Sunday, March 13, 2016

An Income or An Allowance - Which Do You Want?

During the last part of 2015, I've seen a common thread among many of the various crafting groups I sit in on.  "How do I get sales?", "What should I charge?", "I don't do fairs", "I don't want to do shows.", "We don't have consignment shops locally.", "I don't want to open a shop on that storefront, it costs money", "the customer wants me to make XX, does anyone know where a free pattern is like it?"...

First, let me burst that bubble for those who are on the side of the road, looking at crafting as a quick, easy way to make money.  Most, will likely only make an "allowance" - NOT an income, because they are not taking their 'role' seriously enough. 

YES, doing something you enjoy and actually being able to generate an income from it, is just about everyone's 'dream job' - BUT, it takes A LOT of hard work!    And there really is nothing "quick" or "easy" about starting or maintaining your business.
Someone who is working for themselves, a "small business" - that is, beyond those individuals who are only looking for a few dollars here and there for some 'Christmas/Mad Money'; has to wear MANY hats in the business and that means they are working almost every hour they are awake.  

From marketing, networking, planning and strategizing, to manually creating their products, the mind is always concerned by the needs of the business.
It's not all 'fun and crafting' and some fail to see the difference. Even more lack the motivation it takes to turn a 'hobby' into something that generates the kind of income they are seeking. 

So let's start off 2016 with some helpful information for the would-be entrepreneur. 
The information I share may be hard for some to read, this is not a post to cater to anyone's ego or make you feel good about trying to sell your wares.  It's also not to criticize or condemn someone who just wants to make a few bucks selling a couple handmade items.

It's a truthful look at the realities of selling, in the very saturated marketplace of handmade goods and it's essential if you want to really do something with your handmade business.   It's information you need to know,
so that you can make an intelligent choice before that 'thing you love',  becomes a job you hate!

Now your first thought, as a crafter/store owner, goes immediately to what you are selling - the PRODUCT
Your product needs to be something that a customer will want to purchase.  That sounds simple right?  It's a simple principle, but not a simple task to execute.   

Ask yourself: 
How many people have you seen selling different variations of the "Mermaid Tail Blankets" this year?  Some are absolutely beautiful - Saks 5th Avenue quality looking tails for sale on various venues... then there are some, well, they look like the dollar store knock offs, that the yarn was purchased from. 

Was that harsh?  Some may say 'yes' - however, you must look at your product NOT through your eyes, not through your boyfriend's, best friend's or family's eyes, these eyes will spare your feelings  - YOU MUST VIEW YOUR PRODUCTS FROM THE CUSTOMER'S EYES, after all that is who you are trying to sell to.  Right?

Those who wish to produce a product for purchase must be willing to spend the time, energy and money to make a quality product worth it's price tag.  You must strive for a product that is not only 'individual' and unique (that is what your client is truly paying for) - but that also has the visual appeal someone is willing to spend money on.  It's not just how fast you can crank out nearly identical items and toss a photo up somewhere online, advertising "here I am, buy me."  

Machines crank out plush toys, clothing and housewares all the time, and at a fraction of the cost of 'handmade goods': so why would someone want to pay you the price you're asking, if they can get something that may look handmade for much less?
Generally, rushing a product and using inferior materials makes for a sloppy end product containing mistakes.  A mistake in a project can add character OR make it completely worthless - most times, it's the latter.  I have seen posts read "I messed up a stitch 10 rows back for this order, should I fix it or keep going?  Can you see it?"  or  "I ran out of the color I was using and was forced to use a different dye lot - is it that noticeable.  Do you think the customer will notice, it's only the last 2 rows?"

YOU know you missed a stitch/have different shades of color in your work - of course you need to correct it or it's not worth the price tag you put on it!  Not just because of the error (which may or may not be noticeable to the 'untrained eye'), but because YOU KNOW you are selling a flawed product - it speaks to your integrity, as a shop owner.  
Sure the person who is purchasing the item may not see the flaw - but that person doesn't live in a bubble.  That item can be seen by everyone they know and those they do not know - doctor's offices, their place of employment, grocery store trips, etc.  Who's to say someone who does see the flaw, won't point it out to them?  Each handmade item, each one of a kind piece, is a reflection of YOU and your shop, never sell a 'less than' product!

