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Etsy Advertising: is it worth it?

Have you ever wondered about Etsy advertising? I’ve been selling on Etsy for 14 years, but I’ve never looked into paying for Etsy ads until now. Read on to hear about my Etsy advertising experiment (and maybe save yourself some money on Etsy ads…)

I’m testing out a few new automated marketing options this year, in an attempt to make it easier for people to find PlanetJune and discover all the patterns and tutorials I have to offer. And in case this is useful for you too, I’ll share some of what I discover here.


About Etsy Ads

It’s important to realise that there are two types of Etsy ads – those that are internal and external to Etsy. I’ll briefly explain both so you know what we’re dealing with here.

External Etsy Ads: “Offsite Ads”

These are the ads you see if you search for a crochet pattern on e.g. Google. Lots of patterns sold on Etsy will come up in your Google results, and the pattern seller will pay Etsy a 12-15% commission on top of the usual Etsy fees if you click on the ad for their pattern and then buy it within the next 30 days.

As an Etsy seller, you can opt out of appearing in these ads if you make under $10,000/year via Etsy. I’m over that threshold so I have to participate, but I’ll show you my stats for 2021 (so far) so you can see how it’s working out for me:

Etsy offsite ads

It has actually proven worthwhile to me: yes, I’ve paid Etsy over $100 CAD already this year for the ads (that’s in addition to the usual listing fees, 5% sales commission, and payment processing fees), but I only pay when people actually buy something, and I sold an extra $880 CAD (about $700 USD) of patterns because of those ads, so I can’t complain.

Internal Etsy Ads: “Etsy Ads”

Internal Etsy Ads are the subject of my test. These are the adverts you see if you go to Etsy.com and search for something. The first row of results will show the seller’s name as “Ad by PlanetJune” instead of just “PlanetJune”, and the seller will pay for that prime placement if you click into one of those listings (whether or not you go on to buy the item).

The ads are run by Etsy using a bidding system, so the price the seller pays for that click depends on how much competition there was for that search term, up to a limit of the seller’s maximum remaining daily budget.


My Experiment

I’d read that you should setup your Etsy Ads and then leave them running for at least 30 days before making any changes, so you can monitor what’s effective.

So I decided to run a 30-day experiment, for a budget of $1 per day (the minimum amount you can set), and featuring a mix of my most popular patterns (Succulent Collections 1 & 2, Bearded Dragon, and my Turtle Beach Blanket & Baby Sea Turtle Collection bundle):

Etsy ads experiment

With 30 days, 3 pattern options, and $30 worth of data, this should give me enough of an idea to see what’s working, what’s not, and what I could try for my next test.


Results

As the days progressed, I kept watching my ads to see what was happening. And it didn’t look good. Halfway through the experiment, my results looked like this:

Etsy ads experiment

As shown above, after spending $15 on Etsy ads, I had over 5000 views of my ads, and only 69 clicks. But, of those 69, not even one person went on to buy the pattern.

That’s not a good return, given that it had already cost me $15 in advertising – I’d need to sell at 2-3 items to cover that cost, let alone make a profit.

Before flushing another $15 down the toilet, I thought I’d dig a little deeper into what was going on, and what I found made me give up on the rest of the experiment!


What Went Wrong?

Almost all of my advertising budget was spent on my Succulent Collections listing (that’s not something I had any control over – it’s automated by Etsy), so I just looked at the results from that ad, as it had the most data.

Here’s what buyers were searching for, when Etsy showed my succulent pattern to them:

Etsy ads experiment

The top two results were by far the highest performing in terms of views and clicks, but look what those people were actually searching for:

  • crochet patterns: that’s such a generic term, it’s no surprise that most of the people searching for ‘crochet patterns’ weren’t looking for potted realistic succulent patterns – they could have been looking for blanket patterns, or clothing, or dishcloths…
  • flower pot kit: I’m pretty sure that nobody searching for a flower pot kit was actually looking for a succulent crochet pattern – or anything related to crochet whatsoever.

