This week we start part 1 of a 2 part Jam with Dave from WoodlandZen. Dave shares his awesome story about driving an RV around the US, building an Instagram community, finding success with coaching and SEO, rebranding his entire business, and purchasing a house with his Etsy earnings. Read on to learn more about Dave’s Etsy success and all the wisdom he has to share!
We go way back
Dave is an awesome part of our Marmalead community and always offers a positive voice in our Facebook group. We were excited when Dave decided to do a Jam with us, knowing how much awesome experience he has and how he’s applied his knowledge to find amazing Etsy shop success! We can’t wait to share our interview with Dave with you below and know you’ll love both Part 1 of his story and Part 2 of his Jam that’s coming up next week.
What is it that you sell in your Etsy shop?
Dave: We sell crystal bracelets with wood, as well as necklaces, earrings and some rings as well.
You got your start on Etsy in 2016, but started selling online before that?
Dave: Correct! I actually started an Etsy shop fours years ago and ended up giving up. I got overwhelmed and I wasn’t doing so hot. So I closed it down, but now I’m back and have been since 2016.
Can you give us a little background about your journey before you came back to Etsy in 2016?
Dave: Sure! So the business is currently run by my girlfriend and me, as we both make jewelry. She makes bracelets and I make necklaces, earrings, and rings. It was about four years ago that she started making some bracelets and I really liked them. I convinced her to start an Instagram account to sell them. I’d seen a lot of Instagram accounts selling jewelry straight out of the DM’s.
Then, we saved up some money and started traveling. We weren’t really serious about selling the jewelry until we started traveling. While we were traveling in Argentina, I learned how to carve spoons out of wood from a Welsh dude in the Andes mountains! Which of course we were like, oh we should sell these too! There are a ton of markets in Argentina so we thought it would be great to utilize those to sell our products. So, we started selling our products at Farmer’s Markets and from there we scaled up and started selling at music festivals and craft shows. Our primary income at that point was selling in person. We weren’t really serious about selling online for a while. We always knew about it and thought about it, but we were more focused on selling in person.
Time passing by…
Another year went by and we did some more traveling to Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru with the money we saved from selling our products. While we were traveling in these countries, we got even more inspiration from local markets. Just being out of your element really inspires you. Once we got home from traveling this time, we had a master plan to start selling online, to start taking our business seriously, and to really go at it. That’s when we decided we absolutely were going to make this work. We started selling at bigger music festivals that you had to pay a lot up front for, but where there was a lot of traffic. The Farmer’s Markets were at that point just the fillers in between that kept our sales consistent.
And the next year brought…
After another year of traveling, doing all music festivals and grinding every single weekend, I finally started making the necklaces that you can now see in our shop. I came up with the idea myself and there really aren’t many other designers doing exactly what I am. I’m really glad about this, but I’m sure people will figure it out eventually. Once I started making the necklaces, we decided to move into an RV and do the RV life thing around the whole country.
It was at this point that selling online became a bigger priority for me. The reason is that we were planning on going to all those music festivals all over the country, but I didn’t plan well enough and book them enough in advance. We ended up doing a bunch of smaller shows, but it really hit me that I should be selling online more. If I did, I wouldn’t have to go through all the hassle of finding a bunch of shows, booking them, loading and unloading everything, because we were basically pulling up to shows in this huge RV which was pretty tough. I really started to learn more at this point about selling on Etsy.
So I’m sitting in the RV, trying to learn SEO and how to have Etsy success, but things just weren’t clicking for me yet. I didn’t really know what I was doing and was going off of a lot of Etsy rumors like, try this or this or this. After our RV trip was over, we came back to our home state of Michigan and I started really digging into Etsy. And I swear you guys haven’t paid me to say this, but it honestly wasn’t until I got Marmalead and then got coaching from Joanna, that I started to see success! This is when everything totally changed for me. Now, I’m to the point where I’m actually helping other Etsy sellers and have written Ebooks about all the information I’ve learned about selling on Etsy. I’m doing this now because I know what it’s like to struggle and I love helping other sellers.
How long did it take you to really see Etsy success?
