Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Details, People - Details!

While I haven't been posting new work in my Etsy shop I'm still logging in and checking things out every day. I even snagged a treasury last night. Woohoo!

One thing I noticed yesterday, on the front page was a gorgeous pair of earrings that were priced so low as to make me wonder why. So I clicked and was taken to a shop with very pretty jewelry, all priced way too low. These particular earrings were on sale, taken from a too low price to begin with to a ridiculous slave labor price.

This makes a big difference in perception as I've written about before. If you don't value your work no one else will either.

But the price wasn't even what made me raise my eyebrows. Looking at the listing I noticed that the artist had not included very many details.

She listed the material type but there were no measurements listed. There was no reference picture to show how they would hang. I went to look at another piece and there was only one photo.

Her photos were good but only showing one photo is a big no no. People want to see and touch and feel and smell. Selling online is hard because people can only see. That requires a little extra work on our parts.

Photos need to be from all angles. Details need to be included in each listing that gives the potential customer a good idea of how something wears, tastes, smells, and looks.

I'm not perfect in this and can get lazy when listing something that I think is obvious but that is something that needs to be addressed. Not everyone knows sizes in mm or even inches. Some people cannot visualize a size and need to see size referenced in a photo with an item they are familiar with.

So as a reminder - don't assume that potential customers will automatically know something that you know. Include as many details as you can think of with each item you want to sell - and that includes as many photos as you think necessary (which is almost always more than one).

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dealing with Returns in the World of Handmade

Even if your product is well made, clearly photographed, and described in detail you may have customers who want to return the item for some reason or another.

It's not the most pleasant e-mail to receive ... the one asking how to return an item. For me it brings disappointment in myself and a bit of panic. Why don't they like the item? What's wrong with it? Is there enough in my Paypal account to issue a refund? (I don't keep my Paypal account stocked with money.) Did they read my policies before they made their purchase?

The one question that also sticks in my mind is - Do they understand the impact of returns on an artisan's business?

Returning items to a big store like Walmart is something people do all the time without a second thought (me included). Large stores factor returns into their bottom line and accepting returns is part of their good PR. People today are accustomed to buying on a whim with the thought in the back of their minds that they can always return it later. It's a cultural phenomenon that has a direct impact on artists and small businesses.

For artisans it can be a very challenging decision as to whether they can accept returns at all. When I first started my policy was - no returns unless there was an error in craftsmanship (i.e. the clasp broke or a bead broke or something like that) within the first 30 days. I have revised it several times and today my return policy is a little more liberal, but does include a "restocking" fee and a note about the difficulty of accepting returns. I also do not accept returns on custom orders.

This year I've had several returns and each one was personally painful. That is another big difference between big box stores and artisans. When you return something to an artisan it is personal because it feels like a direct rejection ... and we all know how fun rejection is. :)

I know in my mind that it isn't personal. But my heart doesn't always get that message. My mind, however, tries to learn something from each return. The latest returns were due to size.

My photos are always up close and larger than life in order to show details. I try to always state in my listings the measurements for each piece, but unfortunately people can get an unrealistic expectation in their mind from photos. I think that in the future I may add a disclaimer to all my listings in big bold letters *** ALL PHOTOS ARE ENLARGED TO SHOW DETAIL. NOT ACTUAL SIZE. *** That may help a bit.

Having a return policy that is spelled out very clearly is imperative for selling online. Customers need to feel confident that you know what your policies are and that if they are not satisified that they will be accommodated somehow - whether that means store credit, exchange, or money back.

I highly recommend thinking through some of these questions before you get your first return. Because if you're anything like me, when that first return comes you'll be a little more than flustered.
  • Do you have a policy written down for customers to read?
  • Have you thought about what it means to have someone ask to return something? What will the logistics be?
  • Will you issue a refund via Paypal, check, money order, store credit, or... ?
  • Will you have a restocking fee?
  • Will you refund the shipping fees?
  • Will you pay for return shipping?
  • Can you resell the item?
If you need help deciding on your return policy, I highly recommend joining The Switchboard Forums and doing some research. You're also welcome to use my return policy or use it as a template to create your own. It's partly mine and partly taken from other artists' (with their permission) policies.

