I like to do some sort of celebratory special every year to mark the beginning of another year on the planet – giving you the gift of a major discount, and me a bit of birthday money (some of which I’m hoping to spend this afternoon at the Flinders Street Market – the weekly artisan market here in Adelaide, where I’m currently visiting my cousin and her family).
This year, I’m giving you 50% off all 3 Create & Thrive Guides and the Self-Study E-Course – How to Sell More at Markets and Shows.
Buy one, or buy them all! You’ll get any or all of them for 1/2 price.
If you’ve been in the C&T community for a while, you’ll know that I very, very rarely give discounts, and my birthday special is always when I get most generous 🙂
To take advantage of my special, just use the code BIRTHDAY15 on checkout!
But don’t delay – this special is only valid for the next 24 hours… no extensions or exceptions.
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.
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.
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.
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 400 crafty entrepreneurs who’ve already taken the course and get your own online shop up and running!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org (that’s direct to Megan Eckman, Assistant Editor).
Is selling your craft online right for you? Or would you be better off selling it via markets, shows, or to shops via wholesale and/or consignment? Or should you do a combination?
I think it is pretty clear these days that you at the very least need to have a presence online. That means a basic website and blog, as well as a few social media channels. No matter how you actually sell your craft, you still need an online presence so people can find you, connect with you, and become (hopefully) raving fans of your work.
But does that mean you have to sell online? Not necessarily…
The decision as to whether to sell your craft online or focus on offline sales is a personal one, but there are a number of factors to consider when you’re trying to make the decision. I’ve put together a list for you to consider below.
1. It will take longer to make money
No doubt about it – if you decide to focus on selling your craft online, it will take longer to make decent money. Markets allow you to make money on-the-spot much faster (provided they are successful), and selling to shops via wholesale means you get a nice chunk of cash straight up.
That said – once you’re established, you’ll be making money every day – even while you sleep! I love waking up in the morning and checking my sales from overnight. By selling online you will get smaller bursts of money more regularly – whereas markets and wholesale will give you larger chunks of money less frequently.
2. Is your item easily shipped?
If you make small items and/or light items, selling online is pretty straightforward. Shipping costs can be kept relatively low (especially in Australia if you can ship via a large letter size rather than a parcel) and it’s not too hard to carry a bunch of parcels to the post office.
However, if you make large or heavy items, shipping – especially internationally – can get pretty darn expensive. You might be better off selling at markets or to shops in your town/city to eliminate this problem.
Expensive shipping can definitely put off some customers – however, you’ll be surprised what some people are willing to pay for shipping if they REALLY LOVE what you are selling.
That brings me to…
3. Are you happy to sell internationally?
If you’re selling online, you’ll grow your business faster and make more money if you’re willing to ship all around the world. Don’t be put off by slightly higher shipping costs, or any other fears – it’s well worth the effort of working out a range of shipping costs up-front to get those international sales.
Around 75% of my jewellery sales are international – mostly to the US, Canada, and the UK, but I’ve also sold to Russia, Italy, Singapore, and many, many other countries.
If you’re worried about parcels going missing – don’t. I usually have around 4 parcels go missing each year (out of thousands) and they are just as likely to be within Australia as overseas! For me, lost parcels are just another one of my costs – I write them off as expenses and send a replacement piece.
The language barrier is also no longer a barrier thanks to Google Translate. I love being able to write a message in English, pop it in GT, and send it to my customer in their native language (with a disclaimer that I’ve used GT in the case that I’ve said something awkward, of course!).
4. Is your work easily reproducible?
This is big one. If you want to have a successful online craft business, at least some of your products must be reproducible. Why? Because when you sell online you not only have to do the work of making your piece, you also have to photograph it, edit the photos, upload them, write a description, calculate shipping costs, choose keywords… and the list goes on. If you’re doing this for OOAK products (unless they are very expensive – like high-end jewellery) you’re going to hit a wall and not have enough time to make products and do all of this work AND make a decent profit while actually enjoying life rather than being a slave to your work.
By having reproducible products, you do all this secondary work just once – then you can sit back and sell the same design over and over again. Each one can be and is unique and handmade, but you do have to have a design that you can reproduce to be almost identical to your online display item.
5. Do you value face-to-face interaction over online interaction?
If you’re an introvert, then selling online is perfect for you. You can interact with customers and potential customers on your own time, at your own pace. You don’t need a phone number (I don’t make my number available – I work exclusively via email and in the 6 years I’ve been in business this has never ONCE been a problem).
However, if you’re an extrovert, and you adore face-to-face contact with your customers, then you might find selling online a little disheartening. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from selling primarily online and still attending a market here and there to get your ‘customer fix’.
And, you can still interact with your customers via email and social media – I do this every day and it’s part of my job that I love.
