Navigating the Ups and Downs of Etsy Selling: Surviving Sales Slumps

Let’s face it—every Etsy seller has dreams of being a selling machine. There is nothing better than seeing sales numbers go up and knowing someone is coveting your product. Unfortunately, there are going to be periods in your business when sales are slow and may even stop completely. Known as the ‘Etsy slowdown,’ sales on Etsy can ebb and flow the same way retail sales do in brick and mortar stores. Luckily, you can prepare for Etsy slowdowns and take simple steps to help sales get moving again.

Anatomy of the Sales Slump

A sales slump means something different to every Etsy shop owner. One shop owner may consider less than five sales per day a slump; another may feel the pinch after going days or weeks without a sale. No matter your definition of a sales slump, having lower-than-expected shop performance can be difficult to handle.

Why do retail sales slumps happen?

The truthful answer is that every business is different. What causes slow sales for one business may not be the same for you. Reasons for slower sales depend on what you sell, how heavily and consistently you market your business, who your target market is, and how well you know and reach them.

Reasons that may affect all shops include dips in the seasonal buying market, such as immediately after Christmas or when taxes and insurances are due. Different seasons will affect shops depending on what they sell: Summer may be slower for hat sellers and winter slower for bathing suit designers.

Individual reasons for slumps may include:
A negative attitude
Your marketing strategy
Lack of customer communication
Stagnant products

Attitude can have a big impact on how well you get through a slump. Sales are slow. You’re feeling down. Bills need to be paid. Supplies need to be ordered. You kid’s camp tuition is due. And you haven’t made a sale in two weeks. Of course you’re going to feel discouraged and gloomy about the viability of your business and your perceived inability to make a sale. The bad news is that feeling discouraged can make you less likely to do the work needed to come out ahead of a sales slump. Many times you’ll end up in the Etsy forums complaining about the lack of sales instead of doing something about it.

How well you market your Etsy shop can affect your sales cycle. Driving customers to your shop is crucial for creating a steady influx of shoppers. Etsy provides the platform and you must do the promoting. Promoting off of Etsy – utilizing social media, gaining press, advertising campaigns, being active in your local scene – can help drive the fresh blood you need to your shop. If you’re not looking off of Etsy for marketing opportunities, you’re missing a prime opportunity for steady sales.

Lack of Customer Communication:
You have the opportunity to build a valuable mailing list every time a customer makes a purchase. I’ve said it a thousand times, if you don’t have a mailing list, you’re wasting a prime opportunity to stay in touch with your customers and earn more sales from existing customers – by far the easiest people to sell to. Think of it as leverage to both reduce the severity of a sales slump and help you get out of one more quickly.

Stagnant Products:
Updating your product line is essential for Etsy success. Shoppers love variety. That is one of the big draws to Etsy; variety and the ability to find the useful, the original and the completely unexpected. Freshening up your shop with new merchandise is the bait on the end of the hook. Going stagnant by never adding new products or styles may entice shoppers to pass you by.

Are all Sales Slumps Bad?
Not selling anything may seem like the kiss of doom, especially if you rely on Etsy financially. However, a dip in sales and shop activity may not be all bad. Slumps are going to happen, even if you’re the most prepared and well-marketed shop on Etsy.

Despite this, you can take steps to try and lessen the impact a slump has on your overall business. Take a slowdown as an opportunity to reflect on what’s working in your shop, what products are performing well and what isn’t performing to your standards. As much as it hurts to slow down, a little slump can be a good time for reflection and preparation.

Ways to Avoid a Sales Slump (or prevent a major slump from happening)

Well, the good news is that you’re in control of your Etsy store and therefore, you hold the power! You may not be able to completely prevent a sales slump, but you can reduce the impact one has on your business. Consider these steps as footwork; things you must do to continually build the foundation of your Etsy business:

Set Measurable Goals:
Goals may seem lofty and intimidating, but they are good for moving your Etsy business forward. Instead of making a list of every goal you can think of (like earning enough to buy a new car), try the S.M.A.R.T. goal criteria, which I was reminded of recently by Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income.

