From personalized rolling pins and homemade dog treats to wooden benches made from reclaimed telephone poles, online shoppers can find almost anything on e-commerce site Etsy.com.
And whether you want to showcase your hobby, supplement your salary or earn enough to quit your 9 to 5, the handmade marketplace is ripe with creative—and financial—opportunity for sellers as well. For many, Etsy has become ground zero for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Have you dreamt of hanging out your shingle on Etsy? Get inspired by these three shop owners who turned their passion projects into profits.
Serena Fortenberry, 38, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Etsy Shop: Vintage Squalor, all things vintage—clothes, linens, fabrics, scarves, ties, decorations, pillows and more.
There is no such thing as “junk” to English professor Serena Fortenberry. There’s treasure everywhere.
Finding stuff is in Fortenberry’s forte, and it’s in her blood. Her mother is an antiques dealer, and all of her brothers and sisters have had turns in the business—from selling their finds on eBay and Etsy or in booths at antique malls or festivals and crafts fairs.
Fortenberry grew up going to garage sales with her parents. And in her free time, she prowls estate and yard sales, thrift shops and antique auctions, and occasionally makes the rounds of local antique stores. “Sometimes, I even pull my car over to go through the junk someone has left for trash pickup. I have no shame!” she says.
But as you would imagine, after a while, her beloved finds translated into a bit of household clutter. “You would die if you opened my kitchen cabinets, or opened our closets!” she says.
Getting Started: In 2010, Fortenberry decided to share her treasures with the world (and shuffle them out of her own house) by opening Vintage Squalor, where you can buy her found vintage textiles like tablecloths, napkins, cloths, bedsheets, fabric and more.
Though she had sold her finds on eBay and in antique booths before with her family, the process of maintaining her Etsy store is much simpler. “Etsy has become a way to continue doing business in the midst of child-rearing and having my career. And I make more money now than I ever did with those earlier venues,” she says.
Most of her traffic comes from Etsy shoppers’ searches. She also started a Facebook page where she posts listings, announcements and other tidbits of what she calls Vintage Squalor Life.
She also leverages the Etsy community for more business—and to support others too. “I try to help other seller friends out by ‘favoriting’ their items on Etsy, ‘following’ them and promoting their items. They do the same for me. It’s a kind of glorious little networking community. I have friends that I know only through Etsy, and whom I have never met in person,” she says.
Reaping the Rewards: Fortenberry’s items take more time than money to procure, so it cost precious little to start what she calls a “hobby” business—that brings in between $1,000 to $1,200 a month.
She earns most of her income teaching in the English department at the University of Alabama, and says she spends the proceeds from the business on paying down the mortgage as quickly as possible and retirement investing. The rest, she says, is “mad money.”