Hi! I’m Casey Jones. I’m a small business that works at creating big change for other small businesses. One of my passions is helping people pursue their passions. That’s why one of the things I specialize in is getting handmade artists seen.
If you’re a handmade artist looking to make a living from your creations – then keep reading!
Today might be the day you realize that this is actually a very real possibility!
We all know how it starts.
A hobby, copious compliments from friends and family, then a thought:
Hey, I could do this!
And you can! You’re not quite sure how, but nothing Google can’t solve right?
So you do, and you stumble across the handmade havens of Etsy, Artfire, and Amazon Handmade.
There are places for this! Who knew!
You explore all the other shops, amazed that people are actually making money from doing what they love.
Really? Surely life doesn’t work this way. What’s the catch?
Yet, shop after shop after shop is proving to you that this is true.
You see “Leave Your Day Job” plastered everywhere on their advertising.
The future brightens.
So, you start photographing your wares, writing up your listings, and after a few weeks (or days if you’re lucky), you get your first sale. That first notification on your phone is SO exciting!
The second comes in, the third, then the 500th – it never gets old!
Now you’re growing. You’re bigger. but you haven’t transitioned over to full-time-selling-land yet.
You know the answer.
By now you’ve been around long enough to figure out what the catch is:
There’s too much risk.
- Risk of sales drying up. (No rhyme or reason!)
- Risk of getting banned with no warning or explanation. (You’ve read enough of the forums!)
- Risk of your market place suddenly closing up. (Look at what happened to Da Wanda and Meylah!)
Then there’s the competition.
- Shop after shop of handmade jewelry. (Ye gads! Why so saturated?)
- Listing after listing of fine art photography prints. (Every amazing photographer trying to be cheaper than the next. Ouch my heart.)
- So many features of incredibly talented carpenters, tailors, and dog-treat makers. (Clamber, clamber. Pick meeee!)
What about the companies gaming the system. That’ll get you down.
- The Drop-shippers. (Everyone knows you’re AliExpress-ing buddy.)
- The “Upcyclers.” (Sticking an embellishment on a sock doesn’t count as upcycled, c’mon.)
- The Shameless Resellers. (That t-shirt design isn’t yours and you know it!)
All these factors means it’s hard to stand out.
It’s hard to ask for fair prices for your labors of love.
And it means it’s dangerous for you to put all your eggs in one basket.
You read about handmade artists lamenting that it’s safer to have your own space on the internet where you have full control. You see this all the time.
But even if you did make a website, put tons of posts up on Instagram and Facebook, and make TikTok videos all day, there’s no guarantee any of this works.
Perhaps you know this because you might have tried it before.
You might have found that a website just doesn’t bring in the sales that Etsy and Amazon Handmade can bring.
Maybe you’ve learnt the hard way that ads are expensive. You realize that if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to waste a lot of money.
Even those Etsy ads you invested in haven’t brought you any sales. Just lots of traffic that won’t convert.
Heck, even trying other marketplaces like Big Cartel, IndieMade or Storenvy has resulted in a grand total of Zero sales.
What’s going on?
Here’s the big difference between some of these sites and their services.
Etsy and Amazon help make you a tiny bit more visible, because they push out your products through Google ads so you’re seen better. But in doing that, they also take a hefty 25% chunk, and that’s not including your normal listing fees, currency conversion, and their exchange rate.
If you’ve ever wondered, wanted, or wished you could do what they do for yourself, then you’re definitely in the right spot.
Great to see you still here! Let’s continue:
The natural question you might have right now is – How do you know so much about handmade artists anyway Casey?
Easy. Because I work with them every single day.
Whether you sell your handmade products to make a living, cover some bills, save up for a holiday with the kids – or even because you need to shift that ever growing collection of handpainted textured clay mugs – which while gorgeous, need to go to good homes so you have space to walk in yours…
I can help you in a variety of ways including creating your online presence, growing your small business, and getting that traffic in so your talents can finally get seen by the numbers it deserves.
