(This post may include affiliate links. Here's my disclosure statement for more info.)
The Best Things To Focus On Before and During Your Shop Launch
If you look at the Etsy forums, you’ll find people’s Etsy priorities when starting a shop (and the advice they get) are all over the map. Even worse, when I see guides and articles on how to start an Etsy shop, the things they recommend you work on are not at all what I think are going to start you off on the right foot! So often I want to grab my screen because of the bad advice I see!
This doesn’t have to be so difficult, but a happy launch requires some thought and planning. So today I’m laying out some of the common mistakes people make in what they choose to focus on and what I think you should focus on instead! I’m all about working smarter, not harder, and creating a shop that grows with you rather than restricts you. I think my list gives the right perspective and steps to do that!
The Wrong Etsy Priorities To Have:
Unless you know exactly who your product is for, don’t focus so much on branding (at first).
How specific am I talking about? Here are two examples of knowing exactly who you are opening your shop for.
- “A martingale collar shop handmade specifically for show Italian Greyhounds”
- “A jewelry shop for women in professional weightlifting”
If you haven’t drilled down your focus target demographic, that’s okay! But it is my recommendation that you don’t need to waste a lot of time, energy, and money on branding just yet.
This was the mistake I made in my first shop. I spent a lot of money and ended up with branding all over the place that didn’t speak to anyone. So for my next shop, I gave it a day’s worth of thought and time. I didn’t hire a graphic designer to create my brand. I came up with a simple logo that would be easy to print and match online fonts to. With the help of free online color palette generators, I picked a set of colors.
Instead Focus On: a Tagline
“A tagline?” you ask, “Really?”. I think a tagline can give you more direction and help as your shop progresses and grows. Branding will evolve as you learn more about what products sell, what your audience likes, and what they are like. A tagline can establish a starting point: a concept. This can change later but for now, it gives you a way to position yourself presently.
A template you could use or start with is: “___ products for ___.”
An example using it: “Zero waste products for a green home”. It gives you a starting position, a goal, and a way to introduce your shop to the world.
Running Full Steam Ahead Without Reflecting on Your Etsy Priorities
I invite you to pause and take a moment. Sit down by a window and have a glass of water. Think about what you want this to be. No, we’re not going to write anything permanently in stone that you must abide by for now on. But really, ask yourself: “Do I want to this to be a hobby or a business?”. There is no shame in either option. Both are so valid and rewarding in their rights.
Think about your goals with the shop. Do you have any? If you don’t, then can you imagine 3-5 years later running that business (or hobby)? Think about all the assets, branding, and following you’ll build. Can you imagine what you might do with that?
When I think that far down the line for myself, I want to be in a place where I have reached financial stability and success with my shop. I don’t see myself hiring someone to work for me because I want to be independent. I want a sustainable, profitable business for myself and my family. To grow bigger than that is not what I aspire to right now.
You may have bigger (or smaller) dreams for your shop. Your dreams may change. That’s okay but it helps to have a perspective going into something. Like during the first month of my second shop, I had to realize if I wanted to run this business 3 years down the line then I needed to act like it rather than hold unrealistic expectations.
A Beautiful Website/Blog/Email List/Social Media/Etc
It is very tempting to go all out on creating, or hiring someone to create, a beautiful website or blog for your shop. In fact, it’s almost a given expectation when you decide to create a blog or email list. I do encourage handmade sellers to blog, start an email list, and have a social media presence.
But I want to relieve you of the pressure of creating a show stopping, gorgeously designed shop that dazzles visitors.
Here are two reasons why I discourage a focus on this.
First, you are likely unable to design, code, or set it up even with a premium theme. There’s a reason why website developers and graphic designers are full-time careers. It takes a lot of experience and education to do these skills.
Secondly, it isn’t the best focus when starting a new business. I’ve got something else that should take priority. And that is…
Instead Focus On: User Experience
Otherwise known as UX, this is a distinct discipline and growing field. It uses visual communication and human psychology to give the best experience with technology.
I’m not encouraging you to learn how to become a UX designer, but you would be better suited to start thinking more like one. This means:
- Your website’s fonts are easy to read. This means the text is large enough to read on a phone, is not cramped together, and isn’t a wall of text. People like paragraphs and text broken into smaller paragraphs.
- Your color choices are tasteful and inoffensive.
- Your copy is easy to understand. Use jargon carefully.
- Your navigation, links, and any processes (like checking out pages or signing up pages) are clear, simple, easy to find, and easy to use.
- There are no mixed signals. This can be anything from a green “delete” button to unclear quantities offered on a product page.
- All your links work. Always double check your site for broken links!
- Your website is reasonably fast to load.
- Your website is responsive for mobile phones and tablets.
Your website or blog does not NEED to be beautiful. If you can build rapport and trust with your audience, it won’t matter how it looks. But it needs to be usable, understandable, fast, and responsive.
Obsessing over Packaging
So this is exactly what I did and I gave myself gnarly headaches over this. In a way, sure, I’m glad to have spent time thinking about this. I did come up with a clever idea or two in my obsession. I don’t know if I’d do it again or suggest others to do what I did.
Because really- I obsessed so long that it almost pushed my launch date later. I spent countless hours worrying about the depth of boxes and answering my burning question: “how can I cheaply make it look amazing?”.
Your packaging does not need to be amazing. Do you know what needs to be amazing? Your shipping.
