I met Christina Swanson of Mad Jo Apparel & Hitched Clothing last month and I have been impressed with her determination to improve her business and her self-awareness of the “practical steps” it takes to grow a business. Enjoy her story & advice. – Jason Malinak of Etsy-preneurship


Survival of the Fittest: Will Your Business Make the Cut?


Being an Etsy seller is not for the weak, the lazy or the complacent… I hate to say it, but it is survival of the fittest. In order to stay in the “Etsy Game”, you must successfully be able to manage all of the components of your business and your life simultaneously (and sometimes in the same space). So, an ambitious “new shop” owner will master the basics, work hard and establish a steady income… And then What?


The intermediate Etsy seller is one that has a consistent customer base, but is still working on a small budget. They are continuously developing and managing all areas of the business, with little or no assistance.  These and other “growing pains” leaves that in-between seller vulnerable to demise.


FACT: According to the Small Business Association, 50% of all new businesses fail in the first five years. 



Although this is somewhat of a general statistic, it’s a good estimate to be applied to Etsy shops. About 6 months ago I really began to examine my business and create my own strategy to ensure my business’ future. I really wanted to know:


“What determines a shop’s survival?”

“What would it take for ME to ensure my livelihood and income was secure? “

“How Do I Become One of the top Etsy Sellers

“How Do I Build the Business of My Dreams?”


Currently, my business is in a full transition, which I have planned for the last 6 months. I have decided to conquer Etsy using an arsenal of experience, knowledge and mistakes to build a successful lasting business. I’d like to share some insight and focus based off my experiences.


It all begins with you – Are you an Effective Manager?


Since establishing my Etsy shop two years ago, I have experienced a remarkable amount of growth in my business. The first year was spent building the foundation. I was building a catalog of products, establishing customer relationships and learning the ins and outs of Etsy. My shop, Mad Jo Apparel, did well and I was feeling confident in our growth.




Year two was insightful and almost catastrophic. I had a tank top that had become a huge seller for us and I was not ready to handle the volume of orders that came in. In June of 2014, my shop had over 700 orders come in. Suddenly, things got real. Every flaw in my business began to surface and it became VERY clear to me that I wasn’t ready to be a top seller. I had a lot of work to do and it had to start from within.


Self-Reflection: An Overlooked & Valuable Business Tool


If you think you have it all figured out, you don’t. Thriving business owners know that in order to retain that success, it is important to continuously grow and develop. If your sales were to increase by 700% like mine did last June, would you and your business be ready to handle that volume?


After I caught up from the madness, I realized it was time to refocus and structurally align my business from the ground up. It was hard to accept and face the mistakes I had made, but I also realized it was the best tool I had to ensure Mad Jo’s survival. It was time for me to run my business and not let my business run me.





Your Shop Is Only As Good As You Are


You are your business’ best asset. Naturally, a successful business starts with a successful business owner. Personal development is a key ingredient to keeping your Etsy shop thriving.


As I was developing my strategy for survival, I took a look at some of MY personal flaws that were affecting my business. The following are some areas of personal development that I find to be important for Etsy sellers.




First:  Time Management/Balancing Work and Family


 Setting a Work Schedule: In order to be your best and avoid burnout, make sure you are not “on shift” 24/7.


Not being glued to your Etsy app: YES, we want to respond to our customers in a timely manner. YES, we need to stay on top of our business. BUT… it’s not efficient time management to answer a message each time it comes in. Turn off your alerts and check your conversations and emails periodically throughout the day.


Family time is family time… Work time is work time: See the above and plan accordingly.  (Note from Jason:  After reading this, I just told my wife that I’m going to try and start turning my email off more often in the evenings).




Second:  Home/Business Office Organization – Keep Them Separate


Separate Finances:  Even if you don’t have separate offices, keep your personal finances and paperwork separate from your business stuff. Separating the two will keep you efficient and less overwhelmed.  Plan separate time each week to dedicate to “paperwork”.


Organize Your Office:  There is a lot of great home office organization tip and printables available on Pinterest and Etsy.


Get Your Ducks in a Row:  Don’t neglect important business affairs such as financial and legal paperwork. Luckily we have Jason’s fantastic resources to help keep us in line. The JJMFinance Etsy shop is filled with great resources to get you started.



Note from Jason: Notice Christina’s ability to create a product for a unique niche – hairdressers.


