5 PayPal Alternatives for Small Online Businesses

Fed up with PayPal?

You’re not alone.

PayPal has gathered a lot of hate from the small business community in the last several years.

Of course, the majority of PayPal users don’t run into serious problems. (With the exception of one very irritating phone call, I’ve never been affected myself.)

But the things PayPal has been accused of by other loyal customers is disconcerting enough– randomly freezing accounts, holding money hostage, providing extremely difficult customer service, even advising one merchant’s buyer to destroy a $2,500 antique violin

One thing that might help you breathe at least a little bit easier despite all this controversy is that PayPal has claimed to be fixing these issues as of late.

Sure, that does provide me with some solace because, fact is, a lot of customers prefer to pay with PayPal. And I feel I’ll always need to use them in some regard. (They’re simply too much of a giant to avoid. Which is, ironically, also what makes them so dangerous.)

But all in all, I’ve been taking great care not to keep all of my eggs in the PayPal basket.

And if you feel the same way as I do, I hope you’ll find my recommendations for alternatives to be a helpful guide in your search.

What Makes a PayPal Alternative

So what is it precisely that we need in a PayPal replacement?

The gist of what PayPal offers small online businesses is a combination of a payment gateway (“payment processor”) and merchant bank account.

A payment gateway reads your customer’s credit card information, electronically communicates with this account, and charges it the appropriate amount of money.

A merchant bank account is a special type of bank account that is permitted to collect funds from a payment gateway. So this is where your payment gateway deposits the money once it’s collected. Then, depending on the the time your merchant bank allows, you can have it transferred out into your regular checking or savings account.

So, when I talk of replacing PayPal, I mean replacing these two major functions with an equally low maintenance and easy-to-use service. (One that doesn’t require a difficult application process or have a monthly sales quota to meet, like the ones typically used by larger companies.)

With that, let’s get down to it!

1. Stripe

Stripe as a PayPal Alternative

Screenshot from Stripe.com.

Available for: Businesses based in the US and Canada (can accept payments from anywhere)

Cost: 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction

What makes it great: Using Stripe as your payment processor and merchant bank account, you can sell your products through a simple “buy” button on your site or through a full-fledged shopping cart.

While Stripe doesn’t have their own shopping cart out-of-the-box, they are well-integrated with most of the great ones. These integrations include Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, and more, and hooking up is usually just a matter of copy-and-pasting some information into your shopping cart’s Settings page.

Stripe’s payment forms are self-hosted, which means that the checkout process takes place on your own site (rather than sending your customer off to Stripe.com to pay). PayPal typically charges an extra monthly fee to do this, which is one reason why Stripe is the better value.

I also find I pay less in fees for Stripe transactions, despite it having the same “per transaction” price as PayPal. (Likely due to a hidden list of special rules and exceptions.)

Finally, I think Stripe is great because it deposits your money into an outside bank account automatically, so you don’t have to manually initiate transfers all the time.

Downsides: Stripe was built with web developers in mind.

While this is great for developers (think: total control and customization), I know a less technical person is likely to look at the site and think, “So… what do I do with this?”

So here’s the deal. To use Stripe, you’re probably going to want to check out third-party help of some kind, such as The WP-Stripe WordPress Plugin (if you’re willing to install an SSL certificate) or Super Stripe App for WordPress (if you don’t want to handle an SSL but are willing to pay more in transaction fees). Or the shopping cart services I already mentioned above.

As long as you’re using one of these other services, you’ll never be required to touch anything too complicated.

Lastly, one final downside for Stripe is that– unlike PayPal and some of the other options I’m going to present– you have to wait seven days after purchase before you can take out your money. I should mention, though I use Stripe myself, I actually didn’t notice this until someone else pointed it out to me.

2. WePay

WePay as a PayPal Alternative

Screenshot from WePay.com.

Available for: Businesses based in the US (can accept payments from anywhere)

Cost: 2.9% + 30¢ per credit card transaction, 1% + 30¢ per bank account transaction

What makes it great: Using WePay as your payment processor and merchant bank account, you can sell your products through simple “buy” buttons on your site (there’s also “pay now” and “subscribe”) or through WePay’s own full-fledged shopping cart.

WePay’s payment forms are self-hosted, which means that the checkout process takes place on your own site (rather than sending your customer off to WePay.com to pay). And as I said earlier– PayPal typically charges an extra monthly fee to do this.

Another bonus: WePay will alternatively let you enter credit cards manually, so you can take credit card information in person or over the phone whenever the situation calls for it.

For a higher price of 4.9% + 30¢ per transaction, WePay will even host your site for you. To quote their sales page:

“Design a simple web store with WePay’s page builder. No technical expertise necessary. It’s easy to customize – with built-in support for shipping, taxes, and inventory. Also optimized for mobile devices!”

