Today we're going to just talk about life and how to be successful selling on Etsy. And I know a lot of you dream of this stream of income too. And it goes hand in hand with a lot of things that you all want to create. Sharing all about their Etsy success, I interviewed Katie and Taylor Smith of Studio Sisters, a creative powerhouse that produces vinyl stickers and is ranked in the top 1% of all Etsy shops globally.
We chatted about all the cool products that they have in their store and why you need them. I wanted to hear about life before they found all of this freedom and extra income. We also chatted about how much of a blessing it is to be able to have a job like this, where you get to call the shots, you get to create your own financial freedom. You get to make the income you've always dreamed of.
So I started with Taylor, because I know she is a former teacher. I wanted to know what life looked like before she was an Etsy seller?
Before Taylor quit her teaching job and became a full-time Etsy seller and handmade business owner. She started out post-grad school. She has a BA in Anthropology and she began teaching in a community college, where she taught Anthropology and Archeology. She not only taught at the community college level but also in a special integrated program where they taught social studies in high school. She taught at different community colleges for about six years before she realized she was really tired of commuting in city traffic and teaching night classes. It was at that point she began to look for an online teaching job.
And so she found one and then got offered a second one at the same time. Taylor says she is known for making really crazy over-committed decisions in her life. So she accepted both at the same time. And here's a little picture of what her life was like.
She would turn up the volume really loud on her computer so she could hear if a student joined her virtual office. And then would catch up on sleep during those early office hours. None of this was ideal. She really enjoyed teaching and interacting with students and helping people get from point A to point B, and watching people grow as she helped them.
But as many teachers know, like just the restriction of schedules and the amount of time it took for her to put in just to make a living. It began to burn me out really quickly.
What I took from her schedule was that she was overworked and underpaid. I think even as children, when we go to school, we're ingrained with the idea that the harder you work, the more money you make. And I know that's how my daddy raised me and that's how he got to where he was. But it's so beautiful that we live in a moment now where you don't have to work so hard to make a decent living.
Even though Katie was not a full-time teacher before she became a successful Etsy seller, she had a really cool job too. She has always been a full-time artist. Even as a kid her dream in life was just to create things. So much so that she got in trouble for drawing on homework because she drew on everything. So she just sold her work and did some different things but lacked direction and focus. It wasn't until they really started the Etsy shop and started working together that things really took off because Katie had someone like Taylor to bounce ideas off of.
And they really are sisters in real life. A lot of people want to go into business and partner with someone, but they're always afraid to. And they always think that there's going to be so many other things that come into the equation, but it sounds like they both took what they were great at and it made this perfect marriage of a business.
Although they collaborate on a lot of the content together, Taylor stays out of the creative stuff. She hands it off to Katie because it's her jam. They kind of talk about in general, the products they’re going to create. But as far as anything from a pencil to a paintbrush to a marker, That’s all Katie. As a teacher, Taylor knows how to problem-solve. And how to analyze things. And with a background in Anthropology, she feels very comfortable understanding people's needs! Their recommendation: If you were to take on a business partner make sure it is not someone who has the same skill set as you!
I agree 100%.
I found my person about two years ago. And once we finally got together she is the brains behind all of the operations. It's like, everything is easy and almost effortless now because where I am disorganized and all over the place, fly by the seat of my pants. She is, nope, this is what we're going to do. We're not going to over-commit. Instead, she keeps me focused and says here are all these things that we have to do now. Let’s complete these first.
Which is amazing.
Back in the spring of 2020, the education company that Taylor taught for had many contracts outside of the U S. And they began saying, they were going to start laying people off because the world was going into lockdown. Basically, they were losing contracts. Businesses were scaling back on their budgets. So people were going to start getting laid off. And Taylor got very, very worried. She knew she was going to lose her job. She had actually quit the second teaching contract and was just down to one.
So she pulled out her weaving materials and told her mom and her sister that together they were going to start an Etsy shop. They planned to just try it and see what happens. They added face masks, some DIY kits, and a few stickers. In the beginning, it was kind of a little bit of everything. Then they niched down into Katie's designs and just the stickers. That's really sort of where they began to find their specialty. Pretty quickly the Etsy shop took off because of face masks. A lot of people started shopping on Etsy for the very first time in the spring of 2020. So they had a little bit of just the right place, right time momentum going for the beginning growth of their shop on Etsy.
