The Foolproof Formula of Successful Sellers

on Sep 4th, 2014 | in Etsy Tips | 9 Comments

If your Etsy sales have plateaued, or never made it past a trickle, you must be wondering what you’re doing wrong.

I assume you’ve already polished your product descriptions and improved your photos. You’re doing something on social media to promote your shop. Maybe you’ve even read a few things about SEO. It seems like you’re doing everything right, but tumbleweeds blow past when you look at your sales numbers.

There’s a huge mistake that nearly every new Etsy seller makes. They work hard to make a great product, list it on Etsy – and wait. They wait for the sales that will never come.

I’ve interviewed dozens of Etsy sellers, and there’s one stand-out habit of the successful ones – they don’t wait. Successful sellers all follow the same foolproof formula. It’s so simple that I’m embarrassed to reveal it.

Are you ready? Here it is.

Find people who need your product, and convince them to buy it.

That’s it. That’s all you need to do. Duh, right? Of course everyone knows that. Thank you, Captain Obvious. Think about it, though – in the past month, what have you done to find people who need your product? What have you done to convince anyone to buy your product?

If you’re looking down at your shoes right now, I don’t blame you. I’ve ignored the formula for a long time myself. It’s intimidating because you don’t know what to do. How do I find people who need my product? How do I convince them to buy it?

There’s plenty of marketing mumbo-jumbo out there like “target market” and “branding.” It’s all killer advice, but it sounds like Greek when you’re first starting out. Even the word marketing is intimidating. Gosh, that sounds like a lot of work. Don’t people do that for their job?

It’s not that complicated. That formula up there is basically the definition of marketing. I’m going to show you some easy tricks to get yourself in front of the right customers and start making sales happen – instead of waiting.

Find people who need your product

Let’s take on the first part of the formula. Unless you’re selling air on Mars, no one really needs your product in a necessary-for-survival sense. We’re talking about a craving. You’ve had it before, a sense that my life is not complete until I have that thing. I didn’t even know my life was incomplete until you told me 5 minutes ago, but now I’ll suffer in a pit of despair until it’s mine.

Who is going to have that reaction about your product? If your answer is everyone, try again (unless you’re selling Girl Scout cookies). If your answer is teenagers, or middle-aged women, try again. That’s way too broad, I guarantee not every teenager is going to be excited by your product.

Finding that narrow band of people who need your product is what marketers mean when they say “target market.” It’s targeted because that helps you figure out where to spend your time and money. Marketing to middle-aged women as a whole means getting on Oprah, and that’s really expensive. Marketing to middle-aged women from the south who like home decor and entertaining – now that’s achievable.

That’s my target market for my napkin rings, by the way. Hipsters in San Francisco might buy my napkin rings too, but I’ll get a much better result trying to lure in those Southern gals.

So how do you narrow it down?

Start with assumptions. You probably have some idea about who would like your products. If your product is specific enough, that may be all you need. If you sell beer pong accessories, you don’t need to think too deeply about it.

Next, take a look at the sales you have made. What do they have in common? In my case, I get lots of orders from southern states. That one little piece of information is huge. What can you glean from conversations you’ve had with customers?

If you have a Facebook business page, this next trick might blow your mind. Facebook has something called graph search that lets you to ask some interesting questions. Go to Facebook and try typing some of these in the search box:


  • Pages liked by people who like <Your Business>
  • Pages liked by people who like <Your Business> and Etsy
  • Favorite interests of people who like <Your Business>
  • Pages liked by women over 40 years old who like <Your Business>
  • Favorite music of people who live in Colorado and like <Your Business>

Kind of crazy, right? This should give you some clues about your audience. I just saved you thousands of dollars in market research. You can thank me later.

If Twitter is more your style, go to the Followerwonk analysis page, punch in your Twitter name and change the dropdown to “Analyze their followers.” Take a look at the biography word cloud at the bottom – it’s like a target-market-North-star.

Now let’s get even sneakier. You can do this even if you don’t have a following built up by putting in your competition instead of your own business. Your competition is a great source of information to find people who need your product. Check out who they’re marketing to, and consider how to make your business stand out.

The last source of information is arguably the best – asking customers themselves. I put it last only because it’s easy to piss people off, and Etsy’s Conversations Policy prohibits most customer contact after a transaction is complete. Tread carefully and don’t send unsolicited (spam) email.

If you’ve had custom orders off of Etsy, or customers that contacted you in other ways, reach out to them. Customers from the last few months are best, since they’ll still remember their buying process. I’ll even make it brainless with a template that you can drop right in, or modify to fit your shop.

Hi <Customer>,

Thank you so much for your order of <Product> on <Date>. I want to make sure you’re still happy with the product, and to answer any questions that have come up since your purchase.

I’m also working on improving my shop and I could use your feedback. I know, I instantly delete all those customer surveys I get from Comcast and other companies too. This is different. I’m a one-person shop run out of my home in <Your Hometown> and I only have a handful of customers to ask.

I’ve included some questions below, but any feedback that comes to mind is priceless to me.

  • What do you like about <Product> the most?
  • Did you consider any alternatives before buying my product? If so, which ones?
  • What questions or concerns did you have before your purchase?
  • What else would you like to buy from me (if I were smart enough to offer it)?
  • Anything else you’d like to tell me.

Thank you for your time, I really appreciate the support.

