Archive for the ‘small business’ Tag

Using Twitter to Best Business Advantage, Part 2: Show me the money??

Okay, so a couple blogs ago, I outlined some Twitter basics I’ve identified in my short time on the Tweets, and that’s all well and good.  But if you’re a crafter/seller/artisan, I’m sure the #1 question on your mind is:  So does Twitter actually bring sales??

Well, Twitter does bring views to my individual items (though not my shop as a whole), but as far as I know, my three months on Twitter have brought me exactly two sales–one from a “follower,” and a custom order from the same person a few months later.  On the Etsy forums, I’ve heard people claim it brings them a good percentage of their overall sales and views, while others say it’s done precisely bubkes for their biz.  Given that I can easily kill two or three hours on Twitter in a single day, as a time-spent-for-money-earned ratio, Twitter may qualify as a whale-size fail, depending on who you are.  I suspect success with TwitterBiz also has something to do with what you sell; if your product is more unique than, say, jewelry (just to randomly pluck an example out of thin air, wink wink) then you’ll probably bring more interest from fellow Twitterers than someone who makes a really easy-to-find product.

However, the purpose of marketing isn’t simply to drive people directly to the checkout button (though that is the bottom line); no, any marketing expert will tell you that it’s pretty much equally important to “brand” yourself and get your name known.  That’s part of what Twitter can do for you–getting your shop into the consciousness of as many people as you can, either on an idle click-and-close basis (at least they’ve seen your item) or in a more “Hey, I know her work!” sort of way.  The more widely dispersed your name, the bigger your reputation and the more people will ultimately breeze through your shop–and logic says that the more visitors we have, the greater chance for a sale.

Besides which, whose shop do you want your Tweeps to think of when they are in the market for a pair of knitted baby booties or a goth leather cuff?  You should be the first name they think of for your type of item, right?

Here’s a real-life example of what I’m talking about.  In a town where I used to live there was a very nice locally-owned bookshop, and I loved to go there for all my bookish needs.  It was run by a man who was very nice, but a bit ditzy and capable of, I’m convinced, literally talking someone’s ear clean off their head.  Looking for spending money, I once asked the man if he needed any holiday help for the month of December.  He more or less offered me a position in “marketing,” which in his mind meant stuffing mailboxes with flyers and cold-calling people with Christmas promotions.  I declined and thanked my stars I never had to work for him–then asked him if he’d tried advertising in the local papers, since everyone in town reads the locals.  He said he’d tried running a coupon for a couple of weeks once, but nobody had brought one in.

Even then, I knew that he had it all wrong.  See, I was a regular newspaper-reader, and maybe I didn’t have time to use coupons from the newspaper before they expired, or was too busy to remember a special store event that was advertised on a particular day & time.  But when I thought about real estate agents, I thought first of the ones I’d seen advertised in the newspaper every single week.  And when I thought of carpet stores or chiropractors or lawyers, the ones I’d repeatedly seen in the newspaper were the ones that came to my mind–and perhaps my wallet–first.

And that’s why building your brand is important.  Maybe your Twitter contacts aren’t in the market for what you’re selling now–but when they are, maybe they’ll think of your shop and be there.  Or maybe if they’re asked for a recommendation, your shop is the one they’ll think of first.  And that’s the value of long-term marketing. Thus, I think of Twitter as a permanent  investment in making my brand known.

Oh, and a social outlet, and a source of info on other things I’m interested in–it is best for that, particularly for me.  Ultimately, I wish I could have discovered Twitter’s joys first on a personal level and had the time to enjoy the luxury of following fascinating people who will never follow me back.

But us WAHMs have not this luxury; thus, I create my Twitter balance between shop-talk, shop-promotion, blog-promotion, and just plain chatter with interesting folks.  (And reading @AlYankovic’s wacky tweets.  Just can’t resist!  And hey–wouldn’t my earrings look just smashing with his long curly locks?)

Until next time, my dear reader.  Feel free to request or suggest topics you’d like to see me write about.  And please, leave a contribution in the leetel box below…or e-mail particlesofstone at yahoo dot com.  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!

