Seller Handbook

Advice and inspiration for successfully running your Etsy shop

Seller Handbook

Creative Roots: Understanding Etsy Entrepreneurship

A behind-the-scenes look at the one million member strong seller community, and how creative entrepreneurship is shaping the future of policy reform.

By Althea Erickson Nov 7, 2013
Photo by Alison Claire Photography

We all know that turning your creative passion into a successful business can be challenging. Before I opened my Etsy shop, it took me weeks to figure out whether I needed to register my business and how to get a Certificate of Authority to collect and remit sales tax in New York. Even now that I understand the rules, it’s still a struggle to submit the tax filings on time each quarter.

Not many people outside the Etsy community really understand what it’s like for one person to build a creative business from scratch. That’s why we’re releasing a report that sheds light on the seller experience, based on the survey responses of over 5,500 Etsy sellers. The report reveals a diverse community of creative entrepreneurs who are building independent businesses on their own terms.

Let’s be clear — there is no such thing as a “typical Etsy seller.”  Some of us sell goods casually, never intending to make our shops a full-time gig. Others use Etsy shops to supplement income from other jobs. Still others are full-time sellers who depend on their creative business to support themselves and their families.

Despite these differences, the report reveals that Etsy sellers share many inspiring traits, most notably their independence and self-reliance. Most are women who are running their businesses on their own from home. While the typical assumption is that all entrepreneurs start their businesses in the hopes of growing as big as possible, that’s not always the case for Etsy sellers. The majority of our community want to increase sales, but also keep their businesses a size they can manage themselves.

This independence and autonomy is not surprising when you consider the motivations that drove many of us to start shops in the first place. The report demonstrates that sellers are motivated by both financial and personal factors, but “desire for a creative outlet” was the most-cited reason for starting a shop. Desire for “greater flexibility” and “to fulfill a personal dream” also rank as top motivators. Etsy sellers aren’t just looking to make a living; they are building lives for themselves with businesses that reflect their unique priorities.

In reality, our community is part of larger trends in the economy towards more flexible forms of work and employment. At last count by the US Government Accountability Office, one third of the workforce was working independently, and that number is expected to top 50% by 2020. In the face of declining job security, people are taking matters into their own hands, often combining income from multiple sources. Policy makers have been slow to recognize the value in these new forms of entrepreneurship, in part because government statistics fail to capture much of this activity.

We are publishing the results of our survey to help policy makers understand that we are here, and we matter. After all, there are over one million Etsy sellers worldwide. Individually our businesses may be small, but together we represent a huge opportunity to build a new, people-powered economy. It’s time for government to catch up and address our unique needs.

We think government should do what we try to do here at Etsy — make it easier for anyone to build an independent, creative business. That’s why we’re encouraging policy makers to:

  • Simplify the regulations, trade laws and taxes that apply to our creative businesses.
  • Replace penalties for first-time regulatory offenses with educational outreach.
  • Adapt small business education to better target our unique needs.
  • Update social protections to include this sector of the economy.

So what do these findings mean for you and your shop? They mean that your  unique story is more powerful than ever. Facts, figures and reports are one thing, but nothing beats a real human story to help people understand what it’s like to start and build an independent creative business. Not sure where to start? Check out 3 Questions for Telling Your Creative Origin Story and then take a stab at filling out your shop’s About page. You can find inspiration from other sellers in the Forums chat happening here.

We’d love to know if you think these changes to government policy would help you. Join us in this forum thread to share your ideas. We can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

What led you to start your Etsy shop? Share your entrepreneurial origins in the comments.


Althea Erickson

Althea Erickson leads Etsy’s advocacy and policy work, educating government folks about our sellers and pitching policy ideas to support them. She also runs a little shop called Brooklyn Assembly, where she sells DIY kits that make it super easy to make awesome, personal objects with your hands.


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