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Starting an Online Business: Part 2 (where to set up shop)




Did you see part 1 of the Online Business tips, found here

It may help you if you need a few tips for taking good pictures for your shop.



Disclaimer:  Okay, when talking about online businesses, I have to say again that I am not really an expert.  I don’t have any business training and some of you may laugh at my suggestions.  It has surprised me every step of the way when something has worked……so please don’t think this has all been well thought out and/or is the only way.  Or even a good way.  And if a piece of my advice is ridiculous, just laugh right along with me.  Because I laugh about some of the things I have done too.  No biggee.


I just had to throw that little disclaimer in there… know, just so you know I don’t pretend to be an expert.  But I just remember back when I started, I just needed a starting point.  Something to think about.  And advice from someone who started simple, and from scratch.  So if that’s you…….this may be helpful for you.


Anyway, another really common question I get is where to open an online shop

Most people are starting small and don’t want to hire a designer to create a whole online shop for them……..I didn’t either.



So here are 3 locations I’ve used to open an online shop:

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I know there are plenty other places to open up shops…..but these are the ones I have used.  And I’ll tell you when and why.

(And remember, these are just from my own experience and may not include every detail.  They are just things that stood out to me while using each location.)



1. Blogger


I started a tiny little hairbow shop on just a regular ‘ol blogger blog 5 years ago.  (Remember?  I explained a little about that first shop here.)  I had little experience with a blog at all but figured out that I could insert paypal buttons for customers to buy the things they saw.  I added new products to the blog under different posts and numbered all of the products.  I added little paypal buttons to the blog’s sidebar and people purchased bows right from the blog.  I would receive notifications in my email that someone placed an order and then I would  make the orders and ship them out. It was pretty simple but was hard for people to navigate all of the products.  But it was a great starting point.



  • It’s Free!  No financial risk.
  • You can design it however you want to.
  • It’s your own solo location… other shops popping up.
  • The learning curve is pretty low.  If you can blog, you can set up shop here.



  • It’s harder for customers to navigate.  It can be confusing.
  • Customers may be more leery to shop from a single private blog (though having paypal helps).
  • Search tools aren’t as refined.
  • No Q&A to ask other shop owners questions.
  • Learning Paypal and inserting into appropriate spots on blog can be time consuming and sometimes confusing.
  • Because I was so small, I wasn’t showing up in searches.  My shop was only spreading by word of mouth.


Overall: A great starting point for me.  I needed to learn small first and I was glad it didn’t cost me a penny to try it out!



2. Etsy


I closed down that little hairbow site on Blogger when I was pregnant with our little guy.  It was too much for me and sending out orders got to be too hectic.  But after he was about 6 months old, I was in a better routine and my hands ached to make and sell things again.  So when I started Make It and Love It and was sharing some of the things I was making for free, I also opened up a little Etsy shop to sell some of the things I made. 



  • All of my items were on one page, and easy to navigate.
  • Opening a shop is free.
  • Business tips and advice are plentiful and really helpful.
  • Online community where you can share and ask questions.
  • Their search tools are refined and if someone is looking for something that you have but have no clue you exist, the search tools can help them find you.
  • You can list as many items as you want.
  • You can use their “convo” system, which is like an internal email system, so you don’t have to share your real email.
  • Buyers/Sellers can leave feedback on their shopping experience.
  • All items sold have a status feature where you can quickly view all items and see which sold items are “waiting on payment” or “paid” or “shipped”.  This helpful when you have multiple orders and can’t remember if you made and shipped something out or not.  And whether or not the item has been paid for or not is automatically updated. 


  • Placing one item in the shop costs $0.20.  If the item sells, you have to relist it and pay another $0.20.  That’s fine if you have more expensive items to sell but when you’re selling a lot of $2.00 items, that adds up fast.
  • When you sell something on etsy, you are charged 3.5% of the sale price.  Not a ton but it definitely adds up.  
  • Because Etsy is so large, it’s easy to get lost amongst the other sellers.  Even though people can search for you, often times they have to look through pages of product before they even find you.
  • The shop header is really tiny and the whole look of the shop isn’t really customizable.
  • Sometimes customers get lost on Etsy.  They may click on something that takes them to someone else’s shop.
  • Once an item sells, the item disappears from the shop (unless you paid to have more than one listed).  You have to go back in and pay another $0.20 to have it listed……..or pay $0.60 (for example) to have it listed as a quantity of 3.  If you’re not right on top of this, a new customer may miss out on something they would have purchased.


