Online sales are based on trust. With that in mind, what kind of customer are you expecting to show up at your website, probably for their first time ever, likely for the first time hearing of you ever, and give up their financial information to buy a pretty picture off it and pray it actually comes? That’s a really tough sell.
This is one of the reasons I use Etsy. Not only is the trust built in because of their name recognition, but it goes further than that. An Etsy shop allows me to be as passive as possible while still making money through selling prints. I see other photographers needing to promote their own online storefront through social media and networking, or worse, by continuously buying ads on Facebook and Google in order to get their customers to find them. With Etsy, the company is the one that is putting ads out for their website, including the use of your shop listings, and they already have millions of visitors coming to search the site ready to spend money.
On top of that, I don’t need to pay hundreds of dollars in yearly subscription fees up front to the likes of Zenfolio or SmugMug whether I sell anything or not. I pay a nominal $0.20 listing fee, and a 5 percent seller fee if and when I make the sale. If you factor these fees into your photo print’s listing price, it all pays for itself in the end.
In this article I am going to give some basic tips for setting up your own functioning Etsy shop. But first, let’s be clear of the goals here. This is a brief starter’s guide on how to do the bare minimum amount of work in order to kick back and enjoy some beer money on the back of your photography hobby. This isn’t going to be a guide on how to “sell, sell, sell” and achieve fortunes through hard work and determination. That sounds exhausting. I think I’ll need that beer.
1. Shop Reconnaissance
The first thing you should do before setting up your own Etsy shop is to do some shopping yourself. You don’t have to actually spend money, but you should think of a photo print in your genre that you would want to buy and try searching for one on Etsy. The goal here is to note every thought that comes to you as you do this, because it’s going to make setting up a successful shop much easier.
Take note of your search keywords and think about why you chose them and whether you needed to refine your search after the first try. Bookmark the listings that caught your eyes immediately on the search page and think about why. Take note of everything you like about the product listing page or what you don’t like (does it make you feel comfortable about spending your money or does it look sketchy — why?). Take note of the pricing and whether you would actually buy it for that price and why. Take note of every other small thought that comes to you from a shopper’s perspective as this will be important for your own shop to convey the right things.
Now repeat this a few times to make sure you are catching all the small details about the online print shopping experience.
2. The Listing
If you took my suggestion of making note of what you searched to find a print, you’re off to a good start on how to title your listings. The important thing to realize when trying to be found on Etsy is that nobody is searching mysterious and intriguing keywords. It’s nice that you officially titled your favorite image “Hollow Paradise,” but no one is going to find that because no one is going to directly search for it. It may pain you, but your brilliant artistic works need to be deduced down to some popular algorithm-loving keywords as its Etsy listing title. Really, don’t even bother putting “Hollow Paradise” in the limited-character listing title at all. Instead use relevant location keywords, popular words and synonyms for literal things in the photo (including primary colors), and perhaps add in some other fitting keywords that will be helpful for home decor shoppers such as “rustic,” “minimal,” “modern,” and so on.
As for your actual listing description, feel free to go nuts with creative backstory, the finer details of the print’s creation, and yes, you can let the world know that the piece is actually titled “Hollow Paradise” here. You should also be very clear on what exactly the product they will receive is. Unlike in-person sales where a customer can physically be holding the print and say “I want this,” Etsy is a digital shopping experience where it may not be entirely clear what will be received. If you’re selling photo prints, you want to be clear that your customer will be receiving a plain paper-type print on photo paper and not, for example, a framed print or a print that’s been matted or a photo printed to canvas. I go so far as to state the brand and type of photo paper used, because that’s literally what’s being sold in the transaction — it just also happens to have a picture I took on it.
Pricing your listing is going to be tough. No matter what you charge, you may feel like it’s not enough. I recommend trying to distance yourself as much as possible from the art of your print in order to successfully sell it in the beginning. That doesn’t mean you have to charge only pennies, but you do need to be realistic. In the exercise above where you went shopping, you may have scoffed at some high prices whereas you would have probably pulled the trigger on the affordable ones that still looked high quality. This is the bare truth. You were looking for a good deal just like everyone else will be when they scroll past your listing.
When you’re just getting started and show zero sales history, your first hurdle will be to change that. Put yourself in your customer’s position: would you buy something off Etsy from someone with no previous sales? This is where you need to comfort your first buyers with a professional presence, all your information filled out, show that you accept returns (side note: I have not once had a return in 200 sales, but it does provide a level of comfort to first-time buyers), and an easily digestible price. I should note that going too low with the price doesn’t look great either. If I were shopping and saw prints for a couple bucks I’d assume they were really bad quality or something about them wasn’t going to be worth my time waiting for them.
Again, this article isn’t about getting rich off your print sales, however after you’ve established yourself a little bit you can increase your price more and start to see some of that beer money rolling in.
4. The Sale
When I started selling prints on Etsy, I took a lot of unnecessary steps because I thought I was providing a better product in doing so. Since I don’t print anything myself I would order my prints online, have them shipped to my house where I would hand sign them, and then repackage them nicely to mail to the buyer. However, it was too much work and also eats at the overall profit of a sale because I needed to buy shipping materials and additional postage. For a time, I just didn’t sell on Etsy anymore at all.
Then, I realized I was a dummy. I started back up and changed the way I handled sales. Instead of all the unnecessary steps, I simply drop ship the prints directly from the print shop to their address. My prints are no longer signed, which almost no one cares about on Etsy, but instead they now ship to customers much faster, which almost everyone cares about on Etsy. Plus, I get to keep more of the profit. Way to go, smartie.
For drop shipping, I use Bay Photo Lab. At the time I was figuring all this out, they appeared to be the cheapest option and having bought products from Bay Photo before, I trusted their quality and reliability. Of course there are other options out there, and by now they may be cheaper, but for Bay Photo all it takes is a couple clicks in their ordering software for me to fulfill an Etsy order. Seriously, in less than a minute I complete almost every single step to fulfilling an order that may net me $60. The final step is to send the customer the tracking number once it ships from Bay Photo. This is what “completes” the order on the Etsy side.
Once I’m done, my Etsy shop goes to the back of my mind and I don’t think about it until the next new order email comes in. It may rub some people the wrong way, as anything that combines art and money can, but for someone looking to make a little passive income with their photography, I think Etsy is a much greater use of time than stock websites or expecting any sales to come from a personal website without a lot of effort.
Lead photo by Pete Saloutos.