Your Excuses About Etsy’s Changes are Holding You Back

First off, before anyone gets their underpants bunched over anything regarding Etsy, let me remind you of one very poignant fact that people tend to take for granted—Etsy is a for profit company—Stop treating them as anything but that. Once you get real with this fact, you’ll better understand why they do what they do.  

We’ll touch on this more in a moment, but I wanted to get it out of the way so it’s not a sticking point from the start.

About this time last year, I wrote one of my most controversial posts to date—15 Etsy Shops That are Killing it With Sales. At the top of that substantial list is a shop called Three Bird Nest, and the lady who runs it is still kicking ass and taking names. Doing the simple math with very conservative numbers, this lady and her team have done over $2 million in sales over the past two years.

The sheer volume of work going out of that shop is mind blowing, especially if you take in that she’s working with a very small team of people to do it…or so she says. If you go back through the comments of my original post, you’ll see there are quite a few naysayers who think she’s a cheat, using manufacturing techniques to produce her work, which very well may be the case. However, it’s not the real story.

These naysayers would have you believe she doesn’t belong on my list. They would have you think that Etsy is strictly for handmade crafters, which may have been true many years ago, but hasn’t been the case for awhile. In fact, Etsy has now openly embraced using manufacturing processes in your work as long as you identify yourself and apply for manufacturer status. Again, though, this misses the point.

My post was not 15 best handmade makers on Etsy. No, it was 15 people who are sales machines on Etsy. I don’t really give a damn who the best crafters are on Etsy, and you shouldn’t either. In fact, if any other thoughts beyond how to make more sales for shop flood your mind, then you’re thinking wrong.

Your limiting beliefs about what is keeping you from being successful on Etsy is what is keeping you from being successful on Etsy. Complain all you want about the changes that Etsy makes, but remember that the changes didn’t just happen to you–they happen to everyone, and the sellers who were killing it before the changes are still killing it now. Why do you think that is? Here’s a hint:

It has little or NOTHING to do with Etsy!

Ok, so there is probably some effect on your shop when the algorithm changes, and Etsy isn’t very forthcoming about how their search works, your shop can take a hit, but lets shed some light on this.

When it comes to them changing the algorithm, they do so for the benefit of the buyers, NOT the sellers. If you feel it’s their obligation to serve you first, please get over yourself. The buyer is the most important entity in this equation, always has been and always will be.

Second, they don’t tell you how the search works because if they did, sellers would try to game the system. That’s what’s really happening here—sellers are pissed because they were gaming the system before and now the playing field is a bit more level because the gaming doesn’t work as well as it did before.

As far as the “manufacturing” adjustments, please stop obsessing over it. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, this stuff was happening long before Etsy made the new decree. They tried to fight it, but shutting down shops for alleged manufacturing can be a sticky situation.

Shops get shut down all the time for breaking the Terms of Use, some for the right reasons, and some by mistake. I can only imagine how tough it must be for Etsy to make these judgement calls when all they have to go by is the stuff they see on the shop and the word of the seller. Thousands of shops get reported daily for “misuse”, and not always for the best reasons. Sometimes a competitor will complain about a shop because they want to see if they can get a leg up. How would you like to be the one that had to make those judgement calls?

If you come through any of Etsy’s shop success posts on the blog or in the Etsy forum, there is pretty much everything you need to know about how to best use the site without getting Etsy-Whacked every time they make a change. It basically goes like this:

  1. Make a quality product
  2. Be unique—avoid being cliché
  3. Take high-quality photos that are complimentary to your product
  4. Provide a title that is descriptive and helps buyers find you
  5. Give a thorough description that tells a story about your product beyond the features
  6. Use tags wisely (think like a buyer)
  7. Charge a fair price to both you and the buyer (likely the most difficult of all these)
  8. Join a team and be active
  9. Use your networks outside Etsy to drive people to your shop
  10. Think of Etsy as a tool, not a final solution
  11. Treat customers with respect and give excellent service, beginning to end
  12. Focus your marketing efforts or die
  13. Wash–rinse–repeat

That is your success formula. Everything else is bullshit.

I’m sorry if I’m coming off as an Etsy apologist, but there are so many people complaining about the changes to how Etsy does their business, it drives me absolutely bonkers. As I said in the beginning, Etsy is a for profit company. Their goal is to make money, and they are going to do what serves their benefit most, just like you and your business.

