Standing OUT on Etsy - how to find your voice, your village and get naked in front of the world

The number one question I get asked about from Etsy sellers and wannabe Etsy sellers is, "How do I stand out?"

(probably because my Polarity shop is listed as an 'expert' on how to stand out for the Etsy mentor group TeamSassy because I picked that category for myself and because I sometimes wear stirrup pants with red converse, but only on Fridays)

so I am devoting this first week of spring to a 3 day Standing Out on Etsy Lollapalooza (but without Vampire Weekend and Jane's Addiction) and a 1 day wrap up with all kinds of wonderful links you will want to check out if you are interested in expanding on these themes.


1. Don't try to be all things to all people. The soprano doesn't try to be a baritone.

(I am feeling the need to work with musical references, it must be my new Vampire Weekend CD, I hope you don't mind)

You don't have to worry about the millions of people out there who will not like/want/need your craft, you just have to focus on reaching the people who will love you.

Example- Your neighborhood five and dime (if you are still lucky enough to have one) sells something for everyone- from fishing lures to underwear, they have it all, but they only stay in business (when they do) if they are the only game in town - on Etsy you will not be the only game in town. Etsy is a niche marketplace- trust me, you need a niche.

2. Your voice must be unique. You could be the best seamstress on the planet, but if you are going to try and sell Amy Butler coin purses on Etsy- well good luck to you. I haven't checked, but I'd bet there are lots of sellers already doing this.

Now you could take those purses to a local craft show and maybe clean up, but you are going to have to sew some pretty unique purses to stand out on Etsy.

3. Your voice must be consistent. It is hard to connect with the right buyer if you fill your shop with very different things.

(dancingmooney does this very well- most sellers trying to combine jewelry and soap and picture frames would certainly muck it up- I would- she doesn't- but you might- so be careful).

Example - I am searching for some bright yellow hair ribbons for my little girl and I pop into your shop where you happen to sell some very nice yellow hair ribbons for $8.00 and I also see in your shop some wonderfully turned, reclaimed, exotic wood wine stoppers for $75.00, well- somehow (in my mind) seeing those wine stoppers will muddy up the yellow hair ribbons for me and on the flipside if I am searching for a wonderfully turned, reclaimed, exotic wood wine stopper and pop into your shop - those $8.00 hair ribbons will somehow de-value those stoppers.

Even more subtle things can cause a shop to just look "off", feel unbalanced and chase away the people you are trying to connect with.

Now, if you are thinking that maybe I would buy some yellow hair ribbons for my daughter, and maybe while I am in your shop, a wonderfully turned wine stopper for my hubby- I can promise you that I wouldn't.

(because #1. my hubby doesn't drink wine anymore, because he claims I steal the corks and stop up the bottles with marshmallows which I only did once during an emergency back order situation that he has never been able to get over and #2. I would have already left your shop)

If I see a shop like my crafty woman above selling hair ribbons and wine stoppers- I would think that this is a creative woman who just hasn't found her voice yet.

Because the kind of woman who's passion would be about pastel hair ribbons (and sugar and spice and everything nice) would most likely be a totally different woman than the one who's passion would be about exotic wood wine stoppers (snakes and snails and puppydog tails).

(unless maybe she wears her leopard print kaftan with her yellow hair ribbons and of course, we may have seen women like this- we just don't want to be seen with them)

So how do you find your voice? Well, your voice is your passion (your voice is what makes you unique) and some artists are born with a strong passion and have an internal pressure to make what they need to make.

If that sounds like you, then your challenge is going to be to find the people who want to buy what you need to make.

Other artists are just born knowing they need to sing (switching back to music again - please keep up), but are not sure what to sing. If this is you- then your challenge is going to be to discover what you want/need to sing.

We are crafty, creative people- we need to make things- the problem may be that we need to make all kinds of things. And I am certainly not saying that you shouldn't make all kinds of things because you definitely should. I make all kinds of things, too- I just don't try to sell all of them.

1. Think about what you love. This can be hard if you have been shut down or busy with so many responsibilities that you have lost sight of yourself.

Look around you- what have you surrounded yourself with? What can't you live without.

Make a vision board and fill it with pictures of the things, colors and styles that you love.

2. Carry a journal and a camera. Jot down your thoughts and feelings, draw pictures, doodle, take pictures of things that capture your attention.

3. Make time for new work. Set aside time to be in your studio (and yes, you need studio space and you need it to be organized because a mess will just give you another excuse to not get going) - this commitment is crucial.

