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Archive for the ‘Selling Online’ Category

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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If you are selling your crafts online, whether on eBay, Etsy or anywhere else, you should be reporting your sales to the IRS. The upside of reporting your additional income to the IRS is that you can also write off expenses and as we know, there are many–materials, space in your home that you use specifically for your craft, computer equipment, etc.

It’s not the best idea to run your business online and think the IRS will never catch up to you because you’re just a little guy.

It was recently announced that Paypal will be required to report payments to the IRS each year, starting in 2011. Paypal is one of the easiest shopping carts to use, and if you are selling on eBay or Etsy, I would be really surprised if you aren’t using it.

Under the new legislation, PayPal will be required to report to the IRS the total payment volume received by PayPal customers in the U.S. who:

  1. receive more than $20,000 in payment volume in a single year; AND
  2. receive more than 200 payments in a single year.

Both requirements must be met for Paypal to be required to report payments. And I would think that this is just the beginning.

If you are doing business online, be smart and safe and report your income. And then take the deductions that come along with being in business too!

To read more about these changes, go to https://www.thepaypalblog.com/2008/08/proposed-irs-reporting-requirements-become-law/

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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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I’m so angry at my son right now. He took my car last night to go to work (his is not running) on the terms that he’d be home by 7:00 am, so I can get my daughter to work and myself to work on time. It’s 8:05 and he won’t be home for at least another half hour, making us both very late. 😦

I’m not angry with him for being late. I get that stuff happens and we can’t always keep our promises. But he could have called. I had to call him 5 times before he picked up his phone….probably because he knew there would be yelling on the other end. But he could have avoided that by calling me first.

When you are in a family and something you are doing will affect another family member, the right thing to do is communicate. We all know this. By not communicating, it causes all kinds of friction. You’re all shaking your heads in agreement, I can feel it.

Well, it’s the same with your customers. If someone buys something from you, they expect at least to know what they need to do to complete the sale and when their package will arrive. And in this day and age, it’s really easy to get in touch, via email, phone, text message or even twitter! (Sidebar: What’s a twitter you ask? A really fun way to stay in touch! More about that in a future post.)

So guide your customers along the way. Talk to them. Email them when you receive payment, when you expect the product to ship, and when it has shipped so they know to watch for it. If you have a problem or are waiting on a back order of beads, email your customer and explain the hold up. Most people are very understanding, if you just give them the opportunity to be. If you don’t communicate though, and a package takes longer than expected to arrive or the product is not exactly what was pictured (and with handmade that is often the case), you might find you have an unhappy customer at the other end. And we all know we don’t want that.

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About a month ago, I sent out an order to a repeat customer (my favorite kind!) While she loved the album as always, this one was a rush order for her, and I made the mistake of throwing the album into a plain plastic bag and just sending it. She was very disappointed that it wasn’t wrapped the way I always send my albums…in tissue, a clear plastic bag with a bow and a thank you note. I apologized profusely, and I’ve been very careful not to send an order out that way again. Customers buy an experience and if they take your item out of the box and get excited even before opening the package, you could have a customer for life!

Your packaging should reflect the same care and creativity that goes into your products. It makes for a special experience for your customer and it also helps them to remember you and your name. I add a thank you note that I created in Microsoft Word, put my logo and a picture on there, so it helps customers remember my brand. Right now, I’m also enclosing a 20% off coupon for each customer’s next order. The holidays are closer than you think.

Treat your packages that are going to customers the way you would expect to receive something or would like a gift sent to a loved one.

Recently, I purchased some fabric on eBay. The fabric was gorgeous, arrived very quickly, but the seller only enclosed a receipt. There was nothing to remind me of her name. I might not buy from her again, because who knows if I’ll remember who she is? And that’s a shame because I buy A LOT of fabric, and I could be a great repeat customer.

Put something in each package that brands you and helps your customers remember who you are. Package your products with care so your customer knows that whenever they receive a package from you, it will be special. It doesn’t have to cost a lot! When those customers come back again and again, you’ll be glad you made the effort.