There’s only so much I can tell you, really, before it starts to sound a little WWE 🤼♂️
So, let’s hear from one of my current clients, Stacy, to give you a well-rounded picture of what I actually do.
Stacy is a primary school teacher from Perth and mother of four.
She’s had an Etsy shop since 2013 where she sells handmade polymer jewellery with a twist – they’re all modeled after her kids’ favorite foods.
Whether it’s lime popsicle earrings, a nutella pizza bracelet, or bacon cupcake necklace, her quirky offerings and their cutsey charm have gained her a small but loyal following on social media over time.
Her art has always been a hobby. She didn’t put too much thought into it when she started selling.
She opened an Etsy shop when her friends told her her work was good enough to sell (and eat!). Deciding to try her luck, she was over the moon when she got her first sale from the USA.
She receives around 6-10 sales a week, with sales tripling over the holiday season which she says, “Keeps me busy, but I’d love to be busier!”
Still, she’s content since the extra $400 to $500 a month is a nice tidy sum which helps supplement her kids’ extracurricular activities.
When the pandemic struck, Stacy’s husband, Luke, who worked in the tourism industry was made redundant.
“All of a sudden,” says Stacy, “There was this constant worry at the back of our minds of how we’d keep a normal life going for our children. We were afraid they’d have to give up all their hobbies.”
Brainstorming one night, they wondered if there was potential for “Stacy’s Kitchen” to turn into a viable business.
Taking the plunge, with equal parts excitement and trepidation, they bought more stock than Stacy had ever purchased before. They put up posts on social media asking for support for their Etsy store, and spent a whole weekend creating miniature eats ready for the big wave of sales that might rush in.
When sales didn’t increase, they decided to start an Artfire shop in the hopes of appealing to new buyers there.
After a week of sleepless nights taking turns to put up all their listings, they expected at least the same amount of modest weekly sales Etsy brought them.
Unfortunately, this didn’t happen despite six weeks of waiting. It did, however, lead them to show up in my inbox one day as a referral from another handmade artist I’d worked with.
When I spoke to Stacy, I asked if she had ever considered making her own website.
While she had looked into getting a Shopify store set up, she found it complicated and time consuming. “I just couldn’t get my head around how to customise it or even put up listings. Etsy took me long enough, so I’ll just stick with it”.
She expressed surprise that the Artfire store and Instagram posts hadn’t taken off, even in a little way.
These were some great observations.
I’m going to cut into Stacy’s story a tiny bit (Sorry Stace!), just to quickly explain this to everyone, the same way I explained it to her.
The reason lies in the fact that Etsy employs a strategy they call their “Offsite Ads”. This just means that Etsy advertises listings throughout the web. As a result, your products might show up in search engine results, social media sites and apps, or within Etsy Publishing Partner sites, and Google Display Network sites.
That’s great, in the sense that your products get seen. Quite expensive, in the sense that they take a 25% cut, and unreliable because they advertise at their discretion. This means, sometimes you’ll get seen – especially if you’re already a top seller. Often, you won’t.
Artfire on the other hand, is no different from having your own website. They don’t do any off site advertising, therefore it’s up to you to bring in your own customers by pushing your products out on social media, blogs, and by doing your own paid advertising.
The only difference between marketplaces like Artfire, Storenvy, or iCraftGifts; and having your own website, is that you need to pay them a commission on every sale or an ongoing subscription fee for the privilege of using their storefront.
As for Stacy’s disappointing social media let-down, well, that’s because customers spend money on buying art because they want to. Rarely because they feel the need to support the artist.
While a bit of a harsh truth, a real business runs on giving value to their customers and clients. As a wise man once told me, “This is a business, not a charity!”
Back to Stacy’s story!
It didn’t take long for her jump aboard the CJ&CO train. They had already spent so much time, energy, effort, and money on putting up new listings, making loads of Instagram posts, and creating new jewellery.
As Stacy put it, shrugging, “What was another $209 a week?”
She was already making that in profit from her jewellery sales as it was. The worst possible scenario if it didn’t work out, was that she would break even.
I got to work straightaway.
I love small businesses.
