Etsy and Shopify

What I’ve learned using Etsy and Shopify so far might be helpful to others thinking about getting into personal e-commerce. Warning, I am not an expert which is one reason for thinking this blog could be helpful.

Background Before Getting into Etsy and Shopify

Some background. For many years my partner and I have run Boardroom Metrics. It’s a successful corporate governance and RFP writing business. A big part of our sales success has been the use of SEO – search engine optimization. Early in my consulting career I was fortunate to work with a pioneering SEO expert who taught me the value of keywords and content, content, content. By now, we have written many hundreds, perhaps thousands of blogs. We are able to attract almost anyone to our site based on the keywords we choose and the pages, blogs and other content we produce. Some of that other content is downloads – like checklists and evaluations. Mostly, we gave them away for free for the marketing value. Then, we started selling them. From our website. Which is how I got interested in Shopify and Etsy.

Shopify if you don’t know, is a platform (isn’t everything?) that anyone from small to huge (revenue, not weight) can use to set up an on-line (e-commerce) store. Shopify provides everything from domain names, to store website designs, to cart and checkout plug-ins for billing and collecting payments. Shopify is your basis for building your own store. You can sell physical and/or digital products.

Etsy is already a store. It’s a huge store where millions of artisans, painters, photographers, and hacks like me can post and sell their unique (mostly) and not-so-unique (best sellers are easily copied) products to the world. It is a truly wonderful marketplace if you’re looking for anything crafty, semi-crafty or just plain unique (check out their original airline-bar drink carts).

Starting With Etsy

This winter, based on the modest (we’re happy) e-commerce success of our website, I decided to try both Etsy and Shopify.

I started with Etsy first because I figured it was simpler to get up and running. The ‘store’ page design is mostly there. The customization that’s available is important, but it’s not the same as starting from ‘scratch’ (to be clear, Shopify makes starting from scratch, pretty straightforward).

My ‘products’ are printed items – mostly t-shirts and coffee mugs (of anyone-can-do-that-fame) – that I design myself using a combination of Canva (a wonderful source of design templates and images for anything printed or digital) and an on-demand, ‘drop-ship’ fulfillment supplier called Printful.

I couldn’t be an e-commerce newbie without Canva or Printful. Canva makes it easy to unlock the modest creative and design abilities I possess. Printful is a hassle-free way to get them printed and paid for – without committing to any inventory. Even better, Printful (and others like it) integrates with both Etsy and Shopify. This means I can upload digital designs of my ‘products’ to either Etsy or Shopify where customers (hopefully) will find them, buy them and make me rich.

What Have I Learned About Using Etsy and Shopify (So Far)?

Lesson #1. Getting rich with Etsy and Shopify will not happen this week.

This is something I knew going in, both from research and from our experience selling on Boardroom Metrics. Success will take time and patience. My first day on Etsy I sold a coffee mug (‘Aspiring NFT Billionaire’). I have only had one other sale since then. That’s despite some modest Etsy promotion (that I’ve paid for) and careful keywording around some very specific niches for many of the products. My Shopify store has had three sales – to a good friend whose graphics we used to design the products.

So why haven’t there been more sales? Well, I’m still learning, but here are a couple of working theories: 1) there are gazillions of products on Etsy – for anything more than the tiniest niche, there is tons of choice 2) it will take a few more months for my Shopify store to show up anywhere other than my Facebook page – SEO doesn’t happen overnight 3) my designs aren’t what people are looking for – this a tough one – there’s lots of crap on-line but it’s clear that even the worst designed mug with a saying people like will sell thousands, so the key is figuring out what will sell and I’m not there yet 4) there are almost certainly ‘tips and tricks’ that will help me break through, especially on Etsy but I have no idea yet what they are yet – for example my store is clearly new – if that hurts credibility how do I overcome it? It all takes time. I plan to learn.

Lesson #2. Although I’m not an artist, thank goodness I’m modestly creative.

There are a million creative decisions required to get a store set up. If I didn’t mostly enjoy it, I don’t think I would still be doing it. However, because I do, I’ve been able to hang in through picking store templates, customizing them, designing products, adding them to the sites, writing them up, and promoting them. It’s been a lot of hours (yes, doing two stores semi-simultaneously likely doubled the workload). Like anything, I can see how experience – whether as a designer, or as a Shopify or Etsy expert – can reduce the time and creative effort required significantly. But for newbs like me, I’m pretty sure it’s a good thing I don’t hate being creative!

