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.
note: this is Part 2. If you missed yesterday’s post, go read that first. Then come back. It will make more sense.
Continuing on with the idea of collaborating with other artist friends in order to get your work out there and seen (and purchased) by more qualified buyers, here is a second option. Of course you could do both. Imagine.
Now that you’ve carefully chosen the fellow artisans that you want to collaborate with, make a date to interview each one, maybe one a week. You can either do it in writing, send them email questions, or record through a conference line. Basically, you just both call in to the line and chat. When you hang up, an MP3 arrives in your email. It costs about six dollars. You can then put a link to the audio on your blog with a photo and short bio, some photos of her work and link to her site. Of course, you all agree to feature each other on your blogs. If you do this for 20 weeks straight, with 20 different artists and you each have 250 followers, well, you do the math. Just like the first method, you multiply your list of buyers many times over. Easy peasy, right? Let me know when you’ve tried this how it worked for you, OK?
Are you feeling a slump in sales of your craft after the holidays? Maybe you have a website or an Etsy site and a mailing list but you feel like everyone you know has already seen your work and you want exposure to new buyers.
It’s great to have a presence on Etsy, Artfire, etc but honestly, you’re missing a lot of qualified buyers who value handmade and have the money to buy your creations but don’t have the time to hang out on those mega-sites. Honestly, even though I make my living helping artists make theirs, I get overwhelmed on Etsy. There’s just too much choice.
So how do you get exposure to more qualified buyers who will be return customers and loyal collectors? Here are two very simple ways.
Both these tips involved gathering some of your online artist friends. Look for people whose work compliments yours and each others.
Ideally, choose artists from different parts of the country because you will have completely different friends. While all of your friends, I hope, have seen your work and all of their friends have seen their work, your friends haven’t seen the things each other make. Make sense?
For purpose of demonstration, let’s say you gather together 20 crafter friends. You put together a simple word press site that shows the craft and a short artist bio of each of you. You don’t have to put a shopping cart up but rather can just link to each artist’s own site. So, even if you don’t have a formal email capturing system set up, although you should, let’s say you have a mailing list of just 100 friends and fans. (and of course include previous buyers.) Now you send out a letter to all of your 50 friends telling them you want to invite them to a virtual invitation-only craft fair with 20 of your online crafter friends. Each of the artists sends this email with link to group site to just 50 friends. Now you each have 1000 new people looking at your handmade jewelry, scarves, soap, candles or other craft. And that’s if you each only had 50 names on your email list. You probably each have more like 250 contacts, right? So that’s 5000 new people seeing your work. And they aren’t just any 5000 people. They’re already fans of your friends’ handmade work. Now, imagine if you got together a group of 40 friends instead of 20 and each sent the link for your virtual craft fair to 250 of your contacts, you’d have 20,000 new people viewing your work. And this isn’t even taking into consideration that you each have Twitter followers and Facebook friends and Pinterest followers.
Think, mini Esty. But, these people won’t be overwhelmed like they would on Etsy so they’ll buy. And the whole thing hasn’t cost any of you anything except the shared price of a domain name and a site. So maybe you’d each chip in $10. That’s not much to pay for 20,000 new viewers who are qualified buyers, is it?
Check back tomorrow for the 2nd Way to Sell A lot More Crafts and Bring in Bundles More Cash. You can find lots more ideas like this at “12 Easy Ways to turn your Creative Hobby into an Extra $1200 a Month’ HERE
Have you dreamed of opening your own gallery or shop of handmade crafts? So many artists and crafts people confide in me that they always wanted to open a shop to sell their own pieces and the work of other crafters but they think they need to have a ton of capital and be willing to commit to a long lease. Is that you?
If you are anywhere between a little timid and downright terrified at the idea of a big commitment, this is a perfect time to test out your dream with minimal financial risk. Here’s why:
Retail spaces in many parts of the country are at a near record vacancy rate and landlords are anxious to bring in some revenue so they are more flexible than ever. Often they are willing to do a temporary agreement for a limited period of time rather than sit with an empty space, no income and a big mortgage.
If you know of a space that you believe would be a good location for you, particularly if it’s been sitting vacant awhile, consider approaching the landlord with the offer of a “pop-up” shop.