4. Look at art, fashion, industrial design. Lots and lots of it. Particularly work that is outside your medium- all sorts of inspiration is just a click away. Don't be afraid that this will lead you to copy other artists (which is often illegal and always uncool) - it won't, you're not that kind of artist, but it will inspire you.

5. Remember there is no right or wrong. What you make today will be different from what you make tomorrow. First efforts are usually not very good - things evolve.

If you check the early sales of your favorite Etsy shops - you may be surprised at how their lines have evolved. I always think I should refund all my early Uncorked customers because they got something so different from what I sell today!

6. Practice. The more that you work in your chosen medium, the more you will find those ideas that make your work unique. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

Our culture is very fast paced and we want things to happen quickly. But, this just isn't one of those things- there is no secret or fast formula to finding your voice.

Inspiration can come in a flash, but only if you are open and ready for it.

As you grow into yourself - (try new things, discover what you do well, what you need to do, what is important to you) and really allow yourself to be who you authentically are (I also find that as I become more authentic in other areas of my life, my work becomes more authentic also) I am very certain you will find your voice.

And it will be strong and powerful (and maybe off-key sometimes, because you are probably not Streisand).

And people will hear your voice (see your work and your shop) and recognize that it is your voice (your work and your shop) and the people who are drawn to your voice will find you. And they will shop.

Do I hear a Hallelujah?!

Standing Out on Etsy 101- Part 2. It Takes a Village

When I found Etsy, I joined as a seller, knew one person (who was related to me) and was immediately lost in the crowd.

By the time I opened my second shop, a few months later, I had created a bit of a community for myself and the going was alot easier.

If I was starting out on Etsy today, I would begin as a buyer. I would start a blog before I opened my shop. I would reach out to other people first. Just like our crafty forefathers setting up shop in a small village- I would look for a need to be filled.

1. Be generous with your hearts - If you are a seller, your hearts are more than a wish list. Hearts are a very real way to support other artists, whose work you value.

When I have sellers asking me for advice about "how to stand out" and I look at their shop and they have hearted no one or almost no one, it is very telling about their real problem.

If you want people to give you their money and energy, but do not want to extend any of your own resources outward, there is likely going to be a block of flow. If you want hearts, give hearts. If you want to sell handmade, buy handmade. This is the give and take of the village.

From my first sale on Etsy, I tithed 10% of my profits back to Etsy, I didn't do any exact tabulation, but I would take a look, first monthly and then weekly as things got busier, at what I was making and give a little bit back.

I bought things from the shops I wanted to support (not because they were the hottest thing on the front page, not because they were new and not because they had no sales) - I bought from the shops that inspired me.

Today my tithes also support Kiva artists and the blogs that support handmade.

(I think it is very important to support the blogs that support handmade - if we don't pay them, they don't get paid and they are a part of the community that we would sorely miss if they all left us because they had to get 'real jobs')

Sometimes the money goes into giveaway items for my own blog (which I am sometimes given, sometimes trade for and sometimes yes, I actually buy them).

I have had other blogger's express dismay that I would actually buy something to give away on my blog. But I strongly believe that we need to pay each other - if we don't respect the monetary value of other artists' and community members' work and time, who will value ours?

2. The treasury system - take a look at the front page curation because it's not a bad place to be.

But if you get there and your shop doesn't look amazing, it will not mean anything, trust me on this.

(more on looking amazing tomorrow).

I had given no thought to treasuries or to the front page when my Uncorked shop (which had been open for a couple months) got on the front page for the first time.

The stars were totally aligned for me- it was a Thursday night at 8pm and I was in the center spot in the top row. Primetime on Etsy (and I have been on the front page often enough since then to be certain of this) - I had 8 sales and 150 hearts in the hour or so it was up there. The treasury was made by a seller with a shop called Moxiedoll and she changed my Etsy life.

I started making treasuries and I loved it. Alot of them ended up on the front page. I started commenting on treasuries that I liked. I started commenting on treasuries that got to the front page.

More people started putting me in their treasuries. I got to the front page more often. But the most important thing is that I built a community with some other sellers who loved making treasuries as much as I did.

I loved knowing that as I sat there with my finger on the mouse waiting for that box to open, that hundreds of other people around the world were doing the same thing!

Eventually my treasuries stopped getting to the front page and I decided to move the energy I was putting into them toward a blog. But I still love the idea of seller curated front pages and hope Etsy continues with them.

1. Comment on treasuries that you like and comment on front page treasuries
2. Make treasuries- you can put a couple of your friends in there, of course, but mostly look for things that inspire you.

I know people who keep lists of who has put them in a treasury, so that they can reciprocate and maybe some people expect that, but I think it is best to pass that energy on - like a random act of kindness - you don't expect to be paid back - you just want it to be passed on.