It’s no wonder that none of these people went on to buy my pattern – Etsy’s targeting for these ads is woefully inadequate, and most of my budget was blown on showing my ads to people who weren’t at all interested in buying my patterns.

After seeing this, I decided to stop my experiment early. Spending another $15 wouldn’t make a difference to my conclusions. My adverts aren’t being shown to the right people, so I’d just be another $15 out of pocket.

(There is still a chance that one of the 69 people who clicked on one of my ads will return and buy the pattern, but it’s been several more days since I stopped the experiment and that hasn’t happened yet – I’m not holding my breath.)

Conclusions

Yes, this was only a small experiment, but I can confidently say that I doubt Etsy ads are a useful marketing tool for most people selling relatively low-priced items such as patterns and other digital downloads, or handmade toys (where the profit margin is already slim, as they are so time-consuming to make).

Not being able to customize your ads at all beyond selecting which items to advertise is a real problem. Your budget can disappear very quickly on people who like your photo but aren’t actually searching for the thing you’re selling, so you pay for their click but there’s no way they’re going to buy your item.

If we could target only specific search terms, or only a specific demographic, or only people who have bought items from a specific category in the past, I might give Etsy ads another go. But, unless Etsy significantly improves the customizability and targeting of their internal ads, I can’t recommend it for anyone with a business remotely similar to mine.

Of course, your results could be different from mine, but I’d recommend you save your hard-earned money for something more likely to pay off!


Have you had any success with Etsy ads? I’d love to know! Please share your experience and tips below 🙂

Comments (5)

Professional Design vs Hobby Design

If you’ve ever considered upgrading your craft/design hobby into a business, this post may offer an interesting insight, as I’m now both a professional designer in one field (crochet) and a hobby designer in another (knitwear), so I can speak to both sides of this.

12 knit sweaters project

My Hobby/Pro Designer Experiences

I’m really enjoying my journey as a knitwear designer – I get to design, make and wear my own clothes, and that feels like a pretty amazing process. Every now and then, I feel a little wistful that I’m not parlaying my designs into a new income stream by selling patterns for my sweaters. It may seem like an obvious next step, but there are many reasons why I don’t want to do this.

Knitting is my hobby. I enjoy doing it for relaxation in between my crochet designs. I like making clothes for myself, that fit me and in colours I’ll wear. I can take months or years to finish a design and it doesn’t matter. If something isn’t perfect I can fudge it to make it good enough to wear.

Crochet is my business. It’s how I earn my living. I enjoy the challenge of developing new designs – and I love the things I design! – but there’s always a voice at the back of my head thinking ‘How well will this translate into a pattern? How can I explain this technique? Can I simplify anything to make it more enjoyable to crochet?’ Every new design has to be as good as I can possibly make it, and, while I never hurry an individual design, there’s always pressure to have regular new pattern releases, to keep PlanetJune in people’s minds and keep my business going.

PlanetJune Accessories 2018 Shawl crochet pattern collection

Support. I’ve built an extensive website full of tutorials to help crocheters successfully follow my patterns. I don’t have the time or inclination to do that for knitting techniques. At best, I could provide links to other sites that offer tutorials, and that’s not the level of service people expect from me.

PlanetJune Crochet Video Tutorials on YouTube

Fitted garments. I intentionally don’t design fitted garments in crochet. When I design and knit clothes for myself, I make them to fit me (short and pear-shaped). There are so many different body types and shapes, and it’s important that your clothes fit your shape as well as your size, or they won’t look or feel good on you. And I love making knitwear for myself that makes me feel good when I wear it!

silver thermal pullover by June Gilbank

If I designed a (knit or crochet) garment in the style I like as a pattern for sale, I’d have to:

  1. design it for ‘standard’ body measurements
  2. make a standard-sized sample (that wouldn’t fit me well!)
  3. find a ‘standard’ shaped lady to model it for the pattern photos
  4. either accept that ‘non-standard’ bodies (i.e. most people!) won’t be 100% happy with the result of my pattern, or offer extensive customization advice for how to modify the sizes to fit your own shape

The other option would be to change my design style to create very simple, non-fitted, rectangle-based garments that will work for most people as-is, but that’s not a style I’d enjoy either making or wearing. (There are also plenty of designs like that already, so I probably wouldn’t even make any money from trying to sell something I didn’t want to make in the first place!)

