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3 Ways To Grow a Healthy Business With Leaps and Boundaries

 

 

 

 

If we have a retail business, this is the time of year the soup (or something way worse) hits the fan, the chickens come home to roost, the money comes in or it doesn’t, we are prepared or we’re not, and all the bad (and good) business decisions we have made over the last nine months come back around full circle (and either smack us in the face or take us out to dinner).

This stuff is not for sissies!

 

Something that can make our businesses run much smoother now and help us create a more sustainable business going forward is to get really clear on our business boundaries.

 

Boundaries aren’t some kind of mean-girl thing to keep people away. Weak, unclear boundaries will let in all kinds of stuff we do not want to be collecting and our own energy gets lost in the shuffle. Without boundaries we will be drained, overwhelmed and worn out. Our boundaries are always our own responsibility – they can only be crossed by the stuff we allow. Crossed boundaries will always show us the stuff we haven’t dealt with yet.

 

So what can we do?

 

1. Set CLEAR intentions

First we need to be clear on our intention for our business. We need to be clear on our values. This creates a space for better decision making. If we are not clear on what we want and where we are headed it is very easy to get off course. We will waste time doing stuff we do not need to be doing. We will make exceptions we shouldn’t be making.

For example – if we started a home based business so we could spend more time with our family we don’t want to be working all weekend. So we set a boundary around when we are available and how much work we can take on in a certain time period and we stick with it. We also respect other people’s boundaries by not requiring our customers or vendors to be available to us on weekends either.

 

2. Say NO

When I had a cart in the mall, I never sold anything in the first 2 hours and yet every day during this period I would start to get nervous like I would never sell another thing ever again – it is the same feeling when you start to sell regularly on Etsy or your website and then you don’t sell anything for a day or two or maybe a week.

This can be the push to change things that are no longer working, but it can also lead us to take on any work, any opportunity that comes along whether it fits in with our intention for our business and our life or not because this could all end tomorrow – doomsday thinking. This mentality can be the death of us in almost a literal sense because we will run ourselves ragged, undervalue ourselves and make promises that will be impossible to keep.

For example – I get a lot of repeat buyers returning for additional locket lids. This is what I want people to do – I have after all designed my lockets to be interchangeable. But my extra lid sets are very affordable and since I pay the artists I work with commissions on them they do not make me much money. I used to get quite a few buyers looking for discounts on them which wouldn’t be a good business practice for me. I decided to set up a ‘send-a-friend’ program for these rabid fans so they could get lid discounts for referring new buyers – sometimes a “no” can turn into a win-win with a  little creative thinking.

If we want to stay in business we have to notice the situations that drain us and take steps to eliminate them.

We have to be able to say no to the wrong stuff so we have the time and space for the right stuff

(And that little voice in your head that screams – “are you crazy, you can’t turn this down, you are lucky to get paid for this – you can make 10 scarves in 2 days for $150.00 and ship them to Peoria” – may get a little quieter – that voice may even crack open a bottle of champagne and whisper hallelujah).

 

3. Create PHYSICAL Barriers

Sometimes good fences really do make good neighbours. Maybe your studio needs a door or a curtain or a little sign that says “CLOSED” or “DO NOT DISTURB”.

For example – one easy boundary I have set up in my studio is – I don’t answer my own phone. No, I haven’t figured out how to get my dog to answer it (yet) and obviously if I know someone is going to call me at a certain time I will answer it.

But for most of the day I set up a voice mail system and I return calls at the same time every day – yes, once a day (except for a customer emergency – I mean if a Polarity Locket customer has somehow magnetized herself to a train track and a speeding locomotive is fast approaching – I’m on my way, of course).

Julia Roberts made Pretty Woman at twenty one years old and refused to do a nude scene. It wasn’t like she was a big movie star – it was her first starring role. She made a movie about being a prostitute and became the biggest movie star on the planet without doing a nude scene (even in 199? that was pretty remarkable). I don’t think her success happened in spite of  her setting this personal boundary. I think it happened because she set this boundary and then she enforced it.

Now, I’m not exactly comparing my refusal to answer the phone with Julia’s refusal to take off her clothes but I kind of am (and I refuse to take off my clothes, too – in fact my customers demand that I don’t … in writing actually).

Our boundaries will be pushed and tested – if we want a strong business, we need to stand strong (and probably fully dressed).

 

What do you think? Has your business grown in unintended directions or just plain worn you out from a lack of boundaries? What boundaries can you create now that can get you back on track?

5 Things You Need Before You’re Ready to Sell Your Craft Online

 

 

 

 

I wrote last week about how to work out whether or not selling online is the way to go for you and your handmade business. Today, I want to address the issue of readiness – that is, are you even at the stage where you’re ready to think about starting an online craft business?

When you’re growing a business, there are always things to learn. The list is endless, and always expanding.

However, there are 5 absolutely non-negotiable things that you need to get a handle on if you’re considering selling your work online.