I hear the “right place, right time” a lot and I do believe that, but I also don't want to discount the amazing talent that they have. Katie’s drawings are out of this world. I am obsessed. I want all of them. I’ve been looking at the Bohemian stationary set and can’t get enough. So yes, I do think they’re right. They were at the right place at the right time, especially in 2020, when a lot of people saw a lot of hardship. There's always great opportunity in those moments.
When they started the Etsy shop Katie only spent about half the time working on her own projects. And then the other half designing new products for Studio Sisters and shipping out all of those products. Working with Taylor and different marketing aspects, spending about 30 hours a week on Studio Sisters content.
They make and ship 95% of everything here in their local studio. Printing all this stuff out and creating it and then sending it to that can be a daunting task for people. I am the worst at shipping. It's hard. They even ship internationally and it does take a lot of time to pack and ship orders, but they actually find it a little bit fun to design all the tissue in the packaging and put it all together.
I think there are some cards in there too. It was more than just the sticker that I bought. And so having that special touch that makes them unique because they could easily put a sticker in an envelope and just send it on its merry little way. But they do take a little bit of extra time. Katie says it really helps connect with their customer base wanting to become a return customer. So that's one of the reasons why they put that touch in there. It's just because it makes it more personal.
Katie explained, that for anyone who's never used Etsy, if you can create a Facebook account, you can create an Etsy shop. It's very, very easy to use as far as search engine optimization, which is one of the biggest things we teach now. And I would say it's the single best way you can drive traffic passively to your shop, which is what you want. You don't want to spend all your time trying to market everything all the time. SEO was not something they had any experience in.
When teachers put it in their mind that they want to do something, they're going to do it. They're going to go get the notebooks. They're going to go get the dividers, the highlighters, they're going to print everything out. They're going to study and they're going to make sure that they do it right. And I wondered if that had been a catalyst to their success? To really understand search engine optimization and put their stuff out there the right way.
Taylor says, “Without a doubt, understanding how the algorithm works for the platform you're on, even if it’s your own website, Shopify, or TPT, the algorithm might be different. But you need to be able to understand search engine optimization for the platform you're using.”
So we've got Google, Teachers Pay Teachers, Etsy, Shopify, WooCommerce, and Pinterest. There are all sorts of different platforms that have their own unique algorithm. So although you may understand search engine optimization on one, like Google, it doesn't necessarily work on Etsy.
The reason it's not exact across all platforms is that they're pulling different factors into their algorithm. So Google is really just trying to catch as much information as possible, and Etsy wants to convert eyeballs to purchases. So their algorithm is built very specifically on what products can be shown to a particular customer. Unfortunately, the algorithm is not really about you as a seller. It's about each individual customer. And so you have to think about, okay, who's my ideal customer. Who am I going to sell to? And what keywords in learning SEO do I need to use that are going to get me in front of that particular person? I love to say this and chances are, you've heard it before, but if you're trying to sell to everyone you're going to sell to absolutely no one!
Katie and Taylor have their own website at shopstudiosisters.com where they share more about how to grow your own Etsy shop. And they primarily use Etsy for actual products to sell. They are in the process of building up their shop on Facebook and our own website as well, just as backup shops. But right now they primarily use Etsy to sell their work because that's where 90 million customers are – Etsy.
I didn't realize that number was so big! 90 million customers on Etsy. Now that is insane. It's probably doubled since the pandemic. A lot of people weren't necessarily on Etsy in the beginning, but now I go to Etsy, especially for certain things. You know, if there's something custom that I want, I'm going to go to Etsy to find it. It just seems like the more creative it is, the easier it is to find on Etsy.
I know they rely a lot on feedback and customer reviews in order to help their business expand. I don't know as much about the Etsy algorithm as I do about TeachersPayTeachers algorithm, but the way that it works sounds pretty similar. They are definitely gearing more towards the buyer. They want to make sure that if people are buying from you, you're receiving reviews. And if they're good reviews that are going to allow you to step it up and kind of get in front of some people in your niche.
So I wondered how Katie and Taylor go about trying to receive reviews? That is probably our number one question from our beginner CEO Teachers®, how do we get people to leave a and how do we get them to leave a good review?
