Monday, June 06, 2016

Make the Switch to a Business Mindset

Make the Switch to a Business Mindset

You know, it was so long ago that I made this switch, I forget how difficult it can be. I decided in high school that it was possible to make a living by making things and selling them. I'm not sure how I came to that conclusion exactly, I didn't know anyone who was doing that. But at 18 I was starting to believe (as I do still) that anything is possible. Why couldn't I? As an art major in college, about mid way through I decided to quit waitressing and try to work at only art-related jobs. And I did that. So by the time I graduated and started working on my current business, I had already made the switch. I was already used to getting paid for my art skills. I had already started a pre-business during college, selling my crochet hats and beaded jewelry to friends, online, and even a few craft shows. But really, it started when I made that decision in high school. That I could do what I love, what I'm good at, and get paid for it. I never felt the need to explain or defend, I just do what I do.

But in talking with newer art and craft business people, especially, I get a glimpse of that insecurity. The idea is often thrust upon us creative types that hobbies are nice, but work is something else. Even today, I get the feeling often from others that if I'm not suffering a 9 to 5 existence, I must not be doing it right. I'm indulging my fantasies by following through on my dreams. It's rarely expressed directly (though sometimes it is, esp by strangers at shows), but society says so every day everywhere you look. Dreams are for suckers, suffer or starve, etc. I have two words for that... Bull. Loney.

So, anyway, here's what I mean when I talk about Making the Switch. Taking your dreams from hobby to business... it's all in your mindset, your attitude, what YOU say about it, how you present yourself. Here are some things that I believe can help switch you from halfassed dreamer, to respected businessperson. And thus help your business thrive. 

Stop Apologizing
Please. This just breaks my heart. Maybe you aren't expressly apologizing for selling things you make (or you might be!), but I see the general lack of confidence all the time. There is no need to feel guilty or sorry for asking to be paid for your hard work and creative talent. The reason there are SO many craft shows out there, and etsy is SO crazy popular, is because people love and appreciate handmade things!

I know I keep repeating myself, but please don't charge low low garage sale prices! Stand tall, know your worth, use a good pricing formula so you know it's a fair price. Someone who really values it will pay. Choose selling venues that support your price points, your style of work. In time you will learn who the right audience is for what you make, they are out there.

Don't feel bad about charging your friends either. They are your biggest fans and your life long customers. Sure, give them discounts occasionally, donate to their raffles or whatnot. But, if they WANT to support you by buying your artwork, let them!

And please. Please, just because you love what you are doing, and would do it even for free... don't assume it is worth *less*. That's a weird false idea our culture promotes. If you love your job, you aren't working hard enough (or something). Anyone is free to follow their heart, you should be proud and strong that you have made that choice!  

Make It Easy
By this I mean, make it easy for your customers to buy things from you. The main difference between a hobby and a business, is getting paid baby! When someone wants to buy something from you, have a simple way to get it done. 

It's not that hard in today's age of technology. Get yourself a web site, or at least start an Etsy or facebook page. You need a place to send people when they want to buy from you. Everyone has an online presence, or should, because customers expect it. It's free! Have some decent photos there, and a way to order. Tell people what to do, if it isn't obvious.    Inform them about where they can shop in person (shows, galleries, etc). Then, add the web address to your business cards or flyers, share it on fb, add it to your email tag line, etc. This is really basic stuff you must have if you want to sell things and be taken seriously.

Also, make yourself a paypal account. Lordy. I can't believe I still meet vendors who have never used paypal. What?? Welcome to the 90s my friend. Paypal is trusted and easy to use for your customers, they don't even need an account. They also have lots of cool doohickies to take payments on your web site, blog, email, wherever. And even a credit card swiper you can use on your phone when at shows.

