Etsy Shop State of the Farm

Etsy Shop Goals and Strategy for 2021

Note: I use affiliate links and may receive a commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

As I mentioned in my last post, 2020 Etsy Shop: A Year in Review, two 3D printers were plenty to handle the volume of sales for the year. Even the Christmas/holiday spike in November and December. Yet growing the printer farm is one of my primary goals. I need more 3D printers. That means I need to continue growing the Etsy shop to justify purchasing more printers.

My first two Prusa i3 MK3 printers. I named them Black Mamba and Orange Mamba. Solid workhorse 3D printers.

Goal 1: Purchase 2  Prusa Printers

Prusa recently came out with a smaller, less expensive version of their 3D printer. They call it the “Mini” since it has a smaller build plate at 7″ x 7″ x 7″. Still, it is large enough to handle 75% of my orders. The majority of my Etsy sales are models that are smaller than 6.5 inches. There is significant value for me in this size of a printer. I want to purchase at least one in 2021.

The larger Prusa printers, the MK3 series, are reliable and have proven to be perfect printers to continue building out my farm with. I want to purchase an additional Prusa i3 MK3 in 2021.

You can check out the difference in the printers here on Prusa’s website:

Purchasing two more printers would bring the farm to four printers total. This allows me to better handle larger orders and better handle the Christmas/holiday gift spike.

This leads me to my next goal – increasing sales on Etsy.

Goal 2: Increase Etsy Shop Sales

My Etsy shop has been in existence for 2 years now and reviewing the sales data shows me that the vast majority of sales occur in November and December. My monthly average for 2020 is exactly 10 sales a month (it was 3 sales per month in 2019 – my first full year).

I would like to increase this to 20 sales a month on average with a manageable holiday sales spike above 100 sales.

This would justify two additional printers at least for the holiday months and would also pay off the cost of purchasing the printers within the year. The more products (with the right tags, descriptions, photos, and videos) on the shop the more chances of driving organic Etsy search traffic.

Strategy / Actions to Accomplish Goals

Product Listings

Increase product listings on the Etsy shop to over 100 products. Currently there are 46 listings. This will take a lot of invested time, effort, and printer filament. Ultimately I believe this is what will drive organic Etsy traffic to the shop.

Social Media Marketing

This one is going to be the most difficult for me. Every blog and video on growing an Etsy shop says that I need to build my social media presence. It isn’t my forte but I get it – it is how I am going to ease into marketing for my shop.

I decided that Instagram is going to be my primary channel. I actually created the Instagram account/profile a long time ago and only recently started adding content to it. The focus is going to be on highlighting the products on the Etsy shop and adding inspiring wilderness photos. Maybe a little behind the scenes of me creating the digital models and working with the printers.

Check out how I am doing so far on Instagram.

Getting better organized

Currently I work out of my garage and am competing for space with cars, bicycles, storage… basically the rest of my life. This year I am going to carve out a corner of the garage and dedicate solely to the printer farm and managing the Etsy shop.

To motivate and inspire myself I plan to renovate the area to optimize it for processing orders and working on the printers. I want to transform it from being a space where everything is to being an inspiring little workshop that motivates me to continuing building.

Update My Etsy Shop Profile

There are a few more things I can do to improve my profile on my shop. Etsy allow you to add a video and images to the “About the Shop” section. I have been dragging my feet on this but am committing to creating a simple 1-2 minute video about the shop and my process of creating the models.

You can check out my progress on JoySpark (my Etsy Shop).

Etsy Shop State of the Farm

2020 Etsy Shop: A Year in Review

My Etsy shop, JoySpark, finished up its second full year of operation in 2020 with positive growth and revenue. Although the sales numbers are really modest (still in the hobby-business range) the shop definitely grew and outperformed 2019. As it stands there are 196 sales, 30+ five star reviews, and double the favorites of last year (not sure if favorites mean anything… maybe social proof). Here are some screenshots.

Note: There have been fewer than 196 orders but some of those orders contained multiple models. Etsy counts each model sold as a sale.

End of 2020
Total orders in 2020 compared to 2019.

One of the goals is to grow the 3D printer farm and sadly, these numbers don’t yet justify buying a third printer. Two printers handled the entire year just fine. The only pressure was in the first two weeks of December. Those 38 orders in December of 2020 actually happened in the first two weeks of the month. My two printers could barely keep up at 12-15 hours a day.