It took about three to four years to become successful. However, you can really shorten that learning curve by investing in your craft and taking it seriously. A lot of people talk about wanting to become a full-time Etsy seller, but the key to actually doing this is to act like it’s full time already. Even if you’re not making a full-time income, act like it’s full-time. Also, you have to invest in it. If you want to make a full-time income, people need to keep in mind that other folks in our society do things like going to college and spend thousands of dollars in order to make a full-time income in their future careers. With Etsy, the investment to learn more about it is so little compared to going to college and you have the potential to make more than some college degree jobs offer. This isn’t me hitting on college at all because I went to college, I’m simply talking about a different way to view investing in your Etsy shop.
We heard you actually bought a house with the money you’re making from Etsy, which is amazing! Congratulations!
Dave: Thank you! Yeah, with my Etsy success I actually just bought my house in Oregon about three months ago! I bought this house with proof of income to the mortgage company and it was all Etsy money. There was no other money because this is my full-time job. It’s been quite a journey!
When you guys were tooling around the country in your RV did you think you might be house shopping for the future state you wanted to live in?
Dave: Definitely! We wanted to see new areas of the country! So, we went straight down from Michigan and crash-landed in Missouri because the RV broke down. We had to stay at an RV park for a week and have a mobile RV repair dude come and fix it. That set us back about $2000 which put a damper on our whole mindset. But then we went over to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and up into Utah. In Utah, we bought a jeep so we could off-road with it in Moab. Once we were done there we came back to Michigan and sold the RV and the car and kinda reset.
What a cool story!! You mentioned that your products are very unique in your market and you haven’t seen anyone else making the specific things you are. I think that a lot of Etsy sellers don’t know to focus on what their niche is and so we’d like to know more about how you found this for yourself. How did you come up with the aspect of your products to make them unique? And how did you play off of that to find your specific set of customers and appeal to them?
Dave: We actually rebranded about six months ago. Previously we were known as MysticalMaking. We talked only about crystals and their metaphysical properties on our blog and Instagram, which is a popular niche on Etsy and throughout our society. But, then we wanted to make it a little more unique. We’re really into nature and love being outside meditating and all that stuff. We wanted to add another aspect to it, kinda like a double niche. About six months ago, my girlfriend Emily decided we needed to rebrand. We felt like we weren’t going in the direction that our current brand reflects. That’s when we came up with the name WoodlandZen. What we did was change the name of course, we trademarked it, and then came up with packaging for it as well. Anybody can do this! You can create cards on Vistaprint or wherever and making product packaging for jewelry is fairly easy.
All about those spoons, bout those spoons, no forks
In terms of the products that I make now and how they’re unique, it really grew out of me carving wooden spoons. I was familiar with woodworking because of this. Emily was only making crystal jewelry so I started to brainstorm how to combine these two elements to make them really cool. That’s when I came up with the necklaces I make now. I inlay stone in wood, which was a perfect fit for us! People who like crystals are usually into trees and nature and stuff like that, so we were able to double niche and make it a lifestyle/product brand. You can especially see this on our Instagram account where the esthetic really comes through.
In terms of being unique with the product, I just took two things that we liked and combined them, running with it from there. That’s honestly it!
The rebranding thing has obviously worked out for you guys! That’s a big deal and must have taken guts to take that step!
Dave: I actually had some resistance to it at first and didn’t want to change the name. Emily was the one who thought changing the name, brand, and direction would be a good move. I was resistant because I thought we would lose our audience, but it was definitely the opposite! It ended up making us both feel better about the brand we were representing.
You talked about Instagram early on and mentioned you’d built up an audience there. What tips do you have for other sellers who might be exploring Instagram and trying to find an audience?
Dave: First, you need to create a vision. You need to decide who you are, what you’re going to post about, and create a theme. If you don’t know who you are, no one else is going to know who you are. If you’re all over the place, then your customers will be as well. You need to focus on branding too. There’s so much information online about branding and it’s important to understand it. Post consistently. Posting regularly and interacting with your customers is important in the Instagram algorithm. Also, keep in mind that if you have an Instagram and you’re promoting your products, don’t only post about your products. This can come across too sales-y. I’ve actually seen that some of the biggest brands on Instagram don’t post any photos of their products! They’re total content creation like cool stories and stuff like that. It blows my mind and I can’t bring myself to do that, but it’s definitely something to think about.
Other than product shots, what other things do you guys like to post on Instagram?