If you don’t like how Etsy runs their business, they aren’t stopping you from leaving. By all means, run off to Artfire or any one of the many alternatives. The problems you have with Etsy will be the same, only more pronounced because you’ll be getting far less traffic to your shop. On the other hand, if you have been doing your due diligence with marketing, promotion, merchandising and service, you fill find your success on any site, despite the drop in traffic, but that means you have to do work, doesn’t it?

That’s really the key aspect here—people bitch and moan about Etsy making changes, but they rarely leave because Etsy still drives more traffic to their shop than any other option. Etsy sellers don’t want to do the hard work and be the source of their own web traffic. They want to ride Etsy’s coattails, but still be able to set the terms. Sorry folks, it doesn’t work that way anymore.

Etsy is getting really close to the 1 million active seller mark. Yes, you have a shit-ton of competition, but Etsy also has over 30 million members, so you have so many more opportunities to sell your work, and sell big if you are just willing to put the work in. Want to make 2014 the year your shop blows up? Start with these ideas:

Raise Your Prices

I would say that 90% of all sellers on Etsy are not charging enough for their work. Some would say they charge what the market will bear, but I believe that’s a load of crap. Some people buy their clothes at Bloomingdales, and some people buy their clothes at Walmart. Do you think Bloomies gives a damn about people who shop at Walmart? Not one iota! They charge what they charge, and people buy their stuff at the higher price willingly.

Become a Luxury

Sure, in a bad economy, people stop buying luxury items as much, but the alternative to luxury is necessity, and I hate to break it to you, but very, very little sold on Etsy would be considered a necessity. So, if you’re not a necessity,  you’re a commodity—a luxury. Back to the Bloomingdales reference, if you’re going to be a luxury, shouldn’t you start acting like it so you can get paid as such?

Stop Bitching!

So many complainers—it’s no wonder so many shops end up failing. They spend so much time complaining, they forget to do the work that matters. We’ve all heard the idiom, one bad apple ruins the whole bunch. If you’ve spent any time in the Etsy forums, you know exactly what I mean. I used to go their often for support, questions and community, but I grew tired of the constant blather from people who were looking for any one of a number of reasons to complain about etsy, lambast customers, and knock down other sellers. It’s like Lord of the Flies in there sometimes, and I couldn’t take it anymore.

You’re only hurting yourself with your bad juju. Start today with a new outlook on your business, try a positive approach, and forget about all the BS you worried about before. Instead, focus on the positive, surround yourself with good people, and embrace the fundamentals I talked about above, and you’ll find success. I promise you, it will happen.

You’re a Seller—Act Like It

So many Etsy folks want to call themselves makers, crafters, artists, and designers, but until you latch onto the moniker of Seller, you’re going to wallow in the mirk of obscurity. Want to know what the successful shops are doing better than you? They realized some time ago that their goal was not just to make stuff, but to sell stuff. This goes far beyond the idea of posting up a new item and waiting for the buyers.

When I coach some people on how to improve their shops, often I get pushback on the idea that they need to focus on the sales and marketing. Some people don’t like the idea of selling to their network of friends on Facebook, Twitter and other networks. They feel it compromises their integrity. You don’t want to promote yourself? Fine, but you don’t get to complain about your lackluster sales numbers. You’re a maker who (hopefully) makes a quality product, and until you get real with the idea that you’re also a seller, and that means marketing and promotion; your shop will not be realizing it full potential. That brings me to the final thought.

Do the Work

Etsy is a means to end, but they never intended to be your salvation. Yeah, there was a boon for awhile, people selling lots of product in a veritable craft gold rush, but those times are long since over. Opportunity still exists, but it requires you pick up a hammer and get to work breaking rocks. Do good work, post the best possible version in your shop, and then share the hell out of it all over the place.

You’ve spent a lot of time and energy creating good, solid products that people will want to buy if they just get a chance to see it. You deserve a moment in the sun for your efforts. If you’re doing good work, take pride in it and be ok with sharing. Promoting doesn’t have to feel slimy if you do it right, and you come at it from an honest place.

These ideas are simple, but the work is never easy. Not everyone is going to buy, but some will, and based on percentages, the more work you put in, the higher that percentage will be.

Stop focusing on the changes that occur within Etsy. Focus instead on how you can improve your process and the changes will have little effect on your business.

