Thursday, December 31, 2015

The huge Etsy ‘change’ you probably don’t know about - and how to beat it



The big Etsy change - how it affects you and what to do about it - www.sparrowsalvage.com

It's New Year's Day for me here today so this is the perfect post to  bring in the new and mega-awesome amazeballs that is 2016. Everyone I talk to is pumped for the new year, but if selling handmade is part of that pumped up-ness (as it is for me) you need to have a plan so it's more than just inner fizz. I'm making my new year's resolutions and 'personal 2016 battle plan' tonight. In the meantime... read this. It is a hard road and you might get overwhelmed, so I have presented with LOLs as sugar for the medicine.

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Recently there’s been a bit of a furore in the Etsy forums - in case you’re unaware, many sellers are of the opinion Etsy ‘changed something’ in the last few months that’s put in place a death knell on their shops views (and consequently sales). There are many who say they haven’t felt an effect, but there are many many more who say they have. Of course it’s more likely for people to post and complain about it affecting them - not many people are going to make a point of coming to the forums just to say they’re doing fine. However, a lot of the shops reporting massive downturn are well-established shops with good product and long-standing sales. So something has dropped a fly in the ointment.

There are a lot of theories - SEO! Localisation! Invasive browse menu! - but most agree on the most likely reason, that there are just too many people on Etsy competing for the same shoppers. It makes perfect sense - if you have two or three times more competition now than you did last year it's going to be harder to get the attention your shop needs.  

Etsy grows enormously every year, but those sellers aren't just home-makers looking to earn a few dollars, they are people who have spent months honing their business to present it professionally. It’s quite easy to set up a professional-looking shop on Etsy, and with their being so many little details involved in the website that can put you ahead of the pack, anyone who just jumps on and doesn’t do their research is already at a handicap. About the only thing hobbyists have going for them is price - they tend to undercharge. 

But someone who sells the same thing you do for 25% more than you do doesn’t have the same customer; a similar customer yes, but one that for various reasons favours a higher price. So they aren’t really any kind of competition; which means the huge growth in sellers doesn’t really give you competition unless they sell the exact same thing you do. I had a feeling it went deeper...



So I dug deeper and found what I was looking for in the following quote taken from an Etsy Admin video chat discussing how they engineer Search: 

"... [how do we] make sure we are distributing sales among sellers…it wouldn’t be good if only a small subgroup of sellers can make a living selling on Etsy. That's not what we want."

(found on this huge thread)

What initially was intended as an ‘off-hand’ comment held a seed of realisation for many people. The first part of the quote - ‘[how do we] make sure we are distributing sales among sellers ‘ - left people asking if Etsy has a search system which chooses what you see in search results based on a kind of 'take turns' approach to featuring all sellers. This conflicts with everything we know (or think we know!) about Etsy search; that the listings returned are based on tags n' titles, aka relevancy.

If you’ve got 5 thousand shops all selling a very similar thing, one way to ‘distribute sales among sellers’ would be to order the search results in a way that gives everyone a ‘turn’ at being in the first few pages, regardless of their SEO and relevancy. Sometimes a seller gets into a search result, sometimes not.

I’ve always worked with what I’ve been taught - that coming up in Etsy searches relies on relevancy. This alluded to method of giving ‘turns’ to certain shops makes that strategy largely useless, so I did a quick test. I searched for ‘red beaded necklace’ and found 56,102 items. But hold up… every search result page shows 42 listings (not including the ads) and there are 250 pages of results.

250 X 42 is 10,500 listings. 

So if there’s 56,102 eligible listings for ‘red beaded necklace’ search and only 10,500 are being shown based on relevancy (apparently), that means 45,602 listings aren’t getting into the results at all. After a while most listings are just as relevant as each other and other factors come into play (which I’ll talk about in a minute), so a ‘fair’ solution for those 45,602 listings would be to randomly mix up the search results, making sure each seller gets a chance to be one of the 10,500. 

In my search for ‘red beaded necklace’, the first page of results had NINE listings (and that’s me being generous) for which I would not consider ‘red beaded necklace’ an accurate description. Several of them were just necklaces with one or two red beads mixed in with many others; some of them didn’t have any red beads at all! Meanwhile if I skip to the last page of the entire search result - page 250 - how many ‘red beaded necklaces’ were unfit for the description there? Just four.

In other words, in a search for ‘red beaded necklace’ I found better search results by going to the end of the page.

Sounds like a search engine that relies on more than ‘tags and titles’ to put your listing in the top, huh? 

One small facet of the quote describing their desire to ‘evenly distribute sales among sellers’ also leaves me wondering if having sales in your shop drops you back in the search results for a couple of days. I can’t think of any other way you could engineer even distribution through search; just randomly mixing up or leaving out some listings is only going to work if you make sure the ones selling are getting less exposure that the ones who haven’t recently sold.

