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How This 29-Year-Old Earns +$100k/Year Selling Budgeting Spreadsheets on Etsy


Emily McDermott was burnt out at her insurance job, so she decided to take a leap of faith and quit so she could start her own business. 

She started out with a budgeting blog, Pretty Arrow, but when she realized how difficult it was to drive traffic and monetize it, she pivoted to Etsy. 

Although she knew very little about spreadsheets when she began, she was able to turn her beginner knowledge into a thriving business. Emily currently earns 6 figures per year selling her spreadsheet templates.

Keep reading to find out:

How she got started
How she started to earn money
How much she’s making
How much time she works on her business
Her main marketing strategies
Her thoughts on SEO and keyword research
Her tips for Etsy
Her approach to her email list
The resources and tools she uses
Her biggest challenge
Her most important accomplishment
Her main mistake
Her advice for other entrepreneurs

Meet Emily McDermott

My name is Emily and I’ve earned a full-time income selling spreadsheets for 2.5 years now. 

I live in Canada with my partner and our two cats, Snow and Coco. Even though I have a degree in business, I didn’t start a business of my own until recently.

I was working 9-to-5 in insurance before I decided to take a leap of faith and start a digital products business—a change I’m very glad I made! 

When I’m not daydreaming about a new digital product I want to sell (digital product strategy is my obsession!), you’ll find me reading a good book, getting out in nature, or out home decor shopping, my other passion in life.

How She Got Started Online

I actually started out with a personal finance blog in 2020 called Pretty Arrow about paying off debt, and I thought I would just be a blogger. As an introvert and a bit of a nerd, writing blog posts seemed like a great fit for me. 

But it didn’t take long for me to realize 2 things: I needed to get traffic to my blog and I needed to monetize that traffic. 

I had just quit my job in insurance due to burnout, and I had given myself a few months to start an income stream online. If it didn’t work, I was going to have to find another job. So I was really driven to make my little blog work and I started to research all of the ways to monetize a blog. 

After a few Google searches, I saw that people were selling budget templates on Etsy. I designed a printable budget planner, but I found the process of designing 50+ pages rather tedious for the results I was getting. Sales were trickling in at best. 

Next, I used eRank to find out what kind of budgeting tools people were searching for the most on Etsy, and which of these had the lowest degree of competition from other sellers. eRank is the keyword research tool that I recommend everyone use before starting on Etsy. Budget spreadsheets seemed to be the winner! 

Although I’d never been a spreadsheet expert (my skills were beginner at best), the thought of making a fun budget spreadsheet made me really excited. I also thought that this would be a great way to get more people to discover my blog online. 

I remember making my first $5 sale on the first day. Within 3 months, I was making $5k a month. In 6 months, I was making $15k a month! 

Once I realized that my first spreadsheet had a conversion rate of more than 2%, I used the same overall branding and design in all future spreadsheets. Essentially, once I knew what I was doing was working, I didn’t make this complicated, I just kept doing what worked. 

I really believe it is essential to test out different designs until you find what converts to sales. Once you see what converts to sales, make more of it and keep the progress going.

The best part was that I was having a lot of fun creating the spreadsheets, and I loved them so much I was using them for my own budget.

I’m turning 30 this year and decided to combine my business education and real-world experience as an online entrepreneur to help others start their own spreadsheet businesses, too. 

So far, I’ve helped over 200 students start selling spreadsheets online. I am absolutely in love with talking digital product strategy with others. I love the freedom that digital products have given me in my own life.

How Much She’s Making

I make $100k a year from my Etsy shop. I earned this in my first year of running the shop, as well). 

I have a Shopify store, but it only accounts for 10% of total sales, though I’m working on growing this via Facebook ads this year. The other 90% come from my Etsy store, Pretty Arrow Budget. At the moment I’m not actively blogging and am focused on Etsy.

January is a huge month in the budgeting niche—I like to call it New Year resolution season—and is typically much busier than the rest of the year. I also run more Etsy ads during this month to make sure we’re getting maximum exposure to people searching for budget spreadsheets on Etsy. 