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Showing 36 comments
  • Amantha

    Whoa! Get the number of the truck that hit me – I want it to come back for more. What a great post, Dave.

    Some hard and painful truth there. But if we take your advice we’ll all be better off.

    Or we can keep complaining and go nowhere.

    (I closed my shop long ago because I didn’t think I could give it the attention it requires – rethinking that now.)

    • Dave Conrey

      Sometimes I have to dish out a hard case of reality because the pervasive thought is so appalling, people need a good “smack” to bring them back to reality. It’s not about so much about being a hard ass as it is about reminding them that none of this Etsy shit matters. What matters is effort, and we play the game on their field, so why not play by their new rules—why not use them to our advantage as well, right?

  • Lynndee

    This is my favorite post you’ve ever done! For years I’ve felt a similar thing to what you are describing and that lately it’s getting worse.

    For a few years now I’ve introduced myself as an Art Business, instead of as an artist. Because that’s what I am. I’ve got a lot of pushback from other artists in my life.

    I’d dearly love to find a community of business artists who will just drop the bullshit and focus on making money. I think this might be it! Yay!

    • Dave Conrey

      That is an excellent distinction, Lynndee, artist vs. art business. Glad to have you as part of this community and contributing.

    • Denise Cunniff

      Lynndee – you might want to join this linked in ArtBiz group:

  • Allison Sharpe

    Love it! Great reminder that the point is to benefit the buyer. Sellers need to step up their game like you said and stop crying over it.

    • Dave Conrey

      Some people love to complain. If it’s not this, it’s politics, or religion, or whatever, but those are the people we need to avoid if we are to make something out of all this. Complainers and haters are always going to exist, but they are not the ones that make the rules, obviously. We need to define this world based on the parameters put in front of us.

  • Denise Cunniff

    Love this post Dave! And I agree with all of it! I also got tired of all the bitching in the forums, so I invested my time elsewhere. IMO, a good percentage of etsy sellers are not really entrepreneurs and don’t understand the ins and outs of successfully building or maintaining a business – which must change as the market changes. And it’s clear that most (good) artists on etsy are NOT charging enough for their work. When I first launched my shop in September of last year, I did the market research on etsy and ended up pricing my work based on what others were doing. Big mistake! I’m in this for the long haul and TO MAKE A REASONABLE PROFIT so I am gradually raising my prices. Every new painting that I list is just a little bit higher than the last. My mantra for 2014 – inhale the future exhale the past!

    —–The mind is EVERYTHING. What you think, you become. – Buddha —–

    • Dave Conrey

      Couldn’t agree more, Denise. Many people one Etsy are not entrepreneurs at heart, but they’re in an online marketplace trying to compete with those types. Without being more too much more crass than I have already, it’s time for them to shit or get off the pot. Now, I don’t mean they have to give up doing what they do, but they either need to play in Etsy’s ballpark, or they need to sit quietly on the bench.

      Good advice all around. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Kim

    This is a FANTASTIC post. I can’t tell you how seriously happy I am that I found your blog! :) Couldn’t agree more. I have bitten my tongue more than once on this topic because so many folks are upset by the changes as if they are owners of this company and here to support small hobbies instead of businesses. I get it but I for one am really happy about the changes. It means I can expand my own little biz using my own set of ethics and go bigger which really I couldn’t before. I can hire a stitcher (or two or three….) to help me with the growing orders which means I can MAKE more orders! Then again, I LIKE change and understand it is necessary for growth. In life and in business. Thanks again Dave. You’re brilliantly articulate. :)

    • Dave Conrey

      That’s the best way to look at it, Kim. They create the platform and the rules—We can either abide or deny them at our success or peril.

      Thanks for the kind words, Kim. I appreciate you being here and sharing your thoughts.

  • Kristen Gluckman

    I really enjoyed this post.

    Part of owning a business is changing with the times. I love “You’re a seller – Act like it”. It is so very true. As a successful seller, you can’t expect to list items on Etsy and become successful. Even way back when, the highest volume sellers were directing folks to their Etsy shop and not waiting to be found in a search or Treasury.
    I believe Etsy is a valuable tool for selling handmade goods. Yes, it is mucked up with mass produced garbage. As a buyer, finding true handmade items is more of a challenge. But I still love it and I am thrilled that one of the first things I am asked whenever I tell someone I make and sell jewelry is “Oh, what is your Etsy shop name?”