Hanging out your Shingle, Part 3: Titling Your Items for Best SEO

Note:  The bulk of this blog was written before the Etsy SEO/Meta-Tag Horror of 2009–if you follow such things–but interestingly, my advice remains unchanged.  There’s a nice boost for the old ego…assuming this advice actually works.  Heh.  That said, it definitely should, based on many hours of SEO research and trial/error on my part.  Oh, and “SEO” stands for “Search Engine Optimization,” and yes, it’s important.  Enjoy!

Last time around, I’d knocked out a couple more tips for how to smooth out the wrinkles in your Etsy shop, but I saved this one for last, mainly because it’s incredibly long.  However, recent events on Etsy have also rendered it mind-bogglingly timely, so I present to you my Final Tip for Setting Up Your Etsy Shop:

6.  Remember the rule of KISS.

No, no, not “Rock and Roll all Night”! Though that can be a good rule, too.  No, the rule I’m referring to was taught to me in college art class:  Keep It Simple, Stupid.

(Not that I’m calling you stupid.  Though now that I think about it, perhaps our art teacher was calling us stupid…hmm…)

The other things that Google uses to bring up your items in a web search (besides your shop title) are the titles and descriptions of individual items (and now to a greater extent, the tags, but at this point, that will have to wait for another blog).  I’m going to focus on titles today; let’s examine my own approach for a few concrete examples of what not to do.

In the beginning, I dreamily decided to name my items and list the name as the first thing in the description, then hammer out a list of each component of said piece of jewelry; i.e., “MYSTIQUE – Freshwater Pearl/Blue Lace Agate/Imperial Turquoise Triple-Strand Choker Necklace.”   Now, there isn’t anything wrong with this per se (well, okay, there is, but still),  except that people googling “Mystique” probably aren’t looking for jewelry, nor are they likely to be googling “blue lace agate and imperial turquoise choker” (though if they were, I’d probably have been able to sell them a necklace 😉 ).  Much more likely they’ll be searching for “gemstone necklace” or “beaded choker” or just “handmade jewelry.”  Not to mention the fact that some of my creations have eight or nine different kinds of beads–try listing all that without annoying a potential buyer.

But most importantly:  The fact that it was a “choker necklace”–surely the most important elements from a Google-search standpoint–was completely buried at the end…by which time Google has completely lost interest.  Google only looks at the first 70 characters of your title.

So first, you have to try to figure out what your potential customers will do a google search for, that will bring them to your item, and put that information first.  The recommended course is to just briefly describe your item, starting with the words that people might actually search for; for example:  Crystal / Agate Earrings.  Gemstone Choker Necklace in Onyx.   If the item has some special quality or component that people might do a search for, that should also be in the title:  Charm Bracelet w/Hill Tribe Silver.  Swarovski Crystal / Czech Glass Dangle Earrings.  The point is:  Most important words first, and of course…Keep It Simple and direct.

Honesty Check:  These titles are recommended by experts and they get the job done, but there is little oomph and no pizzazz whatsoever to them.  So I tried to find a compromise:  I still list my item names first, but I have simplified and properly-ordered what follows them.  Thus, I recently listed a new triple-strand choker, and the title is simply “BAROQUIA Gemstone Choker Necklace Triple-Strand.”  I’ll let you know how that works for me.

And that concludes my endless Etsy shop tip blog, as those currently are the main areas that I’ve revamped since starting on Etsy.  It’s a constant work in progress, of course, so expect another blog on “More Ways to Tone Up Your Flabby Etsy Shop” later on.  For now, check out this great blog post at Crazy About Crafting (Matthew Nix) that outlines some of the same points I made, plus a few more really choice ones.  And as always, check the Etsy forums for amazing lists of great newbie info.

Leave comments in the tip jar, or ring the bell on the way out if you enjoyed today’s meal.  Feel free to send in questions that you’d like to see answered, as well–I’d love to do a Q&A blog.

Tune in next time for “Adventures in Online Selling:  What I have learned from both ends of e-commerce.”  Cheers!