Again I tested my theory through a search, this time choosing 'green dress'. Pretty vague, and I didn't narrow it down through any subcategories. Then I went to the last page and randomly selected 8 shops to view. I went to their sold items... 6 of them had received a sale in the last 72 hours, the other two had sales last week. Interesting... I went to the first page of the results and did the same thing; every shop I selected to look at hasn't had a sale for at least 3 weeks. So basically if you get a sale, your place in search pretty much evaporates for a couple of days. Great.

This theory seems further strengthened by the fact that successful shops are reporting massive (up to 75%) downturns in the last few months are reporting the same sort of activity in their shop - views started diving at around the same time of the year as other shops, and current behaviour is a sale or two every 3-5 days; as if their listing is only being seen every 3-5 days. These are shops who up until recently have been making daily sales, some for several years - all the shops on the last page of my 'green dress' search results had hundreds or thousands of sales. Now suddenly the spot in search they worked so hard to get is systematically shared with others on Etsy's 'merry-go-round of fairness'.

Incidentally I checked my own shops against this and the pattern is the same for me - a sale or two comes along, then nothing for 3-5 days, then a sale or two, then nothing...


I wasn’t the only one presenting this theory on the forum, and Etsy admin responded by saying they’re just trying to make sure a variety of shops turn up in search rather than having several sellers dominating each page. This alludes to the second half of the quote ‘it wouldn’t be good if only a small subgroup of sellers can make a living selling on Etsy. That's not what we want.’ 

To my mind (and most people on the forums) that translates as Etsy wanting all sellers to have some sales rather than just a few having all the sales. This again seems like a good idea, but as to our earlier half of the theory, if there aren’t enough customers to go around that piece of the sales pie is barely going to whet your appetite, let alone making the work you did to get it worthwhile.

When it comes to categories on Etsy, there really aren’t that many places where supply (listings) exceeds demand (shoppers).  Etsy quite simply has more stuff than there are people to buy it; but while I partially disregarded this idea based on customers wanting different things from essentially the same people, the reality is clear; if you're not even coming up high in results, your customer is not going to wade until they find you, no matter what their budgetary concerns are.

The best way to cement a theory like this is to ask yourself this: ‘if Etsy have deliberately made this change - why would they do it? What’s in it for Etsy?

Easy- money. 

Etsy know that a great deal of the shops on their website have no active social media or advertise outside the site. Instead they rely entirely on the search results as well as the community (treasury, teams, activity circle, suggested items) to bring them traffic. So that means these shops only stick around as long as they’re making sales - because despite that they don’t promise consistent sales, that’s what sellers on Etsy expect. 

This is evident in the forum’s daily threads blaming Etsy for their low views and sales. Say as a micro example there were 500 shops on Etsy, but only 50 shops were doing really well, 400 were just doing ok and 50 are doing very badly. This new ‘fair’ method is trying to make it so all 500 do well enough, which means the 50 doing really well will suddenly stop doing really well…but not so much as to think it’s over and shut up shop. Any shop that’s doing ‘ok’ on Etsy (a sale every 3-5 days) is going to be less likely to just up and leave than a shop doing very badly. After all a sale is a sale right? Just keep listing and maybe things will pick up...

Let me tell you about something called Bushnell’s Law. Bushnell’s Law states that ‘the best games should be easy to learn and difficult to master - they should reward at the first quarter and the 100th’. It’s a popular business maxim invented in the 80s but used by a great many companies including the industry it came from - video games. What it essentially means is a good system for making money gives the buyer just enough enticement to keep using it - and keep handing over money.

Now let’s apply this to Etsy from the point of view of the people who run Etsy. We can change a few words here….. ‘the best Etsy shops should be easy to start and difficult to succeed in - they should reward at the first listing and the 100th’.

Using that formula, Etsy can keep you ‘pumping the quarters’ (or in this case 20c) and rewarding you now and then with a sale to make you think it’s all worthwhile. It doesn’t make for a lot of successful shops just like Bushnell doesn’t allow for a lot of successful gamers - but they’re not looking for success for their users - they’re just looking for users, period.

Just keep listing...

It might make Etsy sound big-hearted to say ‘we want all shops to get sales’ but in reality they just want a lot of sales from every kind of shop, representing every kind of demographic. Etsy as a whole site doesn't have a target customer; it has a target user (the seller) and makes money from that shop's target customers instead. Not long ago Etsy was doing everything it could to promote and reward the cool brands and the successful sellers - I guess they finally figured out the real money is in dog food, not diamonds. Demographics like supply shops or ‘junk’ under $20 might not look cool, they sure do bring the Benjamins.


So here we have a site with millions of shops, all selling every different kind of thing, with all categories over-supplied, with more listings than search can display - and it’s all run by a company that want the total sales of the site spread out among all sellers rather than a few dominant ones, because it keeps the site looking huge and takes advantage of the vast demographic of users. That’s nothing to strike down; it’s business after all. In their defence they’ve tried to find a solution that leaves everyone fed but all it’s done is leave everyone sharing a pie that doesn’t have enough slices to go around.

So... has your brain melted yet? 

