This Mom Makes a Full-Time Living on Etsy
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This Mom Makes a Full-Time Living on Etsy

by Vana Chupp
Photos Kelly Allison | October 13, 2015

LIVING YOUR PASSION DOESN'T MEAN WORKING FOR FREE. ONE FORMER CONTESSA, VANA CHUPP, OFFERS SOME SAGE ADVICE ON USING ETSY TO CONQUER A COMPETITIVE CREATIVE MARKET. 

Seven years ago, I opened an Etsy shop specializing in one-of-a-kind heirloom silhouette pieces from fine art prints to jewelry. I was a new mom who initially started the shop as a way to satisfy my creative passions. My business idea was born from a need to document the personality, emotion, and playfulness of my firstborn, Nikolas. Each month of his first year of life, I’d draw his silhouette to capture the way his facial features changed. On a certain level, I thought of myself as the safe keeper of a family's memories

My designs resonated with people who saw them; I realized many parents were looking for a similar way to capture their little ones’ features. Sensing a niche, I developed a few products that featured custom silhouettes and signed up on for an Etsy seller account. I never imagined I'd make any real income from my creative hobby.

Six months after I started, I quit my consulting gig to focus on building my new business. What I’d considered a side project had quickly become a full-time job and eventually turned into a brand I’m proud to call my own.

So how did I create my own niche on Etsy? I used the following steps to make sure I kept my brand on track.

ESTABLISHING YOURSELF

There has never been a better time to start selling on Etsy than now. Etsy continues to expand each day and with that growth, there are more possibilities to supplement, or even make, a living selling your work on their platform. But consistency is key:

RESEARCH THE MARKET BEFORE YOU START

Etsy is filled with so much talent and more shows up every day. Instead of trying to be like another shop, make sure you’re bringing a unique offering. Taking time to do the research in the beginning will save you hours of work in the future. Once you’ve found a gap, you can fill it.

FIND A NICHE FOR YOURSELF

No matter how wonderful your product is, there’s most likely another one in the same category already on the market. So how do you stand out from the crowd of enormously talented Etsy sellers? Make sure your product has its own distinct value. You need to cultivate a style and approach that is immediately recognizable and relatable to your prospective customers. Don’t worry about whether or not your product will sell (not yet, that is), just concentrate on doing your thing.

What I’d considered a side project had quickly become a full-time job and eventually turned into a brand I’m proud to call my own.

DO WHAT YOU KNOW AND DO YOUR BEST

Your shop and products should reflect your personality and values. By not worrying about sales in the beginning, you can focus instead on doing your best work. Your love and passion for your craft will show in your products, and that’s exactly that what hooks shoppers on Etsy. {Click to Tweet} They’ll relate to your personality, approach, and style and—eventually—fall in love with your product.

BE PATIENT

Good things take time, just as success doesn’t happen overnight. Instead of stressing that first sale, take some time to educate yourself on selling on Etsy. The Etsy community is a wealth of information in this department. They have a separate section on their website, Etsy Handbook, which offers great advice for the sellers.

INVEST IN GREAT PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY

Photography does make a difference with how customers perceive your work. Think of it as your first impression—you want to make sure you don’t disappoint. Good product photography helps customers imagine how your products would fit with their personal aesthetic, in their homes, and in their lives. Make sure you present your products in the best light possible (literally and figuratively) so they clearly embody your style and skill.

IMPROVE AND ITERATE

While consistency defines your brand, remember there’s always room for improvement. Experiment with new ideas and continue to evolve your craft.

GET INVOLVED IN THE ETSY COMMUNITY

Some of the best advice I have received and gave was through the Etsy community, their forums, and attending Etsy events. What makes this community so unique is the sincere desire for all the makers to help one another. Find an Etsy team in your city and attend their events to help speed up your learning process.

GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE MATTERS SO BE THE BEST AT IT

Customer service is probably the most important element of running a successful business not only on Etsy, but everywhere. Communication is key when it comes to dealing with customers. If you don’t possess exceptional communication skills, patience, and a genuine liking for people, you might want to think about hiring someone who does.

Etsy continues to expand each day and with that growth, there are more possibilities to supplement, or even make, a living selling your work on their platform.

CONTINUING YOUR GROWTH

Success means something different to everyone—in my case it meant landing good press. Establishing a niche early on helped me receive a lot of media attention. A handful of great write-ups, two book deals with a publishing company, and a lot of hard work put my company on the map as a unique brand.

Although growth happened organically, running a shop didn't come without its challenges. Here’s how to keep going once you gain some traction.

ALWAYS STAY AHEAD OF THE GAME

Success meant attention, some of it negative. I had my work copied on numerous occasions. Instead of allowing it to bring me down, I focused on staying ahead of the game. Don’t chase the problem (in my case, copycats), but try to always find a solution—reinvent and focus your energy on creating new work. Remind yourself there’s room for all of us and keep on going to bigger and better things.

STAY POSITIVE

Being the heart and soul behind what you do is fulfilling, but at times it’s also proven difficult, especially when problems arise. Starting your own business means making mistakes. Always keep a positive outlook and don’t let anything bring you down—learn from the snags, then do better.

HOLD TRUE TO YOUR STORY

Putting family first and treasuring moments with my children is at the very heart of my business. In choosing silhouettes as my niche, I knew I was attracting a limited and specific customer base—and I was okay with that. I focused my attention on fine-tuning my offerings and continuing to bring value to my customers.

Children don’t stay little forever. I help people preserve simple moments they’ll treasure for a long time. Focusing on family and memories helped put  my business on the map as a company that doesn’t just sell a product, but also deeply cares, listens to, and responds to customer needs.

As I’ve grown my brand, I continually check back in on  how I’m communicating my story and message to my customers. Questions like “Who do I want to be?” and ” Who I want to serve?” and “Why do I matter?” keep me on track.

Playing an active role in the Etsy community has also helped establish me as a leading, honest, authentic voice on women in business. {Click to Tweet} I’m a big proponent for finding balance between business and motherhood, fostering creativity in everyday life. These life values feed into my work.

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Tell us, how do you carve out your niche on Etsy? What craft excites your passion and makes you a bit of mula too?