As someone who makes art of any kind, you can appreciate how frustrating it is for other artists to see their work knocked off, made oversees and sold for much less than the original..
Whether you bake, sew, throw pots or blow glass, your buying habits can make a difference.
Wherever I travel, I always try to identifying indigenous craft and support local artists. On a recent trip to New England, I scoured the shops for a handmade birthday gift to bring back to a friend. With the rich heritage in the Northeastern US, I felt confident that it wouldn’t be hard to find some unique local pieces. From my years shopping the Buyers Market of Contemporary Craft in Philadelphia, sourcing for my own gallery and others, I knew that the buyers on the east coast were discriminating and valued Made In America.
So, imagine my disappointment when all I could find in the local shops were imports. I shouldn’t have been surprised, since in so many areas of the country, the shops feature gift items imported from China, imprinted with the names of local destinations. I finally found one shop that had exclusively American made items. I purchased a pair of earrings made by a New England metal smith and a couple of small prints by a local artist. There was only one other shop in the seaside village that carried hand-made work but as I read labels, I learned that much of the inventory was imported.
I do understand the reasoning behind the shop keepers decision to carry imports. The mark-up is huge compared with the small profit margin on products made in the US. I also understand that most buyers don’t read labels and even if they do, they don’t want to pay the higher price for something that is made locally, when something that looks similar costs less. I think there is also a common misconception that if something is in a pricey boutique, it is not made in China. (If you believe that, check the labels on designer pieces in Nordstroms.)
If you want the American public to continue supporting you, it’s your duty to make it a point to buy hand made in America and to educate your friends and family because chances are, they are buying the cheapest items unaware that they are supporting companies that will eventually put you and your artist buddies out of business. MOST PEOPLE JUST DON’T THINK ABOUT IT. But you, as an artist yourself, want others to support your work so PLEASE don’t rationalize abut buying imports because they are cheaper.
How can you tell? First, check items for a label. If you don’t see anything identifying where it is made, ask the shop keeper for the name of the artist. If it’s in fact handmade, they will have that info. Don’t assume that everything at a craft fair is made domestically, either. Only juried shows control where the items come from and you’d be surprised how many mass produced pieces show up at craft fairs. If you have difficulty finding locally made gifts, seek out an artists’ co-p. These are generally owned and operated by a group of artist and you can frequently meet the artists and even watch them at work.
Remember, if you want the public to buy your work and support you, commit to buying handmade when you have the choice.
Now that all the hype and hoopla over Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are past, how are you keeping your small business in the forefront of your ideal customer’s shopping psyche?
Discounting your products or services is not going to gain you loyal customers. Markdowns will simply put you in a space to compete with Big Box and you can’t do that. Why would you even want to? The elements that make your small business special have nothing to do with price and everything to do with creating an experience.
Even if you don’t have a brick and mortar business, you can create a unique shopping experience for your customers so that they keep returning and referring friends to your site. Let’s say, for example, you sell handmade candles, soap or jewelry online. You can stand out from big business in a number of ways.
- Offer the best darn customer service on the planet.
- Address the customer by name in all communications.
- Include a card with your bio, your story.
- Use packaging unique to your store.
- Include a poem, quote or inspirational message with each piece.
- Show your clients appreciation for their patronage with a brief handwritten thank you note.
What are you doing to make your own small business stand out from the crowd? What special experiences are you creating to keep your customers coming back? As always, you’re invited to share in the comments below.
If you make jewelry or know someone who does, I want to share this with you. I’ve spent years on all sides of the handmade business and helped many jewelry artists create a successful career but these two know some things I don’t about making it big as a jewelry designer. In fact, I don’t know anyone else in the industry who is teaching a course like this one offered by Flourish and Thrive Academy. Tracy Matthews and her partner Robin Kramer put together a comprehensive course for any jewelry artist who wants a thriving business, not just a hobby. You can listen in HERE as Tracy shares her invaluable expertise around building her super successful jewelry design business. She’s offering a pre-release discount to my readers only for $100. off the course price only until this Friday, Nov. 29th. If you’re serious about making a real living in your jewelry business, listen to the interview and then hop on over to read more about the course HERE . I know many of you are makers of other things and if you have a jewelry artist in your life, this course would make a terrific gift.
