Table of Contents
- Cassiy Johnson started a print-on-demand business while she was furloughed in 2020.
- She scaled her Etsy storefront over 18 months as a side hustle until she replaced her 9-to-5 income.
- Johnson breaks down what to sell and how to optimize your Etsy listings in a saturated market.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Cassiy Johnson, an Etsy seller. Insider has verified her revenue and profit with documentation. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I’d always wanted to start a side hustle. I’d tried making things out of concrete and painting mugs.
When I was furloughed from my corporate sales job in March 2020, I finally had the time to research ways to make money from home.
At the start of the pandemic, I sat up until midnight every night watching YouTube videos about dropshipping.
I researched a lot of avenues into dropshipping, but printing on demand seemed like a perfect fit
Printing on demand had a low barrier to entry. I didn’t have to buy inventory, purchase an expensive printer, or spend time printing and shipping products myself.
I started my Etsy business in April 2020. It cost me only around $50 to $100 to get started.
I chose to sell on Etsy because I was familiar with the platform, having used it to buy gifts for my sisters and cousins earlier in the pandemic. I already understood what customers went to the platform for productwise.
The first product I sold was a quarantine-themed coffee mug. For printing, I used a website called Printify, which brings together hundreds of printers from around the world. I created the coffee-mug design on my computer using Canva.
Once a customer buys a product from my store, the printer can get it printed and sent out to them within three to five days.
I got my first two sales the first day my Etsy shop was live: one from my mother-in-law and the second a couple of hours later from a stranger. I was hooked.
After being furloughed for eight weeks, I was then let go from my job in May 2020.
My Etsy business meant I had income while I applied for jobs
I researched which products performed well in the print-on-demand space — focusing on keywords in the titles and tags, then making better versions of the best-performing products.
I do this by adding value to the search results. If there’s a successful funny shirt, I try to make a similar pair of matching ones for best friends or couples, or funny “mommy and me” matching shirts. These packages make my shirts stand out in the search results and give the customer a reason to shop my listing instead of the competition’s.
There’s magic in finding a popular niche for which most people are selling single shirts and then creating your own version of that as matching tops.
The faster you can analyze what makes an Etsy listing successful, the better. I consider the listing photos, the color palettes and fonts of the design, and the niche it’s selling in.
When I launch a design, I’ll offer it on a T-shirt, sweatshirt, and mug to see which one resonates with customers.
Once I better understand what people like to buy in that niche, I scale the design and create it in other colors. I’ve tried printing on demand for items such as tote bags, shoes, and shower curtains.
The biggest benefit I’ve found to selling on Etsy is that it brings a lot of organic traffic to you
Focusing on optimizing my listings meant I didn’t have to spam my friends on Facebook, pay for marketing, or build a presence on Instagram or TikTok.
In August 2020, I started working full time again in customer service at an insurance company.
The plan was always to go back to work. I wasn’t making enough from printing on demand to replace a full income. I’d made $800 in June and $1,500 in July of that year. My new job was remote, so I could work on the business when I had spare time.
I continued to grow the Etsy business, working on it between 10 and 20 hours a week
November 2020 was the turning point for the business: I made $70,000 in revenue in one month. The high volume of orders during the Christmastime rush means you get immediate feedback on what people like and don’t like, and you can then double down on what’s working.
Now I typically sell mugs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, and tote bags. My highest-selling item is sweatshirts — Halloween and Christmas sweatshirts perform really well.
I do every variation of a Christmas sweater you can think of. You can make a lot of money off having a funny and specific Christmas sweater.
I quit my job 18 months after starting my Etsy business
In June 2021, I quit my customer-service job. I had gotten to a place where I was able to replace my income and feel comfortable quitting. I now work on my Etsy business full time.
I’ve made $730,000 in revenue from Etsy since I started in March 2020.
The number of sellers on Etsy is always growing, but there are always opportunities to create unique designs and styles.