Third:  Personal Development


Keep working on management and business skills: It is essential to the survival of your business. Do internet research, network with other shop owners, look into business development books. Currently I am reading Etsy-Preneurship, because it is a comprehensive business guide for the Etsy seller. Get back to basics.


Take your artistic/production skills to the next level: Don’t blame your competition for passing you by, step up your game.


Never Stop Learning:  Set aside small amount of time each day to research, read and learn. (Note from Jason:  I’m proud to say that Christina is a Thrive Member and I get to be a small piece of her day-to-day learning opportunities).




There’s No One to Blame but Yourself


Naturally, people tend to blame external sources for their misfortunes in life and in business. You control your life and your business. Thriving business owners know that success comes after you are accountable for your mistakes and experience those misfortunes.

Have you ever read the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey?  If you haven’t – Do it! It will motivate and inspire you to take control of your life and achieve your goals. The following passage is one of my favorite parts:


Your life doesn’t just “happen.” Whether you know it or not, it is carefully designed by you. The choices, after all, are yours. You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear. Just remember that every moment, every situation, provides a new choice. And in doing so, it gives you a perfect opportunity to do things differently to produce more positive results. – Steven Covey


Remember YOU control your destiny and YOUR BUSINESS! If you want your Etsy shop to stand the test of time, start with yourself. Be the best shop owner you can be and the rest will follow.




Face Your Shop Head On – Critique, Assess and Pinpoint Areas for Improvement


After I assessed my weaknesses as a shop owner, it was time to do the same for my shop. It is important to be your toughest critic and CONSTANTLY critique and evaluate weaknesses in your business.


When looking at your shop, think like a customer. Etsy shop owners are also consumers and we can use that knowledge to understand the psychology of our customers.


How do you shop? What things do you look for in an online store?


Assess your favorite Etsy shops and other online stores, why do you shop there? What do you like? What stores do you dislike and why?


Your Etsy shop will continuously be a work in progress, so don’t try to accomplish these things all at once. Prioritize and take it step-by-step. Set time aside each week to dedicate to your shop and listings, this will keep your shop fresh and updated. Additionally, continuously evaluate your product line to ensure you are staying true to your vision and your target market. Remember, an Etsy shop and owner is continuously a work-in-progress. Don’t be overly critical, just realistic.




You Are Not a Beginner Anymore, Think like a Pro


If you are an “intermediate” Etsy seller and want to take your business to the next level, you need to commit and develop a strategy to implement the needed improvements:


Study other shops that are highly successful and assess why they are among the best. Also, don’t forget to do market research… What is your competitor doing and what can you do better than them?


Define your vision and focus on your target market. Establish what you want and don’t want and ensure your shop, product catalog and policies are a reflection of your vision. Stay focused on your goals.


Plan Ahead and utilize slow periods for business development and clearing out stock. Having an after Christmas clearance sale has made January more profitable for my shop. Also, it allows me to clear out the clutter before year-end inventory.




Check my business plan… Oh yeah, I don’t have one. Do you?


Go back to the drawing board if you are in a “rut”. Do you need a rebrand? Is your product line too broad and in need of focus? Is it time to start from scratch?


Remember, how you learn from mistakes, recover from failure and embrace success will dictate the future of your Etsy shop. Etsy seller longevity is determined by one’s passion and willingness to evolve and change. Sometimes it means getting back to basics and working on the fundamentals.


The important part is to evolve, focus on your vision and set your priorities. Break that down step-by-step and build your Etsy Empire. A successful Etsy seller must be fearless, embrace change and fight for their business. Remember… It’s survival of the fittest. Are you up for the challenge?


– Christina Swanson of Mad Jo Apparel & Hitched Clothing




Note from Jason of Etsy-preneurship


We all have something we can learn from each other.  Take a moment to clarify what you are going to change for the better after reading this article.  Too often, we can read something that is helpful, only to move onto the “next thing on the internet”.  For example, I’m going to try and actively turn off my email during the evenings & start thinking about how I might set rules for my phone app access throughout the day.  What are you going to do?


Facebook Wall Post


Christina (Stina) posted the above on the Etsy-preneurship Facebook page last month.  I love her hunger for moving forward and improving.  Even with 4,700+ sales, she is “tearing her shop apart” to kick butt in 2015!  This is one reason I’m so proud she is part of the Thrive community.  I enjoy working daily with people that are serious about the success of their business.  Keep up the great work Christina and never stop improving!


Like this post and share an encouraging message with Christina in the comments to cheer her on and thank her for challenge for us all to continually “step up our game”.


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