Five Things I Learned from Etsy’s Inaugural “Etsy Up” Conference

As you may know, Etsy held its first annual conference for sellers last month in New York City. The conference was called “Etsy Up,” and was designed to provide Etsy sellers with opportunities to develop professional connections and learn about a variety of topics related to selling handmade and vintage items on Etsy. Only a small percentage of the 1.6 million people who sell on Etsy were able to attend the conference in person, however Etsy provided an at-home option for those who could not be there. Through a partnership with CreativeLive, Etsy offered a Live Stream of its main session and keynote speakers. I spent two days listening to the conference while working in my studio, and while I didn’t get to hear every speaker, I learned a lot of useful information from the sessions I did “attend.” While the conference was designed for Etsy sellers, I think much of the information presented was relevant to anyone who runs their own business. Here are the top five things I took away from this year’s conference:

Create Your Own Virtual Water Cooler

One of my greatest challenges since opening an Etsy shop is working alone all day long. My previous career included constant interaction with coworkers and students, and as a stay-at-home mom, I never seemed to have a moment of quiet. Now I spend most days by myself in the studio. It seems this is a challenge shared by many. During the session, “Beyond Likes: Social Media for Sales & Business Growth,” the audience was asked, “Who here spends most days working alone?” Almost everyone raised their hands. Panelists Erin Dollar (Cotton and Flax), Cassie Uhl (Zenned Out), Jahje Ives (Baby Jives Co.) and Caroline Caffelle (The Wishing Elephant), went on to talk about the importance of creating your own virtual water cooler. In an office setting, most people have coworkers with whom they can take a quick break or bounce ideas off. Since we don’t have that in our home studios, they recommended finding other shop owners who can serve as “text buddies” or virtual work friends. Ideally, these would be people with a similar customer base whom you can text during the work day. Maybe you might want to blow off steam (“Can you believe what this customer said to me?!”) or perhaps your text buddy wants to run a new product line past you to get some feedback before putting it “out there.” Having those kinds of professional friendships provides a support system that is valuable and can make your work life more fulfilling.

Learn from Companies that Are Heading Toward Success in the Future

Maxwell Ryan, founder of Apartment Therapy, gave a great keynote address in which he outlined four key traits that many new and highly successful companies have in common. First, these companies are web-based. They understand and embrace the reality that consumers are changing from a “brick and mortar” mindset to one that focuses on technology. Second, they speak directly to the consumer. Third, they tell a lifestyle story. Rather than just showing a product, the company helps customers envision why the product makes your life more enjoyable, or your home a better place to live. This might be done through telling stories, developing relationships with customers, or having excellent photography. Personally, some of my favorite Pinners and Instagram profiles are those that show pictures of their products in use, such as a photo of their artwork hanging in an actual apartment or a recipe shown at a dinner table where guests are enjoying themselves. The picture tells the story, even if there are no words to accompany it. Finally, new and successful companies show that they care. Ryan talked about how giving back is a common trait seen in modern, successful companies. For example, Apartment Therapy participates in a program where they give back 1% of company profits to nonprofits that help the environment. Understanding that we are all a part of something greater than ourselves, and finding a way to connect to that greater good, is something that Ryan recommends all business owners do.

Make Sincere Connections through Social Media

In a session titled, “Get Noticed: How to Attract Press & Influencers,” we heard from Carolyn Caffelle of The Wishing Elephant, Kate Kennedy of Be There in Five, Mary Lynn Schroeder of In Blue Handmade, and Amy Stringer-Mowat of AHeirloom. This session was about connecting with those people on social media who inspire or sway the opinions of your target audience – these people are called “influencers.” Wouldn’t it be great to have your products featured in a popular blog or prominent website where plenty of potential customers can see them? Most of us probably can’t imagine that happening, but there are steps you can take to make it a reality. First, look for people that are a good fit – in terms of target audience, media style, and other values that are important to you. Then, get them to notice you. One way is to send freebies of your product to influencers. If this idea makes you uncomfortable, Kate Kennedy recommends sending a sample of your product as a gift, along with a personal note. For example, you might write “Thank you for sharing that great advice in your last blog, it really helped me with …” or “I really admire how you…” Another way to get influencers to notice you is to send them a letter or even visit them in person (if they have a workplace that is open to the public). Tell them why you think your product is great and why they should consider featuring it. Maxwell Ryan (Apartment Therapy) recommended this method, reminding us that very few people take the time to make personal connections anymore, so when someone does it really stands out. The most important thing to remember when reaching out, however, is to be genuine. Be yourself and be honest about what you hope to accomplish. They will be able to sense your sincerity and you will feel good about reaching out to them (regardless of whether they choose to feature you).

