Who doesn’t love receiving gifts that were created just for you? Or finding the perfect present for that “difficult to shop for” loved one? If you’re a small business owner, offering customization is a great way for your brand to stand out with special one-of-a-kind items. And where better to shop for personalized products than one of the world’s largest handmade marketplaces, Etsy?
The personalization trend is here to stay, so for this installment of our Etsy Success Series, we talked with Etsy’s Community Education Manager Isabella Diaz and checked in with three Etsy sellers to see how offering custom products has worked for them. With shops full of everything from heirloom family recipe tea towels to custom monograms for little ones, these small business owners have some tips on finding your niche.
Isabella Diaz from Etsy: “Personalized gift” was the top searched term on Etsy in 2020! I think Etsy sellers are in a unique position to offer personalized items because it is easy to communicate directly with shoppers about what they want to customize with personal details. Also, since many Etsy sellers are in charge of every aspect of the creation process, it may be easier to try something new, like offering personalization, on a smaller scale.
I’ve seen sellers offer custom colors, sizes, finishes, monogramming…even incorporating a loved one’s handwriting into their products! Etsy sellers never cease to amaze me with their creativity and knack for making fantastic custom and personalized items that help their customers celebrate special moments and milestones in their lives.
Small Business Owner: Lauren Engelkemeyer
Customized products: plush toys, alphabet wall hangings and prints
“Every custom option I offer has been inspired by customer requests! I appreciate that people recognize this perk of small, handmade businesses and it never hurts to ask a designer if you’re looking for personalization that you haven’t yet been able to find. You just might end up seeing your request as a regular product in their shop down the road.
I print all of my pretend play toys, gift sets and personalized alphabets I design via Spoonflower. I shop from other artists on Spoonflower to create seasonal collections of fabrics for customers to choose from when personalizing their stuffed animals. The variety of products I offer requires many different substrates, so I really appreciate that I have so many options on Spoonflower.”
Take note of what your customers are asking for. Even if an idea they request isn’t exactly something you might use to expand your product line, there’s a good chance their suggestions will inspire you to create something new that appeals to your audience.
It’s also good to be aware of intellectual property laws and ethics. I receive far more custom requests than I take, and the number one reason I turn down a custom request is because I’ve been asked to copy art that doesn’t belong to me.
There’s plenty of ways to personalize your own creations while still remaining original to your own style! This is a good opportunity to offer the potential customer a suggestion for a design that I am willing to create in place of any kind of direct duplication.
Small Business Owner: Shalae Tippetts
Customized products: family recipe tea towels, prints, and heirloom photo banners
“When it comes to the holidays, I enjoy giving a gift that is personalized and has a significant meaning. I love family history and learning about my heritage so I started creating gifts centered around my family history for me to share with other family members. It was so fun to see how much they loved them and wanted to give my customers that opportunity.
There is nothing more personal, unique, and meaningful than our own family stories, traditions, and experiences. I really want to help others create unique gifts and products because their family is unique. I have had customers write to me after receiving their gifts, telling me how all their siblings loved it or making their mother cry, which gives me so much joy. It is a much more rewarding experience than just selling them a product.
Spoonflower has made it so easy for me to create a custom family recipe tea towel or banner for a customer and have it beautifully printed to create that one-of-a-kind gift. It truly allows me to create each design to be unique to the buyer and personalized exactly how they want it.”
When you offer customized products, communication is key! In addition to using your “Shop Policy” section and your “Message to Buyers” in the confirmation email to lay out the steps, there will most likely have to be extra one-on-one emails to perfect the personalized elements. Shalae has figured out how this works best for her product line.
Shalae: It is so important that you are having constant communication with the buyer. I always make sure I get all the details I need to complete a design ahead of time. I will then send a proof to the customer to look over for errors or request changes they would like to have made. I do this as many times as needed. Knowing that this process can take some time, I always make sure to factor that into the final invoice.
Lauren echoes a similar sentiment, though she has tighter parameters in order to protect her time and conserve her energy.
Lauren: Customer suggestions can be inspiring, but custom work often takes time. You want to make sure this benefits you or your business in the long run.
Be sure to set clear policies upfront when doing custom work to make the most of your time. For instance, I let people know I’m open to custom orders “within my current product range.” That means I can turn any existing illustration into a plush or pillow, but at this time, I won’t create a one-off design from scratch unless I know it can be added to my shop for others to order down the road.
I am also clear that I’ll do a maximum of 3 rounds of revisions as I send proofs to be approved by the buyer. This limits us from having to send too many messages back and forth and keeps the project moving forward on a reasonable timeline.
Small Business Owner: Olivia Feyen
Customized products: onesies, crewnecks, loveys and blankets
“I started stitching first letters on onesies as a little monogram keepsake. I have always loved the look of simple monograms–it turned out other people did as well. As interest grew, I was able to add different design options for the monograms to my shop. Now they are my best seller!
Spoonflower is so helpful when it comes to my monogrammed onesies and crew necks. I am able to find exactly what I want to offer to my customers with just a simple search. I usually narrow the fabric choices down to my top favorites and offer those monograms in my shop.
I love subtle florals and stripes. I can simply type that into the search bar, add it to my Etsy shop and it gives my shop a cohesive look while also giving my customers a ton (but not an overwhelming) amount of design options to pick from.”
I think it’s super important to love what you are making. Find your passion, stick with it and continue to make it better. I love making monograms and I hope it shows. My shop features hand-selected prints from the Spoonflower Marketplace, so even though it’s customized, it still represents me as a maker!