Selling on Etsy, eBay and other third party selling platforms is a great way to start your creative or craft business without much risk or investment. Once you are up and running on Etsy (you can include all the other third party platforms when I use the term “Etsy”) you need to start looking at establishing your brand on real estate YOU own instead of being owned by Etsy.
What’s Wrong with Etsy
Nothing is wrong with selling on Etsy. It’s a fantastic starting point for marketing and selling your products. I’ve been an Etsy seller for 5 years and in that time I have earned over $100K from Etsy alone. The first couple of years I sold exclusively on Etsy, then I began to dip my toe into other third-party platforms such as eBay, Creative Market, Store Envy, Society 6 and the like. My income increased, but not by much and it seemed to negatively impact the traffic I was seeing on Etsy. Three years into my entrepreneurial experiments I decided to started my own site and blog that mirrored my offerings on the other platforms and also added a few other packages that were exclusive to my site. I started blogging about the problems my typical client experienced in trying to run their businesses and linked to specific products & services I had for sale on my site. It took a couple of months but WOW what a huge uptick in sales I saw….both on my site and on Etsy. Needless to say, my income grew significantly. The tide of traffic had turned from Etsy being my primary source of revenue to my own site being the breadwinner (where I don’t have to payout a portion of my earnings to a third party platform or worry about being shut down for a myriad of reasons).
Understanding the Risk of Third Party Platforms
You could spend all day reading a ton on the legal and business risks involved with placing your business into the hands of third party platforms. I’m just going to drill it down to the bottom line—you are building your business in someone else’s yard. You don’t own it, they do. And they can shut you down anytime they want to with no explanation or recourse available to you. I have seen other sellers shut down for a variety of trivial reasons and POOF all their traffic (and sales) are gone. In an instant. Just like that. They had to start all over again. They couldn’t even export their listings (always keep a copy of your listings!) This happens daily on every third party and social media selling platform. And there is nothing you can do about it if it happens to you. Yes, there are steps you can take to safeguard your shop, like making sure you aren’t plagiarizing or using copyrighted material, but there are a ton of gray areas. My point is that you can be doing everything above board and still get shut down. It is never a good idea to build your business on a third party platform, always have your own site and storefront.
Build your Business in your own Yard
The answer to the horrifying scenario above? Build your business in your own yard. It’s fine to sell on the third party platforms (I still do and probably always will…I like them, they are fun and they build community) just make sure you put your business first. You accomplish this by taking the following actionable steps:
1. Owning the domain name of your brand.
2. Owning the site your brand domain is hosted on.
3. Having all of your social media and third party platform accounts point toward your site.
4. Promote your products and services using your site links rather than third party links.
5. Building a list of your customers that you house on your own real estate.
We’ll go through each one 🙂
Owning the Domain Name of your Brand
You need to have your own domain name that accurately reflects your brand. Let’s say you have a shop on Etsy called Urban Journals and you sell handmade journals with a big city theme. You want urbanjournals.com or something as close to that as possible. You can register your domain name at whois.com. I strongly recommend that you register your domain names yourself rather than taking “free domain registration” with a web hosting package. Keeping your domains and hosting separate allows you to switch web hosts anytime you want to and you always retain control over your domain name. Don’t get hung up on having .com as an extension. There are tons of extensions out there with hundreds more releasing in 2018. I really like to use .co for any kind of storefront or course rather than .com.
Owning your Own Site
Now that you have your name all nailed down, it’s time to decide on the type of hosting you want for your site. There are a ton of hosting platforms out of there but there are really only a few that are both powerful and easy to use. The top 3 platforms are WordPress.org, Squarespace.com and Shopify.com. Each of these is tailored to slightly different kinds of businesses.
Wordpress has been around the longest. It is open source (free to use and alter) and gives solid SEO as well as unlimited design options. It is easy to use and there are tons of free themes and tutorials online. You will need to purchase web hosting compatible with WordPress in order to use it. You can get hosting from companies like BlueHost, Host Gator, SiteGround, and many others for about $5/month (paid annually). WordPress is powerful and has great SEO. You can build a blog and a store using free themes and plugins. There is a bit of a learning curve, but they are a ton of resources available to get you up and running fast. This is the least expensive option of the big three and it gives you the flexibility of moving your site to another hosting company without having to change anything.
Squarespace is a blog and ecommerce platform combined. It is the easiest of the big three to set up and learn. Prices range from $12/month to $40/month depending on the number of pages and level of commerce you expect to conduct. No other hosting plan is required. You can have a blog and store up and running in a day with this step by step tutorial.
Shopify is the most powerful of the three for ecommerce. If you will have a lot of products, variations (colors, sizes, etc) or options Shopify is your best pick. They are a robust, easy to use platform that will provide you with distinct advantages over the other two—buyable pins on Pinterest and selling directly from your Facebook page is included with your store. These factors are huge if product sales are the core of your business model. You can add a blog through Shopify or you can integrate a WordPress.org blog into your Shopify site. Prices begin at $9/month and go up to $79/month (there are higher level plans but for our purposes the Shopify plan is more than sufficient for 99% of my readers). The Lite plan ($9/month) allows you to sell on Facebook and to integrate Shopify into an existing WordPress site using a plugin. Buyable pins feature does not come with the Lite plan but is included with both the Basic ($29) and Shopify ($79) plans.
Direct Traffic to Your Site, Not Someone Else’s
All of your social media accounts (Facebook business page, FB business related groups you run, your business Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, YouTube, etc) should be pointing your tribe toward your website not to Etsy or any other third party seller. You want the traffic coming to you not to someone else’s site.
Pro Tip: Don’t just link to your homepage from your social media accounts. Link to a landing page that has a specific call to action. You can learn more about this in our mini-course: The Page Professor.
Promote Your Products Using Links from Your Own Site, Not Someone Else’s
Sharing a product link on social media or pinning your product on Pinterest should always lead the buyer to your site, not your Etsy or other third party shop. You don’t have control over what other people share (people can and will pin/share your products from your Etsy shop) and that’s ok, it’s fantastic that they are pinning your products! You do have control over where your pins & shares come from though. Always use your site links! You want buyers/readers coming to you, not Etsy.
Build a List of Customers and Keep it On Your Own Real Estate
Building a list of customer email addresses should be one of your primary focuses. Communicating with your customers builds brand loyalty, excitement for new products and an increase in conversion rates. Customers are also more likely to share new product information with their own social network, potentially expanding your customer base. Start building your list now…today! Do not wait. MailChimp is free and very easy to use. If you are an All In Entrepreneur then go ahead and start with ConvertKit. I promise it is worth the cost, the funnels you create within ConvertKit will result in a big uptick in sales if you use them correctly. Look for a complete tutorial coming soon!
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