Changing Direction without Burning Bridges

changing direction

This month is all about taking stock and when I sat down with my friend, Tara Gentile, to discuss my business, she showed me a few things that both terrified and inspired me.  While my business has been chugging along well, I slowly had been feeling that I was stagnating. I had hit a limit because what I wanted to create would not be bought by my current customers.

That terrified me!  Here I am creating things that I love but there’s nobody in my current network to appreciate them as much as they should be appreciated.  So what to do…. How do you change directions in your business without burning bridges?


While many people would just continue to trudge on with this stagnating business, I’ve decided to take the terrifying leap to split my business and leave behind my current clients. Now, I didn’t make that decision overnight but after many chats with friends, family, and business friends, I realized that by splitting things to focus on the market that includes my most valuable customers, I’m saving myself years of hardship and stress. It’s best to notice that your boat has a leak when you’re just a few feet from shore than when you’re out on the ocean, right?

Now, I know that many of you are not in this position but I think each of us needs to take a really clear look at where our business is now, where we want it to go, and the customers we currently have. Are they in sync? If yes, then you’re in a good spot. If you’re like me and people don’t appreciate (and buy repeatedly and excessively) the work that makes you feel most fulfilled, then it’s time to shake things up to grab the attention of the people who will appreciate (and buy) your best work.

Wondering how I plan to move my business to grab the attention of my most valuable customer? I’ll be splitting my business into two parts: fabric/embroidery and fine art. The fine art will only offer high-end, canvas prints that start at a price point that aligns me with the galleries I secretly (okay, not so secretly) want to see my artwork in. I’m ditching the paper prints that sell occasionally (because they’re too expensive for shoppers at craft fairs) and focusing on grabbing those art lovers who aren’t afraid to pay gallery prices. My embroidery patterns and kits will stay at their price point (and thus not burn any bridges) and that’s what I’ll be taking to trade shows and craft fairs because they’re already selling like crazy.


So how can you get to your most valuable customer if you’re not reaching them yet?Ask yourself these important questions:

  • Are you offering your product in THEIR price point? (My bet is they’re willing/wanting to pay a lot more than you assume they will.)
  • Are you selling your product at a place that THEY shop? (So for me, people who are art buyers/art snobs don’t buy at craft fairs. They buy at local galleries and online galleries.)
  • Can your product be improved to increase its value to better catch their eye? (For me, that’s making my prints on canvas instead of paper. No framing required and it looks like a million bucks on the wall.)

Changing your business structure to find your most valuable customers is scary but it’s so important if you want to make your business the best it can be.

These changes can eliminate a crisis where, after several years, you realize your profit has been slowly becoming less and less and less. So take action and take stock of your business now!

Is your business where you want it to be?  If not, what do you plan to do to fix that?  Let me know in the comments below. I’m happy to help and put my mind to work for you.


Avoid These Common Product Photo Mistakes and Make your Images Stand Out

jeff piece

It doesn’t take much time scanning online marketplaces for handmade items to see common mistakes in product photography.

I realise that since the items are handmade by very small business, perhaps just one person, that there is not a photo team to work on the sales images. But there are so many small things that can be improved, often at no cost to you, that would make your product shots go from substandard to stellar.

It can simply be a technique here or there, understanding a setting on the camera, or changing the way something is displayed that lets your product stand out from the rest.

Here is a list of common mistakes that I see in product photography:

  1. Poor lighting – Either too flat and dull or too harsh and contrasty
  2. Color balance – Greys and whites should be neutral in color
  3. Color cast – Watch for odd colors washing in from a window or a light
  4. Item too small in the image – Make the product a large portion of the image
  5. Not representative of the product – make sure colors are accurate and scale understandable
  6. Underexposed – No detail in the shadows
  7. Overexposed – No detail in the highlights
  8. Pixelated – Watch for blocky edges on what should be smooth edges
  9. Stretched image – Be careful when resizing and image so it does not change proportions
  10. Model with poor expressions – The human face is capable of 40+ expression don’t send the wrong message
  11. Models with bad poses – They should look natural and comfortable
  12. Poor staging – Put the product where is intended to be used
  13. Distracting backdrop – Make sure the backdrop does not compete with the subject
  14. Strange effects or filters – Save effects and filters for things other than product photos
  15. Grainy images – This happens while shooting in dark places
  16. Blurry images – Watch carefully for clean, sharp focus
  17. Not leading with your best image – Don’t hide you best image put it up front
  18. Dirty products – Dust is everywhere. Clean before a photo shoot and clean again in post
  19. Strong hard shadows – Hard shadows distract from the subject
  20. Composition – Watch out for odd angles and things being cut by the edges of the frame



Professional product photographers spend their lives perfecting their craft. If you are a maker, you may not have these years of experience to draw upon but you can improve your photos by watching for these mistakes and taking corrective action when you see them.