Finally, WePay will deposit your earnings directly to your bank account, so you don’t have to login and manually initiate it all the time as with PayPal. The typical one-time money transfer lands in your bank account within 1-5 business days, whereas setting up autowithdraw means you get your money each day as it comes in.

Downsides: WePay is very self-contained.

Offering every feature their customer could ever need definitely maximizes their ease of use. For someone who isn’t tech-savvy or simply hates having tons of different accounts, it can be comforting to have all these options under one roof. However, since WePay wants to “do it all,” it’s difficult to find integrations with other services (should you prefer them).

Because WePay has a public API, I assume that it’s conceptually possible to use it in conjunction with outside shopping carts like Shopify or WooCommerce, but the necessary integrations don’t appear to be available just yet.

3. Amazon Payments

Amazon Payments as a PayPal Alternative

Screenshot from Payments.Amazon.com.

Available for: Businesses based in the US (can accept payments from anywhere)

Cost: 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction over $10, 5.0% + 5¢ per transaction under $10

What makes it great: Using Amazon Payments as your payment processor and merchant bank account, you can sell your products through a simple “buy” button on your site or through a full-fledged shopping cart.

While Amazon Payments doesn’t have its own out-of-the-box shopping cart, it integrates with a few self-hosted ones such as CoreCommerce, 3dcart, and ShopSite.

Amazon Payments payment forms are technically hosted by Amazon, but it doesn’t give your customer the impression that they’re leaving the site to go to Amazon.com. This is kind of the best of both worlds, since you have the professional look of a self-hosted checkout but the world-class security of a hosted one.

Another cool thing with Amazon Payments is that, the way fees are structured, business owners can save money on micropayments under $10. There are also discounts for volume and registered non-profits.

Also, when you integrate the API into your site (From what I understand, a copy-and-pastable widget of some kind), customers will be able to pay on your site using their already-stored Amazon card and shipping information.

Finally, Amazon Payments conveniently deposits your funds into an outside bank account automatically. The typical time frame from payment to bank account deposit is 3-5 days.

Downsides: As is my critique of all Amazon web services, I find it a little overwhelming.

While I believe I got the gist of how it works, it took me several reads on the site to understand how all the moving pieces work together.

Another thing that might be a hindrance is that, in order to sign up for the service, you need to have a legal business name. So anyone who is currently in business as a sole proprietorship should be aware of that.

After some digging in their support pages, I also discovered that Amazon holds back a certain reserve of your earnings at all times as padding in case of customer chargebacks.

Finally, Amazon Payments doesn’t appear to be readily integrated into the popular shopping carts yet, so just be weary of that before you commit.

4. Braintree

(Added Note: Since this article was written, Braintree was actually purchased by PayPal. So please take the following review with a grain of salt.)

Braintree as a PayPal Alternative

Screenshot from BraintreePayments.com.

Available for: Businesses based in the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe (can accept payments from anywhere)

Cost: 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction

What makes it great: Using Braintree as your payment processor and merchant bank account, you can sell your products through its integrations with third-party shopping carts like Shopify, WooCommerce, LemonStand, Easy Digital Downloads, and more.

Braintree’s payment forms are self-hosted, which means that the checkout process takes place on your own site (rather than sending your customer off to BraintreePayments.com to pay).

And Braintree is nothing if not competitive in its market. For one, it offers service to sellers outside of the US.

It even boasts the ability to get money to you super-fast: two business days for most transactions.

Downsides: However… Braintree is kind of mysterious.

Like Stripe, it was built with developers in mind. So to a less technical person, it’s not immediately obvious how to implement it on your website.

What I’ve gathered, though, is Braintree isn’t trying to be a standalone solution at all– with “buy” buttons and other out-of-the-box selling tools– but rather a hook-in with other carts (and developers’ custom projects). Which isn’t a problem as long as you needed a full-fledged shopping cart anyway.

5. 2Checkout

2Checkout as a PayPal Alternative

Screenshot from 2Checkout.com.

Available for: Businesses everywhere

Cost: 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction in the US, 5.5% + 45¢ per transaction for sellers in other countries

What makes it great: Using 2Checkout as your payment processor and merchant bank account, you can sell your products through simple “buy” buttons on your site or through 2Checkout’s own full-fledged shopping cart.

2Checkout’s payment forms are technically hosted by 2Checkout, but it doesn’t give your customer the jarring feeling that they’re leaving the site to go to 2Checkout.com– rather, it appears to be happening on your own site. This is kind of the best of both worlds, since you have the professional look of a self-hosted checkout but the security of a hosted one.

Importantly, 2Checkout works for businesses outside of the US.

It’s unclear whether or not 2Checkout allows automating the money transfer process, but funds are released to sellers every Thursday via EFT, wire transfer, or check for US currency, by EFT in seven currencies, and by wire transfer in other 19 currencies.

