Right now I have three shops. Two of them are online and one... well... I had plans for rapidly growing Full of Grace Creations this summer, but a bad blunder involving leaving both a key box of supplies (beads aren't a whole lot of good without wire, and I just can't bring myself to buy more when I have so much at home) and my entire stock of chaplets and rosaries (packed and ready to go, waiting in my sewing room to make it into the van...) meant that I decided to focus even more energy on my other two shops until I get back to Florida.
That however, is just as well, because right now I'm trying to focus half my time on Sadie's Saints and growing my selection there... which brings me to my Etsy advice. I know there are quite a few Etsy shop owners out there, so feel free to add your own advice (or even links) in the comment section.
Now, on to what I've learned these past few years:
Learn the Rules and Regulations Where You're Selling
One of the most helpful things I did when I first looked into opening Full of Grace Creations, was sit down and read through the Etsy instructions for opening a shop. It was boring. It involved sitting, reading something that wasn't really "fun" for quite a while. But it was important that I knew the rules for selling before I started. After looking over the rules I checked out quite a few shops to see what their shop policies and shipping policies looked like, and then came up with my own rules for my own shop. It isn't the funniest part of starting up a small craft business, but it's important, and it was nice to have it out of the way.
Keep Prices Competitive through Smart Shopping
Setting prices can be difficult and when you're looking at handmade goods there can be a wide range of prices available. When I began making rosaries and chaplets, and later headcoverings and dolls, I had a choice. I wanted the products I made to be accessible at reasonable prices. I wanted to make beautiful creations, but I didn't like the idea of selling a rosary for $150 when it had only cost me $10 and a couple hours work to make it.
On the other hand, I still wanted to offer quality goods, which required quality supplies.
This is where shopping sales became critical. I buy my beads in bulk and I usually only buy fabric when it's more than 50% off. I love 10% (or more) "off your entire purchase" coupons. And if I find a warehouse with fantastic prices, I stock up.
Craft and fabric store prices are often ridiculous without sales. Here's an example. When we were traveling I found one of those awesome fabric warehouses. This one had a table of cuts of fabric that were labeled $2.99. I found two giant pieces of unblemished minky on the table. One was four yards and one was two. They would have been $14.99 a yard at the fabric store I usually shop at. When I combined it with fabric I'd bought at another sale the blanket I made Mae cost about $6. If I'd paid full price it would have been over $30 and it would likely have been less to buy it then to make it.
Sale shopping is key when you're a small business owner creating your own product.
Setting your Own Wages
The second difficulty, when I began pricing items, was figuring out how much I needed to sell each item for to make it profitable for me to be in business. This became even more important when Paul started law school and I became the sole breadwinner for 10 months of the year.
This part of pricing can be a balancing act. I finally came up with a strategy that works for me, and helps me decide if it's worth it to carry a creation in my store. I decided to pay myself $10 an hour for each individual product. Now that's not the best wage in the world (especially since I don't add in the computer and listing time), but it was important to me to keep my prices down, and it's also not a bad wage either, especially since I'm working from home and naming my own hours. So when I make a product I multiply the number of hours by 10 and add the cost of materials and voila: I roughly have the price rang for my product.
In my experience finding a pay range that works for you can make pricing much easier.
Dealing with Uncertainty
Uncertainty is the downside of running my own online business. I don't know it I'm going to make $0 or $1000 in a week. I might work 55 hours in a week, but that doesn't mean anything is going to sell. Or I might be completely lazy and make nothing, and have sales flood in.
I do know there are times of year when I'm going to be insanely busy and spend hours late into the night sewing... and there are going to be times when I post and post and post new orders and nothing comes in. My latest goal is balancing the slow times, and sewing like crazy during those times, so I'm prepared when the busier seasons arrive.
In the beginning I worried so much about how my prices compared to everyone else's and how my products compared.
The past year I've gained confidence and realized that all I really need to do is focus on what I'm making, and do what I do well, and trust that things will fall into place. It can also be important for shop owners/crafters/artists to remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (and repeat that to yourself frequently). There's a good chance that, if you make something beautiful, you'll suddenly see it popping up all over the place. Take a deep breath, ignore it, and focus on making your own products awesome.
This is another important aspect that I didn't realize right away when I opened my business, but frequency of posting can be important. I try to post something every single day. This gets easier once you have more products. Frequent posting keeps people looking at your shop, and hopefully while they're looking they'll find something they like!
I definitely notice that the amount of business I get is directly related to how many listings I have posted. Variety can definitely help boost sales. For me, having over 100 items posted seems to be a turning point where sales becomes somewhat regular. Getting over 100 items made and photographed and posted can be a struggle, but I have noticed the flow of sales definitely increases in direct proportion to the number of items I have posted!
And now, in the interest of not making a handbook size advice column, I'll stop for today. Maybe I should make this into a series, posting whenever I learn something new (or when I remember something that's helped).
And hopefully this will help someone!