alerted. (Are you part of the fabulous Birthday Club? Special birthday greetings and savings await you! To join, send an email to feralstrumpet.info @ gmail.com with FERAL BIRTHDAY as the subject and the day and month of your birth as the content.)
And of course there is the Google Analytics glean once every full moon, give or take a phase.
schedule interesting social media posts for Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and Facebook. This is something that has definitely changed over the years. Facebook and Etsy have changed their policies and attitudes toward mirco businesses, and the one-woman shop has to invent other places to be seen and heard..
And somewhere in the week a day must be devoted to self-care and nurturing the creativity that drives it all. This is definitely new this year– I’ve learned this is a necessity.
There are also tasks that must be completed daily:
orders wrapped up
Packages taken to the post office
As well as a monthly and weekly tasks broken into doable chunks on an ongoing basis.
The first thing I do every morning is write out these “chunks” with a big circle next to them. I number these in the order they must be done and I get to colour them in when they are completed. I find this totally satisfying and necessary before I move on to the next task. It’s the little things, right? And it’s been little things, or big things made little, that have allowed me and my business to flourish.
Maybe that’s why I love making momento mori inspired jewellery– they are a reminder that how you spend your limited time gives life meaning!
It’s the Blackest of Fridays and I’m offering 20% off at both my independent shop as well as my Etsy shop with coupon code BLACKFRIDAY. It’s good for 24 hours, starting at 7am GMT. (offer can’t be used on reserved items, custom orders or retroactivley).
While many resist this, the darkest day of shopping, why not shine a light on your choices as a consumer? Choose to support small, microbusinesses like mine and know that not only are you getting a good deal and a unique handmade gift, you are also helping subvert the dominant business paradigm by helping an one-woman business flourish (might I say against all odds?)
In October of last year I wrote a post about my concerns regarding Etsy policy changes to allow manufacturing and drop shipping. A year on, how have these changes affected sellers and buyers? A great article by Sharon Whitehead of Brooklyn Accelerator discusses both, and prompted me to revisit this topic.
What has essentially happened is this: Etsy used to be like a lovely little beach where you could go and find interesting little stones. Combing through the sand was fun, with many delightful surprises: a shell here, a piece of beach glass there. And then one day the authorities decided to use it as a dump, piling up plastic junk. You could still go there looking for little stones and shells, but you would have to wade through tons of refuse to find the treasures.
I’m not competing with the two dollar, sweat shop made goods. I have more in common with the people making those sweat-shop goods than I have with the factory-floor managers or the designers sending their stuff to be duplicated in factories or the companies that own the factories. Etsy would like me to become like the managers and outsourcing designers. This has always been my bottom line, that I make in solidarity with those who do not have the luxury to set their own price and must work for an hourly wage decided be someone else. I am not in competition with them.
I’m convinced the Etsy shoppers who are buying the cheap, mass-produced goods are few, and they are not my customers. The widespread presence of those goods on Etsy makes it harder for my customers– both potential ones and loyal fans– to find my work on Etsy.
This was the edge Etsy gave makers– it put us up front in Search Engine Optimization and its effective, streamlined internal search meant that we were served up to customers who were looking for exactly what we make. It was great, for a short time.
It took less than a year for Etsy’s changes to take hold and have an effect on authentic makers, but it’s happening now. What’s at stake here is not the redifining of “handmade” to include “handmade by someone else”. We need to understand that all along Etsy was about supporting handmade microbusiness— businesses of one or two people doing it themselves and the magic of connecting to them as a consumer.
Last year when I saw that I would have these challenges ahead, I created my own web store and enrolled in a handmade business course. The course’s advice? Outsource my designs to a manufacturer. Pay someone else to make the things I’m making or burn-out and financial catastrophe awaited me. I’m stubborn enough to disregard this advice. I’ve gotten this far without compromising on this, and I’m going to keep to that.
Etsy used to send great business and sales advice emails, coaching sellers. I followed all their advice initially and it helped make my shop a success. Now the emails they send me are about how to outsource my work to a factory or how to make storage space for all the manufactured items I’ll be selling on Etsy after they come back from the factory. I don’t even read them anymore.
I feel lucky that I have loyal customers who continue to support my shop. You know who you are. You have put a roof over my head and food on the table and have paid the vet bills for my cats. I have a direct relationship with many of you and if I outsourced what I made I would lose that. I’m not willing to do that.
If you love my work, I would ask you to support my independent shop and give me feedback on your shopping experience there so I can continue to improve it. There will always be perks shopping at feralstrumpet.co.uk. Have you seen my SAMPLE SALE section of one-off designs? Did you know I have a Birthday Club- on your birthday month you get special savings only at feralstrumpet.co.uk? (Email feral.strumpet.info at gmail dot com with your birth month and day and I’ll add you to the club!).
I know there are some loyal customers who will prefer to shop on Etsy because they shop on their mobile devices and Etsy’s app for that is great. If you do want to shop for my work on Etsy, use the search term “feral strumpet” or “folk reveries” to find my work (and the work of my fab Folk Reveries team mates.) Be sure to favourite the items you like so you can go back to them because they might not be as easy to find in search as they have been in the past.
I stand by my statement last year. What I predicted has come to pass, but it’s even worse.
While my hours are sometimes very long, and my callouses are painful, I still don’t have the resources for interns and personal assistants. The new Etsy would like to cater to sellers who outsource the making of their goods because it means more volume and money for them. The decision makers at Etsy are looking a lot like the big businesses insisting on the bottom line, and the creative hands and hearts that originally built the site are ransomed in the process.
I know that someone out there who is tech-minded and passionate about handmade micro-business is already hard at work making something to replace Etsy. Whoever you are, I wish you godspeed.
In Sharon Whitehead’s insightful article, she offers advice for makers facing this drop in sales from Etsy’s changes. One suggestion is to “create a small network of fellow sellers” that goes beyond the Etsy Team model. Are you a maker with a companionable aesthetic to mine? Do you make other things besides jewellery, yet have a similar target market? Get in touch! Let’s work together to make better things happen.