Friday, January 31, 2020

An Intermediate/Expert Guide to Taking Your Etsy Store to the Next Level


I was working on writing a book about how to reach the next level of success with Etsy a few months ago as I was heading from Georgia to the United States, but then I got wrapped up in running our own Etsy store. I thought that maybe I would share this "Etsy wisdom" on my blog here and maybe it will help some other people bring in the sales and live the kind of life that they dream of. 

This book is for a person who already has read more "beginner" guides to Etsy and wants to add to that knowledge more "insider secrets" that the bigger shops use.   

INTRODUCTION

Perhaps you have had an Etsy store for more than a few months. Sales are becoming steady, and you feel pretty confident in your skills, but you are ready to take your shop to the next level. Maybe you have been on Etsy for many years, but you are not seeing the kind of growth that you had in the past. Or perhaps your Etsy shop is flourishing, but you want to keep up that momentum. Or, your goals are bigger: You want your shop to rise to the very top of your specialized area - or maybe to the top of Etsy itself. If any of this sounds familiar, then this is why I wrote this book/guide.

I opened my first store on Etsy in 2012 after hearing about it while watching a segment on some news program. I imagined it would be a way to quickly make some money and supplement my income. We were excited. Yet, that shop didn’t do as good as we had hoped. We could have stopped. But we didn’t. We changed what we sold. We saw an idea we loved, and that we knew we could get good at, and we ran with it. And it has been an amazing ride!

Our shop really took a big turn at the beginning of 2016. Out of the millions of Etsy stores, we were in the top 500. We were selling hundreds of items a day. We had orders coming in for hundreds, and sometimes over a thousand dollars. It was thrilling. It was life-changing. My own confidence flew up. Now, we are on the cusp of 20,000 sales. We have sent products all over the world. Our items are featured in stores, some are sold in museums. Two of our products were in movies and television shows. We have had orders from top companies such as Google and Pixar. Our products have been purchased by celebrities.

When we started our store, we never thought or even imagined doing so well. We just wanted to make some money to supplement our income and help pay our rent. I don’t think anyone else expected us to do so well with it. Here we were, making products in our studio apartment while I was busy with law school and my wife was going to school at St. John’s. And, fast forward today, I am writing this book in a loft in Georgia (the country), having spent the last year traveling twice through Europe and living in Egypt. What a ride! 

I began writing this guide when I was staying in Tbilisi, Georgia.

I have come to realize that, no matter what you do in life, if you give it all you can give it, there is a big chance of success waiting in it for you. You are not guaranteed to rise to the top, but if you push with all your might and think about the steps you take, there is no doubt that you are going to move toward that pinnacle that few make it to. The thing is, most people are not going to make it there. There are many parts of the climb. You have to have faith in yourself, perseverance to work hard daily, vision to see where you want to be (and beyond), a work ethic that is unstoppable, and the attitude that will push you through like a beast during the hardest of times. Bring with that a thirst for knowledge, and the humble spirit that seeks to continue to learn, even if you are the greatest of your kind. This will move you far beyond the average person. It’s a daily grind, something that requires deep and intense focus, but the kind of focus that anyone can give if they are willing to hone their abilities and push for something beyond what is comfortable. You will have to separate criticism from good advice and learn to discern which is which, without giving up on the goal ahead of you. Yet, once you do this, once you learn that this is a marathon, something that can take years, and you are willing to give it everything you have, that’s when you are going to take a look around you and see you have finally reached greatness.

That’s how it is in all parts of life. And that’s how it is with your Esty store:

Faith + Perseverance + Vision + Work Ethic + Attitude + Thirst for Knowledge + Humble Attitude

This is a business, not just a hobby.

Many people love Etsy because they make money on their hobby. And that’s great. Hobbies that make money are wonderful. That’s because it’s something you enjoy doing. Not many people enjoy taking orders or unloading trucks. However, it’s how many make their money, and there’s no shame in an honest job. Yet, if you can make money off of the thing you are passionate about, that’s on a whole different level.

Yet, there comes a time when you have to realize that your Etsy shop is not just a hobby. It’s a business. And you have to think in terms of business if you want to take your shop to the next level. When thinking about a business, you need to realize that a successful business focuses on two things:

•Activities that drive revenue, and
•Activities that drive a great customer experience.

Revenue is the money that your business brings in. For the vast majority of people, this is the whole point of business. Think of money like the lifeblood of a successful business. The more that things are flowing through, the healthier that your business is. If the money stops coming, the business is suffering and needs to be looked at. Without money, your business will die. Therefore, you need to focus on activities that keep driving revenue towards your business.

Secondly, you need to give value to your customers. Without value, your business is a lie. If you are not giving something to your customers that make them love who you are and what you do, what is the point? You won’t survive. Etsy is known for its customer service. People shop on Etsy because they want unique products from real people, not huge faceless corporations. People like to shop somewhere where they feel that they are making a difference. If you are indifferent to your customers, what will make them come back to you versus going to Wal-Mart and getting a product immediately for much, much cheaper (and without a shipping cost)?

Since these are the most important aspects of a business, these are the areas that I am going to focus on in this book. The look and feel of your shop is what brings in customers and drives revenue to your business. SEO, listings, and social media presence are activities that drive revenue. Thank you letters, attention to detail, friendly and prompt communication and items that live up to expectations are activities that drive a great customer experience (and in turn, drives in more revenue).

When you think about what you do with your business, are you doing things that drive revenue and drive a great customer experience? These two points should be the focus of your business. If you are spending your time in these two areas, your time is being well used.

Being that this is not just a hobby, you should ask yourself “how much time do I spend with this business?” Do you treat it as a 9-5 job? If it is more of a “side hustle” that doesn’t mean that it is still not a business. You may not have eight hours a day to build your shop. Even if that is the case, do you still have a set block of time that you put into your shop? If you have evenings, do you sit down at least a few times a week and improve your shop, or is it just sitting there, not really growing? Although Etsy claims to have millions of sellers on the site, the reality is that the vast majority of shops are kind of just “sitting there and not growing.” Some shops are quasi-inactive, just waiting for a sale. The big shops, the best shops, the great shops, they are all being actively pruned, watered, and as a result, seeing growth.

What You Should Already Have

You are not a beginner. You have been on Etsy for a while. You could have read many books about Etsy (and hopefully you have), but have found that most of the books are geared towards the beginner. As such, there are some things that you probably know. As a result, I have created a list of the things that your shop should already have going for it. Now, don’t worry if you don’t have all of these things integrated at this time. Few shops do. But, this list will help you realize how your shop should look at this point in the game. Having these things in your shop makes it stand out - moving towards the top 1% of Etsy.
[ ] A shop banner and icon with the name of your shop on the banner. The banner should be eye catching and professional. It should evoke the feeing that you want your shop to give.

[ ] A shop announcement that tells about what is happening in your shop. It should make use of some key words about your shop and what you sell. If you are going to have a sale, it should mention that. It should be updated often to show Google that your website is current and is being modified over time.

