Tuesday, June 5, 2012

*Series* The business of being Mama, Part 2: How to sell your wares...

(Part 1:  Is it a good idea to turn your hobby into a business?...)

So, you've made something really cool, and your friends and family all agree that "you should sell this stuff!" OK, but where?  How?  To who?.  This is the part that I found really daunting in the beginning, and truth be told, still do a little now.  So, I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I think it's unfair to short-change you guys on some of the info I wish I'd had in the beginning.  Now would be a good time to top off your coffee cup...

Today, we'll cover the 2 basic options (trust me, it's plenty for now); Wholesale and Retail. Wholesale is when you sell your product to a store, an employee of the store puts it on a shelf, and a customer comes in and buys it.  Retail is when you sell your product directly to the customer.  So let's chat about what I like and dislike about either of these options, and how to make each one happen:
the handmade marketplace
This book was insanely helpful to me

Wholesale likes:
~Great exposure for your products.
~Trust in your product.  Customers want proof that a product is worth having before they fork over the money for it, and that can be hard for a new business owner to develop.  Having your product on the shelves of a store that customers already trust, makes you an extension of that store, and therefore a trustworthy source.
~Support for local businesses.  By selling your product, that shop is turning a profit also.
~Networking.  Not everyone is going to want to buy your stuff, but they might know someone else who would (more on networking on Friday).

Wholesale dislikes:
~Less money for me.  I'll talk more about pricing tomorrow, but basically you sell to the store for less than retail price so that they can mark it up and make a profit.  You're still making money, just not as much.
~I have to put myself out there in person and peddle my products.  I'm not fantastic at taking, or giving myself compliments.  So it's a pretty awful experience for me to walk up to a total stranger and ask them to like me (and to give me money, display my products on their shelves, and spend some time learning about what I'm terrible at talking about).  This is where you just have to suck it up, and do it.  You're not wasting their time.  If they don't have products to sell in their store, they won't make any money either.  And if they make you feel like you're wasting their time, then that store probably isn't a good fit for you anyway.

How to sell wholesale:
~Make a list of local or online shops whose "vibe" matches the "vibe" of your product/s.
~Hop online and do a little bit of research about each place.
~Make notes.
~Pick up the phone and start calling the places on your list.  You made those notes while doing your research so that you can say things like, "Hi Susan, I'm so-and-so, from such-and-such-a-company.  I saw on facebook that you're having a promotion on your new line of flibity-widgets, and I think the floppety-widgets that I make will really compliment the flibity-widgets that you're currently promoting.  Would it be possible to set up a time for me to come in and show you my floppety-widgets and see if they're something you'd be interested in carrying in your amazing shop?"
~If/when you get some meetings scheduled, go with your (nice) game face on.  You're a professional, but a friendly one.  Have a list of products/pricing available, some samples they can try out, and dress like you respect the time they're taking out of their busy day to meet with you.  Be polite, even if they're not.

Retail likes:
~Mo' Money.  Like I said, I'll chat more about pricing tomorrow, but basically I get to charge more when I sell retail as opposed to wholesale, because I don't have to save room for anyone else's mark-ups.
~If selling retail in person (like at a craft show or Farmers' Market), then people can touch, sample, and see your products.  Even though a picture is worth a wicked lot of words, it's not as helpful as when someone gets to experience it right there in front of them.
~If selling retail online (like on Etsy), then I feel like I'm more outgoing, and do a better job describing my products.  It's way less intimidating for me to hide behind my computer screen, in whatever unimpressive clothing I choose to throw on that day, and edit what I want to say about a product before the description reaches the customer.

Retail dislikes:
~Shipping charges (when selling online).  Paying to have an item shipped can be the quick difference between affordable, and too-expensive for many customers.
~(when selling online) The time I spend taking and editing photos of products, and writing descriptions that (hopefully) portrays how amazing a particular lotion smells.  Huge blocks of time have to be carved out for that sort of stuff.
~(when selling in-person, and also when meeting with prospective wholesale buyers) It's a personality trait of mine that I'm working on improving, but I often come off as a rude bitch.  It's not a good trait for someone trying to win over customers.  But I'm totally out of my comfort zone when having face-to-face pleasant chatter with people I don't know, and my lack of smiling out-going-ness is sometimes a major turn-off for buyers.  I'm aware of my Eeyore complex, and am working to improve my cheeriness.  If you're someone who is naturally a bit more like Tigger, then you'll probably be right in your element at shows. 