My Decision

I’m sure there are many more potential difficulties I haven’t even thought of, but just these few are more than enough to keep me from starting down the path of publishing my knitwear designs.

I know I don’t have time to start a parallel second career, and certainly not to run a knitwear pattern business with the level of quality and support that (I hope) people have come to expect from PlanetJune.

So, at least for the foreseeable future, I’m keeping my knitting (and garment design) on a purely hobby level. But I do love sharing what I’ve made, and I hope my projects will inspire others to try knitting (or crocheting, or sewing) a garment. It’s a very empowering feeling to be able to make your own clothes, and so satisfying when you get it right and it actually fits!

12 knit sweaters project

Hobby or Business?

Finding a way to make a profitable business from your hobby may sound like a dream come true, but it has the potential to suck all the joy out of your hobby, and, at best, it permanently changes your relationship with your craft.

I’m endlessly grateful that I’ve been able to build a successful business from my crochet designs. I try to keep innovating and developing new techniques to keep my designs fresh and exciting – both for my customers, and for my own enjoyment and improvement in my craft!

PlanetJune pattern selection

But, even so, I do sometimes miss the freedom of being able to create more complex crocheted art pieces that wouldn’t make a good pattern. Keeping my knitting as a purely creative outlet, with no motive other than making things I want to make, has given me that freedom back. It’s a way to balance the pressure of creating for my business with the joy and relaxation that only comes with making for fun.

WIP cardigans - knit and crocheted - by planetjune

So, the moral of the story is: there’s no right answer as to whether you should try to turn your hobby into a money-making venture:

  • A hobby gives you complete artistic freedom, relaxation, enjoyment, and personal satisfaction.
  • A business reduces all those things in exchange for the possibility of success: happy customers, recognition, more financial freedom, etc.

Having a hobby can give you a release from the stresses of everyday life. Turning it into a business adds to those stresses, but if you’re willing to put in time, hard work, and the determination to keep going even when you don’t feel like it, turning your hobby into a business can be very rewarding.

Or you could keep it more casual – instead of aiming to start a serious business enterprise, you could have a ‘hobby business’, where you sell a few things you’ve made to pay for your craft supplies etc, but don’t try to scale it up into a full-time business.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for the pure joy of making just for fun! Maybe you should keep your craft as a hobby, like my knitting- it’s important to protect the things that make you happy. 🙂


So, what’s your experience? Have you ever considered turning your hobby into a business? Have my words made you think about doing (or not doing!) it? Or have you already tried, and how did that change your relationship with your hobby?

I’d love to know! Please leave your thoughts in the comments below…

Comments (6)

Tracking Customer Queries in your Craft Business

It’s been three years since I started logging my customer support requests, or, more accurately, questions, comments and suggestions that ask for a response from PlanetJune.

I’ve recorded almost 2300 interactions, and now I have three full years of data, I can do a comparative analysis and see if the ‘improvements’ I’ve been making to PlanetJune have actually been making a difference to my workload!

(If you run your own business and don’t already track your customer interactions, you’ll definitely want to read on to see how tracking this info has helped me…)

The Numbers

The number of support requests I’ve received overall has dropped slightly each year (from 788 to 757 to 735) – that’s almost a 7% drop since I first started logging requests.

(But that doesn’t show the whole picture: during that time I’ve increased my sales significantly without any sign of a corresponding increase in the volume of customer support. If the same proportion of my customers had a question for me now, I’d expect to see well over 1000 queries per year by now, so a small drop actually represents a big win!)

I’ll give you some more details below, with the overall percentage first, followed by a breakdown by year, from three years ago to today: (Year 1, Year 2, Year 3), so you can see any trends over time.