To see these mistakes, you have to be objective and honest when reviewing your own photos.

If you see something that needs attention, don’t be afraid to refine your approach. Often a bit of research on a technique, learning a camera setting, or changing the way something is presented will make a three-star pic into a five-star photograph.


Want even more information on how to make your photography eye-catching to customers? Check out The Create & Thrive Guide to Product Photography, which covers basic photography processes that eliminate these common mistakes and help make your products pop thanks to composition, backgrounds, and lighting.

How to Create a Killer First Impression with Your Website




How to create a killer first impression

For every online visitor you receive, your shop has approximately two seconds to capture and keep their attention.

After two seconds, your potential customer is either going to click to browse within your shop or click away altogether.


This is the sequence of events that feed into the customer’s overall first impression:

The first key element customers notice: Can I immediately make sense of what I’m seeing? (Cohesion)

The second key element customers notice: Are the photographs mouth-watering delicious, leaving me hungry to click? (Presentation)

The third key element customers notice: Is it a strong brand? Is this a professional business? If I were to make a purchase, can I trust this shop to deliver what I expect? (Branding)

I want you to read over the above sequence of events and realize that, if ever the answer is “no”, the next subsequent event will not occur. A winning first impression is vital to your handmade business’ success.


The Ingredients of Good Shop Cohesion

When visitors come to your shop, can they immediately make sense of what they are seeing? You’ll need good product photography, a uniform look (matching backdrops, style, and theme), and professional branding to create strong shop cohesion.

I prefer to leave an online storefront with a clear understanding of the seller’s style, and to become a paying customer, I have to feel that the shop’s style matches my own. When I’m hired to help clients perfect their shop’s cohesion, I start our session by asking:

If you created a Pinterest board of images that realize or remind you of what your shop represents,what would it be composed of?

If you don’t already have a shop-related board, please start this exercise right away! It will not only help you clarify your brand identity, it will also attract like-minded people. Follow the link to my Energy Shop Pinspiration as an example. Everything on that board is magical, true, or Energy Shop-related. And since I’m already hanging out on Pinterest, it takes no extra effort on my part.

Strong shop cohesion creates a warm and inviting atmosphere for your storefront. The customer can more easily admire your wares, and the ambience you create helps build trust and admiration of your brand.


How to Create a Solid Look to Your Shop

  • Pick a style and stick to it. By that I mean, if you’re selling kitschy, country-cute items, don’t try to sell mod decor in the same shop. Go with your favorite style, and stick to it. Like-minded customers will appreciate your passion and authenticity.
  • Show products as a collection. On occasion, make the collective shot the main listing picture. I often feature armfuls of bracelets when I’m only selling just one in the listing. Not only are collective images more share-friendly and pin-able, many customers like to see what a collection of your products would look like. When I buy artwork, for example, I fear that it’s going to be floating alone in the room, mismatched and unnatural-like. A picture of a collective gallery of artwork above a dining room table helps me understand the character the paintings would add to my own home, and invites me to purchase more than one!
  • Create helpful categories. Don’t get too clever with listing titles, and be sure customers can navigate through the shop without becoming confused.
  • Be sure the products you list compliment each other. Boutiques can be done, but they’re not easy to pull off because everything has to match. Make sure every product you list matches your overall theme: Are you a cozy knitted goods store, or a flashy jewelry store? Do you sell vintage books or felt supplies? Pick your favorite type of product and go strong.
  • Pull the customer in by creating an atmosphere. Make sure your profile matches the storefront, the banner matches the listings, and the listings compliment each other. For example, if you sell pillows of all different sizes and fabrics, use one uniform background for every listing – the fabrics are already adding the variety. If you sell dainty jewelry, use a few different backgrounds that match.


Image source: André Spieker


Brand Your Craft Banner Wide Final

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Enrol in our self-study eCourse, Brand Your Craft – available now!

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Bricks & Mortar Retail. Part 1: Getting in to a Shop




The Do's and Don'ts of Bricks & Mortar Retail. Part 1 Getting in to a Shop

This is a guest post by Simmone Spring. I’ve known Simmone for a few years – we’ve bumped into each other at markets here in Brissie on numerous occasions! She’s uniquely qualified to write this – the first of a short series of articles on getting your work into a B&M shop – because she is both a crafter AND a retail coordinator, so she knows the score from both sides of the fence. You can read Part 2 here.