It all might sound very complex and a tiny bit conspiratorial, but the take-away realisation here (and for those of you who just skimmed 'all that ramble') is if you rely solely on their search to be found, you can no longer put faith in being able to make anything more than hobby income on Etsy. You’re just not going to get enough exposure.

But before we throw all this out the window and start kicking things, remember there is much within your control, there is more to being found on Etsy than in search and relevancy still counts. With so many listings in every given search, only the first dozen or so will have any kind of rank-power; the rest are going to be just as relevant as each other.

So let’s look at the ways you can up your chances of being in that top selection, starting with the other criteria that go into your listing's search rank.

In the same video I linked to up above, Etsy Admin talked about the various elements of your shop that affect your rank. To sum up, your position in the Etsy search results is based on:

1. Your relevancy (right titles, tags)
2. Having the listing in a designated category
3. having a completed ‘About’ page and policies
4. having good feedback stars and no open or closed disputes against you
5. How many people clicked on that listing as a result of searching the same keywords
6. If you’re in the UK or Australia, you’ll be shown to your country’s shoppers as priority

Pretty complicated huh? Obviously some things have more weight than others and some effect might fade over time - for example, if you have a listing with 356 views and 125 hearts it’s going to come up high in a search, but those ‘heart points’ will fade in strength over time if they’re not being added to regularly. The more searches that listing appears in and doesn’t get clicked on, the more that listing will drop.
Let’s look at these in more detail: 

1. Relevancy or Etsy SEO is something you should know all about by now! If you still haven’t bothered to learn it, you really can’t blame anyone but yourself on that. Don’t just say ‘oh I don’t care about all that complicated stuff’. If you want traffic from Etsy search, you need to care about SEO. If you sell on Etsy and you’re not bothering with SEO/relevancy then you’re pretty much fobbing off the whole point of being there- the ‘free’ traffic which comes from search. 

Yes there are now other things that will help you get found on Etsy search aside from this relevancy procedure, and yes it does look as if sometimes all that work is for nothing because it's all a big 'merry-go-round of fairness'. But of all the factors this is still the one with the best chance of getting you to page one. In addition to that, buyers are often a little more specific in their search terms after 'green dress'. They narrow it down either using more search terms like 'plus size', 'bridesmaid' or 'boho', and they use the categories to remove what they don't want to see. Making sure your SEO is descriptive to the best of your abilities means your buyer has less pages to wade through to find you.

To determine if what you have now is working, go to your stats page and set it to show stats for ‘this year’.



If search is 4th place or lower in ‘Within Etsy’ traffic searches (the table on the right), you got problems. If your search traffic is in 4th place or higher, don’t bother tinkering with your SEO! You are doing just fine with it - concentrate on other areas of traffic (I’ll get to that in a minute). You can see by my example above (these are my 2015 stats) that search is #3 for me, so I don’t have to worry about my SEO - I’m good at it! 

I did a deep blog post on relevancy some time ago - although it’s old it has been recently updated and the information is all still…well, relevant! You can read it here.

2. Having your listing in a designated category is something you might not consider worth worrying about, but evidence on the forums suggests it does hurt a listing not to be located in as many of the sub-categories as possible.  I'm sure we've all noticed that invasive new drop-down menu that takes over half the screen whenever you mouse across it; these are the new Browse sections and many shoppers use them. If your item doesn't fit in these you got problems. Categories also count as tags.

3. A completed ‘About’ page and policies - Your About page doesn’t have to be anything masterful, just make sure you have one. The search rank can’t see what’s on there, it just cares that it's there. Likewise you should have your policies fill in even if it's just the basics. 

Having a completed ‘About’ page and policies is a bit of an odd one but I can see why this happens - Etsy are trying their best to keep their search results full of professional shops with great presentation. It gives the site good face, ups the likelihood of new customers having good experiences on the site and of course makes Etsy more money - there’s no point helping half-hearted shops with low sales or bad feedback stay visible.

4. Having open cases or bad feedback will cease to affect you over time and while this does count for something, it can be trumped by things like good tags and titles. Controlling this is as simple as having great customer service. You can prompt feedback in your ‘notes to buyers’ which you access from ‘Your Shop>Info and Appearance’ - this is a little blurb that appears on the transaction confirmation everyone gets in their inbox when they buy from you. It might be a good idea to mention to them that like eBay, anything less than 5 stars can damage your shop so if they have any problems what-so-ever they should contact you first for resolution.

5. How many people clicked on that listing as a result of searching the same keywords just means the more a listing gets clicked on, the higher in search it will be for the next person searching those terms. If you search ‘orange spacesuit’, all the listings you click on in that search result will get ‘points’ from the searchbots. The next time someone searches ‘orange spacesuits’ the searchbots will take into account listings that were clicked on by the last person, and assuming this person will also find them relevant, moves those listings a little higher up the page. 

The more this happens to a listing, the higher up the page it will go - that’s why you often see listings at the top of search result that don’t have ‘perfect’ SEO. If something is clicked on and then hearted as a consequence, its rank will go higher. If that same person also buys it (that day or any time after) its rank will jump higher again. So if you have something listed that people heart and/or buy after finding it in search, your ranking for that listing is very strong. 

