January 22, 2021
And How I Learned to Take Advice with a Grain of Salt
I started Etsy in mid-2019 with a sudden idea of wanting to make more money. The wild concept was birthed out of the frustration of being underpaid, a little bored, and hungry for a new challenge.
I had a good job with “security” (which I realized I didn’t have when the rug was swept from under me- another story for another day), but I found myself in a common coder’s dilemma. Stay where I worked where my skills were stagnant in an industry that is constantly progressing, move to a more challenging job (this probably meant moving to a more progressive, tech-rich state), or find a new career.
So I started an Etsy shop.
I felt confident finding success since my background is branding, advertising, and design-thinking. I realized I had a lot to learn when the orders didn’t immediately come rolling in.
I read books, blogs, free (and not free) e-books. This led me to the world of courses that I was eager to dive into. It was the perfect satisfying meal for me: I had considered going back to school for an MBA. Not because I wanted the degree (or the dreaded homework) but because I wanted to learn.
I didn’t have the money for another degree, though. So online courses were perfect.
Enter Renae Christine.
I really don’t know how I first came across her, but she suddenly kept reappearing in my view. I literally could not understand her or her boundless energy or her talking style. Was she for real? Or was she a scam artist posing as a small business guru?
All her students’ and fans’ praise seem disingenuous or fake. In turn, for me, she seemed contrived.
Long story short, continued exposure brought me around, and it wasn’t long until I devoured everything I could get my hands on.
I took notes and studied. I learned a lot and got to know her as much as I could as a “fan” after watching so much of her.
I likely have her life story events in the wrong order, but my mental timeline of the Renae Christine story goes like this:
I learned she came from a poor background but found success in a Las Vegas wedding cards business that she sold later. She married and had children with an abusive spouse, then lived in “crackers for dinner” poverty when she left him.
She took a course from a guru-type she was skeptical of but followed to a “T” and launched her own business course. When she made 2000 dollars in one day, she cried on the video thanking her guru, and she continued to become wildly successful in a “million-dollar business.” Somewhere here she remarried another YouTuber.
She spent 2019 taking bad advice and, essentially, bankrupt her own company. She had to let go of her entire staff and start over just in time for the dumpster fire of 2020.
With no money, she decided to start a year-long “YouTube orbit.” This is when you record and post a video every day for a set period. During her orbit, she did course reviews, talked about her experiences, and reported on her various “make money online” tests.
These tests were trying out all the common business ideas on making money online and showing the successes and failures.
All the tests and methods
Renae’s business failure came at a poignant time in my life. I lost my job due to Covid-19 and felt like it was my chance to “go for it.” The only thing I didn’t know what “it” was for me. I knew I wanted to work for myself and make money- like I want to be wildly successful and brag about how self-made I am.
So her trying things while I was too (and growing more panicked as my debt rose) has been a comfort to me… She was the only person this year who was going through a lot of what I was going through: throwing things against a wall to see what sticks.
Renae tested Amazon FBA, dropshipping, eBay, arbitrage, Etsy, and solo website business. In the beginning, the Cupcake Trainings (her YouTube name) focused on testing less sustainable but “make money now” methods since everyone was floundering in Covid-19 uncertainty.
The results were fascinating…
But I’ve had a year to think about all the tests and videos.
The Rub: Renae Christine vs Etsy
So Renae has a problem with Etsy that I caught on to fairly early this year during her orbit. Her problem with Etsy has only grown more sarcastic and even hostile these days.
During all her tests, she found Etsy frustrating and unfruitful in the short-term. She has since touted that eBay and Amazon are much better places to make money.
I do have a problem with these assessments and some agreements. Here’s what I agree with her on:
- Etsy Ads do indeed suck. They’re terrible.
- Amazon is where the money is at. The greedy bastards.
- eBay can be a great route to make money. I’ve used it this year for a little income myself.
