Today I thought we’d try something different, and have our first C&T Poll!
This question is one I’m still not decided on, and that is:should I send each customer a personal ‘thank you’ email when they buy from me?
(This is obviously on top of the automatic sale notification they get from whatever venue they buy from.)
I’ve actually done this for years and years… but recently I’ve wondered if it’s worth the time, or if it’s just redundant.
I do it because I like to make that personal connection to each and every customer.
To show them that I’m a real person, and I understand that they are, too. From a purely business perspective, it’s also the chance to make sure they read important information, like turn-around and shipping times, and I also usually remind them of my newsletter sign-up bonus.
I use a canned response for most of the email, which I can just insert into the email, with the addition of their name and any information specific to their order. So… it really doesn’t take THAT much time.
If you do this, I’d love to know what you include in your email – and please share your experience with this in the comments – either as a seller or a buyer.
I know I love receiving a personal email when I buy something from another handmade seller, but I’m just one person.
One cold afternoon in August 2010, I drove to my parents’ house in tears.
I had everything to be happy about – a wonderful husband, a beautiful daughter and a baby on the way, a lovely home we were renovating and a flourishing independent jewellery label. Yet there I was. Struggling. Teetering. Going under.
By the time I got to my parents’ house, I was done. I closed the doors on Trove the next day.
My jewellery label, Trove, had grown over the previous three years from a hobby to a full-time job. I had exhibited at Australian Fashion Week, was being mentored by an international fashion designer, had made a five-figure debut at my first trade show and had my work being sold by over 60 stockists. It was good. Really good.
But I was miserable. Strung out, worn out, burnt out. I had painted myself into a corner with my business and I could not see a way to make it work for me any longer.
Today, I am still an enormous supporter of independent businesses and want to see everyone who has the talent, drive and ambition succeed.
For that reason, I want to share with you the 5 lessons I learnt during that difficult time – in order to save you and your business from the same fate.
1. Back Yourself From the Start
Regrets are not my thing. But if I had one regret, it’s that I didn’t back myself earlier and quit my full-time job sooner.
It would have given me more time to establish the label, employ one or two staff and have systems in place that allowed me to manage the business while spending the majority of my time with my family.
(One caveat: Before even considering this, you need to KNOW your stuff is great. And that people love it.)
2. Keep Creating. Always.
Your well of creativity is endless. Really.
When it feels as though it’s running dry, get out of your box, explore another medium – sculpt, paint, draw or write poetry. Just create on a daily basis and keep topping up that well.
You will never run out of your best ideas. They regenerate time and time again.
3. Pay Attention to the Boring Details
In business, as in life, the high points, the creative breakthroughs, the moments of overwhelming productivity are countered by the mundane – paying bills, ordering supplies, chasing payments, writing invoices, replying to emails.
Don’t, under any circumstances, ignore this stuff. It is the business.
Sure, you may be selling jewellery, or crocheted hats or macramé owls wearing moustaches, but you will only find stockists, receive payment and find the best price for supplies by paying great attention to the boring details.
4. Know When to Compromise
You started out as a one-person show. It made you proud. You were and still are against unethical outsourcing, against mass-production, against faceless big box stores.
I was exactly the same. But in the end, I decided I needed to outsource production. And the only way to do that profitably was to work with studios in Thailand and Bali. These were studios I was in close contact with and would visit before signing contracts. I needed to know I was supporting businesses that supported its workers.
Unfortunately, I started down that path too late. (See point 1).
To you I say, if you want to make a sustainable living from your business, you need to know when and how to compromise. Because that will allow you to scale your business when the time comes. Know your core values and do not be swayed from them.
But be prepared to look outside your comfort zone and consider ideas and solutions you may have previously cast aside.
5. You Can’t Do It Alone
This was the biggest mistake I made in my business, and it played a huge part in its eventual closure.
Like most solo-creative entrepreneurs, I designed, made, finished, quality-controlled, packaged and shipped my products. I also represented the label at tradeshows and markets, was the buyers’ contact, the warehouse, despatch, tracking and sometimes courier.
Not to mention BDM, marketing officer, bookkeeper and receptionist. In part, this was to save money. But to a large extent, it was also about fear of letting go. Relinquishing control.
My advice, design your business intentionally. Understand that if you grow in the way you want to grow, there will come a day where it is impossible for you to do it all.
Research potential production studios, look at wholesale agents, develop a support network of like-minded creatives – you will need all this information at hand when the time comes to expand. And if you don’t have it, you may spend 6 months gathering the information, only to find that the time has passed and you missed the opportunity.
(But don’t be disheartened, there will be other opportunities. And the next time, you’ll be ready for it, right?)
I will be the first to put my hand up and say, feel free to ignore the advice from the woman whose business folded.