S stands for Specific: To create a specific goal, put it through the 5 W’s, What, why, who, where and which.

M stands for Measurable: Measurable goals means you’ll know when you’ve accomplished them.

A stands for Attainable: This one is fairly obvious but to be clear: the sky is the limit with your goal, just be realistic with yourself. For instance, if you want to own a private island through Etsy shop sales, be honest with yourself about how much work you’ll have to put in and how long that will take to achieve that goal (hint: it’ll take a lot of hours and many years for that example).

R stands for Relevant: Is this something worthwhile for you? If you don’t really need a car or putting in full hours with your Etsy shop is not something you really want to do, you may end up not sticking with your goal plan so make sure it’s something absolutely important and worthwhile for you.

T stands for Time-Bound: Ensure your goal includes a time deadline and also create smaller goals with their own time deadlines for every step it will take to achieve your master goal.

So if we put that original car goal through the S.M.A.R.T. filter, it would go from “Earning enough to buy a new car” to “Earn $100 a day by increasing my marketing efforts to 4 hours per day so I can buy a much needed new car by July 1st, 2012”.

Using Etsy’s built-in shop statistics feature allows you to track sales and financials by day, week, month and year. Keep an eye on how your shop is performing week-by-week to see how close you are to reaching goals, or how consistently you reach them. Reaching goals will give you the emotional boost you need to keep moving forward.

Brand Yourself
You might think that branding is about how your shop banner is designed or the type of photo background that you use. Branding is so much more than just how your shop looks; it’s also about how your shop makes people feel and the emotions it allows them to experience.

Consistent and correct branding helps draw in customers who will shop with you many times over and refer you to others—helpful for minimizing the dreaded sales slow-down.

Consider how you’re presenting your products. For instance, perhaps you sell crochet hats. Are you selling a hand-crochet hat or are you promoting the experience and feelings of staying warm and cozy on a chilly fall or winter day? Do your hats inspire memories of being all bundled up and toasty while having a rowdy snowball fight? Or… is it just a hat? Bets are good that if you can stimulate the emotion of warmth and comfort, you’re going to sell more hats.

How do you brand your Etsy store emotionally as well as visually? Be consistent; be creative; be honest. Your logo, Etsy banner, marketing materials and packaging should all represent, and be consistent with, the colors, font type and style of arrangement you’ve chosen for your shop.

How you word your product descriptions, the arrangement of your photography, your shop profile and anything else that your customer comes into contact with can be created with emotional impact. Remind them why they need and want your product. Not only will your shop look and feel better all around, your customers will become engaged, feel an emotional tickle or two and, likely, more inclined to think of you when they need hats.

Start Some Easy Marketing
It’s true that some lucky Etsy shops have found the big time after being contacted by magazines who found them independently on Etsy. Unfortunately, marketing isn’t always so easy. If you don’t have any marketing steps in place, now is the time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. A consistent stream of marketing and advertising can keep a stream of customers to your shop; thus helping reduce a slumpity-slump.

Social media is a sure bet for getting your name out there. A Facebook fan page is perhaps the easiest tool you can create for your own benefit. A fan page allows you to list a mini version of your Etsy store (called Etsy mini) along with images and links. People can choose to follow your page and see your new posts, which presents a great marketing tool for staying in touch with potential, and past, customers.

Twitter is another handy tool for spreading the word. You’re able to connect with others by choosing people most likely to be your target market, friends, business associates and others. You’re able to connect with the people you’ve chosen by forming friendly relationships (like you would talk with a friend), adding links to your Etsy store and new items and posting coupon codes, sales and more.

Taking out ads on blogs related to your target market may be an affordable option for beginning marketing. Consider having multiple ads—carefully selected—going at the same time. Stagger your ads as well, so when one ends, another is set to begin. You can also try Stumbleupon Ads and Project Wonderful which both are extremely affordable and perfect for beginners.

