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Archive for the ‘business building’ Category

A week or so ago, I got a tweet from Mr. Artfire about something called Rapid Cart. Basically if you have a shop on Mr. Artfire, you can set up a window on your blog or website, and customers can buy right from there without having to go to your Mr. Artfire store. That’s a convenient tool for the customer in a rush!

And then today, I read about Toldya!, a new service that lets you build a portable store on social networking sites or your blog or just about anywhere you’d like it online. There is no fee to set up your store. You pay a $.99 fee if you sell something. However, you don’t get paid until you ship and you have to ship through UPS. That would be inconvenient for me.

But hey, if you use Facebook, MySpace or any other networking sites to promote your products, it might be worth a look.

http://mrartifire.com

http://toldya.com

You can read more about toldya! here: http://tinyurl.com/dl9sz6

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So says the NY Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/23/business/23craft.html?_r=1&em

Apparently not so hot economic times turn gift givers into “make it yourselfers.”

It also, in my experience, makes gift givers who can’t craft look for handmade items to give. They are more personal, unique and very often less expensive than store counterparts.

So what does this mean for artisans like us…on Etsy, on eBay, at craft shows and on your own website?

It means it’s time to turn economic hard times to our advantage. I, for one, had a as good a holiday season as my schedule allowed. And I plan to continue having a solid first quarter for 2009 as well. How?

I’ve differentiated my products by personalizing them. I love what I do, but I also love being inspired by and exciting my customers. For those of you who had a great holiday season, keep doing what you are doing.

If you had a less than stellar season, you may have a lot of competition, or you might want to  promote yourself a bit differently. Check out successful sellers in your genre. Don’t copy them. But see what they are doing differently than what you are doing. Sometimes, it may just be that they are in business longer than you and have a following. But sometimes, pictures, description wording, store policies or pricing (and I mean making sure you don’t undersell yourself) can make the difference.

To draw potential customers into your store, you might offer supplies as well. I know as crafters we all have tons of stuff sitting in bins, in drawers, right out there on the table, that we’ll never use. We can’t help ourselves when we are in the fabric store, scrapbook store, jewelry and bead supply store. We have trouble passing up the pretty things and we all say “I’ll find something to do with this….” As a result, I have bins and bins of fabric.

Gather those things together that you know you’ll never use and sell them as destash on Etsy or just plain sell them on eBay. It brings traffic, sales and loyal customers that may then want your products.

Also consider patterns. We can be very proprietary about our designs, but is there one you’ve stopped making or have variations of? Consider offering your designs for sale since there are folks becoming crafters who might now need neat new things to make!

The holidays might be over for now, but there are always occasions and gift giving opportunities. Don’t let those pass you by. Start now, and by Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, you might have the next really hot item in your store!

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So I saw it on the Etsy forums today and then on Ina Steiner’s Auction Bytes. Etsy has had a banner month in November with  total sales of $10.8 million, representing a 28% increase over October, and a 157% increase year-over-year. Wow.

I know I am having a very good month on both Etsy and eBay. I’ve been working non-stop, one of the reasons I haven’t been posting, and I will be doing so for the next week at least to get all of my orders out in time for Christmas. I wish I had more time to promote and craft and promote some more. I’m certainly not making tons of money but I almost feel like that’s only because I just don’t have enough time.

And yet, I still see grumbling on Etsy forums from shops that are not doing the sales they did in prior years, or shops struggling to get their craft businesses off the ground. My suggestion is to find successful Etsians and see what they do differently. Find different avenues to promote your wares.

Take the time you spend worrying and complaining about  sales that are down and spend it finding new ways to improve, promote and build your business, using facebook, twitter, bloggers and the etsy forums.

Several years ago, I read Secrets of the Millionaire Mind. It was an interesting read…. and one of the things that I took away from it was an exercise in “not complaining.” Spend a week not complaining. It’s not as easy as you think. If you find yourself winding up into a whine session, stop, and turn that into a positive. You will be amazed at how your attitude may change, and in response, your business will change. Things fall into place when we are positive.

So be positive, and grateful….grateful that you have the talent to make things with your hands and that you’ve met such cool people along the way and that whatever extra you gain from your craft business online, even if right now it’s just education,  is something someone else may not be able to do.

Your positive attitude will come through in your listings, in your dealings with customers and in your very own creativity.

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You have a craft business, you have an eBay store, you have a website and you’re on Etsy. All great ways to promote your business. But are you on Twitter? Twitter is the latest social media craze, allowing you to microblog (only 140 characters at a time) from your computer, your blackberry, or even your phone! Posts are short enough that they never feel like work!

You can let others know what you’re doing, blog posts, new items you’re listing, or great sales you’re having. You can link to anywhere from twitter (just remember to put the http:// in front of your web address.) And unlike Facebook, where you are a “person” first, promoting your business on Twitter seems to be the norm.