I REALLY love small businesses!
Did I mention small businesses are my jam?
There are a few pivotal points in the process of moving a small business from “NO,” to “GROW,” then “GO!”
The first one is the Reveal.
In Stacy’s case, I had to make her a website from scratch. The only thing was, she didn’t have any good pictures.
Dark, dreary, and grainy with terrible lighting and snapped with her cellphone, I was amazed that she was able to sell anything at all!
Seeing as she was in Perth and I was in Queensland, I decided that she should send me as many of her different jewellery art pieces as she could. Thankfully, they’re all little and light, and she could send her entire portfolio within a 1.5kg package.
Ripping into it as soon as the mailman dropped it off, I was taken aback at how detailed and well made they were. She was NOT doing them justice with her current photos. As a photographer, I felt like I really wanted her new website to be an online stage or gallery for her teensy works of art.
I spent the next week setting up a mini lightroom and taking tasteful shots (pun intended) of her brilliant bite-sized baubles (so many punny probabilities!)
Photography done and loaded, and Stacy’s best reviews migrated over from Etsy for social proof; I couldn’t wait to show her the new website and sent her a message with the link.
”When her response came back as, “OMG!!!!” - I knew that this project would be one of the most rewarding ones.
The next pivotal point I always look forward to is Strategizing. Delicious!!
To Grow, we needed several strategies working together.
While Stacy and her entire family were heavy social media users, they had never thought to use social media to sell her work strategically.
They did however, have some hidden talents that they were able and willing to use to grow this business.
Luke loved to blog, and had an existing one about travel. Since he wasn’t about to fly off on a work trip or holiday anytime soon, he was more than excited to start blogging for Stacy’s budding business.
Stacy on the other hand, really enjoyed spending time on Instagram, connecting with other artists, catching up on her followers’ lives, collecting the memes that show up on her feed…
There was a natural strategy here building which could combine both their hobbies online with my ability to blend them into a long-tem and highly effective conversion rate optimisation strategy; which wouldn’t feel like a grind-y chore.
Both Luke and Stacy were adamant that they’d like to do all their own writing. They felt this would allow them to be fully involved in developing and maintaining the voice of the business and the very personal enthusiasm they wanted to exude.
My job here would be to sweep over Stacy’s IG posts and Luke’s blog posts for opportunities to weave in both high-ranking and niche keywords.
Because I could see they were great writers with unique, humorous, and entertainingly silly yet insightful ways of expressing themselves around the business, I wanted their prose to be a stand-out component on its own.
The major factor we were missing here was organisation.
Setting up the right tools to schedule Insta and blog posts meant that both our future trinket tycoons could write whenever inspiration struck, then load them up to the scheduler. I could then set them to be released at the optimum days and times for responsive readership and therefore, peak performance.
At the same time, I really wanted them to see some results fast to further motivate their efforts.
Knowing that instant gratification was the incentive they needed to keep their spirits up, I created a quick ad campaign based on research and any existing data I could scrap together. I targeted ideal gender, age, and income levels through paid advertising on the social media platforms I knew would have the best conversion rates for her these variables, and her style of jewelry.
The incoming traffic was instantaneous!
The next time we sat down together for a Zoom meeting, Stacy and Luke could not believe the number of people who their writing and polymer knickknacks had struck a chord with – just a little over 1300 visitors that first week alone for starters.
With a very decent 1.9% conversion rate, Stacy was overjoyed at packing and sending off 3x more packages than normal – her biggest send-off to date.
“That’s enough”, she joked, “I’m happy with that! You just paid for yourself with half of it, and I’m making more than I used to! Good enough!”
Not for me, Stacy!
Now it was GO time.
This is always the pivotal point where I aim to WOW my clients and let them see that building their business the correct way, has the ability to replace some or even all of their income.
For me, consistency is always the key.
That’s why I offer a subscription service because a modest fee every week over the long run does these 3 things:
It won’t break the bank.
As Stacy observed, it pays for itself almost immediately. The only thing I ask, is that you have a good product that people actually want. Then I can help them see it.