6. Do you have the products to do markets?
Because I have focussed on online business – and reproducible designs – I no longer do markets. Why? Simply because I don’t have stock to sell at them! When I make a new prototype design, I make it, photograph it, and then, more often than not, keep it for myself or Nick. It means we have a nice bank of our own jewellery to wear when we’re out and about – which is of course one great way to market your work.
So, for me, markets don’t make financial or time sense – I can make as much online in a day as I make at most standard markets, and I spend way less time and effort to do it.
If, however, you make the sort of thing where you’ve always got stock laying around, or you can make lots of stock quickly, then markets are a great idea!
7. Do you like having your weekends free?
This is another reason I don’t like doing markets, personally. I know I’m self-employed, so I can set the hours and days I want to work… but most of my friends aren’t! So, if I want to hang out with them, I have to do it on the days they have free – and that’s generally the weekend. I don’t like having to get up super-early on a Saturday or Sunday morning and schlep myself and a car full of stuff to a market, then stand around all day in the hope I make a few sales.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve done many a market, and there are lots of fun things about it: interacting with customers, hanging out with my crafty peeps, seeing how people respond to my work in-person… but I can do most of this by just attending a market (and spending lots of money on other people’s stuff… ahem…) so that’s my preferred thing to do.
Some folks, however, adore markets and everything about them! If that’s you, then go for it.
8. Are you willing to invest the time to learn how to take and edit stellar product photos?
When you sell online, you’re not selling the product, you’re selling the photo. If you’re not willing to invest the time (or money) in getting stellar photos of your work – don’t bother starting. I know that sounds harsh, but with SO much high-quality competition out there, you have to be willing to step up and get your photos right. Nothing else matters until you get this sorted – truly.
That said – if your photos aren’t stellar just yet, don’t let that stop you from at least getting going. Start where you are. Do what you can. Then LEARN and experiment until you end up with high-quality photos. This may take a week – or a few months – or even a few years. I don’t think anyone is ever 100% satisfied with their photos, but once you can put them side-by-side with the best in the business and compete, you’re doing okay.
9. Do you enjoy the process of selling and marketing?
There’s no way around it – if you start your own business, you are now a salesperson and a marketer. No matter if you decide just to sell to shops in order to avoid having to sell and market your work direct to customers… you still have to sell and market your work to retailers. There’s no way around this fact.
So – do you enjoy telling your story? Because really, that’s all marketing is – storytelling. If you can change your mindset and come from a place of telling the story of you and what you do, then marketing becomes much easier, authentic, and less ‘icky’ feeling. You might even end up enjoying it…
10. Are you happy to make less money selling to shops?
When you sell online or at markets, you of course get the full retail price for your goods. Wholesale and consignment are a different story. For wholesale, you should expect to be paid 50% of the retail price of your work (of course, you set the minimum volume/minimum value that the retailer has to order to make it worth your while). For consignment, you can expect to get a little more – maybe 60-70% of the retail price – but of course you don’t get paid upfront, you only get paid when your work sells.
Consignment is a good way to get the foot in the door when you’re just starting out, OR to get into a specific shop or gallery that don’t work on wholesale. However, consignment isn’t really a viable way to make a living long-term, because the money is just too iffy. If you want to focus on selling to shops, you want to focus on gaining wholesale customers who end up being repeat buyers – that’s the way to grow a sustainable wholesale business.
Of course – you should be pricing your products so you make a profit on the wholesale price – not just the retail price. If you’re not doing this, then don’t start selling to shops, because you’ll end up running your business into the ground through not making enough money to support its growth.
11. Do you have the time/skills to set up an online shop?
I included this one because it’s often the excuse I hear from people as to why they’re not selling online. Look – no matter what avenue you take, it will take time to get and keep your business going. If you do markets, you need to invest time in creating displays, sourcing markets, applying, getting to-and-fro, actually attending etc. If you sell to shops, you need to research possible buyers, contact them, follow-up, do trade shows, etc. If you sell online, your time will be spent working on product photos, building/tweaking your website, sourcing new venues to sell on. No matter which path you choose, it will take a good chunk of time to run and grow your business.
As for skills? Photography is really the main thing. You can set up shop online SO easily these days, especially if you start out somewhere like Etsy, where all you have to do is upload pictures and words, and they do all the techy stuff for you. Don’t let a current lack of technical know-how stop you from going the online route. You’ll probably find it’s easier than you thought it was to get started!
In the end, this decision will come down to your products, your personality, and your business goals. No-one can tell you the ‘right’ way to sell your craft – it’s something you have to work out for yourself. Of course, once you do, you can find folks who’ve done it before you who can help you figure out the ‘how’ a whole lot sooner!
Do you have any questions, or other things that you think need to be considered when it comes to deciding to sell online? Share them with us in the comments.
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 400 crafty entrepreneurs who’ve already taken the course and get your own online shop up and running!