I’ve written a few books in my diverse career. Each one has been a labor of love, with the emphasis on the “labor” part at the beginning. Writing a book is a piece of work! But once a book is published, it is like a pesky teenager who has finally headed off to college, off into the world to make a life. You pat them on the head and hope for the best.
So imagine my delight to walk into Bookshop Santa Cruz, one of the SF Bay area’s leading independent book stores, to see Selling Arts and Crafts Online on the display shelf for “Best Nonfiction of the Year.” A lovely surprise from my favorite bookseller. It is thrilling enough to spot Selling Arts and Crafts Online back in the How-To section, among the craft books and business guides. But front and center as a Best Pick! Awesome!
I hope your creations – your artworks made with skill and beauty – bring you a similar thrill when you come upon them honored and displayed by your customers, followers and fans!
Etsy, THE online resource for all things vintage and handmade, recently expanded their basic policy on what is allowed be called a “handmade” item. According to an editorial in today’s New York Times, “…last month, Etsy announced new policies that would allow sellers to apply to peddle items they produced with manufacturing partners, as well as to hire staff and use outside companies to ship their goods.”
Many Etsy sellers have voiced outrage at what they see as a betrayal of a commitment to handcrafted art and crafts. How are authentic artisans going to be able to compete with resellers offering lower cost manufactured “handmade items?”
But Etsy is expansive:
- Etsy sellers can hire whatever number of people they need to product items they have designed, and these employees can work in other locations.
- Sellers can use shipping and fulfillment services.
- It’s okay to work w/ outside partner and manufacturers if approved by Etsy.
- And if a seller hires people and uses outside partners, this must be disclose on your shop’s about page (though not necessarily in the item description).
The Times article, Etsy’s Industrial Revolution by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, a professor of archaeology and linguistics, explores the definition of handmade from a historical perspective, “a history that is more complicated than the simple term ‘handmade’ implies. The artisans have run head-on into the problem that led to the Industrial Revolution: Making things by hand is slow. Really slow.”
Is a scarf truly handmade if it is created with machine-produced yarn? Does the knitter also have to spin her own wool? What about those spinning wheel machines and looms? And how does this all relate to ancient Assyrian textiles?
Enjoy the glimpse into an issue that has spanned the centuries, and post your opinion in the comment box!
Who are your customers? What do they need? How are you giving them what they want?
“Market Need” is one of the elements of a business plan. New business owners often put off writing a business plan for months – years even. They imagine that it’s only needed if they seek a bank loan or formally present to investors. But a business plan is important to your arts success right from the beginning.
The Etsy Blog is a great source of business information for starting an online business, whether or not you choose to have a shop on Etsy. A recent post was titled “How to Write a Creative Business Plan In Under an Hour.” Blog author Caroline Cummings breaks down the standard parts of a formal business plan into short statements. She demonstrates the process with a fictitious Etsy store she calls Haley’s Vintage Hats.
The “Market Need” for Haleys? “My customers love the look of vintage women’s hats, but real vintage hats are difficult to find and very expensive if in excellent condition, while good replica hats are not common.” A short, simple statement.
And Haley’s solution? “I recreate hats from my collection of authentic designer vintage hats of the 1920s-60s and sell these affordably so my customers can own and wear hats in the style of their favorite vintage milliners.” Again, how clear is this? Cummings’ fictitious business owner easily defines her target audience (women who love and want to wear vintage designer fashions) and can fill their needs with handcrafted replica hats.
Why do your customers need the items you sell? What makes them like your work and place an order?
In “The Everything Guide to Selling Arts and Crafts Online” you’ll fine a simple common-sense chapter to help new business owners create a business plan. with sections including:
- Parts of a Business Plan
- Keep a Journal
- Product Line (yes, you will begin to think of your creative work as a product!)
- Your Twelve Monthly Landmarks
If you have not yet written a business plan for your new arts business, do it today. What a powerful tool for your success!