How being generous can help you sell more crafts over the holidays (or How you can get others to happily do your marketing for you)
Are you wondering how you are going to find time to market your craft over the holidays? A lot of people let their marketing fall by the way-side between Thanksgiving and New Years but this can lead to slow sales in January and February.
One of the best methods to sell more craft is to make sure it’s seen at holiday parties.
If you have friends or family who host holiday parties in their home or office, ask them if they would like to borrow some of your art for the party. Whether it’s wall art, table-top or wearable, your work will be seen by lots of new potential customers. Just be sure your friend has cards with your contact info handy to give to anyone who admires your work.
Obviously, if your make jewelry or wearable art, you should wear it every single time you leave the house, even to run to the grocery store. And always have cards with your contact info in your pocket. But especially over the holidays, you can get other people to be your billboards as well. My employees and friends always knew they could borrow a piece of handmade jewelry, a scarf or other wearable art to attend special luncheons or parties. The only requirement was that they keep my cards in their handbag and anytime someone complimented the piece, they told them who made it and where they could purchase one or something similar. It’s not imposing. They’ll love wearing and talking about your work. It’s often a good ice-breaker at cocktail parties.
If any of your friends work in a place where they see lots of people every day, they can be a great source of marketing for you just by wearing what you make and telling anyone who admires it how they can contact you.
Don’t over-look how many women are shopping for the perfect outfit to wear to the holiday parties. They will need accessories as well so it’s a great idea to approach some upscale boutiques and ask them to display your work with their dresses. If they don’t already sell jewelry or whatever accessories your make, they can up their average ticket by showing the customer a piece of yours to match the outfit. They have nothing to lose if you do it on consignment. And you have everything to gain.
For more tips on how to sell more crafts for the holidays, check out the Audio Class: “12 Easy Ways to turn your Creative Hobby into an Extra $1200 a Month”. (and if you do all 12 things, your creative hobby could be a $14,000 a month biz. )
- Find a space that’s in a good foot traffic area and has been vacant for awhile. Contact the landlord or property management and tell him/her that you are interested in a temporary lease. Go in knowing that you are expected to negotiate. Normally, a temporary space doesn’t pay the usual common area maintenance and other fees known in the industry as “triple net”. In exchange for paying a lower than going rate, you’ll be asked to agree to vacate with 30 days notice should they find a longterm tenant. If you’re only going to be open for the month of December, you’ll likely just pay a flat fee and possibly a security deposit. Now before you dismiss the idea thinking, “Oh, I don’t have that kind of money”, I’m gong to tell you how you don’t have to come up with most of it alone.
- Make a list of all the artists, crafters, makers and bakers you know and invite them to join you in a monthlong craft fair. Let’s say the rent on the space is $2000. If there are 10 of you, you’d each only have to come up with $200. Ideally, there would be 20 or more so you’d divide the rent and have more variety. Make sure make sure the participating exhibitors represent a diverse selection of categories and price points.
- You can handle managing the store in a few different ways. Each artist can be responsible for manning her own booth, you can divide the responsibilities of and hours among you or handle the shop-keeping yourself and charge each artist a percentage of their sales.
- There are a few general things you’ll have to take care of but they can all be done in a day or two. You’ll need to:
- Secure a resale permit which allows you to collect sales tax
- Call the local municipality and find out if you are required to obtain a business license. If the space has had retail in the past, this shouldn’t be a major undertaking.
- Also find out if you are permitted to use a banner or some other temporary signage and hire a quick-sign maker or make a more artsy sign yourself.
- Rather than spending money on standard store fixtures, be creative with your displays and use objects from around your house, from nature or from flea markets and garage sales.
- Opening a shop might seem like a major undertaking but if you view it as a temporary craft fair, it will feel less daunting and more fun. And remember, if it’s super successful and you love it, there’s always the option of keeping it open year round.
Marilyn is a renaissance woman or what Barbara Sher terms a scanner. A multi-talented creative with as many certificates and degrees as she has interests, in the four years I’ve known her, she’s “almost” started twice that number of businesses. Just as something is beginning to take shape, she panics and asks, “What if this isn’t my life purpose? What if I put all my time and energy into this and then discover it’s not my true calling?”