Quality also extends to the photographs.  I can't believe that I see people posting photos of orders in progress on their pages and in groups with their PETS laying on the product - or their naked toes in the beyond, peeking out from under a customer's order!  

Now as someone who has 5 cats and 2 dogs - I understand the love and pride a pet mom has for her fur children.  But... well, let's not mince words - that's NOT good business  (unless your business caters exclusively to pets)  and feet/toes, are really only "cute" on babies and kittens.

These WIP photos don't say 'I have a business that I take pride in', they scream, "I am a crafty person who is going to whip this up, toss the dice and hope to get paid."

You must always remove yourself from your product and think - 'Would I buy that?' when taking photos to share with an audience - on ANY forum, because you never know if your image(s) will be shared. 
Even when you are making something for yourself, photos that are not 'great photos' can be passed around and put your shop in a light that is less than how you want your customers to view it.
I have seen some truly beautiful work, priced where it should be (which isn't cheap!) yet, I would never purchase because I have seen their animal sitting on it while they were working it up.   Seen their 'work area' with dishes and clutter in the background.  To me, as a buyer, that is just 'dirty'.

The photos conversation allows us to segue into MARKETING.
So many errors in judgements and missed opportunities, I could go on for days on this subject, but I will keep it brief.   Mostly, because despite going to school for business, I have made many of the same errors that I have seen online in recent months!

Everything you do online, from posting photos, to leaving remarks on blogs, social media and dealing with clients is part of your business persona.  In this age of screen captures and re-tweets/sharing posts, there is no longer a "he said/she said" veil of question about situations.  If you said it, most likely, someone has proof.  This is your marketing - whether you intend it to be, or not.

We all have those moments in life that can feel overwhelming and we rant, express our political or personal views - now, I can't say not to do it, that would be hypocritical.  But you MUST REMEMBER that what you say and who you offend, CAN (and most likely will) come back to bite you later on - especially if your shop becomes successful.  
You never know what affiliations that your "best customer" may have.  You must always try to remain neutral when it comes to your online business - learn to separate your personal feelings from business savvy.

I can tell you from personal experience, that I have 'unliked' and 'unfollowed' store owners, although they had some really cute products, because they have gone off on a tangent about a personal view regarding a certain group of people.    I have stopped monetary support of one animal sanctuary because of a stance they took on an issue that I strongly disagreed with.  That is ME as a customer, as a person - based on my reaction to what a business has done or how they handled a situation.  We are ALL customers, don't forget that when you share your personal thoughts with the world.

Always use ALL AVENUES available to you!  Word of mouth is a hand-crafter's best friend; but there are also marketing opportunities in your local area that you may not have thought of.  Your child's school, where you/your spouse works, the local grocery store's bulletin board, local church, food pantries, the library and of course, your own body and those of your family members!   All too often I see crocheters and knitters buy the same things they knit/crochet!  I will never understand that one!  "Oh I only make hats for profit."  Umm, what?  You are a walking billboard for your products, how could you not see profit in making something for yourself?  Everyone you meet is a potential customer!

I cannot count how many times I have read in the past 2 months of wasted opportunities to promote one's business or market one's products!  Getting sales is not about paying for advertising space in a local paper or online - it's about selling yourself as well as your products.  You have all the tools you need to make your handcraft business a success right in front of you, but you need to remember to constantly think of situations with your business in mind!

So let's talk PRICING:  Stop undervaluing your work! Seriously, Stop! You want business?  Well, the way to go about it is not to cut your prices to a ridiculous amount that only covers the price of your shipping.  You've invested hours into your product.  You've invested materials into your product.  Why would you want to eat those costs - for a number that says you've gotten your first sale?  If you do not appreciate the dedication, love and skill you have put into your product, then how can you expect someone else to put any value in it?