It means I can deploy multiple long-term strategies that keep on selling compounding sales.
Whether personal engagement on social media, content marketing through blogs, or good search engine optimisation; all these strategies build on top of, and around each other – becoming stronger and more effective over time, and making you much more visible on Google, Pinterest, Facebook, and more.
It saves time and effort calculating up quotes and fiddling around with estimates – which are never right anyway!
On a subscription model, sometimes I’ll need to do as many as 150 hours a month (this is typical when starting up), whereas, sometimes (very rarely!) only 10-15 hours a month. While the hours always even out in the end, the benefit of a long term partnership here is that I get to:
jump on the trends as soon as I get wind of them (scholar bowls kits, macro photography, and #yarnaddicts anyone?),
tweak copy and tactics around holiday or event keywords (think the Superbowl, Tri-Nations, International Women’s Day, Earth Day etc. etc. etc,), or
get things back up and running immediately if there are any technical failures or glitches with hosting, hacking, or algorithm changes.
Stacy understood the model, was on board, and excited to see how much more it could bring her.
For this next phase, I continued optimising the website and ramping up the paid advertising.
The flow of traffic, new customers, and sales was steadily increasing month after month.
By Christmas 2019, Stacy had got her mum and sister helping out part-time after school and on weekends to meet the demand for her bestselling Beans on Toast Necklaces, Mango Juice Box Earrings, and Rainbow Donut Bangles.
Just before lockdown in March 2020, My trusty camera and I caught up with Stacy and Luke on a trip to Perth, and we took some photos and video of the family at work over a few days.
The new media gave the business a face and distinct personality. A combination of this and the spike in online shopping all across the world over global lockdown was a potent force.
Stacy could now confidently declare her small business as having officially “taken off.”
Today, Stacy and Luke clear approximately 200 orders a week on regular days.
She leaves her Etsy shop open for old times sake. No sense in throwing away those extra 6-10 weekly sales after all.
And she still teaches because she loves it. But she could definitely leave her day job if she wanted to.
For Stacy, jewellery making is still about enjoyment first. The money is grand, of course, she muses; and the additional volume is extraordinarily fun.
Overall, employing an external online marketer (that’s me!), has let them live a much more comfortable life. But, Stacy self-proclaims, she’s the type who just doesn’t want to get sucked into the fast track as it might eat up her creativity and joy for her craft.
Luke on the other hand, is enjoying the business side of things enormously, and spends his time organizing orders, running them down to the post office, and thinking up new products to add to their offering.
With his management acumen, he’s also bribed their older kids into helping out with the sorting and packing.
The only problem Stacy and Luke have now, they tell me laughing, is being held hostage for more pocket money in exchange for man-hours! Not bad for a couple of grade schoolers that have yet to learn the meaning of the word “negotiation”!
Today, I’m happy to report that Stacy’s Story has effectively turned into Stacy and Luke’s Story.
Neither have any plans of stopping their growth and will resolutely go where the current path is taking them.
As for me, I don’t stop, because they don’t stop.
Well, you know what they say, #makersgonnamake!
I hope Stacy and Luke’s story has given you a little insight as to my money-making mission, comprehensive online marketing approach, and long-term growth goals when it comes to your small handmade business.
Making money with your hobbies, interests and skills is entirely possible. It is in fact how all businesses start at some point.
Just know that it’s normal to stagnate at some stage, hit rough patches, or even see your steady stream of sales dry up when you’re hit with algorithm changes – Yes, I know these can be common on the Etsy scene every time they have a change in direction, which is infuriatingly often.
The thing is, this will happen regardless of if you’re a jewelry maker – like Stacy, whether you print tshirts, sketch pet portraits, sell fine art photography, weave lace, sew wedding dresses, or make lion costumes for cats.
The good news is, stagnating isn’t the end of the road.
On the contrary – it’s an opportunity for a new beginning, where you’re in control, I design the strategies, and together; we build the path towards making your small handmade business into a surprisingly successful side gig that you never thought possible!
*Stacy has asked that I change all the names and business names in this article for privacy.