I buy tissue and bags at Nashville Wraps. They are inexpensive, I can buy in bulk and it’s easy. I’m off to get some gift boxes!!

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There is so much to know when setting up any online business, and this includes crafting. Sites like Etsy and eBay make it easy to get started, but if you don’t know the first thing about keywords, you can have the most beautiful, high-quality, deal-of-the-century products on the planet and you might find yourself with no sales.

Here’s something I’ve noticed about us crafters. We’re experts in our crafts. We know the materials, the technical names for gems and tools and techniques, and we can explain the intricacies of binding a book or creating a one-of-a-kind necklace. However, our customers do not think the same way. As a matter of fact, they probably know very little about the specifics of our products, other than it’s the perfect gift they were looking for or those darling tanzanite earrings will go perfect with the little black dress.

Ok, so keywords. On google, on eBay, on Etsy and just about anywhere else potential customers search, they use keywords to find your products. But they aren’t necessarily using the same keywords you are using, and unfortunately, if this is the case, they will find someone else with less spectacular tanzanite earrings but better keywords.

When you are deciding on your online keywords, you need to think like a customer. If you were explaining your product to your non-crafting friends, how would you describe your product? For my photo albums, I make sure I use the terms personalized and gift wherever possible. And I get specific–baby gift, wedding gift, sweet sixteen gift. When I’m looking for something online, I’m often searching for something general and I almost never know the technical terms.

There is a great tool on google where you can get keyword ideas and see how many people are searching those terms and how related terms stack up. It’s used for google adwords, but it works for deciding on your keywords everywhere else too, and it’s free. You want to find keywords that work for your product but are not too competitive. Keep in mind, you may need to experiment to get the perfect keyword combination. What works for someone else may not work for you.

https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal

So why in my title here, do I have keywords, tags and titles? Well, they all do the same things in different places.

On Etsy, your tags are your search tools and keywords out to google. But keep in mind that your title gets picked up in Etsy searches as well. It’s great to have a creative name for your item in your Etsy listing title, but if you don’t say what it is, you may not show up in a search for photo albums or necklaces or baby clothes. Make sure your titles clearly explain your product. And use your 14 tags (keywords) wisely. Colors, what the product is and how it can be used are helpful. And if you find yourself at a loss, use your store name or user id. You never know who remembered your name from the last time they were in your store–great branding too.

On eBay, your listing titles are the important place for your keywords. You have 55 characters there. Make sure they count! No one, and I mean no one, searches for L@@K!

And on your website, you have something called meta tags (these are behind the scenes keywords that should be filled out so the google searchbots can find you and put you in the search engine.) When developing a website, always make sure your web designer knows to add meta tags, meta description and meta title. And make these three things count!

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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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Today I got two almost identical marketing offers entitled “The Elephant in the Room,” and they of course were proposing a book that can help us all get “rich” in an economy that’s quickly heading toward the dreaded “R” word…recession. Now, I don’t know if we’ll land in a recession, but with gas prices and food prices rising and an unstable work environment, you could say the economy is less than desirable. On the Etsy forums, there are numerous posts from artists and artisans worrying about slow sales … “Is it just normal for sales to slow during June?” “Is the economy hurting sales?” In my selling experience (although this is my first June on Etsy), I find that things slow down some in June because kids are getting out of school, people are planning vacations and let’s face it, it’s not a huge gift season unless you know tons of people getting married.

However, I’ve also found ( having been a crafter for too many years to mention) that during the peak show season and the holidays, shows are more profitable the worse the economy gets. Yes, I’m old enough to have been through this before. It seems when purse strings tighten, people look for unique products that they feel give them the most for their money. Unique gift ideas, cute holiday decor, just a little splurge when there was no vacation this summer.

So my fellow crafters/artists/indie designers, take heart. Don’t look at a slow June as an indicator of what’s to come this year in your craft business. Take it as an opportunity.