Dave: We like to post about the forest, trees, woodland animals, and meditation. Basically, anything that’s woodland and zen we’ll post about. There are a ton of great photos out there that you can’t just take, but you can repost from great photographers. Find other people in your niche and repost some of their stuff. Instagram likes when you repost other people’s stuff. This is a great way to curate content.
When you guys came back to Etsy in 2016, was there a benefit to having your Instagram audience already built up where you could direct them to your Etsy shop? And did this generate some sales for you right off the bat and stoke the flame?
Dave: I think it definitely helped for sure. We direct a lot of our traffic from Instagram to Etsy. I do think it helped “stoke the flame” but, regarding the whole “stoke the flame” idea, here’s a little Etsy rumor for you..even though I don’t subscribe to most of them;) I think that back a few years ago when I drove Instagram traffic to Etsy, the sales that came from Instagram traffic would be as powerful as a renew or sale as if it came off of Etsy. But, now I think Etsy has the ability to identify outliers and where traffic comes from. So, if there’s a big brand sending sales to one listing, you’re not going to see that listing on the top anymore. That’s just my theory or rumor.
In light of feeling that way about Instagram and how it may or may not be weighted in Etsy’s algorithm for placement in search, have you changed your Instagram strategy? Have you focused on it more or less or has it stayed consistent through your time selling?
Dave: It’s stayed totally constant. Another big choice that Emily and I made was that we were going to split the responsibilities. Previously, we would both be posting on Instagram and both be doing Etsy work. About a year ago, we both decided that Emily would focus on Instagram and I would focus on Etsy. When that happened it really made us both progress in those two skills. So Emily’s been consistent with Instagram the whole time and driving traffic to our Etsy listings.
What have you really struggled with in E-commerce with Etsy?
Dave: Mostly it was me giving Etsy credit and not myself for my success. Not taking responsibility for my own success. I would give the key to my success to outside factors. For example, the Etsy algorithm. Sure, it does play a role in your shop, but at the end of the day, it’s all up to you. It’s all up to how much work you put into it and how smart and hard you work. So, blaming Etsy was a big thing for me, thinking they were out to get me and just wanted to make money off of me and all of that stuff.
Another one was being negative. If I wasn’t seeing the amount of sales or views that I preferred to see, then I would be negative and head in negative directions. It wasn’t conducive to a successful Etsy shop and a positive Etsy shop owner. Once I changed my mindset, I realized that I hold the key to my success and I am the responsible one for that success. Whatever Etsy’s doing, whatever the outside forces are that you want to blame, you can’t control them. So if you want to move forward being positive and having a successful Etsy shop, you need to accept whatever those things are and take your shop seriously.
We’ve noticed that you’re not just getting one great review everyday, but multiple reviews! Do you do anything special to motivate people to leave those reviews?
Dave: I value reviews a lot. They definitely affect the history of your listings and the history of your shop. If anything, it’s that social proof to buyers that because other people bought and loved your products, so will they. The way I get reviews is that I send a thank you card in every single order. It really is that simple. Most people get those Etsy emails reminding them that they have new products to review and a lot of times they’re ignored. But if you give them that thank you card with a handwritten note, they’re much more likely to write a review. And as you can see in my shop, they do! It’s that double reminder. If you just get a faceless email from Etsy about writing a review they’re much easier to ignore.
Just do it
You also don’t have to use Vistaprint or a card printing service if you don’t want to. You can always just get card stock, put it in your printer and design something on Word. It can be that simple! I always tell the people I mentor and help that, until you’re SO busy that you cannot write every single handwritten note, continue to write those notes. Until you’re taking orders all day long and packaging all day long, continue to do those hand written notes. Even if you don’t have time to do handwritten notes, you still have that review card which is a double reminder.
Remember, this is your personal business! It’s not just a drop and ship store. You have a face and you represent your brand. When people are buying off Etsy, they know it’s a handmade or vintage business and that they’re buying from an actual person. When you remind your customers of this in the package they receive, it goes a long way.
Be sure to check out Dave and Emily’s shop where you can use JAM20 for 20% off your purchase! You can also find Dave on his YouTube channel. If you’re interested in purchasing Dave’s eBooks or coaching, you can do that as well. As always, listen to his week’s Jam for even more details and be sure to tune back in next week for Part 2 of Dave’s awesome Jam!
Happy selling, everyone!