How To Sell Online Part 1

I started selling online in 2011 as a way to reach the DIY brides who had popped up all over the place after the economy tanked. As my online business evolved, I ended up selling more to other cake decorators and hobby decorators and less to the brides (who have now gone back to buying their wedding cakes after realizing it's not easy to make one themselves.)

Anyway, after 6 years of it, I've learned a lot, and I now know that it isn't as easy as it looks. People will open up an Etsy shop, list a few things, then sit back and wait. After a week they post on the Etsy forums that they're giving up and closing their shop.

There's no reason to give up that quickly, but not everyone is meant to sell online, either. First of all, you have to be selling something that people want to buy. That might sound overly simplistic, but people don't seem to understand it. They'll post a question asking for shop critiques, and the first thing I want to say when I look at their shop is "I don't think people are going to buy the shrunken fish-head jewelry that you're selling."

So first of all, you need to decide what you want to sell. If you intend to list anything that’s considered food and ship it outside the area you’re licensed to sell food, you’ll need to check with your country’s national health and food authority to see if you can legally do that. In the U.S. the FDA would be involved, and you’ll need to follow their guidelines for what type of licensed kitchen you’ll need to use to be able to sell various types of edibles legally across state lines.  

And the argument “but everyone does it” won’t fly. If you want to run a business, run it legally. You also can’t sell anything that’s copyrighted or trademarked without a license to do that. So no cartoon characters, team logos or retail logos unless you pay for permission to sell them.

Selling gumpaste cake toppers and fondant cupcake toppers is something that a lot of people want to do, but again, you have to follow the rules about what types of materials you need to use and what type of language you need to use in advertising them. If you indicate in the item description that something is edible, it will then fall under the “selling edibles online” guidelines, so you’re back to dealing with FDA rules.

When deciding what to sell, you’ll need to take ease of shipping into account. If you can’t deliver something in good condition you shouldn’t sell it. For example, fragile royal icing snowflakes probably aren’t the best choice to sell in an online store. If you’re not sure how well your products will travel, send some test packages to people you know who live a good distance away to see how they arrive. You’re responsible for making sure your products get where they’re going in good condition, so don’t take chances.

If you’re not interested in getting into the business of shipping physical items, you can choose to sell tutorials and other digital downloads. However, there are a LOT of tutorials online now, so you’ll need to spend time marketing yours. You can easily see this in action if you look on the Facebook pages and groups run by decorators who rely on classes and tutorials for their incomes. I see constant mentions of tutorials on social media, and the decorators who are selling them are active in promoting them. It’s definitely not a “list it and walk away and they’ll sell themselves” situation. 

If you're just starting out and want to open an Etsy shop, use my link to get 40 free listings here: 

Next time: Where to sell online.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC,  online cake supplies at and

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