When Lena Gosik-Wolfe started her first craft business selling custom 3D-printed cookie cutters in 2014, she noticed some sellers had difficulties growing their businesses. The merchants knew how to sell their products at the local craft markets but had no idea how to replicate their success on the internet. It might only take five minutes to create an Etsy page, she says, but it takes a lot of work to make your business succeed online.

“People think they can just throw it up there, take some pictures and it’s done, like a garage sale,” she says. “But if you really want to take yourself seriously as a business, you gotta keep improving, keep evolving.”

A year later, she started a second business, one aimed at helping crafters thrive at selling products online. So if you’re looking to start selling online or hoping to improve your cyber foot traffic, here are some tips from Gosik-Wolfe and other sellers on how to set up your digital storefront for success on Etsy or your personal website.

Do Your Paperwork First

There are two ways to approach starting your online store, says Gosik-Wolfe, who sells goods and services on both a personal website and an Etsy page. One, you can wait until your products are in high demand and then start building your online presence; or two, secure your web domain before you need it. She encourages people to do the latter.

By doing your due diligence before making the first sale, you’ll be saving yourself a massive headache when the company is ready to scale. This means researching to see if anyone already operates a business under the same company name, obtaining the necessary tax documents and business licenses and purchasing a web domain.

“It’s better to take it seriously and get that stuff in order from the start rather than having to go back and fix it later on,” Gosik-Wolfe says.

Know Your Target Audience

Deidre Anderson grew her business after learning she was selling to the wrong audience. Aileen Perilla/ The Penny Hoarder

Gosik-Wolfe tells everyone she works with to figure out what type of person will be interested in buying their products. Without that knowledge, setting up the rest of your Etsy page and finding customers becomes a lot more difficult.

Deidre Anderson was selling to the wrong crowd when she first opened her shop in 2013. Back then, she was designing handmade turban headbands for babies and children. Over time, the mothers kept asking her if she made them for adults. That’s when everything clicked: She stopped making headbands for kids and started designing them with patterns women would want to wear. “[Women] want them to be fun, trendy and look cute when their hair is in a bun,” she says.

Since making the change, her business has grown exponentially, with 1,500 online sales in the last six months.

Build Your Brand

Gosik-Wolfe works on a personal branding design for a client at her home office. Aileen Perilla/ The Penny Hoarder

Once you identify your ideal online customer, it’s time to build a web page that will catch their eye. Having an Etsy page that has a unique look, complete with an original company logo and cover image, colors and design makes all the difference, Gosik-Wolfe says. “It’s all about perception,” she says. “It’s about how people are seeing you because they can’t have that in-person experience.”

She compares designing the look of your Etsy page to setting up a brick-and-mortar storefront. The logo is the outside signage, while the cover photo and colors make up the interior design. Gosik-Wolfe warns that choosing to take the easy route by not creating an original company logo or using generic website templates will repel people from your page.

“People pick up on that kind of thing,” she says. “They can tell if you don’t care about your shop.” So create a brand that represents who you are and what appeals to your customers.

Photos and Product Descriptions Matter

Gosik-Wolfe designs and sells a variety of handcrafted goods on her Etsy site. Aileen Perilla/ The Penny Hoarder

One of the most significant hurdles crafters face when selling their products online is the loss of the tactile experience. At craft markets, people get to touch the items and feel the quality behind every stitch. Sure, a customer can email the seller about specific questions, but it’s not the same.

That’s why photos and product descriptions have to do the talking. Clear, brightly lit images highlighting the details of the items make a huge difference to the customer, Gosik-Wolfe says. In the past, Etsy wanted merchandise to be featured in front of white backgrounds similar to a magazine, but that changed. Anderson says she noticed an increase in sales once she started modeling her headbands. “People want to see how you are using the item rather than just a picture of it,” she says. “It gives them perspective, and they’re more likely to buy it.”

But photos alone can’t sell your products — shoppers need detailed descriptions to explain what they’re purchasing. “You want to be really clear about that, so you don’t hurt yourself in the long run,” Gosik-Wolfe cautions, referring to product returns. “That could lead to a lot of unhappy people who are getting something they thought was completely different.”

So be clear when writing your product descriptions. Include details such as sizing, dimensions, colors available and materials used. This will help eliminate any uncertainty about the product the customer will be receiving when it arrives.  

Always Be Learning

Etsy business owner Beth Gates learned that improving the photos on her site could yield her more money. She has since learned to take better photos and has hired professional photographers. Photo courtesy of Tierney Morgan.

When Beth Gates opened her first Etsy shop three years ago selling southern-style sundries and crochet items, she figured it would be easy. She thought that if you put your products for sale on Etsy, the rest takes care of itself. “Just because it’s online, it doesn’t mean it’s hands-off,” she says.

In her first six months, Gates made $400 selling online and didn’t expect much else from her digital store. Then around Christmas 2016, she decided to give it her all and treat running her Etsy page like a full-time job. She blocks out time every day, even as little as an hour, to improve her site. She started learning about search engine optimization so her page would be easier to find in Google searches, as well as how to take better photos and what’s needed to improve her personal brand.

After incorporating what she learned into her Etsy business, she made more than $4,000 in one year.

“Always be willing to learn new things,” she says. “Even if you think you know everything, things are constantly changing online. Especially with Etsy — just when I feel like I’ve got Etsy figured out, they change something.”

Tell Your Story

Crafters put their heart and soul into each item they create, so let your customers know that. A huge misfire Gosik-Wolfe sees Etsy sellers make is leaving the “about me” section blank at the bottom of their page.

This section is your opportunity to sell yourself to the customer as if they were standing in front of your booth at a craft market. Tell the story of why you opened your shop, why this is your passion and what makes your products unique. Before she was a seller, Gosik-Wolfe was a buyer who read the people’s “about me” page because she wanted to know if the sellers were qualified to make the items for sale.

“If people are really interested in your story, they’ll be more likely to look at all your items. I guarantee it,” she says. “Even if they’re not a buyer right away, they’re gonna look through things and say ‘I connect to this’ and they might just favorite you for later when they do need something.”

Matt Reinstetle is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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