Have you wondered whether selling on Etsy worth it as a spare-time sidegig? Thought of selling on Etsy, but suspected that making any money would take more work than you have time for?
Over the last few
What? you say. How can making beautiful things and then doing all the work to sell them be done in that little time?
Easy: I cut out half the time involved by not making anything!
There are easy thing to sell on Etsy that require no artistic effort or talent whatsoever – in fact, they are among the best-selling products on Etsy: craft supplies, vintage items and party decor.
For clarity, my revenues are over $29,000, which means that after fees, payouts to my Etsy partners (my mother in law and sister also list in my shop), and taxes, I’ve been able to put just over $20,000 profit toward our family gap year plan to motorhome around Europe.
(Be aware that most online claims about earning money selling online gives you their pre-deductions revenue number, not the amount of profit the writer earned, because revenue makes better clickbait.)
Selling online was only one small part of how we funded our family sabbatical. We saved up for five years straight. We started by selecting our best vacation savings account and then cutting our costs so that we could sock money away every month. The third and final piece of our career break financial strategy was me ramping up my longtime hobby selling vintage stuff online.
I started out trying to draft this post in some sort of organized fashion, attempting to draw general lessons from my experience to lay out for you in some sort of ‘professional’ “best things to sell on Etsy to make money” kind of way, but honestly, that post just wasn’t getting written.
So, what follows is a chronological narrative of my Etsy store journey with random tips thrown in as I think of them. I hope that a few of the things I’ve learned will help you with your own side-hustle desires or Etsy shop!
My Experience Selling Vintage on Etsy
I started selling vintage items online when I was in college. I am a life-long garage sale
I just sold things here and there for fun and didn’t worry too much about how much money I made, but even so, by the time I graduated I had saved enough from Ebay sales to backpack through Europe for three months.
After I started my ‘real job’ I took a long break from online sales, but eventually I took up reselling as a hobby again. Truth be told I missed having an excuse to hoard vintage tchotckies.
Wandering Family Man and I were setting up house and being the frugal folks we are, we were hitting the local garage and estate sale scene pretty hard, so it was easy to pick up vintage inventory.
Etsy was gaining in popularity at the time – still is – and Etsy is much easier to use (as a seller) than Ebay, so I set up a bare-bones Etsy shop selling vintage clothing and decor.
That was fine as a hobby, but it was hard to make much money. I was able to get inventory at low prices and vintage items, especially clothing, sell well on Etsy, but the time involved in getting the items sold was just too long.
You see, selling something – anything – on Etsy (or Ebay, or anywhere online) requires the following steps, which for lack of a better term, I shall henceforth refer to as the Show Me the Money Steps, or “Steps” for short:
- Obtain inventory at price low enough to sell for profit
- Take good photos
- Draft the listing (with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind, so the item shows up in customer search results
- Add 13 descriptor tags to the listing, for SEO purposes
- Market your listing (off Etsy) so more potential buyers find it
- Store item somewhere you can find it when it sells
- Pack and ship item when someone buys it
The Steps, taken together, are really time-consuming, even if you’re not also making the products you sell. And selling a broad assortment of items, whether vintage or supplies, makes it especially hard to do the Steps quickly.
For example, to sell vintage decor you have to:
- Scour garage sales, estate sales and auctions for decently-priced, desirable inventory
- Take photos of every item
- Draft an individualized listing for every item
- Determine the shipping cost for every item individually and type it into the listing manually
- Figure out a storage system for items of a variety of sizes and shapes
- When an item sells, find a box/packaging material that is the right size for that specific item
In my view, the key to making money selling vintage or supplies on Etsy is continuously whittling down the time it takes to do the Steps. This will allow you to get more items listed in the limited time you have. More listings means your items are more likely to appear in search results, which leads to more sales.
You see that first decent rise in my annual sales? That’s the year I switched from selling vintage decor and clothes to a much narrower product niche (the dip in the two years that followed was due to me having a baby and hardly working on Etsy at all, and the big rise thereafter is explained further below).
(The niche I chose is vintage craft supplies but what I write here could apply to any supply or category of vintage items or wholesale supplies/decor.)
Picking a niche allowed me to speed up every one of the Steps, which increased my listing speed and sales, and made selling on Etsy much more enjoyable.