Over the next few days, I’ll post five things to do to have a killer holiday craft season, starting with:

1. If your sales are slow now, use that time to create the next very coolest thing that everyone has to have. With more and more vendors jumping onto Etsy every day, competition is fierce. If you roll out with something unique that can be a great holiday gift, you’ll see increased sales in the coming months.

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Ok, so this might be kind of an odd topic for a craft blog, but there’s a point.

I went to breakfast with a friend this morning, which required me to take the infamous Long Island Expressway a few exits to meet her in the middle, infamous because if you have to commute on it on any given weekday, it’s torture. I know. I did it for 10 very long years. On Sunday morning though, until the Hamptons traffic starts to go home, it’s never that bad…most of the time.

Then I took the LIE back east to go home and I noticed something that was so strange to me. They were closing off the westbound road, which I could only assume was for some kind of construction project because I didn’t see any horrible collisions. I didn’t notice any signs on the way in though.

And here’s the odd part. The police at the exits were at the entrance to the LIE, not at the top of the exit ramp, where motorists would have known NOT to get on at all. Instead, at at least 4 exits in a row, there were state police right at the LIE entrance, and cars backed up into the ramp, maybe 10 or 20…poor suckers. And then, AND THEN… I saw where the main closure was at exit 60, and I was just floored. Because the cops were not blocking the road where the exit let off….they were quite a ways past it, and there were at least 100 cars, if not more (hard to count when you’re going 60 miles an hour in the opposite direction), all jammed up in 4 lanes between where they should have gotten off and where the cops had them trapped. There was no place for them to go, and there was no way, with the cars piling up behind them, they were backing up.

I was so happy that I was going the other way. On a Sunday, the last thing you want to do is sit in traffic in 90 degree heat on the LIE. And let’s not mention the gas–oh the gas–to sit there with the car running for AC…Yikes!

I’d really like to know what brain surgeon set up that traffic closure pattern and why not one of the cops didn’t think to go to the TOP of the exit ramps to avoid traffic jams.

Anyway, if the brass or whoever is making the decisions had just used a little common sense, they could have avoided what may end up being a heatedly discussed topic in the homes of those who were trapped, and people like me shaking their heads in amazement the whole way home.

The point of the story? Common sense. We all need to use it…in our daily lives, our business and on our websites and online stores. Consider the traffic patterns before you lay out your site…how do customers browse? How can you make it easy for them to press that button and buy from you? How can you prevent roadblocks? Have clear directions and make your site/store easy to navigate. Avoid roadblocks. If it’s not easy to drive, people won’t stay and they won’t buy from you. They’re not trapped on the Information Superhighway.

Is my site perfect? Not on a bet. It’s pretty, but functionally, it’s clunky and I think difficult to navigate. I had a designer create it too fast (getting ready for a show), and I didn’t really know as much as I know now. I spent a sizable chunk of money on a website that I barely use. As soon as I have enough money to start over, I will be revamping that site.

That’s why I love sites like eBay and Etsy. They make it easy to navigate, when you do make mistakes, they don’t cost an arm and a leg, and it’s a good place to start so you understand what’s needed when you do have your own site.

I’m so glad I don’t have to go West on the LIE today!

A typical commute on the LIE

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I love making albums with customer photos. Each one is unique and some are quite challenging. But I also love, love, love pretty fabrics and I love to put them together in neat combinations. Sometimes it’s easy because coordinates are sitting right there on the fabric store shelf! I found that yesterday in my local fabric store. yippee!

And I made these very journals with that pretty fabric! Aren’t they fun?

Handmade case-bound journals - New at Iris & Lily

The best part is that making these journals, which didn’t take a terribly long time yesterday, gave me such renewed inspiration. I got so much done on my orders last night and today, and I’m anxious to list more new things. I just wish there were more time in each day so I could just shop for fabric and make new stuff.

And to think, I’ve been trying to stay away from the fabric store because I can’t resist buying fabric. It pays off though when it provides inspiration!

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