An important point I want to make here - these are the only clicks that matter in terms of search-rank. All those games people play where they go to each other’s shops and click all over the place and heart the entire first page… don’t work. Yes you get traffic, but it’s what I call ‘junk traffic’ - unless those people in that team are searching for your listings and then clicking/hearting that way, it’s worthless and quite frankly a waste of time.

There’s a concern amongst sellers that listings benefiting the most from click rank are those with a quantity of ‘more than one available’ for that listing. Listings with ‘only 1 available’ won’t stick around in search for long because no matter how much click rank they get, once they sell, they’re gone from search. This mostly affects makers of ‘one of a kind’ (OOAK) and vintage dealers. 

I don’t think this is something you need to worry about for several reasons. Firstly, if you sell OOAK or vintage then you should be getting most of your traffic from social media (more about that in a minute) and B - you sold your thing! And that after all is the whole point of it being there. 

Additionally, your search rank will not really matter if your field of competition is also largely ooak. For example, in a search for ‘custom painted doll’ nearly everything is going to likely be ooak so listings will not likely have to compete for click-result. Similarly, if you’re selling a vintage donkey painting then there’s not going to be a lot of other donkey paintings to compete with. Also the buyer is looking for something very specific, so just because your donkey painting/custom painted doll comes up in first place, doesn’t mean yours is what they’re looking for (and that goes for a lot of searches).

But if for example you make sterling silver and gemstone jewelry and you only make one of every design, your search rank will pale in comparison to others who will make the same ring over and over again and who therefore use the same listing, riding high on its accrued ranking.

Having said that though, I just did a search for 'sterling moonstone ring' and one of the higher results was a 'quantity of 1'. It did have a lot of hearts - it also had a fairly high price (comparative to most shops) and I'm theorising this has actually helped. Plenty of people clicked on it in search just to look, never intending to buy. It didn't sell but it gave the listing search rank, so if you sell 'quantity of 1' at a high price your rank shouldn't be too badly affected. (Did I just tell you to raise your prices again? YES.)

6. If you’re in the UK or Australia, you’ll be shown to your country’s shoppers as priority - this is something largely out of your control and I’m currently on the fence about whether it’s good or bad. If you live in these countries and you sell something a lot of US shops also sell, you might find your overseas orders have slowed or stopped.

Some forum goers are complaining of this, however I don’t think it’s much to worry about. For starters it’s helping you boost your presence in your home country market - always a good thing! - and for seconds, if you have a unique product that stands out for one or many reasons then your customers will find you no matter where you live. My vintage supply shop (Fagin’s Daughter) hasn’t seen any downturn in non-Australian traffic, and I’d maintain that’s because I sell unique things and have a fairly good following. My Australian buyer rates have gone up though, so I’ve actually benefited from that factor.


Okay, take another moment to unfreeze your brain.

Now that’s covered, I want to go over the other ways to be found on Etsy that isn’t search - primarily the in-house community. There’s a lot that’s out of your control but you can up your chances: 

1. favourites: make sure your photos are clickable, you’ll stand out in a person’s favourites page. 

2. followers: you might not think this helps your exposure because they’re only seeing other stuff you favourited, but when it turns up on their home page it will say ‘favourited by [your shop name] and that reminds them you exist. If this is going to work you need to have public favourites. 

3. suggested/similar items: this turns up under favourites and at the top of people’s activity feed - getting your listing in there is a ‘simple’ as having similar titles and tags to the stuff that Etsy is basing the similarity on. This is really something that’ll just happen as long as your tags/titles are good. Again good photos help here too in order that you catch the eye.

4. Treasury:  Getting found through treasury is again down to having really great photographs, but also in having photographs which appeal to your market audience. Here is where I once again champion dumping the all-white background and using your entire photo as a branded depiction of your shop’s aesthetic. My Fagin listings get in a lot of treasuries because I’m using a visual style that matches my shop’s brand; rustic, romantic, grungy and antique. I get put in treasuries that as a whole appeal to that customer and that helps me get resulting activity. 

You can use this when you build treasuries too - make them with themes that appeal to your customers but include shops who you think would be your customers as well. For example I sell vintage clothing in Miss Foley, so when I make treasuries there I include shops who’s style is also vintage but who don’t sell vintage clothing - it might be make up sellers, candle makers, pin up photographers… This is again where we come back to the old chestnut ‘know your market’. If you don’t know exactly who loves your stuff, you can’t talk to them through your branding.

5. Promoted listings are another way to be found but this is a minefield - a deceptively simple set-up which actually is very complicated. Rather than teaching you how to do it, I’m just going to point you to a brilliant series of you tube videos by Cindy of Jewelryfx. She says everything and anything I could. 