Hanging out your Shingle: Setting up Shop at Etsy, Part 2

Okay, two blogs ago I had begun listing my clueless mistakes, which became my best tips, in the process of starting up an Etsy shop.  You can read the first part of the blog here; now we pick up with Tip #4, which deals with all those crazy pages you have to write stuff on, starting with your “Announcements,” or the front page:

4.  Roll out the welcome mat.

Under your banner is your shop title.  Here I had something rather poetic at first, because I wanted to convey a sort of “feel” with my shop title.  But then I found out (via the forums, of course) that Google uses the shop title to place your shop in a relevant item search.  So the title should be a pithy description of exactly what you sell; something like “Crocheted Hair Accessories” or “Scrabble Tile Pendant Jewelry” would be ideal.  (Unless of course you sell gothic fine art prints, I suppose…)

Under the title is your “welcome/announcements” text.  I had already seen that some people use this as a place to put all their shop policies, shipping rates, turn-ons, turn-offs and the history of their craft in the Western world, but even Newbie I could see that this was a mistake.  However, I still got a little too poetical the first few times and made it too “texty.”  I learned in journalism classes in college that people’s eyes are drawn to the white space *around* blocks of text, not the grey blob of text itself.  So keep the whole of it short (so people can see your items without scrolling) and keep the paragraphs even shorter.

Also important because Google also uses the welcome text to accurately place your item in search results.  Also, your policies page is already provided elsewhere, so keep policies off your shop’s front page (though on my front page, I do encourage people to read the policies page, in case they don’t know it’s there).

The other mistake I made was overlapping information about myself with my “welcome” message–again, Etsy provides a profile page where one can write to one’s heart’s desire about themselves and their craft.  The welcome page is not the place for that, either.  The idea here is to tell the shop visitor exactly what you make and sell.  If you’re having any promotions or sales, you can also mention those on the front page.  I personally put the URLs of my Flickr page, Twitter profile, and this here blog on my welcome page, too, but those can be put in your profile if you prefer.

And yes, you do need to put something there, and more than one sentence.  I have seen a few sellers who only had one or two sentences–or even just a part of a sentence–as their welcome, but that really doesn’t make people feel very “welcome.”  The point is:  Keep it fairly brief, but informative enough that the visitor feels they understand what they’re going to see while visiting your shop.

5.  Leave no page untexted.

Obviously, you’ll want to fill out your policies page.  How to do this effectively is covered in the sellers’ FAQ on Etsy’s Resources pages, as well as in many forum threads.  Some Etsy-specific tips include:  mention how you pack items (and by all means, take pains with packaging–it brings repeat business), as well as your customization/alteration/resizing/repair/exchange policies (have some!).

As for profile, as I said, I initially conflated the profile and the welcome page, but I eventually broke it down into:  The welcome page is about my shop, and the profile page is about me–and that includes how I approach my craft.  And yes, many Etsy buyers really do read the profiles and really do want to know something about you.  That’s part of the reason people buy handmade:  the personal touch.  (But of course, not *too* personal–particularly if you’re desperate for sales; sadly, people really don’t want to know that.  We are all friendly at Etsy, but it’s still best to maintain a professional approach.)

Okay, that’s all for today.  I have one more big, fat, juicy tip, but this blog is already far too gabby for busy folks like you, so I’ll save it for next time.  And yes, it does relate to the current Etsy controversy over those mysterious meta-tag thingies…but I’ll say no more for now.

Post comments below, or send questions, comments, rotten tomatoes, and air-freshener samples to particlesofstone at yahoo dot com.  Until next time, dear readers!

Pondering the Unique–to OOAK or not to OOAK?

When I conceived my shop, and when I opened it, I was committed to creating 100% one-of-a-kind (OOAK) items.  My reasons were twofold:

First, I’m big on uniqueness all-around.  I like the idea that each piece of jewelry I make is like a novel or a poem or a painting–that there would be only one of them in the world, and someone could own that one special thing.