And finally... please pay attention now... you really need to learn to follow through! When someone wants to buy something from you, don't dilly dally. Call them back, send them the info, whatever is needed to allow them to follow through with the sale. So your friend at that party last night ooohed and aaaahed over your necklace and kept saying they wanted one? Follow through. Send a message or email in a day or two, offering a simple way to order. "Hey, if you really want a necklace, here's my etsy page. Let me know if you want to see some in person. Great seeing you last night." Done! Nothing pushy about it, they asked YOU after all. Why not at least make it easy for them? I sell plenty of things this way. This also goes for any other possible business connection... someone in your booth wants a custom order, someone with a shop wants to carry your goods, etc. Always get their information and contact THEM. I can't tell you how many times someone told me they'd contact me about such things and didn't. Like 99% of the time. Make it easy for them to do business with you and follow through.

My good friend & great businesswoman, Sandy of Drakes Glenn Chocolate.

Get Your Records Organized
Are you still reading? Because I know this one made you cringe a little. haha. I totally get it! And so far I haven't gotten into the nitty gritty of business legalities, mostly because it will be different depending on where you live, how much you sell, etc. Generally, if you want to work above board, you need a state tax ID (if your state requires one) and to file your business with the IRS. I know some people avoid this for a long time, and I get it. But it's really not that much to do, especially when your business is young. And having a legal business allows you to buy supplies at wholesale prices, and write off all your business and travel expenses at tax time.

 The record keeping part is really pretty simple. You need to keep track of your sales and your expenses. Now, depending on how much you sell, you might not have to file at all or at least not pay out. But, if you do file, you must be able to show what you earned, and also what you spent on business expenses by category (materials, office supplies, travel, etc). For this reason, it's easier to use some kind of accounting software like Quickbooks. But again, today there are tons of easy to use and free options available online. Even excel will do the job. Don't be intimidated. 

Looking at the numbers is definitely not just dirty work, it's essential for seeing what is really going on with your business. What are your biggest costs? What show really worked out the best after travel expenses? Which items should you consider making differently, or not at all? I always *feel* like I have a good handle on what my biz is doing... but going over *actual* numbers is for real. It can really wake you up.

I know this isn't the fun part, but believe me, knowing you have your paperwork under control will help you sleep better at night in the long run.  As well as boost your confidence as a true business owner. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mermaid Tour 2015: Last Leg

Mermaid Tour 2015: Last Leg

Here's another interactive map of my route west. The east bound map is on my first Tour post (see the tag at the end of this post). It's fun to map it all out like this, I can picture most  of the towns and areas I passed through still in my mind. It helps that I did the same trip just last year, I feel like I know this route pretty well now. 

After a great visit in North Dakota, and a nice breakfast with my mom, I started back west toward my next show in Whitefish, Montana. It was raining when I left, and continued throughout the day in varying degrees. Until around Bozeman, when I hit a big thunderstorm. Like I've said before, I think it's just part of the routine when you drive across MT to hit storms. I got a great pic of lightning in the not so far distance last year. And just like last year, there was a point where the storm was so crazy, the wind so strong, the rain so heavy, and the visibility so bad, that I had to pull over on the highway. It was nuts!! And a little scary. There's always that guy in a pickup truck, young is my guess, who whips by us all like it's nothing. Please don't crash into me, dude! Argh. After a few minutes, I slowly drove out of it, and made my way to my first stop in Butte. 

Driving out of the storm finally.
I reserved a hotel, and had a peaceful night. I ran for some Taco Bell for dinner (my favorite road garbage food, esp in hotels for some reason), and let me tell you. Just do yourself a favor and skip anything even half Mexican once you get east of Spokane. Just. Nevermind. They don't even have green sauce, and everything was just gross. Truthfully, I'm not sure about WA and OR in general. You've been warned.

The next day I arrived in Whitefish, just in time for the start of booth setup.  I knew the routine. Scramble for parking and then haul your stuff a ways into the park in the heat. Bleh. I was pretty excited when a backpack traveler offered to help me for a few bucks. Yes!! Best $10 I ever spent, took him 15 min to do it all and it was no sweat for this youngster. If I was thinking I would have asked him to come back on Sunday for tear down

Tally Lake near Whitefish, MT

I was able to reserve camping this time at Tally Lake a ways from town. As I learned last year, the state campground closer to town is horrible. Too paved and loud (a train hello!) for my taste. In fact, last year I vowed never to stay in another state campground if I can help it. They are never fun! Anyway, even though I picked out my spot online, I did great. It was secluded and quiet...totally worth the 30 min drive to town every day.  