(making treasuries is also a great way to see what others on Etsy are doing, how your work fits in and what stands out - it is also a good way to spot a niche that is not being filled)

3. Join a team. I know, I know- you're not a joiner and I'm not either.

(I'm still more of a "sit arms folded outside the group and snicker" kind of person, but I'm trying)

Some teams require more from you than other teams. There are local teams and if you are planning to do craft shows- that would be a must. There are charity teams. There are medium specific teams. There are niche market teams. There are lifestyle teams. There really is something for everyone. Decide on what you want from a team and what you can contribute and join one or two. Again, you are building your village.

4. The Forums - can be a great place to create even more relationships. Just stay positive and save the drama for your mama, as they say.

(I can whine and moan with the best of them, as you've probably noticed, but it would take something pretty major for me to go into the forums and be negative - I save all the negative stuff for my family and friends)

I am not a forum expert, since I don't go in there much, but you can definitely develop friendships and supportive relationships in there. You don't have to be a big rah-rah, but trust me, snarkiness in a professional setting is always a no-no.

5. Blogs/Twitter/Facebook/Flickr - Now this building your village thing is starting to sound like alot of work (it is) and it can take up alot of your time and energy and it is up to you to decide what to invest your time and energy in.

Many of these work in similarly, mutually beneficial ways. You put energy out there and the energy comes back to you.

(or maybe it just gets passed on like the random act of kindness energy and that is ok, too)

Twitter is the easiest. You follow people. Some will follow you back. If you tweet things people are interested in, they will be more likely to stay with you.

You can't tweet shop listings or sales at people all day long anymore than you can talk to your family and friends about your business all day long.

If you remember that Twitter is a conversation that you are having with other people within your village this will be easier.

Take time to comment on other people's tweets and respond to the people who have responded to yours. Then when you tweet a shop listing or two, people will be interested.

Your blog works the same way. A blog can be a great way to introduce yourself and your life to people- to form connections within your village. You get to decide what you want to blog about based on the goals for your blog, but whatever your goals are you will likely need to blog regularly - at least twice a week, offer your readers interesting information, comment on other people's blogs- that extending yourself thing again- and most of all have fun with it.

Blogging about your work, your upcoming show, your shop, your work, etc- over and over again is fine (maybe), but it will narrow your audience, probably down to people who know you.

So, how does all this help you to stand out?

Well, let's go back to our original village scenario and pretend that my little Etsy shop called Polarity is a totally adorable little village store

(and I think it would be painted turquoise and plum and Olive's little kisser would be proudly displayed on the front awning)

It is 9am on a warm and sunny Wednesday and I pull into town on my bicycle; first stop is my little village's bakery -

not just for a coffee, but I will buy one, in my home brought cup, of course and maybe a donut, because what the hell, I did ride my bike, right?

but also to chat up the other shop owners and villagers about the local news and happenings and the upcoming town festival.

Then maybe as I am walking over to my little Polarity store, keys in hand, I will stop and help Hal, the local hardware store guy who is setting up his ladder display and we will chat for a few minutes about some shelving he is going to be making me for my new locket cabinets.

And then I will spot Noelle, the village screenprinter who will tell me that some girls who saw my lockets on the t-shirts in her window display will be stopping by my store today to buy some.

By the time I am open for business I am feeling relaxed and upbeat and have a big smile on my face for every customer who walks in my door.

(not one of those big creepy smiles where you see gums and everything though)

The customers have heard about my shop and my little, friendly village and they just keep coming.

Now, let's look at my morning another way.

I drive into town because I am in a hurry and I think about that coffee shop, but I really need to save that dollar because times are hard, right, and I sort of see that guy Hal (although I never bothered to learn his name) fumbling with his ladders, but I'm in a hurry so I quickly glance away before he sees me and I just keep moving.

Then Noelle (who is just the pretty girl with the brown hair to me now) approaches me with some hare-brained scheme to put my lockets in her window display (like I am going to just give her my lockets- they will probably get ruined!), so I just tell her I am running late and rush into my shop.

People! I scowl as I settle in behind my counter.

Now, the truth is that we can all totally have the modern equivalent of that little village store and we can have it right now.

We can exchange ideas with each other, convo shops that you love and tell them, have sales and events together, cross-promote our items and shops, put each other's items in our photos, send out other shop's business info with our orders as well as our own, buy advertising space together for a month and trade off weeks, buy from each other's shops and on and on and on.

If you are on Etsy, you already have a village - it is just up to you to make use of it.

