Dear Handmade Seller of November 2015,
I Feel Your Tension…
I woke up this morning and had a message I wanted to share with you. I hope you enjoy it.
There are TENSIONS in the air – the future of handmade commerce is finding its place and handmade sellers find themselves in the midst of these tensions:
TENSION 1: It’s Cool to Badmouth Etsy, but…
It’s extremely popular to be badmouthing Etsy these days for the direction they are moving (“unique” products vs. handmade; small-scale manufacturing; a plummeting stock price; etc.) yet overall gross merchandise sales are still increasing. Opinions about selling on Etsy become more polarizing each day and despite the love/hate relationship we have, most handmade sellers are still focusing on generating sales within this platform, because there are sales to be gained. Etsy will likely continue to grow as a marketplace (see tension 3).
I really dislike whining and complaining, but I’ve even found myself doing this more often in the past few months…especially when big media is leading the charge…it’s normal human nature.
I’m actively deciding that I will choose an attitude of flexibility towards selling on Etsy going forward – I invite you to join me.
TENSION 2: H@A Facing Growing Pains, but…
Handmade at Amazon is in its infancy and facing many growing pains yet the sheer size of the consumer base dwarfs any other ecommerce platform (13x bigger than Etsy). Some Handmade at Amazon forerunners are booming with TONS of sales, others have diversified their sales using the new platform, and others are still gaining momentum. I’m very curious how Amazon highlights Handmade this official holiday sales season. (Etsy historically had rapid customer growth during the holiday sales season and continued to grow on that base each year…will H@A be able to do the same?)
Without a doubt, H@A is not for every handmade seller. At times I find myself feeling like a cheerleader for Handmade at Amazon solely because of the untapped opportunity, and other times find myself upset over the lack of promotion H@A is bringing to the new department. I like many features of the platform compared to Etsy, but some functionality is about as fun as going to the dentist.
I’ve decided to choose to embrace the growing pains with an eye toward where this growth will eventually lead – I invite you to join me.
Tension 3: Etsy & H@A Need You – You Need Them – But We Crave Our Independence
Handmade business owners are intelligent and sophisticated entrepreneurs. Yes, there is a wide spectrum of where you personally are within your own “business education” journey, but as a whole our community of sellers that will continue for the years to come are growing in online entrepreneurial savvy than ever. In Etsy’s early years, handmade artists largely depended on Etsy to “hold our hands” and guide us through the world of ecommerce, but as entrepreneurs we crave greater independence. (Some of you still need this intense handholding, but you won’t be there forever and your need for business development will change). Currently, we are diligently fighting for every inch of this independence through our own ecommerce websites, social selling, home sales, craft shows, wholesale, boutiques, etc.
The big ecommerce platforms need us and likely you need them right now, too. We dream of a day where we have greater control and every change an ecommerce platform throws at us doesn’t have such a huge impact on our business.
I’ve decided to fight for revenue independence while also valuing the benefits that the handmade marketplaces provide – I invite you to join me.
TENSION 4 (Environment): Buying Handmade is Just Starting to Be Catch on…
Consumers are hungrier than ever for handmade, unique, and personable transactions and the growth potential over the next few years is GARGANTUAN! Amazon didn’t enter the handmade marketplace to just help a bunch of artists make some sales, they entered the niche market because the growth potential is that big and they recognized that they weren’t meeting that growing need. I won’t go into all of my calculations, but I can foresee the day when handmade products easily make up 5% of all consumer purchases! (FYI – we are nowhere near that level yet).
This growth potential is the most promising element for your business’ future growth – it is the setting that these tensions are bumping up against each other. This is worth getting excited about.
I’ve decided to embrace where the consumer marketplace is heading in the next decade (customization & personalization, personal relationships within a transaction, and a backlash against mass-produced-cookie-cutter-impersonal-brands and a shift to local-unique-consumer driven independent decision making that is less influenced by corporate marketing efforts) – I invite you to join me.
(FYI – You might think this has already “caught on”, but we’re likely just on the cusp…hence why Wall Street made such a big deal about the uniqueness of Etsy going public – their current “fall from limelight” – buzz around H@A entering this marketplace – and a consumer base that desires commercial independence from products that corporations provide. The economy is going to grow bigger through smaller.)
Where do YOU fit in among these tensions?
You’re right in the middle of it all!
The four tensions I just described surround YOU.
Etsy and Handmade at Amazon could fall off the face of the internet tomorrow and still not hold back the consumer demand for handmade that is growing. Both platforms will likely cheerlead for this growth – along with you. The green ball will grow larger in the coming years!
Tensions (the gray lines) are good and are not meant to me solved, but managed and work out with time. Etsy and Amazon will compete (despite if Etsy or Amazon readily admit it) and changes will come fast and furious as it attempts to sort itself out. It’s unlikely that one will “knock out the other”, but they will both likely identify sub-niche markets they will serve at higher levels of excellence. You’re outside of this tension, but still likely running your business within it.
You will likely remain focused on the balancing act of developing more sales on these ecommerce platforms while still seeking out ways to grow your business in ways that are independent of them. Handmade artists are entrepreneurs at heart and like being in control and diversifying their revenue streams…this is a good thing! Some handmade business owners will eventually break completely free from these platforms, while others will choose to create a “revenue mix” that uses some or all 3 of these tensions for their business’ success. Since the green ball of handmade sales is growing, all 3 areas will likely continue to experience this growth…but at which mix between the 3 we will have to wait and see…
I’m Calling October 2015 “The Month Handmade Tension Was So Thick You Could Clearly Feel It”!