Even better than the fictitious Haley, our illustration is from a REAL vintage hat designer on Etsy! Illustration courtesy and ©Kimberley at TheWaughdrobe on Etsy: etsy.com/shop/TheWaughdrobe
“LineScape #27”, textile painting (hand-dyed fabrics, cotton stitching, cotton batting) © Ayn Hanna.
Ayn Hanna, printmaker and textile artist, shares ideas about the path to success in “You can’t get it wrong” and 7 other thoughts about making a living as an Artist. “One of the great mysteries of the Universe for many Artists is how to achieve success making a living doing the work we love to do.” writes Hanna. “We each have our own struggles (resistance) to overcome and have to find our own way. But how to do it, where to start?”
Her thoughts and practices are logical and inspiring. My favorite tip is her “Step 4: Make a plan, break it down and lay out your first steps to reach the furthest point on the horizon that you can see…” Learning how to define each next simple step is pretty much the only way I get anything done. It is, in fact, listed as habit number 3 in “the top 10 habits of successful online entrepreneurs”…the list that opens The Everything Guide to Selling Arts and Crafts Online.
Enjoy Ayn Hanna’s insight and artwork on her website www.aynhanna.com
One path to visibility on Etsy, Artfire and other marketplace platforms is to get your products included in the treasury lists that other people create.
Etsy discourages including your OWN products in the treasuries you build. Instead, the Etsy process inspires you to network, join other people’s circles and teams, and build a base of friends, followers and fans who will showcase your items in the treasuries they create.
If you have great product photography, people will naturally select your items for treasuries. Great products are important of course, but it’s your photography that make the difference here. Keep an eye on the Etsy home page. The products shown there are inspiration for your own photos. Read everything you can about taking great digital photos and work constantly to improve your own skills.
To enlarge your network, you can join some of the many different treasury challenges that are posted on team boards. The basic game is to create a treasury inspired by and including a product from the winner of the previous week’s game. Multiple shop owners take part, and that week’s chosen item is shown in many different treasuries. At the end of the week, the featured shop owner then selects a winning treasury, and the game begins again with a new product from the winner’s shop.
I first began playing a treasury challenge game at the Shiny Happy People team, an international group of very friendly artists and artisans. Inspired by the challenges, I have created many different treasuries. It is always fun to come up with an enticing title and theme based on the featured product. The most recent challenge resulted in my “Coral Reef” treasury pictured with this article. Remember to promote your treasury and the featured artist. Convo the other sellers in the Treasury to thank them for their great items. Post the Treasury on other social media platforms, like Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.
Join a team and participate in regular treasury challenges! The more you help promote other artisans, the more they will help promote your shop.
Treasury tool by StylishHome.
Artists and crafters have strong do-it-yourself tendencies. It is, after all, why we create our own artwork. This attitude is helpful in building an arts and crafts business. The most valuable marketing tasks are best accomplished when business owners take personal responsibility for getting things done.
There are abundant free possibilities for promoting your art and artisan crafts. Social media marketing takes time but very little budget. It costs nothing to set up and post regularly on a Twitter account, a Facebook business page, or a Pinterest profile. If you open a marketplace shop on sites such as Etsy or Artfire, you can participate in forums, treasuries and teams as often as you wish. You can use the free services at MailChimp to send regular newsletters to your fans. All of this free marketing will vastly expand your audience!
But there are marketing efforts you should do and must pay for. Setting an appropriate budget for these is often a challenge for new sellers. Just a few worthwhile expenses to consider include:
- Booth rental at arts and handcrafts fairs
- Submission fees for entering shows and competitions
- Investing in professional display systems for shows and product photography
- Well designed packaging, product labels and hang tags
- Printing and mailing post cards for art shows
Good marketing will make you more money than it costs. The basic business rule is to try it, track it, and do it again if it works.
The Everything Guide to Selling Arts and Crafts Online is filled with real people – amazing artists and crafters who generously share their stories and ideas. Many of these fine folk have shops on Etsy, and creating an Etsy Treasury is a great way to showcase their shops.
