10 Tasks to Do in the Quiet Months: learn to use the times of slow sales to your advantage

don't panic and carry a towel - hitchikers guide to the galaxy eye chart

{image by the Pressing Pigeon}

This post is written by Katia Donohoe.

Didn’t have sales for a few weeks and wonder what’s happening? Are you asking yourself if it’s happening to your shop only or is it like this for other shops too?

Most likely it is. There are at least two months a year when the sales drop. Depending on what you sell, it can be January – February or June – July.

So what do you do?

Do you try to buy tons of advertising, discount your creations or get out there Facebooking and Tweeting like mad?

Definitely not!

All those things need to be consistent and time appropriate. It’s not going to make you look professional by overwhelming your reader/followers with tons of updates in their newsfeed and you don’t want to look desperate by selling your creations at a super low prices.

The fact is, it can be quiet for so many reasons – holidays so everyone is away, tax time and, if you are selling overseas, it can be weather, different public holidays and festivities.

After a 3 years in business, I did calm down a little.

I used to think that every sale was my last, got nervous and anxious when there were no sales for a week/two/three, started questioning why am I doing this, stare at the screen, go in circles checking my Facebook page, Twitter, mailbox every 2 minutes…

Sounds familiar? Then read on…

After a while, you will discover that there is no such thing as a quiet month in handmade business.

There might be no sales but you need to learn to think long term. There is always so much to do and there are always areas that you overlook while busy.

Remember, all business owners are going through the same, just at a different time of the year.

Here are a few areas that you might want to have a look at while there are no email popping up in your mailbox:

  1. Check you listing descriptions for mistakes, and maybe add more information about the item and the creative process behind it.

  2. Make sure you use all the tags in your Etsy shop.

  3. Take fresh pictures. After looking at some of my product pictures a few weeks later, I often find that the light wasn’t good enough on that day or I forgot to upload all 5 pictures in the listing…

  4. Pre-make packaging. It is always great to have all envelopes stamped with return address and have all the promotional information that is included with an item in one place, ready for the busy times.

  5. Look at your stock: what is underrepresented? My goal is to have 5 of each creation in the shop in different designs/colours (note: I sell only items in stock, no custom orders) If you take custom orders, then check if you have enough materials for all the items. You might have run out of certain supplies but forgot to take the listing down.

  6. Make new stock! There is no better time then now to create new things. Put them aside and release the slowly when there is just not enough time in the day to make anything.

  7. Tidy up the paperwork. All of us guilty of putting paperwork in a pile and moving it somewhere where nobody can see it. Go, take it out and at least sort it by month and file it.

  8. Research new supplies. Shopping for new fabric/beads/buttons is always fun! If you are not yet ready to buy, at least you will know where to find it.

  9. Research new ways to promote your business, and evaluate your promotional efforts up to date. Can a lack of advertising or marketing be the contributing factor to the slow sales?

  10. Visit those blogs that you love and leave comments.

In conclusion, don’t fixate on slow sales. Instead, use this time to concentrate on the other areas of your business that need attention.

{image by Katia}

Remember that you are in this for a long term and building a successful business takes time and determination.

If you have all those things mentioned above in place and keep adding a new stock to the shop, sales will come in and you will pat yourself on the back for using the slow months to your advantage!

____________________________

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 | twitter {@plushkacraft}

Don’t let this fear stop your business from gaining the attention it deserves

{image by Andy McCready}

This is a guest post by PR maven Brigitte Lyons.

Every time I talk to a group of makers and creatives about going for publicity, the same reservation comes up.

“I’m afraid to promote my work, because I don’t want someone to steal it.”

Especially in the indie and handmade communities, where product is valued for more than its ability to generate profit, this fear looms large.

Because this is such a personal and charged issue, I stayed out of the conversation. Today, I want to share my perspective as a communicator and a marketer.

The threat of theft is the cost of doing business.

You can choose to respond with fear and bitterness… or to seize opportunity.

Before you throw rotten tomatoes at me, let me elaborate.

 

1. The second you show your work to another person, you run the risk of being copied.

This is so obviously true, but you might be saying, “Of course I know this, but the risk grows as my audience broadens.” Well…

 

2. Publicity can actually protect you.

When you’re small (in both customer base and funding), it’s really easy to steal from you. A schoolyard bully doesn’t pick on the other big kids, right? He steals the lunch money from kids that are smaller than him. He’s safe, because he knows they can’t, or won’t, fight back.

