There’s no question Etsy is a powerful platform to sell handmade products to a hungry audience. Setting up a shop can be done in an afternoon, and you can hear the “cha-ching” go off on your phone by dinner time. Etsy is where Paper + Oats started in 2011, and I definitely wouldn’t be able to work full-time for myself if it weren’t for this platform. But with all the bad rap Etsy has been getting lately since they’ve revised some of their policies, many shop owners are looking to build their brands elsewhere. I had a light-bulb moment last year after nearly 3 years of being exclusively on Etsy. As my brand began to gain momentum, I realized that I was building my entire business on rented property. I had flashbacks of MySpace and Xanga, the platforms of yesteryear that seemed to vanish into thin air. What if that happened to Etsy? What would happen to my shop? How would I continue to sell my products? How would I contact my customers? And most importantly, how would I earn my living? I quickly realized the importance of building my brand outside of Etsy, but not necessarily abandoning it. Today, I want to share with you some reasons you should be building your brand on your own property, and some practical ways you can start (or continue to) grow your audience on your own terms.
Why should I build my brand outside of Etsy?
1. Customers default to Etsy as the source of their purchase, not you.
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve asked a friend where they got their [insert cute accessory here], and they replied, “I bought it on Etsy.” I’d have a lot of nickels. You don’t want your customers thinking they bought your product from Etsy, you want them to know they bought it from YOU. I’ve even found myself giving this blanket “bought it on Etsy” answer, and I immediately regret not knowing the name of the shop who actually made it. When your customers buy from you on your own site, there’s no doubt it’s coming from you — and they’ll be sure and tell their friends about it. Building your brand on your own space, free from competitors and other distractions, will allow your customers to get to know YOU.
2. Etsy is the landlord, and you play by their rules.
Like I said before, Etsy is rented property. Social media platforms come and go. Yes, some probably have a stronger hold and will most likely be around for quite awhile, but others are more finicky and if users are unhappy, they’ll go somewhere else. Etsy is a massive community of makers and creators, but they’re not guaranteed to be around forever. Even if they are around for many more years, what if they drastically change their structure, causing a big cut in your profits? Or what if they decided digital products aren’t an option anymore? I know I’d be out of business! If you’re putting all your eggs in the Etsy basket, you’re on thin ice. Building your brand on other platforms and having your own independent online presence will be more stable for your business in the long run.
3. The one thing I wish Etsy would let me have – the emails.
This goes along with the last point, but a big policy for shop owners selling on Etsy is that you’re not allowed to store your customers' email addresses. This is huge. To date, my shop has over 3,900 sales. That’s 3,900 email addresses that I’m not allowed to have. Again, what if Etsy goes under? All those customers are lost, and you have no way of telling them, “Hey, I’m over here now!” When you build your business outside of Etsy, you can invite customers to sign up for your email lists, or have them opt-in when they make a purchase. Email lists are so so important, you’ve probably read that a thousand times on a thousand other blogs lately, but it’s true. Your email list is how you stay in contact with your audience. If you don’t have access to that in the first place, you could be losing out on a lot of return customers.
4. Take control of your design options and structure.
Obviously Etsy is a brand in itself, and it needs to maintain some consistency between shops that sell on their platform. This is how they’re able to make the process so easy for makers to setup shop and start selling right away. But this can be limiting in terms of design and structure of your business. With your own website, you have the freedom to create a perfectly crafted space that is 100% your business. You have the ability to structure your website and shop in anyway you see fit, being as creative and unique as you want.
The simplicity of setting up shop on Etsy is a huge plus, and I highly recommend it for new shops who are just starting out. It’s a great place to test the waters, try out different products, learn to interact with customers, and join a community of makers from all over the world. I still have a big presence on Etsy, and the majority of my income still comes from my shop there, but I’ve worked hard over the last year to create a separate online space that I can tailor to my brand and have more control over. Just like in other areas of life, most people rent a house or apartment for awhile before they buy. I’m definitely not “moved out” of my landlord’s place just yet, but I’ve made great strides in the last few months to be sure my audience knows my products come specifically from ME.
A great option to keep utilizing Etsy as a shopping cart system, but having your own website presence at the same time, is to link your shop page on your website to redirect to your Etsy shop. This is common for many creative businesses, large and small. This can be the best of both worlds: a fully custom website tailored to your brand, and a seamless, trusted checkout process and inventory management system.
Ok, so I’ve been on Etsy for awhile, how can I start to branch out? Here are a few things you can start doing immediately to help build your brand outside of Etsy.
1. Build you own website and start growing your email list.
It's so easy! Just kidding. I know this task can seem daunting and overwhelming, but it is a huge next step and a must-have for establishing your brand independently. There are lots of affordable and quick options out there to get your website started, and there are some amazing boutique designers that specialize in creating beautiful online spaces for budding creative entrepreneurs, like yourself. Even just having a couple pages up and linking over to your Etsy shop for customers to make their actual purchase is still a great starting point. Along with your shiny, new website, you’ll now have the opportunity to allow customers to join your email list. Like I said before, your email list is vital for you to keep in contact with your customers. On your own site, you can immediately add places for users to opt-in to your list, and I highly recommend giving them some incentive like a freebie or coupon. As your list grows, your reach grows, and you’ll always have a way to tell your audience about your next big move.
2. Spread out those eggs, and up your social media game.
Social media has been a game changer for my business. I’m learning everyday about the importance of staying engaged on a daily basis with customers and other creative business owners. Etsy is a community all its own, with forums and teams — there are many ways you can get social on Etsy. But spreading out your eggs, if you will, and jumping on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms is another way you can ensure your brand is strong and stable, even if one outlet becomes obsolete. Not saying you need to be an expert at every social platform out there, but choose the ones where your customers are hanging out, and start engaging with them consistently.
3. Buy your own domain, and start redirecting your traffic.
The first, and probably easiest thing you can do today to help build your brand outside of Etsy, is to buy your own domain name and have it redirect to your Etsy shop. While I was in the process of building my website last year, I bought paperandoats.com and had it temporarily redirect to paperandoats.etsy.com while I was working on my site. (Correction: my brother, who works at BuzzFeed (shameless proud sister!), noticed I didn't own my own domain, and he bought it for me. Then he sent me a lengthy email reminding me what a great brother he is.) When I would share my website URL before the custom domain, I always felt a little amateur having to include that dot-etsy-dot-com bit. Having your own custom domain to share and promote is more professional, and just plain easier to say or write. This is a great way to help customers remember YOUR brand and not your brand plus Etsy.
Just to be clear, this post is not at all telling you to abandon Etsy.
I think a gradual transition is key, and again, I am still on Etsy myself, in addition to my independent shop, so I’m not bashing the platform by any means. Etsy is a great tool to start out with, but it's equally important to be building your OWN presence for your online business. Etsy is an outstanding platform, but be careful not to put all your eggs in their basket.
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So what do you think about selling on Etsy? Are you building your brand outside of Etsy, or at least thinking about starting that transition? What are some steps you can take today to move towards independence for your small business?