When sales aren’t going the way you want them to go, you start researching “all the things”.
There are endless directions you could take your business in and a hundred different tasks you could work on.
But there’s a blueprint, right in front of you, that will help guide you in the right direction and determine what’s most important to work on.
This article explains how to find that blueprint.
How to find a blueprint to success
No one starts a business without looking at what their competitors have done. We all use existing businesses to model our business after, in one way or another.
I’m not suggesting you copy your competitors, but I am suggesting you look at the path they’ve already blazed, and (roughly) follow in their footsteps.
You’re probably aware of your competitors and might know what types of products they sell, maybe the price range their products fall into, and perhaps one of the social media platforms they use.
That information is helpful, but it doesn’t give you a blueprint.
With a little effort, you can uncover the best practices that have helped your competitors build successful businesses.
You won’t know all the details and inner workings, but you don’t want to.
You’re not trying to build a replica business; you just need to know the basics.
These business basics will help you achieve success faster, and save you a lot of time and money.
Think of building your business like baking a cake.
Before you can start baking your style of cakes and playing with ingredients/flavors/decorating, you first must understand the basics of baking a cake; staple ingredients, general baking temperatures and times, required baking tools, etc.
If you’ve never baked a cake before and start randomly throwing ingredients together, chances are, that cake won’t come out edible.
Instead of wasting time trying to figure out cake-baking basics on your own, why not start with someone else’s tried-and-true recipe?
Once you know how to bake a solid cake, then you can tweak the recipe to make it your own.
So let’s look at some of your competitors to help you determine the “basic recipe” for building a successful soap/jewelry/card/etc. business.
Once you have the business-building basics in place, you can start putting your creative spin on things.
Step 1: Find suitable competitor(s)
To uncover your business’s best practices, it’s important to choose the right competitors to analyze.
A) Start with a realistic goal you’d like to achieve in the near future
You don’t want to study businesses that are where you might realistically be 5 years down the road.
When you’re on step one, you need to find a business to mimic that’s on step 2, not step 5.
A business that’s achieved the level of success that takes 5 years to build will have different/additional business practices and tasks than you need to focus on at this point.
Think about a realistic goal you’d like to achieve in the next few months.
For example, if I made 5 sales last month, I might set a goal to hit 20 sales per month in the next few months.
You’re going to find Etsy shops that are averaging the number of sales you’d like to achieve next month (or quarter).
B) Go to your product category on Etsy
Start by visiting the Etsy category your products would fall under, or searching your product’s name.
For example, if I’m selling seasons wreaths, I would visit Home & Living -> Home Decor -> Wreaths & Door Hangers. Or, I may search “Christmas wreaths” on Etsy.
It’s not necessary to find an Etsy shop selling the exact products you sell; what’s more important is:
>> the shop is achieving the number of sales you’d like to achieve in the next 3 – 6 months.
>> the shop has a similar target market to your business.
For example, if I’m selling modern wreaths, I may find an Etsy shop selling modern table decor; they’re targeting a similar market to me (homeowners with a modern decor style).
You may even venture outside your category if you have a clear target market and are familiar with other types of products that target the same market.
For example, if I’m targeting dentists and dental hygienists by selling dentist-themed office supplies, I may have a hard time finding other Etsy shops selling similar products and targeting a similar market. However, I can search “dentist” or “dental hygienist” on Etsy and find dental-themed products, and hopefully a shop to mimic.
C) Look at the number of reviews
When looking at the search results, you’ll see the product listing title and rating below the thumbnail photo. The number next to the 5 stars is how many reviews that Etsy seller has.
Not every customer will leave a review, so whatever number is showing beside the stars, it’s likely the seller has at least double that number in sales.
You won’t know how many sales a seller has, or how long they’ve been on Etsy, until you visit their shop. But the number of reviews will give you an indication of whether it’s a shop worth looking at.
If I’m hoping to make 25 sales per month, that works out to 300 sales per year. So I would look for listings with around 100 reviews.
Again, I wouldn’t look at listings that had much more than 100 – 200 reviews. Otherwise, I’m comparing my shop to one that’s several steps ahead of where I need to be right now.
D) Calculate the approximate number of sales per year
Click on the listing and then click on the seller’s shop name (top of the page to the right of the product image).
You need to visit the seller’s shop page so you can gather the total number of sales and the number of years they’ve been selling on Etsy.
Once on a shop page, scroll to the bottom to find how many years the seller has been on Etsy.
Below the review section and in the About section, you’ll see “sales” and “on Etsy since” numbers.
Divide the number of sales by the number of years the seller has been on Etsy. This will tell you approximately how many sales they make per year.
If I hope to make around 300 sales per year, and I find a seller who has been on Etsy for about 3 years and has over 1000 sales, they’re averaging around 300 sales per year and would be a good shop to analyze.
If I visit a shop and they have over 1000 sales, but they’ve been on Etsy for 8 years, they’re averaging around 125 sales per year and may not be the right fit for me to model my business after.
E) Choose 2 – 5 shops
While looking at your competition, write down a few shop names that are around the size you’d like to grow your business to in the near future.
You may have goals of growing your business much bigger, but these “smaller” shops will help you figure out the first few steps required to hit milestones along your path.
Start with one shop and go through the question below.
Then analyze one or two more shops, to see if you can spot any patterns.
Perhaps all the competitors you’re analyzing post frequently to Instagram, or maybe they all offer free shipping. These would be important best practices to consider implementing.
Step 2: Complete an Etsy competitor analysis
There are several components to a business that you can analyze, I’ve shared ideas below to get the ball rolling, but don’t feel restricted by my list.