6. Stats let you know where your community efforts are successful. As I said earlier if your search is 4 or higher you’re good on SEO, but where things like ‘treasury’, ‘favourites’ and ‘activity circle’ show up will tell you what's working. I wrote an article on stats some time ago for the Etsy forums; it’s old (before I got banned!) but it’s still good. Read the comment thread too for clarifications and explanations.
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Now that you are well and truly over the whole thing… it’s perfectly possible to have a full-time shop on Etsy with a steady stream of sales without bothering with relevancy or he on-site community. To do so, all you need is to list your stuff whenever and however you want and then accept your traffic generation as entirely your responsibility with newsletters and social media. This involves having a specific strategy for your social media; keeping it ‘pure’ to your shop’s purpose and keeping it consistent, high quality and connected. This as you may well imagine is not easy and unless that sort of thing comes very naturally to you, can easily take up much more time than simply learning your SEO. Personally I believe your traffic generation should be 20% Etsy generated, 80% social media generated. This is entirely to do with everything I’ve just said - Etsy traffic is just not enough.

If you don’t want to bother with social media or SEO - in other words you just want to list and do as you please and not worry about ‘all that other junk’ - or if you’re sitting there thinking ‘but I’m just a hobby seller doing it for fun!’ …then I have some bad news for you. Etsy is no longer a site where a hobbyist can expect decent visibility. The days of just doing as you please on Etsy are long gone. Competition is higher than ever before; new sellers are coming into the game every day, many of them with a higher professional standard than ever before. Every category is over-saturated and the complex search algorithm leaves those who don’t come up to scratch out in the proverbial cold.



All this branding, socialising and engineering you need to do is enough in itself to negate the hobby status. So if you just want to list your things and walk away, it’s all over for you. Feel free to prove me wrong - I would love to see that! I haven’t met anyone with a hobby shop who genuinely only puts in hobby time with no social media, no real SEO and no in-Etsy socialising and still makes a worthwhile return on investment. 

Many of the shops on Etsy who are complaining ‘some kind of change has killed their sales’ are these kinds of hobby shops and simply aren’t presenting that well. They have poor SEO, no social media, are selling products that are abundant in other shops and/or on the receding end of being trendy. And all of them use the method of listing and then just waiting for Etsy to bring the views. 

Selling on Etsy is not as simple as ‘list it and they will come’. It’s perpetually seen as such and the myth still abounds that you too can set up a shop full of items and watch the gravy train pull into your station. Not on your life! Having an Etsy shop isn’t much different than having any other online shop; you need to generate traffic. Especially now with these new complicated algorithms, there’s only so much traffic you’ll get relying on Etsy search and in-site community exposure like treasuries.

So I end with a home truth. Your low sales are your fault and your problem. But you are also the solution.

I can help you with those solutions, but it'll come later. Right now I want you to take ONE single pledge, right now on the New Year.
Promise me you will stop leaving it to Etsy to bring your traffic.

And have a happy New Year! 2016 is going to be astounding.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Sparrow Returns

Hey you guys I'm back! Yep - almost exactly a year after I closed Sparrow Salvage I've re-opened again because... well... the muse woke up!


I've started slowly - it's soft and earthy and romantic with a touch of my 'bohemian galactic' as Fanci calls it. The muse is still fumbling about, unsure of what's going on like most of us when we first wake up. I might change my style in a couple of weeks, I might give it up again! My muse does have a reputation for going on sudden holiday for weeks at a time. I have a newsletter you can sign up to so you'll know when new things come into the shop - it'll also tell you when I update here, which I do very much hope to make regular again.

So what have I been up to all this time? 

Well, remember a million years ago when I did the series of posts on pricing handmade? After all the lecturing and lead up, I didn't end up posting the final post about the actual formula and the maths and giving you a better alternative. You know why I didn't post it? Because I couldn't find a better alternative. No matter how much maths I did, no matter the approaches I took, I couldn't come up with a system that worked out better and that I was comfortable advising you to employ. This lead me to query why....and long story short I ended up falling down a rabbit hole of branding, social media and online shop development. Basically I've spent the last 2 years quietly becoming an online merchant geek.

The plus side for you is that I am now a master of it all! I've developed a whole series of tutorials to teach you how to make a living selling handmade online, including social media, shop branding, Etsy-specific secrets, running your own standalone website, pricing and successful one-of-a-kind selling - most handmade business people say you can't make a living as a OOAK maker; they are wrong!

One of the biggest reasons for me teaching this stuff is I'm sick of seeing good handmade shops not getting off the ground and making the sales they need and deserve to make. I wander all over Etsy and I see great shops with great stuff that could be selling great too, with just a few changes. There's not a lot written about selling handmade online that also enables people to keep their own style and gives clear, practical, actionable advice, and that's what I plan to do.

There is no substitute for hard work - Thomas Edison


I should warn though I teach this with the end effect being a full-time income for any maker and it requires a lot of work. A lot of it will take people out of their comfort zone - maybe way out of their comfort zone. But it's necessary; a comfort zone doesn't require you to change or challenge yourself and that means nothing happens. Selling handmade is hard and it's getting even harder as time goes on - more people dive into it every day and competition rises. In addition, Etsy - who I think almost all of us rely on - have recently made a change in how their search algorithm works. After reading about it at length I've seen it as a bit of a death knell for shops who don't know what they're doing. I'll detail here it in another blog post in the next day or two as well as showing you how to get the best from Etsy if you choose to keep selling there.

