- Cassie Johnson started a print-on-demand business while she was released in 2020.
- She grew her Etsy storefront for 18 months as a side job until she replaced her 9-to-5 income.
- Johnson breaks down what to sell and how to optimize your Etsy listings in a saturated market.
This narrative essay is based on a conversation with Cassie Johnson, an Etsy seller. Insider has verified its revenue and profit with documentation. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I’ve always wanted to start a side hustle. I tried making things out of concrete and painting cups.
When I was laid off from my corporate sales job in March 2020, I finally had time to research ways to make money from home.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I sat up until midnight every night watching YouTube videos about dropshipping.
I researched many dropshipping options, but print on demand seemed like the perfect fit
Print on demand had a low barrier to entry. I didn’t have to buy inventory, buy an expensive printer, or spend time printing and shipping products myself.
I started my Etsy business in April 2020. It only cost me about $50 to $100 to get started.
I chose to sell on Etsy because I was familiar with the platform, having used it to buy gifts for my sisters and cousins earlier during the pandemic. I have already found out what customers have gone for on the platform in terms of the product.
The first product I sold was a quarantine themed coffee mug. For printing, I used a website called Printify, which brings together hundreds of printers from around the world. I created the coffee mug design on my computer using Canva.
After a customer buys a product from my store, the printer can print it and ship it to them within three to five days.
I got my first two sales the first day my Etsy shop was live: one from my mother-in-law, and the second a few hours later from a stranger. I was hooked.
After being on leave for eight weeks, I was let go in May 2020.
My Etsy business meant I had an income while I applied for jobs
I researched which products were performing well in the print-on-demand space – focusing on keywords in titles and tags, then made better versions of the best performing products.
I do this by adding value to the search results. If there is a successful fun shirt, I try to make a similar pair of matching best friends or couples, or fun matching mommy and me shirts. These bundles make my shirts stand out in search results and give the customer a reason to shop my listing over the competition.
There is magic in finding a popular niche that most people sell single shirts for and then creating your own version of that as matching tops.
The quicker you can analyze what makes an Etsy listing successful, the better. I’m referring to the listing photos, the design’s color palettes and fonts, and the niche it’s selling into.
When I launch a design, I’ll offer it on a t-shirt, sweatshirt, and mug to see which one resonates with customers.
Once I get a better understanding of what people like to buy in that niche, I scale the design and create it in other colors. I tried print on demand for items like bags, shoes and shower curtains.
The biggest benefit I have found to selling on Etsy is that it brings you a lot of organic traffic
Focusing on optimizing my listings meant I didn’t have to spam my Facebook friends, pay for marketing, or build a presence on Instagram or TikTok.
In August 2020, I started working full time again in customer service at an insurance company.
The plan was always to go back to work. I wasn’t making enough from print-on-demand to replace a full income. I had made $800 in June and $1500 in July of that year. My new job was remote so I could work on the business whenever I had free time.
I continued to grow the Etsy business, working on it between 10 and 20 hours a week
November 2020 was the turning point for the business: I made $70,000 in revenue in one month. The high volume of orders during the Christmas rush means you get instant feedback on what people like and don’t like, and you can then double down on what works.
Now I usually sell mugs, t-shirts, sweatshirts and bags. My best-selling item is sweatshirts—Halloween and Christmas sweatshirts do really well.
I make every variation of a Christmas sweater you can think of. You can make a lot of money on a fun and specific Christmas sweater.
I quit my job 18 months after launching my Etsy business
In June 2021, I left my customer service job. I had gotten to a place where I was able to replace my income and feel comfortable leaving. I am now working on my Etsy business full time.
I’ve made $730,000 in Etsy revenue since I started in March 2020.
The number of sellers on Etsy is constantly growing, but there are always opportunities to create unique designs and styles.
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