… and that I’ll probably do “wrong” in 2016 because ultimately, while the five things I’m highlighting here go against most conventional business advice and wisdom, I did them in ways that work for me.
Selling retail vs. selling wholesale. If you read a lot of home-based business articles for advice, you’ll find that most of them are geared towards people who eventually want to go wholesale. I am not one of those people, and there’s three reasons why that I can give you off the top of my head.
One: there’s a lot to be said for selling to a company who wants to buy a hundred of your widgets in one fell swoop, and also a lot to be said for only dealing with one or two people (who then deal with the hundreds of folks who want to buy your widgets). There are a lot of people who would rather deal with two people than two hundred… but I’m not one of them. I’d rather make a hundred things slowly over the course of 100 weeks for 100 different people than make 100 things over the course of two weeks for one person. But then, the things I make take time, and I make a lot of different things. If I only made and sold one thing, I might be interested in selling wholesale. But I don’t, and I’m not. I have sold wholesale in the past, but I’m very, very choosy, and pretty much limit that to yarn stores and/or shop owners I know personally.
Two: It’s more work for me to make 100 things over the course of a few weeks than it is to space that out over two years. Conventional wholesale prices are 50% of the retail price. Would I rather get the full retail price spread out over a couple of years, or would I rather get half of that in one lump sum? Well, I have to be honest, there are times when I could use the lump sum! But if the work and the stress of those two things were equal, I’d rather have it spread out over time. I’d rather know the end user of my products. Which brings me to…
Three: I like people. I like community. I like that a community of like-minded, funny, nerdy, crafty, do-right people has sprung up around me. I like knowing what happens to my babies when I pack them and send them out the door. I like knowing the continuation of their story. I like finding out when people have given my products as gifts and what the response was from the giftee. I like going to craft shows and having people who’ve bought from me before specifically hunt me down to see what I have that’s new. If I sold wholesale, I wouldn’t get that. And I would miss it. I would miss that connection with people.
So I don’t take that business advice that implies wholesale is the Holy Grail. It may be grand for others, I’m not knocking that. But it’s not for me.
Newsletters. Oh, newsletters. I want to love you so, but…. but. I delete more than half the newsletters I get. In fact, I just unsubscribed from a handful of things this morning. And most of the people I know feel the same way. “I get to much/I don’t have time/why do I even”. So every time that I read that Newsletters are the #1 way to stay in touch with people, I wonder… what am I doing wrong? Are the people I know just different from all these newsletter-loving folks? So I try, I really do. I had told myself that I would do one newsletter a month, rotating between a general one, and then three specific to soap, ceramics, and yarn. But telling myself that I’d do them once a month really meant that I got one out of every three or four done… so a few months ago I told myself to do one every week. Every Monday, send out a newsletter. I think I got three out, then Thanksgiving, then one more, then GLAM and Christmas, and I was just really way too busy. Now things are settling down, and I’m ready to get back to them, but… I’m really bad at doing them (which you’d know, if you were signed up for them, hahahah!).
So, I do take some advice, in that I do occasionally do newsletters… but I certainly don’t do them every day, like some companies do, recipes at CondeWhatever – I’m looking at you. How did I even get signed UP for that? I’m a terrible cook!
Hire employees. Just… no. I don’t want to deal with employment paperwork, and taxes, and health care, and payroll, and the billion other little things that come with having an employee. I work alone because I like being alone, and I don’t ever want to find myself with such production needs that I can no longer do it on my own long-term.
That’s not to say I don’t need the occasional help, and I’ve been known to reach out to friends now and then when I need a little assistance (like if I have a major craft show, or break my hand right before yarn club needs to go out). And I have “hired out” things that I know I can’t do — I have an accountant, and accounting software (that she loves because it does a Schedule C and makes her job a lot easier). I design but don’t print my own business cards. My online shop hosts takes care of updates and security.
Yes, I joke sometimes that I need an assistant (or that my pets are my employees), and having my husband’s Aunt out here has been an amazing boon – but she used to own a pottery studio and she knows what she’s doing, so I don’t have to stand over her if she wants to help me glaze things. But to hire actual employees? To have tasks ready for them to do, to give control over to them to make things that I’d then put my name on? That weirds me out a little.
As an aside — did you know that the great artist, Rembrandt, taught? And that he taught his students to draw and paint exactly in his style? Sometimes when he thought the pieces were good enough, he’d sign his name on them. Which means there are probably pieces out there that people *think* Rembrandt did, but that someone else actually sweated over. I don’t want someone to buy something from me thinking that I made it by hand, when really I had someone else do the entire thing. That just makes me uncomfortable.
So, no, I will probably never hire someone to answer my phone (which goes straight to Google Voice anyway, so maybe technically I already have someone taking care of that for me?) or to make ceramics in my name, or to dye yarn in my colorways, or to schedule my appointments. I got into this because I wanted to be independent, working for and by myself; if I hired someone I’d not only be responsible for them, but I’d be less responsible for the things I make. Again… that just makes me uncomfortable.
What *wouldn’t* make me uncomfortable would be working *with* a community of artists. All creative people doing their own thing, but ideas free-flowing around and artists stretching and becoming better thanks to the feedback and inspiration from other artists. That? I would love. Working with. Not working for, or being worked for.
Freebies/giveaways/contests. “They” say the best way to get “free” advertising is to send your product to a Big Name Blogger and get them to write about it. I know someone who works in a similar way to me and she was featured on a Big Name Blog in the industry of the thing she makes. Not by sending this blogger product, but by the blogger picking it up at a shop somewhere and then posting about it, and suddenly everyone wanted it. EVERYONE. This blogger has thousands of readers and hundreds of them contacted my friend in about a 24-hour time period to ask for this thing. I can not even tell you how exhausting that was for my friend; unexpected, and awesome, but exhausting.
I’ve been featured in a magazine before – the magazine reached out to me, and I sent them some products which they photographed and sent back to me. For the first week or so after the magazine came out… crickets. And then in the course of about ten days I got so many orders for the mug that was featured that it took me almost a full calendar year to get through all of those orders (see above about how long it takes me to make things).
So you can see that I might be reluctant to shop my wares out to Big Name Bloggers in order to try to get my product in the eyes of new people.
As far as contests… I have done a few contests (knit-alongs) on Ravelry, with my yarn tribe people, to varying results. One of those is just now wrapping up, and it went for all of 2015 — y’all, I’m tired! I can’t see me doing another thing like that for a while.
Take consistent photography. Again, “they” (whoever they are) say that it’s very important to have a consistent look with your photos. That someone should be able to see your product photography out of context with no reference to you, and be able to tell that it’s your product. I do follow a couple of people who do that, one of whom is a brilliant stager and photographer and her work absolutely shines.
And I’ve tried, I really have… but I just can’t take every single photo from the same exact angle using the same exact background and/or the same exact props. I can’t take a million photos of my mugs from up above, looking down on the mug, a laptop, a notebook, a pen, and a potted plant on top of a completely clean surface. I can’t only ever use the same two colors. I like to show works in progress as well as the finished object. I like to show studio shots. I like behind-the-scenes pictures and messy hands covered with clay. I like color and vibrancy and different feelings that different styles of photos give off.
So I’ve compromised by starting to use the same two frames on my Instagram photos – they’re the same style of frame, but white for HaldeCraft related things and black for more personal photos (or not directly work-related, anyway. That’s the best way I can be consistent, because there are just too many things I like to take photos of and too many things my tribe has told me they like to see – I just can’t narrow it down to one style of photo.
So. Those are five things I did “wrong” last year according to conventional business wisdom. But I did them right, for me, so will continue with that going forward into the next year.