Love him or hate him, Josh Silverman is one of the big names of 2017. Not a politician or part of the Hollywood elite, but creating controversy nonetheless at a place that’s close to our hearts.

When Silverman stepped in as the new Etsy CEO earlier this year, his mandate was growth. That meant growth for shareholders, but also growth for sellers.

The past few years haven’t been easy, for Etsy or sellers. Despite their increasing Gross Merchandise Sales, 2014 through 2016 saw the average amount spent per buyer and per item fall. More buyers who buy cheaper things for less is not a good outcome for handmade businesses trying to crack a luxury market!

Despite this, sellers as a whole haven’t welcomed Silverman with open arms. They see him representing “big capitalism” and fear the changes he’ll bring will destroy the last vestiges of the Etsy they once knew.

A scary story, perhaps. Let’s take a break for a moment and think about ourselves…


That hazy New Year planning fog

As we rush towards 2018, a lot of us are reflecting on the year and are well into our plans for the next. I know I am! And a huge part of that is always goal setting.

Setting goals is sometimes easy and often hard. A nice way to approach it is with a hierarchy of

  • overall objectives (this is where you get vague and think about how you want to “live your values”),
  • supporting initiatives (what are the big things you can do to meet this objective),
  • and specific, measurable goals and tactics for those initiatives.

But—I hear you say—that’s all well and good for something number-y like sales.

“My objective is to be profitable.” What’s a specific metric for that… Maybe… profit margin?

But what if your objective is, well, vague?

“My objective is to support my local community.”

“My objective is to provide amazing customer service.”

I am all for vague objectives. In fact, it’s the only way you’ll formalize your commitment to anything but making money! But they still need to boil down to specific initiatives, goals and tactics.

How? 

That’s a good question. It often involves a lot of lateral thinking, defining what your objective actually talks about and “working backwards”. But for now, let’s look at an example, courtesy of Josh Silverman.

How to make some serious impact

One thing you can say about Silverman is that he’s made an impact. And in November 2017, he put his name to Etsy’s new mission and impact strategy, recognising the economic, social and ecological effects the company has on their staff, their seller community and the world around them.

They’re textbook examples of vague objectives.

And each one comes with specific initiatives and a KPI for 2018.

I’m not going to comment (too much) on how these might affect Etsy or Etsy sellers, but let’s walk through how some of these “Overarching Goals” ended up neatly summarised in a Key Performance Indicator.

Economic Impact

Make creative entrepreneurship a path to economic security and personal empowerment

The first question I’d ask, if I were in that strategy planning meeting with the Etsy big guns, is “define economic security.” They obviously haven’t defined it as “a full time income”, and in fact it’d be unreasonable to expect a significant number of Etsy shops to provide a full time income. They’d set themselves up to fail.

Instead, they’ve taken a more conservative route with “a meaningful source of personal income.” “Meaningful” is still a vague word. I wish this KPI had been a bit more specific. But at the least, I can imagine it talking about paying bills or helping with the rent, not just “covering costs” or giving sellers some “play money”.

Despite two of the initiatives taking the long way round with advancing public policies and charitable and in-kind contributions, the final KPI is focused on tangible, short term economic benefits to Etsy sellers.

Social Impact

Enable equitable access to the opportunities we create

Step one: define what you’re talking about. What does it mean to be provide “equitable access”? Who needs to benefit from this? What opportunities does Etsy create that will be affected?

After answering these questions, Etsy has applied this values-driven goal to their organisation’s workforce, their supply chain and their Etsy seller community. Unfortunately, their 2018 KPI only relates to increasing diversity in their own organisation – but it is a very specific KPI with clear actions needed to meet it.

Ecological Impact

Build long-term resilience by eliminating our carbon impacts and fostering responsible resource use

That is a serious goal: eliminating carbon impacts! They could have taken the “offset” approach and bought their results, but “fostering responsible resource use” means they’ve decided on initiatives that see Etsy actually reducing their energy consumption and waste production, beyond the unsurprising “100% renewable electricity”.

These specific initiatives are longer-term, so their 2018 KPI asks the question: what can we do next year that shows that we’re on the right track?

Apply this to your 2018 planning, right now

If you’re struggling to think of ways to make your goals measurable, or worry you’re leaving out important objectives because they aren’t “about numbers”, then these tips are here to give you a push! It is possible and your creative, out-of-the-box-thinker brain is going to help you get there.

Don’t be afraid to set lofty objectives

If supporting other small businesses or your local community is important to you, make an objective about it. If you want to donate some of your revenue to a charity close to your heart, specify that. If you hope to use recycled, reclaimed or sustainable materials – that’s an objective! (And a selling proposition…)

Define what your objective really means

What does it mean to “support” small business? How do you define “local”? Are there standards for the sustainable materials you want to use? How much of the material in a product needs to be reclaimed for it to count?

Try defining words, processes and expectations. Your initiatives and most of your goals will naturally fall out of this process.

Remember to benchmark

Benchmarks don’t just tell you whether you’ve improved. They’re a really good way to set a measurable target!

If you know that 50% of your product materials are currently recycled, it’s clear that your target needs to be higher. Should it be 60%? 80%? 100%?

Any number is better than no number

All goals should have a target number, even if you have no idea whether it’s reasonable.

  • Check your benchmarks for historical data,
  • consider what you know about what you’re trying to achieve,
  • toss up a few numbers to see how they “feel” (really low, super high, in between),
  • if in doubt, set a “reasonable” target and a “stretch” target,
  • record something and review it later.

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