Sources

69% (70%, 69%, 65%) of support requests come directly through PlanetJune (email, blog comment, shop message form).

The other 31% (30%, 31%, 35%) comes through Ravelry, Etsy, social media, YouTube, etc.

Type of Support Requests

17% (12%, 20%, 19%) are Etsy-related.

16% (20%, 16%, 14%) are for technical support.

14% (13%, 13%, 16%) are for general crochet/craft support or requests for help with another designer’s pattern. [I only log these requests when I respond to them, so this number is far smaller than the actual number of questions I receive.]

13% (13%, 14%, 12%) are for pattern support (pre- and post-sale).

10% (13%, 12%, 8%) are for account administration.

6% (7%, 5%, 5%) are suggestions for new content (patterns and tutorials).

6% (5%, 6%, 7%) are requests for items I don’t sell (finished items, patterns for art pieces, translations).

5% (3%, 5%, 6%) are navigation related (where to find a certain pattern/tutorial).

The remaining 13% covers a miscellany of different subjects, ranging from requests from the media and offers to write books, to notices of my patterns being copied or pirated.

Improving Systems

My goal when I started tracking these numbers was to see where I can make improvements to streamline my business by:

  • Reducing customer questions and building my FAQ so people don’t need to contact me for help
  • Setting up canned responses for common questions so I can minimise the time I spend answering the remaining questions

I’ve improved several systems during these three years, and I’m happy to see that those are having a clear effect: despite having more customers, I see fewer tech support and account admin questions each year, as I keep trying to make every step easier to understand.

There’s still room for improvement; for example, I’m seeing more people every year contact me to ask for the link to a specific pattern in my shop. I don’t know why this is, but perhaps there’s a way I could make it more obvious how a customer can find the answer without contacting me.

The Etsy Factor

The biggest barrier to my success in reducing queries is the customer support burden from Etsy, and I know exactly why that is: people on PlanetJune.com generally know where they are and what they’re buying, but many shoppers on Etsy see a pretty photo and hit ‘buy’ without reading the title or description, leading to a lot of misunderstanding about:

  1. What they’re buying (yep, it’s a downloadable PDF pattern, not a completed toy for $5 with free shipping!)
  2. How they’ll receive it (clearly stated in both the item description and in the ‘note from seller’ that’s sent with every order, but many Etsy shoppers don’t read any of that)

I see this as a part of my cost of using Etsy – not just in terms of the tangible cost of the Etsy fees, but the time cost of dealing with customer questions and misunderstandings. Despite this, Etsy remains a valuable funnel for new customers to find me (and then, hopefully, to buy directly from PlanetJune in future) so the fees and time are worthwhile expenses.

Even though my sales through Etsy make up only a small percentage of my income – and a much larger fraction of my customer support interactions – not having a presence on Etsy would be a mistake, as many potential customers only think to look for crochet patterns on Etsy and would never find me in the first place if I didn’t show up in the Etsy search results.

And, although the numbers are high, the misunderstandings are the same things over and over again: people not realising what they’ve bought or how/when they’ll receive it, so I’ve set up standard responses that make dealing with these questions very fast.

Verdict: Is Tracking Queries Worthwhile?

If you run a small and growing business, I’d definitely recommend tracking your customer support requests. It’ll give you a clear picture of support areas you may be able to improve, and the data to be able to provide the answers to questions on your website so your customers don’t need to contact you.

If you’re planning for the future of your business, being able to calculate whether you can expect to be overrun with customer support as your business grows, or whether this is an area you can continue to manage yourself, is critical. Might you need to hire a customer service manager at some point? Or will your systems be able to keep your admin workload in check?

For me, for the time being at least, the answer as shown from my analysis is encouraging. I’ve created a solid foundation for a long-term manageable business, but I’ll keep tracking requests so I can monitor my workload and keep looking for areas where I can tweak my systems to improve the PlanetJune experience for all my visitors.