    • Dave Conrey

      That’s definitely a worthy distinction, Kristen. I can only imagine what some people might think if you don’t have an Etsy page, but use one of the alternatives. Maybe that’s something to research deeper for another post.

      Thanks for chiming in. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Barbara

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Dave. I am new to this community, how refreshing to hear what you have to say. I still go to the Etsy forums about once a day to see what is happening, it is often a heap load of negativity and I get out of there fast. I got very angry a few months ago because it was not only in the Etsy forums, but in so many places online. Sellers posting that Etsy was now full of “cheap manufactured crap”. Etsy is a large portion of my business, how dare they slander it because they are too busy whining to figure out how to run a business as a business. If you cannot take the heat get out of my kitchen while I am cooking. I did try to post a few comments in the forums about the damage they as sellers were doing to themselves and me, polite comments. I most often got chewed up and ended up with more people explaining to me why Etsy was so wrong. Thanks again for telling it like it is.

    • Dave Conrey

      The funny thing about the forums, that a lot of sellers seem to forget, is that the buyers can access that information too. So if I go off on a rant about buyers and Etsy, and a potential buyer sees that rant, what is the likelihood they are going to buy from someone who has nothing but sour grapes. Honest complaints are one thing, but I do think people take it to the extreme, especially in the forums. I pretty much avoid that space like the plague.

      Thanks for swinging by. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Pam

    Great post Dave! Very motivating and reassuring. I definitely feel overwhelmed trying to keep up with changes and looking at the growing competition–but change is inevitable, no use worrying about it! Etsy is so well known now and has obviously been doing something right to get to where they are. Also, the cost of doing business with them is still very low compared to 50% commission to a gallery or retail shop.

  • Eileen

    I just spent my “vacation” riding out the flu and building my first Etsy shop. Everything is done but the shipping costs–working on that. I’ve been really enjoying your posts and podcasts–even the rants. I have a marketing background–including online. Even though I have been what some call an “early adapter” of technology in my business life (day jobs) I’ve finally caught up to applying it to support my reason for living–painting. Etsy is a tool that also enables community. The seemingly controversial changes erupted while I have been figuring out pricing, photographing my paintings, and writing descriptive paragraphs. Because I’m selling original paintings, work like mine can’t be “partially manufactured.” I can sell one-of-a-kind pieces or I can sell prints. I can, however, see where some crafters might be concerned–will Etsy require the more mass produced items to identify themselves as such? Happy New Year. ek

    • Dave Conrey

      Eileen, for sure, there are some with some legitimate complaints over the changes, but I believe that most of the people making a fuss are either people hopping on the bandwagon because of the hive mind mentality of certain segments of the community, or they are looking for excuses to not have to adapt their business.

      For an artist like yourself, these changes don’t really effect you as much because of what you stated, but then it was never the case for traditional painters and such. The biggest hurdles for fine artists is awareness and finding people to pay a decent pride for art of calibre.

      Anyway, being relatively newly engaged gives you the added benefit of not coming from the old guard. You’re already set to adapt and grow.

      Best of luck in that.

  • Francesca

    So true! Thanks for the tips Dave, I wish you a bright new year :)

  • Cat

    I love your biatch slaps Dave! So true and so good to hear the truth!
    Thank you.

    • Dave Conrey

      Well, I wouldn’t quite put it like that (too many ladies in the room), but yes, the sentiment is true.

  • Melissa

    Oooh good one! Perfectly and honestly said Dave! It’s so important to remember to conduct yourself as a business rather than take the easy road and be ‘just an Etsy seller’. If anything the changes should serve as a good reminder to people that while Etsy is a awesome place for people to find you, isn’t your home and nor should it be. When it comes down to it it’s structurally not much different to Ebay or Amazon, there’s just great marketing and community behind it that attracts the right kind of buyers. Etsy is a huge business and it will go where the money is – and so they should, that’s what businesses do. It’s up to the little guys to take advantage of that while at the same time build up your business in ways that you ‘own’. Encourage traffic to your own site, be active on social media, grow your email list, get to know who buys from you and why – if you can do this you’re on your way. I’d imagine that all of the Etsy top sellers do this religiously. 😀

    • Dave Conrey

      Well said, Mel. Thanks for checking it out.

  • Jennifer Comstock

    Thank you for putting into words exactly what I’ve been thinking!