Second–and probably most importantly–the idea of making the same things over and over again sounds painfully dull to me.  Just call me easily distracted.  Ooh, look–a shiny thing!

Where was I?  Oh, yes, uniqueness.  My original shop welcome message, and every single item description I wrote, proudly proclaimed how “each of my designs is unique/OOAK,” and in the beginning, I really meant to stick by that.

But then some doubt crept in.  First off, there’s a difference between a one-of-a-kind item and a one-of-a-kind design.  OOAK items are not that difficult when you can simply substitute one stone for another–sometimes even the same type of stone can look radically different from one bead to another.  OOAK designs, on the other hand, may get challenging over time.  I mean, if I create a triple-strand choker with a focal bead on one strand, and I stick by my OOAK-design proclamation, I can never create another like that, even if I find a combination of beads that just screams for that design.

So clearly, that was a bad idea.

That left me with an option to go with “OOAK creations,” which is ambiguous enough to mean either design or individual items.  And that seemed okay, but then my family started wanting me to make things that were “like those earrings except with silver instead of copper” or “that necklace but with two turquoise accent beads instead of jasper.”

Erp.

For now, if I fulfill my family’s custom orders, I’m really stretching the “OOAK” label pretty darn thin.  I know it’s technically still true, but the idea of making things that are virtually identical except for a change of a couple stones makes me squirm.

I also am currently in the planning stages of approaching local shop owners about consignment or wholesale deals, a situation in which remaining 100% OOAK would be difficult to manage, at best, and might cost me potential sales of particularly well-loved items, at worst.

Plus, I found that I really liked some of my designs so much I wanted to replicate them for myself, and in fact couldn’t imagine never making them again.

So now, what to do?  Throw my OOAK commitment out the window?

Well, maybe a little.

If you look at my shop now, you will see that my welcome message says “Many of my pieces are unique/OOAK,” and I do intend to stick by that for as long as I remain Particles of Stone.

Individual descriptors also tell you whether the item is OOAK…and if not, then it either isn’t, or might not be; I’m leaving my options open for some items, particularly if I manage to make some consignment or wholesale deals.

I still love the creation of OOAK items, though; I still buy beads in small quantities just so I can create that unique piece, never to return once it leaves my hands.  There’s something beautifully melancholy about sending your creations away to be used and loved by someone else–very sweet, and just the slightest bit bitter, particularly if you know you’ll never make another like it.

I’m curious to know how other artisans have approached this issue–do you do OOAK exclusively?  Partially?  Not at all?  This blog is intended to help newbies, so maybe the experiences of the experienced can be a good touchstone for us when planning our approaches to the biz.

Post your comments/reactions here, or send them to particlesofstone at yahoo dot com.  Until next time, m’dears–au revoire!

Hanging out your Shingle: Setting up shop at Etsy, Part 1

As I wrote in another blog, Etsy is a new phenomenon to me, but one I have gotten to know quite intimately over the past few months.  There are moments when I love Etsy and wonder where it’s been all my life (mostly as a buyer), and other moments when I wish it were a corporeal entity so I could throw it out the window (mostly as a seller).  I do wish I’d known how much work the marketing would be, and how relisting kind of offsets the money I planned to save by selling through Etsy.  But those are things I have learned how to roll with, and I don’t think my ignorance of those things hurt me too much in the early months at Etsy.

However, there are some nitty-gritty details I wish I’d known when I opened my shop “doors” for the first time.  In other words–my mistakes become your gain.  I’m sharing them with you, in hopes that you either haven’t opened up your Etsy shop yet, or perhaps just dusted off your banner for the first time recently.  Or perhaps you’ve opened up a shop and have no idea why you aren’t seeing traffic and sales.  Thus, I present:

Things to Know When Opening at Etsy Shop (That People Don’t Usually Tell You):

1.  Show up in the forums and have a pretty pitcher.

Truly, if you follow this piece of advice, you can probably just stop reading my blog right here and now, because the forums really contain nearly everything you need to know before you tack up your shop shingle.  (Although I must add the caveat that you can’t always find the threads with the info you’re looking for, depending on how they were titled.)  Go and do a search for “newbies” and you’ll find all kinds of useful threads–plus, you’ll start that all-important networking to get your brand out there into the web ether.  (But that’s really a topic for that elusive marketing blog that I haven’t written yet!)

