Small biz how-to : Startup? Getting yourself out there

motherlovingvintage - vintage toy cash register

{vintage toy cash register via MotherLovingVintage on Etsy}

 

Small biz how-to :
Are you starting up? Getting yourself out there

If you’ve got a burning idea to make something fabulous, that’s fantastic! All you have to do is assemble the materials and tools, and make it. Voila!

However, if you’ve got a burning idea that you want to make something fabulous to sell and make money from, well that’s a different matter. You really need to get yourself out there, in the big, wide, scary world. Not only that, you have to get yourself in front of the right people.

These days, it’s super easy to start up a small biz because there are so many avenues you can use, especially online. However, because it’s so easy, that means there are LOTS of others scrambling for attention too.

 

So how do you stand out from the crowd?

 

It’s important that you have a clear idea of who your ideal customer is likely to be. Male? Female? Age group? Likes and dislikes? Are they a lot like you, or not? Single? Married? Family? If you understand your customer, then you’ll be more likely to understand where they hang out online, and then you can spend your time wisely in the right places. Because really, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on advertising (although paid advertising definitely has its uses); there are plenty of free, or very cheap options for small businesses just starting out.

It’s also very important to remember that your branding needs to match what you are actually selling. A site selling expensive women’s clothing has to create an atmosphere that looks luxurious, and will look quite different to one selling kid’s toys.

Where do you want to sell? There are plenty of online venues – for artists/designers/makers of course there is ebay, Etsy, SaatchiOnline and Madeit, and there are many, many more. Some you need to pay for, but come with extra benefits like their advertising and promotion, and some like the Australian owned site  quicksales.com.au offer a basic version which is completely free. It definitely is worth doing your research to find out what each of them offers, and work out which style of venue is the best for you and your work.

 

Having an online venue does not guarantee you will get any customers.

 

They have to find you first! So you have to help them do that. First of all, grab yourself a Facebook page. If you’re already on Facebook, it’s a total cinch to set one up. Go to the little starry cog-thing on the top right, then click on “create page”, and follow the prompts. When you’ve got it set up, including links to your biz, you can share pics of new work, get feedback on it, share pics and ideas from other stuff that’s inspiring you, and more! The idea is to connect with your customers, and make them feel like you’re a real person who cares about who they are and what they want.

You’ll need a great picture of your work to use as the page header, and another smaller image for your profile picture.  Creative agency IYBI did a new header for me recently, using a combination of pics of my work. You can find it on tractorgirl’s Facebook page here  – it’s very fun with all the colours, don’t you think?

Twitter is another way to find your ‘tribe. Again, it’s very easy to set up; choose a username that suits your biz, and importantly, include a link to your website in your profile. I know if you’re not familiar with it, it might seem a bit disjointed and weird, but once you get the hang of it and connect with a few people, it’s a heap of fun – it really comes down to just joining in the conversation. Look at other people’s profiles, and follow those that you think would fit with your tribe. Of course, I follow folk who are interested in art, craft and design… and I don’t follow folk who are sports mad, because it’s just not my thing.

Don’t spam your followers with a whole bunch of links to your site or shop, just chat! I probably only throw in one or two links to my shop or blog per day; the rest is chatting…  (and yes I’m over 28,000 tweets – I chat A LOT.) When you talk with other folk, you build up relationships with them, and sooner or later, you’ll find that those people will check out your profile and follow the link to your site. I know, because that’s what I do! I’ve discovered several great artist/makers that way. They’ll probably also tweet about your work if they see something they like.

Pinterest is another very fun social media tool that can be used to drive traffic to your site. I love it because it’s so visual of course! Dannielle Cresp has written a short guide to using Pinterest over here, as well as a fabulous little e-book to growing your Pinterest followers here.

Instagram is a photo-sharing site, and another very popular way of sharing what you and your small biz are doing and making. I don’t use it myself (one’s gotta draw the line somewhere, lol!) but many of my friends swear by it, and love the instant feedback on their images.

 

I’ve really only scratched the surface here of ideas you might use for your small biz, and just focused on social media for this post. There’s so much more to talk about, but I might just save that for another post (soon, I promise)! (You can find all my social media links at the top right of the screen in the green circles – go on, I’d love to connect with you!)

PLEASE realise that not everything will work for you. Your business is unique to you; you have your own personality and set of circumstances which impacts on how your business will run. AND you will not have time to do everything. In suggesting all these avenues to you, the idea is for you to try a variety of things, and find what works best for you.

