Author:
Laura MacGregor

Laura MacGregor is a marketer by day and a knitter and crocheter by night. Along with her grandmother, Marion, she runs an Etsy shop called Marion’s Mittens that features mittens (of course!) and lots more including scarves, hats, baby afghans, and sweaters. She loves her old farmhouse, Instagram, and traveling.

3 Successful Strategies for Selling Handmade

Maker
11/6/2018

My name is Laura and my shop, Marion’s Mittens, is a creative outlet for me to have fun outside my full time marketing job. Marion’s Mittens has been on Etsy for just over six years. It all started when my grandmother, Marion, handed me a stack of mittens. She’s been knitting since she was a teenager and has made thousands of pairs of mittens for her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids – not to mention church sales and other donations. She wanted me to sell them “online,” whatever that meant. (She’s 88 and has never used a computer.) I took some terrible photos and opened an Etsy shop that same day. People started to place orders and the shop has evolved from there. Along the way I learned to knit and crochet, too. I’m how happily hooked and glad to be featured on the Hook Nook life!

Marion’s Mittens is and always will be a small scale operation. Our work is slow knitting. An adult pair of mittens takes all day to make. Sure, we could try machinery or outsourcing or using chunkier yarn and bigger needles to speed up the process. But we love our mittens too much to change them. So I have a “day job” to pay the bills and knit and run my Etsy shop for fun.

Is it challenging to balance working full time with running an Etsy shop on the side? Absolutely. Establishing a shop takes time. In the beginning you have to put a lot of effort into building the basics (photos, titles, tags, descriptions, measurements, etc.). After your shop is established, the time spent shifts over to filling orders, continuously improving your listings, and promotion. I have developed some strategies for success and managing it all with limited time.

Strategy #1 – Plan Ahead

This seems like a no-brainer, but planning ahead really takes the stress out of managing an Etsy shop. Here are some things I do ahead of time that keep things running smoothly:

  • Pay attention to key dates. I run sales at certain times throughout the year, like my shop’s Etsy anniversary, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. It only takes a couple of hours to set up the promo codes and write and schedule the emails in MailChimp. The program does the rest for me.
  • Order supplies in bulk. This is a tip that you might already be taking advantage of for the cost savings. I order a year’s worth of mailers, labels, inserts, and other items. I never have to worry about having the right shipping supplies on hand.
  • Write three months worth of blog posts and schedule them. I post every other week, so it’s not too time consuming to write six posts all in one go. If you’re a more frequent poster, you could try doing a month’s worth at a time. I write so much better when I get into a creative groove rather than forcing something so I don’t miss a self-imposed deadline.

Strategy #2 – Limit “Made to Order” and Set Reasonable Expectations

Whether to base my shop on made to order or selling ready-made items has always been a bit of a struggle for me. Ultimately, I decided to sell from an inventory of ready-made goods because it means my customers can receive their items faster. It also means that I don’t have to rush through making something to meet a deadline. And there’s no overwhelming feeling if a big wave of orders comes in at the same time.

That’s not to say there should be absolutely no customization options for your customers. For example, my mittens for babies and kids are available with or without a crocheted string to connect the mittens. (It’s built-in loss prevention!) The mittens listed in my shop are already knitted, and if someone chooses the string option, I just have to crochet one and sew it on. That’s a good compromise for me.

Most sellers receive custom order requests. My best tip for handling these is build in a little more time than you think you need to make and ship the item. Life happens and it’s so much better to deliver early than late. This same strategy applies to setting your shipping timeframe for all items. I state that my orders will ship within 1-3 business days. I’m pretty sure I can do it within one day, but those extra two days give me peace of mind if I have to work late, can’t schedule a package pickup in time, or something else gets in the way of meeting a shorter deadline. If you think you need a week, then make your policy 7-10 days.

Strategy #3 – Don’t Burn Out

A full time job comes with its own stresses. Add on family, an Etsy shop, and any obligations you have, and a “perfect storm” of stress and time conflicts is bound to happen at some point. It’s tempting to sign up for a bunch of craft fairs or branch out to include new product lines. That stuff is fun! Makers love to create! But in the long run you may be happier and less stressed if you maintain a balance. For example, if your full time gig is as a CPA doing tax return preparation, you might want to minimize commitments and increase shipping timeframes while you are busiest from January to April.

The holiday season can be especially stressful. It’s not only often the busiest sales period for handmade sellers, you also have to think about your own holiday shopping and celebrations. There are lots of tips out there for preparing your shop for the holidays. You can spend the summer making inventory, ensure you have a cut-off time for shipping orders, and start your personal preparations early so you can focus on your shop during the holiday rush.

If you feel like you’re about to crash and burn, do something about it. Put your Etsy shop on vacation mode or ask someone to help you. It’s better to pause and take a breath than do less than your best and receive a negative review from an unhappy customer.

Setting up a schedule to streamline your processes might be helpful during an especially stressful time. For example, you could wake up 30 minutes earlier to ship orders before you head to work, and use 30 minutes at your lunch break to respond to inquiries. Limit yourself to a certain amount of time to create and handle administrative tasks in the evening. Write a list so you can see what’s most important to do first. Build in breaks and downtime so you can take care of yourself, mentally and physically.

Remember, selling handmade items is something you wanted to do. It’s not a requirement. It’s okay to step back and take a break if you need it. Your shop will be waiting for you when you return. Try different strategies to help you work smarter, not harder. Planning ahead, setting realistic expectations, and thinking about how to avoid burnout are great strategies for ensuring selling your handmade items is just as fun as making them!

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