Downsides: I’m not 100% sure if I trust 2Checkout.

Some statements I found on the website skeeved me a little bit. For instance, they say:

“Payments must meet the selected release level and pass the verifications process [to be released to the seller].”

While there are links to explain what they mean by this– and their explanations sound pretty innocent– I can’t help but find language like this ambiguous and a little scary.

Note on Services That Didn’t Make the List

A few other services (of many) that I researched for this article include Dwolla, which I chose not to profile because buying from a Dwolla seller requires creating a Dwolla account. (And I find that to be too big of an obstacle for customers.)

Also Square is a good one, though I didn’t profile it here since it’s geared for in-person sales rather than online ones.

For international sellers, ProPay looks like it has potential but just didn’t make my top 5.

Anyway, I hope you found my roundup helpful! Please let me know in the comments if you have experience with any of the above, or if there’s a great one out there that I missed!

Photo credit: Andrey / Flickr




5 Things Every Online Business Owner Must Know How to Do With Code

5 Things Every Online Business Owner Must Know How to Do with Code

Photo credit.

Not long ago, President Obama expressed that computer language courses should become a requirement in American public schools, striking up a debate about whether or not everybody— young and old– ought to be learning how to code these days.

As business owners, our work-lives call for us to be resourceful and self-sufficient well beyond most conventional jobs, so naturally you might be worried that lacking these skills could handicap your business, or worse, send you falling behind the times.

But truth be told, the way I see this playing out is much less dramatic.

Not everyone has the personality to enjoy or excel at coding– just like not everyone is cut out to be a biologist or creative writer, despite these subjects being required learning in schools. So if you’re a busy entrepreneur with no genuine interest in computer languages, you have my permission to cut yourself some slack!

Only those with a real passion for code will completely master it, whereas beginner-to-intermediate level web and app development can be easily and inexpensively hired out (if not purchased in the form of existing software, apps, themes, and plugins), freeing you up to focus on the work that’s truly most valuable for you to be doing.

Rather than invest a major amount of time into learning how to code, my personal suggestion would be to opt for basic familiarity instead. Because just a few well-chosen nuggets of technological wisdom can go a long, long way when you have a website or blog to tend to.

To show you exactly what I mean and get you started, I compiled this short list of 5 basic actions that every online business owner should know how to do with code. They’re as simple as it gets, but I guarantee that if you’re not already familiar with these 5 quick gems, they will prove extremely handy!

HTML Code To Know

HTML code can be found in files that end with .htm, .html, and .php.

HTML is the foundational skeleton of a website, which can be visually styled later by another type of code called CSS.

The gist of HTML is that it uses little instructions called tags to give commands to the web browser. Tags are always surrounded by the angle brackets “<” and “>”.

Usually there is an opening and closing tag like this:

<tag>Text or images inside the tag</tag>

These tags affect the content between them in some way.

Other times there is a single self-closing tag like this:

<tag />

These are used for standalone elements like images or line breaks that don’t need to contain content within them.

1. Links

In HTML code, a basic link uses the “anchor” tag, abbreviated as “a”. It looks like this:

<a href="http://www.website.com">The linked text shown on the page.</a>

The text between these tags is what will appear on the page (typically as blue and underlined, unless otherwise specified in your CSS code).

Notice the href=”” inside of the “a” tag. Depending on the kind of tag you’re writing, there will be a few options like this (that look like option=””) available to you. This one in particular, href=””, is where you enter the URL of the website you want to link to.

To force the link to open in a new window or tab, you can simply add another specification, target=”_blank”, as illustrated below.

<a href="http://www.website.com" target="_blank">Linked text.</a>

2. Images

In HTML code, you can insert images using an “img” tag, that looks like this:

<img src="http://www.website.com/nameofimage.jpg" alt="Quick description" />

The URL of the image you want to display should go between the quotes of src=””.

(Tip for WordPress users: If you’re not sure where your image is, open up your Media Library and click “Edit” on the existing image you’d like to use. The edit page includes a File URL you can then copy-and-paste.)

The alt=”” specification is where you can write a quick description of your image. This description will show to search engines and to your users when the image is moused over.

If you would like to use the alt=”” portion to tell the search engines what your image is about, but it’s not the same text you’d like to show when the image is moused over, you can add title=”The description that will show when the image is moused over”.

You can also add an exact width or height in pixels (width=”0″ and height=”0″) if you don’t want the image to display in its original size.

3. Headings

Also in HTML code, it’s good practice to use “h” tags to specify your most important titles, headings, and subheadings because Google looks to these in order to rank your site properly.