Unlike “bright shiny object syndrome” this isn’t about being sidetracked by each new opportunity. It’s actually based in unreasonable fear that “if I do this and then realize there’s something bigger calling me, I’ll have wasted all that time doing the wrong thing.”
No life purpose or calling is going to disappear just because you’ve put your all into something else. In fact, you’ll never “waste time” working towards something you’re passionate about.
You might not want to hear this but maybe you aren’t meant to do one thing for the rest of your life. Maybe the project or career you are pursuing now is what will guide you to a path that will call even louder. Changing course doesn’t mean you’re a dilettante. It means you’re growing and you can’t grow if you live in fear of doing the “wrong” thing and do nothing.
What if the purpose that’s calling you now isn’t meant to be your life’s work? What if your callings are numerous? Maybe you are meant to do several possibly even unrelated good works? Even Mother Teresa followed several callings.
Consider this: most people find their greatest work when they stumble on an obstacle while pursuing something else. I promise you that if you put your whole heart and self into whatever is calling you now, you will not miss out on your life purpose. What you’re feeling drawn to at this moment is likely to lead you to discover your next meaningful work.
- Make your wrapping part of the present. Wrap a hand painted silk or knitted scarf around the gift. Tie a piece of scrap yarn around it instead of purchasing ribbon or make your bows out of something you would normally throw away like the shiny foil bags coffee comes in.
- Out-of-date road atlas pages or used road maps make fun colorful wrapping as do pages from the past years calendars, particularly if they have images or quotes.
- A lot of parents wrap every tiny stocking stuffer separately but that’s a lot of waste and the kids just want to get to the toy. Consider bundling all the gifts for one child together in a single wrap or if you want to make the opening last longer, make it game like an Easter Egg Hunt with clues.
- Kids love cereal boxes. They make a fun container for books and games.
- Use real popcorn to cushion your breakables for shipping.
- You know those burlap or canvas wine bags that the grocery stores send home? Why not splash a little fabric paint on them to bring beverages to a party rather than purchase a paper wine bag?
- Make or buy reusable cloth market bags out of cool fabric and wrap your gifts in them. If you are not in the habit of bringing your own bags to the grocer, paint or stamp the brown craft paper bags and use them for gift wrap. (Trader Joe’s makes this extra-easy by using festive holiday-themed brown bags.)
- If you still get a physical newspaper delivered to your house, save the comic section. It makes fun gift wrap.
- If you’re hosting a company or family gathering, make creative wrapping part of the fun. See who can be the most resourceful. If guests do use commercial wrapping, take a lesson from Nancy and save to reuse. It might even be fun to see who gets whose paper next year.
Why “you must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” Joseph Campbell
When David asked me to help him sort out his career, he said, “I thought my calling was to be a healer so I went to medical school, did my residency and joined a managed-care group practice. About a year into the job, I felt frustrated that I wasn’t getting enough time with patients to really listen to them and make a difference. I needed this experience before I could open my own clinic. Also, I had enormous debts and plans to pay it off in ten years. Eventually, I realized that just as I had spent high school focused on getting into a good college, spent college working hard to get into med school, and med school and residency looking forward to getting into my “real practice”, I’m still spending my time and energy focusing on “someday”.
“Honestly, once I achieved the goal of getting there, I wasn’t so sure I really was meant to be a doctor at all. Now my loans are paid off and I’m completely burned out. I’m at the point where I dread going to work every morning. I’d love to do something completely unrelated to medicine but I feel like it would be foolish to waste all that time and money I spent on education.”
I asked him what he didn’t like about practicing medicine and if there were any parts he’d enjoyed. “I’m a good listener and enjoy solving mysteries of difficult cases and also educating patients about their own responsibility for healthcare but I don’t get the time to do much good.” We talked about several options for David to use the skills he does enjoy in his medical practice to do something on his own. He got excited at the prospect of doing something different but kept coming back to “all the time and money I put into learning to do something I don’t want to do anymore.”