And lastly, don’t expect it to happen overnight. Running a small biz takes consistent effort over a substantial length of time. Perhaps years. But that’s OK, isn’t it? Of course! You’re in it for the long haul.

 

You can do it!! 

 

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Disclaimer : tractorgirl partnered with quicksales on this post. But rest assured I only ever share things I believe in, and think that will be genuinely useful for you!

 

Small Biz : 7 good reasons to not discount your wares

7 good reasons to not discount your wares.
So much of how our society works is based on money. It’s a useful tool for sure, providing a common medium of exchange between various people and/or businesses. And because it’s at the core of business (otherwise it wouldn’t be “business”, right?), the temptation for small businesses is to try and compete on price, because it’s easy.

But your biz is not just about money, is it. Is it? You can’t make a life out of giving stuff away; you have to sell it. You must be fairly compensated for your labour, your skills, and your vision.

 

7 good reasons to not discount your wares in small bizImage from © Lime Lane Photography

 

Don’t get me wrong – discounting can be a useful strategy sometimes. But use it wisely. Leverage it! I had a sale in my shop recently, and I sold enough to buy myself a new computer. Two points: 1.Yes, the discount was substantial. It encouraged some sales for sure, and managed to move some of my older stock (bonus! Don’t hang onto onto old stock; but I’ll write more about that in another post.) 2. It worked well because I RARELY have sales. It’s the rarity of the event that creates genuine interest.

Carrying on from my recent post here, it is my long-held belief that art/craft/design is generally quite undervalued and, depending on your medium, it can be either somewhat undervalued, or like, GREATLY undervalued.

 

Don’t undervalue yourself.

 

Our world is driven by the internet these days, and we are bombarded with choice. Of course it’s tempting to compete on price; everybody loves a bargain, and it’s a five minute job to change a price on an item, or offer up a discount code. But in the end, it’s not a sustainable or healthy way to go (for everyone – even your customers, who think they want the ‘bargains’. More on this later).

 

1. Continually offering discounts via ‘Sales’ doesn’t equate to building up sustainable interest in your biz.

If you continually have ‘Sales’, you build up an expectation that there will be another ‘sale’ shortly, so customers don’t bother buying ‘now’. Spotlight does this all the time, supermarkets do this too. Truth is, I don’t rush out to Spotlight or Woolies every time I hear there’s a sale on (and remember, they’ve already built the ‘discount’ into the price of other things in the store). If I’m there in the shop, I’ll buy the discounted item if it’s something that I want, but generally I won’t make a special trip just to get that item. I know there will always be another time, and I go to those shops for reasons other than ‘sales’. So when you continually discount (have YOU built the discount into the prices of other things in your store?), you wear out your impact, and you shortchange yourself.

 

2. When you continually undercharge, and/or continually discount, you are sending messages about your value to your potential customers.

How much are you really worth? You are not a discount store, you are a highly skilled producer of creative product.  You are not just a reseller of materials and labour; you also need to consider how long it has taken to build up your particular set of skills – years of practice? What about the time spent researching and sourcing your materials? The time taken to attend a seminar or read a book on business skills? Work THAT into how much you charge for your time. If you charged by the hour at the same rates of other skilled jobs , e.g. plumber or mechanic, the disparity becomes patently obvious.

 

3. By continually offering your goods and services at low rates, you are devaluing your whole field of endeavour

You devalue everything by building in and confirming customer’s expectations about how much these skilfully made things are worth. Yes, it means your other wonderfully creative friends suffer in the long run too.

 

4. To compete on price, eventually you are going to have to cut corners somewhere.

Efficiency and time management can only take you so far, so the next thing to suffer is the quality of your finished product.  This is where your customer loses out too. When your quality drops, your customer misses the joy of receiving a beautifully made object. Perhaps they even greet your object with gentle disappointment, perhaps they are more non-committal; perhaps they will not keep it as carefully, nor will they appreciate it for a long time afterward. For ALL of us, poorly made objects lose their resonance quickly – they just don’t mean much and soon simply become more ‘stuff’.

 

5. You are a professional.

Just because sites like Etsy are loaded with people who have no financial imperative to make a living/profit does not mean you have to try and match their prices. For them it’s a hobby, and often they just want to cover their material costs. But YOU, if you are any kind of professional, will out-compete these hobbyists on presentation and customer service every time. Being prompt, efficient and helpful in all aspects of your business takes time and effort; and I as a customer would much prefer to have that seamless experience than to be left waiting on answers to questions and/or goods to turn up. That professionalism is worth paying for.