Lesson #3. There’s a ton of on-line advice on Etsy and Shopify. Use it (you will need it) – but try not to hate those people.

Any question I had (I had tons) was answered by YouTube. It was a great reminder of WTH DID WE DO BEFORE YOUTUBE?! Having said that, there are people on-line who started their stores last month and supposedly (I actually believe some of them) are making tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars this month. It’s easy to hate these people who make it look so easy. However, even if their advice doesn’t translate to instant millions, there is some really interesting insight on the true entrepreneurs who are succeeding at e-commerce. (Side note: I’m seeing different e-commerce character types – the highly creative/low instinct entrepreneur; the high creative/highly competent entrepreneur; the low creative/driven entrepreneur; and me, the wannabe creative/business type. The driven entrepreneur type is fascinating and speaks to the gigantic opportunity on e-commerce).

Lesson #4. The ‘platforms’ (I’d love to use a different term) are impressive.

We all know this. Shopify didn’t get to be Canada’s most valuable company (ok, so they’ve been wiped out lately) providing a creative outlet for people like me. They got there by providing a very, very serious e-commerce platform for many, very, very serious public and private retail players. I’m not sure who they are – I’ve been busy messing around and chose not to go researching for this blog – but I picture Lululemon and companies like them building their businesses on the backs of Shopify. Etsy? I’ve been invested in them for the past two + years (yes, I own stock). In our house, we have more furnishings, pictures, gifts, and crap from Etsy than any other retailer in existence. Anytime we want anything unique, Etsy is where we go. I know we’re not the only ones.

As a newbie-sort-of creative I would say ‘go for it’ on Etsy. You don’t have anything to lose. Shopify is different. You need some (lots of?) understanding of websites and SEO. You’re building your own store, not riding on someone else’s. It’s harder. More personal. However, whatever you do, the platforms are there for you. You can build your own store, sell your own stuff, make it personal – and, if you’re either experienced, don’t give a care, or both – you can be up and running on either of them in a couple of hours. That’s. Pretty. Cool.

Lesson #5. Final Lesson. Learn SEO.

The key to Etsy, the key to Shopify (especially if you’re an invisible, newbie-creative like me) is NOT BEING INVISIBLE ON-LINE. There’s an easy way to do that. Search Engine Optimize EVERYTHING.  Figure out what your audience (if you don’t know that, start there) is looking for. Then, write everything on-line so that Google goes ‘this dude’s really bad website is actually what you are looking for’.   Be. The. Answer. To. Their. Search. It’s how we built Boardroom Metrics and I know it’s already working with both my Etsy, and my Shopify stores. When I search Google for what I’m optimized for, my products are already coming up early in the search results. This will only expand and improve over time. Furthermore, once I learn proper design, people will actually buy my products, not just leap from them to something better.

Etsy, Shopify and the Great Resignation

I keep reading about the ‘Great Resignation’. I used to have a job. Just quitting seems like a very, very courageous move. I assume either immediately, or very quickly, many great-resigners will turn to e-commerce, Etsy, Shopify, RedBubble (yes, look it up) and others to either stay alive or become millionaires/multi-millionaires (you need to be into NFTs for billionaire status). DEFINTELY, GO FOR IT. If you have the right creative flair; if you are a true artist; if you know how to put the right five words on a t-shirt, I believe you can turn it into something. Even if you can’t – putting your shit on-line is putting yourself out there. And that’s huge (‘Courage to Create’ is our best-selling item so far and I am eternally grateful to my friend Elaine who had the courage to create it). I know it will lead to something.

Etsy and Shopify are a Plan

Bottom line, what I’ve learned about Etsy and Shopify is what you would expect. Both Etsy and Shopify represent true 2022 business and personal opportunities. Are they easy? No. But, oh well. The clever access they provide to a WORLD-WIDE audience is a HUGE opportunity that’s ok for some; no fit for others. If it’s for you, you will figure it out.

That’s my plan.


Ok, here are some links.

  1. Store on Etsy
  2. Store on Shopify
  3. Store on Boardroom Metrics