Archive for the ‘Running a Business’ Category

Sweet Tweets: Using Twitter to Best Advantage, Part 1

Ah, Twitter…every Etsian who’s done any research into marketing their art/craft shop has been told to get onto Twitter and promote promote promote!  But, uh…don’t promote too much…socialize, mostly, or tweet interesting things…and then promote some…but not too little or people will miss it…um…

If you are confused by the Twitter-mania touted on Etsy and Artfire, I hope these 2 blogs (this one and its sequel) will help you make a bit of sense of this thing called “social media.”

I joined the Twitter brigade about two months ago.  I figured it was a free service to try out and see if it actually would help in promoting my shop.  I was unsure of what to expect, but once I got there, I realized it’s pretty much just the next evolutionary link in the social networking chain–which began eons ago with BBS (bulletin board systems), then Usenet newsgroups, mailing lists, and forums–and ultimately, Myspace and Facebook.  I’ve been down with that stuff practically since Al Gore invented the web, so I felt comfortable in the Twitter groove pretty quickly.  I even surprised myself by actually enjoying the interaction!

Still, a few things are new to me, and I find that I am learning every day that I Tweet.

So here are a few suggestions gleaned from my weeks of experience, based on my own mistakes and those of others.  Take it with a grain of salt, since I am still pretty new to the process, and feel free to share your own experiences in the comments, even if they are different from mine.  We are all still learning, right?

•First off:  Be interesting, or at least be social. I’m sure you’ve heard this one before.  If you think it’s going to be hard to think of non-product things to tweet about, well…I doubt you’ll feel that way for long.  Some days, I enjoy the interaction so much I almost forget to promote anything.  Sounds cheesy…but it’s true!  Oh, and if you only tweet about your products, I may follow you, but I won’t rec you on Follow Friday, and you’re highly unlikely to keep very many non-crafter followers.  And maybe not even the Etsy/Artfire folks, either.

•Which brings me to:  Follow people from other walks of your life. Do you write?  Play golf?  Are you a foodie or a wine enthusiast?  Love the outdoors?  Tech gadgets or gaming?  Star Wars?  Cats?  My followers include not only artisans and crafters, but quite a few moms, dads, and SAHM/WAHMs (that’s Stay-at-home and Work-at-home Moms, for those not in the know), since that’s my current demographic.  I’ve also friended fellow fans of my favorite movies/tv shows/books, people whose music I like, folks from my state, and educators (since I am also a teacher).  Not only might these prove better customer bases for me than, say, the 287 fellow jewelry designers I follow, but (and more importantly), they are folks I can connect to on a very necessary level.  After all, if you’re not going to tweet your products all day long, you have to have other interesting things to talk about, right?  And I’ve discovered some great people (and some great blogs) through the folks I follow, both artsy and otherwise.

•And yes, most of the people I follow do indeed follow me back. If they don’t, you can always un-follow them later–every three weeks or so, I purge those who are not following me back–especially when my Tweeps’ Tweets are already too numerous to keep up with properly!

Know whom you follow, and why. Don’t neccesarily avoid people who do only tweet with professional purpose, if their profession can benefit you on any level.  Say you’re searching for a job; following Tweeps who link you to all kinds of job-hunting tips and posting boards might prove a useful connection.  Or you may enjoy following people who tweet nothing but interesting news stories from all over the web, like @GuyKawasaki.  I highly recommend such follows!  Just don’t expect to sell many earrings to them.  😉

•And when you do actually tout your product (which you definitely should do!), here’s a few tips I’ve learned from experience:

1.  If you say, “Check out my new wool house-slippers!” and then link to your main storefront, you won’t get any views of the house-slippers…though you might conceivably get views of other items, but that’s a crap-shoot.  Pick a specific item to tweet and put up the link directly to it, then sit back and watch the views roll in.

2.  Experiment with doing this at different times of day to find out what times will get you the most views and/or re-tweets.  Twitter is definitely busier at some times of day than others.

3.  Experiment also with wording your tweets to get the most interest in the product you’re tweeting about.  I’m definitely still working on this, but I have seen some difference when I can turn a phrase smoothly in the promo-tweet.

4.  Always promote something different.  I find that if I tweet the same item twice in a day, it usually gets me very few hits the second time around, presumably because my followers who are interested already looked at it before.  Personally, I can’t read all the updates from people I’m following, so I appreciate repetition of links through the day (within reason), but this hasn’t proven true of the people who follow me.  You mileage may vary.

In the interest of brevity, I’ll save the last, most juicy part of this blog for next time, when I tackle the big question:  So does Twitter actually bring sales?? Be sure to tune in!  Leave comments and/or questions if you wish, or e-mail me at particlesofstone at yahoo dot com.  And thanks for reading!