I’d also recommend a cute and eye-catching icon to entice people to click (which of course takes them to your shop page).  I used something dark at first, but immediately realized it was too dark to make out what it was (beads), and then switched to a picture of a some beads in a teacup.  I love that pic, but it still didn’t convey exactly what I *do*, so I switched to a picture of a necklace I made.  However, the necklace is fairly somber-toned and didn’t really “pop” like other folks’ icons, so I chose (and now use) a picture of a simple white necklace that has gotten a lot of views in my shop.  So my advice is pick a picture that’s light in color and has gotten a lot of flow on Etsy or Flickr and use it–assuming the size change doesn’t diminish its charm.

2.  Build inventory gradually.

Because Etsy defaults to “most recently listed” in the search results, and because so many of their browsing tools rely on recently-listed items, it’s recommended to add only a handful of things at a time, and space it out through the day, to maximize exposure for your shop.  I didn’t know this–I didn’t open my shop until I had 30 pieces of inventory, and I listed them all in one day.  I could have gotten a lot more early eyeballs on my shop if I’d dribbled it out over a week or so.

However, it’s also true that shops with low inventory (say, less than 15 items) tend to sell very little, so make sure you do have enough stuff already made to have at least 15-20 items listed by the end of the week.

3.  Have a banner ready.

Even if it’s just a quick and simple one, people really do expect to see a banner when they click on your shop.  If you don’t have the skills or money for a real logo design, then simply try your shop name in a nice font with some thumbnail pictures of your work (which is all I currently have up).  At first, I didn’t have one, then quickly realized I did indeed have to have one, so I tried my shop name over a fiddled-with photograph of some beads, but it was too dark and foreboding.  It looked like it was going to fall down onto my welcome text and squash it.  Keep it light-colored (unless of course you make Goth or Halloween-themed items) and easy on the eye.

Enough for today–next blog will pick up with point #4 in Honing Your Etsy-Seller Kung Fu, when I talk about exactly what to write on all those “pages” you need to fill in on your shop.  Leave comments, questions, inspirational quotes, meerkats, mice, and SPF 60 sunscreen here or to particlesofstone at yahoo dot com.  Cheers!

So many beads, so little brains

The Place:  Treasures of the Earth Gem, Mineral and Jewelry Show, Salem, Virginia

The Time:  My first at a bead trade show

The Purpose:  To Learn.  And…to buy a lotta beads.

Well, I accomplished both purposes, though not to my complete satisfaction.  As usual, the Noob could have done things better.  But hey–that’s what writes my blog, right?  So in the spirit of Sifting the Particles, I present to you, my readers, my Mistakes & Lessons from my first bead show:

1.  Scope out the possibilities first.

This was not a huge trade show, and it was a pretty even split between rock & mineral folks, jewelry folks, and bead folks.  Of the dozen or so huge tables in the arena, five were selling beads as at least 50% of their inventory.  I looked at one table briefly, decided I’d come back to it later, and then at the second, I spent 80% of my cash.

This turned out to be not too bad–I probably would have spent the majority of my money there in any case.  I just wish it hadn’t been such a large amount–there are a few things I wouldn’t have bought if I’d checked out the other three bead-sellers first.  There were also a few beads I was specifically looking for and wasn’t able to buy because these folks didn’t have them.  In the end, I bought from four of the five major bead hawkers, but I still wish I’d bought a few things from the fifth as well.

2.  Don’t forget to check quality.

I started out very good–I checked the bead strings for inclusions and clarity, for nicely-drilled, straight holes, for chips and chunks at the drilling point–all those things that make me groan when I receive an unsatisfactory web order.  But as time went on, I think I got a sort of “bead fatigue” and ended up not checking things carefully at the last table I bought from.  I brought home some Ocean Jasper beads that I won’t be able to use in my shop wares (though most of the strand is still okay).  Alas!  Next time, I think I will keep a little pad in my hand with all the things I should look at jotted down in a checklist–and force myself to check the list before I pay!