Get Friendly with Your Finances
The cold hard truth is that you need cash flow to keep your Etsy business going. You need to buy supplies and pay your monthly Etsy bill on top of other business expenses. If you rely on Etsy sales to feed your family or contribute to monthly bills, you’ve another reason to make nice with your finances. And you’ll want to do it before a sales slump occurs.

Having money stashed away for slow times is crucial for your peace of mind and business operations. Saving money isn’t easy; every business owner has horror stories of running short on funds at a crucial time. When sales slowdown, how will you put money into your business?

Perhaps you work an outside job in addition to running your Etsy store. If so, do you earn enough to put a little away for a business rainy day (or month)? If Etsy is your only source of income and you’re not earning enough to save, what else can you do to build a business nest egg?

Having money set aside means that when sales slow or stop, you’re not in a financial crunch. You’ll be freer, financially and emotionally, to keep working on your shop and your brand instead of being an anxious mess over not having enough funds.

Uh-oh. You’re in a Slump. Now What?

Ok, so a little (maybe big) slump has slithered into your store and crickets have taken over. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Luckily, there are some ways to ease the pain.

Recognize That There is no Quick Fix

Likely, there isn’t any one thing you can do that will impact sales immediately. Remind yourself that slowdowns are normal—they happen to everyone—and the more you stay focused on your business, the better you’ll come out on the other side. Consider shying away from situations that might make you feel less positive about your business, such as negative sales threads in the Etsy forums or discussion groups. Instead, source information that is positive and useful so you feel more encouraged and ready to keep working!

Don’t necessarily change your shop. Revamp only what needs work

You may feel the need to completely overhaul your Etsy shop or change your product line. Drastic changes may not be the best option, especially if you’ve already obtained a customer base or are working on branding.

Instead, improve things that can help you in an Etsy slowdown, like taking better product pictures, working on search engine optimization (SEO) and revamping the arrangement of your products.

Search engine optimization is the perfect complement to reworking your product descriptions as well. While you’re adding keywords and key phrases, you can work on adding emotion-impacting elements to your descriptions like we talked about in the branding section.

Search engine optimization is crucial for helping customers find you; if you’re not familiar with SEO, read what Etsy suggests.

Act! Put a Marketing Plan into Motion

Look at your marketing plan and implement small steps, like taking out that Facebook ad you’ve been thinking about. In conjunction, hold a promotion (buy one get one), or a give-away. Ask all of your friends to recommend your Etsy shop to two people and provide a coupon code for their effort. Consider holding a home party for friends or attending an affordable craft show or market event to bring in some cash flow and move inventory.

Get working on that Mailing List

It is time to get cracking on the mailing list you’ve been wanting to start. Start by sending an email asking past customers if they’d like to join your official mailing list and include a coupon code or promotional offer as an incentive for their joining. Be sure to send the email through your regular email account and just send them a link within that email to the special opt-in box for your official mailing list because by law, you cannot add anyone to a mailing list in your online tools like Mailchimp or Aweber without asking permission or having them enter the information and confirm it again later by email.

When sending the initlal email asking them to join your list, let them know if you have any new products, make your message short and sweet, and let your customers know that you won’t be sending them further email without their permission. This way, you’ve reminded your customers that you are still here, given them a reason to shop with you again and offered them the chance to opt-in to receive future offers from you.

Peek at your competitors

It is OK to follow your competitors on Etsy. And it is OK to peek at their shops and sales frequently. You should! If you and your competitors sell basically the same product, you may feel relieved to find that they’re in a sales slump, too.

If your favorite sellers or competitors don’t seem to have as much of a lull as you, research their shops to see why. How are they tagging their items? What titles are they using? What keywords do they use in their product descriptions and how well are their items photographed? Use this information to your advantage in your own, original way. Once you figure out what works well for someone else, it is perfectly fine, and smart, to re-work the strategy and make it work for your own shop, too.

All in all, there are plenty of ways to avoid a sales slump on Etsy and if you do find yourself in a rough sales patch, even more ways to cope. What have you done to help your business during slow sales times? Let us know in the comments below.

{Top image via sxu}

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