[ ] Shop policies. These should be written in your own words and should fit your boundaries for how you are comfortable doing business.

[ ] Competitive shipping times. These should be as short as you are comfortable with and honest.

[ ] Listings with clear, professional images. This is very important, as these pictures are what brings in customers. You are constantly updating images as you sell products and improving your skills. You already know this, of course.

[ ] Your shop should have a general and coherent “feel” to it. Is it edgy? Artsy? Whimsical? Punkish? Do your images and text all have that same feel to them?

[ ] Business cards and thank you notes that go out with each order. Your business cards have your website and logo on them. Your name, address, and other information is current. Your social media links are on your thank you note, with a call to “follow” you on them.

[ ] A web address, with a top level domain such as .com that points to your shop. This is the website that is featured on your business cards, thank you notes, and throughout your page.

[ ] Social Media presence. This includes Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and/or Facebook. Maybe a blog (such as Tumblr) or other social media that works for you. You work at improving one of these sites daily.

[ ] Your listings should have 13 tags each, with titles that make use of all the space given. Your item descriptions are clear, professional, and different. Your item descriptions tell the story about your items. They may also include links to other similar items in your shop. Your shop titles are relevant to the product you are selling, and descriptive, with the most important search terms at the very beginning of your title.

[ ] Your shop has four featured listings. If you offer custom designs, this is one of your featured listings. If you offer a bulk listing package, this is one of your featured listings. If you offer a limited time offer, this is one of your featured listings. If you have an item that sells very well, this could also be a featured listing.

[ ] Your shop has a well-written “about you” section that tells who you are and why you are passionate about your product. In this area you are not ashamed to state that you love your product, and you think it’s the best of the best. You feature images of your shop and items throughout your store.
All of these sections can and should be updated and edited regularly. I would go over everything at least every six months. Make sure everything is relevant to how your shop has developed.

Your shop announcement should be updated once a month. Doing this on the first of each month is a good idea. Think about the upcoming holidays. Do you have something to offer for Christmas? Do you have an upcoming sale? Are shipping times going to be different?

Your shop is always changing, so change the “about our shop” section. Your shop is growing, and having an “about us” section that makes your shop seem small when it is becoming a beast doesn’t help you any. Talk about your growth and how you got there. Where are you headed? What are you thankful for? How is your shop helping the community? What makes your products stand out? Remember, the more you update your shop, the better it looks to search engines such as Google. You do not want your shop to be stagnant.

Goal Setting

Goal setting is vital for success in any endeavor. There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of books written about goal setting. I am going to share with you some of the methods that I use.

When thinking about your online shop, you are going to want to think in terms of daily goals, short term goals, and larger goals. It’s good to keep the big picture in mind. Where do you want to be in five years? Do you expect to be doing this in ten years?

It is often best to write your goals down. You can do this in a journal or word document. Once you write your goals down, it may be wise to print them out and hang them in your office. Look at them often.

When writing your goals, first think about where you want to be in the long term. Think five or ten years. This is your vision. How much do you want to sell? Where do you want your products to be? How do you see your customers using your products? In addition to Etsy, do you see your items being sold in stores, flea markets, or craft fairs? Do you also see your products being sold in your own non-Etsy website? Do you imagine expanding into new product areas, or selling a larger variety of items? Do you envision hiring employees? Do you imagine you will live in the same place, or have a different office?
Five / Ten Year Plan

[ ] Where will you be? Will you have a new office or work area?

[ ] How many items will you sell per day/week/month on average?

[ ] What will be your total revenue per year?

[ ] Where will your products sell?

[ ] Will you have your own website?

[ ] How many followers do you want on social media?

[ ] How many items will you have in your shop?

[ ] What types of items will you carry?
Don’t be afraid to dream. Let your imagination go wild. Think big. After brainstorming a little, it’s time to plan how you will make these things happen. How much will you have to sell to realistically be able to move into a nicer office or build a new workstation? Where do you want your products to sell, and how will you make sure they sell in these places? Will you feature your products in trade shows, Facebook advertisements, will you hold classes to show others how to make your products? Will you sell at the state fair, flea markets, crafts fairs, and local events? How will you reach out to others? Under each goal, write down how you plan on reaching this goal. You have five - ten years to get to this point, so you have time to do a lot.
Let’s use an example:

[ ] I will create my own website to sell my products on in addition to Etsy.

[ ] I will research web hosting and find the best option for creating my site.

[ ] I will copy my listings to a new website by this time next year.

[ ] I will find someone to create a banner and graphics for my site.

[ ] I will drive traffic to my site through Instagram, Facebook and Google Ads.

[ ] I will compare sales through my own site with that of Etsy each month.

[ ] My own website will go live on DATE.

[ ] I will buy business cards with the web address to my own website.
Having your own website gives you a lot more freedom than Etsy does. For example, you are given total control of how your site looks. If you break the terms of service for Etsy, you may find your business closed. With your own website, you have the keys to make some mistakes and play by your own rules. Also, Etsy does not give you access to your customer's e-mail addresses. When individuals purchase through your site, you gain the ability to contact your customers. This means you can let them subscribe to a newsletter that provides you a way to bring in return customers. Lastly, there are no “listing fees” on your website. 

Think of Etsy as having your own place in a shopping mall. 

Etsy does a lot of advertising and brings in millions of customers. Many customers end up looking at your shop and seeing your products in search. As a result, you are paying for this valuable real estate in the form of listing fees, a percentage of your shipping costs, and a transaction fee.

Setting long term goals is a great, but it doesn’t start there. Also, think about how your daily goals look. How many hours are you working on your Etsy store? How many hours do you want to work? More? Less? Do you want to treat Etsy like a regular job? Do you know how you would fill in this time? Think about it: If you start work at 9 am and work eight hours until 5 pm, with a few breaks, how would you fill in that time?
Some ideas may include:

•Filling orders

•Customer service

•Advertising

•Updating listings, SEO

•Updating your shop

•Creating new products

•Reaching out to potential buyers

•Working on your social media accounts

•Researching events where you can sell in person.

•Reading books that pertain to improving your skills

•Being active in the community and sharing your own knowledge

You should already have an idea of how much time you spend on some of these tasks. Filling orders is probably where most of your time is spent, especially if you are already pretty established as a seller. Customer service is the other area where you likely spend a decent amount of time. What about the other areas? How much time do you spend on SEO and updating listings? How often do you update your shop and its announcement? How often do you look at your worst-performing listings? How much time do you think you would like to spend on these tasks?

Now, create a rough schedule. Let me show you mine:
8 am: Begin work, put on music, get comfortable.

8:10 - 11:00: Look at orders for the day and work on the orders.