But, as the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20,” and now I can clearly see the mistakes I made with my business.
You and your business will hopefully benefit from my hard-earned hindsight.
Brooke McAlary is an aspiring minimalist, blissful gardener, frequent swearer, passionate writer and inappropriate laugher. She is also a happy wife, busy mum and slightly weird Australian. She blogs at Slow Your Home and is on a mission to help you slow down, brighten up and love your life.
Thank you everyone for your comments to the last post I wrote! Your comments – and especially this comment by Jess – really got me thinking on the ways we sell our creations:
“Something that I do across a few venues is upload a core product range. So, on Etsy, Madeit and my own site, I make sure to have my entire range available, but on other venues, I just spend the time to upload my core range – that I’m pretty confident won’t change – and use that as a way to showcase my wares in as many places as I can. It’s a little way of having the best of both worlds – of course, you have to find the time to even upload that smaller range, which can be challenging!”
There are so many different “business models” – so how do you know which one is for you?
I cannot say that I’ve gotten it right myself yet – but I can say that this year, after applying certain changes to the way I sell my creations, I am much more comfortable with my model.
Let’s take a look at a few of the different models that are possible for your crafty biz.
Markets based business
Selling mainly at the markets (with the stock left over offered on Facebook or at an online shop).
I like this model and if you are set up for it with a car that fits all you containers and stall decorations and you don’t mind working weekends then it’s a great model for you. At a good market, you sell well and walk away with money on hand.
You can budget you stall costs for a year with no listing fees and fixed amount of sales. However, preparing for a market can be stressful (even when you’ve done it a few times). Cancellations due to weather will leave you with stock and, unless you do markets every week, less money coming in that month. I would say nowadays, an online shop is a must for a stall holder so customers can shop after the market too.
Selling made to order items online
You have your range of products, like cushions or jewellery, for example, and you list the samples and then print/sew/make them to order.
This model minimizes the storage space but requires you to work to a deadline so you get the order posted fast enough to insure higher turnover and to keep your customers happy.
Facebook based business
You don’t have time to set up and update a shop, maybe you work full-time…so you create in the evenings and weekends and release items in batches once a month or so.
I know businesses that prefer to work on – let’s say – 20 items for a month and then release them in bulk on so called “Market Nights”. Works great once you have large-ish Facebook audience.
Selling only ready to post items online with occasional custom orders
If you don’t like stress of a deadline and a huge list of orders then welcome to my world!
I did have to take more space for storage but I like that I have plenty of stock and I just post it when I sell an item. As I make toys, I sometimes have to make them to order when they need to be personalised or made into bride & groom like the order I am working on now.
Having a stocked up shop, gives me an opportunity to relax a little more and advertise my business without the fear of being swamped and when I end up with a few orders, the shop is stocked so there is no “I need to make a few items for the shop even if it kills me” thought in my head. In order to achieve this, I have to accept orders only a few times a year and regulate it strictly.
Selling wholesale to the shops and building up as many stockiest as you can handle
It’s a good model for artists who can make a bunch of items at once like fabric printing or kits making.
You make items for a week or so, package them and send them off to the shops. This model is great if you like to know approximately the prospective earnings and you can just drive/post your stock to the shops and maybe have an online presence just for showing your range to the prospective shops.
I personally love this model but it won’t work for my creations (I tried).
Complex business model
Mix and match applies not only to clothes!
You can create you own business model by combing all or a few of those listed above. I know a very successful business that does all of the above: markets, Facebook sales, website with stock and offers made-to-order. However, I think, it’s a job for more then one person or a very organised and dedicated crafter!
Each of those models are very personal to the business owner as there is a long road before you find the right one for you and what you make.
Based on my experience, it took me good few years to identify what works the best for the time I have available and my creative process. Time is the obvious factor to consider but, I was surprised to come to the conclusion that the way I create is determining my business model.
I am impulsive, not very patient and hate being under pressure as a designer! If I have a new idea, I have to do it straight away!
I used to do made-to-order all the time for 2 years and it really put me under pressure.
I wished I could have more control over my creativity, but trying to make new things in between the orders, which I stayed up late to do in time, wasn’t fun.
I started wondering – “why I am doing this and what for?”
I identified that what I love is designing and creating, losing myself in that feeling when you have a new idea and you go with it.
It’s a lovely feeling, isn’t it?
Well, before I cut down wholesale orders, customer orders (to a manageable amount), and markets, I didn’t feel comfortable with my chosen business model. However, that’s just me 🙂
That’s how I came to my business model – sell only what I have in stock – so it’s make-list-sell-post model.
My friend asked me a good question when I shared my decision with her – “Won’t it result in less money”?
That’s a very good question as it did cut my earnings at the start – but I believe in thinking long-term now.
