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Archive for the ‘Crafting’ Category

A couple of months ago, I learned about Google Base from an Etsy forum. I found a great tutorial on how to use LetsEts and post on Google Base. It was a little tricky, so I wrote my own blog post about posting to Google Base based on my experience. LetsEts picked it up and apparently it’s been helpful to others. I’m so glad!

One of the recent comments on that post was from a woman who called herself a Geek-in-Training (thanks Carla!). I loved that!!! As crafters, we are in tune with non-technical processes. As a bookbinder, I use board, fabric, a scissor, an iron and a cold glue process.  I love working with my hands. But to be able to even afford my craft, I need to make some money from it, and with the Internet, I now have easy avenues for that purpose. So I’ve also become a Geek in Training.

There are so many ways to sell on the Internet, and many of them are relatively inexpensive  or even free. You really don’t even need a website. However, if you are considering selling your crafts online, and you should, you need to know about a couple of tools that can help you and are relatively easy, even for us non-technical folk.

The next time you are on your computer, consider learning about the following tools for selling your crafts and building a following:

Etsy (of course)

eBay (yes, eBay is still a great place for selling handmade items)

Blogging (wordpress, blogger, typepad, take your pick. They are free and relatively easy to learn). Personally, I like wordpress, can you tell?

Twitter (micro-blogging site that is just the hottest networking tool right now. It’s quick, easy to use and a great way to send new potential customers to your website, etsy store, ebay store, blog, etc. You do want to have somewhere to send your potential customers though.)

Facebook, which is a great social network for connecting with family and friends, as well as setting up a page for your business, connecting in groups where you may find the folks who are looking for what you are selling and a way to find new followers.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, you can get so caught up in doing all of these techno things, you might find you have less time for your actual craft, but if you aren’t selling it, you won’t be doing much crafting anyway.

So don’t be afraid. Look up information on the above on google and get fearless. It’s really not as hard as you think. I am still a geek-in-training (the web moves so fast I don’t think we ever stop training), but I’ve learned a lot and I love the technical stuff almost as much as the crafting!

In the following weeks, I will be blogging about getting started on etsy, ebay, etc. These will be very elementary for the true beginner. I hope they help!

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I had a busy holiday season this year. That was good. I made some extra money, hopefully forged some new customer relationships and was overall really proud of myself that I got all my orders done on time, while working full time and going about my normal routine. I spent a lot of time in my studio on weekends and late into evenings but it was all good.

Until Christmas Day (or a couple of days before). Once the holidays hit and the madness slowed, I seemed to lose my creative mojo. I’ve gotten a few orders, which I’m working on, but I haven’t started listing again and I can’t seem to get into the space of spending time in my studio being creative again. (probably because it looks like a tornado tore through there from the weeks that I was frantically pushing orders through).

I suppose I needed a break. Well, it’s mid-January now and time to get back to work. To reboot my creativity, I plan to clean and organize my studio this weekend, list destash supplies that I will NEVER use, and come up with some new products to add to my line. I always find that creating something new gets everything rolling again. Oh and I bought some fabulous fabric on sale. Not sure what to do with it yet, but it’s so pretty!

My craft studio has always been my haven. I love being down there when I’m stressed or when I just need a break from the world. However, at this time of year, I always feel like I need a break from the studio. Break’s over. Time to get back to work.

We all suffer from creative burnout at one point or another. How do you get going again when your creative mojo is in hibernation?

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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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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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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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When I started selling my handmade photo albums, scrapbooks and journals online, I started on eBay. It was the easiest place to start and at the time, the only game in town. Now I sell on my website and on Etsy too, but I do still sell on eBay and I have to admit, when I’m putting my energy there, it’s still my most successful venue. Let’s face it… with 250 million-plus registered users, the audience is there.

Something bothers me a little on eBay though. Well lots of things about eBay bother me lately, but this one is specific to trying to sell handmade items there.

On a whim this morning, I searched “handmade” on eBay. And I got 48,971 results. That’s a lot of handmade in what has primarily become a commodities marketplace. As I sifted through the results though (and believe me I didn’t sift through them all or I’d still be doing it), I noticed that many of those “handmade” products are not handmade by the person selling them, which really muddies the waters if you are looking for products that are handmade by the artisan. There’s lots of fair trade products on eBay, and lots of items that I’m not sure I would believe are actually handmade, but hey, who am I to judge?

