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Some of you are not going to like this, but I’m going to say it anyway…

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Chances are, you became a crafter because you love making stuff. (I know I did.) By now, you’ve probably worked out what you like making the most. And if you’re here, reading this, I’m going to assume that you like making that stuff so much that you’re trying to make (at least part of) a living by selling the stuff you like to make.

Let me make it really clear – Making stuff you like is awesome. That’s why we craft: because we have a passion for it.

But here’s the bit you may not like:

Just because you love making it does not mean there are people who want to buy it.

The craft community is a warm and fuzzy place – that is part of what makes it so freaking awesome. We love to support each other, help each other, and share with each other.

We’re not so good at telling people the truth when we think it might hurt their feelings. I have been in the uncomfortable position of having to say no to featuring certain products because they (or, the photography of them) is just not up to scratch. It’s a place you find yourself in when you run something like my craft blog, or a magazine.

It sucks to say no. It’s really, really hard.

I hate doing it. But it’s part of the job I’ve made for myself. (And why is it so hard? Because I know there is a person there, on the other end of the e-mail, who is just like me. Who wants to make their dream happen – and I really, really dig helping people make their dreams happen.)

But back to my point.

When you start making for profit rather than for pleasure, your perspective needs to shift.

You need to stop thinking exclusively about you, and what you enjoy – and you need to start thinking about your customers.

Sweet Spot 2

If you’re doing all the right promotional ‘stuff’ but your work is not selling, I want to encourage you to really have a long, hard, cold look at your products from an outsider’s perspective.

I would advise you not to ask the opinions of friends or family, because – let’s be honest – they love you, and they will find it mucho hard to tell you the truth if they think there’s any sort of negative there.

Or, on the other hand, they may not understand what you do at all, nor that there is a possible market out there for your work in this burgeoning handmade movement. In short, they’re not objective – they have a vested interest in you one way or the other.

This whole crafting-as-a-business caper is hard – and it’s a never-ending process of growth and discovery.

I’d like to encourage you to have a peek at one of the very first things I sold in my Etsy shop.

Yep, pretty ordinary, hey? (And check out the totally heinous flash photos!!! Eww… talk about what NOT to do!)

I believe my product has come a heck of a long way since then. I’ve worked on my designs, my brand, my focus, my photos, my descriptions, my packaging… and I have no doubt that I will continue to work on all of those things in an effort to become more successful in my business.

Is my work/product perfect? No. Is my business model perfect? Hell no. But I believe I’m going in the right direction.

(And, just so you know, I don’t believe there’s any such thing as ‘perfect’. There’s ‘good enough’ and ‘awesome’ and ‘unique’ and ‘beautiful’ and ‘squeee’ – but no ‘perfect’.)

Is there some aspect of your product that you need to change? Are you doing/making the same thing as a million other people? Is there a market you could be tapping into, but aren’t? Heck – maybe the problem isn’t your product, but your photos of it – when you’re selling online, that’s the magic key to the door.

Go to it, people: examine, grow, adapt, take risks, and make something awesome.

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{top image by Amanda Mocci}

Welcome to Create & Thrive!!

Jess Van Den 2

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Well hey there!

I’m Jess, the editor of C&T and the gal on the other side of the screen. I’m so damn excited to be here, kicking off a brand new place for professional makers – and soon-to-be professional makers – to share advice, tips, thoughts and information to grow our businesses.

I’ve been running my own handmade business – Epheriell – since I started it as a hobby in 2008. I went full-time in 2010, and never been happier with my work or my life!

But I won’t lie – I’ve also NEVER worked harder or longer hours than I do in this business. I know first-hand how hard it is to build up a teeny-tiny micro-biz into something that actually sustains me and my husband (who works for me, too).

I believe in handmade. I believe in the power and the goodness of the micro-economy. I buy handmade and vintage wherever I can. I believe that the more of us who succeed, the better our world and our lives will be.

There’s a lot of motivational stuff out there that encourages you to ‘live your dreams’ – which, I want to say, I support wholeheartedly – but there are also a LOT of people out there who are struggling to turn a profit in their handmade businesses – let alone make a full-time living out of it.