(and now that I think of it, I have my awning, too, except it is called my banner and why the heck isn't it plum and turquoise if that is my dream- got to get working on that)

Part III - Looking Good  Naked

Now, this isn't one of those posts where I throw in a naked woman to get your attention


I will tie this in, if you are still with me at the end of this, I promise.

In the meantime, let's talk visuals because you can't stand out on Etsy if you don't look good.

(just maybe not in a naked in the supermarket, with that horrible lighting, kind of way)

Your product needs to look good (and be good, really good actually), your photos need to look good, your banner needs to look good, your layout needs to look good.

Now again, this is a process. There are some people who open their Etsy shop and have it all together right away and that is a good, inspiring thing. But it is also a good thing to grow organically within the community, so there is no fear that you have to do everything right (because none of us ever do).

The Visuals

The "B" Word - Some people hate the word branding because it conjures up images of large corporations and things that may not feel like they have any connection to us as people and as artists and crafters, but taking a few minutes to define your work

(I know, you can't be defined and put in a box, but your shop is kind of a box, so trust me for a minute)

can help you create a more consistent visual for your Etsy shop. If you were opening a B&M right now with your work how would you explain it to people - what would it look like?

1. Define the best thing you offer

Take some time and think about defining the single best thing you do. This could be what comes to mind when people think of your work. Or what makes you unique could be the reason you create your art or the life experiences you’ve had which have shaped you as an artist. There is no right or wrong answer.

2. Create a key phrase built around this best thing that you offer

Work towards something that is very short and concise.

3. Create imagery to reinforce the message visually

Having a symbol or visual identity to go along with your branding statement is very effective.

Opening an Etsy shop and then thinking, now I need a banner, is not what you should be thinking if you want to stand out. You don't need a banner- you need an identity.

An identity which will lead to a branding statement which will lead to the creative imagery that represents you which will lead to your banner (and business cards and hang tags,etc).

So, what is it you are trying to say?

This takes us back to the finding your voice thing from Tuesday and if this isn't clear in your mind and heart, you will be changing your marketing materials as you get a better sense of direction. And this is ok - it will just be less expensive if you get a grip on this stuff first.

1. Your banner and avatar - Your banner is your storefront sign (picture that sign over the front door of your little brick and mortar) so it needs to represent you and your brand very well.

A. A professional business should look professional - your banner and logo are a very important part of your brand and worth your time, attention and money.

Someone creating a logo or banner for you should be asking you for pictures of your work. They should be asking you alot of questions. This is going to take a good deal of their time and you are going to have to be willing to pay them for it.

You probably can't go wrong with pictures of your products or your process.

B. Avoid stock images because anyone can buy them and this is about you.

C. Avoid trendy fonts that are hard to read. This may be the hottest font, but I have no idea what this says.

D. Don't rely solely on color. Let choosing your colors become your last decision. I think you should be able to change your colors without changing your branding (and sooner or later you will be printing your logo out for something in black and white). If your logo is really just a trendy swoosh, glow or bevel, then maybe you don't really have one.

E. Make sure your font works with your design and not against it and limit the fonts in your logo to two of different weights.

F. Your avatar should be either a photo of your work or a photo of yourself. No other options.

(Your kids are probably cute, but I don't really need to see them when I am shopping)

I think if you are going to be posting in the forums alot - use your work, otherwise use your kisser.

(I like to see who I am buying from and I think alot of other people do, too)

The biggest problems with banners on Etsy is those that do not represent the work for sale in the shop, include boring stock imagery or use pictures that have been poorly stretched into banner size.

2. Your Item Photos - Now there a gazillion articles out there on taking amazing product photos and I will post some great links next week.

I'm not going to get into the technical stuff except to say that this is something you will have to learn or you will have to send your items out to a professonal for photographing.

There is no way you can stand out on Etsy with poor photos.

Exercise -Do an Etsy search for your item- does it stand out on the page with other, similar items? If your photos are not the ones that jump out at you, take a closer look at the ones that do.

What is the difference between your item photos and the ones that you notice first? Are your backgrounds busier, your items further from the camera, your photos more static and flat?

Now, an important point when you are comparing your photos to other similar items is that you are your own artist with your own brand. You don't want to copy what you see, but you can bring certain aspects that you like into your own photos.

Phydeaux is the knitter who photographs those amazing "scarves coming at you like rattlesnakes" (if we copy specific elements like this with our photos, we are copying someone else's brand and not creating our own).

You can bring the feeling of elements like this into your own photos in your own way.

This will take time and work and no one can really tell you how to do this except you will need to work at your photos just as you do your craft. If it was easy everyone would do it. This stuff is hard.

