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How much is your time + freedom worth to you?
And how can a little success be your worst enemy? Read on to find out.

I am what has become known as a ‘#girlboss’. A ‘#bossbabe’. I prefer entrepreneur.

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At an early point in my adult life, I realised that working for other people was simply not going to be for me. It was ten years ago that I pulled out my laptop and started searching: How to work from home. How to be self-employed. Ideas to make money on the internet. There were a few leads I chased up – but reading about one particular site, which was only a few years old, would change my life forever. That site was Etsy.

Apparently, people were selling jewellery, and art, and anything else they had made, on this site. But that wasn’t all. They were also selling antiques & vintage clothing. I had always considered myself an old soul – with a deep appreciation for 60s music, black and white films, and – lucky me – secondhand clothing. I first started buying and wearing vintage when I was only 15, and I hadn’t looked back since.

After a bit of research, I launched my own Etsy shop in 2008 (it has since been reopened as a UK Shop & USA Shop). Though I saw a little success in my sales, it wasn’t until years went by – years of experimenting, learning, losing hope and getting a “real” job again,  then quitting that “real” job, experimenting some more, and finally – meeting my brilliant and business-savvy boyfriend & partner – that I began to see the income I’ve always wanted (currently grossing an average of over £400 // $550 weekly). And – even better – sales are still steadily improving.

So, if I could go back ten years – what would I tell my younger self?

 

 

Some of my Etsy shop photos, Year One

1. You don’t need to style and model every piece.
2. Listings = sales.
3. Sell everywhere.
4. Spreadsheets, spreadsheets, spreadsheets!
5. Don’t get stuck. 

1. You don’t need to style and model every piece. 

When I first started, I saw so many vintage sellers photographing their items on a hanger, under artificial lighting. It was depressing. The colours were washed out, and the items had no shape. The alternative I saw was to model the pieces – which some other top sellers were doing. What I didn’t know was that those top sellers were successful enough to hire models and use a studio. All I had was me, a digital camera with a self-timer, and my bedroom. Don’t get me wrong – I am proud of what I did with the tools I had. My photos looked lovely, and I made decent sales. But the amount of time it took was impractical. I would never sustain a profitable business like that. By the time I got the pieces photographed, measured, described, edited my photos, posted my listings… I shudder to imagine what I was actually making hourly.

What I would do differently now: While it’s definitely true that photos of clothes on hangers in artificial lighting on the back of a door are terrible, there are alternatives.

 

 

Some sellers have streamlined taking minimally styled photos on simple white backgrounds. Some sellers have made genius use of dress forms. Some sellers are excellent at flat lay photos. A few modelled shots would’ve been great to use in my marketing materials, but I didn’t need them for every piece of clothing. Whatever you choose, just know there are alternatives, and it’s very important to save yourself a lot of time, because…

2. Listings = sales. 

This is probably the most important piece of advice I can giveIt’s the bottom line of my sales philosophy. While there are other important factors to your success – good photography, good selection of items, lots of variety in sizes, good marketing, etc., you can’t sell what you haven’t listed. Don’t get so lost in the details that you are letting the most important part of your business slip. Get those listings up, quickly and regularly! The widest nets catch the most fish.

What I would do differently now: I would analyse how much time I was spending in the various parts of my business – especially in packaging (I sent out elaborate, hand-crafted packaging, which – interestingly – still didn’t bring me many repeat customers), photography, and item descriptions. Because I spent too long on each individual item, my inventory stayed low. That meant a lot of potential customers couldn’t find enough selection in my stock to complete a purchase. I would streamline my listing process so that I could move the items more quickly.

Remember it, believe it, repeat it: listings = sales. 

3. Sell everywhere. 

For a long time, I only sold on Etsy. I may have briefly tried eBay, but I admit it – I can be a sucker for what I am familiar with, and eBay intimidated me. By tying myself down to Etsy, I could only sell vintage clothing. It wasn’t until a few years ago (thanks to my boyfriend’s tireless research and belief in my potential) that I learned just how many apps and sites exist for selling clothing.

To name a few:
Etsy
eBay
Bonanza
Tradesy (US only)
Videdressing (Europe only)
Mercari
Depop
Poshmark (US only)
Vinted
Carousell
Shpock
ThredUp
Facebook Selling Groups…

I could go on, and on, and on.

What I would do differently now: This is a growing and lucrative market. You don’t have to use every app / site, but try as many as you can. Do your research. Get familiar with them. Then choose your favourites – or the ones you are getting interest from – and lose the rest. Different apps appeal to different demographics. Find what works for you. But how to keep track of all this? That leads to our next pointer…

4. Spreadsheets, spreadsheets, spreadsheets!

I am not a natural-born organiser. For the first 8 years I ran my business, I depended on my memory and a bit of good luck when it came to finding my stock and keeping general track of things. For one thing, my inventory never reached over about 120 items. But one reason for that is – as previously stated – the amount of time wasted on each individual listing / sale. With little messy piles of stock on shelves, in drawers, in the corners of my memory, I really couldn’t expect this “business” to become a business. Because I wasn’t treating it like one.

What I would do differently now: Using either Excel or OpenOffice Calc (it’s free and amazing), I now assign each piece a serial number. I keep plastic bins that are numbered, and I assign each piece, neatly folded, to a bin. I have columns at the top of my spreadsheet for each app / site, and I keep track of where each item is listed. When I first started my spreadsheet project, it gave me a massive headache. But the amount of time I’ve saved in searching for a misplaced piece – and the ability I now have to market one piece on multiple platforms without losing track – makes it well worth the effort. Do yourself a favour and keep track. You’ll thank yourself down the road.

5. Don’t get stuck. 

Sometimes, a little success can be your worst enemy – because a little success can distract you from GIANT success. This is exactly what happened to me. Because I had found a small amount of success with my highly styled photos in front of the French-style dresser, I clung to that driftwood with all my might. It might have kept me afloat – barely – but it also distracted me from the yacht cruising by. While I’m thankful for the start I had (I learned a lot from it!), I needed to change and grow as a business. That meant letting go of what wasn’t really working. I was so afraid to change. To stop modelling, to step away from the dresser. But as soon as I did, I saw the difference in my productivity, speed, and sales. My monthly income has more than tripled since I let go of my little buoy and climbed aboard the SS Evolution.

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What I would do differently now:  It’s important to listen to your inner intuition. I was growing miserable with my business. It got so bad, I went back to corporate life! It became a horrible chore, and it felt like the payoff was not enough for how much work I was pouring into each listing. That’s because it wasn’t. When I felt that gnawing feeling, instead of giving up, I should’ve stopped and re-evaluated how to make my dream work. There’s always a way through – sometimes, it just means changing. (And I must say – listening to others! My boyfriend was a huge catalyst in all this change… but it was like pulling teeth to get me to try something new. I admit it. Sorry, baby. And thank you for not giving up on my stubborn self.)

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My current shop look

I hope this advice to my past self is useful to you – thanks for reading! Contact me or comment if you have any questions. And subscribe here or on Bloglovin for more content like this!

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One Comment on “Five Things I Wish I Knew: When I Started Selling Clothes Online

  1. Pingback: Cropped Tops + High Waists – The Pixie Dust

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