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!

Monday, May 13, 2013


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I ran my hands along the wrought iron gates of Jackson Square, which have been worn away and repainted many times over. CafĂ© Du Monde still serves the beignets and French coffee that taste the way my memory serves them when I think about the 22 year old girl I was when I moved to New Orleans after college. I had not returned in 30 years until last weekend when my husband and I went for the Jazz and Heritage Festival, which, incidentally, is more fun than I can describe. If I think about the many layers of emotion that flooded through me, its overwhelming. There are the Katrina stories I heard, the vibrant funky music from the Gospel tent to the main stages, the incomparably good food, and all the quirky peculiarities of culture such as Mardi Gras Indians, Zydeco, and how alcoholism is not viewed as a disease but rather a sort of religion. It’s such a contradiction. New Orleans is fragile, damaged, corrupt, even violent, and at the same time its resilience is impossibly strong, and the lack of pretention is a form of purity. Despite the many who died or may yet die due to inept leadership, pollution or crime, those who live there are so fully alive. It is contagious. I think I’ll go back more often. I also see how my early experiences in New Orleans still live in me, and flow out into my ceramic work expressed in color, texture, funky shapes made with joy and sometimes after working through great frustration. The old lace. The fluid geometry. The details.