Getting your beautiful handmade creations into a retail space is the dream of many handmade artisans.

As a retail coordinator and hand maker I am often taken aback by just how many handmade artisans are not making the most of the chance to be in a retail space. They are not thriving in a shop setting.

Today, in Part 1, I’d love to share some tips with you so you can make the most of your retail experience.


Approaching a Shop

I love going into work and seeing an email with a concise description of a product or label and clear, well-lit photo’s attached (3-5 photos is plenty). You don’t have to be a super star photographer, just make sure they are the best you can do. A link to a well constructed web site or an Etsy store is also welcome, this way I can see your range and think abut what will work in my retail space.

An email is definitely my preferred first contact. I can spend time with your label, browsing and thinking about how I can work with it. A reply may not be immediate, but I will always flag and get back to you when I can. If you don’t hear anything within a week a follow up call is a great idea.

Don’t send en email with blurry photos or a website that doesn’t work. This happens a lot and really drives me crazy! I cannot see your beautiful products in a blurry shot and if your link is broken you are just wasting my time.

After I get your email I usually set up an appointment to see your pieces in person and chat about what I expect from you if you come on as a vendor. If you are interstate I outline everything in an email and start with a really small order, just to make sure your work will sell in my shop.

Before the appointment think about questions you want to ask and absorb the shop. Think about the layout, current products, and ask about the clientele.

Don’t walk into a store with a bag full of stock before you have been in contact by email. I always found this quite uncomfortable if a vendor did this. If you want to touch base with who to contact and see the shop for yourself, go in as a customer, mention what you do and ask who to email.


retail shop 2

You’re in! How to Get Started

Hurray! You found a wonderful shop to stock, so what happens from here?

First, double check your product is ready for retail (I’m sure you wouldn’t have contact the shop if it wasn’t, but it is a surprise what people forget). This means price tags (with space on the tag for a code that the shop will assign) and having your product in tip top condition. Don’t try to sell products that are not up to scratch. Visit the shop a couple of times to make sure your product presentation is equal (or better!) with the other products on display.

The shop should have a contract for you read and sign. If they don’t you should create your own contract. This should cover pricing, display, dealing with returns, consignment agreements (if you are working on a consignment basis), payments, delivery details, and any other terms you think are important. I often hash this out with vendors, and the shops I stock, in a series of emails. I use email as it is all there in black and white, no misunderstandings, and that is exactly why you need a contract!

You will also need to set up stock lists. Every shop does this differently so make sure you work closely with them so things go smoothly. Some like them on paper and enter them in to their own systems, others like a spreadsheet.

Post or deliver your stock. So exciting! It is finally in store and looking AMAZING! You have done everything right and the shop manager already loves you. Now, to make sure you keep it up.

In Part 2, I will cover what you should be doing once you are in the shop to make the most of the experience.


Simmone Spring coordinated the retail space at Bleeding Heart until it sadly closed due to renovations. She has been making Anatomy for 6 years as Your Organ Grinder and coordinates Hands On Brisbane.

Image sourcs: Martin Wessely + Kath Chownston

Are you using your customer correspondence to tell your story?




Are you telling your story through customer correspondence

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been reading Bernadette Jiwa’s book The Fortune Cookie Principle.

Fundamentally, it’s a book about how to tell the story of your brand in a compelling, honest, and unique fashion. Something we all need to figure out if we want to make our handmade businesses a success. Fortunately, we have the advantage over big companies – we are living our story every day. But are we using that story effectively to build our brand?

Apart from the public information you put out there on your shop, blog, social media, and mailing list, the first time you have a substantial direct communication with a customer is usually when they buy from you.

This is your chance to ‘walk your talk’ – to show them the truth behind the brand message you’ve been sending out.

Reading Bernadette’s book made me realise that I wasn’t digging deep and truly telling my story in the communications I was having with my customers.

Sure, you can just use auto-messages to notify customers of sales and shipping. Or, you can take the time to manually communicate with them – human being to human being.

That, I’d been doing for a long time. For years now, I always sent each and every customer a personal ‘thank you’ message when they bought a piece of jewellery from me.

I wanted them to know that I was a real person, who really did care about them and was SO very thankful for their order, because they were the reason I could wake up each day in charge of my own destiny. Because without my customers, I’d be back working for the man or woman again.

But was I using these traditional (usually pretty standard and boring) communications to actually tell them my truth and THANK them from the bottom of my heart for the fact that they chose to exchange a part of their life for my jewellery?

