I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Etsy jeweler and businesswoman, Barbara Polinsky, who has built a successful jewelry business over the past five years. We spotlighted Barbara’s cast-from-nature jewelry here on Rio Grande’s Blog back in April, but in today’s conversation she will share some of her best advice about how to find success on Etsy.com.
Selling as Barbara Michelle Jacobs on Etsy, she has been featured on Brides.com’s Summer Jewelry Finds 2010, Etsy Weddings, Lucky Magazine (Feb 2012), Refinery29, Huffington Post Weddings—where her work was the Etsy Handmade Object of the Week in October 2011, Glamour.com, and more.
My angle? I wanted to find out the secrets to Barbara’s success. Lucky for us, she was willing to share.
Barbara, who sells her beautiful engagement and wedding designs, including diamond and gemstone rings cast from twigs, discovered Etsy by chance when jewelry making was just a hobby. A New Yorker, she found twigs in Central Park and began casting them into rings. When she started her Etsy business, she was photographing her twig rings on an air conditioner over a busy avenue (the only place in her apartment where she liked the light). She lost a few twigs and rings that way, and now she hires someone to shoot because, as she says, it is very important to figure out how to focus, or “concentrate your time” for the most valuable effect on your business.
Barbara attributes a handful of things to her success:
- First, when Barbara began posting on Etsy, she answered potential customers’ questions and requests quickly and professionally.
- Next, Barbara demonstrated a willingness to accept special requests. In her conversations via Etsy’s convos (short for “conversation organization”), people asked her to set stones—a task she seldom does anymore—however, it was her accommodating and professional approach that really set her apart from her competition and this is when she saw her business begin to grow.
- As Barbara fulfilled these requests, she also increased her quality control and hired a photographer to give her exceptional photos.
- And finally, she improved her SEO (search engine optimization) efforts. Etsy is a huge marketplace, and if you don’t make sure that others can find you, you can be lost in a sea of jewelry and other goods sold there.
So, great photos, SEO on Etsy and Google, great customer service, and consistent quality. These are some of the building blocks of Barbara Polinsky’s success on Etsy.
The convo requests kept on coming: “Can you make a pair of earrings to match the ring I see in your Etsy store?” “Can you make a ring that has a slightly different design?” “Could you please make me a ring with a blue stone instead of the white one that I see here?”
I asked her how often she answers these convos. Daily? Nope, she answers them several times a day. That, my friends, is good customer service. She told me that it’s “not uncommon to answer 30 convos for a custom order.” She is, after all, selling a very emotional item that’s also a significant financial investment–the engagement ring–so it’s to be expected that many communications would go back and forth before the transaction is complete.
Barbara is a big fan of Etsy and Google. She says, “Etsy is amazing at building traffic,” and she has the following advice to offer. First, she suggests using Etsy’s search tool to determine whether your “gold pearl earrings” are going to stand out. (There are 250 pages of “gold pearl earrings” on Etsy. Hmph. Maybe not the most unique, stand-out choice.) Maybe if you tweak your words, then your “gold freshwater pearl filigree earrings” will get some attention. (There are only three pages of these.)
So, reader, this is your first test: Does your work stand out?
Next Barbara optimizes keywords so that she can be found through Etsy and Google search engines. She does this by researching on Google Keyword Tool which words she should be using. Next, she inserts these words in the body of her product description on Etsy, as well as in the title and the tags on the product. If too many other sellers are using your keywords, you won’t rise above the crowd. Barbara says, that’s how you know whether your product will be seen or buried; and it’s also how you know that your product is “keyword optimized.” Once you’ve established keywords that work for you, it’s important to review them from time to time.
Finally, Barbara gave some great advice aimed especially toward the beginning Etsy user. She said, “Be an Etsy customer before opening a store! It’s so helpful to experience a transaction from the customer’s perspective. Buy inexpensive items like greeting cards or handmade soap from both experienced and inexperienced sellers and observe the process.” I asked her frankly, what if someone is a great jewelry artist but not that experienced or talented at business? She said, “Well, no one is good at everything–some things come easier than others and we learn along the way. Just do the best you can. Try.” We talked about the advantage of joining Etsy teams, which are like support groups, but she also said that it’s great to have a friend with some business acumen that you can check in with. You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to try and you have to be flexible!
What if I’m brand new to Etsy? I asked Barbara how long I should wait for my first sale before I throw in the towel. She said that it depends on what your objective is. After you define your objective, you should choose a short-term strategy to meet the objective. For example, if you want to sell items to gain selling experience and feedback, you can set your prices low. Although you won’t make much money, you will meet your objective and gain experience. This is a common strategy on Etsy and sellers who do this usually increase margins after a few transactions.
If you want to build your store and sell at a higher margin, you should use social media strategically and set some simple goals for yourself. Your first month’s goal might be to post ten styles of jewelry. Your second month’s goal might be to examine your shop stats from month one and post another ten styles. Ask yourself, what have I learned? Make some changes and see what happens. The six-month goal might be to assess it all: Did you enjoy what you were doing? What worked, what didn’t? Should you change your objective for the next period? Etsy is a tool similar to many of the jewelry-making tools available at Rio. Used skillfully, the results can be amazing—so be prepared for the learning curve.
Overall, Barbara says, don’t be disappointed if your sales don’t come quickly. If someone asks for clarification about your product, then consider that an opportunity to clarify your online description for all your buyers!
Can you ever go on vacation if you run an Etsy store? I mean, the internet never sleeps. Her answer? Sure, Etsy allows you to put your shop on vacation mode and your listings become dormant. When you get back you just flip it back on. “Before I leave,” Barbara says, “I contact all customers with open orders to confirm that everything is on schedule and to let them know I will be in touch when I return.”
Thanks, Barbara, for the great advice!
See more of Barbara’s style on Etsy: Her Bucolic Setting diamond engagement ring, Eleven Wishes diamond wedding band, and Willow Brooch, an elegant compliment to her rings. She also can be found on her website, Barbara Michelle Jacobs and on Facebook.
We’d love to hear about your Etsy experiences—as a buyer or a seller. Share your wisdom—or questions—by leaving a comment!