There's plenty of usable information coming up for free though, so anyone who doesn't want their handmade shop being a full-time gig can still benefit from it. But that's not all! I'm also finally getting around to releasing some handmade tutorials so you can learn how to make assemblage jewelry in Sparrow Salvage style. The first tutorial should be done by next week and involves the techniques and tricks for making my Bollywood bangle earrings.



My other project is something that's only just been coming back from the dead - my photography. I don't think it's going too far to say I'm fairly well known for my imagery both as a jewelry maker/blogger and as a photographer.  Since the accident I feel I lost something of my natural ability, and though I have now and then tried to coax it back again, I think even my shop photos are just not what they used to be. I've always wanted to sell my work as prints and I have tried now and then, but nothing I put any great effort into.

I think reconnecting with my photography is not only good for my creative muse but is also highly desirable as a future income. I've long dreamed of contributing to magazines or even better, working with heritage groups to showcase the buildings and natural resources they protect. It's a bit of a dream to do a calendar for the UK National Trust for their Buildings at Risk campaign.


So I've additionally decided that I'm going to use my (re)budding photography pursuits both to fulfil me creatively and prove that my teachings about online selling work. By starting from scratch with a standalone website/portfolio, rebuilding my social media and defining a whole new brand I hope to show anyone who'll listen that making a living selling your handmade - furniture, paintings, jewelry, photography, clothing - is definitely possible.

And of course Fagin will be with us again this year, providing unusual antique and vintage craft supply. I have so much cool stuff to share - a whole range of found objects I uncovered moving house recently, as well as paper kits and a whole suitcase full of my custom dyed fabrics!

Who's that girl with too many projects? Muggins here. But you know, what's life without overly-optimistic project levels? I didn't even mention my vintage clothing shop or the potential projects with my local museum and a textile-collecting friend or two...

Monday, March 23, 2015

Monday Memories

Monday memories on the Sparrow Salvage blog

 Came across this little memory moment while cleaning up the shipping desk - a couple of old stamps including one for Little Brown Sparrow. The Sparrow Salvage one will be used again soon... Does anyone still have these cards I used to give out? Hold on to them, they'll be worth millions when I'm famous! The pages they're sitting on are part of my packaging materials; books bought long ago in auction lots that were too far gone to be of worth. Now they add a little romance to every purchase.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Weekend Wandering


 My brother joined us for the weekend down here in the country; the second weekend of every month is a double market weekend here, with the Coal Creek market and Loch market both occuring, one on each day. So we decided to make a trilogy of it and visit the weekly Kongwak flea market as well. (Except Dad was the only one that made it to the Coal Creek market, it was too early for me!)

 old house in Loch

I've been wanting to flex my photography muscles again and this time of year is perfect for it. Intense blue skies, big fluffy clouds and bonfire bright autumn trees all create an explosion of colours and depth. And of course the countryside with it's old houses and rolling velvet hills doesn't exactly hinder!


tissue pom poms, pressed tin, carved wood and an intensely pink blind in the beautiful old Loch church hall
 
 Loch's main street, alive with heritage and green - enticing glimpses of antique shops can be seen in the distance.

 The main interestion in town, complete with heritage Post Office and the rolling green hills that are seen from almost every angle in these local tiny towns, snuggled into the dales.

 Standing in the middle of the road is pretty safe in tiny country towns, plus you get great shots of the wide old streets and heritage shop fronts.

 picture perfect - usually I wait for people to move before I take my shots, but not this one...

 I wanted to explore this back lane - but I wanted to shop for antiques more! I meant to go back but shopping swept it from my mind. Next time perhaps.

A modest little house dressed in aqua blue and dusted with autumn leave.

I bought a few things  - plenty of locally grown veg and home made cakes, a 1970s tooled leather handbag (I've been searching for the perfect one for ages- finally scored!) and a splendid baby pink 1950s cake box. We were worn out by lunchtime and came home to a roast pork dinner with all the trimmings; every bit of it was local produce!



 
 Photography, country drives, home grown food and family company... I decree we should do Market Weekend every month. That's if I can master the art of getting up before midday...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Death to the Sun King

 

 Rejoice! For supplies are once again trickling into fagin's daughter. I pulled them all during the summer heat and only sold jewelry for a while, most because I didn't want to have to go to the PO in all that 39 degree heat just to post $5 worth of beads. I love every order don't get me wrong...but if you've ever known heat that hits you like an oven door the moment you leave the house, you'll understand. Ugh- I'm starting to sweat just thinking about it... 



Thankfully that time of the year has now passed, and we're in that odd realm between summer and autumn, where the weather is a rollercoaster of lovely grey skies and cool winds, peppered with one or two scorchers. I've only had to use the AC once in the last 2 weeks, something of a miracle for early March. Usually by this point in the year I've burst into tears halfway through making dinner just from the sheer exhaustion of the merciless heat! 