They’re just as simple as this:

<h1>Most important title or heading.</h1>

<h2>Second most important title or heading.</h2>

<h3>Third most important title or heading.</h3>

<h4>Fourth most important title or heading.</h4>

To give you an idea of how to use these “h” tags, take Fairground Media, for example.

Here, I use “h1” tags for the title of my site and the title of the blog post you’re looking at– because these are the most important things on the page. Headings within my blog posts are all “h2” tags. Finally, the blog post titles in the right sidebar are all “h3” tags. I don’t use “h4” tags at all.

Notice I don’t use subheadings very often within my blog posts. Other people do, so they’ll likely distribute their “h” tags a bit differently.

4. Common Text Formatting

Basic text formatting works similarly to the “h” tags above.

Here are some of the various styling tags available to you:

<i>Text inside these tags becomes italicized.</i>

<b>Text inside these tags becomes bolded.</b>

<u>Text inside these tags becomes underlined.</u>

<del>Text inside these tags becomes crossed out.</del>

<br />Adding a single one of these tags creates a line break, so the text after it starts on a new line.

CSS Code To Know

Finally, let’s touch on CSS code, which resides in files that end with .css.

CSS is a styling language. You can’t insert anything onto your website with CSS alone, but it allows you to manipulate the visual style of any HTML element on your website.

5. Basic Style Tweaks

If you take a peek into a .css file, you will see many blocks of code that look like this:

body {
font-family: Verdana;
font-size: 15px;
color: #000000;
}

In this example, the “body” portion is called the selector. It identifies which HTML tag on the website you want to style.

The “font-family,” “font-size,” and “color” are called properties.

You can select pretty much anything on a website and style its properties using CSS.

Most importantly for our purposes, you can simply tweak the CSS that your theme’s creator already wrote to make elements on your website look the way you want them to!

To illustrate, let me walk you through how you might find and change your website’s font in your CSS code.

  • First thing’s first, you need to find your main .css file. (Hint: In WordPress, it is called “style.css,” and you’ll find it by going to your Dashboard > Appearance > Editor.)
  • Once there, if you know the font that’s currently showing up on your site, you might try pressing Ctrl + F and searching the page for its name. If you don’t know the name of the font, you might search instead for “font-family,” which is the property that controls this.
  • Once you find the font, replace it with the name of the font you want to use instead, like Arial, Trebuchet, or Georgia. Then, do another search using Ctrl + F using the name of the font you just replaced, to be sure you find and replace every instance where it appears in the file.
  • Then save your changes, and voila! New font!

A limitation every new CSS-manipulator runs into is not knowing all the possible selectors and properties.

No worries; you can always consult this list or this other one in order to find exactly what you need.

You can also try Googling the problem or posting to an online forum for live feedback when you really need it. A lot of people write CSS code, so there’s an endless well of wisdom and guidance available.

So, whaddya say?

Anyways, I hope this list of basic coding tips makes your life easier!

Bookmark it if you need to. Copy-and-paste my code examples if that helps. And share it with your friends if they could use the info too!

In conclusion, I’d like to pass the mic to you. Do you think everyone should learn to code fluently? Are you committed to learn a bit of code for yourself? Has this article been helpful?

Be sure to sound off in the comments below!




Someone Will Probably Try to Steal Your Idea. Here’s What You Need to Know

Copyright (or “intellectual property”) law here in the US is an odd thing. It’s unfair, easily. But then, complete fairness is far too subjective, ambiguous, and expensive to achieve on a grand scale, so the best we’ve got to work with are some hard-and-fast rules.

Copycatting

Fact is, if you have a truly great idea, someone is bound to want to steal it.

Sometimes the culprit is just blindly naive about the whole thing. In this category, I’d place anyone who sees your design as just another DIY challenge on the internet, or the type of blogger who creates “knockoff” tutorials to recreate others’ products. Often, these bloggers and their readers have Etsy shops of their own, where these copied items end up.

Other times said person is knowingly and deceptively trying to channel your work’s success into their own pocket (these are the ones we really, really hate, of course).

In 2011, Urban Outfitters was said to have ripped off an Etsy seller’s bestselling jewelry design. In her rage, the artisan wrote a Tumblr post showing the sameness of the necklaces. It soon went viral and set the handmade community abuzz with fighting words for big retailers like UO. But the Etsy seller never did take legal action, and Urban Outfitters went on selling the item… here’s some reasons why.

Why Fighting Copycats Is So Difficult

Unfortunately, a small creative business dealing with a copycat (especially those of the Urban Outfitters variety, to whom a “Hey, not cool” e-mail is less than effective) has to face 3 hard realities.