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My Best Tips for Selling and Buying Online

I’ve been buying, selling, and trading online for over a decade, making me a sort of Galapagos Tortoise of the interwebz–around forever and haven’t changed much.  I was even buying and selling online when ebay still had “What’s that?” status, mostly via e-mail mailing lists and forums.  I bought and sold, and sometimes traded, collectible items; I joined the ebay brigade in 1999, mostly for buying purposes but to occasionally sell a few things and make some pocket cash.

Nowadays, online sales have become almost more de rigeur than their brick-and-mortar counterparts, and while most of us have now bought something online at one point or another (or maybe regularly do so), you may not have sold online, or you may still be new to the process.

I’m still a pretty new Etsy seller, but I’ve got years of mild-to-moderate ebay experience, plus my “direct sell” experiences, so here are the most important things I have learned from both ends of the online transaction:

Buying Online:  Read Everything!

The #1 mistake I’ve made as a buyer is being too quick to push that “buy” button without checking everything out first.  I have at times paid far too much for shipping, bought items of the wrong size, given money to questionable sellers, and–naturally–ended up with items I neither liked nor could get rid of.  So read, read, read!

It’s often true that pictures are outright misleading, particularly when it comes to ebay and the like, so read every smidgen of print in the seller’s description and policies, because if you have to file a complaint, it’s the print that will count, not the pictures.

Here are a few details that you should be sure to check if buying on ebay:

Location.  If the seller doesn’t give a specific city, then expect an overseas seller.

Feedback.  Even if the rating isn’t 100%, check it out–sometimes the negative feedback is old, or unjustified.  Likewise, some people give positive ratings but then slip a complaint into the comments, which may prove useful to you.  So skim through at least the feedback for the past few weeks or months.

Shipping cost.  I always look for someone with an actual cost stated; if they say it must be calculated, then send a message asking for a firm quote.  Some ebay sellers try to make a good chunk of their profit from shipping, though most are honest…shipping prices are just really expensive!

And here are a few things people sometimes overlook when buying from my Etsy shop:

Size.  I’m stunned by how many people ask for a resize only after I’ve specifically said, “Thanks for your payment!  I’ll ship your item tomorrow–be sure to let me know if you need it resized!”  Yeah, I state the size in every listing, but folks forget to read all of it, I would presume.  With jewelry and with many other handmade items, size is crucial, so read for size, and if it’s not listed, ask!

Sales and Promotions.  Etsy sellers often have sales information on their announcements (shop front) page, so if you click directly to an item and decide to buy it, you might miss the info.  Be sure to check the announcements on the front page before you buy stuff from Etsy sellers–there may be a code you can enter for a discount!  Also check and see if they have a “Sale” or “Clearance” section in their shop.

Customization.  In the same vein as re-sizing, I think some people simply don’t think to say, “Hey, I like that style but hate pink–what other colors do you have?” or “Can you make that in a bracelet instead of an anklet?”  Most Etsy sellers are thrilled to do custom work, so don’t be shy–or you’ll never get what you really want!

Selling Online:  The Sale is in the Details

Now, don’t assume that because I’ve just said “buyers don’t read descriptions!” that you can get by with vague descriptions.  This is my number one pet-peeve as a buyer on Etsy, and the one thing that will send me fleeing an ebay item quicker than if it were a grumpy skunk.  Even if it’s obvious from the picture that it’s a “blue crocheted scarf,” please state that in the description (for search engines as well as the buyer’s sanity).  Consider that not every picture looks the same on every computer (particularly where colors are concerned); consider also that again, if something goes wrong (for example, your buyer swears that the shirt looked bigger in the picture), you will be able to point to your text as the definitive source of firm information on which he/she should rely/should have relied.

So please:  Put the size.  Put the color.  Put materials.  Put textures.  Put every detail into the description and don’t leave it to me to figure it out for myself.

For both Sellers and Buyers:  COMMUNICATE!

Sorry to shout, but this is really important.  My #1 pet peeve with buyers on Etsy is when they register with Etsy and apparently use an e-mail address that they never actually check; additionally, many new Etsy buyers are unaware of the Conversations feature, or perhaps unsure how to use it.  Thus, it becomes a tooth-gnasher if I need to get in touch with a buyer and can’t.  It delays you getting your item, as well, so please, please, please:  Leave the seller with a way to realistically contact you in case something goes wrong.

