Seller Handbook

Advice and inspiration for successfully running your Etsy shop

Seller Handbook

Getting a Helping Hand

There are never enough hours in the day, especially around the holidays. Grow your shop the smart way with these practical tips on using assistants.

By Dana Mauriello Oct 4, 2012
Photo by ChronicArtAttack

The holidays are approaching and with them, increased demands on your time. We’re here to tell you that you don’t need to do everything yourself! Everyone could use a helping hand. This post is all about practical advice for getting that aid in ways that are consistent with building a sustainable, responsible business on Etsy.

Friends

When Nguyen of KnitKnit got a big order with a quick turnaround time, she knew she couldn’t do it herself and considered turning it down. Instead, she got a little help from her friends. Nguyen had recently been to an Etsy Craft Party and met a group of new friends whom she called on to save the day. She ordered a good dinner, put on a funny movie, provided the supplies and invited them over for a night of knitting. She was prepared to pay people or make a trade, but it turned out that everyone was just happy to participate in the fun experience that she created.

This strategy works well if you have a one-time task to do that takes just a few hours. Invite a few friends so it’s social. Even organizing inventory can be fun if you have three people participating in a sing along — get creative!

Barter

The friends method is not as effective if you need recurring help or if you need specialized skills. In that case, think about bartering. You might barter with your team. For example, The EtsyNY Team, has a system in which sellers can ask for help with something (assembling or packing items and distributing marketing materials are common requests) and teammates who help them are given points. These points can be redeemed for priority access to the team’s craft shows or advertising on the team website, a system that they created to reward those who participate most heavily in the community. Team leader Jason says, “It’s important to reward small business owners for helping each other, especially in a cooperative team environment. The EtsyNY Team’s points system works so well because it creates a common currency that makes perfect reciprocity less necessary, it broadens the overall base of support and enables business owners from different trades to support one another.”

If you need the help of someone with a specific skill, like photography, consider finding the person that you want to work with and offering them a trade. Stephanie Ann of StitchesByStephann, finds photographers on Facebook whose work she likes and sends them a message to see if they would be interested in a trade. She says, “There are so many photographers out there who are looking to get a bit of advertising (and some free photo props as well). I send them a hat I would like photographed and they send me 4 or 5 pics back that I can use in my shop. They get to keep the hat and get some free advertising. I get free photos. So it is a win-win!” There are even teams to help you facilitate these trades including the Professional Product Photography for Props Trade Team and the Photographers and Prop Makers Team.

As-Needed Helpers

Sites like TaskRabbit are a great solution if you need on-demand help with tasks related to your Etsy business. Think packing up your orders, taking boxes to the post office, or picking up supplies. You can post any task that you need done on TaskRabbit, and local people in your community will quickly start sending you offers to do the work. The people who are responding to your requests are already vetted for safety and ability via background checks and interviews.

Valerie, of Walnutstudiolo, recently used TaskRabbit to find someone to mail out her orders while she was on vacation, which gave her peace of mind and ensured she didn’t come home to a crushing amount of work. Her advice to making the relationship successful is: be as specific as possible in your request, hire someone with direct experience in the task, and be patient if they don’t do the task as quickly or in the same way that you would do it yourself. She also hires people for tasks with the intention of considering a recurring relationship if the person does a great job. This way, she only needs to train someone once.

Interns

Interns are a good solution if you need ongoing help and have the patience and interest in training someone new to your field. Often interns, or apprentices, are happy to work without cash compensation if you are providing them with the education and experience that they crave. Nicole from LadyPancake is also an art teacher and had offered students the opportunity to work with her to learn how to make a passion for creating art into a profession. She took on as many as 6 interns at a time and loved the sense of community and the fresh voices around her that kept her spirits high on tough days. She recommends asking your intern what they are interested in learning and making sure that you are giving them an experience that provides the kind of education and exposure that they want. Providing a great experience might require a lot of your time to train and answer questions, but it can be a fair trade if you aren’t providing monetary compensation.

Many schools have formal internship programs year-round and you can get in touch with their Career Development Center to post your opportunity.

Assistants

If you need really reliable business-critical help on an ongoing basis, you should find someone qualified, put a contract in place, cultivate an ongoing relationship, and pay them a fair rate.

But how? Rebecca of Rschone hired her mother (whose smiling face is on the shop About page), the talented seamstress who taught her the craft, to help sew her custom wedding dresses. Money was a sensitive subject and at first her mother refused, but Rebecca insisted on paying (per piece based on market rates) and signing a contract. “It’s easy to take free help for granted, but in the end it’s just not fair to take advantage like that. Also, if the help is free, then it is a favor and I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking her to rush an order or be accountable to deadlines.” Rebecca puts together an organized package of materials, patterns, and instructions for her mother to work on in her own time. She also tries to give her similar dresses to work on so that she can develop an expertise in that style. She leaves the unique custom pieces and rush orders to do herself.

Sharon and Jim from Bumbershoot Supplies hired their 18-year-old daughter Emma to help with marketing. They set up weekly contracts with Emma that outline the work to be done, their expectations, and the pay. By keeping the contracts to only one week, Emma can leave at anytime if she decides the relationship isn’t working for her. Sharon and Jim also try to make the experience as valuable for Emma as possible with lots of mentoring, exposure to business issues, and opportunities to offer opinions and ideas on strategy.

Not everyone’s lucky enough to find the talent they need in their own family (or wants to work with their family!). The same advice from Rebecca, Sharon, and Jim holds true for finding assistants or professional service providers outside of relatives. Starting someone on a trial basis and paying by the piece, project, or hour without an ongoing commitment is a great way to begin a relationship and learn as you go.

Just a reminder that Etsy’s policies welcome you to include assistants in the production of your product and the running of your business, as long as the relationship meets the criteria in our DOs and DON’Ts. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Oversee your helpers. The responsibility for running the shop still falls on you as the shop owner.
  • On Etsy, it’s “handmade by you.” You can use a production assistant or outside vendor to help only with a small part of creating your items; the majority of the making should be done by you or members of your shop who are noted on your About page.
  • If you’re only using occasional outside help for tasks like packaging, photography or marketing, then you don’t need to consider those temporary helpers members of your shop.
  • If you develop a great relationship with a specific helper who becomes a regular and vital part of running your business, give credit where it’s due, and mention them on your About page.

We believe in the power of independent, creative businesses at Etsy. We support you in your journey to grow your business to whatever level you chose — remember that “independent” does not have to mean alone!

What do you need help with as you manage and grow your business?

Author

Dana Mauriello

Dana Mauriello works at Etsy on the Member Operations team. Her team incubates new programs that remove barriers to starting and growing a business with Etsy.

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