  • 1. “Useful articles” can be especially difficult to copyright. If one’s art can be worn, or otherwise “used” in any capacity, chances are you’re not going to win a legal battle with a copycat. This is supposed to protect people from monopolizing useful items like chairs or bowls. But it’s also why fashion is incredibly copycat-prone, and how companies have been able to manufacture shoes with the signature Louboutin red outsoles, for example. While a government-approved utility patent is a potential answer to this problem, most patents can take years and whole lotta cash to come through, so it’s usually not a realistic route to go down for every item an artisan creates.
  • 2. Legal action is expensive and comes with no true guarantees. Even if you conjure up the resources to sue, there’s a chance you could lose your case. Worse yet, there’s the chance you win and the company doesn’t pay up for damages or stop selling the copied item. While this behavior is incriminating, of course, it requires you to spend even more of your hard-earned money and time fighting for justice. Simply put: even a “win” isn’t a sure thing.
  • 3. Your idea may not have been unique, after all. This one can be a little painful– especially if you have been highly praised for a certain creation or identify yourself as an innovator. But outside of technology and medicine, most ideas have already been done in some capacity or another.

    Going back to the Urban Outfitters debacle of 2011, shortly after the handmade community became extremely outraged over the injustice that had happened, the author of the Regretsy blog, April Winchell, made a public rebuttal.

    While April has always been a strong proponent of copycat-shaming on her blog, she argued that the scorned Etsy seller’s work really wasn’t all that original. She went on to post similar item’s photos dated before the angered seller’s shop even existed, proving the point that perhaps we can be too quick to push the copycat alert button, after all.

    In fact, artist Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist became a quite quoted book in 2012, praised for its fresh, modern advice for up-and-coming creatives. And one of the book’s most important topics was on “stealing” ideas. From the summary: “Nothing is original, so embrace influence, collect ideas, and remix and re-imagine to discover your own path..” Again, this can come as harsh news to some. But in the right light, it can be quite a freeing thought. After all, how many amateur screenplay writers have sulked around in obscurity because they can’t come up with a completely earth-shattering new plot, or how may creative people have done nothing because they’re insecure their thoughts aren’t ground-breaking enough? Coming to terms with the fact that most of what’s to be done has been done, and that art is a game of remixing, comes up largely positive for society in my opinion.

Piracy

Idea-stealing can also happen in the form of piracy— taking or sharing something without paying for it. Considering that what the person is stealing is valuable for its intellectual property, rather than its physical value.

Products most effected by piracy include music, performance art, and software (including themes, plugins, and apps), although just about any item can potentially be pirated.

You might remember when Pinterest first became popular and a mad flurry of “You’re going to be sued for using Pinterest” notices started popping up across blogs and social media. The concept was that we were pinning (or you might say republishing or yes, even pirating) artists’ and designers’ work without their consent.

Why Fighting Piracy Is Practically Impossible

I have to admit, when I heard about all this opposition to pinning others’ work on Pinterest, I was rather cynical. After all, sharing an artist’s work is akin to doing marketing for them. But people who are overly concerned about pirating often do funny things about it.

You know those websites where right-clicking is disabled? If you try to right-click on an image, you get a popup that says “Copyright Blah Blah Blah.” These used to be more commonplace than they are now, but I do still come across one now and then. And they’re so darn frustrating to use, because you can’t open a product in a new tab or window, like most modern internet users commonly do.

Not to mention, if a visitor is savvy, they know their computer can take a snapshot of their screen at any given time. So they can just save the shot of your site and crop to the desired image if they really, really want to have a copy of it. (Chances are, they don’t.)

Someone who’s overly concerned about piracy needs to come to terms with a few truths.

  • 1. There is nothing you can ever do to completely, 100% stop it– from a technical standpoint. As I just illustrated, you may think you’re putting up a clever roadblock, but there’s likely a detour close-by
  • 2. If you think you’ve found a clever solution, it’s likely a huge annoyance to potential customers. Like the disabled right-click. To give you another example, I recently released my Etsy Pro Plugin. As I was finalizing the code, it occurred to me that some other plugin creators were using pretty advanced methods to disable certain kinds of piracy. But these methods came at a cost to their users, because there was always some annoying hoop they had to jump through. Or a way in which the plugin’s security system blocked the user from doing something completely harmless, that would have been really useful for them personally.
  • 3. Even though piracy is wrong by most people’s standards, our economy can still be forced to shift to make room for it. When society at large is no longer willing to pay $15 for Rhianna’s CD, that’s that. Sure, some of the people who pirated it can be tracked down and punished, as to invoke fear in anyone who’s considering doing the same. But the real issue at play is perceived value. If society no longer sees $15 of value in Rhianna’s CD, it can’t be scared back into them. Rather, the item is actually worth less than it was before. And companies need to get creative as to how they’ll compensate.