The show itself was fun, but not as good in sales nor as many people as last year. I did meet more cool vendors this time, and had fun visiting with them. Always a highlight of doing festivals for me, making new artist friends.  I even met one person from my fb artist group, which was neat! She came to whitfish after we discussed it on fb. Ha!

My booth at Huckleberry Days.

After Whitefish, I headed further west and spend one night at my friend Bernadette's place in Spokane. We are old friends from college, and she's not only a passionate artist and art educator, she's a great hostess! She cooked me dinner from her garden, and we drank Montana beer and talked and talked. Food for the soul, is good girl talk.

Turk being sweet.

So I made my way through WA and stopped over in Mt. Hood, OR for one last camping hoorah. I love that area! So gorgeous and cooler temps. I camped for a couple nights there and soaked up the trees.

Mt. Hood, OR.

Now, I did have one last show planned on my way back through Oregon... and up until the last minute, I fully planned on following through. But once I looked at the setup info, I changed my mind. It was a new little music festival, which I was looking forward to as a nice relaxing last stop. But they put all the booths on a baseball diamond inside a fence. Bleh. So I'd have to haul my stuff, sit in the dirt all weekend, and be separated from the audience by a fence. No thanks. I was so tired from my weeks on the road, and this didn't sound like fun to me. So I canceled

Killer camping spot near Trillium Lake.

My last last stop was actually the same as my first stop... Leisa's house in Springfield. Yay! Such a good friend to put up with me a second time lol. I was super exhausted and saying weird things, just generally annoying I think. Leisa and her husband were very sweet about it. I spent one night, and then drove the last 5 hrs home to Eureka. Tons of hugs for my dog, and kisses for my hubby. Another killer tour on the books. Whew! Check out my other Tour posts by following the tag below. Woop! Good times.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Things I Learned Having My Own Studio Storefront

First Day!!

Things I Learned Having My Own Studio Storefront
What fun! I think every creative maker has a dream of opening their own storefront. A little place where you can work on your craft, while welcoming customers to shop. 3 1/2 years ago I did just that and it was so exciting! This month, I am closing it. I've been sharing a lot with people recently about my time there, what I loved about it and what I learned.

Retail vs Festival
I think the biggest thing I learned was that the Retail Life is completely different from the Festival Life. Not only for me, but for my customers. Most obviously, the high energy festival booth vibe is completely opposite the sit in a store and wait vibe. I love the rhythm of doing festivals. I work really hard, engage thousands of people, make a lot of sales, all in a few days. Then I retreat the rest of the week either into the woods if I'm traveling, or into my studio to make more clothes. I don't really enjoy having to engage the public and be "on" every day, that's why I no longer have a day job. Also I learned that my local customers I've acquired over the years at the craft shows, are not necessarily that into shopping around town. Festival people are not always Retail people. I am totally like that! I do all my shopping at shows, and I'm not much of a consumer otherwise. 

Hours are Important
I knew this already. Really. So the first year I slowed down my travel, and tried hard to stick to my regular hours. I mean, I'm setting the hours right? Should be able to follow them. Yeah mostly I did pretty well that first year. I did Arts Alive nights regularly (our local monthly art walk) with musicians, bought some print ads, and the momentum was going pretty well! But for yr 2, I decided I needed to do more shows, since I wasn't yet making enough at the shop to really cover that income. And also because I realized how much I missed traveling... I thought I was ready to settle down, but not quite. So I cut my hours more, and I was gone more often. I also did my 5wk tours both in yr 2 and yr 3, so that didn't help.  People would always say they came by but I was closed, or they assume I moved out (I take all the clothes with me). Who can blame them? After a couple times finding it closed, I probably wouldn’t come back either. Many have suggested paying someone to run the shop while I'm traveling, but that would require double the inventory. I'm just not that big time.

When I leave I take ALL the clothes!

