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Etsy program helps teach business skills

Entrepreneurship as a way out of poverty is one of the goals of the online business venture and marketplace Etsy Co. Inc.

The peer-to-peer e-commerce site for handmade goods launched in 2005; by 2014, it had reached revenues of $195 million. The company is dedicated to helping artists and designers hone their business skills through a program it created in 2013, the Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship Program.

More than 25 cities around the world are taking part, and Rochester recently joined the ranks.

The Corporate College at Monroe Community College is hosting the six-session program. The first cohort was completed over the summer and the second program is slated to begin today.

“This is about business expansion, regardless how big or small they become,” said James Gertner, director of projects and operations at the Corporate College. “Our goal is workforce development, and this program fits perfectly.”

The Corporate College became involved through a gift from Reenie and Stan Feingold of Brighton. They were inspired by their daughter, Sarah, who manages a successful Etsy shop called Feingold Jewelry.

The Feingolds’ gift covered the cost of the course, leaving a $25 registration fee as the only expense for students to pay. The cost of a typical course at the Corporate College ranges between $325 and $375.

Registration was limited to 15 students per cohort. The first program, which ran in July, was booked. Fifteen students have registered for the second program as well.

“This is targeted to adult learners, as is the case for most of the courses through the Corporate College,” Gertner explained.

There is a distinction between the Etsy program and other courses taught at the Corporate College, Gertner said. It comprises five learning sessions with a follow-up class three months later.

“That type of wraparound learning is a great opportunity. It’s a chance to reach back to review and refresh,” he said, noting that the students from the July program will return in November for a chance to meet with their instructor. “I’m very interested in that session. I want to see how they have done on their own and what changes in tactics they have made as a result of the course.”

The course curriculum comes from Etsy, instructor Rachael Gootnick said. The company provides all program materials, worksheets, a teacher manual and a portal for students to access online.

“It’s all branded by Etsy,” Gootnick said. “It’s very much business-focused. These students are artists, and they don’t necessarily have a business mindset.”

The course takes the students through an online business development program that deals with topics such as packaging, marketing and search engine optimization.

One of the sessions the students said they value the most is an extended class on photography.

“Properly representing a product is so important,” Gootnick said, noting that the second thing prospective customers check, after searching for an item by name, is its photo. “A photograph can say a thousand words. It’s eye-opening for them to learn about proper lighting and composition.”

A hurdle many students struggle to cross during the course is pricing their product.

“Usually at first they have so many trepidations that their art will sell at all. They think if they price it low, that is best,” Gootnick said. “About a handful think their work is gold, but most undervalue it.”

Students spend time learning to evaluate their costs for labor and materials and how their product stacks up against the competition.

“It’s a hard thing to communicate to them. I have to explain, ‘If you don’t find value in your work and you price it cheap, then no one will find value in it,’” Gootnick said, noting that Etsy shoppers do not sort for products by lowest price. “Etsy is not Craigslist.”

Pricing can be difficult in a marketplace like Etsy where so many competitors sell similar products. That is why the artist’s story is so important.

“Etsy is about connections,” Gootnick said. “People go to the site for handmade items. Otherwise, they could just go to the mall.”

The students learn to write a concise but meaningful description of themselves to post to their Etsy site on their “about” page.

“Statistically, shoppers click on the product first and then the “about” page next,” Gootnick said. “So, when it comes to being competitive, the photo is most important and then the story behind the artist.”

The students in both cohorts of the program come from diverse backgrounds, Gootnick said. The majority are women. Several of the artists work in pottery, while others specialize in bead-making, metalsmithing, knitting, quilting and woodcraft.

Etsy takes a percentage of each sale on the artist’s site and also charges a fee per listing, Gootnick said.

“It is similar in cost to a credit-card processing fee,” she said, noting that all payments are processed through Etsy. Artists are responsible for shipping.

“The students are artists that like to make things,” Gootnick said. “With this course they believe maybe they can make some money, too.”

9/23/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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