April 17, 2012

Fun at the Etsy Success Symposium

Photos from the top: The gift pouch and my notes, Nickey at the mike, 
peeps in the Labs, and standing room only. 

From the subway I found the Etsy Labs building, took the elevator to the 7th floor and grabbed a metal folding chair in a room of nearly 100 other mostly female etsy sellers. Tara from Toronto sitting next to me makes cozies for Starbuck-style coffee cups. After introductions she flashed me a photo on her iphone. 

"Is this the Brooklyn Bridge?" asked the owner of SewTara (546 sales). "I promised my son I'd send him a picture." 

"Did you take that right outside?" She nodded. "No, that's the Manhattan Bridge. You're in DUMBO: Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass." I sketched her a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge on the back of my packet of materials.

Nickey Skarstad was about to begin the second annual Etsy Success Symposium: A full day of information on how to promote an etsy shop, tactics and strategies to help "get found," and tips on managing a creative, independent business. There was also the opportunity to meet others in the etsy community, like the gal sitting on the other side of me from ittybittybag (776 sales), who took a car service in from Connecticut. Clearly, people really wanted to be here. 

Here and there you could chat up some etsy administrative people who to me, at least, are like goddesses who hold the keys to the magical etsy kingdom. I had attended a one night presentation by Danielle Maveal and I'm not sure if it was her advice (show your packaging in your photos) or that she waved a magic wand over me when I wasn't looking, but I did what she taught us and BOOM! an order for 18 necklaces came in.

"The admins" as they are called (sounds like a girl group, no?) were knowledgeable, approachable, organized and helpful. I got to say hello to the famous Kimm Alfonso, which is kind of like meeting {NewNew} royalty, and tell her I was the person who came to her aid a few months ago by mailing her a Square reader. Kimm was a founding director of The {NewNew} team. (I was hoping just standing close to her would increase my shop's sales.)

The lovely Nickey Skarstad could seriously have her own television show she was such a smooth emcee, and adorable in what looked like an outfit culled from vintage etsy shops. I was coveting her sneakers when it occurred to me that if there was a runway and some Lady Gaga, the admins could have strutted in an ad hoc etsy fashion show. (If you don't believe me check out the recent etsy blog, How Sweet It Is: Spring Fashion with StyleCaster.)

The audience was a good cross section of sellers who made art, photography, clothing, jewelry, edibles, bath and beauty products, or collected vintage. I have to say, it hadn't occurred to me that this would be an opportunity to meet other etsy sellers, although wouldn't you like to know who is behind plaidcupcakedesigns, or tinygiraffeshop? I just thought that if $50 could help me cut through the clutter of the 45,000 pages that come up when a person searches necklaces like the ones I make, it would be well worth it to attend. How long could I hold my head high with only 8 sales in a year and a half? It's now actually 22 sales, even though it says 8. (Etsy counts multiple orders of one style as one sale.)

When we started our etsy shop it was basically an online press kit for handmade shows. Then the company changed the way shoppers searched and all of a sudden, we started to sell things. But not a lot of things, so we made it a 2012 resolution to put more effort into the etsy shop. This said, I have to admit that I've always thought succeeding with an etsy shop was just like getting into law school. I took the LSATs and I got into law school and I didn't think the other people who got in were all geniuses; they just knew how to think like lawyers. Could it be that people with successful etsy shops knew something the rest of us just don't know? If so, I was determined to find out what it is. 

The symposium offered top notch speakers on topics that mattered to the audience. In break-out rooms there were one-on-one consulting sessions with small business experts on branding, becoming an author, and product development, although the sign up sheet for all three consultants filled up fast. 

The workshops ran consecutively in the main room at the Labs, which was great since you didn't have to choose between Grabbing the Eye of a Curator and Romancing Magazine Editors. Everyone got the chance to learn how to grab and romance. And the panels often had one etsy seller who was successful in the topic of the workshop, which helped make the advice very pragmatic. All workshops are available for viewing, in their entirety, on the Etsy Online Labs and if you are serious, I would recommend viewing them. 