Comments (3)

Captioning YouTube Videos

Yesterday, I spent the entire day transcribing all my crochet video tutorials so I could add closed captioning to my videos. From now on, if you’re hard of hearing or have any problems understanding my accent, you can turn on the subtitles (it’s the ‘CC’ option on all YouTube videos) and read along as I talk.

PlanetJune crochet video tutorials on YouTube - now with captions
An example screenshot of one of my tutorials with CC turned on.

An added bonus is that, now YouTube is owned by Google, non-English speakers can use Google’s auto-translate to get a (reasonable, if not perfect) translation of my videos, too:

PlanetJune crochet video tutorials on YouTube - auto-translate captions into any language
‘anneau magique’ = ‘magic ring’ in French! (Note: as far as I can see, auto-translate only works on the non-mobile version of YouTube at time of writing.)

I think adding these captions is a valuable addition to my video tutorials, and I’ll be creating transcripts for all my new videos in future, too. But doing this wasn’t something I’d planned…

Auto-Captions: a Cautionary Tale

Did you know that YouTube now adds automatic closed captioning to most videos? That sounds like a great feature, but it turns out it’s appallingly (and hilariously) inaccurate.

Yesterday, I looked at the auto-captions for my videos for the first time and was truly horrified. They made no sense at all; almost every word was wrong (e.g. it’s ‘loop stitch’, not ‘lipstick’). But, worst of all, they also included some adult words and phrases that often made it sound like I was describing something very different from crochet..!

After working so hard to produce clear, comprehensible video tutorials, to find YouTube had added this comedy subtitling was a big disappointment – anyone who’s tried to watch my videos with the closed captioning turned on must think I’m a complete idiot. (But, this was also an opportunity for me to enhance my videos by adding this feature properly, so it’s not all bad.)

As I was replacing the auto-captions on each video with my new transcripts, I kept a list of the old captions for one phrase that I always say at the start of every video: “this is June from PlanetJune”. It’s a good indication of how poor (and inconsistent) the auto-captioning is. For my 30 video tutorials, YouTube mis-interpreted that same phrase in 15 different ways:

  • this is Jin from panicking
  • this is came from panicking
  • this is Jim component you
  • this is Kim from time to time
  • this is Kim from from gene
  • this is Kim from pumpkin
  • this scheme complaint came
  • this is Jen from Panaji
  • this is Kim from Planet game
  • this is Jim component to
  • this is Jim from Planet came
  • this is Kim from planet King
  • this is Jin from panicking
  • this is June from panicking
  • this is Kim from panicking

…so I’m sure you can imagine how bad the captions for the remainder of the videos were (although “this is June from panicking” was a pretty accurate description of me when I first discovered the extent of this problem!)

I don’t know if my English accent caused extra problems for the auto-captioning, but, given the results I got with my fairly common/neutral accent I don’t have high hopes that auto-captioning is ever accurate enough to be useful.

Check your Video Captions

If you make YouTube videos, I’d recommend that you check the results of your auto-captions as soon as possible, and see if yours are any better than mine were!

  • If there are only a few mistakes, it’s easy to edit the captions to fix them.
  • If they’re as bad as mine were but you don’t have time to create proper transcripts at the moment, you can at least turn the auto-captions off for each video, so people won’t laugh at you!
  • Or, you can do what I did and replace the auto-captioning on each video with a text file containing a complete and accurate transcript. (This takes time, but it’ll help people to find you in search as well as being useful to your viewers, so I’d say it’s well worth doing.)

How do you do these things? Here are some helpful links from YouTube to get you started:


Closed captioning my videos wasn’t something I’d ever thought to do, but yet again (as with my mobile-friendly site redesign last year) Google has forced my hand in a way that’s made me improve my offerings. So, um, thanks, Google?

If you’d like to see my tutorials, I have playlists for them in my YouTube channel:

I’m very happy to have accurate and helpful subtitles on all my video tutorials now, and I hope they’ll make my videos an even more useful resource for crocheters. 🙂

Comments (8)

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