I’ve been teaching and helping people learn and work their way to success for a few years now (mostly via my lifestyle/design blog, Epheriell Designs), but I saw that there was a gap in the blogosphere – I couldn’t find a place where I could learn directly from those who actually DO this – who have a full-time craft/creative business.

A place where they would share their hard-learnt knowledge and skills with me and others. Where they would be honest and real about how much time and work is involved. Where they would give me the dirt, baby! The nitty-gritty details!

So, I decided to create that place myself – and Create & Thrive was born.

Does that all sound a bit heavy? I hope not.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to be a downer, but I DO want to be realistic with you – having a successful handmade business ain’t gonna happen overnight. But with time, persistence, the right information, determination and a GOOD PRODUCT, it WILL happen for you, too! That’s what I’m here to help you achieve, and I’m betting that’s why you’re here, too!

 

Our Writers

Coming along with me on this journey are four fantastic, super-smart, and inspiring creative entrepreneurs.

Each of them has grown their own handmade hobby into a successful business, and they’ve agreed to share their knowledge here with you each week.

 

katia

 

Katia Donohoe is designer and maker behind Plushka’s Craft brand.  Being of Russian heritage she treasures handmade crafts and love spending time creating things by hand.

She cannot live without hand-stitching, hot chocolate and Mr. Plushkin, bright tights and suede shoes.

She blogs at Plushka’s Craft where she writes about Plushka’s handmade creations, inspirations as well as her main craft passions – cross-stitch and crochet.

blog facebook | twitter {@plushkacraft}

 

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Megan Eckman is a quirky pen and ink illustrator who never outgrew her overactive imagination.  Her work merges the style of old fairy tale illustrations with modern fantasies.

When she’s not drawing (and giggling all the while), she can be found pacing her apartment writing more stories to go with her artwork.

website facebook twitter {@studiomme}

 

Liana Kabel -

 With a Tupperware Lady for a Mother and a Jeweller Father, what else was I going to be but a jeweller obsessed with plastic.

As a self-employed arts practitioner and business coach, I’m keen to share these aspects of my knowledge to help build strong creative communities.

Liana Kabel

website facebook pinterest

 

avi

Danielle Spurge is the CEO, crafter in residence and stitch engineer at The Merriweather Council. Since 2010 she has been specializing in custom hand embroidery – working with a signature color palette of bright solids and incorporating vintage fabrics whenever possible!

Danielle’s work has been featured in People Style Watch and on The Today Show.

website blog twitter {@merriweatherc}

 

I hope Create & Thrive helps you to turn your dreams for a successful handmade business into a reality. To make sure you don’t miss a post, register for our weekly update, sent straight to your inbox.

 

There will be three new posts here each week – Tuesday, Thursday + I will answer a reader question each Friday. If you have a question to ask me, just click on the Feedback tab on left of screen and send it in!

How to Successfully Use Social Media in Just 20 Minutes a Day

how to successfully use social media in 20 minutes a day

{Image by Bilberry Wood}

I was on the Etsy forums the other day, and came across a thread on social media use. I was super-surprised by the number of people who still aren’t using things like Facebook and Twitter to market their shops. I’ve been so involved in social media for years now – I think sometimes I forget how many people aren’t!

So it got me thinking about what holds a lot of indie biz owners back from launching themselves into the social media world.

Whenever I ask people about what is holding them back from embracing social media, the overwhelming response is ‘time’.

I understand that – I run a number of different businesses, and the fact that I love hanging out on twitter doesn’t do me any favours when I’ve got something that I *have* to get finished.

But the truth is – everyone is busy! Carving out the time to invest in social media will pay off in the long run.

It is easy to get sucked into the twitter/facebook/google + vortex – but if you follow these tips, you’ll escape the whirlpool and still use social media successfully and authentically – and it will only take you 20 minutes a day.

When I don’t have the time to just hang out, but I still want to stay visible on social media, these are the steps I follow.

Split your Time

If you want to stick to 20 minutes, you’ll need to split your time – 10 minutes in the morning, and 10 in the evening.