Do your research!  If you are selling a blanket, see what others are selling their blankets for.  Is your work of the same caliber?  Is it better quality?  Worse?  Always look up several 'competitors', not just 1 or 2; I recommend 5 to 7 who's level of experience is comparable to yours and who have been in business long enough to have made a few sales.  Create a price for your item by averaging what you think you should charge and what you want to charge, with what items are actually selling for.  
If there is nothing else like what you are selling - find something remotely similar and go UP in the price.  It's UNIQUE.  People enjoy being different and in most instances will pay extra for it!

Another MAJOR faux pas of the hand crafter, is one of which I am guilty as well; selling to 'friends and family'.  The truth is that you must SELL to your friends and family as well as acquaintances and strangers - that's your market!  Your competitors and those who can make it themselves, as well as those not interested in handmade items; certainly aren't going to buy your products!  
Besides, along the way, you are bound to make friends with (potential) customers in your business (which are more marketing avenues as well as business leads).  In fact, if you are doing all you need to do, some of your clients will become good friends because you have contact with them so often!  

But don't worry, a friend, won't ask you for a discounted price anyway! They would never devalue your skill, or the time and effort you have put into your finished product.  If you have a friend actually trying to use your friendship to receive a discount, they are not a real friend!

But still, it's hard to look at a 'friend' and charge them as you would a complete stranger.  The intimacy of a friendship - most people are just hardwired to want to 'help out' a friend.  That is why you need to price your items as if you are always selling to strangers and that is the price you stick to - period!!  
In fact, the only time you should discount items is either when you need to generate money quickly, your inventory is overloaded, you are running out of space to store items or you are moving.    

Do not offer discounts to your family or friends unless you intend to discount to that person every time they place an order. Once you discount something for someone, they WILL come to expect it and what's worse (and I've seen it happen) - some one admires the item you made and discounted for them, they quote the price that you gave them - then that 3rd party comes to you, expecting the same price.  Awkward.

If you find yourself in a situation that has a "friend" looking for a handmade item - ask them what they are willing to pay - then you can show them what you already have on hand or what you can make for them, IN THAT PRICE RANGE!

Another common mistake among many crafters, is counting their chickens before they've hatched!  

You get that FIRST order, or that big order and are so excited to get started to collect on that payday - SQUEEEE!!  You are dancing the Happy Dance and singing to the top of your lungs and bouncing off the walls with excitement!  But, you are about to make a very big mistake because you didn't want to scare off that big commission you're going to get.

Then, you're done, you've completed the order.  Everything looks PERFECT and you are so proud.  Your first sale!  Then.. the let down..

The client changes their mind - they found something cheaper in a local store, or an online competitor charges less for a like item.  Whatever the reason, the client doesn't respond to your eMails, telephone calls, etc  to pay you and pick up their order  -  YOU ARE OUT.  
Out the materials. Out of the time you used up to make the item(s). Out of your happy place and now, out of patience.

And it all could have been avoided.

Always insist on a down payment!  The name changes with different shop owners - 'good faith payment', 'commitment payment', 'percentage down', 'security deposit', 'down payment' - but they all have the same bottom line and serve the same purpose.  

1) They are NON Refundable
2) They cover YOUR out of pocket costs for the project. 

You can determine if you want to use a flat fee or a percentage of what you are charging for the finished item.  But get compensation before you begin the work.  These 'before you begin payments' also help YOU weed out those 'thinking' they want something handmade from those who are actually going to purchase the finished item.

Let's toss out another little truthful fact - for some, you can never quote a price that is 'cheap enough' to make them happy.  When cash is changing hands, if someone can find a better price elsewhere, it doesn't matter how much investment or rushing you've done to work on their order, they are going to buy it elsewhere and leave you holding the bag.  Getting at least your out of pocket expenses up front, keeps your pocketbook in the green and forces your customer to consider their investment before walking away from their order.