Location Really Matters
I know, it's what they always say. I think this whole thing would have done better in a busier shopping area. Even with my travels and closures. But around here there are very few tiny storefronts in the main shopping districts. Most of them are over 1k sq ft, and just too big and spendy for comfort. So my location wasn't terrible, it's in a downtown area with good businesses around it. It's just a bit off the beaten path for regular foot traffic. Many people, even into my 3rd year, would ask if I just opened. Advertising more would have helped that, but only if I was open regularly. Which I wasn't, so we're back to my last point.

The M-Notes playing at Arts Alive.

It's Totally Worth Doing
I think what I loved most about having my little shop, was having a Mermaid clubhouse. A place just for me and my artwork, all set out nice and lovely. It was adorable! Being able to invite 5 friends to sell their work there as well, was great. Friends and customers knew where to find me, so many nice visits and conversations. I had a very functional little work space, and it was super easy to access all my stock. What I didn't expect was how much street cred I gained, just by agreeing to pay rent somewhere. Ha! People suddenly took me more seriously, even though I had been in business for 12 yrs before I opened it. Then they acted like I was dying when I closed it. Which is sweet, don't get me wrong. I guess it's just the common idea that brick & mortar businesses rule the world.

Ambrz Art dressing up the windows.

The best part right now is watching other people get excited about the space, and achieving their dreams there. We built something special that will live on in the neighborhood. I mean, how great is that?!

Craft Fair Tips - Post List

Craft Fair Tips - Post List

Lately I've been trying to organize my craft show how-to posts, adding proper tags so people can find what they need. I seem to have a lot! So I thought it would help to have a page of links. I'll do my best to keep it updated. 

5 Steps to Start Selling at Craft Fairs:

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Start Selling at Craft Fairs #5: Show Time!

At last we come to the fifth of my 5 steps to Start Selling at Craft Fairs. Click the "Start Selling at Craft Fairs" tag at the end of this post to see the rest of the posts #1 - #4. 

Show Time!

Okay! After all of your making and planning, now it's time to do the actual work of selling things in your festival booth. My first big piece of advice overall, and my motto when getting ready for a show is...  

Always be prepared to do well.  
Even for the dinkiest of shows or the iffiest of circumstances, I will try to put my best foot forward. Meaning, I've done everything I can do to support having a good show. I have the proper stock, my packing is organized, my paperwork is in order, I've packed a healthy lunch, and had a good night's sleep.

Every show is an opportunity to put myself out there, and anything can happen. I want to be ready! It's also much less stressful and more fun for me when I know all my ducks are in a row.  Once I leave my house, if I've done my job right, I can just relax and enjoy the day.  

How much stock should I bring? 
I see this question often on craft fair forums. I think the best answer is, as much as you can. Obviously, the more you have, the more you can sell. It will take time to build up a large inventory, but don't let that stop you from doing a show. You do want to be sure you have enough to cover your expenses and make a profit. 

Chances are good you will not sell out, so plan on having double the amount that you want to sell. For example, if we follow the 10x Rule (see #4: Money Talk) and are feeling optimistic, we would say... I paid $100 for my booth, in my dreams I'll sell 10x that, $1000. I know I won't sell out, so double that to $2000 worth of doohickies. That's just a very general guideline. After you do a few shows, you'll figure out the right balance for you. 

Getting Organized

I cannot overstate the peace I feel when I use my super comprehensive Craft Fair Checklist, just knowing I have everything in order. Seriously. There is SO so much to keep track of, it's really easy to forget something dumb. Like the time I went out of town and forgot all the bedding for camping... for me and my helper. Duh! I have seen people forget their canopy. That is what nightmares are made of, my friend. Make yourself a detailed checklist and avoid the drama.

I also keep at Booth Box and a small tool box for booth essentials. I am very strict about getting everything back where it belongs, so I can find it when I need it. Then I know I am ready for anything!

Follow the Rules 

I know... rules are for suckers. Especially for us artsy free spirit types. Ha! No seriously, that is totally me. But when it comes to the running of a festival, it's much smoother to just follow their guidelines. There are a lot of moving parts being organized to make a good show for everyone involved. Be a cooperative component.

