Emily Miller is a retired Etsy seller who used to provide beautifully-designed and personalized paper products through Good Frau (which opened in 2008). Below she shares factors that contributed to her store's success, as well as the reasoning behind its closure.
What inspired you to create your shop, Good Frau, on Etsy?
I always enjoyed making invitations for parties within my own circle of friends, and other paper projects like personalized gift tags. I also really loved making posters and t-shirts when I was in high school, which gave me my earliest practice with graphics programs. Later, I worked in newspaper and learned Photoshop on the job.
I remember, before learning about Etsy, telling my husband that someday I wanted "my own personalized paper products business." At the time, I thought that was pretty out of reach. It was only a couple years later that I learned about Etsy and decided to give it a try.
Had you sold personalized paper products anywhere else before?
What do you think gave your shop a competitive advantage over other shops (on Etsy and elsewhere) that sold similar goods?
I was available constantly. When I received an Etsy convo, I usually replied within the hour (or quicker). At the beginning, I was really willing to do custom designs for people, with the mutual understanding that if I liked how it turned out, I would post it for sale in my shop. That was a good way to increase what I had to offer, but it took a lot of time.
Once my shop gained a presence, I didn't have as much time to do custom orders and I had to turn them down. Not doing custom orders gave me more time to complete all the other orders that were coming in (the kind where the design was done and I just had to customize it with their info), and to do a good job on them.
I have a journalism background, and I think that helped me to deliver a more professional product. I am really picky about spacing and how things are worded. Sometimes the text that I received from a customer didn't line up with the way I liked to do things, so I changed it. I was only occasionally asked to change it back. I think most of my customers appreciated the professional look and feel of my style. I think I have a good eye for space, which I think is so important in invitation design. The words need room to breathe or it looks messy to me. I also have a handful of other rules I always use in my designs that are subtle, but they each add to the overall look that I think sets my designs apart.
I was also very careful to deliver a quality, printable product on the first try, while at the same time letting my customers know I was available and willing to make any changes they needed. I was always courteous and thorough in my correspondence.
Did you do anything special to promote Good Frau?
I have a Facebook page for it, and in the beginning I tried to use a Blogger blog to promote it. Facebook got more eyes than the blog, but I'm not sure it brought in any sales. But it was good to have it when I needed some opinions while I was finalizing my calendar design last year.
I did occasionally use Etsy Search Ads, which I thought were good if used correctly. In my case, that meant showcasing only a handful of designs with only a few of the best keywords included.
Did you earnings ever rise to a level at which you could have supported yourself entirely from the shop's income?
Yes. It would have been a modest living, but yes. However, I was working from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed when sales were high.
What practical financial advice (e.g. with regard to pricing or taxes) would you give to aspiring online shop owners?
Don't sell yourself short! When I started, I had my designs priced at $10 each. My shop was open for months before my first sale. I thought that by pricing my work lower than the competition, I would get more work. But then, one day, I decided to try raising my prices to see what would happen. I thought that maybe the new, higher price would tell customers that I was more professional. And it worked. I started getting more orders. Then I raised it again and I started getting even more orders. It got to a point where I raised my prices again, thinking that this time my price was high enough that I would only get orders from customers who really loved my designs better than the competition. If they were on the fence between mine and someone else's, I was happy for someone else to get the business (because I was really busy). I thought by raising my price to $25, I would cut down on business. But I was wrong. Just as it had before, raising my prices brought in more and more business.
My advice is to figure out what your time is worth. Pay attention to how much time you spend on your work, and pay yourself for it. No one should expect you to sell for just the price of materials. Your time is valuable, and you need to be paid for it. There's nothing wrong with doing a favor for someone now and then, but for the most part, you've got to make sure it's worth the time you put into it.
What were the major factors that encouraged you to close Good Frau? Under what conditions would you re-open it?
I needed more time. I was working on my computer too much and I needed more time for the other things in my life. Even when I wasn't actively working, I felt like I was constantly tethered to it. I couldn't help but check for new orders or convos, and my mind couldn't rest until orders were fulfilled and convos were all answered. And because someone had paid me for a service and they were waiting for me, I felt like my Etsy work was my top priority all the time. When I really broke it down, I realized that Etsy wasn't really my priority, I was just living that way.
I loved having the opportunity to do something creative, and it was great for my ego that people seemed to like what I made. I also really loved getting to know people through Etsy. One of my best friends is someone I met through Etsy when I made her wedding invitation suite. So there were a lot of really great things about it. But I was neglecting so many other important things in my life to stay on top of my Etsy business. So I decided to call it good. For now, at least.
I would consider re-opening if I ever felt like I miss it (I don't right now - I'm enjoying the freedom). If I do decide to do that, I would definitely go into it with a better time management plan to avoid letting it take over my life again.