Which leads us to  CUSTOMER SERVICE.
The customer IS NOT always right!  There, I've said it - the customer is not always right; however, they are always the one potential customers will listen to!  

Airing grievances about a customer in a public forum is just tacky! 

The customer may not be 'right', but they are 'never wrong' either - you must ALWAYS treat your customers with the same respect you would want if you were in their shoes.  I have seen reviews from customers claiming that a seller has used profanity or called them names.  
Remember, generally, most unhappy customers have an idea of what they expect.  Miscommunication between shop owner and customer is the biggest issue when it comes to a bad transaction. 
Once again, you must be able to remove your personal feelings from a situation and look at it from a purely business aspect.  What can you do to mend hard feelings or have the customer realize their own error (without pointing it out to them, that tends to just make people angrier!) and negotiate a solution that keeps your business in a good light and makes the customer content with the outcome. 
While I can't give you a '100% guaranteed cure all' for all customer service issues that arise,  there is no guarantee for that, since people are individuals and it's impossible to detail a plan for every situation - and being in CS in one form or another for the better part of 35 years, I thought I had seen it all, only to see/hear more with each passing year...
I can only offer a few tips on how to avoid them. 

1) Do not take on commissions beyond your abilities.   You know where your skill level is at in your given craft and what your schedule will allow you to complete within a reasonable amount of time - don't lie to a potential client and don't lie to yourself. 

2) Collect a DOWN PAYMENT.   Issues are less likely to arise when each side has a vested interest in the finished product.

3) Have things in writing. When a customer places an order with you. Make sure you document exactly what they want.  Put it in black and white, add photos if you can, and send a copy to confirm it with your client.  If something does happen, you can utilize this to help pinpoint where the problem is and how to correct it (if customer error, how to correct it without you losing money).

4) Keep your customer informed of your progress.  Contact them when you have begun to work on their order.  Contact them when items are completed.  Contact them when you have shipped their item - give them a shipping tracking number.  Answer their eMails if they contact you!  An open, honest dialog with your customer is a better alternative than trying to smooth over a bad experience. 

5) Do not miss your deadline.  If you state you will have an item done by a certain date, then have it done a day before!  When most people order an item that they need for a specific date, they are not thinking about how long it's going to take you to make it OR what could possibly go wrong in your personal life; they are looking for a finished item, in their hands on the date they need it - NO EXCUSES.
If you have personal issues in your life that MAY interfere with your ability to complete orders - then do not take the commissions, sell only your finished products that you already have on hand.

6)  If you get a bad feeling about someone, do not accept the order.   I have read countless posts about people taking orders from someone that they just "knew weren't going to pick up or pay them for" and it always leaves me scratching my head asking - then why did you say you'd do it?

and finally,

7)  BE HONEST.  Put out an honest product for an honest price and generally, you will be alright.   

This post was actually written quite some time ago - but I was hesitant to share it.  I am in the business of designing and selling crochet patterns online.   While I do sell finished items, I don't often share these "success strategies", because people don't always like to hear that they may be doing something wrong or that they aren't doing enough.
If you have read these strategies and feel they have helped you - then my post has accomplished it's mission.

If you have read these strategies and feel like I am incorrect, dead wrong or just a 'know it all who likes to read herself' - these are what works for my own handmade goods.  I am merely trying to pass on what has worked for me for the past 10 years of selling handmade items offline, so that you have better success with selling your wares both online an off.


winterswench said...

Thank you for the insight.☺

Unknown said...

Hi and Thank you for all your advice and tutorials!! I recently lost a sale through Etsy after 2 days of very positive and enjoyable chatting with a client. We collaborated to plan custom snoods for her chihuahuas and she was very agreeable to my quoted price,complimentary of my work and loved my suggestions. We chatted about pets, and a common past in nursing. I kept her apprised of progress and sent pics. Then when I posted the custom order on my store and sent her link....complete radio silence! Is there a way through Etsy to take a deposit on custom orders?

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