People often buy annual budget spreadsheets in January, which is our highest-priced spreadsheet, so I run most ads to this product in January. We can’t control the cost-per-click on Etsy, so I usually only make a significant profit on ads on higher-priced spreadsheets.

Right now, I work about 5 hours per week on my business. In the beginning, I was working full-time hours to build my products and the systems needed to sell them on autopilot. 

Today, I work 3 or 4 days a week answering emails and customer questions, as well as brainstorming new business ideas.

Emily’s Top Marketing Strategy

My top marketing strategy is to be very specific about your target audience and to target them unapologetically. 

I see so many people trying to target everyone with their digital product shops. Be very specific about the transformation you’re offering your customers, and then blow them away with a product offering that’s a no-brainer for them. 

To use my shop as an example, I’m targeting women in their 20s who want to pay off their debt and are overwhelmed. I make my spreadsheets very simple and not cluttered, and I make them super girly and fun! I want my target audience—women in their 20s—to be instantly attracted to my spreadsheets when they see them in the search results. 

Her Thoughts on SEO

SEO is hugely important for my business! It’s the backbone of how I do my product research. I never blindly make a spreadsheet to sell, I always do market research first.

For Etsy, I like to use eRank to find product keywords that are high in demand and low in competition. This is called a long-tail keyword. These keywords are typically very specific (e.g. “monthly budget spreadsheet in Google Sheets”) and are being searched by people who are serious about buying something now. They know what they want. 

A short-tail keyword gets more searches but is less specific (e.g. “budget planner”). People who are searching for them usually aren’t ready to buy. They will type this keyword in to see what comes up and eventually will narrow it down to what they really want (e.g. “yearly budget planner in Excel”). 

So even though the term “budget planner” has a lot of demand, it’s likely that most of these searches aren’t by people who are ready to buy yet. 

For this reason, I like to use a long tail keyword at the very beginning of my listing title. I also make sure that the first few words of my listing title describe my product really accurately, so Etsy knows exactly what it is. 

Etsy also allows us to use 13 product “tags” per listing. Always use all 13 tags and try to use a variety of terms. I like to use eRank to find low-competition keywords to add here, too. 

I also prefer to only repeat 2 keywords in my titles and tags. I really try to go for as much variety as possible.

In addition to keywords, it’s important to know that Etsy shows the listings with the highest conversion rates first in search results. 

This is why it’s so important to really identify who is searching for this term and how you can entice them to click on your listing and buy it! Really focus on creating a product that will be exactly what they need at that moment.

Emily’s Tips for Etsy Success

My biggest tip for succeeding on Etsy is to start with keyword research with eRank. You should understand what is selling right now and how much competition there is for that product. 

This is just a ballpark, but as a beginner, if you see a keyword on eRank with a competition of less than 2,000, this is typically a great keyword to target.

My next tip would be to focus most of your marketing energy on your listing images. The main listing image for your product is what drives clicks on your product and makes customers excited to buy it! 

Make sure your main listing image is on brand (i.e. it matches the rest of your shop), is super clear (the image of your product should be large and easy to see), and not too cluttered with text. People will be scanning over it, so try to have just 2 to 3 areas of text, if you can. 

My final tip is to actually view your Etsy shop as part of a bigger business model you are building for yourself. Show people that you have an email list you would like them to sign up for, or put a link to your website everywhere you can. 

This will help you to build your business and sell more products to the same people (i.e. more spreadsheets, digital planners, a mini course, an ebook, 1:1 coaching services, etc.)

Emily’s Email List

I have been growing my email list since day 1. 

I grow my email list through a free resource library and a free budget starter kit. I have had the most success by offering freebies that are generous (people are excited to sign up for them!) and specific to the beginning of my target audience’s journey. 

My free resource library is just a password-protected page on my blog. When someone signs up for my email list, they will get an email with the password. It includes things that beginners would want at the start of their budgeting journeys, like printables and spreadsheets. 