David is not yet forty. I asked him to try to imagine how he’d feel if he was sixty and had spent another twenty years in medicine. He said, “I’d feel like I wasted my best years.” Hearing himself say that, he realized what a tragedy it would be to not make a change now.
If you are stuck in a job or profession that you feel is not your life’s work, ask yourself that same question: “How will I feel in another twenty years if I am still doing this?” Also, ask yourself if there are skills you can take from your present work and apply to something you will look forward to waking up for everyday.
Several readers have asked how they can gear up their sales for the holiday season. They wonder how to stand out in the crowd of Etsy and other online shops.
Some mention a desire to have face-to-face interaction with their buyers but are leery to exhibit at local craft fairs either because the booth costs are prohibitive or they are concerned about the quality and integrity of other exhibiters.
Here I offer up a couple of ideas that will increase both your in-person and online sales:
Alternative #1: Organize your own small craft fair. It’s simple. You can then control the quality of other exhibitors as well as the medium. If you make handcrafted jewelry, you don’t want to get lost in a craft fair with 35 other jewelry artists and you sure don’t want to pay a hefty booth fee and then find out that you are competing with mass produced imports, right?
Why not gather some other crafters and artists together and either have a home craft show or rent a space at a church or school. (tip: if you offer to donate a percentage to the school or a club, they may let you set up for free.) You can then control who the other exhibitors are. You might ask a couple of potters, someone who does hand painted silk scarves, knitter and crocheter, photographer, a couple of painters who make smaller pieces or prints, a woodworker, someone who makes metal sculptures, a couple of jewelers who do different work from your own, etc. If you don’t know enough crafters personally, contact some local craft guilds and connect with artists there. I recommend charging a small booth fee to be sure people honor their commitment to show up and ask emphasize to each person that you all have to do your part to get the word out. Split up the PR chores. One person can contact the local news media, someone else might handle the postings on Facebook and Twitter, someone else create the posters and you should all distribute flyers in coffee shops, libraries, etc.
Alternate idea #2. Organize a virtual craft fair. Here, you invite friends from anywhere in the world to join you. There are several ways to do this. The easiest way to do this is to put up a simple webpage with links to each of your individual sites. Everyone agrees to send out an email invitation to all of their list and friends and to post a link on all their social media sites. Ideally, you each have different groups of friends so even if all your own friends have seen your work, the other artists all share with their friends. So you each have exposure to the others’ lists and friends who’ve never seen your work before.
If you like these ideas, check out “ “12 Easy Ways to turn your Creative Hobby into an Extra $1200 a Month” for a dozen more creative suggestions on free or inexpensive ways to make more money selling your crafts. “
Are you wondering how you can make a full time living when you make every piece by hand one at a time?
Yes, you really can make a full time living selling handmade crafts but you’ll probably need to scale your business.
I’ve talked about ways you can do something once and earn over and over by creating prints of your original paintings or castings of your metal smithing.
But if your craft is one that must be handmade a piece at a time, there’s only so much revenue you can make if you produce every piece yourself.
Expanding doesn’t mean you have to have your items manufactured in China. You can grow your craft business without actually manufacturing at all. One great way to stay in integrity with the handmade movement is to have other crafters help you. Let’s say you make something that must be individually hand or machine stitched. Rather than hiring employees, you can engage some stay-at-home moms or retired folks to do piece work. Maybe you would cut the fabric and they pick it up from you and do the stitching. When they return the finished articles, you can pay them by the piece.
It generally makes sense to purchase all the materials yourself in order to get a consistent quality and price but there are a couple of other ways you can grow your business with the help of others.
Have you thought about selling your designs and brand as a “starter kit” for crafters who want to have their own cottage industries? They purchase the patterns from you (and the materials, if you choose) and then they make the goods and sell them at home parties, crafts fairs, online, however they want. It’s their business. Kind of like the Mary Kay of the craft world. You can charge a percentage of sales, a markup on the material or just sell the designs and patterns, kind of like a franchise. (Different states have laws restricting franchises so you might not want to use that terminology.) You’d be making more money than you can making each piece yourself and you’ll be doing a community service by providing others with a way to earn from home. It’s a win all around, right?
Have you found a way to expand your craft business and still keep it handmade? You’re invited to share your ideas in the comments below.