How to sell retail (Online):
~Get on Etsy.  Setting up an online shop is idiot-proof, and you instantly have exposure to buyers world-wide.  I also like Big Cartel, but find I get a lot more "traffic" through Etsy.  Big Cartel has no listing fees though, which is pretty nice, and you can list up to 5 items for free.  Big Cartel would be a great option if you also did shows, and could hand out business cards with the web address on them to get some dirrect traffic, but otherwise, I found that my customers couldn't find me as easily on there, and switched back to primarily using Etsy.
~Take great pictures of your products.  You can make the most amazing product of it's kind in the whole, big, wide, world, but if your photo sucks, no one's going to click on it, and therefore no one will buy your awesome stuff.  Bummer, huh?  Etsy is enormous now, and it's easy to get lost in the masses if you don't have photos that really grab people attention.  You don't need to be a professional photographer (or hire one), or have a gazillion dollar camera to take decent product photos.  Read the forums and blogs on Etsy about products photo do's and don'ts.  Take some time to look through the products that other people have listed that are similar to yours.  Make notes about what you liked about the "clickable" photos, and what you didn't like about the "ugly" photos.  Use natural light.
~Write descriptions that capture what your product is all about, and what it will do to enhance the customer's life.  Spell-check.
How to sell retail (In Person):
~Spend some quality time Googling, reading local papers, and on the phone with Town Clerk's offices in your area finding out about up-coming craft shows, and farmers' markets.  Start early, because many of these events start (and stop) taking applications months before the event is scheduled to start.  If you miss the deadline, ask if you can be considered to "sub" for a vendor that can't make a show, or find out when registration starts for the next one, and have yours in the mix for the next go-'round.  I tell you all this so that you're not stuck doing what I'm doing this week.  I'm starting a new farmers' market tomorrow.  Sweet, huh?!  Well, yes, BUT, I made it in by the skin of my teeth (when I realized that my Summer income was rapidly becoming a figment of my imagination if I didn't get into a market soon, found one that was still accepting applications, was graciously accepted, on SATURDAY, and have been working my tail off for the last 3 days trying to make enough product to fill a table before tomorrow).  Folks, DON'T do that.  There's a saying that goes something like this, "piss-poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part."  I was very lucky to get into this market so last minute.  Don't expect others to bend over backwards to accommodate you if you don't have your act together.
~Make samples for people to play with.  That way you have some that are OK for people to get their grubby little hands all over, and you're not ruining good stock every time someone picks something up to look at it.
~Make enough product so that your table looks full and inviting (try to make sure you have more than 3 days set aside to do this...ugh)
~Smile.  People aren't always going to have nice things to say about your stuff.  Smile anyway.
~Dress appropriately.  This means appropriate for the venue.  If it's a Farmers' Market, then it's probably OK to wear jeans and a t-shirt (clean, and properly fitting ones, please), and if it's a show, especially a holiday one, then it's appropriate to be a bit more dressed up.
~Stop at the bank before you get to the market/show and get change
~Look into getting an app for your phone that allows you to take credit cards (this is a note for myself also)
~Be on time (read, be early)
~Have business cards available for people to take.  Some people might be interested, but maybe aren't ready to buy just yet.  Make sure they can get a hold of you when they want to give you their money.
~Have clear and easy-to-locate pricing.  Whether it's tags on each item, or one big sign for all products, you need to make it easy for your customer to figure out what to pay you.  It sucks having to ask "how much is this?"  Don't make them do it.
Craft Show checklist from Polka Dots and Rose Buds

Whether you choose to sell, online, in person, through wholesale, or a combination of each, it's important to keep it fun.  You're creating something with your own two hands, and people like it well enough to give you their hard-earned cash for it.  That's incredibly fun, right?!  So keep thinking about that if you start feeling bogged down.  

Whew!  That was a long one, huh?!  Is everyone OK?  Hopefully you'll be back again tomorrow to learn about how to price your products.

Thanks for stopping by,

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