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The technical and collaborative side of Etsy

By Cindy Atoji Keene
Etsy vendor Dara Cheek wants to encourage the “buy local” craft movement in the Boston area. She’s a new breed of artist curator who aims to bring online artisans into collaborative communities, including assembled marketplaces that showcase some of the 58,858 items sold by Etsy members in the Boston area. “Even as the Internet opens up new connections and opportunities, it becomes even more important to bring the world of Etsy outside to the people,” said Cheek, who makes natural and global inspired jewelry.

. Q: What’s the learning curve for a craft-prenuer such as yourself?
A: It’s definitely a new approach to first build an art or craft business online using e-commerce websites such as Etsy. It’s forcing artisans such as myself to be not just smart at artsy endeavors but also tech wizards who can master keywords. It takes technological knowledge to make yourself visible in a very saturated space. It took me two years to get up to speed and understand search engine optimization, tagging, titling, and other ways to display and categorize. I’ve also had to embrace blogging, promoting on Facebook and Myspace, tweeting products, , participating in blog giveaways and charity donations, utilizing Pinterest, Flickr, and Tumblr, and most recently, making use of new crowd-sourced shopping/curating sites like The Fancy, Luvocracy, Svpply, and Polyvore.

Q: What’s the holy grail for Etsy sellers?
A: There are millions and millions of items for sale, so to get on the website’s front page and be featured in the highlighted collections is one of the best ways to get found. I’m constantly trying to master their search algorithms, which is tricky because it changes all the time. It’s all optimized for how a buyer would search for an item, and not for the sellers.

Q: How do you take an “Etsy-style” photo to highlight your listings?
A: There’s a lot of debate about photos on Etsy forums. When I first started out, I tried to take interesting photos that showed off my personality. I framed my jewelry in a natural setting and used moss and branches as ornamentation. But now there’s been a shift from staging of items to simple, clear close-ups of objects on a white background. I use a large white box and fill it with cotton filling so it adds texture and shadow, and then zoom in as much as possible.

Q: What other online craft marketplaces are gaining traction?
A: I also sell on Scoutmob, another site for independent artists. They have a special focus on searching websites by locale, so it’s popular among the younger crowd and folks looking for deals. I also like the Daily Grommet, Handmade Artists’ Shop and Fab.

Q: After factoring all your Etsy fees, PayPal fees, materials, and time, do you make a profit?
A: It's really difficult to say. I'm still in the process of building my business. All the fees do add up. Etsy recently changed the way they accessed fees; they take about 3 percent of the sale and it cost 20 cents to list an item and another 20 cents if you need to renew your listing. Paypal fees are similar; they charge for every sale as well. Of course, you have postage and shipping expenses and any ads for Facebook or Google advertising.

Q: What do you do about shipping?
A: I sell small jewelry pieces so I try to keep them affordable and still provide shipping in a method consistent with my brand. Etsy encourages sellers to ship in a thoughtful way as opposed to just throwing something in a box. I ship everything in a silver foiled gift box and a bit of ribbon so recipients recognize they’re getting a handmade piece from an individual seller.

Q: Why are you producing shows like “Assembled,” the handmade arts market at Assembly Row?
A: “Assembled” will showcase handmade arts and crafts at Assembly Row on May 18. It’s the first of an art series in Somerville, every Saturday through September. The first one features Boston Etsy artists and I’m responsible for collecting a curated group of handmade artisans to participate. I am focusing on diversity with a goal to have a broad range of styles, cultures, and media represented in the artwork being displayed For online artists, it’s just nice to get to talk to the people who buy your pieces and build a community with other vending artists.

Q: Etsy scandals have been in the news because of the controversy between "handmade" and "factory made." What's your view on all this?
A: There will always be unscrupulous people out there who just view Etsy as another virtual marketplace to take advantage of. It is so incredibly frustrating to have your handcrafted jewelry listed alongside an item that was stamped out by the thousands in a factory, both with the designation “handmade.” But I think my customers want something special – they want something with a great story behind.

8. How often do you work in your pajamas?
When I wake up, the first thing I do is finish pieces that were in progress the night before so I can get them off to the post office. In an effort to save time, not only do I not bother changing clothes, I drive to the post office in my pajamas to make sure those shipments get out in time.

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