(During this time, take pictures and post on Instagram/Facebook)

11:00: Items are ready to ship. Look at Customer Service Issues. (30 minutes)

11:30: Work on Advertising - 1 hour with social media marketing

12:30: Lunch

1:00 New products / pictures

2:00 Administrative tasks (order supplies, write thank you notes, cut notes, organize, clean area) (30 minutes)

2:30 Work on listings, work on outside website page (1 hour)

3:30 Finish up, maybe get a head start on tomorrow, check e-mail, answer questions, read books about improving business, social media, advertising, etc.

4:00 Post on social media?
Later in the evening, I will post on my social media again.
The above is a rough schedule. It is not exact. Some days I will spend a lot more time on filling orders. Some days it will be less. I may take more time off for lunch. Or I may eat while at the computer. If I feel like it, I will take a break and go for a walk. This is important. You have to rest your eyes and feel invigorated. I try to stand as often as I can while working. Stretching is important. So is some good music and a nice environment. I need a clean environment to work in, so at the end of the day, I will make sure my area is very clean and ready for the next day. Going into the office at the beginning of the day and having a mess is not a good way to start your day. It also feels good to end a day of work with a clean office that’s ready for the next day.

If you want your business to flourish, you need to be intentional about how you run the business. In the beginning, I would go into the office and have no real plan for the day. I knew I had to make the orders and send them out. Yet, beyond that, I had no real system in place (I will talk more about systems later). If you leave the running of the business to the wind, there will be no real direction, and growth will be sporadic if there is any. 

A business should be a very intentional matter. How do you spend your day now? What would be the most ideal way to structure your day to day running of your store? Think back to the last few days. What did you do when you were in the office? What was the first thing you did in the morning? What do you like doing? Are you intentional with how you start your day? Do you intentionally create an enjoyable work environment before you start your day, or do you just turn on the computer and go to it? Chances are, if you create a work environment that you enjoy, you are going to get more enjoyment out of your time in the office.

What about distractions? Are you intentional with how you deal with distractions? For me, social media has always been a big distraction. Yet, multitasking with social media didn’t do me any good and sometimes took my mind out of the work that needed to be done. How do you deal with interruptions? Does the rest of your family know that your Etsy time is just as important as your outside work? What kinds of distractions are okay? You should have some boundaries in place with your business. What kind of interruption will make you leave the work station? What kind won’t? Will you pick up your phone and check your Facebook notification, or do you keep your phone at a distance when you work, and only check it if an important call is coming through? These are all things to think about when operating your business, yet that most people do not. Remember, if you want your Etsy store to take off, it has to be seen as one of the top priorities in your life. Other things will likely come before it (family, relationships) but other things will have to take a back seat to the work that you will put into your shop for it to reach the next level of success. 

Finances 

You should already have an idea of how much money your shop is bringing in. If not, go look at your revenue page or your tax page on your Etsy store. These two pages give you a good insight on the health of your business. Look at the trends. Is your shop showing an increase in revenue each month? Are there certain months where business is better (for many shops, it will be November - December). How does this year compare to last year? If it has gone up or down a lot, why do you suppose that is? What can you do to improve? Where do you want to be next year?

Finances are not just about how much you earn, but how you spend your money. There are some things you should think about at this point.

First, what do you use your Etsy income for? Is it for living expenses? To save up for retirement? Are you saving up for something else? Everyone is different.

Income: ________ What is your total monthly revenue? (Look at the Etsy tax page for this)

Expenses: 
Shipping _____________

Product cost _____________

Advertising _____________

Web hosting / domain name _____________

Taxes _____________

Gas / Fuel _____________

Rent (if you have an office) _____________

Listing fees / Etsy fees _____________

Employees _____________

Earnings:

Living Expenses _____________

Reinvested into the business _____________

Charity _____________

Savings _____________

Other _____________

It is often said “you have to spend money to earn money” and with Etsy, this is no exception. Almost every Etsy store requires some kind up upfront investment. Chances are, you had to buy materials, equipment, computer and possibly a printer to start. Some Etsy shops require big initial investments. For some shops that could be upwards of $20,000, although you can start an Etsy store with only a couple hundred dollars. It all depends on what you are creating.

Now that you have made your initial investment and your shop is running, how much do you put back into the shop? Growth will be hard if you are not reinvesting some of your income into your shop. Are you spending income on branching out into new products or areas? Are you spending money on better equipment? What about new options that you could offer? Are you spending some of your earnings to get your product in front of people? When revenue increases due to a strong month or season, do you use some of that to increase your advertising budget, or set it aside for the upcoming holiday season? No matter what you do or what you sell, there are many, many ways that can make your business grow. Part of your income should be used to “pay your business first.” How much? That’s really up to you. What do you feel like you need each month?

What kind of equipment would you like to invest in for your business? No matter what you make, there’s probably some kind of equipment that you would like to get your hands on to make your life easier or your product better. Maybe it’s a new graphic design program? A new camera? A press, computer, or printer? Maybe it’s a machine to cut stickers, a better t-shirt press, a better saw, higher quality scissors? Maybe you would love to update your packaging or build a new office? Think about what you would like to invest in and create a list. What would really take your business to the next level? If you need help, look at similar businesses. What do they have going for them?

Having specific and intentional goals for how you will spend your income and how you will grow your business is extremely important.

Making Systems

There was once this song that said, “when a problem comes along, you must whip it.” That’s what systems help you to do. They allow you to anticipate problems and help your shop flow when problems and issues arise.

When creating systems, there are many choices you have. Each business should have systems in place, and most successful businesses do. You probably have some systems in place already, but don’t realize it. It is helpful to write out these systems, so you can have an idea of how your business flows. If revenue is the lifeblood of a business, then the systems are the arteries. Without these systems being clear and working properly, revenue is going to slow down. The health of your business depends on well-functioning systems being in place. Likewise, as you grow or get big orders, your systems will allow your business to expand smoothly. 

SALES SYSTEM:

A sales system outlines what you should do when you get a sale. If you are already well established, you probably have daily sales. Your sales system outlines what you do in order to get that sale to the customer in an efficient manner.

For me, I try to get all my sales out in the morning, generally, one day after they are ordered. This is not always the case, as I take Saturday off, and do enjoy taking time away from work every once in a while (freedom is one reason I love being on Etsy.)

My Sales System:

•All orders are assembled and packaged (I generally begin around 8 am).

•Each order comes with a thank you note.

•Shipping is purchased for each package that is ready to go out.

•Shipments are placed in the mailbox before the mail goes out.

•Random orders may get an extra “thank you” item.

My sales system is pretty straight forward. It’s the first thing I do in the morning with my business. It is what drives revenue and provides good customer service. I know that our products are being quickly sent and everything is moving smoothly.

In addition, I also like to put on some soft music, have a glass of water, and stand as much as possible while working to get my blood flowing. This is also a part of my sales system. It helps me to feel good. It also makes the work more enjoyable.