Here’s how that would work. You offer to pay two months upfront. (Remember, you negotiate for a lower rent than asking.) You commit to Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 and see how things go. You can either do a month-to-month agreement after that, with a first right of refusal if he gets an offer from another prospective tenant, or once you see you are successful, commit to a longer lease. So, where do you get the cash to pay two months ahead if you don’t have it? Simple. Start out by renting walls and shelf space to other artists and crafters. This is different than a co-op. You keep control. ( There are lots of different formulas to do this and I can help you figure out which way is best for you if we do private coaching. )
If you do have access to the rent money, you still have the option to carrying other artists’ crafts on consignment rather than have to purchase all your inventory outright. I discourage business loans but I do believe in using credit cards to purchase merchandise IF you are very careful to only purchase as much as you believe you will sell by January first. Remember that the wholesale shows are after the first of the year so you could start strictly with consignment and that gives you two months of success and cash flow. Then you can go to a trade show and begin gradually adding other artists.
Those of you who’ve worked with me know I’m a HUGE believer in starting small and building on your success.
I do have availability for three more one-to-one clients this fall so if a pop-up location sounds like a great plan to you, contact me HERE and we’ll talk about how I can help you get started.
Are you wondering if it’s time to begin exhibiting your work at trade shows in order to get your art into more shops and galleries? I think it comes down to asking yourself a few simple questions.
Does each of your pieces require significant hands-on time and do they have to be your own two hands or can you get help with some of the process? For example, you design and create all the components for your line of jewelry but you pay someone to do your soldering.
Do you handcraft the original and then make reproductions such as art prints or metal casting?
Are you ready to seriously gear up your production when you receive a lot of orders?
How quickly can you fill those orders?
Do you have access to someone to handle the administrative tasks such as billing, shipping, receivables, ordering supplies and tracking inventory?
The idea of picking up several new accounts and writing huge orders may sound appealing but you have to be ready to gear up your business rapidly. The costs involved in exhibiting at a major trade show are significant and you have to sell several times the amount of your expenses and be ready to rapidly transition from cottage craft business to serious enterprise.
Many craftspeople dream of getting picked up by Sundance Catalog or Nordstrom. It’s an exciting prospect but be careful what you wish for. In order to fulfill mega orders and satisfy your new big customers, you are going to have to purchase supplies in much larger quantities and hire staff or outsource some of the administrative tasks and assembly. Do you have the cash flow to purchase those supplies and hire the helpers you will need? Or will you be floating on credit cards and soliciting labor from friends and family in the early stages? Will you require a larger workspace?
I’m not trying to frighten or discourage you from branching out to wholesale trade shows. I’m just letting you know that along with the notoriety and big bucks comes some big stress and financial risk. If you’re not sure you’re up for it yet, there’s nothing wrong with the slow and steady growth model. You can thrive by building your business a few loyal accounts at a time. When you are ready to take the leap, go with Godspeed.
When my son was a toddler, he joined me on the road for my unconventional furniture business and he frequently mimicked the behaviors he witnessed. One of his first full sentences was “thank you for your business”. Customers got a kick out of this tiny boy reaching out to shake hands in gratitude. It’s no coincidence that today he’s in demand while others in his field struggle to find work. He makes it a point to show appreciation.
Whether you sell your hand made work at craft fairs, wholesale to galleries or direct to consumers on a site like Etsy, one of the best ways to stand out in the minds of your customers is to let them know you are grateful for their patronage. If you sell in person at craft fairs, trunk shows or home parties, take a moment to write a quick thank you on each invoice. Then, follow it up later with a thank you note. (You do keep a mailing list of your customers, don’t you?) Make it personal. Mention something about the piece he bought and that you hope his daughter’s graduation party was fun or his wife was thrilled with the piece. Let your customers know you were listening and care about them. Even if you never meet your customers face-to-face, include a handwritten thank you when you ship out the order. If you sell wholesale to shops and galleries, include a thank you with your orders AND send a handwritten thank you a few weeks later. This may remind them that it’s time to re-order. Even if you put your work on consignment, be sure to drop a note to the gallery owner about how much you appreciate her showing your work and that you look forward to a long and mutually prosperous relationship.
Remember your customers are exchanging their hard-earned cash for something you made by hand so try to use either hand-made cards or at least something that reflects your artsy style. No Hallmark thank you cards. Maybe you can work a trade with a paper artist to design a custom thank you card for you in exchange for some of your work. Be sure to include your web url, email address and phone number on each card. Whatever you do, do not use one of those online thank you note services. Your work is made by hand, not on an assembly line so your thank you notes should reflect that. There is nothing personal about automation.
I’d love to hear how you are showing customers how much you appreciate their business. As always, you are invited to comment below.
Is selling your handmade work providing you with enough income or would you like to find additional income streams without having to produce and sell more pieces? If you’re like other crafts people I know, you probably would love to find some hidden cash to provide what my friend Barbara Winter calls “multiple profit centers”.