I offer simple spreadsheets that show just how easy and fun using a spreadsheet is to increase the chances of them becoming a buying customer. For example, only my paid spreadsheets have an expense tracker, so there is still an incentive for them to buy.

I tell people about my freebies all over my Etsy shop (in my product descriptions, on my shop banner, etc.). This is great because it costs nothing to get these sign-ups.

I also have Pinterest pins telling people about my freebies. 

Right now, I run Facebook and Instagram ads to my freebies. This has been a great way to grow my list quickly. 

My favorite strategy for growing my list is actually by writing SEO-optimized blog posts and having people organically find me through Google search. Although it takes some time to build this strategy (and it’s one I need to dedicate some more time to), I still get sign-ups from my blog posts from 2 years ago.

Emily’s Favorite Resource

I highly recommend Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, by Donald Miller. 

If you want to sell spreadsheets or any digital product, this book is incredibly detailed and will help you to build your shop with confidence, instead of guessing what products you should make or what your free lead magnet to build your email list will be. I really wish I would have read this on day 1.

Her Top Tools

ConvertKit is one of my most-used tools, as it helps me to build my email list on autopilot and to sell digital products to my list. 

Facebook ads are incredibly helpful in scaling my business quickly by growing the number of email sign-ups I get. This is a new tool I’m using in 2023 for just my Shopify store. I run ads for my free budget starter kit to get my target audience signed up for my email list. 

Canva is also one of those tools that I use all of the time to make product images and free printables. It’s so easy to use and really makes things look professional.

I use Google Sheets and Excel to make spreadsheets. Google Sheets is my preference as it is free for my customers to get access to and it is very beginner friendly. 

Her Biggest Challenge

The biggest challenge I’ve faced is my own self-doubt. When I doubt my own abilities to make a spreadsheet or how to market it to my audience, my messaging ends up being confusing and not very inspiring. 

I really try to focus on the numbers, e.g. the conversion rate a product gets, and doing more of what’s proven to work. Don’t make things any more confusing than they need to be… and make sure you are having fun in your business! 

Don’t create something that you don’t fully enjoy making. Your excitement should be palpable for your customers!

Her Most Important Accomplishment

My most important accomplishment as an entrepreneur has been getting countless hours back to myself every week. The fact that I can focus more time on things that matter to me, like my mental health and flying to another province to visit my family whenever I like, is truly priceless.

What She Wishes She Knew When She Started

Competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Competition is proof that there is demand for your product. Most importantly, not everyone in your niche is your direct competition. 

Many digital product sellers do not build brands that target a specific audience who is facing a specific problem. So if you see 100 other spreadsheet sellers, it’s important to view them from the lens of your target audience instead. 

How many of them are targeting your target customer as effectively as you are? 

This is where you will find an opportunity to become a no-brainer purchase for your audience. 

For example, let’s say your target audience is stay-at-home moms. Although there are many different spreadsheets on Etsy, there aren’t many (if any) that speak directly to moms. 

So even though you see many budget spreadsheets, perhaps you don’t see any that are really targeting moms. This would be an opportunity for you to be a no-brainer purchase for them on Etsy.

Her Main Mistake

The biggest mistake I made was trying to sell to everyone. When I first started selling printables on Etsy, I remember being afraid to target young women with spreadsheets that were fun, girly, and pink. 

So I was mixing all kinds of colors that didn’t make sense and I wasn’t creating something with a clear message to my customer, like: using this spreadsheet will be fun and unlike anything you’ve seen before! 

Once I fully leaned into targeting a specific group of people, my sales increased. 

This ended up being what made me stand out amongst the competition. And it’s when I really started having fun creating spreadsheets!

Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs

Don’t let imposter syndrome get in your way of starting a business. I was not experienced with spreadsheets at all when I first started. I was even Googling how to make a simple graph, and now I’ve had nearly 3 years of freedom in my life. 

Remember that your target audience wants a simple solution that saves them time, and spreadsheets are a fantastic tool for that. 

By keeping them in mind every step of the way, you’ll be able to create a sustainable business that you love working on. 

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