 

1. An Attractive & Useful Product

When you move from making something because you love it, to making something to sell it, you need to shift your thinking.

It’s no longer just about you – it’s about your customer. This doesn’t mean you can’t make what you love – you should be making something you love – but when you design and make a new product, you need to consider whether it’s something your ideal customer will love… and pay good money for.

If you’ve done the work to figure out who your ideal customer is – what their wants and needs are – this will be infinitely easier. And, if you have a brand in place, your new products will naturally have to fit in with that, rather than being a random mish-mash of things you just ‘felt like making’.

 

2. A Brand

Successful businesses have a brand. Full-stop. And it’s not accidental, either – it may have grown organically, but smart businesspeople quickly realise the power of branding in all they do. It makes their work recognisable. It gives customers and fans something to connect to. It makes designing new products and marketing strategies easier because everything you do needs to fit with your brand. Constraints are the best friend of the creative.

It doesn’t matter what your brand is – what matters is that you have one, and that your imagery, photographs, visual marketing, and copy (all the text you use on your site/in your communication) reinforce and align with your brand.

 

3. The Ability to Take Stellar Product Photos

Once you have a brand and attractive + useful products, it’s time to show your products off to the world. When you sell physical items online, your photographs will make or break your business.

There are, of course, a stack of obvious basics that you need to get right, but you also need to capture that elusive ‘wow’ factor that makes your product stand out from the rest. This is somthing that takes time and experimentation – but chances are you’ll know it when you find it. You’ll see sales increase, features increase, and that’s the only true way to know for sure you’ve hit on the right photography formula.

 

4. A Basic Understanding of SEO

Sure, your photos are what will draw someone in and convince them to buy – but how are they supposed to find you in the first place? Via text search. We have yet to reach the point where we can plug our brains into the internet and search for what we want via images (though I’m sure it will happen one day). There are, thankfully, a lot more visual channels for people to find us (such as Pinterest and Instagram). But, for now, you need to understand how SEO – search engine optimisation – works, at least at a very basic level, because in order to search for something specific, our customers still need to use words.

You need to ensure that the titles, description and tags (if any) attached to your product are full of keywords that customers will use to find your product.

 

5. Courage

Honestly, I should have put this first, because without courage, you will never succeed. Business is all about experimentation. You have to be willing to take risks, fail… and then pick yourself up and try again. You have to live with fear every day. You have to be comfortable with uncertainty. There are no fail-safe formulas for business success.

Everything I’ve covered here can be taught and learnt. Yes – you can even learn to be more courageous! However, a certain level of self-confidence is definitely a pre-requisite to creating a successful online business.

You need to believe in yourself – that you are capable of facing challenges, learning what you need to learn to overcome them, and that you are worthy of success. You need to believe in your brand, your products, your photography, and be proud of what you are offering to the world.

Because if you don’t believe in yourself – why would your customers?

 


Do you want to learn how to set up your own online craft shop and get it right, first time?

Join us for Set Up Shop – a 30-day e-course that teaches you just that. I learnt the hard way, but you don’t have to – join over 300 crafty entrepreneurs who’ve already taken the course and get your own online shop up and running! Registration for the last class of 2014 is open now. Click here to find out more…

 

Q&A with Megan Auman – September

Please welcome the fabulous Megan Auman – jeweller, business strategist, artist, designer, brilliant entrepreneur, and my lovely friend. Megan is going to be stopping by every other month to answer three of your burning questions – think of her a little like a whip-smart, no-nonsense business advice columnist.

Take it away, Megan…

I make body care products with EO. I just can not seem to sell via social media as people want to feel and smell them. A storefront is just out of my pay grade. Selling at flea market outdoors has not done well. What would be my next step?

There are a few options here that can help encourage people to try and buy your products. The first is to use really lush, beautiful images on social media that help give people the idea of the smell. For example, if a product contains vanilla scent, photograph it with some vanilla beans. This helps customers make a connection and imagine the smell based on a visual cue.
You can also offer small sample or trial sizes. Since it would probably be cost prohibitive for you to offer free samples, you could offer them at a low price (that includes shipping) and then include a coupon for that amount off their first purchase. It then becomes like a free sample, but only if they commit to making a larger order.
I would also recommend reaching out to friends and family on social media. Ask them what it would take for them to get them to buy a body product they aren’t familiar with online for the first time. They may surprise you with some unexpected ideas.One last avenue to explore is wholesaling your products to stores. This is a great option that gets your products into people’s hands without the upfront costs of a store front. (And since stores buy your products outright, but at wholesale prices, it can be a fairly risk free way to go!) For more info on wholesale and approaching stores, be sure to check out my Sell Your Products to Retailers class on Creative Live.

How do you distinguish yourself?