Niching down to a selection of products that are of a similar size, weight and attributes will allow you to:
- Find reliable sources of inventory at good prices that you can buy from again and again
- Use the same photo set-up over and over again without having to change lighting/model/camera settings
- Set up draft listings to use as templates
- Standardize your shipping rates and set up shipping profiles that you can add to a listing with one click, instead of inputting individual shipping charges for each item
- Standardize your packaging materials so that you always have the right box/envelopes on hand (which you can buy in bulk to save money), and can pack items faster
Example: Selling craft pamphlets and magazines
The Little Black Barn sells cross stitch pamphlets and magazines. Such items are sold in abundance at thrift stores for 50 cents each.
Photos of cross stitch magazines are easy and fast to take because so long as they’re brightly lit and legible, you’re good. That can’t be said of clothes, handmade items or decor, all of which require good photography to have a chance at selling.
Because much of each listing is going to be identical (mostly the back-end stuff that buyers don’t see such as type of craft, shipping options, and a lot of the tags), Little Black Barn can set up a draft listing that she just copies over and over again to make new listings.
For each listing she just needs to copy her draft and then:
- insert the title
- write a very brief description (she adds only one line but you could add standard language about shipping times if you wanted to)
- add a few tags specific to the item
- select the appropriate shipping profile for the item’s weight
- hit “publish”
…and that’s it – she can probably list an item in under seven minutes from start to finish, which is how she’s able to keep over 2000 items listed in her shop.
Cross stitch pamphlets are largely the same size and weight and are easy and fast to pack and ship. They’re numbered by the publisher so it’s easy to come up with a reliable filing system for listed items, in a regular filing cabinet.
The Little Black Barn has sold over 3000 items. Assuming she earns about $10 on each item (likely more) after her cost of goods, that’s $30,000 in sales before fees and taxes, and she’s only had her shop since 2016!
We can look up The Little Black Book’s store in EtsyRank to see how many monthly sales she makes at present. If you create a free account on EtsyRank, you can look up any store’s sales rate by clicking “Top Sellers” and pasting the store website URL into the “Enter Shop Name” box.
EtsyRank reports that The Little Black Barn sells an average of 3.2 items a day, which means over 90 items each month, which is at least $900 in revenue. Even after fees and taxes, that’s nice pocket money for something you can do while watching Netflix after the kids go to bed!
Example: Selling new craft supplies
For another quick example, this time with new wholesale goods, one need look no further than the best selling store on Etsy. Bohemian Findings sells one type of product, making the process as efficient as possible and just growing and growing in volume, taken to the extreme – over 1.5 million sales, a warehouse, and 13 employees!
Bohemian Findings sells jewelry charms and findings. They take all of their pictures the same way, so they can batch out photos quickly. They follow a quick formula for their titles, descriptions and tags that differ only slightly. Everything is stored in properly inventoried boxes on shelves, packed in small plastic bags and shipped in bubble envelopes.
Example 3: Selling vintage postcards
As a final example I found this Scavenger Life podcast inspiring. It’s an interview with an Ebay seller who makes great side-hustle money selling postcards. His focus on efficiency spurred me to look carefully at my own processes to see how I could create listings more quickly.
Tips for Selling on Etsy
Okay, so switching to a (mostly) single product niche caused the first bump up in my earnings. What caused the second, sustained rise that has led to my store making the $700 to $900 per month that it earns now?
I made several changes that year, all of which increased my earnings and all of which I recommend to others.
First, I started focusing on efficiency and went through each of my Steps to identify any places where I could shave off time, such as:
- Batch tasks – take a bunch of photos, then do a bunch of listings, then put the whole bunch in storage, rather than take one item through the Steps from start to finish
- Increase the number of photos, and decrease the wordiness of the descriptions. Photos are faster to take than descriptions are to write, and most people shopping on their phone never see the description anyway. In addition, listings with more photos are listed higher in search results.
- Put all of the shipping supplies in the order in which I use them, and right next to where I store my items. Seems simple, but sometimes I just put something on a distant shelf and keep it there just because I know where it is! How much time did I waste crossing the room (again) to get a box?
- Set up shipping profiles based on weight ranges so that I could just weigh each packaged item and selected the shipping profile range that included its weight. All of my shipping profiles are now called things like “1 to 5 oz” or “1 to 1.5 lbs media mail”. By doing this I was able to completely cease inputting individual shipping rates.
All of these strategies helped, but there were four specific things I did that pushed my profits up the most, all while still putting in only a few hours of effort per week.