Often, when I mentor people about standing out and ask them to do this exercise, they tell me that their items stand out to them. And they are not standing out to me.

Sometimes I think we put so much love and energy into our work (good things) that we can't really see it anymore- at least not in the way that a new customer would. So, sometimes another set of eyes may be needed - ask a few people to point out the items that stand out and see if there is anything you can learn from those photos.

Consistency, consistency, consistency. Your photos must be consistent throughout your shop. This can be done with your unique voice and an understanding of your brand.

If you are having trouble getting your shop to have a consistent feel -

I would suggest taking the following photos of each item- 2 photos from interesting angles (both close up and it goes without saying, I hope, that the photos must be clear and bright)- no matter how great the weather and how expensive my camera- it's not super expensive, but it wasn't cheap- I always need to lighten my photos in Photoshop.

1 photo with your product packaging

1 photo of your entire item,

1 photo of your item being used - if you sell clothing or jewelry- you need a live model- well, maybe you don't need one, but if you want to stand out I would highly recommend it - models add movement and life to your shop.

My model pics get many more views than my other items. I always keep a couple on my first 2 pages (where 80% of my views and sales come in).

If you sell prints or photos you need to show a picture of your item hanging in a room or framed on a table - check the vinyl wall art people- they do this very well - don't come up with excuses about why you can't do this - Etsy isn't your portfolio - it is your store - just figure it out and do it.

If you sell a usable item such as a potholder this is where you photograph your checkered potholder lying near a pan on a stovetop with a set of wineglasses in the background.

If you sell a decorative item such as a piece of pottery this is where you photograph the item as someone whould display it in their home.

If you have 5 somewhat consistent pictures for each item, it will be easy to give the first 2 pages of your shop a cohesive but eclectic and interesting visual by varying which picture you use as your first picture.

Take advantage of the fact that you can easily rearrange your items by keeping those first 2 pages looking great- check them daily- if you had a B&M store you would surely walk it everyday and you need to walk your Etsy shop, too.

Your featured items should be changed at least weekly. The first 3 items in your shop (the last 3 you have listed) are the items that show up next to your avatar in people's hearts so you want to keep them varied and representing your entire line.

Other tips:

1. Keep your backgrounds simple. Hanging a pocketbook in a tree is always a bad idea. I use distressed scrapbook paper to add texture to my item photos.

2. If your photos are not square make sure you check the effect thumbnail cropping has on them. When the head is cut off the model purposefully- our eye moves to her dress, but if the dress is cut off, too, due to the cropping, our eye loses its focus.

3. Use negative space wisely. Too little or too much and your subject can be lost.

4. Use props and backgrounds that have some relevance to each other and to your item (again, this is why the hanging of a pocketbook in a tree doesn't work- would you ever hang your pocketbook in a tree? Of course, if this was a really interesting dichotomy, something the customer couldn't miss as a purposeful play on your subject this could work- like a pocketbook in the fridge, or something)

5. When grouping multiple items use odd numbers (even numbers lose their focal point) because you want to control where the customer's eyes end up

Sometimes, very talented craftspeople, the detail oriented thinkers among us who create very fine and intricate work and crave symmetry may need a second set of eyes to create photographs that are balanced but still visually interesting.

Visual merchandising is both an art and a science. Approach it with an open mind. If something doesn't work, try something else. There is no right or wrong and there is no end zone. This is something that will be constantly evolving.

Now, what does all this have to do with looking good naked?

Well, I think that putting your work out there for the world to see (and judge- ugh!) is quite like getting naked in front of everyone.

(not something I am likely to do anytime soon, unless my fire alarm is going off in the middle of my shower and I am running for my life ... and even then I might just wait it out in the shower- those things are kind of fireproof, right?)

We put so much of ourselves into this stuff, the best parts of ourselves; our heart and soul- truly, truly. And we want to do everything we can to make things work the way we want them to. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.

My items have sold well on Etsy, but I have done craft shows where all the jewelry sellers around me were selling like hotcakes and I was sitting there trying to smile and pretending that I wasn't getting my feelings hurt.

(I think maybe if you can sit at a craft show with your art and not feel like you are naked, you probably need to put a little more of yourself in it)

There is no surefire thing here.

But if you can work the process (forget the end zone because they will keep moving it on you) I am totally certain that so much good will come into your life (and yes, sales along with the good!) that you will be truly happy that you got naked.

In fact it will become impossible for people to keep clothes on you and your family and friends will be running around behind you with blankets and embarrased faces at all the commotion you will be causing because damn ... you look good.