The same is true when you guard your work from the world. Your only defense is a lawsuit, which accomplishes just as much as running to the principal. You might get reparations, but you’ve still been wronged.

 

3. Free yourself to focus on opportunities, not threats.

When you stop letting fear make your business decisions, you can expand. What dreams do you only half-admit to yourself now, because you’re too scared of all the badness that could happen along the way? Do some free-writing right now. Spend 10 minutes each on the following prompts.

If I weren’t afraid of being copied, I would:
This would affect my business by:

How do you feel looking at your lists? Are these rewards worth the risk?

 

4. Success is the best revenge.

Let’s say you’re having a hard time visualizing the good. Fine. As they say, don’t get mad, get even. Wouldn’t it feel more satisfying to become successful beyond your wildest dreams, on your own terms, than to cower?

 

5. Even an instance of copying can be an opportunity.

Here’s where we really get our PR on. How can you actually profit from copying?

Let’s say Urban Outfitters steals your design (since they’re so notorious for it). First, you’ve learned something about your audience. If Urban wants your art, then it’s gonna appeal to spoiled teenagers (because how else could they afford it?) and 20-something hipsters. Why not use what you know about hipsters to beat Urban at its own game.

Get together with all the artists you know that were ripped off, create marked-up editions of your copied work, and use the proceeds to start a public awareness campaign about big brand theft.

In fact, if anyone wants to run with this idea, I’ll consult for free. Public awareness campaigns are how I got my start in PR.

This is a deeply personal issue for creators and innovators. It’s practically impossible to say: “You could be copied, but you have to move forward,” without stirring up a wasp nest.

That’s a big part of the problem. Often, when you’re copied, it’s your ego that suffers, not your business.

If you can make the switch – if you can see the threat but focus on the opportunity – you’ll see that being copied isn’t nearly as damaging as the script that’s holding you back.

__________

Brigitte

 

Brigitte Lyons is a media strategist for microbusiness, who has helped clients get covered by CNN, Daily Candy, Entrepreneur magazine, The Wall Street Journal and Design*Sponge.

She  dishes out free PR tips and is the creator of Your Media Map — an 8-week course that systematically eliminates the barriers to getting the PR coverage you deserve.

{C&T Q&A} How often should I blog?

blogs and coffee

This week’s question is from Jennifer, and she asks:

To gain a readership or keep interest, how often should one blog? Daily, or just a few times a week…?

Thanks for your question, Jennifer – it’s a common one, for sure.

So, how often should you blog?

Honestly? I hate to say it, but it’s really up to you. How much time do you have to blog? Can you set aside an hour every day or a few hours on the weekend to write a week’s worth of posts? Or are you already hard-pressed for time to devote to your business, and even the thought of blogging once a week sends you into a tizzy?

Would you be better served sharing your work daily on social media like Instagram, Facebook and twitter and only blogging a few times a month?

This is one of those questions where there is not right or wrong answer – but let me give you a few basic principles that should help you make a decision as to what is right for you.

Be Consistent

Consistency in blogging is key. If you blog once a week… then blog once a week. Put it on your calendar and consider it as vital a part of your business as answering your email.

This is great for your sanity, as you’re not constantly wasting mental energy on whether or not to blog today… you just commit to yourself that yep, Wednesday is the day I need to get a blog post out there, and you make it happen. Then you can relax into the habit, and use that mental energy elsewhere in your business.

It goes without saying that the more often you can blog, the more posts you’ll be adding to your blog, which – over time – will mean more ways for people to find your blog and therefore, find you and your business. But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t blog every day, or even three times a week. And if you forget to blog one week, or just can’t? PLEASE don’t write one of those ‘oh hey, sorry I forgot/sorry I haven’t blogged in a while’ type posts. Because, to be frank, most people won’t even have noticed! But they WILL notice if they come across your blog and see an endless string of these apology posts.

Just get back to it and blog like you always do.

In short: do what you can, do it well, and give yourself a break!

Be Real

Most handmade peeps get this one right already, but I thought I should throw it out there. Don’t be afraid of being a real person and sharing your life. I always say that online you should always be you… but be the BEST you. Remember, everything you put out there on the interwebs will be there FOREVER, and it can all come back to reflect upon your business and brand.