As I assemble and package items, I take pictures along the way. I then put those pictures in my “Etsy” folder on my phone. I will use the best ones later on in social media. Some may be used in the future when I run out of things to post, or when I am traveling. This way I have material to share. People love to see behind the scenes, and it gives me a chance to take better pictures of my products and to change things in my shop every once in a while.

MARKETING SYSTEM:

A marketing system is another system that is designed to drive revenue. It, along with social media, is perhaps the most important revenue-driving system you have, yet for many shops it is under-utilized. I keep this system separate from my social media system, which is another marketing system. You may combine the two if you would like.

For marketing, I focus on getting my items into shops or selling my items in person. For example, I may contact brick and mortar shops and ask them if they would be interested in carrying some of our items. I may send samples in the mail. I may give out items at local events. I might also look into setting up a booth at a flea market or craft fair. These are ways of getting our items out in the open and distributing business cards.

At one time I advertised our products on Craigslist. I could also buy an advertisement in the paper. Google ads and Etsy ads are another marketing system that I use.
My marketing system:

•Look at the past week and month on Google and Etsy ads. How are my items performing? How much am I getting versus spending?

•Contact local shops that sell crafts. Introduce myself and my product. Tell the shop why I am a good fit for them. Send a link to my shop, provide a wholesale price list, and testimonials. Offer free samples.

•For shops that have not responded, try again in a week.

•Keep contacting, give them testimonials, reasons to sell, offer to meet in person. Persistence is key here.

•Post business cards on free bulletin boards. Libraries and grocery stores are great places to post cards.

•Review listings that are not selling. Fix SEO issues, rewrite titles, improve pictures/descriptions.

•Posting and being active on Etsy forums. Asking questions and giving answers. Maintaining a presence and being known in the community.

You should spend at least an hour each day on your marketing and social media systems (you can combine the two).

TRAINING PRODUCT OR SERVICE DELIVERY:

Your shop may offer training products or services. Many shops sell shop evaluations for other Etsy stores. An example of a training product is this book. Your knowledge is something you can sell or “give away.” Many people do this using YouTube videos or writing articles for websites. It is a good idea to get your name out by writing articles with your shop name and link attached. People start to see you as an authority and will remember you.
My training product system:

•Working on a book about Etsy.

•Running a personal blog about my shop.

•Helping those who have questions about Etsy on forums or in person.

•Teaching others how to start their own Etsy store.
You could do a seminar at your local library or college about online selling. It is a topic that people are interested in. You can even take some of your products and let others see and hold them. You can sell advice for listing items or evaluate other shops on Fiverr. You can help people with their Etsy tags and assist in rewriting their product descriptions. The possibilities are as varied as your imagination. Look at a shop. Every shop needs some kind of help. One good place to do this is on the Etsy forums. Offer your services. And, if you need help with improving your shop, do not be afraid to ask for help from other more established shops. The worst they can say is “no.”

CUSTOMER SUPPORT SYSTEM:

Remember how I stated that the two most important parts of a business are revenue and customer experience? Well, this is the center of the customer experience part of your business, and sadly an often overlooked part of the business world. Businesses that drive a solid customer experience are the greatest businesses in the world. And if you want to be great, you have to give your customers an exceptional experience. You could have the greatest product in the world, but if people don’t like you, you won’t reach the top.

Giving good customer service is really easy, actually. It just means taking some time to respond to customer inquiries and answering questions in a friendly manner. Sometimes you will need to fix mistakes, but the systems you have in place should mean that mistakes are a rare occurrence.
My customer support system:
•All e-mails answered same day, no matter what (except during my day off).

•If I can’t give an answer to a question right away, I tell them I will look into it and then mark the message as unread so I know to go back to it. At least the customer knows I am looking into the matter and responded.

•If the item is for a custom order or wholesale order, I get a price list to my customer right away.

•If there is a mistake I assure the customer the issue will be fixed. In my business, mistakes are rare enough that the cost is nominal, even if I give it away for free.

•I like to check in on past customers and send a message through Etsy a week after they receive their item asking how the order was, give a coupon code for a future purchase, and ask them for a review and to follow us on social media. I also ask if there are any improvements that can be made to the product or if there is something that the customer would like to see in our shop. I also remind the customer that we do custom orders.

•All emails are friendly in tone, even if the customer is upset. I have had some experiences with angry customers who were very friendly when they saw that I cared and was friendly back.
My customer support takes place in the morning after I have packaged all my emails. I often check my messages again in the evening. I see if there were any change of address issues before I print out my shipping labels.

SOCIAL MEDIA SYSTEM:

Social media is a time-consuming system that needs constant work. However, it is the perfect system to work on when you have downtime, and it can even be fun.

I have a chapter on social media and will not get into the nuts and bolts here. However, I should point out that social media is something you can do during your “down time.” You can post when in line at the post office (unless you are like me and do all your labels at home), in the bank, or while watching television.

Think of the social media that you use, and then create a system for each one. I like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter in that order. I also post a lot on my Etsy “shop updates” to keep my Etsy shop looking more fresh. My main focus is on Instagram at the time being.

My social media system(s):

INSTAGRAM:

•Focus on getting sales through Instagram

•Images posted at a certain time daily (set alarms on phone, once in AM, once in PM during busy times)

•Take pictures as I work, of orders being finished.

•Look at other Instagram business pages, find ideas of things to post, rotate and reuse popular posts.

•Post lots of Instagram stories. (at least 2 a day)

•Join telegram groups*, get comments and followers.

•Post testimonials and reviews on Instagram.

•Although I have a personal Instagram page, this is my MOST IMPORTANT Instagram page!

•Read books on Instagram marketing.

FACEBOOK:

•Similar to Instagram, reach out for new followers. Post interesting posts that you find on Facebook, and some of your Facebook posts (travel pictures, etc.)

•Post 2-3 times per day - Morning / afternoon / early evening

•Start paying for advertisements.

•Read a book on Facebook advertising/marketing.

•Post your Instagram stories to Facebook.

ETSY SHOP UPDATES

•Similar to Instagram, but mix it up a bit. Post one per day.

PINTEREST
•All new listings put on Pinterest.

•Read and research Pinterest more.
There is always much to do and learn with social media, which is why I have included a chapter on it and suggest that you read and research far beyond what this book has to offer. Social media is a HUGE area and each site has so many tricks that you can learn to leverage the reach of your Etsy store. Having followers on social media and getting your product out through the “free” advertising that social media offers is huge for a business, especially when done right. 

HIRING AND TRAINING SYSTEM:

Many Etsy sellers will not think of hiring someone, but as you grow, this becomes more of a possibility. The truth is, you may have already hired help. Think about it. Have you paid someone to design a banner or a graphic for your shop? Perhaps you have purchased help with SEO or tags? There are many ways you can get outside help, and I recommend looking outside of yourself for professional help when it comes to your shop.

There may also come a time when your shop begins to grow big enough for you to step back and get some help to run it. You may have no choice. If you have big dreams for your shop, you should envision yourself one day needing employees to help you. Many shops do.

