Have you ever tried a business idea only to have it completely fail?
That’s what happened when I tried to start an Etsy business selling handmade jewerly.
While in the eyes of many it was a failure, it wasn’t a complete waste of time.
God is always teaching us something in everything we do, including failed business attempts. When you try something and it doesn’t work, you have to pause and look for the lessons to really learn what you need to have more success in your next endeavor.
With that said, here are the important lessons I learned and want to share with you so you can learn from my failure. These are applicable to starting any online business so they have value to anyone starting a business.
Why start an Etsy business in the first place?
My first exposure to the fact that people could make money online was through Etsy. When I got engaged in 2012, I quickly found Etsy as a place where I could get really unique items that would be perfect for my wedding.
I remember thinking it was so cool how people were turning their craft hobby and skill into a way to make money.
Fast forward about 2 years, and I’d just finished grad school but really didn’t want to be on that career path anymore. For the first time, I was getting the entrepreneurial itch. I remembered that Etsy experience from my wedding planning days and thought I would try my hand at selling handmade items on Etsy.
I mean how hard could it really be?
Let’s just say a lot harder than it looked.
Over the next year, I attempted (and failed) at having a successful Etsy business.
I tried my hand at all sorts of crafts from photography to jewelry making. What I was really trying to do was figure out what my unique gifts were so that I could turn that into a business I would love.
After tons of money on supplies and hours spent learning how to actually make things, all that ended up happening was I sold 3 items… to a friend of mine.
Some might look at that experience and think it was a waste of time, but there’s always a lesson in everything we do; especially in the failures.
Lessons Learned from my (failed) Etsy business
I know I definitely learned a ton about myself and online business in the process, and these lessons have influenced every step of my journey as an entrepreneur since then.
Being creative requires confidence
This was something that took me by surprise. I really thought that if I had a creative idea, then I would just make it and sell it and make money. As you know if you’ve tried to sell anything you’ve personally created, it’s not quite that easy.
The biggest thing I realized was that to be truly creative in a way that was marketable on Etsy, I had to be willing to create something that wasn’t like what other people were already producing for it to stand out.
Doing that requires vulnerability where you are so in love with your design that you are willing to face people’s rejection in hopes of that one right person seeing beauty in it as you do.
But to do this, you really have to think your product has value.
At the time, I honestly didn’t have the confidence to do something like that. Over the course of that year, I started figuring out what my style was truly like and started to inch closer and closer to that, but I never really achieved it.
Turns out this lesson on confidence is one that’s been so important as an entrepreneur and even as a mom.
Entrepreneurial takeaway: You’ve got to be willing to create a product or do something that’s unique and totally yours to be marketable. A lot of times you have to be super vulnerable when you put that course idea out there or that book or even a simple blog post.
You’ve really got to have the courage to do it regardless of what level of confidence you really have.
This actually led to a fascination with how people are innovative and create things in the first place. Another crucial tool as an entrepreneur.
Marketing is essential in an online business
When I started selling on Etsy, I really thought it would be like Pinterest made it seem. I would put up my items and people would just start buying them.
I quickly realized that the market was already very flooded, even then. When I searched for “earrings” I would get 2 million results. That means 2 million other options for people to sift through and choose which they would purchase.
Marketing was going to be very important, but I had no clue how to begin marketing. I was a PhD research scientist. What did I know about marketing?
I started learning more and more about it, and while I didn’t master it before I closed my Etsy shop, marketing is now one of my favorite things to learn about.
Entrepreneurial takeaway: Marketing is an integral part of your success. No matter what kind of business you have, marketing is going to be a part of that business.
From my Etsy experience, I put my toe in the water and started learning more about it and that started a deep dive into marketing from figuring out how ads work to learning how to create content that solves problems for readers.
Be honest with yourself about your strengths (and weaknesses)
I’m one of those people that has a lot of great ideas but actually executing them doesn’t quite match up with my vision. This was especially true with crafts.
I have some artistic inclination but I’m definitely not an artist. Too much of a scientist brain for that.
I would spend hours and hours trying to learn how to make jewelry and then it would turn out mediocre at best.
Even though I kept trying to master this skill, it really taught me that I should just be honest about my strengths and weaknesses. Sure I wanted to make earrings because I love them, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing for me to be making.
I think this had an impact on how my Etsy store turned out because I was producing products at such a slow pace.
Entrepreneurial takeaway: Sometimes there are going to be things that you’re great at and then there are going to be things that you’re not so great at and it’s ok.
Just because you like something (like earrings) doesn’t mean that’s a business direction for you.
Learn how to see what’s a good business idea vs just something you enjoy. Sometimes, trying it out first is the only way to really know that, but if you can figure it out before you go too far down that path, it’ll serve you well.
Value your time and expertise
As with any business, you have to set your own prices with an Etsy shop. Yes, there are market prices for comparison, but it becomes a little tricky when you factor in things like the uniqueness of your item, the materials, time, etc.
So essentially, you get to decide the prices. This was the first time I’d ever sold something, so it took me out of my comfort zone for sure.
This connects back to the confidence thing. You have to be confident in your own worth and your product to charge a reasonable amount for your products so you can actually become profitable in your business.
Entrepreneurial takeaway: This is always going to be something that you have to do as an entrepreneur. If you’ve got products and services that you offer, you have to decide what price point you’re going to charge. The same thing applies when you have to figure out the true value of the item and have the confidence to charge that.
Being willing to learn is crucial in business
With my Etsy business, I really wanted to make earrings but had no clue how to actually create them. I spent hours learning all I could about the different techniques I could use to make jewelry.
While that ultimately didn’t pay off in terms of my Etsy business, I learned that business isn’t just have an idea and go. There is always something to learn and something to improve to have a successful business.
Entrepreneurial takeaway: Being willing to learn new things is important as an entrepreneur because you may want to do something and need to learn new software or a new method to get your message out there. Technology is constantly changing so you’re bound to need to learn new things at some point in your business. Being willing to adapt and learn is going to serve you.
Know when to pivot
When I started my Etsy shop, I wanted to make sure that I really tried the best I could before just giving up.
There’s a fine line there, and I also know I can be stubborn, so I really had to make sure I was continuing to work on the business because I still had more to work on versus me working on something that wasn’t going anywhere because I didn’t want to admit defeat.
When we decided to move back to Nashville, I realized that I didn’t really enjoy the process of making handmade goods. I dreaded getting all of the materials back out to try my hand at it again. That’s when I realized that, while I learned a lot, it was time to look for other online business ideas.
Entrepreneurial takeaway: When you start a business, there will be lots of doubt, fear and failures along the way. Learning how to really tune into your reasons behind what you’re doing is going to be important.
Don’t give up just because it’s hard but also don’t be stubborn and continue to go down a path that isn’t right. This is a hard one to navigate for sure.
Pivoting doesn’t mean failing or giving up as long as you know you tried your best and are taking the lessons learned and applying them to the new direction you pursue.
Even though my Etsy business failed, it wasn’t a waste of time. I learned so much about business and myself. These are things that have helped me as an entrepreneur and will definitely help you in your own entrepreneurial journey as well.
Here’s a recap of the lessons learned:
Being creative requires confidence
Marketing is essential
Be honest about your strength
My time and expertise are valuable
Learning is crucial
It’s important to know when to pivot
Have you tried a business and it failed? What are some lessons you actually learned that made it a great learning experience and not a total waste of time? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.