At midday, we moved offsite and attendees grabbed a box lunch and listened to engineers talk about new tools and functionality that help sellers gain exposure and traffic. Here the gloves came off and many offered tips on what would really help them deal with shop operations. To their credit, the engineers noted all the suggestions.

So if you don't have 9 hours to listen to all the workshops, here are some highlights:

1) When coming up with keywords for your etsy tags, think like a shopper. In other words, if you were searching Google for items like the ones you make, what would you be typing into the search bar? Put those words into an etsy search, and see what comes up. Does your product come up?

2) Michelle Spaulding of etsy counsels it is a "fatal mistake" (yes, she used those exact words) to use the same tags for every piece in your shop. "You'll get found in a lot more searches if the tags are varied," she offers. 

3) Try to create a unified look in your shop. If someone saw one of your photos could they say "I know who that is!" This is something the Treasury people have an eye out for.

4) Story guru Michael Margolis said that your art is probably a response to some humble beginnings or difficult circumstances you had to overcome.  He calls your response to these situations your "super powers." What is the origin of your powers? That's your story, and you should use it to illustrate what you sell. 

5) {NewNew} member Virginia Kraljevic counsels not to "cheap out" on the look of your space at a craft fair. Instead, look at everything from your banner to your display pieces as investments because they are a reflection of you and your work. Virginia herself erects what amounts to a small city when she does a craft show, and the results are amazing.

6) Refinery 29 web editor Connie Wang reported she gets "1,000 emails a day," so just sending an unsolicited email is not the best way to contact her. Instead, follow her on Pinterest and Twitter and see what she's interested in, then offer something that will engage her.  She added that some editors have Facebook pages on which you can make contact. 

Each attendee received a beautiful hand sewn envelope made of fabric sporting the symposium's logo (see photo above). Inside was: a tube of bubbles from Outright, the online bookkeeping and accounting site which also had an info table; a swatch booklet and details on printing your own fabric from Spoonflower; a signed print suitable for framing of a snow globe marked "Brooklyn" with the etsy headquarters in the BK skyline; a temporary tattoo from Kabbage, the company that provides cash to small online businesses to help them grow; a funky red key ring/bottle opener from Yelp reading "Local Buzz without the hangover;" an invitation from Behance Prosite with a code to publish a personal portfolio and an invitation to their upcoming portfolio review event (May 14-21); info sheets from Skillshare.com, a community marketplace to learn anything from anyone, and Squam, a company offering crafting retreats from New Hampshire to Italy, plus an etsy decal and buttons. 

In the end, I'd say it was definitely worth $50, although I vote for sitting on something other than a metal folding chair for nine hours. Was it true that there are some people who can think like etsy winners and they are a breed unlike the rest of us? No, not exactly. But etsy is a little bit of a science, and you can learn some of the things that work. The rest is testing one hypothesis after another. It wasn't a coincidence that Danielle's most common answer to questions in her workshop was "try it, and see." The same things are not going to work for everyone. My plan is to to search shops with over 500 sales and study what they are doing. Then copy the heck out of them.

In the end, I decided, you've got to love etsy. What other company with sales of $525.6 million (2011) would print in an event program helpful information on writing your own story that included: "Few of us consciously think we volunteered for the shit we go through, yet it's your job to look back and figure out how it all makes sense." What other company follows up with a survey asking if you'd recommend the symposium to a friend, offering options like ( ) No way, Jose! ( ) Unlikely ( ) Meh ( ) Very likely, or ( ) Of course! 

Posted by WinkandFlip


Simone said...

Fantastic article, I felt like I was right in the middle of it all. If you couldn't make it, you can still watch all the presentations here: http://www.etsy.com/blog/en/2012/etsy-success-symposium-get-found/

Nnenna said...

Such an amazing recap- I love the way you talked about your experience! I think it would be great fun to be able to attend- hopefully next year! :)

Kate said...

I loved reading your recap! It's almost as good as being there myself and it sounds like such a fun time.

Did you stop by the Outright.com table? I love Outright!

Thanks again for all the details. I'm definitely jealous.