Overall:  A really great starting point.  I never would have been able to move on to Big Cartel if I didn’t start here and gain some customers.  I was being found in the internal Etsy searches and that really helped with my growth.  Also, I give a lot of credit to the etsy community…..because even though I never commented in the forums, I would read topics that pertained to me and then used what I needed.



3. Big Cartel


After a while, I was feeling really confined with Etsy.  None of my items were very pricey but I was selling a good amount.  The fees that I was paying every month was over $100.  So the $0.20 re-listing fee was really adding up……and then the 3.5% fee wasn’t helping either.  That’s when I talked with a friend (hey Shey!) and she told me some of the great things about Big Cartel.  So I made the switch.



  • There is a one time monthly fee of either $0, $10, or $20.  You pick which level works best for you.  Obviously, the more you pay, the more you get……but only having to pay a one time fee was fantastic for me.
  • Your shop can be as unique as you want it to be.  You can design the heck out of it…..or keep it simple.
  • You can include little widgets on the side that offer your customer little tidbits about your shop, including most popular item sold.
  • Your shop isn’t going to link to anyone else’s Big Cartel shop.  It’s all yours.
  • You can mark an item in your shop as “sold out” or “coming soon”.  This lets the customer see what else you have or can make.
  • You don’t ever have to go in and re-list anything.  So your items are always visible.
  • You can add huge links to your other blogs or social media.  You can really customize it.
  • There is a contact form that sends messages right to your email, so you don’t have to login to Big Cartel to answer them. But no one can see your email address (unless you email them back) if you want to keep that private.


  • You have to do all of your own self promoting.  There isn’t a big site to come to and then search for the products you want.  It’s just your solo site.
  • You don’t have as many features with shipping updates and such.  You can’t mark an item as “shipped” or “pending”.
  • 300 is the maximum number of items you can list.
  • You have to log into Paypal to see if an item has been paid for or not.  Can be time consuming.
  • If you don’t know how to use html and don’t want to hire someone, your shop will look bland and robotic.


Overall:  The switch over to Big Cartel was worth it.  It just fit better with what I wanted.  And it has saved me some cash!!  However, my Etsy shop was open for a good period of time so I know people had “bookmarked” or “favorite-ed” the shop…….so I decided to keep it open.  Transitioning over to a new shop takes time.  So I changed all links over to Big Cartel and pointed people that way but those who already knew my Etsy shop can still find it. And I still come up in Etsy searches so until that shop goes dead, I’ll keep it open for the stragglers.


In conclusion:

For first time shops, I always recommend starting with a community based shop, like Etsy, to start your growth.  But if you already have a name for yourself, and some customers, starting right out with Big Cartel makes more sense.  Etsy really helps you to grow and send customers your way, so it’s a great place to start.  However, if you are noticing a large bill from Etsy each month, it may be time for a little transition.  But whoever you go with, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What kind of business do I want to be?
  2. How big do I want to get?
  3. How are customers finding out about me?
  4. What is my monthly budget?



And just for fun……’s a little glimpse of my headers, starting 5 years ago.


It took me some time, but I finally found this little gem, from my hairbow shop (talked about here).  It makes me laugh now, but I loved that header from the moment I traded someone some hairbows for a shop header.  I had no clue about photoshop or digital scrapbook paper.  The gal who made this was so sweet to me and after she sent it over, I was so impressed.  But this is where it all began (even though it was a completely different shop, and not Make It and Love It).



I loved that old header.  My taste has definitely changed since then……but it’s where everything began!



And just so you know, my header changes with my mood and the season. 

ometimes I like clean and very uncluttered and other times I like a lot of detail. 



The Make It and Love It Etsy Headers…..starting in 2008.









These last two have only been used in my Big Cartel Shop…….starting in 2010.



(This green header is currently being edited, as is my blog.  Come to find out….green is a finicky color.  Tell me, is the green color on my blog “slap you in the face green”, “slightly highlighter green nauseating” or is it “strong yet springy green”??  One computer to the other, green tends to change.  Makes me crazy!)



Anyway, hope that helps.


And best of luck opening your shop!


Ashley Johnston

Administrator at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with the craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!

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Hi, I'm Ashley

Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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