Self-employment: marketplace differences, diversifying products, and keeping my sanity

the first 3 years of owning my business, i sold exclusively through Etsy. my sister had experience with Etsy before, so when we decided to try selling our creations, that was the obvious choice for a marketplace. we opened up shop and experienced great success with it! it wasn't until 2013 that i decided to sell through another avenue, my own website. after doing a bit of research, i decided to use Shopify as the platform for my own online storefront. over two years in, i'm still very happy with the decision and can see very obviously that it was the right business decision! 

i still love selling through Etsy, and think i always will. for one, i love that it's a handmade marketplace. everything i sell through my Etsy shop is such, so i like that customers who appreciate/like the handmade aspect can go right to my Etsy shop and know that they're getting something that i put together. the search function on Etsy is great, too! if you're not familiar, it's almost like Google for handmade items. if you work it right by using the right tags, filters, etc. on your products, people searching for a specific thing, like "gold heart necklace", will come across your product and hopefully buy! you have a whole new market of customers built right in, which can't be said about all the other marketplaces. i've considered consolidating down to just (or "dot com" as i'll call it from now on), but i cannot give up the custom order and messaging functionality of Etsy quite yet. a good portion of my sales through Etsy are custom orders - bridal sets, bridesmaid jewelry, personalized items, or totally custom pieces. Etsy makes it so easy for customers to inquire about custom orders, for me to set them up, and for the transaction to take place. since a good portion of my business is custom orders, i can't justify giving that up. 

some things i don't love about Etsy?
listing fees, transaction fees, a limited number of product photos allowed, and limited customization options for the storefront. there isn't a monthly fee or startup cost for your shop on Etsy (which is great!), but there is a small fee per "listing" that you add to your shop, as well as a transaction fee per order. you're only allowed 5 photos per product, which usually isn't an issue but sometimes requires that i don't get to use every photo that i would like to. the only branding that you get on your store front is a small banner, so it's not ideal in that regard. 

some things i love about Etsy? 
it's so easy to get started, there isn't a monthly fee, and it's a familiar marketplace for many people. Etsy is very user-friendly and straightforward. not to mention, if you come across something you don't understand or don't know what to do with, a quick Google search will return plenty of results for you! while there are transaction/listing fees, there isn't a flat rate monthly fee that you have to pay. so, even if you don't sell a thing, you're not having to pay to keep your shop open. i also really like that it's a familiar marketplace for many people. whenever i tell people what i do, most of them know what Etsy is and will be able to easily find my shop, even without a direct URL. they know to search my name on the Etsy search function and it will pop up. that makes gaining new customers a heck of a lot easier! 

as mentioned before, dot com is hosted by Shopify, a popular online marketplace host. i've enjoyed my experience, thus far, and am so glad that i decided to launch the website two years ago. it's been a huge asset to my business and has definitely paid off. i love the customization, functionality, and a lot of the "back end" integrations that are available (more on that). 

i was so excited to have my own website because i knew that i would have so much more freedom with branding, design, and layout than i had on Etsy. Shopify offers a ton of great free and paid themes for your shop, so you can go through and pick one out to customize to your liking. i've used a few through the last couple years, as my needs have changed, but love that i have the option to change it up if there's a specific function i'm looking for or design element i need. it's not quite as easy to navigate as Etsy is, but once you learn your way around it all, it becomes like second nature. one of my favorite things is being able to integrate apps into your shop. things like MailChimp (newsletter/email app), ShipStation (shipping app), and Back in Stock (keeping track of inventory) have been huge for me in terms of efficiency and productivity. i don't want to go too deep into this stuff, since it may not apply to many of you, but know that you can definitely shoot me an email if you want to know more about my experience with Shopify.

there is a monthly fee for nearly everything - hosting the shop, MailChimp, Back in Stock, etc., but it's just one of those incurred expenses that i think is worth it because of the business that i do through dot com. it's definitely worth it! it took a few months to get used to juggling to two sites, but i'm finally in a groove with how i split my time and manage them. they serve the same and different purposes, all valid, so it's worth the extra bit of work and juggling that is required! 

one thing that i've found to work well for my business is adding in some supplemental products to the jewelry, like the tassel keychain add-on's, marbled ring dishes, notecard sets, and hand-painted canvas art pieces. i like having this additional products for a couple of reasons. (1) i get to make/sell things that i love! i have so much fun thinking of new things to offer on my site or Etsy and always get a thrill when it sells and (2) it makes buying a gift way easier. not only can you pick out a pair of earrings or a necklace for your girlfriend's birthday, but you can add in a keychain or ring dish and have the full gift purchased in one fell swoop. 

keeping my sanity is something i'm still working on ;) i get easily stressed out and overwhelmed, especially when i'm working against deadlines. so, i've learned ways to cope with it, like making sure i exercise, delegating everything that i can to my assistant, and setting realistic goals/deadlines. some things are unavoidable, like working against the shipping schedule for The Dearly Box, while other things are more fluid, like when i can have a custom order ready for a bride. learning my boundaries and what works well for me has been key to managing it all successfully. these things will be different for everyone, and may come up at different times, but it's so important to know your limits and work inside of them. at the end of the day, i truly love my job. like, so much. while it may get crazy and stressful and overwhelming, i wake up in the morning excited to get to work. for me, there's nothing better than that. 


  1. Good Morning Lauren! I love reading your posts while I have my morning coffee :) My sister is actually starting her own shop on Etsy shortly! She will be selling handmade pet accessories, I'm so excited for her :) I will tell her to check out your posts re: elizabethashile because I think she would find a lot of what you have shared to be useful, so thank you for adding these posts to your other awesome ones!

  2. Love reading your blog! I appreciate all the different aspects of your life, and you keep your blog upbeat and realistic, keep up the good work!

  3. I'm not a small business owner, but this has been so interesting to read!

  4. I "opened" an Etsy shop some time ago but haven't gotten around to stocking it yet. #WorstBusinessOwnerEver.
    Thanks for the info though. It's given me something to think about as I move forward.

  5. Love hearing about your Etsy experiences and jewelry posts! I'm an Etsy jewelry shop owner myself and am still trying to find a way to get organized with day to day tasks. I know a lot of other readers might not be interested, but i'd love to see how you keep your inventory and supplies organized, i'm struggling with that most! - Laura

  6. As someone who works in Supply Chain Management in a corporate setting, I am nerdily into seeing how people keep inventory in check in a small business setting! Do share. We have lots of systems that do it for us. I'm curious how you do it yourself!

  7. Love this post! I am considering opening an Etsy shop for my graphic design work. Would love an Etsy "Do's and Dont's" post from you sometime! Thanks for sharing your world with us!

  8. I've had an Etsy shop forever, also have sold on Ebay (which has really become $$$ over the years & not the greatest for handmade items). It's up & down but I don't put forth the effort that I used to. It's a "when I have time" gig, not a full time gig for me. My actual office job & kids shockingly eat up a lot of my time :) I'd love to learn to make jewelry. I've pinned a lot, I've watched a lot of tutorials & read a lot of blogs but have yet to make that leap!

  9. I really like studying your content while I have my morning hours java :) My sis is actually beginning her own store on Etsy shortly! She will be promoting hand crafted pet components, I'm so thrilled for her


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