The Four Actions That Most Increased My Etsy Profit
1. I convinced other people to sell items in my shop
conned sold my mother-in-law and my sister on the idea of selling in my shop. They list items in their spare time and I pay them 80% of the proceeds; the other 20% pays for their items’ Etsy fees.
This increased my sales because the total number of listings in the store increased dramatically. The more we list, the more we sell. Selling supplies is a numbers game.
Is there anyone you could take on as a partner or participant? Etsy is easy enough to use that you can quickly teach anyone how.
2. I cut my shipping costs in half using Chit Chats Express
I live in Canada. Shipping by mail costs a lot in Canada. Canadian online sellers often can’t compete in the US market because they have to charge high rates for shipping.
I was able to cut my shipping costs by almost half by using Chit Chats Express instead of Canada Post to ship my items. In terms of profit, this is one of the single best moves I have made since starting with online selling.
Chit Chats Express carries Canadian mail over the Canada/US border so that the mail can be shipped by USPS. By using Chit Chats I’m able to send items through the mail at US rates. I pass those savings on to my customers and thus am able to attract way more buyers. My US sales doubled almost as soon as I decreased my shipping rates.
Using Chit Chats also helps me make sure I don’t undercharge for shipping. Their computer interface is so user-friendly and fast that I can quickly verify my shipping estimates at the time I list an item for sale. By comparison, getting a local, US and International shipping estimate for an item through the Canada Post “find a rate” website is torture.
If you’d like to try Chit Chats, they offer $10 worth of free shipping for new customers. Click here to get your free postage.
No matter what country you ship from, I recommend that you review your shipping options periodically. Gone are the days when the national postal service was the only way to ship packages affordably. Is there another shipping service you could be using that’s cheaper and accessible to you, like Asendia or DHL?
If you live in the States, USPS is great, but get familiar with all the USPS options – sometimes those flat rate envelopes or regional rate boxes can put money back in your pocket!
3. I spent some of my Etsy earnings on equipment that cleared bottlenecks in my process
After years of not investing any money in my shop other than for inventory, I finally purchased some equipment to speed up my Steps where they were slow.
- A scale. I’ve included a scale in this list even though I bought it years earlier, because it’s so important that anyone getting into online sales get one. You must have a scale in order to accurately estimate the cost of shipping an item. Guessing at a package’s weight is a for-sure way to underestimate shipping and to lose all of the profit on an item by having to pay the actual shipping cost. I use this scale and it’s worked perfectly for seven years now.
- A white photo booth with proper lights, so that I could take photos at any time of day and so that my shop photos would have a consistent look.
I first wasted money on a 12” square collapsible LED set up. Don’t buy that, totally useless. This is the one I have now:
It has been quite good for the moderate price.
- A Zebra mailing label printer. Words can’t describe how much I love this thing. Printing out a label and slapping it on a package is about 30x faster than taping on a paper label, and labels look way more professional.
Taping labels on packages sucks.
The Zebra label printers are thermal printers, which means they don’t use any ink. Once you’ve purchased the printer your only occasional further outlay is for labels.
4. I increased my off-Etsy marketing
If there is an Etsy team relevant to what you sell, join it. Many niche-specific teams run off-Etsy marketing initiatives, such as group Pinterest boards, a Facebook page, and even print magazine advertising.
Group Pinterest boards have been terrific drivers of traffic to my shop. If teams in your niche don’t have group boards for posting listed items, I suggest you start some: click here to learn how. They’re free to set up and are really effective!
Other free marketing ideas include posting on any wikis that list the type of items you sell, and commenting or posting on relevant blogs.
Final Thoughts: Etsy Has Been Worth it For Me
The question of whether selling on Etsy is worth it will be answered differently by everyone who tries it.
A lot of people could earn more per hour by getting a second job, but that option isn’t available to those of us who need to make money from home in our spare time.
Etsy has definitely been worth it for me. In two to four hours of work per week (with no pressure – there have been many weeks in which I didn’t work on Etsy at all) I’ve been able to substantially supplement our family gap year budget. And all with very minimal startup cost doing something I enjoy.
If anything I’ve written in this post is unclear or could benefit from a separate “how-to” post on one or more topics, please let me know.
We’d love to hear about your side-hustle in the comments! And you can read more about how we funded our family gap year by reading Saving Up Money for Travel – 57 Easy Ways We Cut Costs.