Have you considered selling your jewelry designs online? Are you already giving it a shot? Chuck Domitrovich, of Down to the Wire Designs, has been selling on Etsy since May of 2006, right around the time of the site’s inception. Since that time, he has amassed almost 4,800 sales, an average of nearly 600 sales per year.
We asked Chuck for his top five tips for success on Etsy, and he graciously offers them here for your benefit!
Chuck’s Five Tips for Success on Etsy
Take great pictures!
If you’re going to sell online, you need to represent your work well with good photography. Since customers can’t see your work in person, you need to convey the quality of your work through your photos. These days, good photography is easier than ever. With a decent digital camera, it is remarkable the quality of photos you can achieve with very little experience.
The great thing about digital cameras is that you can take as much time as you need to teach yourself the basics without having to spend a lot of money on film or developing. When I first started on Etsy, I used a stark white background. I wanted the photos to look clean and the pieces to stand out. But against the white background of an Etsy shop, the pieces looked very dark. I asked my friends to critique my shop and they all made the same observation. So, I grudgingly shot all new photos. This time I used colored backgrounds—simple scrapbooking papers that did not clash with the jewelry but made the photos pop to life. The results were dramatic—I got my first sale within a week. From that point on I was enthusiastic about selling online.
Most people are surprised, when they ask about my photos, to find out that I use a simple point and shoot camera. I have no lenses and no special lighting set up. But the camera has an amazing macro mode feature. When I went to the camera store, this was my first priority. The salesman immediately picked up this model (a Sony DSC-T70), turned it on, pushed a couple buttons on the push screen, and then immediately turned the camera around, held it up to his eye, and without any hesitation, clicked a photo. When he turned the camera to face me, the screen was filled with a perfect photo of his eye. Everything was in focus; the details were crisp and the colors were great. I bought one without a second thought.
For lighting, I use simple clip-on lamps from the hardware store and shine them through a white acrylic dome that I bought online. I use GE Reveal bulbs that mimic natural daylight. One important thing about lighting is to avoid conflicting light sources. If you do not have an enclosed light box and use incandescent bulbs to directly light your work, make sure you do not have a different type of overhead lighting because the camera preset will read one but not the other and the photo will be off.
[Editor’s note: We sell a great product for lighting, here at Rio, called the Digital Lighthouse]
When I started selling on Etsy, I had no photography experience at all. So, to master my camera, I made a chart of all its standard settings (the lighting modes and the color modes) and I took a photo of one of my colored background sheets. With each photo I would move to the next setting on my chart and repeat the photo. When I was done, I hooked the camera to my computer and clicked through the photos one at a time, comparing them to the background paper itself to see which captured the color and details the best. It was easy to narrow it down to one or two preset combinations and pick the best one. Now my camera is always on those settings and I can get good photos with very little effort. I do minimal post-processing of my photos, the bulk of it being merely to crop and resize them. When reviewing my photos, I will sometimes find tiny flaws in my work that I could not see with my naked eye—a good macro focus can make your work look sloppy if you’re not paying attention.
[Editor’s note: Be sure to check out our recent Photography Primer for Jewelry Artists post which includes more great tips from renowned photographer Jim Lawson!]
Take your shop seriously.
In fact, treat it as if it were a real brick and mortar store. One challenge that brick and mortar stores face is effectively displaying their products. You have the same challenge with your online shop. Your photos not only need to show off your work, but your shop should also have a nice cohesiveness quality—It should present well as a whole.
My photos use the same background (now shale instead of the colored paper) from item to item. If I use props in my photos, they too are consistent. Your descriptions should convey professionalism. You are selling work to customers who will only see it in a photo until it arrives in their mailbox, so you need to describe it to them adequately. Tell them how it’s made and the materials that are used. Tell them the custom options that you allow, your turnaround time, and your shipping options. If there is a nice story behind the piece, tell it. People who buy handmade work want a connection with the artist, so give that to them.
Beyond the piece itself, you need to let your customers know that you are responsible and reliable and that you are going to follow through with making their piece and sending it on time. Convey this in your listings and use this same approach with your store policies and any other parts of your shop that are accessible to the public. The more seriously you present yourself, the more seriously you will be taken. And the more seriously you are taken, the more a customer will trust you enough to purchase.
Finally, don’t scrimp on good customer service. Answer your emails promptly. Keep your customers in the loop when it comes to the status of their order—when will it be finished? When will it ship? Good customer service will earn you good feedback and that will earn you trust. I always include a short hand-written note with my work when I ship it out, and I have received more than one comment of appreciation for that personal touch. Sometimes the smallest gestures can speak the loudest.
Always be ready to adapt and recognize opportunities when they come your way.
The exciting thing about selling online is that things are always changing. The terrifying thing about selling online is that things are always changing.
The key to success today might not work tomorrow. When I first joined Etsy, the community was small and it was easy for me to stand out. Within two months of signing up, I was asked to be the featured seller for a week. It was a huge opportunity and it really kick-started my sales. It would be nearly impossible to gain that kind of easy recognition on Etsy today. But while building a bigger profile within the Etsy community itself is an ineffective strategy today, the underlying idea still holds value—you want to have the biggest online presence that you can. Participate in social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), feature your work wherever you can (Flickr, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.), and take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way.
The online world is full of blogs and other sites looking for content—you can provide that to them by telling your story. And if you do it right, people will share your story for you by linking to blogs or posts that feature your work.
The thing I find most frustrating about selling online is that the rules are constantly changing. The new exciting site on which you are promoting your work right now might be yesterday’s news a year from now and you might find yourself starting over somewhere else.