Possibly the whole thing will make a liar out of me and we'll get a whole week above 30, but for now- grey sky bliss. 






Saturday, February 22, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Making the Most of your Etsy photos - Using your first image



So I've been writing a bunch of tutorials, and one of them is a photography tutorial, all about what kind of set up to use and various tricks for lighting and etc. But I'm starting to think that it's a bit unnecessary. There's a thousand tutorials out there on set ups and lighting and composition, why do you need me to tell you all about it?

Well I've decided you don't. But where I think I do have experience is in what kind of photo to take. How to represent your item, what to think about, how much trouble to go to etc.

So here's some free wisdom, gained from experience that (hopefully!) will help you create better images for your Etsy shop. Yes the first 3 are technical and I said I wasn't bothering with that, but I'm only including them because I consider them very important - if you never learn your way around photography any more than these, you'll be OK.In fact they're so important I've called them 'technissentials'. So important I made a new word! Let's just accept that and get on with it.

Technissential #1 - natural sunlight

Sure I know, everyone says it- because it's true! Though there are some truly amazing ways to set up an artificial lighting rig for any budget, fact of the matter is nothing beats Mr.Sunshine for the best results.Wait for overcast days and shoot as much as you can, when you can. Don't just shoot a few things and say 'that'll do' - it's good to have about a week's worth of listings ready to go on your hard drive for the times when weather and schedule are inflexible.


 Above, (unedited!) shots of the same necklace using natural and artificial light. Though there is only a subtle difference, you can see below after editing there is still something 'off' in the artificial shot; the blues and yellows aren't quite right and the whole thing looks a bit too harsh and flat. Even after editing (see below) the lamplight shot is still somehow 'not quite there'. It might not look that different to you, but I'm holding the necklace in my hand right now and I can tell you, it's not the same colour as the lamplight image shows. Natural light is jut a flattering to an inanimate objects as it is to humans, so use it whenever you can.


Technissential #2 - Any camera will do

Any camera is fine for shooting images for your shop- really! My first digital camera was purchased 10 years ago and still takes a great picture, even though it's only a 3.6 megapixel dinosaur. So get out your manual (or download it if you no longer know where it is) and learn your camera's settings. Especially critical to good photos is white balance -a simple setting on your camera which will turn your yellowed or blue-soaked shots into more natural tones.


Above, changing the white balance has changed the light and tones drastically in these (unedited) shots. The center image is correct- on the left it is too blue and on the right too yellow. All 3 photos were taken within seconds of each other; the only thing that's changed is the white balance setting.

Technissential #3 - post-process

Post-processing your images after you shoot them can mean the difference between a good photo and a great one. Not just perfectly good photos made better, but you can save low-exposed pics, or wrong white balance setting, or most frustrating of all, when purple doesn't want to come out purple. In the image below, the left half is unedited - straight out of the camera- while the right side has had basic post-processing in terms of light/contrast, colour adjustment and sharpening. You don't need Photoshop for this; Gimp is free and easy to use, and if you want more control you can get PS Element fairly cheaply on eBay. Consider it a good business investment!




That's the technical taken care of, let's move a bit deeper into some Research n Development. These tip will hopefully teach you to achieve pictures which both stand out from the search results and give you an improved social network presence. Practically every category on Etsy is flooded now and it's no longer enough just to have great photos - you gotta know how to flaunt it!

Know what you're shooting for

If you just head on into it randomly snapping images, you're going to have a bad time. Know what you need for the listing, and make sure all 5 images convey the whole piece without repeating themselves. Don't bother uploading similar or out-of-focus images, it's just a waste of time and gives the impression you don't know what you're doing.  Make sure you have an image that shows the object in it's entirety as well as images which show details like clasps on jewelry, lining in bags, labels in clothing etc. An Etsy specific tip- make all your images landscape orientation (wider than they are long) and you will avoid those ugly grey edges.


Take as many pics as you can - the more the better. Above is a cropped screenshot of my listings folder; I average about 20 shots for every item I list; from these I'll narrow it down to the best 5 and discard the rest. Being able to pick the good apples from the bunch is much better than just dealing with the few you've got.

Love your background

There's a lot of people that will tell you the best background to use is the one everyone else uses - the white background. I can't see the sense in this- your background is what makes your shop; it showcases your inventory, captures the heart of your target market and helps you accentuate your brand (what they now call 'tell your story'). Used to be that everyone was keen on the pure white background, though lately I'm seeing a rising trend in a dove grey backdrop. You don't have to live like that!



Above is a shot of various papers and old book covers I recently explored for backgrounds; I've settled on a staggered pile of old papers now and I use it in varying layouts across all three of my shops. If you set yourself apart and define your style by having a signature background, soon enough people will recognize it by sight outside of Etsy. This is especially helpful on social networking sites where credit of the original image can be lost. A distinctive visual style will work infinitely better than any watermark. If you want more help on what background is right for you, check out my older blog post on the subject.