Likewise, incommunicado sellers are equally frustrating.  If you submit a question on ebay, it tells you to expect an answer “within 48 hours,” which is patently ridiculous.  If you’re trying to sell an item for a fair price, you simply must answer questions more quickly than that.  I try to have a maximum of 24-hour turnaround on questions, but that’s an outside figure; most of my questions are answered within an hour or two of asking, unless of course you’re on the other side of the earth and I’m asleep at the time.  The same goes for Convos on Etsy or e-mails from Etsy buyers.  Delaying your answers makes you seem either unprofessional or unfriendly, neither of which is likely to bring you repeat customers.

I think things like “pay for your items quickly” and “don’t mislead about what you sell” should pretty much go without saying, so I’ll close today’s tipblog and promise you an even better one next time.  Comments, anecdotes, advice, pocket protectors and Michael’s coupons welcome; post here or e-mail to particlesofstone at yahoo dot com.

Until next time, dear reader!

A Rocky Start, Blog #3: Running the Business…before it runs you

So I sat, surrounded by a sea of beads, beaming with artistic rapture, ready to begin my creative journey.  It was a heady rush.

But no worries–I came back to earth with a thud when I sat down at my computer to tally the expenses of my venture.

“Entreprenuerial rapture” carried me through the early months of the business side of things, but I admit:  The biz has gotten boring, and I’m behind on my accounting.  So it occurs to me perhaps I’m the wrong person to give tips on starting a jewelry business, but here are some of my early headaches and how I dealt with them.  Hopefully some can benefit–and even better, add to the list of “things not to do” and/or “things to do.”

First off, some people seem to have the attitude of “Why even bother keeping records?  I hardly make any money.”  And technically, that’s true–my understanding is that we don’t absolutely have to report income on our business until it clears $400 profit in a single year.  So here’s my logic:  If I keep track of every single expense I put into the business, be it in a spreadsheet or in Quickbooks or what have you, I can absolutely prove (to theoretical future IRS agents) that have made no profit and will make no profit for a long time to come.  Otherwise, I’m potentially guilty of cheating the tax system, and…I’d rather not.

So the first thing I did was make a Spreadsheet and list every single thing I’d bought for the business, down to post-it notes and packing tape.  I call it “Bead Inventory,” even though that’s not precisely accurate anymore.  In this spread sheet, I enter the item, the cost, the source (where I bought it from), and–if it’s a consumable and dividable item like 16 inches of beads or 30 yards of wire, I calculate a per-item/per-inch cost in the final column.

And yes, I have a “grand total” cell at the bottom of the sheet, but I haven’t looked at it in months.  Far too depressing.

If you don’t know how to use spreadsheets, there are tutorials online, and if you can’t afford Microsoft Office, try NeoOffice or OpenOffice, which can be downloaded for free and do exactly the same things and create exactly the same file types.  Or you can keep track of things in a notebook, or in a simple table on graph paper, or what have you–my point being, keep track.  If you really want to make a business of it, now or later, you really have to.  I haven’t yet tried Quickbooks but I hear good things about it.  That’s on my to-do list.

Next, I made a few more spreadsheets to keep track of the cost of each item I make.  That way, I have a quick “supplies cost” reference when pricing items or attempting to calculate profit,  which of course, doesn’t account for my time and effort…but how much does the IRS care about those, anyway?  I read a good basic book about running a jewelry-making business (Jewelry Making for Fun & Profit by Lynda Musante), and in the book she says that since we are self-employed, part of our monthly expenses have to be paying our own wages.  And if I did that, I’d probably never turn a profit!  😛  So for now, I’m not even bothering with that.  Another to-do list item when business picks up in earnest.

But yes–keep track of every little tube of pencil lead that you’re going to use for your business.  And don’t forget the shipping costs!  I charge for the envelopes & bubble wrap, zippie bags, tape, and about 15 cents for my time to pack it.  (Clearly, I’m running a sweatshop, here.)

So if I’m sittin’ pretty on all these spreadsheets, you might wonder, what were my “mistakes” I spoke of earlier?  Well, here’s the nutshell versions:

1)  Organize!  and other useful -izes

I have my inventory list, all well and good.  But in the beginning, I just threw everything on there without any sort of organization.  Big mistake, when it came time to calculate costs of making items.  “Now, where were those 5mm copper daisy spacers, again??”  So describe your items using a consistent system.  I start out with the actual thing: “spacer bead,” “earring hook” or the specific name of the stone, then add on materials, sizes, styles, etc., after that.  It makes it easy to categorize them and alphabetize them if you’re consistent with the way you describe the items you buy.