So let’s talk about her Etsy tests…
She ran several Etsy tests with Print on Demand face masks and shirts. And here’s the first problem… These were plain, boring designs that I wouldn’t pay 20+ dollars for. Not many people did.
Renae was frustrated and argued with commenters about her tests. However, she’d take their advice and run her next test with the advice given to her. Even these didn’t go well because, again, generic designs.
Renee would say they were “on-trend,” but she seemed to not understand a basic idea of Etsy: unique, handmade items.
People do not go to Etsy to buy t-shirts they can find at Walmart. They just don’t. That’s why you’ll see endless pages of shops failing at Etsy: they are making and selling items that can be purchased at Dollar General or Walmart at a premium price. You’ll get some purchases but not enough to scale.
This is why some people make a killing selling Baby Yoda or Disney merch on Etsy: it’s too copyright for Walmart, but you may be able to get away with it on Etsy- at least for a while before you’ve got a copyright strike.
And I know Renae knows this.
When she ran an eBay arbitrage test, she did very well and proudly stated how much more money you could make on eBay instead of Etsy.
However, she wasn’t selling generic print on demand shirts on eBay.
Arbitrage is essentially flipping items online. You list an item at a higher price than you’d get on another site- even Amazon- and have it shipped to the buyer and pocket the profit. It can be tedious and shady: buyers are getting a bad deal, don’t know where their purchase actually comes from, are surely confused when their package arrives from another company, and returns can be a no-win situation.
It’s also against eBay’s rules. It’s a risky business.
So I was very frustrated at the clearly uneven comparison of eBay and Etsy. It was apples and oranges: selling random everyday items people buy online for convenience or generic t-shirts at a higher than average price point.
Then she released an hour-long video about “the truth about Etsy.”
Here’s the TL:DR
- Etsy has an algorithm!
- This algorithm favors sellers who regularly sell items, have an older account, and positive reviews.
Her proof was several tests she ran. One test was getting permission from a very successful Etsy store to relist the same exact best selling product they had: from title, pictures, tags, and see how it performed. This was to prove that Etsy SEO is not a determining factor in Etsy search. For some reason, the item did not appear on the first page in her search query even though the original Etsy store’s listing did.
She had other tests and essentially saw her ranking and sales spike when she made a sale. Here is where she got particularly controversial and paid someone to buy her products to test this “theory.”
This is all fairly ridiculous. I soon saw several Etsy “guru” YouTubers and Facebook groups release videos discouraging people from paying people to purchase their items since it’s against Etsy’s rules. It could get your account deactivated, and you blacklisted.
So if you have multiple shops on Etsy, it could shut down everything that tracks back to you. This includes your IP address, social security number, EIN, or bank/payment information. It’s incredibly risky and irresponsible to put out there.
Not that Renae promoted this method exactly. This was all about testing, and she wasn’t encouraging anyone to do anything. I’ve got mixed feelings, but I did find the whole thing a touch dishonest.
I even had the chance to talk to another well-known, successful Etsy seller and consultant about this. He commented (paraphrasing from memory), “I’m not sure what the point was (of the video). Of course, Etsy has an algorithm that favors these factors.”
In fact, any other e-commerce marketplace does.
So what was all this drama and mock-dismay at Etsy’s’ “failures”?
After that spiel, let me say thank you.
Because, Ranae, if you’re somehow reading this, I do have a lot of gratitude despite my misgivings. I may cringe every time you talk shit about Etsy, but I have learned so much from you- from all your courses and YouTube videos.
I think we do need more people like you mentoring new entrepreneurs. I want to see more down-to-earth women genuinely motivated by an absolute passion for business instead of a luxury lifestyle.
It’s refreshing to learn from someone so energized to teach about business. Not once has Renae flashed her wealth in Instagram-worthy photos. She loves business, and we have that drive to build and succeed in common.
Thank you, Renae, for the education and inspiration, but I also want to give you the side-eye for some of your advice or less-than-honest tests.