For us, we realized we needed a hiring and training system when we left to work outside of the United States and could not take the business with us. When we were looking for help, we wanted to give the employee some sense of ownership over the business. Therefore, we thought that giving a fixed percentage of the profits would be fair. For our last employee, it was half of the profits. This works as motivation. Their job was simple, physically make and send our products. We could still take care of customer service, advertising, custom designs, and other tasks that could remotely be done.

When creating a system, think:


•What can you do? What do you like doing?

•What is your least favorite part of the business? Can someone else do this better than you?

•What are you comfortable paying an employee?

•What will you do if the employee is not a fit?
Is the employee a friend, family, or someone else? We have found that with family expectations can be higher and what should be a business relationship becomes something messy. Therefore, we learned to be wary of working with family.

You also have to consider training. How will you train? Does the job you want someone else to do require training? How will you train that person? Is it something that someone else is better skilled in? Can you supervise the task easily? Where does the employee need to live? Close by, or can it be done remotely?

My hiring and training system: 
•It is best to not hire family.

•The person should have plenty of free time and be motivated.

•Training should take place a month before the job needs to start, especially if we will be traveling internationally.

•Tie earnings to profits.

•Treat the employee fairly.
Some of these do not apply when getting help from someone on Fiverr or another online service. For that, I would be wary of reviews and look at their past performance. When looking at reviews, are they written well, or are they fake reviews? You can tell by reading them.

SEO / Google / Etsy Ads

You want your shop to be discovered by as many people as possible. At this point, you should have an idea how SEO (Search Engine Optimization) works. You probably have some kind of presence on Google, and you may or may not buy Etsy ads.

Search Engine Optimization is an ever-changing field that requires constant research. To make matters even more difficult, Etsy and Google use different search algorithms that are constantly changing.

Planning for the unexpected?

Who will take over your business if you become ill? What about when you travel? Is there someone who you can trust to take over production or sending items out? Is whatever you sell easily created? Or does it take a special skill to create? Some items, like stickers, are pretty easy to produce, and only a small amount of training is necessary. Other items, like woodwork or jewelry, are more “skills-based” and each individual has their own specific skill level and eye for design.

There have been times that I have traveled, and I was able to take control of the customer service side of Etsy while a helper was able to physically package and send orders out. This can be helpful, as if you can do this, you do not need to shut down your Etsy store for a while. Closing your Etsy store for a long period of time can affect SEO, as Google will no longer be indexing your shop when it is closed down. If you can keep it open while you are away, your place in search results should not be affected.

One thing that you can do when you are sick or away is change the shipping times. Etsy allows you to set shipping a month in advance. Once when traveling to Asia, we were able to keep our shop open, with a shop announcement that stated that orders would be shipped in 3 weeks. The listing and confirmation email also stated the same thing. However, there are some people who will miss this, and I did offer “no questions asked refunds” for those who ordered and then noticed that the order would not be shipped in the normal time of 3-5 days that we generally offer. Even with a few canceled orders, we were able to make quite a few sales which paid for a good part of our trip to Asia.

When thinking about who will take over your shop, there are some things to keep in mind.

•What kind of relationship do you have with the person?

•How hard of a worker is this person?

•Do they know how to create your product, how to ship your product, or how to navigate Etsy?

•Are you comfortable giving them access to your Etsy account? (you don’t necessarily need to do this.)

•What will you pay this person for their help?
During the past few years of running our own Etsy store, we have traveled extensively and even lived outside of the country twice. While away, we have hired employees to create and send our products. Sometimes these individuals were family, and other times they were friends. I have found that it can be tricky to hire family to help, and you have to make sure that they realize that Etsy is a business, not a hobby. One individual who we hired didn’t realize that Etsy was a serious endeavor and many of the orders were shipped late. As a result, we had to shut down the shop for a while until we returned (and refund many of the orders). Running a busy Etsy shop is not without its own stresses, and sometimes a business partner does not realize the kinds of stress that may be apparent. Furthermore, no matter what, the employee will not feel the same level of responsibility and attachment to the business as you, the owner, does. This was a huge, and hard lesson for us, but one that stuck once we learned it.

If and when you do hire someone to help you run your shop, make sure that they have enough hands-on training to take over the running of the business when you are away. Make sure that communication exists and touch bases with that individual daily to see that things are going as they should. After a while, running a shop on Etsy seems incredibly simple and straightforward, but to someone who is new to the site, it may seem very confusing.

I hope that these tips have helped you think more in depth about your Etsy shop.  Check out our Etsy shop at www.bohobuttons.com

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Why Varkala, India is The Place to Travel To in 2021: Paradise on the Cliffs of Kerala



Upon the cliffs, overlooking the beautiful blue Indian Ocean lies the resort of Varkala.  Believe it or not, this is not Goa.  This is one of Kerala's most hip beach destinations.  It is also a bit different than some of the other beach destinations in India, and you may be wondering why.  No, it's not the high price of food and the higher price of almost everything else.  No it's not the autorickshaw drivers and shopkeepers asking you to avail yourself to their services.  No, it's not the beautiful blue waters and cows walking the beach.  It's not the overpriced thalis and 100 rupee dosas.  Give up?  It's the way the town is situated upon the cliffside.  The fantastic views in Varkala are what sets this place apart from Goa and other more "sea-level" destinations.  

The views in Varkala are quite amazing, and as you meander along the pathway right on the edge of the town, you are afforded the opportunity to gaze down at beautiful beaches full of people enjoying the warm Indian sun.  Sunset is an extra special time in Varkala to enjoy a meal at a restaurant with a view that will mesmerize and enchant you.  Welcome to Kerala's version of paradise.  It is a destination that is becoming more and more popular. 

Odayam Mosque, in the palm forest.
Varkala is a lot newer than some of the other destinations in India that you have likely heard of.  Goa and Kovalam are both well more established, with their own fanatics that have been coming in droves for decades.  You can see it in the infrastructure of these places.  But Varkala is newer, and you will notice that you make your way north from the cliffs and head to Odayam beach.  You will actually see the jungle and trees and undeveloped spaces.  You will see a brilliant looking mosque with minarets rising from the palm forests.  You will walk along yet-untouched beaches where you can swim out and look back at trees and forests of green.  These days will not always exist, sadly.  One day the green places will become buildings, restaurants and perhaps parking lots for taxis, but for now, the dirt roads that lead on and off the cliffs give Varkala a more natural feeling.

Immediately you will see that Varkala is noticeably more expensive than Kochi or Alleppey.  There is big tourist money to be made here, and you will quickly take note of that fact that as you walk along the main walkway.  On one side is a cliff, and many sections are without a protective barrier.  One wrong step at night (or day for that matter) and you will fall to your death.  Be careful!  This is for sure a "no selfie" zone!  On the other side, stands selling shawls, purses, trinkets, jewelry, and all sorts of tours will beckon for your attention (many of them are quite beautiful and exotic, too).  Like other resort places, if you want cheaper food and goods, you have to head away from the resorts and the direction to where the buses and trains are.  You will know it by how many locals you see, and how few of those locals are trying to sell you something.  If you see people working on something other than your pocketbook and fewer pale-skinned tourists, you know you are going in the right direction. 