The first way to distinguish yourself is through product design. If you’re making products that look similar to many others that are out there, it can be difficult to stand out. This could mean taking a look at your competitors and asking yourself what you could do differently. The classic example of this is when Apple released the iPod. Everyone else in the portable music market was using black earphones, so Apple made theirs white. This led to an incredibly distinctive product.
As a product, this may also mean taking additional classes and learning or developing new skills and techniques. When you are limited to the same basic skills as your competitors, it makes differentiation all the more difficult.
Another key way to distinguish yourself is through your brand. Branding is about more than just a logo, aesthetic and color scheme. (Though those certainly make up part of it.) The best brands stand for something. They espouse a core belief that is shared by their customers and raving fans. They create stories that other people can share about the brand, which helps them achieve an almost mythical status.The key to solid branding is to define what it is your business is really about. Apple is in the business of challenging the status quo. I am in the business of confidence. Ask yourself what it is you truly want to provide for your customers. From there, the key is to choose a visual strategy (your logo, fonts, colors, product photography, etc.) that supports the core mission behind your business.Because branding is difficult to cover thoroughly in a column, I’d also recommend that you check out my upcoming class on Branding Your Creative Business on Creative Live.

How do you get out of a creative slump and get back on track?

I’m a big fan of Megan’s work and ethos. I would like to ask, ‘ I know you make jewellery, but you are so diverse with your designs. What has been your most successful product line and why?’

I’m going to tackle these two questions together, as they’re very related for me! When I find myself in a creative slump, one of the things I do is give myself permission to experiment with other mediums, techniques, processes, and product types.
Often times, a creative slump comes from burnout and taking some time to experiment in other areas can give you fresh perspective. But it’s also important that you don’t let those experiments take you too far from your main focus. In the past year and a half, I’ve ventured from my jewelry line to experiment with painting and textile design. But to answer Kate’s question, my most successful product line by far is my jewelry.
The reason for that is simple. I’ve spent years (eight since I’ve left graduate school, but who’s counting) developing my jewelry line and building a solid reputation. And because I’m more familiar with that world than any other, I’m able to produce jewelry that is more profitable than any other product line I’ve developed.Which brings me to the second part of coming back from a creative slump. And that’s to rekindle the romance and remind yourself of why you fell in love with your chosen medium in the first place. This could mean taking a class, pulling out some books, or heading to a museum (my personal favourite.

Another way to rekindle the passion is to design something that you have no intention of selling. Try making something as a gift or something for yourself “just for fun.” When Tara asked me to design a simple necklace that she had been looking for, that opened of a flood of creativity that led to my newest jewelry collection.

Got a question for Megan Auman?

Leave it in the comments below or email it to megan@createandthrive.com (that’s direct to Megan Eckman, Assistant Editor).

Set Up Shop Registration Open Now for October 2014!

 

Yes, it’s time… the final class of Set Up Shop for 2014 is now open for registration!

I’ve had the honour of guiding over 300 creatives through this course over the past two years, and I’m looking forward to helping you turn your online shop into something that you can both be proud of, AND that sets you up to actually bring in sales and grow your business. In this course, I’m coming from a place of hard-won experience – I’ve done what I’m teaching you, and I have a successful online craft business that supports me and my little family (and employs both me and my husband).

I have (and am still) ‘walking the walk’ of running an online handmade business. I created this course because I’m passionate about sharing what I learn, AND helping others to realise their dream of having a successful craft business – because I want you to enjoy the freedom, joy, and fulfilment that comes from doing just that.

Registration is open now, and will close midday Sunday the 5th of October AEST (that’s Australian Eastern Standard Time!).

Class begins Monday the 6th of October, and runs for 30 days.

To find out exactly how the course works, the options you have for Membership, and what we’ll be covering, head on over to the course page here.

If you’re worried that you won’t be able to afford this course, because you’ve seen all the super-expensive courses that are out there – don’t be. The entry level Membership to Set Up Shop is just $85* – because I want every single person who needs this course to be able to afford it.

According to conventional wisdom (and what many of my past students have told me) I should be charging a lot more for this course, but you know what? I don’t need a Ferrari (my campervan is just fine). I don’t need a fancy house (my two rooms are enough). I don’t need to make a million from this course: just enough to make you value it, and for me to justify spending the time on it. What I need is for YOU to be able to take this course and experience the huge positive changes it can help you make in your life and business.

Oh – and one last thing… if you’ve been considering doing the course for a while now, and you were planning on signing up for Gold Membership (where I give you a full shop critique after the course) OR for Platinum Membership (where you also get a one-on-one skype session with me) – this is your last chance!

I’m reorganising the Gold and Platinum Membership levels after this run of the course – and you will no longer get a full critique with Gold Membership – only with Platinum (which will be changing to the 3-month-mentorship model similar to what I offer with SHIFT). I currently charge $95 for a full critique outside of the course, so getting it in the current Gold Membership is quite a bargain. If you want one, and you want to do Set Up Shop, don’t miss out – there are only 20 Gold Places available.

If you have any questions, please just leave them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you asap.

I hope you can join us and get your shop ship-shape just in time for the Christmas rush!

Jess x

 

(*price in AUD, and GST applies to Aussies)

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