Handmade is all about the connection between the maker and the buyer. Capitalise on that!

Be Focussed

What is the point of your blog? Is it to promote your products?

Then you need to write about them! But not necessarily in a ‘look what I made now go buy it’ way (though that’s okay once in a while, too!). You can share your design process. You can blog about your studio. You can blog about other aspects of your life that intersect with your product. If you make jewellery or apparel, do a ‘what I wore’ post that includes one of your own pieces. You can do a round-up post with a theme and include one of your own pieces. The choices are pretty endless.

Just remember: your blog is there to do one (or all) of three things – to inform, entertain, and inspire. If you’re doing one or more of these things with every blog post, you’ll be on the right track.

I hope that helped you, Jennifer! I believe that blogging creates an invaluable place for you to connect with your customers and fellow makers – it should be part of the foundation of any online business.

_______________________

Homework

Answer the following questions in the comments:

  1. What is the purpose of my blog?
  2. How much time per week can I allocate to blogging?
  3. What amount of blogging can I realistically commit to for the following 3 months?

_______________________

Do you have a question for Jess? Just click the ‘Feedback’ tab on the left of screen and send it in!

 {image by Jennifer Ramos}

The ‘Secret’ of Success – and it’s not what you think…

1-megan art

{“She Meant the World to Him” – Image by Studio MME}

I’ve been working with Jess for about a year now and I was ecstatic when she launched this new site.  She emailed me to see if I would write a monthly post for you because the site was all about becoming a successful maker and I was ‘successful’.

That work instantly made me scoff.

“I may look successful but I assure you I’m nowhere near where you are,” I replied back.

“But you’re doing what you love and supporting yourself, right?” she retorted.

The simple answer to that is yes.  The longer answer means revealing what my friend, Tara Gentile, rightly calls The Dirty Little Secret.  All of us ‘successful makers’ have it.

All of those inspirational/crazy people you follow on Twitter or Facebook who rock their business niche, launch something amazing each month, have 10,00 followers, and that many sales, they have it too.

What’s the secret?

No one is ever as successful as you think.

There are always things going on behind the scenes that you don’t know about.  Yes, that famous writer may have written 2 best-selling books this year but you don’t know how large her mortgage is, or just how much she actually made from those books.  That coach who sells out all of their spots on the first day may have put all of that money toward childcare or college loans.

You also don’t know how many flops every ‘successful’ maker has. 

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve launched something and had it flop so horribly I wanted to crawl under my bed and hope the world wouldn’t notice how badly I’d done.

On my Facebook, website, and Twitter page, I portray myself as an artist who is constantly creating new works, getting new wholesale orders, and lining up gallery shows.  Lots of my customers ask if they can come visit my studio.  I do my best not to laugh because if they only knew what my studio looked like, they wouldn’t ask to visit.

You see, while I DO make a living doing what I love, my studio/office is the kitchen of my one-bedroom apartment.  (Of course, being only 3 years out of school and living in Silicon Valley with my boyfriend – who is pursuing a graduate degree – means I can’t do much better than my one-bedroom, which costs over $1,000 a month.)

So while some artists have other artists as their studio mates, mine are a fridge and plethora of printers, tables, pots, and pans.  This last year I pulled in enough money to cover my business expenses, living expenses, retirement savings, insurance, taxes, and THAT’S IT.  I squeaked out evenly.  And yet, I’m ‘successful’ when you see me on Twitter or Facebook.

So why did I just reveal my dirty little secret?

I think so many people quit their creative endeavors too soon because they compare themselves to the ‘successful’ people they follow.

But that’s silly because you’re comparing your reality with their scripted/public reality.

What you should be doing instead of comparing yourself to Jess Van Den or Megan Auman is comparing where you are now to where you were a year ago.  How have you grown?  How has your confidence changed?  How do you feel?

Despite having squeaked by last year in terms of finances, I absolutely feel like I am on my way to being a truly ‘successful maker’ because I have no intentions of giving up.  You’re only a failure when you give up so as long as you keep trying, you’re a success.

Just think of all those people who don’t have the courage to do what you’re doing.  I’d bet some big money (as big as my rent) that those people think you’re a success.

After reading this post, I hope you do too.

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.

__________

{top image by Amanda Mocci}

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