Many people want to compare Varkala to Kovalam, and for good reason.  They are both pretty close to each other.  Varkala is younger than Kovalam, and so is the crowd.  Both have very similar prices.  But, if you like nature, you should choose Varkala hands down.  If you like amenities, both are well suited for you, but Kovalam has the edge.  Getting to and from Varkala from the train station is cheaper, as well.  Both have their beauty, but it is Varkala that looks different than most beach resorts.  And both are great alternatives to the infamous beaches of Goa. 

In Varkala we stayed at the Fish Village, which is an inexpensive jungle garden "resort" (I use that word loosely) located in Odayam behind the mosque.  The grounds of Fish Village are beautiful.  There are a few small houses in the jungle surrounded by palm trees and silence.  You can barely hear the ocean here.  Five times a day you are greeted by the call to prayer from the nearby mosque.  Laying on the hammock and enjoying the breeze is a great way to relax.  You are also steps away from two good and less-crowded beaches for swimming and playing in the water. 

One of our rooms had a bit of an ant issue, and I recommend not storing food into any of your rooms in India, especially if it happens to be in the jungle.  If you don't like insects, this may not be the place for you, as being in the jungle always means dealing with some critters, especially the kind that you are probably not used to if you live in North America or Europe.

The Fish Village, Varkala
Being that we were at The Fish Village, we got acquainted with a nice little restaurant on the beach out front (it's the only restaurant out front).  I can't believe it, but I have forgotten the name.  How embarrassing!  However, you will notice there are some tables on the rocks that overlook the ocean with some candles at night.  It's a great place to watch the sunset.  The food is good, too, and a bit less expensive than some of the other places. 

In conclusion, I would say that you should visit Varkala if the beaches of Alleppey and Kochi do not satisfy you.  If you want a less expensive beach experience, I would recommend going to Marari Beach for a day or two and staying in Alleppey.  This way you will not break the bank.  Personally, I do not go to India for the beaches.  They are gorgeous, but there's a lot more interesting things to see and do in India away from the beaches.  Indian beaches are beautiful though, but they are just one perk of this country, and they should not be missed.  But, don't spend all your time and money at India's beaches, because this is where you will sink the most of your cash while you are here. 

Getting to Varkala takes about two to three hours from Alleppey via train or bus.  The ferry to Kollam is also a good way to get to Varkala from Alleppey, although you will have to take a bus, train and/or auto rickshaw from Kollam to Varkala once you arrive.  The ferry takes eight hours but it is worth it if you have time to spare.  If you are going onward to or coming from Kovalam, it's about two hours by train and autorickshaw.  Having been to both, I would recommend just choosing one place or the other and spending time visiting other parts of India.  This is especially true if you are pressed for time and are not on an unlimited budget.  

The Conornavirus Is Now In Kerala, India

Sunrise in Kovalam.
When I awoke this morning I had read that the coronavirus that is now the talk of the world has reached Kerala in India.  As I am currently in Kovalam, in Kerala, I felt a bit of natural worry when I read this.  A deadly virus is a scary thing.   Yet, this is no cause to panic.  I have been reading the BBC articles over the past couple of weeks about the situation in Wuhan, China, and I wonder how some of my classmates that live in China now are doing.

I wonder, what would the virus look like if it got out of control in India?  I knew this was a possibility, as India and China are not far apart (parts border each other), and there was a case of the virus in Nepal.  Yet, Nepal is quite a bit to the north and I was surprised to see that Kerala was the first place in India that had the virus.

I am not scared at this point, though.  I have no plans on leaving India as of yet.  I hope that the case is fully quarantined and that the person who has it comes out with no issues.  I also pray that a cure is quickly found.  I know that the world has to endure many such viruses as time passes, and I find it interesting that many of these come from animal sources.  No man knows how his time will end, and one can live in fear, or go through life with faith that all things are in the hands of our very capable God.  That's how I personally believe, and that belief has always served me well in life.  After all, we can not trust ourselves to survive.

It seems that the world has been more and more under turmoil these last few years.  I also know that extreme fear is of no use in life.  After all, there are cases in the United States as well as a handful of other countries that are generally considered to be "safe."  Today I read an article stating that many new conspiracy theories have arisen about the disease, including one that says it was purposely created for some kind of population control measure.  It seems that whenever a disease or disaster happens, this idea is pushed by some rogue YouTuber.

I worry more, however, because of Persephone.  I will continue to watch the situation and if it starts to spread, we will consider going to another part of India or to another country in the region altogether.  Until then, there is much of India left to see and much work to be done in life.  

Why South India Is Amazing: Traveling To Kochi, Alleppey, Varkala, Kovalam


We have now been in India for more than two weeks.  We are in our fourth town - Kovalam.  We started in Kochi, then spent about a week in Alleppey.  After Alleppey, we took a ferry to Kollam and a bus to Varkala and now are further south in Kovalam.  We arrived here yesterday and it is yet another beach destination in Kerala and the furthest south that we have been in India thus far.  We are here for five nights before we head north to Chennai.

I already wrote a bit about Kochi, so I would like to continue to talk about our time in India in the next couple of places.  I will probably go into more detail about each one in future posts.



We took a taxi to Alleppey.  We thought about taking a bus, but after looking at the cost and time for all four of us, we decided that a taxi would be a lot easier and probably not much more expensive.  It was about an hour-long ride before we arrived at our homestay in the town of Alleppey.  We stayed at a place called Abru's Holidays which was located in a part of town called "Dutch Square" which is just an intersection about a kilometer from the beach.

I liked Abru's Holidays a lot more than our first homestay and having hot water was a nice treat.  It took us a bit to find cheap food, but the next morning we found a place called Balu Hotel (hotels here are places to eat, not sleep, which is kind of confusing for some).  After finding this place, we kept coming back as the prices were really good and the food was great.  We all could get a meal for about $3-4 and leave stuffed.  I'm talking all you can eat thalis where they keep coming back and filling up your plate and amazing dosas, idly, sambar, chutney, vada, and onion filled uttapam!   It was just great!

Near the beach there are many places to buy food and drinks as well.  The beach is a deep-fried paradise, and in the amusement park known as "Amaze World" you can get a pretty good meal for a not so high cost.  This was a surprise for me, as in the US and a few other countries when you go to an amusement park, you pay out the nose for any kind of food.  Amaze World is an older place though and many of its rides are dated or shut down.  We had visited this place about five years ago and the small train is no longer running.  In the future, I will post a video of this place.  Even in its kind of "run down" state, Persephone enjoyed it and we all had a good time visiting.  The price to get in was 35 rupees (10 for adults and 5 for a child), so $0.50 for Alleppey's version of Six Flags, Disney Land, Coney Island, Silverwood, or whatever you are used to.  Rides cost about a dollar each once you get in, though.