 

6. Wholesalers take around 50% of the retail price.

If there’s ever even a vague possibility that one day you might like to wholesale your goods, remember that wholesalers take a hefty slice of the retail price. That means you still have to be making a reasonable rate for yourself when you are selling to them at half price. Don’t ever be tempted to retail cheaper than them – to undercut them is poor manners (you’re stealing their business!), and they will most likely not deal with you again.

 

7. You are not a third world worker.

It is impossible to compete on price with other products in your marketplace that are manufactured overseas with poor ethical and environmental standards. Think carefully about how much that person in the third world sweatshop was paid to manufacture that item – not to mention that they were most likely working in unsafe and cramped factory conditions. Don’t try and compete on price.

 

So, how do you figure out how much to charge?

 

I’ve come across some excellent articles on how to do it properly. Ink & Spindle, (who produce wonderful hand-screenprinted fabrics, and who I interviewed a while ago here) wrote a great article on how to price your wares properly. They shared a basic formula, and backed it up with great reasons why it (or something like it) should be used. The formula is

Time + Materials = Cost Price.
Cost Price x 2 = Wholesale.
Wholesale x 2 = RETAIL.

You can read about the formula AND the reasoning behind it here.

Another great article was written by my friend Jess from Create & Thrive. She suggested firstly to (a) Price with the head – have a formula and be logical about it. And then AFTER you have got a grip on a logical price, (b) Price with the heart. Think about how branding can change the perception of your product. This does NOT mean lowering your prices back down again! She offers the great example of Apple, who have managed to build a raving fan-base that gobble up ALL the products at PREMIUM prices. Check out the full article here.

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Pricing in any business can be tricky, and in any kind creative business it can be trickier still. We are fighting entrenched ways of thinking – in ourselves as well as in others.  Stay strong! Reconsider your pricing and hold off on the discounting.

Charge the right prices. You are a professional. You are highly skilled and have years of practice under your belt.

 

You are totally worth it.

 

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If you’d like to create a stand-out biz, you can. Join me!  {Click here}.

 

Opinion : Sharing images on the internet – it’s easy, but is it good? (Part i)

 

mondongo collective (work for comme des garcons, 2008)

mondongo collective (work for comme des garcons, 2008)

 

The other day I saw this snippet of conversation on Twitter, from Brett of @IAMTHELAB to Jessica of @designseeds.

“Good news is that I have a print that everyone likes on Pinterest. Bad news? Here: is.gd/sSKWAq

The post refers to a nice piece of graphic work that Brett did for his New Additions series. The graphic had been receiving large slabs of Pinterest love, but despite all the pinning, it had not resulted in a single sale of that work in his Society6 shop. (You can view and purchase the poster here.)

More discussion followed, and points were made about how some people get a huge boost in sales because of pins, while others get completely ripped off and get nothing.

(Just let me add in here, that even before the internet, there have always been lots of ‘lookers’ and way fewer ‘buyers’. As a practising artist, I’m sure I’m not alone in that experience.)

So what made this difference in artists’ fortunes? The conclusion seemed to be that for artists whose work consists of 2D images – especially photographers, graphic designers, surface designers and illustrators – Pinterest was bittersweet, with few rewards other than notoriety.

However, for artists of 3D works – especially craftspeople, including jewellers, ceramicists, 3D textile artists, etc –  it had resulted in a boost of traffic to their shops, and a subsequent boost to sales. It is important to remember though, that for this to happen, it is essential that the artists/makers/designers have fabulous photos (even if the work itself is average).

After all,  Pinterest is all about images. No more, no less.

I love my Pinterest! I love sharing the beautiful things that I find (I’m here). However, it makes me sad when I see something especially noteworthy, and I can’t find the source. Case in point – the work from Mondongo Collective (above) was only linked to an anonymous Tumblr image URL – I had to go through Google Image Search to find it (made even more difficult by the fact that Mondongo don’t actually have a website of their own. In case you’re wondering, they are an Argentinian collective of 3 artists working in various mediums, but especially plasticine and thread). It took me a good half hour to track down who and what, but I’ve now credited it on my Pinterest pin, with a link to the source. I feel I’ve done a good thing. I know full well that not everybody does this – the overwhelming majority of people just pin images that are pretty or interesting, with no thought for where they’ve come from.