Click the products in the treasury below to visit these amazing artists and artisans, and stay tuned! These are just a few of the sellers who have contributed generously to the book. Many more seller profiles and treasuries to come!
A few of the Etsy shops featured in my new book http://sellingartsandcraftsonline.com/
Thank you, thank you, people in the book!
Treasury tool by StylishHome.
Anyone on Etsy, sellers with Etsy shops or individuals simply exploring the delicious array of handcrafted offerings, can build treasuries, then share them on Etsy, on Pinterest and on their own blogs.
So many amazing tools and systems to sell your arts and crafts online!
The Everything Guide to Selling Arts and Crafts Online is filled with real people – artists and crafters who generously share their stories and ideas. Ashley, owner of Adam Rabbit, is featured twice in the book: in Chapter 1 as a perfect example of defining success for herself, and in Chapter 15 on marketing, where she shares her clever and inexpensive branding techniques
Ashley is a busy Special Ed teacher. She loves her career and has no desire to leave her job. Ashley also loves creating jewelry. Crafting with raw crystal, stone and wood provides the relaxation she needs to balance her high stress profession.
Ashley opened Adam Rabbit on Etsy to share her artwork and find new homes for the many wonderful earrings and necklaces sitting around her studio.
“I have always had the desire to sell things and have my own store. When I was a kid I sold lemonade with my best friend. I had a perfume stand which was just smelly concoctions I mixed together in old shampoo bottles, and even tried to sell handmade soap from door to door. As I got older I experimented with a few different ideas such as greeting cards, flower pots, vintage items, and finally I arrived at jewelry. Jewelry never lost my interest.”
Ashley enjoys the friendship of other Etsy sellers and customers she has met online.
“Although I always had the desire to create and sell what I make, I am really shy. It took me a lot of courage to even open an Etsy shop. The thought of being judged terrified me. I started getting over that fear this past summer. I knew I always wanted an Etsy shop so I went for it. Once I joined Etsy I was able to connect with hundreds of different artists in the forums. They were extremely encouraging and supportive. They gave me advice on photos, shop policies, new items, pricing, branding- any question you have, at least a handful of people will be there to support you. Etsy is a truly inspiring place to be apart of. There are so many talented people who actually want to help you.”
Find Adam Rabbit at www.etsy.com/shop/AdamRabbit.
Starting an online business is an attractive idea. Most people like the thought of being their own boss, working from home, and making money doing what they love to do. But is it right for everyone? Is it right for you?
There are some essential questions to ask yourself before you take the online plunge. Here are just a few from a much longer list of start-up questions presented in Chapter 1 of The Everything Guide to Selling Arts and Crafts Online:
- Will I enjoy doing my artwork as a job?
- Will the things I create be popular with customers?
- Am I willing to adjust the type of work I make in order to create better products?
- Do I have, or can I get, the tools and equipment I’ll need to get this started?
- Am I ready, willing, and able to learn all the skills I’ll need to run a business?
The bottom line? Take yourself seriously and start today!
What’s your definition of success?
What does a successful online arts and crafts business look like?
From small shops selling a few beautiful items, to companies with thousands of orders each month, every successful online business is unique. How do they measure success? Quite simply, an online business is successful when it fulfills the goal of its owner.
What is your goal?
- To support the hobby you love
- To be a stay-at-home parent supplementing family income
- To discover new, meaningful, rewarding work
- To quit your day job
- To simply make a living in a world filled with unemployment
- To create a business your entire family can share
- To expand your career as a dedicated artist
It all comes down to clearly defining the business you want for yourself. You may be delighted with 10 sales each year. You may be aiming for 10 dales a day or more! The Everything Guide to Selling Arts & Crafts Online will show you how to transform your goal into realistic steps and how to keep track of your progress.
The bottom line is, “It’s all about you!” In a really good way.