Props are your friend

Backgrounds aren't the only thing that can set your style - a consistent prop or display is a great way to create unity in your shop, especially if your stock has a large variety. If you sell a lot of something particular like jewelry, but in many different styles, the same one or two jewelry cases or bracelet prop can bring a cohesion.


Boxes, tins, candlesticks and small china dishes all have their own personality. Props are fantastic not only for giving a sense of scale but also for conveying mood. If you have a tea set or some fine dishes to sell, fill them with delicate pastries; baskets look great filled with rustic bread rolls and handmade candles always look nice displayed in silver trays. Furniture is especially in need of props- that antique kitchen table will look even better laid with a tablecloth and garnished with a chair or two. If it all seems a bit too much like hard work, just keep the prop shots for listings where the selling price makes it worthwhile.

Follow the leader

Your first image (which I call the leader) is the one that gets you the attention, so make sure it's a sparkler. It doesn't necessarily have to be one that shows the whole object, some shops have a style that relies on showing just tantalizing glimpses of details. Your image isn't just there to illustrate what's for sale- it's also going to work it's butt off networking and advertising you all over the internet. It may seem as simple as standing out from search results, but from there it's noticed on activity feeds and in a user's favourites. Before you know it it's in treasuries and being shared on Pinterest or Tumblr and featured in blogs. When people are attracted to images online, it often isn't really about what's for sale, it's about the picture of the thing that's for sale. The more engaging your image is, the more likely it's going to get around.


This little blue dish was in my shop for about 5 months before someone bought it; in that time however it racked up an incredible 636 hearts and 89 treasuries! This padlock gained 253 hearts and 44 treasuries.They weren't particularly expensive objects, but the images were so admired that they paid for themselves time and time again in advertising for me and were seen by thousands of people. And I didn't have to lift a finger!

Change is good

Once you have something listed, it could run it's whole 4 month listing time without being purchased. When it comes time to renew expired listings, take a look over it and make sure there's nothing that might be a problem in it's being sold. Are the images showing the right scale? Is the texture on the material being showcased? Does the reflection of your camera make it look like there's a mark on the glass? Maybe the first image jut isn't appealing; many's the time I've had a listing that wasn't selling, so I changed the picture and boom- off we go.


On the left is the leader image I originally used on the listing for a tie. It was okay, but the board didn't give an idea of scale and the tie looked too long for it's 1940s origins. In the right image, I used the male torso; it gives a nicer idea of scale and looks more appealing (I can show the whole tie in another image in the listing). Sure enough, using the vintage mannequin rather than the board gained me much higher views. 

My final tip is - don't overdo it! These things take time and are filled with trial and error- I doubt there's a single 'online merchant' who's 100% confident they're doing everything right. What's most important is that you're happy with it, and it's working for you. Not all your listings have to be perfect treasury fodder, not all your images have to be prize-winners. Aim for about 80% gold and 20% glitter.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mothballs


 

Boy I've been slack on this blogging front- a month since my last post! Well it is what it is, volcano season is upon us here on the wrong side of the planet and I've been spending most of my time laying on the bed in a zombie daze. The last 4 days were hotter than Satan's sauna/hot tub room with built in pizza oven, but I managed to get through thanks to a good supply of homemade watermelon slushies, cool showers and a barely coping portable AC unit, clinging to the knowledge that in a couple of days we would have a week of the weather out there now; cloudy, cool and intermittently rainy. For now!


antique books; scanning digital download fodder

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I love TV


http://janeaustensworld.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/51yp3zk0f5l_ss500_.jpg


Here's a TV series I just finished watching- found it a couple of days ago when needing something to take away the pains of the ladycurse. You can watch the whole thing all at once on You Tube - as I did! (There are seperated episodes there too, if you need that.) 3 very enjoyable hours. Essentially, 'Amanda is an ardent Jane Austen fan who lives in present day London, until she finds she's swapped places with Austen's fictional creation Elizabeth Bennet.' I'm not an Austen girl (have never read any of them, maybe saw Pride and Prejudice once, 1000 years ago) but I thought it would be fun and I was right! To say Amanda is an 'ardent Jane Austen fan' is wrong though, she's just obsessed with reading Pride and Prejudice over and over. There were a few discrepancies; I don't think the costumes were paid too close attention to, but it's a fun ride. Mr.Darcy is hilariously, typically and relentlessly cranky and there's a few nods to the classic Firth incarnation. ('Wet shirt' is all I need say, I'm sure.)  


http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02349/paradise_2349465b.jpg

There's also this- The Paradise. I advise not watching any of the trailers for this as they're all awful. (The BBC really need to talk to me about their promotion/advertising/DVD artwork etc.) It's easiest to flog this as a better version of Mr.Selfridge, but it's more accurate to say it's a witty, elegant and lovable series about a large department store and the people who work there (and opposite it). The characters are all likable in their own way, there's plenty of familiar faces and the production design is amazing. The only thing I wish for it is that there had been more exploration of the other shops who are suffering under the expansion of the larger store. But they've just started showing season two, so maybe there will be!

I can't wait to live in England, where I can get great TV like this all the time instead of hunting it down online. Australia is a cultural desert.