Regardless of what type of crafts you make, there’s easy profit hiding right under your nose (or in your studio.) These methods apply to almost any creative art form but let’s use jewelry as an example since many of you create hand made jewelry. You probably experience busy seasons in your business like Christmas, Valentines Day and Mother’s Day when you can barely keep up with demand for your jewelry. But what about summer when, unless you are in a tourist area, things probably slow down? Do you feel a cash crunch come July? How would you like to have a steady stream of income flowing in year round? It’s not only possible but super do-able.
Let’s say you do beadwork. What other ways can you turn your craft into cash besides selling your jewelry? Here are a few examples:
-Write down and diagram instructions for a piece or technique that’s unique to you or has been a hot-seller.
-Video-tape yourself creating the piece.
-Make up kits with all the supplies and components to make that piece.
-Bundle the instructions, video and supplies into a kit that you sell on your website. You might even create a kit-of-the-month club. Members can sign up to receive a new design with instructions and supplies each month.
-Ask your friends to host a make-and-take party where rather than selling your jewelry, attendees can make a piece of jewelry. They purchase the supplies and instructions from you. The party can also be a fundraiser for a charity, church or school group. Of course take the opportunity to promote your “membership” club and let the attendees know that you are available to do parties for them too.
-Have VIP days for someone who might want to have one-to-one time with you for private tutorials.
These are just a few examples of how you can leverage your knowledge to create additional income from your art. Check the blog often for more tips on finding the hidden cash in your craft.
I’d love to believe I’m not alone in frequently waiting until the eleventh hour to make or purchase the perfect gift. It’s not that I don’t think about it ahead of time. It’s just that tomorrow is always here before I expect it. (that alone is a topic for a future post.) So, for those of you who haven’t yet crafted or purchased a gift for mom, or even if you have but haven’t wrapped or carded, let’s look at some ideas for giving mom a sustainable gift.
If you are efficient and have mom’s gift wrapped and shipped, these ideas work birthdays and other occasions for green giving.
I’m sad when I see those piles of wrapping paper, boxes and ribbon that are part of most holidays, birthdays, bridal or baby showers, and disappointed that so few people even notice. I made a commitment last holiday season to only give something that had been recycled or could be recycled and to only use for wrapping material that is used or can be used. There are of course lots of organic, recycled and earth friendly gifts on the market and there are some simple eco-conscious steps each of us can take in gift giving.
Those of us who love paper have difficulty sending e-cards and e-gift certificates, and some of our mother’s are not web savvy. My mom loves books and I used to send her gift certificates to a bookstore when she could get out and about. (she has started using the library now that they deliver, but she has to wait so long for new books.) It’s difficult to get Mom to appreciate or understand recycling when she’s always associated “used” with “can’t afford new” rather than earth-friendly. I’d considered giving my mom a Kindle both to cut down on paper waste and for the “instant gratification” factor of “get it now”. But the idea of teaching my eighty-three year old mother to use a Kindle is daunting-she still struggles with voice-mail. So, I do still buy her books but ask her to pass them on to her freinds after she has read them. That way, I know they won’t end up in a landfill. I’ve started always including a handcrafted re-purposed bookmark. Last December, I noticed how many boxes of Kleenex we go through and found they were the perfect weight cardboard to make book marks. Now, when I stand at the recycle been at the post office, rather than dump all the catalogs I receive, I keep the ones that have cool patterns or graphics to make cards.
If you’ve already made or purchased a gift, consider making the wrapping part of the gift. Is there a scarf you have that your mom’s admired? Do you have a tea towel or apron that she’d enjoy? Wrap her gift with them. Are there pieces of hand dyed silk or handmade paper that you haven’t used for a project? She’d appreciate it more than commercial wrapping paper and could then use it for her own project is she’s crafty.
I’d love to hear about the earth- friendly crafts you’ve made for your mom or the eco-conscious way you’ve packaged her gift. Please post and share your green genius with all of us.
If you’re looking for more exposure for your work, how creative are you about where you sell you crafts? If you make items for dogs or their people, do you sell strictly to pet boutiques? Have you thought of approaching handcrafted galleries? Shoppers who value handmade will pay more if they see your work in a craft gallery rather than a pet boutique beside inexpensive imports. If you make baby gifts, don’t just sell them to children’s shops. Try to get them into shops with other hand made products. Why put your handcrafted pieces in a location where they are compared with manufactured goods? Get your work in front of buyers who are discriminating enough to appreciate handmade. What other locations can you think of where your work will get the attention and price it deserves?