How to Sell Digital Printables on Etsy As a Side Hustle
Claudine Lam has worked in telecommunications sales for six years. But she has always dabbled with side hustles as a way to add extra income.
She tried creating a baking blog, doing lash extensions, and babysitting — nothing stuck long enough to become a steady stream of additional income. Etsy was a platform she had heard about 15 years ago when it was mainly a place to sell handmade goods. But she wasn’t skilled at crafting things and passed it by.
In January 2022, she was more determined to find an additional income stream after purchasing her first home a year earlier. Her goal was to generate an extra $500 a month.
She gave Etsy another look because it had become a place where she could sell digital printables, meaning there was no need for inventory. She felt it could become a form of passive income since she could make money from recurring sales while working her day job. Lam found an online Etsy course from a platform called Gold City Ventures and decided to sign up for it.
She told Business Insider that while the course was helpful, her progress and ability to increase sales happened through trial and error.
“In the beginning, you’re so concerned about everything being perfect and exact and all this stuff,” Lam said. “I wish I hadn’t wasted that much time because you learn so much more and so much faster by just doing it.”
After work, she would spend her evenings in front of the TV while designing digital templates that could be used for things like greeting cards. On weekends, she would create and post the listings. She did this for the first six to eight months until gradually building a storefront with about 240 products.
She now doesn’t need to spend much time on Etsy, yet continues to bring in money from recurring sales. Since 2022, she has sold over $34,000 Canadian dollars ($25,000) in digital printables, according to screenshots of her account viewed by Business Insider. Depending on where the customer is located, the seller fees generally include a processing fee of $0.25 plus 3% of the order, a listing fee of $0.20, and a transaction fee of 6.5% of the total sale. She added that Etsy will often advertise products in a search engine, called off-site ads. If a user clicks on the ad and purchases your product, there’s an additional fee of 12% of your order total. In her first year, she got many sales from off-site orders but fewer in 2023.
While her sales have become passive, it wasn’t easy getting to that point, she said. Many people give up early because they don’t see results immediately. But you have to treat it like a business, Lam said. It’s not a hobby that you can pick up when you feel like it, or just create the things you enjoy making. It’s a process that will take time and attention in the beginning, and will require the ability to adapt when things don’t work, she noted.
Another caveat is that there are definitely a lot of players who try Etsy out and copy other products, she said. To survive, you need to find your niche and home in on your personal style because once you have a customer, they will come back, she said.
The ebb and flow of growing sales
In the beginning, you’re more concerned with understanding how to use the platform and how to create products. Your mind will be focused on getting the basics right. So it’s not likely things will take off for you early on, she noted. But once you get the basics out of the way, if you stick to it, you’ll gradually become more creative and refine your printables using your own style.
In January 2022, Lam only made a net profit of CA$3.45. In February, she was negative CA$0.73 after paying CA$2.98 in Etsy fees. In March, she had a slight uptick in net profits of CA$41.
One of the goals of the course was for students to hit their first 100 sales, and it took Lam about four months.
She began by working on one of the course’s recommendations, which was to focus on seasonal printables, such as Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. One of her early projects was creating Lunar New Year greeting cards using Canva. It was a niche area so there was less competition from other sellers. But she didn’t sell very much, she said.
In April and May of 2022, she began to get more consistent sales after adding products that were evergreen. The main category is budgeting and saving guides. For example, she created a set of templates that included a checklist and envelopes to help people save money. The envelopes were labeled by dollar values to create a challenge that would help you save $10,000.
The evergreen offerings caused an uptick in sales. In May 2022, her net profit for the month hit CA$368. Each month after that, the net profit grew by an additional CA$100 until October, when her net profit for the month hit CA$2,273.
In December 2022 and into January 2023, her sales peaked because it was around the holidays and into the new year when people tend to think more about money as part of their New Year’s resolutions. However, in December 2023 and January 2024, while her sales were still steady, they didn’t peak the same way because she has not been as active on her storefront, she said.
One thing Lam learned through her attempts at making seasonal printables is that she needs to cater to the smaller, less-known holidays or even national holidays that aren’t US-based. If she were to start again, that is exactly what she would do, she said.
“I lived in Australia for a bit, so there’s Anzac Day and stuff like that. So there aren’t that many Americans that are going to target that audience,” Lam said.
Another thing she learned is that if you’re creating a common printable, you have to find a way to do it differently. Otherwise, you will get lost in the competition. For example, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and Lam has created printables for that holiday but she wasn’t very successful at selling them because there are many competing printables. However, she began to design Valentine’s Day printables that included religious scripture on them, and those sold, she said.
She gets new ideas of what to make by scouring through other shoppers who have saved printables in their carts that haven’t been purchased yet.
“I know they say go and find the low-volume and high-search stuff, and I’ve done that, but it didn’t go anywhere for me for whatever reason,” Lam said. “I did that in the beginning. Actually, I did a lot of that in the beginning, and yes, it was okay, but it just didn’t take off the way that you hoped that it would.”
For Lam, the only approach that worked was trying and failing. But once she found something that sold even a little, she would continue to adjust it by changing the font, colors, images, and content until it gradually sold more.
She often uses ChatGPT to craft the printables description. She prompts the AI tool by asking: “As a sales manager, write an Etsy description for a paycheck budgeting printable.” It writes it out and she uses it as a base that she works off of. She readjusts certain words and restructures the sentence to reflect her product more specifically.
She also includes related bonuses for some of her products. For example, for her cash savings challenge template, she includes a deposit tracker template that people can write into every time they deposit their savings.
In hindsight, Lam is glad that she stuck through the process. Her side hustle eventually became her saving grace. When she purchased her house in 2021, in British Columbia, Canada, it was at the trough of interest rates. She took a variable rate mortgage which was initially CA$1,850 monthly, but that cost has since become CA$3,100 as interest rates rose, she said. The income she made from her side hustle has been able to cover the unexpected increase.
“I’m so thankful,” Lam said. “Honestly, if I hadn’t done this, I probably would’ve used up all my savings just to get through.”