The Semi-Passive Etsy Shop:
When you have lots of inventory and not a lot of time
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I run an Etsy shop selling vintage clothes. I started the shop while I was in college as a way to fund my less lucrative projects and hobbies (like buying vintage trailers). I had no idea it would become an important revenue stream in my lifestyle businesses and how long I’d be doing it (4 years later as I type this, woo hoo!).
But when I was in college taking classes, I didn’t have a lot of free time. Instead I had breaks in the summer and winter. I came up with a system for running my Etsy shop in a semi-passive fashion, so that I could focus on school when I was there, and focus on the business when I wasn’t.
Even after I left real-people school and traded the classroom for completely autonomous education, I continued using my semi-passive method because it worked so well for me. Continuing my business this way allows me to work on new businesses, blogs, and projects, while keeping my Etsy shop up and running (and profitable!).
Setting up an Etsy store is simple. What takes time is photographing and listing your items, whether they are handmade or vintage. In order to create a more passive system, I consolidated these time consuming tasks into a very short period (first during my winter and summer vacations, and now just about every 6 months).
Basically, I work on the core of my Etsy business for one (very intense) week every 6 months.
The 6 months afterwards are then just fulfilling orders as they come in. This method is commonly called “batching”, and plenty of people use this method in many aspects of their lives (answering emails in batches every Friday, doing all your taxes in a batch once per quarter, assessing income and expenses in a batch once per week). This works the same way, it consolidates the hardest part of your business into one ass-busting intense session.
Here’s how to create your own semi-passive system for selling on Etsy (or on your own e-Commerce store!).
Figure out how many items you’d need to sell at what price to reach the income/revenue goal you have for the next 6 months. For me it’s usually about 200-300 items at the price of $50 each, at the minimum. Most items cost more than that, but I won’t spend time photographing, describing, listing and shipping an item for less than $50 (it’s just part of my business model to sell more high-end items). It takes the same amount of time to list and ship an item whether it costs $10 or $500, and I’d rather sell 1 $500 item in a month rather than ship 50 $10 items. (If you want to know more about my perspective on pricing, read this.)
Gather your inventory together. If you’re serious about it, which I recommend, make a spreadsheet with each item, a quick description, price you paid for the item, and retail price. This will help you estimate how much you will make from your batch.
Now, you should organize your stuff in a way it will be easy to photograph, like on hangers in the order you want to photograph them or laid out and ready to go.
Describe and Measure Each Item
You can do this step before or after the Photo Shoot (Step 3), but I like to do it before the photography session. It helps me get organized for the photo shoot to touch each item beforehand. Plus, I have to put outfits together (styling) so I have to work with each piece anyway. This step takes a while and is tedious, but necessary. This step usually takes me a few days leading up to the scheduled photo shoot.
PRO-TIP: Don’t skimp on descriptions. They can really set you apart (as do your photos) amongst the millions of shops. Write careful descriptions - your customers can’t try on your items but they sure as hell should get a tactile experience from your description. Every detail counts (mention the imperfections so you don’t get a return) and add some attitude to your descriptions too.
If you’re selling clothes you must include measurements. Measure each item and write everything down in your description. Otherwise you’ll get a bunch of emails from people asking about measurements and you’ll wish you had just done it before.
By now you should have your simple spreadsheet for future reference, an organized word doc with your item descriptions and measurements ready to go, and your clothes ready for the shoot (cleaned, steamed, organized logically, hanging).
Photograph this large batch of items all at once, try to do as many items as you can. I can generally photograph 200 items in 2 days. You might have one 10-hour day where you photograph each item. How many days this step takes you will depend on how fast you can move and how many items you have.
I like to strategically put together outfits that can knock out the photos for 2 or 3 items in one single photo/ensemble. I crop them after to create 2 or 3 separate listings out of the same 5 photographs.
By the end of the day you’ll have a speedy system in place, I promise. My sunglasses product photography routine is forever emblazoned in my brain: front shot, ¾ shot, inside arm, outside arm, detail/logo, Made In ___ detail. Bam! Unless you’re a pro selfie-taker, it helps to have either a model, or a good photographer if you’re the model.
Edit the Photos
The day after the photo-shoot I edit each and every photograph in Photoshop. This means cropping, touch-ups, combining photos for the perfect thumbnails, picking detail photos, etc. This process usually takes me two really long days and my eyes are bleeding by the end of the second day (just kidding - they just feel like they’re going to fall out, but when I’m in the zone I can work fast!). Again, this all varies depending on how many items you have. But for me, I can describe, measure, photograph, edit, and list about 200-300 items in a week total. It’s a long-ass week, but it means that the following months are relatively easy-going.
Listing Your Items
So now you have:
a) a document with all of the item titles, written descriptions, and measurements for each thing
b) edited photos (Etsy allows five images) for each item.
Let the listing begin!
You can do this part in one of two ways.
1) List every item as quickly as you can, filling up your shop and having all of your current inventory up for sale. This could take a few days to upload everything, but once you have the descriptions and photos it will go quickly.
2) List your items a few at a time over the course of a few weeks/months. This keeps your shop current and “updated”. You probably get more views if you add a few items each day for a few months.
It really depends on what you want to do. I have done it both ways depending on my schedule. Sometimes I just want to get all 200 items listed and done with, and watch as the orders come in and then slowly trickle off until I’m ready to do the next big batch. Other times I’ve added 3-5 items each weekday and had very stable, reliable sales for the next 8 - 10 months. It’s all about what you prefer and how you work best.
As your orders roll in...
As your orders come in, it's time to fulfill, pack and ship.
As I mentioned, I prefer to ship less quantity but more high-priced items since it takes the same amount of effort. I might ship a few high-ticket items each week, which is plenty for reaching my income goals. Once all of the hard work is put in of photographing, describing, and listing each thing, shipping the incoming orders is relatively easy. That’s why I say this method is semi-passive. I work like a son of a bitch for one week every 6 months or so, usually putting in 15 hour days during that time. But then I just take a few minutes each day to fulfill orders, and spend my time working on other passive and high-touch income sources (and my various blogs, which are not passive at all!).
I know this system won’t appeal to every Etsy entrepreneur. Many people do one normal-sized photo shoot each week, or photograph one or two items each day. To each their own! But if you’re like me and you have limited time to be spending on your Etsy empire (because you are also building a few other empires), I hope this explanation helps set you up for semi-passive Etsy success. If you’re looking for more info about how Entrepreneurs can and should be utilizing Etsy, check out my post "How to Use Etsy as an Entrepreneur to Launch of Grow Your Business".