    Here’s another example that might drive this point home more clearly. A few years ago, I heard there was an uproar among wedding photographers because clients were “distributing” their photos on Facebook. Now, most of us today would think nothing of doing this, right? To a lot of us, a large part of the value we’re paying for when we have beautiful wedding photos taken is the ability to show them off on Facebook! Since this shift in perception was very real and outspread, it was the photography industry that had to grow and change as a result.

So What Does a Person Do About All This?

I was reading a lot of other people’s opinions about intellectual property rights in preparation for this article, and by far the biggest piece of advice I encountered was to try and care less about copycats and pirates.

While I do think a lot of people are overly concerned about these matters or jump to conclusions too quickly (as in the Urban Outfitters story), I’m not completely satisfied by this answer, so I’d like to add to it:

If your idea is certifiably innovative, do look into securing a patent for it.

If you have a video course or a membership site or something of that nature, by all means password protect them! I’m certainly not suggesting you get rid of very basic measures like these.

If someone is legitimately copying you, confront them with an e-mail or ask a friend to do it for you. There’s always a chance that they’re in the naive category, and you will be educating them on proper business behavior. On the other hand, if you confront a business owner and are unable to turn them around, remember that they’re acting as a second-rate version of you, and hold your head up high knowing that you’re a leader and influencer.

Along that line, it recently occurred to me that Instagram (the photo sharing site Facebook purchased for $1 billion) had no official intellectual property when they were sold. And to boot, they had many imitators. It’s just that the Instagram team was very good at what they did and holding their own in the marketplace. I think that’s a lesson we can all take with us as we encounter unfortunate inevitabilities like copycats and pirates.

And, finally, whenever in doubt: slooow, deep breaths. They go a long way. I promise you.

Photo credit: Pascal / Flickr




Secrets of the Etsy Elite; What Separates the Professionals From the Amateurs?

Marketplace websites are awesome, right?

I’m talking about sites like Etsy, Artfire, Bonanza, Zazzle, Meylah, Society 6, BRIKA… where there’s a huge gathering of buyers and sellers, in one place. It seems like new ones are popping up all the time.

From the sellers’ perspective, sites like Etsy can be a great place to start– and test– a business with minimal commitment. See if your business concept is one that attracts people. Try out different pricing. Gather information about what does or doesn’t sell.

Further, sites like Etsy can be incredible marketing channels. Driving traffic is a major hardship for most new businesses, but Etsy already gets tons of it.

That’s not to say you get the benefit of Etsy’s traffic without any work at all. You need to be selling something that stands out in the crowd, you need to know how to use keywords, and be able to jump on seasonal trends– since catering to the time of year or pop culture trends will help snag e-mail and front page features.

At least all of the conventional advice says that if you manage to do the above you’ll see success through the site.

secrets of the etsy superstars

Anyway, not all too long ago, I did some research of my own on the featured sellers from the Etsy blog’s “Quit Your Day Job” posts. I was just curious to see for myself exactly how well these individuals were doing and if there were any unusual or seldom talked-about patterns leading to their success.

One by one, I started checking them out, asking lots of questions like: How much $$$ is their average sale? How many sales did they make in the last year? How much money does that add up to? (And what kind of profit might be left after basic costs?) What is this seller doing that most others are not?

Sure, this wasn’t anything close to an exact science. But after putting some time into it, I felt confident enough to draw a few conclusions about these Etsy superstars and their respective shops:

  • 1. Though the amount of money was usually significant, many of these Etsy sellers (who are described as having quit their day job) were not making anything close to a living wage from their Etsy sales alone.
  • 2. Every featured seller had some form of social media presence helping to drive sales.
  • 3. Every successful seller profiled owned their own website in addition to their Etsy storefront.

So… in a nutshell, the biggest secret of Etsy’s elite seemed to be that they went beyond the Etsy “walls.” They knew they’d have the best chance at success pursuing multiple avenues for income and exposure, even if Etsy was their main focus.

the non-negotiable, controlled-by-you website

To be specific, I think the most important takeaway from this is that every serious Etsy seller should have their own website.

Turns out, whether it’s made of up of just a few static pages, a blog, or a full-featured e-commerce store of its own, having your own website in addition to your Etsy shop is key to escaping amateur-ville and becoming a real player.