    I opened my shop on Etsy in 2006. I love most of the changes Etsy has made recently.
    In that time I have learned:
    * Avoid the forums
    * Take a “heads down” approach to running your shop. People spend too much time obsessing over what other shops are doing. Direct all that energy on creating a great product.
    * Emotionally distance yourself from your product. If you’re too attached, you won’t make wise business decisions and won’t see opportunities. This is impossible for many Etsy sellers to do AND I think the root of all the emotion over recent Etsy changes.
    * Follow the trends.

    I also always scour the business journals for articles about Etsy. From doing this I know that Etsy has plenty of potential competition which could easily swoop in and put a lot of pain on Etsy. Amazon for one is in the beginning stages of putting original artwork on their site. Currently they only accept artwork through galleries but I see no reason why they couldn’t eventually start their own marketplace of handmade goods. Curated handmade through Amazon would hurt Etsy.


    • Dave Conrey

      Thanks Jennifer, and that is a very astute observation about Amazon and selling art, and potentially other handmade goods. It would have to become a lot more user friendly that their current situation for getting product on that site, but that is definitely a legitimate concern for Etsy.

  • Anne

    What a truly inspiring message! You’re right about the forums being full of whiners who think they have to do practically nothing to succeed.

    • Dave Conrey

      Thanks Anne. Yes, we do well to stay out of that quagmire.

  • Toni Ann Barandon

    I can’t even remember what I googled that led me to your blog, but since I’ve been here in the last hour, I’ve read 11 posts and all included comments. Is it too early to say I love you? I completely identify with your straight talk and I couldn’t be more on board with your take on sailing the Etsy seas. It’s not the strongest or smartest who survive, but those willing to adapt. I love Etsy. It gains me high search engine ranking and helps me attract my target customer. I don’t bother with forums or teams. I used to be bothered by the willingness of so many “artisans” to copy my work and even my product descriptions, but as a few smart ladies said above (and you’ve said before), I now solely focus on what I am doing. That ensures I’m always 3 steps ahead of my competition and I’m clearly seen as the expert in my field and as a result, the best place to go for what I do. Thanks for a stellar evening, brother. I’ll be around a lot, now :)

    • Dave Conrey

      Well this is definitely the best comment I’ve received in awhile. :) Thanks Toni Ann. Glad you’re getting your money’s worth here. Stick around as long as you want.

  • Adriana

    These are some great tips and I’m glad to know that someone else is also believing in the mantra of stop complaining and do the work. It is really hard to drive traffic to your own site that is for sure. I really do need to always remember that Etsy puts the buyers first and will always do so, so this is a great reminder of that.

    • Dave Conrey

      Glad you enjoyed it, Adriana. Thanks for swinging by.

  • Cathy Kelly

    A good read. However, regarding the algorithm, I have it directly from Etsy that it doesn’t exist! There is no algorithm! According to Etsy what accounted for my views dropping from hundreds in a day down to the teens the next, and for my sales to drop to literally nothing within a day had to do with the fact that my most viewed items were selling and I should put more items in my shop. There is no algorithm! What algorithm?! Since April not ONE of my newly created items have shown in a search where early in the year EVERY new item I posted showed in a search and I had sales galore. In one day, and with no CHANGES made by me in my shop sales stopped. But, i need to remember there is no algorithm! So stop saying there is an algorithm!

    • Dave Conrey

      I can’t say for certainty what Etsy has told you is false, but knowing what I know about search, and what I know about software engineering, there HAS to be an algorithm. It’s just not possible to run software without algorithmic calculations. I would say they just don’t want user to know how it operates because they will then game the system.

  • Laurine Seymour

    Your wrong, And I’m not a complainer. There is no way in gods green earth any one can find my rugs when there is 88,000 rugs to search through and they are not handmade. I have a great product great, great feedback and I do the work. Etsy has changed and buried me alive. I would love to quit it and maybe will but seriously these other sites are not big enough to compete. I can manufacturer my rugs, and actually was going to ramp up to hire people and then a land slide hit me!
    We make livings not killings, your a very confused man.

    • Dave Conrey

      Laurine, you’re entitled to your opinions, but considering I talk with successful sellers on a regular basis who will confirm my point of view, I’m going to have to say that there’s probably more you could be doing. These limiting beliefs are part of what’s holding you back. The other part might be that your products might not be the right for Etsy anymore. If you’re not happy on Etsy, forge your own path elsewhere. Your possibilities are limitless.