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Etsy: Not Just Another Sideline Business

by Heidi Lynn Russell, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: HUB International

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Valentine’s Day 2006. Baghdad.

Army SSG Tara Hutchinson was an MP squad leader on a mission when her vehicle hit an Improvised Explosive Device. She lost her right leg and suffered brain injuries, which led to hand tremors.

As she recovered, an occupational therapist suggested she try jewelry-making to rebuild her fine motor skills. Hutchinson regained strength in her hands and eventually found herself in a new military friendly career filled with gemstones, boutique shops, jewelry trade shows…and an Etsy business called Tara Hutch Fine Jewelry.

“I started by making necklaces using my hands. I liked that I was able to do those things, because it’s difficult to put tiny beads on tiny strings, so difficult. At the time, I made a deal with God. I said, “If You can fix what’s wrong with my hands and head and get me out of this depression and help me move on, I would share what I have with my jewelry and share my story with women to help them feel better about themselves,” she says.

Hutchinson, of San Antonio, Texas, opened her Etsy business in 2012, which gave her a valuable jumping-off platform to expand her customer base. In May, she attended a jewelry trade show in Las Vegas, where she was able to make valuable connections to sell her wares in high-end boutiques. Her target customer: urban, professional, middle-aged women.

“Last year I sold $2,000 worth of jewelry on Etsy, and the previous years, $5000 to $6,000. I have had people who show up at trade shows who say, ‘I saw you on Etsy!’” she says.

The Cost of Doing Business on Etsy

Etsy can be used to either supplement an income, boost a business like Hutchinson has done or even sustain you full-time, depending on how you use it and market your wares, say veterans who have businesses on the site.

Founded in 2005 in Brooklyn, Etsy bills itself as “a marketplace where people around the world connect, both online and offline, to make, sell and buy unique goods.” Creative entrepreneurs use the site to sell what they make or curate. In 2014, the company posted $1.93 billion in annual gross merchandise sales, with 1.4 million active sellers and 20.8 million active buyers. The company says 76 percent of U.S. sellers consider their Etsy shop to be a business, and one-third have become so well established that it’s their sole occupation.

Basically, the company makes money when you do. You pay 20 cents to list each item (each listing lasts for four months) and a 3.5 percent fee for sales completed on the website. Sellers also pay additional fees for services that include Etsy’s advertising platform, payment processing and discounted shipping labels.

SSG Robert Doliber is a member of the Minnesota National Guard who discovered Etsy during a year-long security mission to Kuwait. “We had 12-hour overnight shifts, with two or three hours of doing work. Some of my soldiers were playing video games. I spent time online building a business plan,” he says.

His shop, Rob’s Rustics, enabled him to quit a full-time accounting job. He launched in August 2012. “It took me right about two years to pass what I was making at my salary job. Initially, it was something that I could do as a side gig, until about the two-year point. July 9 last year was my last day of full-time employment. I did about $103,000 in revenue, which comes out to about $60,000 in profits,” he says.

The low startup costs, plus low overhead (Doliber helped a soldier in his unit tear down a barn and took the wood for supplies initially) gave Doliber a strong start in his new military friendly career. His products also got noticed when a celebrity bought one and it was photographed for a magazine spread. He’s received mentions in Better Homes and Gardens, Real Simple and Food Network magazines.

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