Alleppey is famous for the backwaters and the boat cruises that originate there.  We did not opt for the boat cruise or the houseboat as we are on a budget right now, but did the boat ride when we were here last and it was very nice (except for the huge spider that was by my head the entire time).   We also knew that we would be taking the 8-hour ferry through the backwaters, so I knew that I would get to see more of the rural pastoral South Indian life from the boat and I was fine with that.

View of the rice paddies at sunset from Lemon Dew.
After a few nights in the town of Alleppey, we headed to the backwaters area to a place called Lemon Dew.  Lemon Dew is a lot more rustic than many places that most travelers are used to, but we enjoyed it for the most part.  It was located right along one of the canals in the backwaters.  The hammocks that overlooked a rice field was a great place to relax.  The closest food was at a fish thali restaurant about five minutes' walk away.  They had a good veg thali that I just could not get enough of!  And at 60 rupees, this all you can eat feast was a steal!  Each day the cook prepared the side dishes a bit differently and everything was just delicious!  This place was only open for lunch, but it kept me full for the entire day!  If you stay at Lemon Dew, check this place out!

A tantalizing "neverending" thali in Kerala
I really liked staying in the backwaters, as it gives you a whole different view of India.  You can watch people fishing, washing clothes and dishes in the river, and working in the fields.  The people are super friendly and love seeing visitors.  Children enjoyed saying hello to Sephie and asking where we were from.  You will also see hundreds upon hundreds of houseboats passing by.  It's almost mind-boggling how many houseboats are in the backwaters.  Some are super fancy with two floors and even swimming pools on top.  Others are decked out with solar panels.   Others are more rustic looking with just a couple of rooms and a patio area.  You can hear all kinds of music playing as the boats pass by, and many people are upon the decks of these converted rice barges dancing and having a good time.

Taking the ferry into the city is a nice way to enjoy the scenery of the backwaters and see life from another angle.  There was a dock near our homestay, but you may have to wait about 45 minutes to catch a ferry.  There are ferries going all over the place, so you have to make sure you know what one you are taking, as well.  Once you get to the city, you will be let off at the ferry dock which is located near fruit stands, snack stands, a good and expensive local restaurant.  If you walk for about ten minutes, you will reach a grocery store with a good selection of produce, snacks, and supplies.

The Alleppey ferry dock is also where you will catch the ferry from Alleppey to Kollam.  This eight-hour-long ferry ride provides some amazing views of the backwaters and is worth taking if you have the time.  Why rush from Alleppey to Varkala or Kovalam when you can meander along and enjoy the real south India and Kerala?  You can get south quicker by bus, car or train, but none of those experiences matches the scenery and enjoyment of the ferry ride.  On our ride along Kerala's gorgeous backwaters, there were only a few tourists and a few Indians, plenty of room for our luggage, and we all had a choice of where to sit.  The views are just amazing!  The boat stops for a good lunch of either veg or fish thali and then later for masala chai and fried bananas.

Taking a ferry to Alleppey is a good way to see the backwaters.



We arrived in Kollam in the evening before making our way towards Varkala by tuk-tuk/auto-rickshaw.  The auto was about 700 rupees and it was worth it for all of us to take one versus taking the bus or train.  We arrived in Kollam in the evening and by the time we got to Varkala, the sun had just set.  The ride was nice, along beaches and lagoons.  The sunset turned the sky a bright pink as we watched people playing and exploring beaches and backwaters.

Varkala is a very interesting town, situated on a cliff overlooking a splendid beach.  I had read that the swimming was rough, but it was still good enough to take a dip in the water.  Both Varkala and Kovalam are far more expensive than Alleppey or Kochi due to their touristy nature.  They are also quite fancy, with shops and restaurants overlooking the sea.  Many people wonder which is better: Varkala or Kovalam, and I noticed a few differences.  The clientele in Kovalam is quite a bit older.  The town is also older and more established.  That also means it's far more developed than Varkala, which seems newer and full of younger people.  The cost of food is almost the same in both.  If you want to have a more low budget experience with cheap food in either Varkala or Kovalam, I recommend heading away from the sea.  Cheap food can be found in Varkala near the train station, and taking an autorickshaw to the train station for lunch is still cheaper than having lunch in town, and perhaps even better.  This is especially true if you are a couple or a group.

In Varkala, we stayed at a place called The Fish Village.  This place was located in a beautiful garden-like jungle environment about a ten-minute walk from the cliff.  It is located near Odayam Juma Masjid, a beautiful mosque that is in the jungle along Black Beach.  Here we were greeted by hundreds and hundreds of sugar ants that bit and gave us some nasty welts.  We realized that keeping food in the room was the reason for these culprits!  Lesson learned. 

The view of the ocean from the cliffs in Varkala.  

Kovalam, India

Kovalam is a busy and picturesque town full of alleys and good beaches.  There are many vendors selling fruit around the beach area, and there are many beach umbrellas to rent on the beach itself.  Restaurants along the beach are expensive, but there are thalis to be found.  Head into the alley areas behind the beach and prices go down a bit.  Head further away to the junction (about a kilometer and a half up the hill) and you will find much cheaper meals.  You can get some good snacks at night, including corn and fruit cups on the beach and enjoy the sunset as the town lights up.

As this is an overview of South India, there is more to be said about each town, and I will write about each one in detail later on.  Overall, Kerala is a beautiful state in India and is far different than the north.  I recommend visiting it, as it feels like its own country.  

Monday, January 20, 2020

Homestay Hustle: Kochi Edition - Dealing with AirBnB and Booking Scams in India


Our homestay in Kerala was located in a very convenient area of the city.

Every once in a while when traveling it seems that some kind of situation comes up where greed rears its nasty little head and makes things harder than they should be.
That situation emerged at our last homestay in Kerala and we knew that it was not going to end well.

When we arrived in Kochi, it was about 11 pm, and by the time the taxi pulled up to our homestay, it was well after 1 am. Our host was half asleep and his command of English was not very good. One can not fault him for those things. We had originally reserved two rooms, one for us, and one for our friend Julia who was traveling with us. The total price on Booking came out to be about 4,280 rupees for a double room with a private bathroom and a double room with a shared bathroom. When we checked in, only one room was available, which was the room with a private bathroom. We said that was okay, as it was late and reminded our host that we reserved two rooms. We were checked in and went to bed. Everyone was tired.

The next day, upon awakening, we were told that the other room was actually a shared dorm room and there would be a guy sleeping with Julia. We said we were fine with just the room we reserved. It was tight but we knew we could make it work. And we did.