The ability to change the URL on a pin is both good and bad – it means good-minded folk can credit images correctly, but it also means that images can be hijacked – as has happened to me. This photograph of mine had been pinned from my website by the publisher of the book and then they re-linked it to their website. When I discovered this (quite by accident), and contacted them, it still took a bit of to-ing & fro-ing to get a correction and an apology out of them, but they eventually sent me a free book too. So I guess they saved their reputation.

But hey, this is not just about the pitfalls of Pinterest.

Images get shared many other ways too. It’s as easy as right-clicking and pressing ‘copy’.

Even images that have some kind of anti-copy protection on them can still be copied – if you can see it, you can copy it. Those things only keep the honest people honest, as they say. And the worst part about copying things this way is that they don’t come with ANY source information or URL.

But of course we want to share! That’s why we do it. Humans are irresistibly drawn to discovery and spectacle – we love things that have ‘wow’, and we love telling our friends to ‘hey, look at this!’ The internet makes it all too easy.

Copying the image is not the same as copying the object, but sharing the image certainly facilitates the process. It saddens me when I see a lovingly crafted piece of work that someone else has pinned to a board labelled “DIY”.

Despite the predominance of 2D works in the rip-off stakes, 3D works are not immune. I personally know of several instances where this has happened – surface designs have been copied and reproduced on cushions and t-shirts; jewellery designs have been copied exactly and reproduced as jewellery in another medium.

It’s not a new thing to copy someone’s work, there have been instances of it about ever since people decided you could make money out of art (I’m thinking Rembrandt et al here).  And depending on your work and what’s been copied, you might wish to pursue legal advice.

But about those copiers! If you’ve refined your own product over years of work; if you’ve come up with your own genuine voice, they’ll never do it quite like you. Your pride in quality, the details you pay attention to will not be copied. So here’s the thing:

Get your work out there, it’s great exposure. The more people that see it, the more likely you are to find your customer.

If you’re a photographer or illustrator I realise it’s a whole lot harder – and often your images look best larger rather than smaller, so you are tempted to load up large versions to show them at their best, which means they may be more easily stolen or misused.

So much of our time is spent with screens, and it’s incredibly easy to copy and share images. However, there IS a difference between the physical product of the photograph/illustration on someone’s wall, and seeing it on a screen. The clarity of a print on high quality paper is very different to something printed out from a lo-res file on 70gsm A4 via the desktop printer. Knowing your print came directly from the artist – a real person – adds another un-reproducible dimension. It’s a tough thing to try and get this into people’s heads, but I truly believe it can and will settle into its own balance.

And, if there was more respect in the world, many of the issues surrounding copying and copyright would not exist. However, while respect for other people’s work is important, it’s not the complete answer.

Cultures always have these sorts of dilemmas whenever a new technology comes along – wasn’t photography supposed to mean the death of painting? Yet painting is still alive and well – it is valued for its own material qualities, and for the fact that it is capable of depicting things in ways not available to photography. Likewise, computer generated art has given us great new possibilities in depicting ideas, and it also has its own qualities and shortcomings – capable of and suitable for many things, but not suitable for everything.

Copying is not ever going to go away. We must face up to that fact and its implications.

I’m not suggesting that direct copying for the sake of profiting out of someone else’s idea is a good thing. But, it might not be all bad. In the The Knockoff Economy published late last year, law professors Raustiala and Sprigman  argue that copying does not kill creativity, but in fact encourages creativity and innovation. The book cites the industries of fashion, food, and yes, font design as areas where copying is commonplace, and yet they remain vibrant and innovative. Their reasoning is that imitation simply makes the cycle run faster, forcing innovators to be even more creative.

So, if there has been a paradigm shift it means that intellectual property in an age of digital technology is a concept with shaky foundations – perhaps a corresponding shift in thinking is required. Artists need to come up with new ways to harness this proliferation of images and not fight it. We need to think smarter, faster.

 

iamthelab - creative mind @ work

iamthelab – creative mind @ work

(And seriously, you NEED this print to stick on the door/wall/window of your creative space.)

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I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject! Provocative ideas promote discussions, and discussions provide the seeds of solutions.

Cheers, Jx

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Part (ii) of this post is here. What do you do when someone copies your work? Read on!

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