Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Two ways to get sales on Etsy

I think I've realized that when you get down to basics, there are only two ways to get sales:

1) You can find people for your products
2) You can make products for your people

In 2011 during my first three months on etsy, I had two sales. Last month I had 100. I think a lot of people focus on item #1: they spend a lot of time trying to get views.... I never really did that. I used social media (twitter, facebook, pinterest) just for fun... never posted my own items there unless I made something that my friends might truly appreciate. I didn't consider my social media followers to be my target audience... I assumed that the people who visit etsy and search around to buy stuff were my target audience.

The only "item 1" thing I did was make sure that if someone did happen to run across my item on a search screen, they'd be tempted to click it... I asked for shop critiques, checked titles, read about SEO, made sure I'd show up in the search. I tried to make my photos look nice in thumbnail, landscape orientation.

Once that was done, I focused on #2: making products people might be interested in. To a point, of course... I wasn't going to make something just because it would sell, I had to be my authentic self and list designs that made me happy. But I made lots of product line my first year. I read everything Etsy published about merchandizing and trends. I joined EtsyTrades.com to see which items in my shop were a bit more "in demand", and paid lots of attention to those "favorite item from the shop above you" type threads that teams sometimes start.

I purposefully avoided any team promotion games that promised me automatic hearts or views. I wanted to look at my shop stats and know what people REALLY liked in my shop, on their own without any requests. In fact now I have way more sales than favorites, because I've never worked for favorites... I worked for sales. I was obsessed with stats, taking an example from Etsy admins here who are always answering our questions about tests with their results of what's going on with the data. I considered every listing to be a new experiment.

I looked up the best selling shops to see what they were selling. Any time I ran across a shop that seemed overwhelmed, whose announcement said "I've got so many orders my Christmas deadline is in August" sort of thing, I made a mental note of what they were selling. I avoided flooded markets.

And in the end, slowly, it paid off! One listing at a time, one sale at a time, I felt out this place and learned what worked... and now that I've got a few thousand sales under my belt I feel really good about my shop and the time I spend every night packing up orders for people all around the world.

I'd like to hear from some other successful shops... how did you change your product line from the time you started? What resources did you use to find out what would sell?

Or maybe someone wants to debate me :) Is there some trick to the "find people" objective that I missed, maybe it really does work, maybe it worked for you?

There's no way that works for everyone, that's why I love hearing from others... what worked for you?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

My Visit to Etsy

Last week I visiting New York when I get this tweet from @ansate asking if I'd want to swing by the Etsy offices in Brooklyn for a visit. My response was "seriously?!" Well, seriously! I guess she'd been following me because we're both women in tech and cool like that, happened to be in town instead of remoting in from portland, and wanted to learn to give official Etsy tours anyway and this was a great opportunity. I was thrilled!

The thing is, I spent a LOT of time on Etsy because I run a shop (spacefem.etsy.com) that pulls me into shipping 2-3 bags of fabric around the world every day, and I'm in way too many Etsy Teams, and I dink with the API all the time... so the idea of visiting in person almost threw me, I was like "Am I in trouble? Too weird? Will I be able to act normal?"

Well I totally acted normal, it went great! And I learned some things by visiting the office and seeing a cool trendy tech company at work. There are some similarities between Etsy and any workplace, I certainly saw things that are the same as where I work. There are totally unique things too.

I should mention here that I am a "glass half full" seller. Most of my interactions with other sellers is in the Etsy teams and forums, where everyone constantly acts like THE SKY IS FALLING if Etsy chooses to move a link five pixels to the left... so I on purpose did not tell my Etsy friends that I was visiting Etsy. I felt a little awful about that. But I was afraid they'd just be on me to complain and that was not my goal, I guess because as a person who runs websites I know that things have to change but users always hate change. I wasn't going to ask for the "complain-in-person" department.

On to the trip!

Etsy's offices are very open, just big tables and everyone has lots of desk space decorated with nifty things... in fact they all have a small budget to decorate their personal desks with things from Etsy shops!

There's art everywhere. It feels like you're IN Etsy. Well, except I don't think I saw so many bubble necklaces. But the knitted mug cozies you guys... they're everywhere.

Oh and you know how if you hit a bad page on Etsy you get to this funny "A stitch has gone awry!" page and there's a picture of someone knitting a 3-armed sweater? There's a real 3-armed sweater hanging up. It just adds to the feel that you are in Etsy.

Photo by @jeffrigram

For an open workspace though it's pretty quiet, there are no desk phones and people are encouraged to go elsewhere if they need to talk on the phone, there are cute little closet-sized "phone booth" workspaces. I love it... in fact I'm going to steal this idea for my team and encourage them to drift elsewhere for phone conversations, for sure.

CEO Chad Dickerson has a nice office right smack in the middle of the floor with multiple breaks in the partitions around it. No corner window office. Employees can see the windows, the CEO sees people!