So I searched Indie… 3,000 plus listings here but these referred mostly to vintage indie-designed clothing, s that won’t work.

eBay has categories for finished crafts and artisan jewelry. I don’t make jewelry but I know I don’t use the finished crafts category often because I don’t get great results there.

Self-representing artists have their own category and they also have EBSQ, which is an association for self-representing artists. When you see this tag on an art listing, you know it has been created by the person selling it.

We need something like this for eBay artisans as well. A tag, an acronym, an organization we can promote on eBay listings that defines us as self-representing artisans and crafters.

Yes, we have Etsy, and it’s growing and making a name for itself. Based on views vs. sales though, I still think I’m being checked out primarily by other sellers. I have less visitors on eBay but a much higher sell-through. That’s because eBay is established and reaches a mass consumer market. And I’ve been there longer.

Most eBay pundits feel that niche marketing is the way to build a future on eBay. Actually, that’s the way to build an Internet business. And you can’t get more “niche-y” than a handmade line of whatever it is you are creating.

So I think we need to come up with a new keyword for our eBay titles that makes it clear that the items we are selling on eBay are handmade by us. And then we need to let the masses know. It will certainly help our target customer find us without having to sift through 48,971 listings.

Any suggestions?

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I was browsing the Etsy forums recently when I found myself in a thread that turned quite ugly. That was sad.

The thread focused, however, on copyright and trademark infringement by using images owned by companies like Disney and Sanrio (the Hello Kitty people). I think that anything someone does creatively is a great thing, and I don’t personally object to people creating jewelry, cards, scrapbooking stuff, etc., with well-known images and kid-friendly icons. They can be hot sellers. However, I’m not one of the big companies whose images are being used. It is cause for concern if these sellers don’t know that they can be in quite a bit of trouble if they are using these images without permission (which was the case in the forums), or if they don’t care.

On eBay, there is a VeRO program, and if a large company complains that someone is using its images illegally, those items come down and sellers are warned. I know. I’ve been a victim of VeRO for unknowingly using the term Shabby Chic to describe a fabric that was not actually owned by the Rachel Ashwell company. The term is a registered trademark of Rachel Ashwell. I didn’t know. I thought it was a decor style and I was selling fabric that fit that style. My listing was taken down–no refunded listing fees. Fortunately, it was only a warning, and I got the message. And I sent an apology to the Rachel Ashwell company for unknowingly infringing on her trademark.

Using Disney images or other copyrighted, trademarked and patented designs without permission can land you in hot water. On Etsy, we are for the most part little guys, but Etsy is growing, and eventually Disney or Sanrio could take notice. You don’t want to be the one they notice. Even certain Disney fabrics are no-no’s for creating anything for resale. Says so right on the selvage of most Winnie-the-Pooh fabrics – for home use only. Etsy is not in violation but you will be. And Etsy won’t be able to protect you.

I did a search on Etsy before I started this post for Disney Princess. 27 pages. A lot of those items may be supplies, but some are not. For Hello Kitty? 62 pages.

My suggestions?

1. Do your homework and make sure your products are not inadvertently in violation of any copyright, trademark or patent holders. And if they are, start brainstorming products that might sell just as well without putting your entire business in jeopardy.

2. Don’t refer to your product by the company name or trademarked product in the title of your listings. If you’ve made it, even if you’ve used images from Disney or Hello Kitty, it is not a Disney or Sanrio product. It is yours. However, the images are still theirs.

3. If you are selling something similar, say a costume, but it’s not the same and not infringing, don’t refer to it as [company name] such as Disney or Hello Kitty. In your description instead, if you want to get the keywords in, say something like “Feel just like Cinderella in this beautiful princess dress.” Don’t say its a Disney Cinderella Dress, even if you used a Disney pattern. It’s not. That’s like saying a pocketbook you made is a Coach bag.

4. Find out how to get the rights to use those images if they are your bread and butter. Just be prepared. It may cost you an arm and a leg.

