Rachel Jones, a 33-year-old mother of two, was feeling burned out trying to balance her career with small children. Looking to make money without sacrificing too much time with the kids, she launched a low-cost, six-figure side hustle selling “printables” on Etsy.
What are printables? They’re any product, from coloring pages to budget worksheets, that you create for customers to download. What makes this business so uniquely attractive is that outside of your time, there are no production or shipping costs. When customers buy your product, they print it with their own paper and ink. Your only cost is Etsy’s listing fees and commissions that amount to a small percentage of the product’s sales price.
Six-figure side hustle
If you want to turn selling on Etsy into a six-figure side hustle, you should forget about simply following your passions. Your passions may influence your direction, but to make real money selling on Etsy, you need discipline, strategy and research, said Jones, who also operates the MoneyHackingMomma blog.
That’s true when you’re selling printables like Jones, as well as when you’re selling any other item. That’s simply because you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd.
Etsy is the undeniable leader in craft sales, with roughly 82 million customers and some 400 million site visitors each month. But the site can be a quagmire for unprepared vendors. That’s because roughly 4.3 million sellers compete for business. And sellers who have been on the platform the longest — and who have already rung up hundreds of sales — are favored in the site’s algorithm.
That can make drawing visitors to a new Etsy store feel like an impossible task. However, Jones said this problem is surmountable.
“A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that they like to budget and so they’ll make a budget worksheet to sell,” Jones said. “That’s the wrong way to go about it. You’ve got to do your research first.”
What research? To be successful, you need to satisfy a consumer need. And to figure out what consumers need enough to find your store, you should use keyword research, she said.
Naturally, you don’t search randomly. This is where your personal passions come into play. Search in a category that suits the sort of products that appeal to both your interests and your skills. That could be jewelry, wooden furniture, women’s clothing, leather shoes, candles, cards — you name it.
Because Jones sells printables, she knows that there’s a huge surge in search demand for calendars and day planners at this time of year, for instance. The problem? Competition. If you search for “printable planners” on Etsy right now, you’re going to get more than 370,000 results. If your planner is near the bottom of that search list, the chance that a customer will find it is almost nil.
You can still make money with a printable planner. But you need to dive into a narrower niche to make your product stand out, she said. For instance: You might create a teachers lesson planner; a stargazer’s planner; an organic gardener’s planting planner; a healthy eater’s meal planner.
“Instead of thinking that you’re going to create something specific, start with an idea and then do the research,” she suggested. “If you find something that has a decent amount of search traffic and low competition, go forward. But if the competition is too stiff or the search volume is too low, you go back to the drawing board.”
It’s a quality versus quantity game, she added. You don’t need a ton of potential buyers. You need the right buyers — the people who are going to be so engaged with what you’re offering that they’ll pull out a credit card. That means your audience can be thousands — not millions — of people.
Better yet, when you do a good job of mining a niche, your store is likely to show up when potential customers are searching for related items too. Your gardening planner may come up as a suggestion when someone searches Etsy for gardening gifts, for example. That doubles the chances that an appropriate customer will find you.
How do you know what people are searching for? Jones uses a tool called ERank, which is specifically designed to boost search engine performance on Etsy. The product has free, “basic,” and “pro” versions. The free version allows you to conduct as many as 50 keyword searches a day.
Jones quit her day job and is doing Etsy full time. So she pays $6 monthly for the basic plan that gives her up to 100 keyword searches daily, as well as a passel of other tools to help her describe her products and write headlines. However, people who spend less time selling are probably fine simply using the free plan.
Jones has about 200 different products on Etsy and is constantly researching ideas and adding more. In just two years, she said, she’s grown her Etsy sales to roughly $10,000 a month. And 80% of that is profit. Her goal is to earn $1,000 a day.
“When starting an online business, so many people think about their passion first. But they have no idea how to sell the products they create,” she said. “That’s not how you make money.”
Kristof is the editor of SideHusl.com, an independent website that reviews moneymaking opportunities in the gig economy.