3.  Don’t forget to soft-market.

I was so enwrapt in the beads that I forgot that I was also trying to network and get my product name out there among other tradespeople.  I should have been making chit-chat with the sellers, browsing non-bead tables (and to my credit, I did do this–bought a couple gorgeous crystals and a polished obsidian stone), and finding ways to bring up my craft without seeming too obvious.  One thing I could have done is to show folks the unakite and red tiger eye bracelet I was wearing and say, “Do you have any beads like these?” (I was genuinely looking for more).  Might have spurred a conversaion and a request for a business card.  In fact, the folks I spent the most money from did strike up a conversation with me as they tallied up my purchase (it took a while!) and they did, in the end, ask me for a business card!  How thrilling!

Too bad I’d forgotten to get them from my husband, who still had them in his car.  😦

4.  Take your time!

All my mistakes can probably be chalked up to the fact that I zoomed through the show as if my hair were on fire, instead of realizing I had the entire afternoon and making it a slow, lazy process.  I chalk it up to first-timers’ giddiness.  (And the fact that, as a mom, I’m completely unused to having a lot of time to myself to use as I please–I’m accustomed to doing everything as quickly as possible.)  Next time, I will make an all-day event of it and use every moment wisely.

I will have another chance, when the same show comes to my town in November.  Better start saving my money now… that paltry $400 I took with me this time went entirely too fast!

I did, however, get some gorgeous finds–some unusually-shaped Ocean Jasper, some Rhyolite (finally!  and boy, do I wish I could afford more!), my first strand of red Carnelian and my first strand of faceted stone beads, my first real Turquoise and some funky Smoky Quartz, among many others.  My sister also gave me an old 3-drawer storage unit that was originally a store display for DMC embroidery thread.  Woot!  Now I have someplace to put all my new goodies.

I’d better get to work with the new beads.  In the meantime, leave comments, suggestions, implications, alliterations, altercations, interrogations, and math equations below…or e-mail me at particlesofstone at yahoo dot com.  Cheers!

A Rocky Start, Blog #4: Choosing a Home for the Particles

Confession:  Three months ago, I had no idea what Etsy was.

I’d never even heard the name.

I’m not even sure how I first learned of it, but after I figured out what Etsy was, I got very excited.  Not only was this a potential place to sell my wares, but it was the coolest shopping place I’d been in since…since…since…well, it may just be the very coolest shopping site I’ve ever been to.  I wish I had some (any!) disposable income at the moment, for I have a very strong inkling I’d be spending the vast majority of it on Etsy wares.

As a seller, it also excited me, as it was cheaper and prettier to look at than Ebay, and it had that nice “homespun” vibe that gives the place its oeuvre.  I just spent 12 years living in a place where “handmade” and “sustainable” were everyday bywords on the street, so this kind of atmosphere felt very homey to me.

Now, you may wonder why I was comparing Ebay to Etsy.  Well, as an online seller, I had only my direct-with-the-buyer experiences (from posting things to specific mailing lists) and my years of Ebay experience to go on.  I had actually seen a couple of wonderful artisans doing really well with bead-strung jewelry on Ebay.  Here are a couple of examples that made me believe I could do this myself:

http://stores.shop.ebay.com/Stone-Savvy – Another gemstone artisan like myself, but man, does she have a good eye for design!

http://shop.ebay.com/merchant/robintheraven – She has a very specific “brand” in her style, and it really works for her.  This is a good model for jewelry-makers, IMO.

You can check out a seller’s “completed listings” to see how well they’re selling.

Now, your first reaction may be:  “But they could get more money on Etsy!”

And that may be true–RobintheRaven sells her items under value, IMO, although as she builds a reputation, her auction prices may go up accordingly.  And Stone-Savvy was selling necklaces in the $30-40 range when I found her in January.  Then in February, a fluorite necklace of hers bid up to over $80–and the rest of her prices went up accordingly.  So Ebay isn’t all about “cheap,” depending on what you sell and how well you’ve established your reputation.