And if you are worried that you’re URL will be too long, just go to http://tinyurl.com to shorten the web address and give an air of mystery to your link!

The idea behind Twitter is to follow those people who interest you and to have those and others follow you back. You’ll be able to see posts of people following you, you can comment or email them directly and they can be in touch with you.

Want to find your target market? Go to Twitter Search, type in keywords or phrases that you think your potential customers might be using and see who’s tweeting about what. Find someone you think might be interested in your products? Follow them. I bet they’ll follow you back and you may even get a customer out of the deal!!

Already have a Twitter account or getting ready to sign up for one? Follow me twitter.com/irisandlily
I’ll be happy to follow you back.

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It’s been a while, but I hope to get back to regular blog posts now. We’ve had a lot going on around here and sometimes finding the time to sit and write gets tricky. But there’s so much to share!

One of the things I’ve been busy with lately is album orders. Finally! As we get closer to the holidays, business is picking up, although very few of my orders are holiday gifts or even holiday related. In fact, my life has been so hectic these last few weeks, I haven’t really even had the time to list properly in preparation for the holidays. But enough about me.

There’s something I’ve noticed with my recent orders (still about me…tsk, tsk) that has been a really pleasant surprise. I sell on eBay, Etsy and my own website. I blog, have had some products showcased on blogs (thanks to Etsy) and I have a decent customer base from the years I’ve been doing this.

My orders are coming from all over. Some from eBay, some from Etsy, two from my website in the past month, which is rare but so exciting, and a few from previous customers, who just shoot off an email. I only just added selling on Etsy this Spring and it has already made a huge difference in the exposure I’ve gotten for my albums. I even considered giving up eBay….

But here’s the thing. By having my products in multiple places, very different groups of people find me and I’ve gotten a much further reach for my albums, resulting in more orders than I would have otherwise.

Obviously when you start selling, you want to start in one place to see how things go. Websites are expensive (and that’s not my most effective selling tool), and listing on multiple sites can be quite time-consuming. We need time to craft too! But don’t discount your options. I see quite a few people on the Etsy forums dissing eBay. And while eBay and/or Amazon might not be for everyone, if you’ve got something unique and handmade, you’d be surprised at how much you can sell. Not everyone on eBay is looking for a bargain. In fact, lots of customers go there to find something different that they can’t find anywhere else. And everyone goes to Amazon now. I’m not there yet, but I plan to be by next year.

I like having multiple streams of visibility for my albums. Not only does it give me more sales, it gives me credibility as well. Seeing Iris & Lily in a bunch of different places signals that I am a real business.

If you are only selling in one place, consider your options. I know if I was selling in only one place, my sales would be a little dismal. Try a few different venues and see which ones work for you. With listing fees of only 20 cents in a lot of cases, and now only 35 cents even on eBay, it can’t hurt to try. Weed out the ones that don’t work, but you might be surprised when you find another venue that does.

The holidays are just around the corner, and while money is tight everywhere, there are still gifts to be bought, and lots of consumers are going online to buy them!

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“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs;

Ask yourself what makes you come alive.

And then go and do that.

Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

—Harold Whitman

I feel alive today, and hopeful. Our country has chosen a new direction, one that will hopefully bring positive change and opportunity.

I plan to hold onto that feeling and do my part to effect positive change and opportunity in my own life as well.

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It really is true what they say. A loyal customer base can make or break your business. I work full-time and have my album business on the side. Some weeks, when work and life get crazy, I don’t get to list as much as I’d like because I run out of day before I run out of things to do.

These last couple of weeks have been just like that. Fortunately, I have enjoyed the good fortune to have customers, some of whom I haven’t heard from in a couple of years, email me, seemingly out of the blue, requesting additional albums. Income without any effort (at least before the sale).

Make your customers’ experiences good ones. Include them in the creative process if at all possible, make the experience personal and add special touches, and say thank you for their business. It goes a long way. And it really helps when there is just not enough time in the day to cultivate new lifelong customers!

PS. Some of my most successful crafting years were in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when we were in a, you guessed it, recession. When the economy gets rough, consumers don’t stop shopping. But they do become more discretionary in their spending, looking for value and uniqueness for those thoughtful gifts they must buy. What is more valuable or unique than a handmade necklace, photo album, stuffed doll or wonderful painting or photograph that reminds them of a special place or time? Don’t throw in your crafting towel just because the economy is wonky. Instead, think of the ways you can add value and uniqueness to your products and capture someone’s imagination and heart!

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Our Beloved Calvin

Our Beloved Calvin

My family and I are still reeling from the sudden death of our beloved cat on Monday. He was 15 and an integral member of our family. He was always playful, affectionate and cute as a button. And we miss him terribly.