A very important argument that I made – when trying to justify the decision to cut down on wholesale and customer orders – was that I couldn’t even promote my business before.
At the moment, the way I’m working is a great model for me.
With time it might not be and, hopefully, I’ll move on the the mixed business model. Who knows! Owning your own business means you can adjust the model to suit your needs and it’s awesome!
So, why has the comment that Jess made triggered this rambling?
Because I love the way she has her “core product” listed in the shops and think if you do the made-to order then it’s such an awesome way of doing it!
I am going to think how I can apply this to my business model.
In conclusion: identifying your business model is vital for you Indie business.
The model that makes you feel comfortable, as stressed out maker is an ingredient that will spoil the recipe. If you feel stressed, unsatisfied and unhappy, re-evaluate and reconsider the way your business is run.
You might have a great product – but maybe the way you sell it is bringing you down?
I would love to hear all about your business model! Which one of those mentioned is yours or do you do it differently?
Do you want to get started with an online shop – and get it right, first time?
Join us for Set Up Shop and take your business to the next level! Registration closes Saturday, class starts April 1.
The giveaway I ran for Set Up Shop had one kinda unexpected outcome.
You shared your stories with me. You told me why you NEEDED this course to grow your business. And out of what you shared, I realised that there were a core group of things that seemed to be holding you all back from taking that next step in your business.
Today I wanted to tackle some of those things, and then open up the discussion to you – I’d love to hear what you feel your biggest obstacle is (whether it’s on this list or not!).
Why do I want you to share? Because it’s only when we know what our challenges are that we can face them head-on.
Or – more accurately – lack of knowledge. So many of you said you desperately wanted to set up an online shop – or, you wanted to improve the one you have – but that you just didn’t know what you needed to do and know to make it happen, and do it right.
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Of course, I’m part of the Google generation – my kneejerk response when I don’t know something is to ‘google it’ – and honestly, this is how I’ve learnt pretty much everything I’ve needed for my business over the last 6 years.
However, that only takes you so far, for two reasons.
One – goodness me, does it take a lot of stumbling around in the dark trying to find the right info!?! Research sucks up a LOT of time – time you could be spending working on your products or other aspects of your business.
Two – as we said above, you don’t know what you don’t know. Maybe there’s some immensely useful technique or tool or program that would make your life and business so much easier to run… but you don’t know about it. This is where being part of a community, learning from a mentor, or taking courses comes in useful.
You cut through the crap and save an immense amount of time by learning from those who’ve gone before.
I always say that everything I teach (and honestly, that ANYONE teaches) in my posts, talks, ebooks and courses is stuff you could find for yourself.
It is! The info is out there – it’s not a secret known to only the elite few and passed down to the select.
With the magic of the internet, the barriers to acquiring knowledge have been obliterated… but the amount of information available has also exploded.
The benefit of buying a course, attending a talk, or reading an ebook is that you skip the research. Someone has done it for you. They’ve searched, tried, tested, and then shared the distilled – immensely useful – information with you.
This, then, segues perfectly into the next limitation that’s holding you back.
We all have the same amount. 24 hours, every day.
However, we have also all chosen a certain lifestyle that affects how much time we can devote to our businesses – and this will vary immensely between us.
For example: I’m in my early 30s. I don’t have kids. I also have a husband who is at home with me full-time. He does the domestic chores and supports me in the business so I have the time to grow it and work on it. To achieve this freedom, we choose to live in 2 rooms in a converted barn on my parents’ property. We have one car. We don’t buy expensive things, but we do spend a great deal of money on things that mean a lot to us – like travel.
That is my lifestyle, and it’s something I’ve chosen deliberately. I’ve had a ‘regular’ job. I’ve lived out on my own, rented, shared houses, Nick’s had and paid off a mortgage. We know that’s not the lifestyle either of us ever want again. We don’t need more space. We love being close to my family. We love the freedom to travel our lifestyle affords us. We’ve never been happier.
Your life is going to look different to mine. This is the point Megan was making with her ‘secret of success‘ post a while back. You are not anyone else – you are you, and your success will look different to mine and anyone else’s.
It’s taken me 5 years to reach the place I am with my business – over 3 of those it has been my full-time job. If you have a day job, kids, other commitments… your time is limited.
The time it will take you to achieve what you deem ‘success’ is the time it will take you. I know that sounds a bit zen, but it’s the truth. You can be clever about how you spend that time, but there is no magic bullet that will make it happen faster.
Just like time, the money we have to devote to our businesses will vary wildly. Maybe you have a partner with an awesome job who rakes in the dough. Maybe you’re both working part-time and just scraping by. Maybe you’re on your own and studying, or raising your kids.
Wherever you’re at, you have a limited amount of cash to invest in your business. Only you can decide what the best use of that money is. Do you need to invest in tools? Materials? A website?
