Wednesday, May 22, 2013

If you want to succeed on Etsy, don’t take advice from Etsy

Etsy has come under fire for anti-feminism once again; this time by Emily Matchar, whose book  Homeward Bound spawned a maelstrom of indignation on Etsy’s blog. Is Etsy, as Matchar suggests, peddling a false dream of DIY Utopia, a hipster revolution won with glitter and glue guns?

According to Matchar:

But now, in many progressive communities (Austin, Brooklyn, Portland, my hometown of Chapel Hill, NC ), small—very small—businesses have gained a new, distinctly groovy luster. In these parts, people speak of an "artisan economy" of "hyper-local" businesses selling "handmade" goods. In this new artisan economy, running a teeny-tiny business is not just fulfilling, it's morally good. Not only are you pursuing your creative goals and rejecting the rat race, you're also striking a blow against corporate behemoths and all they represent—greed, environmental destruction, the homogenization of culture.

If you take out the sarcasm, I agree. There are fulfilling moments in my own artisan career path unmatched by anything else. And it worked exceedingly well for me as a mom with children in my home. There are sound, wise reasons for women to cherish domesticity and yearn for a home based business.

The problem :

According to studies, less than 40 percent of small businesses are ever profitable.

That’s what Matchar cites to indict Etsy for peddling a false dream???? Really? Because according to this Inc Magazine interview “It seems fair to assume, using statistics the company has released, that there are fewer than 1,000 sellers who make $30,000 a year or more, and a mere handful who make more than $100,000.” So the very-bad-odds-of-success with a fledgling artisan business turn to virtually-guaranteed-to-fail if you rely solely on Etsy, Unless financial poverty is part of your business plan.

I was among that elite “fewer than 1,000” before I started my website  Lee Wolfe Pottery which now generates the bulk of my sales. In this I am typical. Most artisans who manage to sell well on Etsy graduate to their own website, which makes Etsy a poor barometer for how well artisan businesses are doing. It also makes the advice and collective wisdom spewing forth from there particularly bombastic. I mean, if you go to learn, most of your advisors are failing.

The truth is, the internet has changed the nature of commerce to the supreme advantage of Indie businesses IF you use it intelligently and think like an entrepreneur rather than a drone. This suits me just fine.

Back to the question,Is Etsy peddling a false dream? Not for its investors! But for those who really would like to quit their day job, Etsy is doing a very poor job of providing an artisan business access to financial success while giving itself a lot of credit for it. Many of the things that might nurture a fledgling business cripple an already successful one, so, perhaps inadvertently, Etsy is engaging and catering to marginal businesses while repelling viable entrepreneurs who want a professionally hosted site with more stability, fewer capricious changes, and less interference with buyer transactions and communications. In its favor, Etsy has undergone huge changes in its young life, and it isn’t done yet. The promise of supporting and empowering home based artisan businesses is a worthy one.

Your thoughts and experiences are welcome!


  1. If you ever read Regretsy (now defunct) you certainly got to see the rotten side of Etsy both in terms of Chinese re-sellers masquerading as 'crafts people' and arrogant crafts people (including Etsy staff) refusing to brook any criticism of anybody from those re-sellers to very sad/poorly made crafts that needed to be criticized if their makers were to ever get better. I buy from Etsy a lot but I would never sell there!

    My partner and I are one of those - like you: teeny-tiny, home-based makers and we are jewelers. We hand-make and to order mostly custom symbols out of silver and gold. We write the site and take the pix and...well you know, do everything! I cannot get over my good fortune to be able to make a small, good living by working on my own terms And yeah we raised a few kids doing it too!

    For us (like you Lee) it really helps that we are making things that no one else is making (in our case sometimes anywhere on the planet!). Yet I am always amazed by how many pentagrams (for example) we sell. You can buy a sterling silver pentagram almost anywhere in a mall for about $10. Yet we sell zillions (not quite) that start at $40. Why is that? Because each each one is hand-made by us just for you! I'll end with this that my partner said about us:

    I doubt very much if any other pentagrams
    any place on the internet are hand made, one
    at a time, for each individual order. A bold
    statement, I know - but true as far as I can tell.
    What we do - fabricating from precious metal sheet
    every single piece of jewelry that we sell, including
    rings - is not sustainable at high volume. We are
    a nano business, just 2 people, Mark and Pam. What
    we do is perform a service - provide magickal and
    sacred symbols that are made by hand by magickal
    and spiritual people. We couldn't do this at high
    volume. We'll never get rich, but then that's not
    our aim either.

    Thanx, Lee!