(Because that’s what they’re doing. Money is time – so the money they send to me represents time that they have worked – a little piece of their life spent in exchange for what I create for them. Ever thought about it that way before?)

No, I wasn’t. So I decided to change that.

I sat down and re-wrote my ‘thank you for ordering’ and ‘shipping’ messages. I wanted these messages to tell my story. To get across the true heartfelt joy I feel when each sale hits my inbox, and the thankfulness I feel towards every single one of my customers.  I ALSO wanted to make it easy for them to communicate with me – to share their experience of the Epheriell brand with both me and the world.


Here’s the result.


Here’s what my ‘thank you for ordering’ message used to be:

Subject: Thank you for your Epheriell order

Hi ________

Just a personal note to say thank you so much for your order!

I’ll have your jewellery made and in the mail within 3-5 working days.

If they were international : [A reminder – as you’re outside of Australia, shipping will take 1-3 weeks to reach you once I have posted your order. ]

As always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or requests at all.

Kind Regards,

P.S. If haven’t subscribed already, and you’d like 10% off your next order, pop on over and sign up to the Epheriell Silver Service list – You can also follow Epheriell on Facebook

Here is my message now:

Subject: Thank you for helping to keep our dream alive!

Hi _________

Thank you SO much for purchasing a piece of Epheriell jewellery and putting a smile on my face! Your purchase means that me, my husband, and our two kitties can keep living the life we love: waking up each morning as our own bosses, handmaking modern, recycled sterling silver jewellery from our home studio.

YOU are the reason we get to live our dream – thank you. I’m honoured that out of all the things in all the world, you’ve chosen to spend your hard-earned money on one of my creations – that’s really amazingly fabulous of you.

Sometime in the next 5 business days, I’ll sit down at my window-lit jewellery bench here in sunny Queensland, Australia, and handcraft your jewellery with care and passion. You’re not getting a pre-made stock piece – I’ll make your jewellery with your name on my mind, specifically and specially for you alone.

Once I’ve decided that your jewellery is as beautiful as I can possibly make it, my husband and packer extraordinaire, Nick, will carefully wrap it up, finish it with a ribbon tied in a bow, and slip it into a bubble mailer, in which it will safely nestle as it embarks upon its epic journey from my hands to yours. We’ll be in touch to let you know when it’s on its way.

[As your abode is across the ocean from mine, this journey will take around 1-3 weeks.]

[As you are a fellow Aussie, this journey will take 3-7 days.]

Being able to talk and work directly with you is one of my absolute favourite things about being an artisan, so if you have any questions or requests, please message me at any time! I’ll reply within 24 hours and help you out in any way that I can.

In Happiness,

P.S. If you’d like to follow the Epheriell journey, you can connect with me on twitter + instagram (@JessVanDen – #Epheriell), Facebook (/Epheriell), our blog ( AND, if you’d like the chance to win a piece of our jewellery each month, as well as get notifications of new products and special treats, subscribe to our email list right here –


Here is what my shipping notice used to be:

Subject: [Your order has shipped]

Hi _________

I just wanted to let you know that your order is on its way – it went out in the post today.

Cheers, Jess 🙂


Here’s what it is now:

Subject: The time has come…

Hi _______

Your order is on its way!

I have finished crafting your jewellery, Nick has packed it up and finished it with a bow, and it is now in the hands of the postal system and on its way from our hands to yours.

[As your abode is across the ocean from mine, this journey will take around 1-3 weeks.]

[As you are a fellow Aussie, this journey will take 3-7 days.]

I fervently hope that when your parcel arrives, and you unwrap the ribbon to see what I’ve brought into being just for you, that you find yourself overjoyed with the jewellery you receive.

I would adore it if you could take a moment to let me know that it has arrived safely – hearing from happy customers is always the highlight of my day! And, of course, if for whatever reason you are not 200% happy with your purchase, please get in touch with me asap so we can work together to make things as perfect as they can be.

Thank you, thank you, for helping us to live the life we love by buying a piece of our jewellery.

In Gratitude,
Jess (+ Nick)

P.S. If you love your purchase so much that you happen to share it on social media, please hashtag it #Epheriell, @JessVanDen me on twitter or instagram, or @Epheriell on FB, so we can take a peek!! Thanks!



I now feel like these important and fundamental communications not only tell my customer what they need to know, but also tell my story, the story of my life and family, and thank them for the small part they play in me being able to live a life I love.

Are you telling your story when you communicate with your customers?

 Image source: Vadim Sherbakov

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