Embrace Imperfection & Reduce the Clutter

Author Fay Wolf, who wrote New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks (and Everyone Else), is a professional organizer and creative spirit. In her keynote address, she gave practical tips and advice for decluttering your workspace. First, however, she talked about the importance of dealing with your “inner clutter,” the fears and excuses you might have that keep you from cleaning up the physical clutter. Once you deal with that, she said, you are ready to use some of these practical tips for decluttering:

  • Get rid of unwanted emails. The app/website me is a great tool for unsubscribing to all those email newsletters, advertisements, and subscriptions that you never actually read or that are a waste of time.
  • Use bins to sort as you clean through clutter. Label the bins (donate, trash, recycle, shred, etc.) and put things in the correct bin. She also recommended a bin labeled “other rooms” so that you’re not running all over the place as you sort. Once each bin is full, put the things inside in their rightful place.
  • Create “in-between baskets” for things you can’t deal with right away, such as clean laundry that needs to be folded or mail that needs sorting. When you have a spare moment or the basket gets full, you can deal with it. Meanwhile, it’s not cluttering up the room.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if your room doesn’t end up looking like it came from a home interiors magazine – remember that your workspace needs to be functional and for most of us that means that it won’t look perfect. As Wolf says, “embrace the imperfection.”

Know Your Target Audience

The last thing from Etsy Up that I’d like to share with you was, for me, the most important. It might seem like a no-brainer at first glance, but the idea of knowing your audience was repeated throughout nearly every session I watched over the course of the 2-day conference. In the panel, “How These Entrepreneurs Master the Art of Standing Out to Uniquely Market their Brands,” we heard from five successful entrepreneurs: Maxwell Ryan of Apartment Therapy, Cassie Boorn of Maker Mentors, Eric Kass of, Curt Stephens of BoxUp, and Melissa Romig of MOO. These panelists and others throughout the conference made it very clear that to be successful you must know to whom you are speaking.

The questions seem simple: Who is your audience? Have you taken the time to define your audience? If so, what does that audience look like? And do you make business decisions based on that audience?  For most of us, our audience is our customer base. One of the panelists suggested that you envision your ideal customer and even imagine her name and personality. For instance, if you know that most of your customers are suburban mothers aged 25-40, you might imagine a woman who fits that description and name her Amanda. Think about what types of general characteristics she might have. Then, as you develop a new product, ask yourself if that product is something Amanda might like. Would she buy it for her family? As you choose which social media platforms to focus on, ask yourself, “Is Amanda more of an Instagram or Pinterest type of person?” Does the packaging of your product appeal to someone like Amanda? In all decisions, consider your target audience, because if what you’re doing doesn’t appeal to them, then it probably isn’t worth doing.

Finally, if you haven’t already written a mission statement for your business, now is the time. A mission statement should be a few sentences that summarize the philosophy and goals of your business. Be sure to consider your target audience here as well. Does your mission fit with your audience? If the answer is no, then something needs to change for you to achieve success. Maxwell Ryan talked in his keynote about what he called the “meander.” This is the natural tendency for things to go off course, and we all experience it at some point in time. A strong mission statement will help to guide you through the meander, and keep your business moving forward.

If you missed the live stream of the Etsy Up conference, it will be available for replay soon on the Etsy Success YouTube Channel. While I learned a lot from watching the Etsy Up sessions, I also wished that I could be there in person since so much of the conference was designed to help Etsy sellers connect with each other. That is why I am really looking forward to Vend Raleigh’s Illuminate conference in October, a great opportunity to “connect, collaborate, and create!” I hope to see you there!

Becky Grattan
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