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Seniors Get Crafty for Online Fun--and Profit

Posted: Apr 30, 2012

Photo: Dabanga dos Santos, a senior and microbiologist, who became a jeweler, enhances her income with online sales.

Last article in a series. Click "Ethnic Elders Online" to read the full series.

ST. LOUIS, Mo.--Ioni Dodson, who lives in Queens, New York, is “so happy” to be 72 and retired from her career in word processing because now she has time to do more of her fine crafty crafts, she said.
One of her most prized creations is a three-dimensional, African-themed quilt using bright colors she calls “Celebration.”

“When I was in grammar school, I wore a uniform,” said Dodson, who worked for the Human Resources Administration in New York City for 36 years. “I thought this was the worst thing I could ever do. When I attended high school, I made and designed my clothes. I love to be different.”

5 Steps to Selling
Crafts on Etsy

  • First, register for an account on Etsy.com [www.etsy.com].
  • To set up a shop at Etsy.com, you’ll need to upgrade your account to a seller’s status. To do this, click the “Sell” link in gray site header and follow the on-screen directions. You will need a valid credit card (or a debit card with a credit card logo) to become an Etsy seller.
  • Select a shop name, once you’re a registered Etsy seller, that differs from your username. You can customize your shop with a banner, profile, shop policies and more. You’ll get your own URL for your shop based on your username, http://etsy.com/shop/username.
  • Listing your items costs 20 cents per product for four months. When your item sells, you’ll pay a 3.5 percent transaction fee. Then you’ll pay for all fees on a monthly basis. The only items that you can sell on Etsy are goods handmade by you (not someone else), vintage goods that are at least 20 years, and supplies for handmade goods.
  • Next, set up a way to receive payments. Sellers can select an accepted forms of payment from a variety of options. Click on “Your Shop” and click “Shipping & Payment” on Etsy’s left hand navigation. You'll see Payment Methods at the top, just below the search bar. Choose one or more of the following: personal check, money order, PayPal, bank transfer, direct checkout and/or other. Pat Brown-Dixon, Region 7 administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, recommends transferring money through reliable third-party sources, such as PayPal.

Some other online crafts sites are CraftStylish.com and Craftster.com, CraftsMafia.com enables artisans to network for mutual support.

—Rebecca Rivas

From Hobbies to Small Businesses

In November 2009, some of her friends encouraged her to make her crafts more than just a hobby. They urged her to sell her quilts, knits and ceramic dolls on Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade goods.

“They thought that I would do well financially,” she said.

So she decided to set up her online shop, Ionis Creations using an Internet shopping mall called Etsy.

Etsy was created by a painter, carpenter and photographer named Rob Kalin in 2005. Like many artists, Kalin felt there wasn’t a viable marketplace to exhibit and sell his creations online. He found other e-commerce sites had become too inundated with electronics overstock and broken appliances.

So Kalin – along with Chris Maguire and Haim Schoppik – launched Etsy on June 18, 2005, after only three months of planning. Now Etsy has over 800,000 active shops and 14 million members.

Dodson is one of the few African-American seniors who have braved online commerce. Although she has not made her fortune yet, she is up for the challenge. So far she has found her clients by word of mouth and Etsy, she said.

“Etsy has grown by leaps and bounds, therefore, you must work harder to get your things seen,” Dodson said of the wide variety now competing for customer attention.

Her motto is: “No matter what you do, sometimes nothing works. Do not despair. Keep working at it, and it will happen in God’s own time.”

More Time and Income for Seasoned Americans

Pat Brown-Dixon, administrator of Region 7 of the U.S. Small Business Administration, which includes St. Louis, is constantly talking with small business owners. In her experience, few seniors who are business owners are familiar with online sales tools, such as Etsy.

However, she encourages small businesses to use all available Internet sources to their advantage. Etsy can be a low-cost marketing aid, she said.

“As more seasoned Americans realize the value of using the Internet, it can allow them to have more control of their time, and help them be home-based while gaining extra income,” she said.

Brown-Dixon cautioned seniors to be wise in terms of receiving payments. She recommends transferring money through reliable third-party sources, such as PayPal. She strongly encouraged sellers to keep up with orders and build strong customer relations.

“And when fulfilling orders, sellers of products must be diligent to deliver the products quickly in order to build their reputations as good suppliers,” she said.

Dabanga dos Santos, a senior originally from Mozambique, was a microbiologist who became an artisan specializing in metal jewelry. She creates ethnic fusion jewelry using metals. Dos Santos became an Etsy user in 2009, when her own website crashed and she needed a means to reach her retail clients.

“I maintained the site even after my website was rebuilt,” said dos Santos, who also lives in New York. “Between the two, I am busier now than I ever was.” According to Black Design News Network, “She uses her gift to support many fund raising efforts; especially Autism and Habitat for Humanities.”

The income from her Etsy shop, Dabanga [http://www.etsy.com/shop/Dabanga], supplements her wholesale jewelry business, she said.

Etsy leveled the playing field for its thousands of merchants when it introduced search-engine optimization, which helps her virtual shop pop up in online search results more often.

The website offers ways to share ideas and collaborate through the website’s forums, teams or online workshops for its members.

Although social media can be overwhelming, dos Santos said it is also a necessary component for online sales. Of course, sellers have to make time to create the products.

“People often say there aren’t enough hours in the day,” she said. “Of course there are. Time management and meeting goals are essential parts of getting the job done, since social media is very time-consuming.”

“Urban Entrepreneurs” in Economic Downturn

With the prolonged downturn of the economy, many people have been getting laid off who were not yet ready for retirement, said Kevin Lockett, chief operating officer for the Urban Entrepreneur Partnership, [http://www.uepkauffman.org/] a business-coaching program of the Kauffman Foundation. These people have begun to look for ways to leverage their knowledge.

“You saw an influx of seniors trying to start their own businesses,” Lockett said. “It doesn’t surprise me that they started to use products like Etsy. When seniors are in those dire situations, many of them will reach out and use everything available to them.”

Jill of the Etsy shop jill2day, which features her women’s fashions, spent many years in corporate design departments until the downturn left her unemployed, she stated in the Etsy blog, “Quit Your Day Job.”

Taking her career change as a motivating opportunity to start her Etsy shop, Jill said she learn more about e-commerce and began supporting herself through her artistic voice. Based in Madison, Wis., she’s now successfully making her living through her Etsy business, loves making her own schedule. If she could go back in time, she said she would do it sooner.

“In losing my job I have found out that Richie Havens was right when he said, ‘Backwards is not necessarily a negative direction,’” she said.

Lockett said Etsy has given entrepreneurs of any business size in any location the ability to market their products to a wider audience.

Ioni Dodson’s goal is to be able to at least send her grandchildren to college and pay for their expenses.
“You must give up a lot of time,” she said. “You must be professional. You must keep up with new products and must have fortitude – and, above all, patience.”

Rebecca Rivas wrote this article as part of the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship, a project of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.


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