This one’s for the crafter or artist who has, as of yet, only delved into the real, “offline” world of selling their art, craft, or vintage wares. Here’s a chance to transform from a physical “brick and mortar” seller into a lovely online indiepreneurial swan!
(…We’re joking with that crack about the swan.) As most successful artists and crafters would agree, you need to do what is best for you, and there is no one right approach for everyone. Many choose to sell through boutiques, galleries, trade shows, craft fairs, and other venues in addition to selling online. An online presence is just another option, with its own perks and drawbacks.
So, why get online?
Online Storefronts Have Low Overhead
Get online and stake your claim on some sweet ‘n’ cheap web real estate! The low cost associated with an online presence is pretty hard to beat. A perfect starting point for online marketing is your own web address, or url. (This will act as your home base to which you can direct all your marketing efforts. Ideally, it will be someplace where people can buy your work, but at the very least, consider a photo sharing or portfolio hosting site.) If you have the ability or the resources, you can build your own website, or you could join a site that hosts independents shops, which is very affordable. Of course, we recommend Etsy (we work here!), but many options are available with varying features and costs. (You can get all the details on opening an Etsy shop here.) Cobblerscabin points out that there are “no major expenses in starting online as there are in craft fairs such as tents, entrance fees, displays, etc. You don’t have to transport all your items and do set ups and take downs.” But remember, even if you only wish to present your crafts or artwork to brick and mortar stores or galleries within your city, an online address can be just the professional calling card you need show off your latest work — especially as more and more people are using the internet as a research tool prior to reaching out and making an initial contact.
Which brings us to our next point…
Peer Pressure (Get Online — Everybody’s Doing It)
The digital era is here and now, and online shopping is leading the charge. You can find virtually anything online, and there’s a good chance shoppers will be interested in what you’re listing for sale! Even shoppers that might primarily buy from you in a shop or craft fair might want to find you later. MamaVSoap underscores the benefit of having a web presence, “As a buyer, I have a problem when I purchase a small item at a craft fair and then can never find the seller again.” Use your virtual calling card to reach not only the masses, but also your fellow maker community!
Pervasive Time and Space
You can reach an audience of potential customers beyond borders and make connections to people in foreign countries. This opens your shop up to different time zones, and, even more close to home, you can “extend your hours” by having an online presence. gufobardo, who is based in Sardinia, likes that her shop is open 24/7. The internet never sleeps! We’ve witnessed this right here at Etsy, as it has grown into more and more of a global marketplace. The internet also doesn’t have bad weather!
HendersonPipes has been disappointed by craft fair turn outs,”Paying a large table fee and then having Michigan weather dump a bunch of snow, keeping people home, is a huge downer.” That said, being “placeless” online can be challenging — where do you hang your sign for all to see? You’ll need to put yourself in front of “virtual foot traffic” where online shoppers will find links to your items. Many sellers do this by purchasing using Search Ads, joining group marketplaces where they know shoppers will be searching for products with keywords or “tags“, and by generating buzz through print and blog coverage. Another challenge? “It’s difficult to stop ‘working’ on your Etsy shop. It’s so much fun, it’s hard to say ‘I’m done for the day,'” says littleTstudio.
No Face Time
This is one aspect of selling online that feels very different for the real-life-entrenched, and for some folks, the lack of face-to-face interaction with customers is a bonus. Selling online works particularly well for shy people or people that have a hard time acting as a “salesperson live and in person” as thedreamygiraffe put it, and hey, also people who like to stay in their pajamas all day! Parents who want to be with their children can work from home, as BululuStudio noted. But for some people, selling online feels, well, isolating and too “computery.” In other words, if you thrive off of your embodied presence, it may take some time to figure out how to translate that through a keyboard.
Direct emails or the Etsy email system (called Conversations, or Convos) are a fairly intimate way of communicating with customers, and it’s up to you to find your own professional/friendly tone. Online language may be chirpier and come in quick spurts (especially for Twitterers), whereas some forum-regulars prefer on-going text-based discussions or the real-time, webcam-enabled Online Labs. Bloggers will tell you that sharing their lives and creative processes through their blogs can garner them quite a following. So in a way, you get to document your life and have your face-time on your own terms (on your good hair days). All kidding aside, it’s an art form in itself to be able to express your personality and your vision largely through text and photos. There is the flip side of face-time: you’ll need to get close to your postal carrier!
Get the Tech (the Hard and Software of Selling Online)
We know a couple of people who seem to have this electric charge running through their bodies that makes computers just randomly start whirring and hiccuping until they’re kaput. So if this is you, you need to do something about that (take tai-chi classes?), because there’s no denying that you’re going to need some electronic equipment if you want to sell online. Once that’s taken care of, the required gadgetry is pretty straightforward. You’ll need a digital camera. You’ll need a fairly speedy internet connection. You’ll need a computer with enough juice to store photos and run a word-processing program. And you’ll need to enjoy these things! It takes time and passion to shoot photos that conjure the artistry of your pieces. You have to be able to sign in and check on your online presence often. Just because you aren’t physically there, doesn’t mean you don’t have to be virtually “there” and checking to see if you got messages or sales.
It can be daunting, true, but launching your online presence can be a very fruitful endeavor if you stick with it. One of the most amazing things about Etsy is the community of sellers who will share advice and how-tos. We will welcome you!
What do YOU tell your friend or loved one who views selling online with trepidation, but has the potential to start an Etsy shop that would blow everyone away? Comment below!
Vanessa Bertozzi is a Senior Manager for Etsy Wholesale, a private, juried section of the Etsy marketplace. Since starting at Etsy in 2007, she has launched the Etsy Blog and led teams focused on seller education and community.