Depending on what you sell and your target market, some of my questions may be irrelevant to you.
You can also go beyond the questions in my list and analyze parts of their business I haven’t covered.
Try not to get too “in the trenches”; stick to information that is valuable to growing your business.
To have a successful handmade business you must:
- Create products
- Market those products
- Sell those products
So those are the 3 main areas to research:
- What your competitor is creating
- How they’re marketing it
- How they’re selling it
A) Analyze products
- How many types of products do they have?
- Which target market are their product for?
- Do their products all follow a specific style?
- What is the price range of their products?
- Do they bundle products in discounted sets?
- How do they label/package their products?
- What types of materials do they use? Are they focused on offering quality materials or budget-friendly?
- What type of options do they offer?
B) Analyze marketing strategy
Every business needs a marketing strategy and must work hard to get its name and products out there.
Try to uncover which marketing channels your competitors use, and the strategies they use for each.
The information you can find on Etsy about the shop’s marketing will be limited.
Try Google-ing the business’s name to see what type of results appear. You may find its social media accounts, blogs they have been featured on, websites that carry or mention its products, craft shows they have participated in, etc.
These results will give you an idea of how they’re getting the word out about their business.
If you’re having trouble finding a shop through Google, try adding keywords to your search, in case they use a slightly different name than their Etsy shop. For example, try searching their Etsy shop name with their location, or their profile name.
- Do they link to any social media accounts from their Etsy shop?
- Which social media accounts do they use?
- They may link to them from their Etsy shop (look in their About section)
- You may also need to Google their shop name to see if any come up.
- You can also search for their business name on a specific social media platform
- Analyze each social media platform they use
- How many times per day do they post?
- What times of day do they post?
- How many followers do they have?
- What type of hashtags do they use?
- Do their posts get much engagement?
- Which types of posts get the most engagement?
- Do they reply to comments?
- What type of content do they focus on?
- Do they follow a specific aesthetic? (e.g. is the feed full of neutral colors?)
- Which social media platform are they most active on?
- Do their listings appear in Etsy ads? Browse the different subcategories on Etsy to see if any of their listings appear at the top as an ad. Or try searching a keyword they seem to be optimizing their shop/listings for to see if any of their ads appear.
- Do they have a newsletter?
- What type of content do they send?
- What is their signup incentive?
- How often do they send newsletters?
- When you Google their business name, can you find any press? E.g. have they been featured on any blogs or websites? Are they promoting their work at craft shows?
- What type of publications feature them?
- What types of articles are being written about the business?
B) Analyze sales channel
A sales channel is the way in which a business sells its products. A handmade business may sell its products through craft shows, boutiques, a website, etc. We’re going to use the seller’s Etsy shop to gather information about their best practices when selling online.
If the seller also has a website, you can use that to uncover more information.
You can use the information you gather and apply it to other sales platforms. For example, the best practices the seller uses when describing their products in the product description can be applied when speaking about your products at a craft show.
Look at your competitor’s Etsy shop and make notes about:
- Which keywords do they use throughout their shop?
- Shop name
- Shop tagline
- Shop sections
- About section
- Listing titles
- Product descriptions
- How do they photograph their products?
- What type of detail photos do they take?
- What type of background do they use?
- How do they describe their products in the product description?
- How many listings do they have?
- How many shop sections do they have?
- What type of shop sections do they have?
- What type of badges do they have? (e.g. speedy shipping)
- What type of promotions do they run? Do they offer free shipping? Keep an eye on the shop in the coming weeks to see if they run sales.
- What does their logo look like? Does it look professionally made or did they use a stock image?
- Look through their reviews;
- Do they tend to sell more of a certain type of product?
- What do the 5-star reviews rave about?
- What do the 4-star and below reviews complain about?
- What kind of shop policies do they have? (e.g. no returns)
- What type of payment options do they accept?
- What are their lead times? (i.e. how long do they take to create, package, and ship an order?)
- What are their shipping options?
- Which locations do they ship to?
- How much is shipping?
- Do they offer free shipping?
Step 3: Find areas of improvement
Create a spreadsheet summarizing the best practices you uncover when researching your competitors.
Determine which best practices you think are most important to your competitors’ success.
It’s likely they’re doing several things right, but don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do everything they are.
For example, their Etsy shop may have a great story in the About section, which is important, but the About section won’t drive as many sales as great social media content and SEO tactics.
Start with the most important best practices and determine how you can implement them in your business.
For example, perhaps your competitor has a strong presence on Instagram and you believe that’s how they’re driving traffic to their Etsy shop.
If they post beautiful photos and helpful content twice a day, reply to every comment, and include a call to action in each post (e.g. “click link in bio”), these are best practices you can follow.
You may need to:
>> work on your product photography and creating a cohesive feed (e.g. using the same background for every photo, following a limited color palette, cropping and editing each photo in the same style).
>> make more of an effort to interact with other accounts on Instagram
>> add a link to your bio
>> include a call to action in each post
>> increase how frequently you post to Instagram
Work your way through the list of best practices starting with the most important.
Create a list of tasks you need to work on so your business is on par with, or better than, your competitors.
As your business grows, find new Etsy shops to analyze.
For example, if my first goal is to make 25 sales per month and I reach or exceed that, I would then repeat this exercise, finding an Etsy shop that’s averaging 50 or 100 sales per month. Then 200 sales per month, then 500, etc.
As you analyze bigger businesses, you’ll uncover new best practices to implement and will be able to hit bigger and bigger goals.
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!