Printing 3D models takes a lot of time. The average small model I print takes 5 hours. The average large takes 20 hours. So, if I have just 10 orders of large models then it takes at least 5 straight days on two printers. And that doesn’t account for failures or mishaps or me sleeping in. You can see how 38 models in two weeks was difficult.

Improvements to the Shop

Our shop growth has been mostly organic on Etsy (see Etsy offsite ads section below). And although I have been tracking it, I can’t say exactly what causes the traffic. It was probably due to nearly doubling our product listings but I can’t really say. We would add a few products, get a few more sales, receive a review or two… and slowly our store developed an established little presence. Here are a few of the things we worked on.

During 2020 I added nearly 30 new products to the shop. This took significantly more time and effort than I anticipated. But creating the digital model, printing it successfully, taking photos, creating listings, etc. is a lot of work.

We added several ski resort areas in 2020. Here is Powder Mountain (aka PowMow)

We explored a bit with different backgrounds for photos for the listings. Still haven’t figured out the best setup for this.

My wife officially took over all communications with customer inquiries on the shop. We discovered that this takes a ton of time and is very distracting. Now I work on managing the business and product development and she handles nearly all the communications and listings. So far it is a good distribution of tasks.

One thing that I think has helped improve the shop is that we have a goal of responding to all inquiries within a few hours. As well as following up with messages about how the order is progressing as it gets printed and shipped.

Custom Requests

One thing that was recurring throughout the year was custom requests. Potential customers would message and ask about custom sizes, shapes, locations, etc. Some were reasonable and a natural part of our work flow like adding a date. Some were too big for my operation to handle like a request for the entire Sierra Nevada range on a 4 ft by 8ft model (my printers max out at 8 in by 10 in). Others were just super complex and out there like taking the elevation data and transposing it’s inversion on a sphere inside another sphere… or something like that. Regardless, it was really cool to get all the requests and interact with potential customers. Some of the ideas even led to inspiration for new products on the site.

Digital preview of a custom request – Northern Presidentials.

But the truth is all that messaging back and forth took a lot of time. And the majority of custom requests never turned into sales. Often people would message back and forth a bit and even if it seemed to be going well they would inevitably stop responding. Some would pick it back up in a week or a month. Others we would never hear back from.

Even if the custom request turned into a sale the return on the time to communicate and then make a one-off (like a specific date on a mountain) wasn’t always profitable. In fact, I am confident it was only profitable 5% of the time. Why did I do it then? I wanted more sales. I wanted more 5-star reviews. I wanted customers to have a good experience with the shop.

Did it work? I think so. Custom orders became time investments that helped grow the presence of the shop. That being said, I am working out a profitability model and strategy for custom requests to try and make the effort involved a little more favorable to me going forward. Currently we charge a standard $10 custom order fee on top of the price of the product but will likely change this soon.

Etsy Offsite Ads

About the same time as the pandemic hit Etsy began rolling out a new option for offsite ads. It was an optional thing for stores (like mine) that made less than $10,000 in sales a year. Basically, Etsy would take my listings and advertise them across various online channels. If someone clicks through and purchases from my shop within 30 days then Etsy would charge me a 15% fee.

There are several things about this that rubbed me wrong¬† and there are plenty of arguments about it across the internet but I thought that it couldn’t hurt as an experiment. I naturally expected the increased exposure to drive up traffic and sales. If the sales volume was high enough then the 15% fee wouldn’t hurt as bad.

After about 6 months my wife and I noticed that every time an order came through we were dreading checking if it was due to an Etsy offsite ad. Our sales volume is low and our profit margins are low. If we had to pay a 15% additional fee then our drive to the post office for a single sale wasn’t worth it. In other words, we weren’t making any money on them and we weren’t seeing much of an increase in traffic to our shop. And since most sales were not due to offsite ads we decided to save ourselves the anxiety and turned off the offsite ads option.

Although the goal is to grow the shop beyond $10,000 a year in sales,  I haven’t figured out how to handle the mandatory offsite ads that Etsy imposes on larger shops. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Granted, if the volume of sales was significantly higher, say 50+ per month, then I could see the 15% fee being less of a burden as everything starts to scale up.

Looking Forward to 2021

2020 was a year of growth for JoySpark. Although modest, it was exciting to see the printer farm standing on its own and justifying its existence. It was also really great to have so much interest in the shop by way of custom requests.

In the next week or so I am going to publish an article on my goals and strategies for 2021. Mainly more of the same but maybe add some social media presence and work on driving some traffic that way.