There are many huge reasons for this beyond the now-obvious “All the cool kids are doing it!” And most of them have to do with simply taking your business seriously enough to think about its future:

  • 1. Fact is, many entirely well-intentioned sellers have had their Etsy shops shut down, without warning or explanation. Having your own website is insurance that your best customers will be able to find you again, even in the chance that your Etsy shop goes MIA.
  • 2. Having your own website allows you to build up your SEO (search engine optimization) cred now, so that it will pay off later if/when you decide to move your store away from Etsy or expand into your own e-commerce store. Printing your “your-company-name.com” web address onto all of your marketing materials and generally training potential customers to find you there first is key to this.
  • 3. Journalists and their publications take businesses more seriously when they have their own site. Therefore, you’re open to more opportunities for exposure. Not to mention, with your own website at your command, you can carefully craft a “Media” or “Press” page full of all the juicy deets about you, your product, as well as some gorgeous high-res images, to make your business all the more press-ready.
  • 4. See a shop with a fiercely loyal following, and I’ll show you an e-mail list. Unfortunately, Etsy doesn’t accommodate the sort of opt-in box you need to collect e-mail addresses from customers in a straight-forward, legal way, so you can’t easily continue contact with them in the future and win their repeat business. Having your own website means you can use opt-in forms wherever and whenever you like.
  • 5. Finally, by having your own site, you’re showing contacts you meet in-person and on social media that you are your own brand– not just a minuscule drop in the bucket of Etsy. And from a psychological perspective, that means they’re more likely to remember you and view your goods as high-value.

So, if you’re serious about the future of your Etsy business, I hope you’ll follow the pros’ lead and get yourself hooked up with your own “your-company-name.com” website. Even if it’s just something simple for the time being.

And if you’ve got any further thoughts or advice on the matter, I hope you’ll share! Maybe you’re surprised that all of these featured sellers had a website of their own? Not surprised? Are you considering setting up a website, or have you run into obstacles that have stopped you in your tracks? Your experience is so valuable to others. Leave it for us below!

 

P.S. I recently set out to create a plugin that would quickly turn an Etsy seller’s WordPress.org blog into something they are tremendously proud of.

Welp– that plugin is now LIVE! Which means there’s no longer any excuse for an Etsy seller not to have an amazing site of their own.

To learn more, read user testimonials, and see a live demo, click the graphic below!

Learn about the Etsy Pro plugin for WordPress

Photo credit: Helga Weber / Flickr




Lessons Learned From 2 Years + Thousands of Sales in Handmade Business


Photo credit.

{Today’s post comes from Lisa Jacobs, and you are about to be blown away! Incredibly generous, personal, real-life insight here from someone who’s “been there” with a handmade online business. Whether or not you sell handmade, you will take something valuable away from this. Enjoy! –Stephanie}

I’m Lisa Jacobs of Marketing Creativity, and I help people build their hobbies into creative businesses. Fairground Media is one of my favorite resources for information and inspiration, so I’m thrilled to be here today!

I have been selling on Etsy and writing about my sales and strategies for the last two years. I started the Energy Shop with $100 worth of supplies. I’ve earned more than $60,000 in the last two years. I now work from home and provide a healthy second income for my family.

Here are a few things I know for sure about handmade business:

Give Stuff Away.

If you check out my shop, it will come as no surprise to you that I’m a real believer in karma. Share your product. If anyone I know personally shows interest in my product, they get a bracelet. I appreciate support in all forms.

Before I started selling anything, I gave packets of bracelets to many of my friends. Their feedback was essential to my beginning, and it proved that I had a lovely little gift in each creation.

This reminds me of something written by Wayne Dyer, “When you say, ‘How may I share?’ the Universe responds, How may I share with you?” Let me be clear in that I don’t share for what I’ll get in return. I’m often thinking of someone when a new stone comes across my desk, and I love making a new bracelet with loving thoughts of someone I know.

Having clarified that you don’t want to give just to get, here’s my point: Anytime I put an unexpected gift package in the mail, I see a huge increase in sales that week. How can you share?

But, Don’t Do Give-Aways.

Early on, I ran a sweepstakes on my blog for a free bracelet. I was just starting out and I had a lot of time to spread the word about my shop using free marketing methods such as this one.

By the time of my sweepstakes drawing, my business had increased and I had become quite busy. I made the sweepstakes bracelet and sent it to the winner, who had an issue with the bracelet on arrival. Her story was suspicious. I was sorry to disappoint the winner, but I did not have the time or personal energy to perform customer service for a non-paying customer.

I’ve learned to work around this by offering gift certificates for sweepstakes, and I only do this for other bloggers to go along with their reviews. In order to redeem my gift certificate, the customer will need to log into their Paypal account and fill out all of the information on Etsy as well. That person is then a customer with a gift certificate, rather than a sweepstakes winner, which means we’re “in business” and following all of the regular policies.

Celebrate Your Sales.

When I hit 100 sales in my first month of business, I was beyond ecstatic. To me, it meant: I really have something here! I saw a full-time job and a second income in my near future. I needed to CELEBRATE! And I wanted to do it with the people who got me there.

At 100 sales, I created a “Customer Appreciation Special.” I ordered Chrysanthemum stone for the first time, and this sale is how it was debuted in my shop. I made a stock of 10 bracelets and priced them so that I didn’t lose, but my customer clearly won.