Sites like Google and Bing, and even Etsy, use proprietary algorithms to create even more effective search engines and then they change these formulas to keep people from gaming the system. So, the fact that your Google ranking is high today is no guarantee that it will remain high, even if you keep doing the things that brought you success initially—especially if you keep doing the same thing. There are companies out there that specialize in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) who can help you optimize your search ranking if you want to go that route, but I prefer to focus on the tags I use to describe my work. I think if your work is consistently creative and high quality, you can let it speak for you.
That is not to suggest that you ignore promoting your work online, it’s just a reminder to put the work before that. I would rather describe my work in a more human way that connects with my customers than according to whichever formula Google chooses to recognize. This is a very fine line though. You need to accept the reality of the online world if you’re selling there, but for every site that very carefully follows search engines’ rules, there are viral successes that just had the right idea at the right time. I think a lot of people are intimidated by the idea of selling online because they focus on the technical aspects, which might be unfamiliar to them. But, if you are selling handmade work, your customers generally want a more genuine, human experience. So, building personal relationships can often be as important as building links between content.
It is hard to keep up with the fast pace of the online marketplace, so it is good to have allies. I am part of an Etsy team called EtsyMetal. We are all metalsmiths with shops on Etsy facing similar challenges. If Etsy makes a change that affects the way your work is seen or discovered, it’s a good bet that someone in my group has heard something about it. We have our own message board and a group on Facebook.
There are teams on Etsy for almost every type of craft sold on the site, as well as groups that are dedicated to business concerns or promoting each other’s work. In addition, Etsy has a community forum where sellers can be kept up to date on changes, and Etsy’s administrators can ask for suggestions. Following the forums is another way to stay in tune with what is going on within Etsy and, sometimes even, changes outside of Etsy.
Has Facebook changed their rules for linking your personal page to your business page? Has the post office just changed their insurance rates? Someone on the forums is likely to know.
Even though the online world is very different from the world of brick and mortar stores, advertising is still the best strategy for drawing attention to one’s self and one’s work. The trick is knowing where to put your dollars. I tried advertising my online shop in a print magazine one time and it was completely ineffective—which is no surprise when you think about the fact that someone would have to write down the URL to your shop and type it into their computer to access it. Not many people these days will take that extra step. Advertising online sidesteps this drawback by providing a direct link between the ad and your shop.
My advice for online advertising is to find a blog or website that you think will speak to the same people who buy your work. If you make children’s clothes, find a blog that focuses on children or motherhood. If your work is stylish and modern, find a nice design-oriented blog. There are blogs out there on pretty much every subject, so there are no shortages of advertising opportunities. A good blog will have statistics to show their reach—both the numbers of people and the demographics that describe those people. Avoid blogs with low readership numbers or those with readers who do not match up with your clientele. Advertising is often priced by the month and the prices can vary wildly according to the size of the ad or the blog. If you can pay back what you spend by making a few extra sales each month, then your ad was worthwhile.
Facebook also sells ads for the business pages there and I have found them to be pretty effective. Facebook sells these ads by a complicated formula whereby ads are charged each time someone clicks the ad and goes to your shop or by someone liking your page.
Although it might seem like the click option is the obvious choice, the more people who like your page, the bigger the network that your page commands. Every person who likes your ad is a link to their friends with similar tastes and values. Plus, every time I post something to my business page, many of the people who have liked that page will then see that post, so the ad might be less effective for immediate sales but could have a much longer reach.
With Facebook’s ads, you set a budget and a timeline for the ad and it will run until those expire, at which time they can be renewed. Although you can’t always tell where an Etsy sale is coming from, you can, through your Etsy stats page, see where people are coming from when they visit your shop and compare those numbers to a month when you were not running the ad. Facebook also allows you to target who sees your ads by age, sex, education level, and a variety of interests. I will sometimes get customers on Etsy who tell me that they found me on Facebook. I have also made many sales directly from Facebook with people emailing me about either the ad or something they have seen on my page.
In my own experience, advertising goes further than concerning myself with SEO and the other technical aspects of selling online. I am able to target my audience more directly and assure that people see my ad and sometimes respond to it, rather than just hoping that people will find me on Google.
These are just five simple suggestions that will help you find success selling online, particularly on Etsy. There is no magic combination that guarantees success, though. It’s a lot of hard work, time spent learning new things, and definitely a fair amount of luck. But if you are willing to treat your business with the seriousness that it deserves, you can figure out the right combination that works for you.
Chuck’s motto is “Taking over the world one piece of jewelry at a time.” He is a true inspiration for starting something great…one step at a time. His tenacity has resulted in an amazing line of handcrafted jewelry. Chuck has combined a spirit of entrepreneurship and an artistic ambition to create not just beautiful jewelry, but also a community of loyal followers and a successful business.
If you sell online, or have thought about taking the leap to sell online, here are a few more resources to consider:
- Should you set up your own e-commerce site? Or use a popular platform like Etsy instead? Or both? Here’s a great article that outlines some pros and cons of e-commerce vs. Etsy. This article also mentions other sites like Etsy that are not as hugely popular, and therefore a little easier to get noticed.
- For another handful of tips, check out this article on Handmadeology about selling on Etsy.
- A few years ago, one of my colleagues decided that she would start an Etsy shop, not to sell necessarily, but to document the process for those who are considering Etsy as a way to create income. Here is the tale of Amy’s road to Etsy.
We would love to hear about your road to selling online. Do you have any stories, questions, or apprehensions? Let us know. How can we help you be an online-sales success?