Then the issue of payment came up. We were later told that the cost was 4,500 rupees for the rooms (which was higher than the booking cost) and we were under the impression that they were going to give us another room, so I gave them 6000 rupees (as I did not have change). I realize that this was not a good decision and would not do this again in the future. We later realized that there was no other room that would be given to us and we said we would just take the one room, which was quoted on Booking as being around 1750 rupees for four nights.

Fast forward to the day we checked out. We went down to get our change and we were told that the room that they actually gave us was a triple room and that it costed 4,500 rupees. We never were told that it was a triple room (one of the beds was a mattress on the floor that was under the bed). We said that we were never told that was a triple room when we checked in, but we understood paying some more for Julia to be in the room, but not over double the price.

After two hours of arguing back and forth, we were told that the rate we got on Booking was no good and that they meant to change it, as it was a sale and we should have not got it in the first place. We were able to agree on a price of 2,900, which was more fair. The interesting thing was, the night before there was another couple arguing about the price and the next day we talked to some Russians who also said that there was a huge misunderstanding in price. It seems that this homestay is ran quite haphazardly and I don’t think they have everything together as they should. After reading the bad reviews (their overall review score was 80, and all the recent reviews are pretty positive), I saw that there is a trend of taking advantage of guests, giving them the wrong rooms, and then making them pay more. It’s such a shame that it’s like that. When someone books on booking.com they should get what they pay for.

Of course, there is always a lesson in everything. First, I will require that we check into the rooms we pay for right away. If we are upgraded for some reason, I will make sure there is no additional cost (although this room was not an upgrade - it looked far worse than any of the other rooms and the pictures on the Booking site). Secondly, I will pay up front before we check in so that this issue does not come up. I think some places prey on customers paying at the end so that they can take advantage of them. This is not good. Do not pay at the end unless everything is agreed on right away, and still then, I would say, don’t pay at the end. If one has to pay at the end, have exact change and do not budge.

Even the description of the room was fishy. The booking site said there was a free shuttle service from the airport (when we enquired, it was more expensive than the regular airport taxi service, so we did not use it). The listing said all rooms had flat screen televisions in all rooms and that there was a hot tub (we knew this was not the case based on the pictures). There was not even hot water. All the amenities were checked, which was fishy. The listing also said, and it was written out by the host, that it was close to ski slopes. I have no clue where the closest ski slopes are, but there are none here in Kerala or South India for that matter that I know of!

It took a while to get to our next place. After all of that, we were pretty tired and ready to move on It was a shame, too. The homestay was not a bad place. The kitchen looked a bit messy, and we did not eat the food there, but it was clean enough. The room was basic, but it was what we thought we were paying for (it would have been fine at the quoted price). Yes, there was no hot water, but that’s standard here. In the end, it’s the sheer greed of it all that bothers me. Greed is ugly. Sadly, all over this house were pictures and statues of Jesus and crucifixes and things of that nature that pointed to the hosts being Christians, and it did a disservice to the name of Christianity. We all fail from time to time, but to run a business like that is not good at all (although I do think some of it is just a huge disorganization on their part).

For a name like Lavender homestay, it was not very calming or peaceful. Sometimes names can be deceiving.

Travel Impressions of India: First Days in Kochi, Kerala

The fishing nets in Kochi

We are now in India, and it feels very good to be here. We rented a car and drove from Spokane, through Portland, and to Sea-Tac (near Seattle). It took all day. The next day we flew to Singapore in the back row of the plane and it was very nice. We flew with Singapore airlines.   When we arrived in Singapore, we passed over Batam, Indonesia and saw many ships as the plane landed.  It brought back memories of us flying from Singapore to Phuket over a decade ago.  It was during the evening -the time of sunset - and I remember seeing all the ships lit up as we took off.

Flying the drone around the beach in Fort Kochi!  There are many vendors selling ice cream, traditional foods, drinks and other interesting things.


This is the place to see the sunset if you are in Kochi!

  
After changing planes at Changi Airport, we flew from Singapore on Silk Air to Kochi. We arrived late and Julia met us at the airport (she was in a different terminal). We got to our hotel late. The next day we walked around a bit and we came home very tired around 3 pm. We ended up going to sleep and woke up around sunset, but we were too tired to go out. We decided to go to bed, as Sephie was already in a deep sleep and I felt extremely tired. We woke up around 1 am and were pretty wide awake. Sephie did not want to go back to sleep, but we were all able to do so. 

I flew the drone a bit after some trouble updating the firmware. It was nice to see Kochi from such a different angle. Today is Friday and we have to get ready for Sabbath. Tomorrow is our last day in Kochi, then we will go to Alleppey via bus. We are trying to be more budget-conscious on this trip. I think that the breakfast yesterday was around 400 rupees, and for lunch we had coconuts. They were 45 rupees each (we got 3). We also got some ice cream things for 20 rupees each. That was all we ate.  It seems that the heat combined with us being tired makes it harder to want to eat.  Yet, that works for us, as we save a bit of money that way. 

I am not outside in our homestay, and the light of the sun is coming out.  We are staying at a homestay in Fort Kochi called Lavender Homestay.  It's not bad.  There has been some confusion over the price, and we have not worked out all the specifics as we have all been busy.  We originally reserved two rooms (one for us, and one for our friend, Julia), but since we arrived so late, and since there are some language barriers, we ended up with one room with three single beds stuck together and a mattress on the floor.  It's not bad, but they seem to think that the price should be higher than what was quoted on Booking.  

When we arrived at our homestay, we saw a huge spider.  It is definitely one of the largest spiders I have ever seen, and the largest I have shared a room with.  It was late, but we woke up the host and asked him to get rid of it for us.  I didn't even go look at it, but I had Beverly take a picture of it for me so I could see it when it was gone.  I don't know what I would have done had I discovered it.  It was behind a curtain in the room next to the bathroom.  That thing was ugly!  I hope we don't see any more of those spiders while we are here in India.  

Enjoying our first breakfast in Kochi.
It is nice being here in India.  Lately, I have felt trapped by winter and not going out much.  It was such a strange feeling for me, and I did not like it.  I am glad that's all in the past now.   It is good to move on.  It is good to see new things.  To expand one's mind.  It is great getting out of one's comfort zone.  Yet, the more I travel, the more the world seems comfortable in a sense.  There is less that shocks or tickles my senses, so to speak.  It is different than the first time I set foot from the United States.  I know what to expect now, and the world seems to become more homogenized.  I even noticed this when I was in Kyiv, Ukraine in 2019.  It was far different than when I was there in 2016.  Technology is making the world seem more or less similar no matter where you go and having traveled extensively, it seems that the exotic becomes harder and harder to find.  Yet, I will still search for it.  I believe there are some places left that have that real feel of the exotique.  

Etsy Shop Product Update: Boho Pinback Buttons, Forest Mushroom Buttons & Asian Architecture Travel Pins

I would like to talk about some of the newest products on my Etsy shop . I recently bought a guide for getting seen on Etsy through www.atte...