I’ve since gone on to celebrate sales at 250, 500, 1,000, and 2,000. These landmarks and the customer appreciation sales that follow have become very popular with my email list. I’m approaching 3,000 sales and now my customers participate in online polls for which attributes they would like to see in my next special. I’ll create 150 discounted bracelets, and I typically sell out of them within thirty days.

Be Friendly but Business-Minded.

Customers have come to expect personalized treatment from handmade businesses, as they should. However, custom requests can sometimes require so much extra work, you may question if they are worth the effort.

When I became a little too busy to take custom requests, it made me feel guilty. It required a lot of extra work, and for the same price as all of the other listings in my shop. I had a moment of resentment: was the Energy Shop serving me, or was I serving the Energy Shop?

So, I sat with that resentment for a moment, and I asked myself: what would it take for me to feel okay about completing this request? For me, the answer is: I want to get paid for my time and service. If the customer is making a request that will cost me an extra hour’s worth of work, the only way I can feel more comfortable with it, is if I charge the extra for my time. Every other customer that shops my store pays for my time, so I decided to charge the custom orders a custom price.

The very first time I set a higher price for a custom item, I realized I was having that entire argument in my head, with myself. I told the customer the increased price, and she agreed right away. And that’s what I’ve done from then on. If they don’t agree to the higher price, I saved myself an hour’s worth of unpaid work. But, if they’re paying for my time, I’m more than happy to accommodate special requests.

Buy Advertisements.

I love! love! love! my Facebook advertising. Where my stuff is trending is where I need to advertise. I pick very select groups to sell to, which keeps my cost per click rates on Facebook very low.

I’m not going to give away my entire strategy here, so let’s say I made boutique-y children’s clothing (I don’t). I used to subscribe to US Weekly,* and man oh man, did I think that I needed to outfit all of my children (there are four) in upscale, boutique-y, one-of-a-kind outfits. If I were selling this line, I would take out an advertisement on Facebook for married women aged 26-38 who “like” the US Weekly Fan Page. I would put a child that looked simple and neat, a life-like Suri Cruise, in one of my cutest outfits and create a fabulous headline.

*If I were a boutique-y children’s clothing store, I would also subscribe to US Weekly to keep up with Hollywood baby trends and change my item tags to match what other US Weekly subscribers might be searching each week.

In start-up, Facebook Ads have been everything I need. Facebook recently started accepting Paypal, which is just one more convenience. Google Ads are another very user-friendly advertising resource. However, I find the cost per click to be insanely over-priced. Books that teach the CPC strategy, like The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris, have increased the popularity of search engine advertising. I recently cashed a coupon for $75 in free Google advertisements (magazines, like Inc., will offer great deals and coupons for small business owners) and I was paying more than $1 for every click (two years ago, each click would have cost $.10). In my opinion, $1 is simply not worth it.

However, you may have a product that would do very well on Google Ads and every $1 spent could potentially bring in great profit. Obviously, your marketing strategy depends on your market.

And Finally: Take Action.

There’s no better way to slow down and grow frustrated than to stop production. Sometimes, sales slow. Keep working. Keep creating. Keep plugging away. If you’re miserable in business, it’s typically because you’re waiting for something to happen. Stop it. Get moving, and go make something happen.

In the opening of Kevin Hart’s movie, Kevin Hart: Seriously Funny, he and his entourage shout: “Everybody wants to be famous! Nobody wants to do the work!” With the smash success of movies like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, and the aforementioned Kevin Hart documentary (if you haven’t seen these movies, go rent them right now!), people are waking up to the fact that greatness awaits, BUT YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK. Outlast the quitters, and you’re already famous.

My dear friends, take advantage of this.

Please DO: realize that two years is longer than most will stick with it.

Please DO: realize that the only people achieving their dreams are the ones who worked hard for them.

Please note: I’m writing to you from a place of “dreams manifest into reality”–not because I’ve realized all of my dreams, but because I pay attention to every step that gets me closer to them.

The point I don’t want you to miss is that we are, each one of us, creating something out of nothing. We are artists. Two years ago, I didn’t have a small business. I just had an idea. I invested my time, energy, and a little bit of money–just as you did. It’s something to be proud of, whether you’re waiting for your first sale, or celebrating your first thousand. You are creativity, and I want to thank you for bringing all of that fantastic energy here and sharing it with me!

Thank you, Stephanie, for allowing me to share with you! Wishing you all continued success~

Lisa Jacobs writes Marketing Creativity for fellow creative spirits who aim to build a career with their own two hands. She leads group webinar programs and offers one-on-one coaching designed to help you get paid to be … you.

 
{Editor’s Note 11/8: If you loved what Lisa had to say in this article and are interested in picking her brain even further– brace yourself for the good news! She just released a new program called “Shop Fundamentals,” and you can get in on it today. Click the banner below to learn more.}