So why did I choose Etsy instead?

Truthfully, I haven’t given up on the notion that I may still sell some of my jewelry on Ebay or elsewhere someday, and I fully intend to have my own dot-com biz once my kids are both in school.  But for now, Etsy is my shop home.  Here are my main reasons:

Reason #1:  Price

Yes, Etsy is cheaper.  For startup businesses, this is important.  The cost is somewhat offset by the amount of time most sellers have to spend in marketing (especially the vastly oversaturated Etsy horde of jewelry artisans…alas!), so I suppose the question one has to ask oneself is whether it’s more important to save time or money.  Ebay sellers need little marketing to get their product found, although–and this is a big but–they also don’t get the typical “handmade item buyer” who will frequent Etsy.  Typical Ebay buyers simply don’t tend to value the special-ness of handmade items as much as Etsy buyers might.  Which kind of ties in with…

Reason #2:  Layout

The shop pages on Etsy are clean and attractive and easy to navigate.  To be sure, you have to design a good shop banner and work hard on taking good “Etsy-worthy” photographs, but those are good skills for a craft-business owner to have anyway, right?  Ebay is messy and cheap-looking no matter how nicely you design your store.  And honestly?  I didn’t go with Artfire because I find their layout confusing and artistically hodge-podgy.  Whoever works on Etsy’s layout and branding has a good thing goin’ on.

Reason #3:  Community

This is probably the #1 reason to sell Etsy for most folks:  It really is entering into a community.  Not only can you get e-mail newsletters on featured sellers, promotion, shop improvements, tech issues, and everything else you can imagine, but you have at your disposal an incredibly thriving forum community where a good number of the 100,000+ Etsy sellers communicate about various issues.  Like any online “family,” there are some disagreements from time to time, but generally, everyone maintains their civility, if not resorting to downright warmth.  If touchy-feely isn’t your cup of tea, you can still sell on Etsy and not take part in the community.  But for me, it reminds me I’m not dealing with a corporation, which is always a good thing.

Reason #4:  Ease

I still question whether Etsy is the right place for my items.  It seems that any jewelry that isn’t trendy or Victorian or steampunk by nature tends to struggle for sales.  (Sooner or later I hope to have enough knowledge to write a “Where to sell your wares” blog…but not yet.)  Which means, of course, that I have to go off-site to fish for people to come buy my items.  I won’t say Etsy is easy when it comes to marketing–far from it (this is a whole blog unto itself–watch for it).  But any new business that needs to grow into its potential requires marketing, and keeping my shop at Etsy is still easier than starting my own dot-com and having to deal with my own page layout, shopping cart, payments, and what-not.  That day will come, but for now, I’m just as glad to park my Particles at Etsy and let them handle the grunt work.  I’ll handle the beads.

Reason #5:  I just like the place!

It truly bothers me that Etsy isn’t a household name, that I had to start researching my startup business idea to even find it, and then only tangentially–not because it ranks high in Google searches or gets passed word-of-mouse on Digg or Facebook.  These truths disturb me greatly, not just because I want the benefit of selling on a high-profile site, but because everyone needs to know about this great shopping opportunity!  I have a feeling that, even if I choose to move my shop elsewhere in the future, I will remain an active member of the Etsy forums, and I will still link to Etsy sellers on Twitter and Facebook and my forums whenever I can.  It’s an initiative I believe in, and I hope that they can manage to keep abreast of their amazing growth that is sure to come.

I’ll add one more note about Artfire and other artisan-love sites:  I don’t know enough about them to fully appreciate them yet, but I’m sure that when I’m in the market to shop once more, I may even strike out beyond the borders of Etsy-land and take full advantage of all the opportunities that abound for those who love handmade.  In the meantime, I’ll be over at Etsy…come visit sometime.

E-mail me with questions, tales to share, LOLCats, or whatever strikes your fancy.  I’ll see you next time with Yet Another Exciting Episode of….JoolryNoob!

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