Remember that people who need your product aren’t always the people buying your product. Most of the year, my target market for napkin rings is middle-aged women from the south who like home decor and entertaining. Just before Mother’s Day it changes to college-aged kids from the south whose mothers like home decor and entertaining. See what I did there?

Convince them to buy it

I’ve known so many artists that kill it at craft shows (provided they find the right craft shows) but can’t sell a dollar for 50 cents on Etsy. Okay, let’s be totally honest – I’ve been one of them. What’s so different about selling online?

At a craft show, customers are basically trucked in and forced to walk past your booth. Etsy is like a craft show, but it has a million booths and they’re handing out teleporters at the door. They also hand out a map and your shop isn’t even on there. Oh yeah, and if someone mistakenly finds your booth you can only play a pre-recorded message.

So there’s a little difference.

The first hurdle to convince someone to buy your product is to make them aware it even exists. Thankfully, there’s a really easy way to get your product in front of people. It’s another thing I’m embarrassed to reveal because it’s so simple and obvious.

It’s advertising. I bet the little hairs on the back of your neck just stood up.

If you haven’t tried advertising before, or if you’ve tried it unsuccessfully, you might be wondering what crack I’m smoking. Brittany, I’m reading this because I have low sales, and you want me to go spend money on advertising?

Hear me out.

Good advertising is like printing money. If you don’t make at least your advertising costs back in profit, you’re doing it wrong. Suppose I offered you an ad for $100 that would bring in $200 in sales and a surge in awareness about your products – would you take it? I’ll answer that for you, of course you would.

The crucial part is finding the right place to advertise. I went through this recently myself – I found lots of bad places to advertise, and some very exciting ways to flush my money down the toilet. I also found a trick that actually works.

It’s not even that hard.

In fact, if you’ve followed along this far you’ve already done the hardest part – figuring out who needs your products. The next step is finding somewhere those people go that has great traffic and affordable advertising rates. That combo is a tall order with ad networks, but it’s the norm on blogs.

So here’s the trick – add “blog” to a Google search about your target audience. I wanted to find blogs about Southern home decor that would fit my market, so I searched “southern home decor blog”. The first search result is a Southern decorating blog with 300,000 monthly visitors that only charges $60/month for an ad.

It’s important to find a blog that really fits with your products, so even though that’s an amazing deal on advertising, I kept on the hunt. If you find a blog that’s close-but-not-quite what you’re looking for, see if they have a “blogs I love” section – these are almost always blogs with similar themes.

I found a great blog with a humongous section devoted to tablescapes. It was like I’d died and gone to napkin ring marketing heaven.

Lots of blogs also invite product donations to review or give away to their readers, or they might want to do an interview. A friendly, personal email to the blog author could land you free advertising.

If you really want to make an impact, read through their recent posts and start a discussion in your message.

Stop sitting by the phone waiting for customers to call. You worked hard to make your products, and you and I both know that you deserve more sales than you’re getting. Put down the Pinterest, step away slowly from the Instagram. I don’t call it the “foolproof formula” because it might work for your shop.

Find people who need your product, and convince them to buy it.

Look critically at everything you do through this lens. Here’s a recap of the things you should be doing right now.

  • Find people who need your product through savvy social media analysis and customer surveys.
  • Glean information on potential customers from previous sales and customer interactions.
  • Think about who might be buying gifts for those people, and how to reach them.
  • Search for niche blogs that nail your target market.
  • Contact the bloggers with a personal, heartfelt message to win them over.

Low sales might soon be a distant memory. I won’t judge if you prepare your speech for Quit Your Day Job ahead of time.

Cover image by Erika on Flickr.
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9 Responses

  1. Amy Sirois says:

    I love your comedic delivery of this FABULOUS info!!! Makes marketing seem much less tedious 🙂

  2. Isabella says:

    apparently FB no longer does a graph search because it produced no results for any of these and I would like to think the people liking my page like other pages and all…in fact, I know they do, lol…but then, judging from the dates above and FB loving to change every bloody thing they can that makes sense it doesn’t surprise me at all. but really good advice otherwise! cheers!

  3. Gina says:

    Wow! I’m so excited I found your page. You are a great writer and have some great info here. Thank you!!


  4. Valérie says:

    Wow! I was feeling a little overwhelmed with finding the right blog and the right way to promote my store but this Passionfruit services just made it all so much more feasible and less of a scary beast of a task! Thank You Nessa Jay for mentioning it and thank you Brittany for clarifying it! I think this will help me get on the right track! :o)

  5. Nessa Jay says:

    I always love reading your advice and this post is no exception. I’ve decided to start blog advertising this week. I already have one blog in mind but I’ll be looking at a few more options before making a final choice for my first campaign.

    What are your thoughts on services like Passionfruit etc for blog advertising vs. direct contact with the blog owner for advertising? Is there still contact with the blogger either way?

    • Brittany says:

      Thank you, Nessa! I have no problem with Passionfruit or other ad services that let you pick the blog directly; many bloggers use services like these because they’re much easier to set up than getting your own ad rotation and payment system going.

      What I’d avoid are ad networks, where you don’t get to pick the blog but instead pick a broad category. With category-based ad networks, you’ll wind up spending money to show an ad on blogs that have nothing to do with your product, and that’s not money well spent! Finding the perfect fit for your product is key.

      • Nessa Jay says:

        Thanks for the clarification about ad services vs ad networks. I kind of thought they were the same thing but now I clearly understand they’re not.

        I just submitted my first ad on a blog via Passionfruit and I’m waiting for approval! *fingers crossed*

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