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In this third part of how to take advantage of slow online summer sales and get ready for the holiday selling season, it’s all about getting your name out there.

On Etsy, on eBay, everywhere you find crafters and artisans selling their wares, you also hear grumbling about copycats or too many jewelry people at a show or not enough traffic to a site or a show. This is the time of year to take these matters into your own hands and promote your business, be it for local shows or your online store. Get your business brand out there as the best in your field. That way, if someone tries to copy your work, most people will know you and come to you anyway.

On the homefront, if you do local craft fairs, consider placing a small ad or two in local papers or on Craig’s list to let people know where you’ll be (offer a discount if they mention that they found you through one of your advertising venues). If you have a website, post a show schedule so people can easily find where you’ll be. Have kids? Pass out business cards (with your web address) and talk up  your upcoming shows with other moms at the pool, picking up kids from camp or daycare, wherever moms meet!

Offer to throw a home party where the hostess gets a hefty discount based on sales from your showing. Hey, it works for Pampered Chef and Candlelite! It’s a captive audience and a good show can net you some tidy profit in an otherwise slow selling environment.

Participate in local charity events, offering coupons for gift bags, your items as auctions or prizes.

For your website or online stores: Promote Now!!

Start blogging and talking about new items you are showcasing. Add pictures of your work! Or scope out blogs where you’d like your products and company featured. Comment on other people’s blogs where your work might get exposure. Check out Mommy bloggers who review products and ask if they’d like to review yours. Keep in mind, you’ll have to send free samples, but well worth it if you land on a blog with tons of traffic.

Issue press releases on PR Web. Join Facebook and flickr and upload new photos of your work. Join smaller social networks either related to your craft or with folks that might buy your craft like poshmama.com. Create an email list of past customers and start emailing them once every week or so now to promote new creations and give discounts. Stay front and center, so when customers are buying again, they come straight to you. Do these things now, and your holiday season will rock!

Last but not least, have faith. We all go through ups and downs. Before you know it, the weather will turn crisp, and sales will pick up. In the meantime, leverage whatever holidays/events there are. Sell jewelry specific for weddings. Create cards for baby occasions, cause those are always coming up. Get those bags and clothes ready for back-to-school season. And be ready for the rush of orders because they will come in!

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So you’ve thought about new things to make to ramp up for the holidays from yesterday’s post.

Now what do you do with the staples in your store? The bread and butter that just isn’t moving right now? You need to hold tight during slow sales months and I can tell you what NOT to do…

2. DON’T lower your prices! Our knee-jerk reaction in a “slow” economy is to lower prices. However, resist this urge…hold steady on your prices. It’s really hard to raise them again. And, if you lower them, it says you don’t value your workmanship or your time.

In some cases, some of the shops I have looked at, prices are way too low to begin with. These are handmade products. You have to get paid for your time, people, or you’ll never be able to stay in business. It took me a long time to learn this lesson (and hence, why I’m crafting part-time while working full-time). If you can, to make some extra money, sell supplies. I sell fabric on eBay along with my albums. It gets those customers in to take a look, and you make some money in the process on treasures you have lying around.

Really need to move inventory? Have sales or offer discounts to returning customers. But if your core prices are working for you, don’t change them. And if you feel they are too low, now’s the time to raise them so your customers will be used to the new numbers come holiday season. And if you really want to lure customers in with low prices, come up with some cute, quick items that will offer the inviting opening price, while still keeping your core products at sane price levels.

If you’re not sure if it’s the pricing that’s giving you trouble, try diving into #3 here while waiting out the slow season!

3. Refresh your stores, whether a website, an Etsy store, an eBay store or wherever you sell…now’s the time, when you have a little time, to add new photos, change up descriptions that aren’t working for you, revamp tags and material listings. If you have the same old, same old in your store month after month, it gets stale, and your valued followers could get bored and stop coming by, and then–their loss, they’ll miss your cool new intros when you roll those out.

Look at other websites, other stores, other listings. What do you like about those? What draws your attention? What makes you want to click that button to put those items into your cart. And then, without copying of course, try some strategies that seem to work for others. They may not always work for you, but keep testing. Eventually you’ll come up with the perfect formula for your products and your store!

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