Do all of the following twice a day:

  • Reply to any comments or mentions. This is imperative. Social media is about being social, and that means interacting with and conversing with your fans and followers. Ignore them and they’ll ignore you. This comes first.
  • Share at least one link on Facebook/Google +. Because I blog daily, this is easy for me – I’ll share my latest blog post. You might like to ask a question, share someone else’s post, share a new product, a thought… there are so many options!
  • Leave Comments, tweet @ people. Have a quick look through your twitter stream/facebook/google + feeds and make some useful comments and observations. Social media is a two-way street – you shouldn’t be spending all your time broadcasting.
  • Schedule tweets to go out during the day when you’re not there. How? Read on…

Schedule Tweets

When I know I’m going to have a busy day, I like to schedule tweets to go out throughout the day (and night – we’re in a 24 hour world, people!).

However, I don’t do too much of this, because I don’t want people to see me as a robot. And I ALWAYS reply to anyone who comments on a tweet.

I’ve got my fave way to schedule tweets for you today:

Bufferapp

Bufferapp allows you to simply write up a bunch of tweets, and it will automatically ‘buffer’ them for you – that is, it will send them out over a 24 hour period. You can choose how many tweets to send (up to 10 on the free account) and exact times, too – or you can let it work things out for you.

I’ve been told in the past that I tend to ‘flood’ my followers at certain times. You might find yourself doing this, too – when you’re bored, for example, and looking at pinterest or blogs etc. Using bufferapp is a way to avoid doing that, because you can get the interesting links to post throughout the day!

I’ll tend to get online in the morning, check my google reader and pinterest, and then schedule up tweets to share cool stuff I’ve found.

That way, I don’t flood my followers all at once, and I get to share everything I want to throughout the day! Win/win 🙂

So there you have it – the speedy guide to getting on top of social media – even when you’re ‘too busy’!

An Unexpectedly Meaty Sandwich ~ The $100 Startup {Review}

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Last week, I sent a forlorn email to Chris…

‘Chris, my review copy* of The $100 Startup hasn’t arrived, and I’m dying to read it! Could the publishers perhaps send another?’

I was hoping it was just because I was in Australia, and was the victim of cross-Pacific shipping delay, but was concerned that my book had gone awry. And I was really, really keen to read it after seeing reviews and chatter about it popping up all over the interwebs.

In typical Chris style, he got back to me within, like, 10 minutes with a ‘sure thing!’.

Wouldn’t you know it – later on that morning I went to the post office, only to find the book had finally arrived. Seems I had been a victim of the Australian Customs Service and Murphy’s Law, instead. Happily, I got back to him before he got a second copy sent out, and I set about digging in to Chris’s lastest gem.

I knew it would be tasty, but I had no idea just how meaty The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau would prove to be.

You’ve got 2 options – a 2 1/2 minute vid review and/or the written review below!

Before I read it, I didn’t actually realise how much of a ‘how-to’ manual this was – so I was pretty damn excited when I realised all the juiciness that was to be found between the covers. {Wow, how’s that for a mixed metaphor, hmm?}

The book is divided into 3 parts:

  • Unexpected Entrepreneurs

  • Taking it to the Streets

  • Leverage and Next Steps

The first part of the book is very much for those who are thinking about starting a new, passion-based biz OR – as in my case – a reminder for those of us who are considering a new project that will integrate with a currently existing business (yes, I have something rather exciting in the works, peeps!).

I loved the stories in the first chapter – Renaissance – because they resonated so strongly with my own journey! I, too, am an ‘accidental entrepreneur’ – I never actually set out to make what I do my full-time gig. In the beginning, it was just a hobby, but life and circumstance combined to give me the opportunity to make it happen. Thankfully, like those profiled in the book, I have never looked back, or been happier with the work I do.

For me, this first section just reinforced a number of ideas that I’ve spoken of before – the main one being that just because something is your passion doesn’t mean you should turn it into a business. Or, more to the point – you need to find a convergence between what you love doing and what people will actually buy – something I’ve spoken about before. This is a BIG one for those in the handmade industry.

For those of you just starting out, this section will be an invaluable tool in helping you get your head straight about what sort of business and products you should create, and how you can craft a business around your dream lifestyle, rather than the other way round.

The second section was the ‘meatiest’ part of the sandwich, with densely packed info and advice on how to actually craft and sell a product people will want to buy.

I found this section the most immediately useful part of the book, as I’ve got a few new products and collections planned for the second half of 2012. The information on crafting an offer, launching, and even hustling were invaluable to me. It really helped me to clarify a few decisions I’d been wavering on for a while now – and we all know how draining a non-decision can be.