90% of my daily efforts go toward Etsy-preneurship Thrive Members and Ama-preneurship Thrive Members – I’ve been deep in providing H@A startup tips, H@A SEO tips, Etsy product image mods, and Etsy long-term business growth techniques at a fast and furious pace.
During this time, I was also starting to sense these tensions in a tangible way and putting this picture together in my mind. I’ve sensed more negativity in the handmade scene, too – more questions, more doubt, and more uncertainty. Handmade sellers have a bit more of an edge lately – it’s simply some stress that we’re all feeling together.
On top of this, I started receiving notes from successful Etsy sellers about downward trends that many of their businesses were experiencing. I began investigating these for a couple of weeks – jumping on video calls, checking out shop stats, and diagnosing the changing environment. Then on top of that, Etsy announced the SEO changes (UK and AU shop local & other variable mix changes).
Opinions about Etsy and H@A were either black or white with very little gray in between – while the desire for complete independence continued to grow.
I sensed it and I let it impact my mood and outlook to some extent…October was just funky and I’m glad it’s over and I’m able to finally visualize what is happening overall in the handmade scene.
Was your October up, down, or flat?
I put out an informal survey on Facebook last week. I was receiving an unusually large amount of messages from consistent and bigger Etsy sellers that were having down Octobers. At any point in time, some sellers are doing well and others are moving down, but when I start noticing the “top sellers that are very serious about their businesses having 30-40% drops – my antennae go up even more.”
Here are the results:
Was your business up, down, or flat? I’ve got a message directly for you:
Here’s some straight talk directly from me to you about your October results now that you understand the tensions that were taking place within the handmade scene.
My message to “Up” business owners:
“Do you know why your business is up? If you can’t identify the reason why, you were likely just lucky from Etsy’s search algorithm tweak or it was random. That’s great – and you should enjoy it, but realize that it will eventually come back down if you don’t do anything. If you’ve stepped up your marketing efforts, or ran a promotion, or tested some innovative techniques in your shop – keep them up and don’t stop now. A successful business is created by doing hundreds of small things with excellence that lead up to big opportunities that take you to the next level with big jumps. Enjoy your success and keep moving forward. Seek out new challenges and growth opportunities for your business.”
My message to “Flat” business owners:
“In the world of handmade, a flat line is an eventual decline. It’s unlikely you can keep revenues flat for long. It’s easy to let revenues decline. It’s most challenging to make revenue grow. Look for a jolt to your business in November. Run an in depth holiday sales rush campaign that stretches your capabilities as a business owner. Look for ways to increase your impression to view ratio with product picture modifications. Whatever you do, don’t just rest here too long. It’s appropriate to stay in the flat terrain for a short time – only if you’re using that capacity for a future growth campaign. Make a spark happen – learn something new – grow as a business owner. Don’t stay here.”
My message to “Down” business owners:
“At any point in time, I’ve found that approximately 1 out of 3 Etsy sellers is really on their way out of business. If you’re business is down and you can’t clearly identify changes you are making to your business to attempt to get you out of the funk and decline – your business will likely just become a statistic. Don’t worry though, if you’re reading this letter and are passionate about seeing your business success, you’re likely not one of those soon to be “out of business” sellers, because you have a plan to get out of this trend. Being a successful business owner is about being someone that is continually learning, adjusting, and trying new things – you can call it growth (and growth takes time to implement so be patient). Fight discouragement with encouragement – learn how to encourage yourself and fall back on self-discipline and diligence. Don’t be afraid to seek out help from others, but realize you’re ultimately responsible. Entrepreneurship is a game and you’re going to either put yourself in a position to win or lose. Seek out opportunities that others won’t pay the price, time, or commitment to do. Among the tensions we currently face – flexibility through frustration is paramount. Find your place and focus. One month does not your business make.”
My Final Thoughts
I’ve built the Etsy-preneurship and Ama-preneurship community around helping serious handmade business owners. In the past year, this community has grown from about 400 handmade sellers to 12,000 strong.
That growth has come at the same time these tensions have been developing at a rapid pace. I want to make sure you know where I stand on these issues and invite you to join with me:
I invite you to have an attitude of flexibility towards selling on Etsy.
I invite you to have an attitude of embracing the growing pains while selling on H@A.
I invite you to continue to seek your revenue independence while still valuing the benefits of the big handmade eCommerce marketplaces.
I invite you to embrace a decade of global handmade consumer growth amidst these challenging tensions that are rubbing up against our businesses.
I’d love to hear from you. I developed this picture with my brain, but am sharing it to you from my heart. The tensions feel so strong, because the handmade marketplace is expanding rapidly and your small business is right in the center of it all – having to adjust constantly.
I hope you feel encouraged to keep up the good fight and can use this picture to help you understand the challenges/tensions you face daily. I encourage you to press in and create the thriving business that you desire.
Jason Malinak CPA of Etsy-preneurship and Ama-preneurship
(…just a guy who quit his day job a little over a year ago to follow his passion of helping handmade sellers create thriving businesses…sitting at home, writing to you, sharing the way I see things in hope that it helps you understand how your business fits into the larger picture of selling handmade in our global economy…)
P.S. – Don’t expect tensions to become resolved in an instant. Learn to thrive within the tensions.
(Snoopy image courtesy of snoopy.com – I was feeling nostalgic for this cool dog while writing this letter. Snoopy does not endorse any opinion stated in this article nor approve of my message.)