Which leads to:  Categorize your items and alphabetize them within categories.  This is easy to do in spreadsheets simply by adding blank rows in between your category sections and putting a new heading at the top of each section.  In my spreadsheet, to use an example, I have sections broken down thusly:  gemstone beads (includes any beads that aren’t metal), spacer beads & caps, findings, supplies (consumable and non-consumable), and tools/misc.  Then everything inside each section is alphabetical.  It’s the only way I can find items I’m looking for, now that my inventory has gone (way) beyond that initial $400 purchase.

2)  If you leave receipts around idle, they begin to multiply…

Yeah.  I know.  For now, I just jam them into a manilla envelope and hope for the best.  I know that someday when I’m really a “Business” per se (as in, making a profit of any kind), I will need to file them according to product type or date or something more helpful.  So I’m creating yet another future headache for myself.  Perhaps you’d like to start ahead of the game and organize them logically from the start.  Also:  Some people don’t send receipts or invoices with their products, so in that case, I’d suggest printing out your shopping cart or confirmation e-mail from that seller to serve in place of a receipt.

3)  Is an EIN something German?

Call the IRS and get a tax i.d. number (or Employer Identification Number) when you can.  I do NOT recommend going through an online service, as they all charge you for the privilege of inducing your headache, when you could simply call the nice IRS people and get one for free.  You’ll need one if you have to file sales tax for in-state sales (I haven’t had to deal with that yet, thankfully) and you can also use them at bead shows and for certain online vendors to get the wholesale rate.

My experience was a headache-inducer, as I didn’t realize I didn’t have to use an online service and pay money for the thing, nor did I realize that, because we hired a nanny for part of the year last year and had to pay income taxes for her, we already had one.  Don’t be confused by their confusing questions:  You are considered a “business entity” when you apply for a tax i.d. number.  Silly me, I’d thought I was a person and my business was the entity, but no.  If you have ever gotten a tax i.d. using your social security number before, that one is the one you’ll use for your business as well.

4)  Have a process

Once I finish a piece, the first step is, of course, photography.  Etsy is a harsh mistress when it comes to photographing your work!  But after that, the bookkeeping begins:   I take the item to my computer and count the parts until I’ve calculated the cost of the item and input everything into the spreadsheet, where it is assigned an item number.  If I’m really smart and my son is asleep, I’ll also write my Etsy description at that time (see below for more on this) so I can measure everything and have it good to go when my photos are resized and I’m ready to list.  Then it goes into a zippie bag with the item number from the spreadsheet written on the outside.

One horrible idea:  Taking everything out of bags to photograph them at once.  That just sent me back to the spreadsheet to make sure everything went back into its proper baggie.  Ugh.  It might be better to hang little price tags on things with their item numbers instead, although that might mess up the photos, too.  So yeah…photos first in any case.

That’s my process, at least, and I’m sure it will be tweaked and improved as I go along and I build up a larger inventory to keep track of.  I do intend to get Quickbooks sooner or later and give that a try–I still haven’t figured out a good way to keep track of each item’s statistics as I sell them (I need to learn to make a database where I can write each item’s description, its cost to make, its sale price and date of sale, cost of shipping, etc., but who has time for the learning curve?  But that’s another blog entirely…).

5)  Keep your item details in a text file for easy reference.

Let’s say Etsy or Artfire has a major crash and all your items are de-listed and the listing details lost.  You now have to re-write all your item descriptions, right?  Well, I know that I’m a moron when it comes to remembering all the things I need to remember, so i started out typing all my item descriptions (and the other schpiel that goes into my listings) into a text file, where I can easily copy and paste them when doing my listings.  This also can be a time-saver, since I might have extra time to write the descriptions on a day when I don’t want to list everything I’m describing.

And one more thing everyone who uses a computer should do:

6)  Backup Backup Backup!!!

You’ve created all these wonderful pictures, descriptions, and spreadsheets now, right?  Can a catastrophic hard-drive failure be far behind??  It doesn’t cost a whole lot to get an external USB hard-drive and back up your important files every couple of days.  I’d also suggest getting a flash drive to keep things on when you might need to transport them, and getting a free web mail account like gmail or yahoo, where you can e-mail yourself files as attachments and leave them there as yet another form of backup.  Don’t have just one way to back up your files; have several.  Send your pics to Flickr and Photobucket (you can set them to private if you don’t want folks to peep at them).  There are lots of ways to store your important files off-site as well as having an on-site backup.  Save save save!

I think that’s all my tips for now.  I’m sure I’ll think of more–there’s always room for more bloggins, right?  Send me your comments, critiques, tips, links, horror stories, success stories, and dirty jokes!  particlesofstone@yahoo.com

Next time:  Tumblin’ Down the Rabbit-Hole:  Entering the Etsy Arena