Like all good books/blog posts/ecourses, I didn’t exactly learn anything NEW or anything I couldn’t have figured out for myself after a lot of try-and-fail type scenarios… however, I was gifted strategies and plans on a creamy white platter that would have taken me untold time and struggle to figure out/put together on my own.

The third part of the book was future-focussed – you’ve got a business, you’re doing well… but where do you go from here? How much do you want to grow, and what business model do you want to create? Do you want to keep going-it-alone or bring others on-board? What if it all turns to crap and I fail?

Yeah, we’ve ALL had those thoughts. Chris gives us answers to all of these questions and more – and he is especially good at assuaging our fears of failure. In fact, sometimes, failure can be the best thing that ever happens to us – a hard lesson to understand if we’ve yet to fail big-time and come out the other side more determined than before.

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This is not the sort of book you read once and then put on the shelf.

I can see myself coming back to this again and again throughout the years to come, in order to remind myself of things that will help my business grow authentically.

If nothing else, definitely make sure you head over to 100Startup.com and download the AWESOME free resources that Chris has put up there. I’ll be sticking a number of them on my wall to make sure my upcoming products are created with YOU in mind, and to get them launched out into the world in style.

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{*Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of this book to review, thanks to Chris and Crown Publishing. Thank you, guys!!}

Awesome Tools for Anyone Starting a Craft Business

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{Image by The Sweet Light}

Today’s post is written by Ashlee McCullen.

Realizing your creative business dreams can be the thrill of a lifetime. But you know what else it is?

Hard work. Compliance. Accounting. Supplies and inventory.

While there’s so much to be said about planning a successful craft business, I’m going to dispense with that for now and get to some awesome free and cheap tools that can help you understand and more easily manage the essential (perhaps even “boring”) details.

Laying the Groundwork

  • Craft, Inc. Business Diary: I’m going to start with an analog tool. The Craft Inc. Business Planner offers a good all-in-one reference for starting a crafting business. It’s the companion to the Craft Inc how-to guide. You’ll find tons of checklists so you won’ forget to register your business or be caught off guard by your operating costs.
  • Enloop: Enloop offers a free, online planner for your business. Filling out its financial questions isn’t most people’s idea of a fun Saturday afternoon, but that’s almost the point. Perhaps you’ve never considered “How many days for accounts payable,” but you will now.
  • MyCorporation: If you decide to form a corporation (the above resources can help you make that decision), this nifty online tool takes out much of the tedium and helps you avoid mistakes.

Managing Finances

  • Freshbooks: Whether you’re selling on Etsy, at your local crafts fair, or all of these, you’ll want an efficient way to track your finances. Freshbooks is a godsend to anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of creating and filling out expense reports.
  • Lemon: Be sure to save your receipts. Lemon makes it easier than ever. You can scan them into your smartphone or put them through a desktop scanner. Lemon does all the number-crunching and organizing for you, making tax season far less painful.

Buying Supplies

  • Factory Direct Craft: If you’re going pro, you’ll want to consider saving money by purchasing wholesale from a provider like Factory Direct Craft. It’s not hard to meet the $250 threshold for its discount, but shop around and see what works for you.
  • Arts and Crafts CouponsThis is a simple, utilitarian app for Android that I’ve used before on my T-Mobile smartphone to find awesome steals. It’s a good resource if you’re running a small operation.

Reaching Out

  • HootSuite: Hootsuite offers the best social media dashboard I’ve used for tracking keywords and mentions of accounts. Implement it to supercharge your online marketing, networking, and customer service.
  • Constant Contact: Finally, don’t forget the awesome power of an e-mail marketing campaign. I personally recommend Constant Contact. It offers a good mix between ease-of-use and flexibility. You can get going whether or not you know e-mail protocols and HTML.
  • Hover: If you’re creating a website, you can find good deals and customer service fromHover. Plus, you’ll be happy knowing no elephants were harmed in the creation of your web presence.

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Ashlee McCullen is a staff writer for Apron Addicts, a website about kitchen fashion and home style. She also writes about mobile technology and self-improvement. When she’s not writing, she takes care of her two small children, finds new ways to organize and decorate her home, and takes immense pride in her killer cheesecake brownies.