A broken mug inside beautiful packaging is still a crappy customer experience and wasted money for you. Get a few samples of boxes, give yourself a little time to experiment if you must, but pull the trigger. Make some decisions, order materials, and move on to the real priority that is shipping.
And guess what, when you have the samples and product in your hand, you may get the ideas you need to improve it. Staring at a computer screen for ideas on Pinterest helps but it is no substitute for playing with something in your hand.
Instead: Get Your Shipping In Order First
Make a plan on how you’ll ship things and what packaging you need. You can even test it by shipping to a friend. I went to the post office with my product and asked them what they recommended. I am SO glad I did this because they are going to know better than anyone. This cut down on some trials and errors (and damaged products) for my shop! I knew exactly what mailers to order.
Work smarter, not harder. Don’t give yourself a headache, please.
The Better Etsy Priorities To Have
I am so glad I took the time to build a decent infrastructure before I opened my shop. I set up all my social media accounts (and the tools I’ll use to manage them), set up my email marketing service (creating sign up forms, getting a PO box, and creating my welcome sequence), my website, and branding + tagline.
I even did as much SEO and keyword research for my listings in advance. When my products were listed, all I had to focus on was managing my shop and customer service. I didn’t have to panic and run around trying to catch up. It makes for a less stressful launch since you thoughtfully built the things early instead of hurriedly threw things together.
So, within reason, do as much as you can of this before launching.
Or at least, write down a plan of how you want it all done. That way, if you are rushing post-launch, you’ll prevent the “throwing things together” trap. You wouldn’t open a boutique without painting the walls and getting a cash register first, right?
All That Said, Just Start
Build your infrastructure, create a tagline and shop name, create products, and start. You will never get your infrastructure, branding, or tagline perfect- especially at the start of the shop. You don’t know enough yet to know where the standard of perfection is for your audience. Your product may not be perfect yet.
Go ahead and start. Let the feedback guide you. You’ll be surprised how good of a crafter and designer you really are.
Also, before people say that I am encouraging people not to start before building infrastructure first: my point in advising to create infrastructure is to get a chunk of the work done now so there’s no list of tasks preventing you from starting. By getting the boring tasks done, you can’t say, “I can’t start until my email list is set up first”.
There’s no mad rush to get it done post-launch and nothing is stopping you from starting. Get it done, not perfectly or sloppily. You can tweak and revise later when you have that relaxing launch where you have time to look at things.
Learn Etsy’s System Inside and Out
Unless you already have a specific plan to bring traffic to your shop or an existing traffic source to tap into, it’s wise to focus on the platform you are selling on.
Instead of learning everything you can about social media and whatever other skills you’re trying to learn for your shop, I recommend that you instead focus on learning Etsy. The Seller Handbook is a great place to start.
Remember, you chose Etsy for a reason: it’s a marketplace with its traffic for you to take advantage of. Focus on getting the already existing traffic Etsy offers.
Learn as much as you can on what Etsy wants. Learn about Etsy SEO and how its search engine works. Learn how to get organic Etsy traffic. You can learn all the other stuff later but get a good grip on Etsy’s system.
If you can learn how to take advantage of Etsy, you’ll immediately be ahead of a lot of other shops that don’t take the time to understand Etsy (who then go and complain that Etsy is a dead marketplace).
Making products and prototyping/testing
This is somewhat contingent on the product and type of shop you are, but most shops will benefit from creating more listings than not. Test different feature photos, listings with all the color options versus one color per listing, listings with the feature photo having text on it, etc. You can create listings with different combinations of your products.
And, of course, you can make more products to sell. You’ll be surprised by the new product ideas or variations you come up with to go with your main products.
Etsy even recommends making more products and listings. Etsy is inherently a numbers game. The more listings you have, the more SEO keywords you will use which means you are more likely to be found in Etsy search. It’s simple math. More listings increase the likelihood of being found.
There’s another benefit to this as well. You can experiment this way. You can take a few risks, create your products in different colors, materials, or prints, and even other new products you think your niche will like. You’ll experiment and learn more about photography because you’ll be taking more photos for your listings. You’ll learn more about Etsy SEO by doing rather than in theory reading about it.
When you create more products and listings, you not only are developing your skills as a seller, you’re going to learn what your people like.
By experimenting, you’ll start to learn what your niche needs and wants. You may learn you’re targeting the entirely wrong niche and have to pivot. If you continue to create, you’re speeding up the process of learning what your niche and brand need.
It’s like I said earlier when I said not to focus on branding so much. You really may not know what you don’t know. It’s only by putting things out there and getting feedback (or lack thereof) that you’ll figure out what your brand is about and who it’s for. That is invaluable and nothing else except your audience will tell you so clearly.
Final Thoughts on Etsy Priorities
Having priorities is important but I so often see people being misguided by them. I was misguided in a lot of my priorities when I started. I believe I am on a better path now that I’ve started to adopt these things into my work. Most everything I listed can be summed up by focusing on your people by being prepared for them and by putting them first in your design, branding, and products. It is all about the customer. Without them, you don’t have a shop!
Learn who you are and learn what your niche is. While you’re doing this, you’ll be learning your marketplace and refining the skills you need to attract your people. You can only improve when you work at it and show up. Even when discouraged, re-focus on the customer to let them guide you forward. You’ve got this!