How Etsy’s Highest Seller Makes $65,000 a Month [Q&A]

Originally published on Maria on March 7, 2015 By Michelle Chahine.
Alicia Schaffer Three Bird Nest
Alicia Shaffer went from being a small boutique owner recovering from the Great Recession to becoming Etsy’s richest seller earning $65,000 a month from the sales of her bohemian handmade accessories. The mother of 3 began her online business, Three Bird Nest, from her home with a few headband designs. Her team has now grown to ten people and her Etsy shop sells around 3,000 items each day.
Here, she tells how she got started and what the secrets to her success have been.
What was the inspiration behind starting Three Bird Nest on Etsy?
When I first started Three Bird Nest, it wasn’t something I anticipated growing into a full business. It was just to get some side cash. The boutique I had before was a woman’s clothing store. We didn’t sell a lot of accessories. We were getting a lot of requests for headbands, but there weren’t really sources to buy them from beyond just really basic things. So that’s were that came from. I had a business before that where I did a lot of work with textiles. So I had a couple of headbands that we started making for the store, and then we started to put them up on Etsy.
The reason we chose Etsy was because we didn’t have an online store or the budget to have our own website designed and developed, and on Etsy you don’t need that. You can open a shop with whatever budget you have and start selling.
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Where did the name come from?
I have three kids. I call them my little birds. I have a tattoo on arm of three birds in a nest. When I was coming up for the name of a shop, I wanted something that was memorable. I was sitting on the couch and looked at my arm and the tattoo and came up with Three Bird’s Nest.
Do your kids understand they inspired your company?
Yes. They love it. They know it’s them. They absolutely love it.
How did you grow your brand?
We grew organically. My husband and I were both recovering financially when I started Three Bird Nest because we were coming out of the financial crisis. I didn’t have a budget for anything. I barely had the budget to buy the material for our headbands. Every customer who bought something from me, I included a note that said: “Please tell your friends about us… Please follow us on Facebook.” And now we include a note like that with everything. There’s nothing better than a true friend suggesting something to you–that personal, one-on-one connection and word of mouth.
[Related: 3 Tips for Starting a Company from StyleLend Founder]
I didn’t have the money to pay for advertising. We’ve grown slowly but surely over the past couple of years really by sharing, by listening to our customers, asking them to share and “pinning.” Social media has been a huge part of it. Especially Pinterest. I think it’s so great how we can share through social media now. I doubt we would have been a success without that.
What do you think the secret to your success has been?
I think the secret to success, across the board, it doesn’t matter what field you’re in, is a continuous learning roller coaster, working hard, reinvesting in the business, listening to your customers, delivering what you’re saying you’ll deliver, looking at your photography, really trying to be better every day, trying to be one step ahead of what you did the day before, trying to convey your message through your photos, having great products. It seems simplistic, but I think that for a lot of people who think about setting up their own business, it’s hard for them to see their product and shop through the customer’s eyes. In order to be successful, you have to see your product as your customer does. Shop your website. Ask yourself, does the website make sense, when it comes to the categories and the navigation? Pretend you are a shopper and see how you can make things better for customers.
[Read: 10 Life Lessons from Leading Women]
Do you have advice for others out there, be it mothers like you who want to start a business while caring for their children at home, or young people who are trying to figure out what to do?
Definitely, definitely, first and foremost, you have to truly believe that you can do it. I know it’s hard. There were times in the beginning when I doubted myself and if I could do it. But you have to believe in yourself first and foremost
And when you pick whatever it is that you want to sell or do as a service, stick with it. If you continue to change it every 6 months, you have to pay for each change, and you’re never going to be able to do it. Stick with it. If something’s not working, look at why.
[Read: 5 Reasons Why 6-Week Goals Are Better]
Let’s talk about balance. That is a big issue for most people, especially women. How do you balance it all? Do you have any advice for others?
I think, for me, my husband is the number one reason why I’m successful. I wouldn’t be successful if it wasn’t for him. He is my backbone. He is my biggest cheerleader. But I still have to balance my time and find pockets where I can force work.
If you have another job, can you get to the office a couple of hours early to work on starting your own business? If you’re a single parent, is there someone who can watch your kids a couple of hours a week so you can work on your business?
You have to set a schedule for yourself. There are only so many hours in a day. If you know what your goals are, it’s a lot easier.
It is overwhelming if you say: I have my family, and a husband, and I have to take care of my kids, and I have a job…. If you say, my goal is to make $300 extra per week. That’s your goal. Something you can achieve, something measurable. So then see how you can do it. Do you need an hour on Monday, a couple of hours on Wednesday, an hour or two on Friday? What do you need to do to achieve that goal?

What do you want people to know?
It’s important to me to tell the story that you can recover from losses by working for yourself. I continued to work hard and have had challenges. It’s how you learn and overcome those challenges that’s really going to make you stronger and have a better story to tell through your business, to reach out to your customers and relate to them.
Anyone can do that. You just have to start with baby steps. And it’s so important to believe in yourself. I know it’s cliché to say that. But I know how overwhelming it is to say, “I want to start my own business” and to wonder if you can do it. Most entrepreneurs do make mistakes at first and make wrong decisions, but making yourself stronger from them allows you to stand out and succeed.
{Image credit: Jennifer Skog for Three Bird Nest}
Michelle Chahine is Digital Media Editor for and A Woman’s Nation.