When you are accepted to a craft show, they will send you any info you need to know. Read it all. Usually there are specific instructions about where, when and how to set up your booth, where to park, hours you can/can't drive to your booth, camping info. Follow them as much as possible (I admit *sometimes* the rules don't mean much, but *normally* they are pretty important). Communicate ahead of time if you have special needs. Often there is staff to guide us and help out, or maybe there is nobody but us. Mistakes happen, adjustments often must be made. Cooperate. We are all in this together.  Be a good neighbor and you will have a much better time. 

Common Newbie Mistakes:
  • - Late Opening or Early Closing - Show up when you are supposed to, and be open for the posted show hours. It looks bad for the whole event if some booths are closed
  • - Thoughtless Parking - Move your vehicle as quickly as possible, so others can unload/load up as well. Especially after the show, it's an unwritten (or sometimes strictly enforced) rule that your booth should be mostly packed up BEFORE you go get your vehicle. 
  • - Infringing on Neighbors - Do not block your neighbor's booth, the path to it, or infringe on their space in any way. Or at least ask first. For example, don't let your display stick out so far that it blocks your neighbor's. Don't hang or tape or tie things to anyone else's stuff. Don't send your customers to use someone else's mirror or dressing room. Check with them first, or just don't do it. 
  • - Selling Inappropriate Items -  It's a growing problem, finding imports being sold at juried handmade-only craft shows.  We obviously cannot compete with wages overseas, so most of us purposely avoid shows that allow imports. If you have imports or other items not made by you, only sell them if it is allowed within the show guidelines. You may be told to remove the items, or even to remove your entire booth from the show never to return. And at the very least, it's just not cool at all.

Selling Tips
I think selling is not normally the artist's best skill. We love to make things, but selling them is a whole different ballgame. You are putting yourself and your creativity out there, to be judged by sales and interactions. It's not easy. And when I talk with artists who consider themselves introverts, it's even more scary. That's why I like having a friend help me in the booth sometimes, they can get all gushy about how great I am and how they looove this piece or that one. I can't do that. But it's really not necessary to sell. The best method is to just be friendly.

Here is my general sales technique:
  • - Keep Busy - A busy booth attracts more people than a dead one. So when there is a lull in business, I go around and fuss with my goods. Sort the sizes, arrange stuff to fill gaps, pick up trash, etc. That way it looks like something is happening in there. I also like to make jewelry or sketch when it's slow, so I'm not just staring at people as they walk by or into my booth. Awkward! 
  • - Greet People - Just say hello. It's the easiest way to break the ice when someone walks into your booth. I usually give people a minute to look around and get comfy. Sometimes I wait until they are close enough to catch their eye, or if they start touching things. Then I say, "Hi there, please let me know if you have any questions, I make everything myself." This gives them the freedom to just say "Thank you" and keep looking. But often they will ask a question and we are on our way!
  • - Be Friendly - Friendly chit chat is really enough to get things going. You will meet all kinds of interesting people, have fun visiting. If they are engaged by you, they will be more likely to buy your art. Pretty simple.
  • - Prepare Answers - Now, by this I do not mean rehearse a big sales speech. Eesh, no. But in time you will find people asking the same types of questions over and over. Come up with short, informative answers. They will become habit eventually, and that's how you become a good salesperson. Informing your customers about why your work is so awesome.
  • - Close the Sale - Yes, I've said no pressure is needed, and people generally don't like that. But on the other side of it, do not be afraid to just come out and ask for the sale. Especially when people are having trouble making a decision, sometimes they just want someone to tell them what to do. They've looked, talked, touched, is perfectly fine to ask, "So, is this the one for you?" Or , "Maybe you should just get both!"  They are at a craft fair buying things, it is not outrageous at all. Again, just be friendly.

Have Fun!!
This is always my biggest and best piece of advice. The more you enjoy what you are doing, the better your sales will be. You are out there in the world, sharing your creative heart. It's an amazing feeling! You will meet so many people, talk about your art, hear the band, soak up the sun. Enjoy this adventure you have chosen!