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Come Alive

“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!

Kindness Counts

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.

These are uncertain times. Stocks are falling, banks are failing, who knows what the next president will bring to the table? I’ve spent more time reading the news and watching CNN than I ever have. I’ve never been more interested in what our next potential presidents have to say.

And I’m worried. I’ll admit that when I went into my own business, I left a job and mortgaged my house for more than I should have (20/20 hindsight) and now housing prices have fallen. I have more debt than I care to be carrying. My savings are weak at best. And my ‘real’ job is tied to advertising dollars and if things get much worse….who knows?

So what am I looking for in these uncertain times? Comfort. I want to feel safe and secure. I want to be surrounded by familiar, happy things. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’ve noticed (and I’ve seen this before), as the economy sinks lower, my sales on Etsy, eBay and my website have gone up. People don’t stop shopping because banks are failing. Some don’t have to. There are still gifts to buy. People need some comfort, some escape from the bad news that’s around them.

What better place to get that than a craft site like Etsy? Even if it’s just to go there to browse, who knows what they might find and have to have.

Etsy is not particularly political. For the most part, buying something on Etsy is not going to break the bank. And there’s lots of warm, fuzzy things that people make with their own two hands there. It takes people back to a simpler time. It’s relaxing.

I’m going to work on my Etsy store this weekend, and my eBay listings, to make sure that my copy, my photos, my titles offer my photo albums as an item of comfort…a special gift….a keepsake…something invaluable that will last a long time and can remind my potential customers of easy, fun and not so scary times.

The economy is not in great shape. But instead of pulling back and not advertising my albums because “who the heck is going to be buying them now?”, I’m going to make an extra effort to make sure they are available to those people who want a break from the worry and want to remember or celebrate good times.

I’m expecting to have a good holiday season this year because I’m going to make the effort to offer customers something they need right now…comfort.

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.

A Thousand Miles

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.

When you start your business, almost any seasoned business owner or your counselor at the Small Business Development Center will tell you that you need a business plan. Basically, writing down your goals for your business and how you get there.

There have been numerous books written on this subject too. If you want something, write it down. My favorite is Write It Down, Make It Happen.

And if you’ve read or seen The Secret, you know that the Law of Attraction works this way too. Write down all the things you’re grateful for. And then write down your intentions as if they’ve already happened. To be honest, some of this has worked for me in some very big ways. Some, not so much. Of course, I’m not always clear on my intentions too. For example, I’d love a thriving bookbinding business, but I’d also like to sleep. So while I know I’d rather be in business entirely for myself, it has its pros and cons. And until I can get clear on those, this goal may continue to elude me.

But I digress…. I recently stumbled on a very cool website called 43 Things. It is a social network of sorts with the sole purpose of giving people a place to write down their goals, share their successes and be cheered on to completion. For now it’s free and kinda cool. And you don’t have to have 43 goals, but hey, if you start setting intentions, you might be surprised!