In terms of the Etsy algorithm, they have some automation triggers within the platform. They will send your customers automatic notifications:
That's actually super helpful in reminding the happy customers to connect with the buyers. On the other hand, when Etsy sends an email, if your customer is unhappy, chances are they're going to leave you a negative review. It could be good or bad. And because of the pandemic and shipping issues, a lot of Etsy sellers experienced an issue with shipping delays and customers were leaving Etsy sellers unfair, negative reviews. Unfortunately because of the post office, which is out of your hands as an Etsy seller. I'm sure it may have been very similar on other platforms too at the time.
Similar to TPT, with Etsy you have access to some customer information: name, address, email, etc. However, it's against Etsy's terms of service to contact them outside of anything related to their order. You can contact them about their order, so once it's delivered you can send them an email that says something like “Hey, I just wanted to let you know your order was delivered. Here's the official tracking confirmation. And by the way, if you love it, here's my email list. You can get on my social media here.”
You can put that in there, but you can't email your customers in the future without their consent. So six months down the road you cannot say, Hey, I added new project products in my shop unless they consented in those order emails to get on an email list. If they clicked a link and they voluntarily chose to get on the list, you could, but you can't regularly contact them outside of their orders.
To combat that issue, Katie and Taylor put in their Etsy product listings and message to customers as a way to reach them on social media. It’s not necessarily a direct translation to the review on the platform, but what it does is encourage the customer to find you. So if they go on your Instagram, you can then give them a shout-out. Thanks so much for buying the stickers. The more positive interactions you have with them, the more likely they are to go and leave a review. On the physical side, Katie recommends for anyone who is shipping a physical product, put something in your packaging that says, thank you for supporting my business. Here are our social contacts, leave us a five-star review. Some kind of call to action when they open that package.
One of the best-selling things right now on Etsy is sensory boxes or sensory kits. Because teachers are so qualified to understand what kids could actually use it's a great idea to create something that goes with your niche. And a lot of our teachers like to start small and kind of get their feet wet. Etsy is a great platform to kind of see how it all works. The shipping, packaging, etc. There are many items that teachers are in a unique position to include in an Etsy listing:
Stickers are primarily things that teachers in our programs have wanted to sell.
The sweet spot to know if your product is going to sell well on Etsy is when you search and it comes up with at least 2000 results. That tells you there are quite a few other Etsy sellers with these products. The other thing is to look at the shops that come up on those search results and see how many sales they have, how many reviews they have, etc.
And so it's really just a matter of how you need to format the product. What kinds of learning aids are teachers selling on Etsy? And then what keywords do you need to use? It's a seller's understanding of how people are looking for a product and that's where SEO comes in.
I actually created an entire workbook for you that helps you navigate all of these topics and more. The teachers map of online business secrets was designed with teachers (like you) in mind. Teachers ready to take their ideas to the next level and create additional streams of revenue for themselves!
Taylor and Katie have a few stickers: the tree sticker, the focus stickers, and the sun catchers. The sun catchers are absolutely magical because they put all these rainbow prisms everywhere across your walls. So the inspiration behind those is just something you can add to your space, something that brings happiness to your day. The focus stickers are one-by-three-inch strips of textured stickers. So Studio Sisters call them FOCUS stickers. You can use them to sort of focus your thoughts if you're anxious or you just need something to do with your hands or you're fidgeting. They're really great to put on your phone or your laptop. They actually designed theirs with watercolor landscapes and different words like focus or calm. They're just a little reminder just to focus on your work. Katie designs pretty much everything physically with paints and then might clean them up on the computer and she is always willing to sell the original designs as well.
They also sell a digital product called mantra cards. They have quotes, like an affirmation deck and they have a few different listings. One's for small business owners, one for artists. They have had it in our shop for about two months. They have been testing it as two versions as they branch out. The digital version of the product, which people can download and print out themselves, is $7 and it's about 25% of the physical product costs. They also sell the physical version that they print in-house and it comes in a little bag. It's also mailed, with nice packaging and coupons and things like that. That sells for $26 compared to $7 for the digital version.
Anyone who has been around here a while knows that a Bee is my spirit animal. And they have the coolest Bee sticker that I have to grab!
If you are still wondering how you could break into the online, digital creators world, and share your ideas I’ve got you.
© kayse morris 2020 / legal / design by saffron ave
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