It’s never been easier to make money from your creativity than it is now. You can open a shop on Etsy and get 20 products up in there for 4 bucks. The only thing you need to spend is time.
I’ve chosen the time route, because I have it. I still spend time rather than money wherever I can – which is why I love social media marketing and blogging. Some of you might prefer to spend money on advertising instead (though please still have a social media presence, it’s unavoidable these days!).
You need to spend one or the other – TIME or MONEY – in order to grow your business.
Honestly, I believe this is THE biggest thing holding most of you back.
If you don’t believe in yourself, nothing else matters.
I don’t care how much knowledge, time, or money you have. If you don’t believe in yourself and your product you will not succeed.
You will never take that leap forward because you’re always scared you’re not ‘doing it right’.
You’re frightened to devote yourself to your dream because you don’t believe that you can make it a reality.
Quite simply – you don’t think you’re good enough. You don’t think you deserve it. You don’t think it’s possible.
I call bullshit on that.
No-one can live your life. No-one can do this for you. No-one can make you believe in yourself.
YOU have the power. YOU are the one with the dream. YOU are the one who WILL make it a reality.
This is YOUR life to live EXACTLY as you please, because you’re not going to get another chance at it.
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Get out of your own way and go for it.
And if you want me to hold your hand while you do it – I’m here, baby. But really, you don’t need me. You just need YOU.
So, now it’s time to ask yourself – what is it that’s truly holding you back?
If you want to turn your dream of having a successful online handmade business a reality, you can join us for Set Up Shop – a 30-day e-course where I take you step-by-step through everything you need to know to get a fabulous shop up and running smoothly. You’ll also join over 400 alumni in our private facebook group and gain invaluable support, friendship and understanding from those already turning their dream of having a handmade business into a reality!
As makers, we’re all pros at DIY when it comes to our product but that mindset of “I can do it all myself” needs to be altered when it comes to our business.
You know how it’s better to be a master of one trade than a jack of all of them? It’s true when it comes to running your business as well. You only have so much time in the day and if you have to divide it between making, answering emails, writing blog posts, packaging, shipping, tweeting, and a hundred other things, you hardly make any headway in your business.
You spend so much time dealing with the issues of right now that you can’t make any moves for the future.
And guess what, it’s only by looking ahead that you can expand your business and its profits.
I know it’s hard for you to even THINK about letting someone else take over some of your tasks. Little voices pop into your head telling you things like:
“They won’t connect with my customers like I do.”
“They can’t package as well as me.”
“They’ll learn all of my secrets.”
“I can’t afford an assistant.”
I hope those all sound a bit silly to you too but let’s tackle them some more.
“They won’t connect with my customers like I do.”
If you’re worried about letting someone else answer your general work emails, think of this: What do your customers truly value from your business? I would put big odds on it being the thought and effort you put into your product and NOT your name at the bottom of your emails. Having someone take care of general emails frees up a ton of time and your customers will see you as a truly thriving business. For example, when you contact Kari Chapin, the awesome writer of Handmade Marketplace, you don’t expect her to answer. She’s too busy collecting stories and advice for her next book!
“They can’t package as well as me.”
Unless you compete in those holiday wrapping contests, it’s not too hard to train someone to package (and mail) your products. I’m also betting you’d rather be making new creations than standing in line at the post office, especially during the holidays.
“They’ll learn all of my secrets.”
This is only EVER a problem if you’re a big company like Nike and someone discovers your new sweat-wicking fabric formula. As a small business owner, it’s not just WHAT you make but what you put into it that draws in customers. They buy because of your passion, your personality, your voice. That is something that can’t be copied. And if your product doesn’t have any of those, chances are YOU are the making-secret-stealer or a trend follower.
“I can’t afford an assistant.”
I want you to think about this in a different way. If you always look at hiring an assistant in terms of, “It’s going to cost me $100 a month to have someone help me,” you will never hire anyone. If, instead, you think, “Having someone help me would allow me to ____________,” you’ll begin to see how much money you will MAKE thanks to an assistant. If you didn’t have to spend an hour a day checking emails, packaging orders, and driving to the post office, what could you do with that hour? Would you create a new line? Would you finally have time to write a newsletter for all those people on your mailing list still waiting to hear from you? Would you have time to pitch wholesale shops?
I’ve worked for several people as a virtual assistant and the one thing they all have in common is that their businesses exploded as soon as I started handling their basic tasks.
How do you know when you’re ready to move from doing it all yourself to asking for help?
If you are never getting ahead in your tasks, despite working from sun up to sun down, you’re ready. If you haven’t been able to expand your business or add new revenue streams in the past six months, you’re ready. And if you want to spend less time doing ‘busyness’ work and more time creating, then you’re absolutely ready to reach out for the help that will help you grow and mett your goals in 2013.