Rachel Jones, 34, who goes by a pen name for privacy, has long dabbled in side hustles. Throughout her full-time career, most recently as an administrator in higher education, she has also worked as a freelance writer contributing to various blogs.
“My goal was always to do enough side hustles to eventually be able to quit a full-time job and work for myself,” she says.
So when Jones, who’s based in the Inland Empire, California, was on maternity leave in 2018, she decided to dedicate that time to building out two side hustles: a blog and an Etsy shop.
“Etsy is a really powerful platform for digital products” like printable cards and spreadsheets, she says. “You just upload it when you create the listing and then [the site] automatically delivers the product for you.” She decided to make a few budget planners and savings trackers, priced anywhere from $2 to $10, and try selling them on her store.
Jones had less time to dedicate to her projects after maternity leave, but she noticed Etsy “was still making about $50 a month with just a handful of products” and without any effort on her part.
So when she went on maternity leave again in 2020, Jones decided to focus her efforts on building out the store and learning how to make it more successful. Today, her shop, the name of which she prefers to keep secret lest copycats replicate some of her more niche products, features more than 200 printable items and grosses an average of $12,500 per month in passive income.
It brought in nearly $150,000 in 2021 altogether.
Jones quit her administrative job in June 2021 and is now focusing on her hustles full time.
During her second maternity leave, Jones buckled down on learning techniques to improve the sales in her store. “There’s a lot of different strategies to market but the strategy that I use is mostly just the Etsy algorithm and search engine optimization,” she says.
Etsy’s algorithm relies on a variety of factors, including an item’s title and internal tags. Search engine optimization, or SEO, helps improve an item’s visibility on the internet at large.
Jones comes up with an idea for a printable, then uses sites like trends.google.com and trends.pinterest.com to determine answers to questions like, “How many people were searching for this? What were they searching?”
For example, in the lead up to Christmas, she looked up Elf on the Shelf. Were people searching for “Elf on the Shelf ideas? Are they looking for a letter to Santa, or a letter to the elf or from the elf?” she says.
Then she created a product based on that data, she says: A $17 Elf on the Shelf kit. She included keywords like “Elf on the Shelf” in the title of the item and in its internal tags. These help people find it both on Etsy, specifically, and on the internet at large.
Before even consulting tools like Google or Pinterest, however, “you still have to come up with an original idea,” she says. “I think that is just combining your skills, your interests, your passions, trends in the world.”
One thing Jones considers is seasonality. “Etsy is very related to holidays and gift giving,” she says. “Like right now there’s new year’s resolutions, so I have a digital planner.” In February people will be looking for Valentine’s Day gifts, in March people may be looking for St. Patrick’s Day decorations or cards, in April they may be looking for Easter gifts, and so on.
She considers specific groups of people who might need help, like teachers, fitness instructors, or small business owners, and lets their needs guide her search for new products.
Ultimately, “it’s a numbers game,” she says. If you have 100 or 200 products, and just “10 of them do really well, you’re more likely to make money” than if you focus all of your energy on just a few products.
There were 5.3 million active sellers on Etsy at the end of 2021, according to Marketplace Pulse. Jones recommends looking for opportunities to learn from successful sellers.
“I really do recommend getting educated and trying to learn from somebody that’s done it before,” she says. While on maternity leave, she spent about $250 to take a Gold City Ventures course about creating printables.
“If you invest a little bit of money, I think there’s two things that happen,” she says. “You have potentially a community of people that support you and help you. You have somebody that’s been there that’s done that that can hold your hand a little bit. And then you’re investing in yourself.”
In terms of her own personal goal for the shop, “I would love to get to [making] $1,000 a day, on average,” she says. “I’ve seen those days. They exist, but they’re not consistent.” At least, not yet.
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