Summary: I tried and failed at my attempt to run a successful Etsy business. It wasn’t a complete waste of time though. Here are the important lessons I learned that are applicable to being an online entrepreneur and any online business you start.
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 pieces that would be perfect for my big day. 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 in 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. I was just trying to figure out where I fit in. 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 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. I wanted to share some of those lessons here.
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 can probably guess, it didn’t quite work that way.
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 unique (aka not like what other people were already producing) and then put it out there.
Doing that requires vulnerability to be willing to put your ideas out there and confidence to own the product you love. If you don’t love them, then no one else will either.
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 in general.
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. A crucial tool as an entrepreneur.
Marketing is essential in a product-based business online
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 hits.
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 what ads to use to how to create content that appeals to a reader.
Be honest about your strengths (and weaknesses)
I’m one of those people that has a lot of great ideas but actually executing 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.
You don’t have to try to learn how to do everything yourself.
There’s a lot of bootstrapping talk in online business, but spending hours and hours learning how to do something isn’t always the best choice. You could simply pay someone else to do that thing quickly while you’re using your talents in other ways to grow your business.
Value your time and expertise
With an Etsy shop, you have to decide on your own prices. This sounds simple but when you know that the items cost a certain amount of money and then you’ve got to factor in your time, it can get kind of uncomfortable asking a price for your product.
Are you charging too much? Or too little?
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.
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 where 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 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.
Entrepreneurial takeaway: Being willing to learn new things is important as an entrepreneur because you may want to do something and need to learn a 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.
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.
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