We were there at 10 am and there were a lot of empty desks. It was "early". Lots of people arriving too... I asked about that, and apparently a company's start time is a complicated formula involving of local, corporate, and industry culture, and maybe even time zones. Startups tend to start later, people wake up, chill out, check their email from home, drift in and work until 7 or 8pm. Where I work there are employees asking "Can I come to work at 6am every day so I can punch out at 2:30?" and as an upper manager now, it would look terrible if I came in at 8:05.

My tour was given by a data person so the other "data person" groups were pointed out and there are LOTS of people there whose job it is to gather and interpret data. This is one place where a website company is very different from where I work at the airplane company. We can't move the wings back three feet on all our customers' airplanes at once to see if it changes fleet utilization instantly. That number is what it is. So I asked Melissa who the "experimenters" were who changed things, and she said "Everyone is an experimenter!" with the goal being to change the numbers for the better, and that most important piece of data seems to be how many visitors end up making a purchase. It's HUGE.

I am kinda wondering if they look at diversity of business... how many different shop owners they can get sales for. Maybe I'll send her a follow up question.

I saw the integrity team, which was a sizable flurry taking up several tables, trying to win the whack-a-mole game challenge of keeping people from selling totally non-handmade factory crap. This is a place where a lot of Etsy sellers feel like Etsy doesn't do enough, it'd be interesting to sit there in the flurry for a week, it's a science drawing that fine line and they obviously have a big team dedicated to it. Etsy is not a huge company, only 600 employees or so. Just the engineering department where I work is twice that size. So the numbers of busy people in market integrity were noticeable.

There does not appear to be a busy hive of forum readers responding to every concern that comes up in a thread, sorry friends. There was one forum person pointed out during my visit, and it was not someone I recognized. But I relate to this, because at my company we have dedicated "customer facing" types handling the communication, and us engineers are separated from all that by entire buildings, and while some of the customer feedback gets to it, not all of it does. In six sigma class we watched a clip of The Simpsons where Homer gets to design a car however he wants, and it's a disaster, to illustrate what happens when you get too much "voice of the customer" and not enough looking at data to see what actually works.

Etsy is a B Corporation, meaning that they incorporate social and environmental responsibility into the things they do, and we saw lots of examples of that. Biking their compost out to the farm sorts of things. They have educational events, really try to reach out to the community, and I love their efforts to encourage women and girls in the community.

They let Cate and me use the photo booth where they take all those black background admin profile pics, ha ha!

Cate actually teaches organizational behavior at a local university so she had a lot more good questions than I did (or maybe she's just friendlier and less nerdy) - as we were leaving she said the tough thing is that everyone in her classes imagines they'll work at a cool trendy startup like the one we'd just seen. Sadly this is not the case. But even the big huge giant airplane maker I'm at has been doing some new things - shifting to open workspaces, creating mobile applications, encouraging personality. And I love our fun little side interest groups, that's the best part of working someplace gigantic.

On average I pay Etsy a little over $100 a month in listing, renewal and transaction fees... about 6-7% of my total revenue. The tour actually made me feel pretty darn good about that! I'm supporting a company that supports women in technology, the environment, their community. And without them I would not have this little side business I've got going on, because the items I sell really need that unique marketplace and brand association that Etsy has grown to be.

If you're a seller and in Brooklyn, you might consider contacting them a week or two in advance to see if their tour giving people will be around, they like having sellers in sometimes. There are no guarantees but if I got a tour, it could happen to you! It might give you some perspective and definitely made me appreciate everything going on behind the scenes, since I just went in wanting to learn and have a good time, and I did. It's a neat office and a really nice group of people, it'll be interesting to see where the future takes us all.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Download your Etsy team's member list

Based on some request from my fellow Etsy team captains over at the Captains' Quarters, I published a new widget this week:

Etsy Team Member Roster

You enter your Etsy team, and it generates the list of members in a big table that you can sort, copy to excel, or just review.

I was using a similar tool for my EtsyTrades.com team - I needed to know which members of my team no longer had active etsy shops with listings, because as a trade team we need to know that as we're clicking around the member list looking for cool stuff to trade, we weren't wasting clicks on people who'd fallen off the face of the earth. We have a team policy stating that you either need six active listings, or a vacation announcement with a clear end date, otherwise we can remove you from the team. This app simplifies our search process too.

It also has a "divide into groups" function that works like this:
1) Every Etsy shop is assigned a number between 1-1000 based on the minutes and seconds that their shop was created... that makes the number pretty random, but it'll never change.

2) The list is sorted and divided into groups based on the assigned numbers. For instance if you say you want two groups, one group will be 0-500, the other will be 501-1000.

3) As new members are added they can change groups, but no one will ever move groups, as long as you use the same size chunks. For instance if you want to convo a different group of shops every month of the year, divide your list into 12 chunks. You'll end up with the same group every August, give or take new members, but no one will accidentally move from August to September.

In the trade team we use this for team convos... we divide up the list and each leader takes some shops to notify them about upcoming events. But I'm making sure we don't accidentally convo the same shop two months in a row. No need to bug anyone that much, I figure.

I'd be happy to add more capability to this if I understand how other team captains are using it, so let me know if this comes in handy for your team!