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The Promise of Creative Entrepreneurship

Editor's note: This article was originally published on the Etsy News blog on July 23, 2015.

When you think of an entrepreneur, who do you picture? The first person that pops into my mind is the young guy in a hoodie who is always on his laptop at my local coffee shop. Then I imagine the older couple that runs the vegetable store on my corner. I don't immediately picture my neighbor, who sews baby quilts at her kitchen table on evenings and weekends, and drops off packages at the post office during her lunch break.

Yet that last image is very much the picture of an Etsy entrepreneur. And with over 1.4 million active Etsy sellers worldwide and counting, she represents an emerging face of entrepreneurship in the United States.

Our new report, based on data from a 2014 survey of 4,000 US Etsy sellers and ongoing interactions with our seller community, reveals a population of micro-business owners who are different from other small businesses in many ways, but together offer the promise of a more people-centered approach to life, business, and the broader economy.

That's why we're bringing a group of Etsy sellers from around the country to Washington DC today, to share the real stories behind the numbers and demonstrate to policymakers that Etsy sellers are a constituency worth paying attention to. They'll meet with members of Congress, folks in the Administration, and even testify at a House Small Business Committee hearing.

Together, they will advocate on issues including trade, internet sales tax, and net neutrality, as well as share the key findings of the report, entitled Building an Etsy Economy: The New Face of Creative Entrepreneurship, which reveals that Etsy sellers are true businesswomen, and the income they earn on Etsy matters to their lives and to the broader economy. Some highlights:

Etsy democratizes access to entrepreneurship. Etsy sellers are predominantly female — 86% are women. They are twice as likely to be young adults (under age 35) as other US business owners. Many are parents with children at home and 17% have household income under $25,000 annually. Nearly half (45%) of all sellers had never sold their goods until they sold them on Etsy. By making it easy to buy and sell goods, Etsy makes entrepreneurship lower-risk and accessible for these populations.

Etsy sellers run businesses in their own right. 76% of Etsy sellers consider their shops to be businesses, and 30% focus on their creative businesses as their sole occupation. This business mindset is also reflected in Etsy sellers' aspirations — 90% wish to grow their sales in the future.

Etsy sellers are self-reliant. Most Etsy sellers manage every part of their business themselves. The vast majority of sellers work alone from home, and most handmade sellers are self-taught. Of the 65% who required capital to start their businesses, 83% relied on their own personal savings, and only 1% obtained a loan.

Etsy sellers personify a new paradigm for business. Etsy sellers have ambitions to grow their businesses, yet they wish to do so in a way that furthers their personal values. Personal fulfillment and enjoyment often play a key role in the decision to start a creative business. They also want their business to have a positive impact on the world — 71% of sellers agree that growing their businesses sustainably and responsibly is important to them.

Income from their creative businesses matters. For 30% of Etsy sellers, their creative business — both on and off Etsy — is their sole occupation. For the rest, their creative business supplements other jobs, contributing an average of 15% to total household income overall. This money makes a difference — 44% use this income for necessary household expenses.

Implications for public policy. Although Etsy sellers differ from traditional entrepreneurs in many ways, we believe that they are emblematic of larger shifts in the economy towards self-employment and micro-business. Most are businesses of one, and face very different challenges from even a five- or ten-person enterprise. Government and regulatory agencies should enact policies that support sellers' efforts to start and grow their creative businesses, enabling the broader maker economy to thrive.

You can download the full report here. Going forward, we'll use this report, along with our policy recommendations, to continue to educate policymakers about the needs of Etsy sellers and encourage them to adopt public policies to support the emerging maker economy.

Due to methodology and survey text changes, some data in the report is not directly comparable to data in our 2012 report, Redefining Entrepreneurship: Etsy Sellers' Economic Impact. We've made a note where we're unable to make comparisons.

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Etsy Impact