It was unexpected. Even though Calvin was “old,” he was active and vibrant and seemingly healthy. I come home for lunch every day (I work nearby) to feed him and on Monday, Calvin was fine at lunchtime. However, when my daughter and husband got home from work a couple of hours later, he had passed away. I went to my vet to find out what to do next (I was so distraught I couldn’t even find the phone number). We wanted to cremate him and keep his ashes and we didn’t know where to start.

The vet put me in touch with Regency Forest, a pet crematory and funeral home. I was incredibly impressed with the compassion of these people. I called at 4:45 on Monday (they were closing at 5:00) and they told me very gently how to keep Calvin while waiting to bring him to them the next morning. They even have a service where they would have come right then to pick him up. We didn’t do this because they are pretty close by and this service, while convenient and thoughtful, was more than I could afford. They suggested I ask my vet to take Calvin overnight instead. My vet was more than happy to hold him for free.

When we got to Regency Forest in the morning–my 22-year-old daughter Kate came with me–I was greeted with sympathy, a beautiful environment, tissues, and a woman who made the process quick and easy. Kate wanted to take Calvin to the crematory herself to make sure we knew he would be cremated alone and we would get his ashes back (we’d heard horror stories). Even the gentleman who ran the crematory offered his sympathies and offered to walk us through the process if we wanted more information. Or we could have stayed. We graciously declined.

When I went back to pick up Calvin’s ashes, they were thoughtfully returned to me in a lovely tin placed in a gift bag with tissue and a heartfelt card that made us cry on the way home. They took such care with our baby that I would recommend this company to anyone who found themselves in the unfortunate situation we were in. Regency Forest offered us comfort at a very painful moment.

I realize this might be an odd post for a crafter’s business blog, but there is a point. Exceptional customer service–kindness and thoughtful touches–can make such a huge difference to your customers. Consider the companies you’ve dealt with that left an impression with you and how, and then keep those in mind when you are dealing with customers.

I will be forever grateful for the kindness of the Regency Forest people. They made a difference.

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On Friday at work, one of my coworkers and I were passing in the kitchen and we exchanged the usual “Hi, how are you?” Of course the answer we always expect is “Fine” or “Good, and you?” and we move on. This coworker jokingly asked me if I was going to wait around for the answer. We were crazy-busy and I was walking as I was asking.

It’s become a joke between us and that’s fine but it did get me to thinking. Are we really listening? Are we really doing the things that our customers would like to see? Or are we doing what’s easy and what we love. I get that as artisans, the whole point of creating is that we love what WE are doing. I’m not suggesting that if one of my customers (I’m a bookbinder) wants jewelry, that I’ll switch gears and start making jewelry. But if a customer asks for a slightly different style book or a fabric I don’t normally showcase, I see if I can do what they are asking or find that fabric. I’m not always successful, but I do listen to suggestion and I always try. I’m fortunate. I create custom products a lot of the time and I have to listen to my customers. But, I get really great ideas from them.

What I’m proposing for this holiday season is that maybe we should ask our customers what they’d like to see…what will get them to click on the “BUY NOW” button…..what they will be willing to spend their disappearing dollars on?

Have a mailing list? Send out a survey to see what people are looking for? Figure out the trends. Pay attention in convos. You may just find the “next big thing” that way.

And when you have a consensus about a color, a pattern, a style….try it. Someone out there will notice you listened and be happy to spend their money with you.

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Let us assume that you want to go somewhere a thousand miles away. You have no vehicle. You can only set off walking and hope that somehow, sooner or later, you’ll get a ride. There’s a risk involved. You have to make a gesture of intention, faith and determination and then see what it leads to. The alternative, however, is to stay at home and decide that as the journey is impossible, the destination can never be reached. With this, there’s no gamble. You can be quite sure that nothing will change. So which is it to be this month? You have no choice. You have to try.

The above is my horoscope for September from Jonathan Cainer. He has an uncanny knack for writing a general horoscope that I feel was meant just for me. I’m a Taurus by the way, so any of you other Tauruses out there, this is your horoscope for September as well.

When I started selling crafts some 22 years ago at craft fairs, I just jumped in. We were fortunate to get a good list of shows to try out and we came up with some products that sold well right off the bat. I left the shows for full-time work and when the creative bug bit again, I started on eBay, again, with little knowledge and not sure how my products would do.

Along the way, I learned the ropes, made some mistakes and revamped my products until I was happy with them. Has it been success all the way? No. I’ve paid my dues, spent some money I didn’t necessarily have and I’m still working to figure out how best to make the most of a craft I love.

Would I trade anything I’ve been through? Not for a million bucks. I’ve learned so much and I enjoy what I do for the most part. I’m still learning and evolving and I’m ready for the next 1,000 miles, wherever that will take me.

The point? Don’t let fear stop you from doing something you think you’ll enjoy. Etsy and eBay are easy places to get started selling your crafts. If you’re considering selling this way, I say go for it. You’ll never know unless you try.

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