Has anyone ever asked you if they could return something? How did you deal with it? And do you have any recommendations for avoiding returns in the future?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Slow Times Bring Inspiration

This is the time of year when most people's sales slow down. Mine do and I'm good with that. I don't think I could handle sales on top of all the stresses of getting ready for Christmas...on top of the fact that we're having our living room floor replaced (and doing it ourselves no less) right before the big day.

I find that taking a break from creating actually inspires me more later on. So I don't worry about creating new work, taking photos, or even posting to my store during these times. I just relax, enjoy the quiet, and spend time with family.

My hope for all of you is a peaceful and stress free Christmas with family and friends. Here's to lots of inspiring new ideas in the new year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Unintended Consequences

Cross Posting from my other blog Amid Clutter. It's that important.

The "do something" disease is an epidemic in government. They have to try to make themselves seem relevant so anytime the slightest thing happens that might have a negative impact on their constituents, politicians rush to "do something" to prove that they can solve the problem.

Here we have the government trying to protect our children (it's always all about the children you know) with stringent new requirements for products intended for kids under 12.

Why does this matter? Because, once again, the politicians, in their rush to protect us, did not think through their new law.

One of my favorite things in the world is handmade items like the ones found on Etsy. I sell there and I buy there. When I have a baby I want to be able to buy clothing and toys made from the amazingly talented folks who sell their products on Etsy.

But this law may make that impossible. And it really ticks me off!

I can understand regulating manufacturers importing things in from China. But to affect the livelihoods of super small, sometimes one person, businesses who are crafters and artisans is unnecessary and harmful to the economy.

These are people who are trying to make it on their own by working for themselves. Many of the people on Etsy are understandably concerned that this law will make it impossible for them to sell their goods. And I'm worried that I won't be able to buy their products.

For small American, Canadian, and European toymakers, however, the costs of mandatory testing will likely drive them out of business.

  • A toymaker, for example, who makes wooden cars in his garage in Maine to supplement his income cannot afford the $4,000 fee per toy that testing labs are charging to assure compliance with the CPSIA.
  • A work at home mom in Minnesota who makes dolls to sell at craft fairs must choose either to violate the law or cease operations.
  • A small toy retailer in Vermont who imports wooden toys from Europe, which has long had stringent toy safety standards, must now pay for testing on every toy they import.
  • And even the handful of larger toy makers who still employ workers in the United States face increased costs to comply with the CPSIA, even though American-made toys had nothing to do with the toy safety problems of 2007.

There is an alliance of artisans and crafts people who are trying to call to the attention of lawmakers the negative consequences of this overreaching bill. Can you help???

Write to your congress person and your senator. Post about this issue on your blog. Sign the petition.

Because the more government sticks its fingers in our lives the more they will do so in the future. First they came for the toy makers ... soon they'll come for the jewelry designers. After all, we know that Chinese jewelry will contain led.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Business Ideas Get Me Revved Up

I am so excited and my brain is going a thousand miles a minute. A coworker gave some people this really neat gift that she made. I've never seen one exactly like it out there in the crafty world so I told her she should sell them at our gift show next year.

Then I said she needs to set up a site on Etsy. I think she'd do really well! Of course I can't tell you what exactly she's doing but it's personalized and very affordable. =)

What are the first steps to take if you think you have a great idea that can be sold online?

First, research. Research. And research some more. I did not do this when I first started selling jewelry. As with most of my life, I jumped in with both feet without a second thought. In reality it would have been to my benefit to do research first.

Research the cost of supplies. Since her items will all pretty much be the same (with slight predictable variations) she can pretty easily estimate her costs. Knowing the cost to create a widget is vital.

Not only do you need to account for the precise cost to produce the widget, you need to think about the intangible costs...

  • Power/Electricity - it costs money to turn your lights on and if you need other types of power it will cost that much more...and it can add up.
  • Space - how much space will your work take up in your home? Or will you need to actually go out and rent space?
  • Advertising - Business cards, fliers, and any ads you may take out can quickly add up. If you haven't factored in the cost of this into your product you may come up short of funds.
  • Office Supplies - I go through a lot of pens. And order forms. Right now I am totally out and really need to go pick up more. They aren't super expensive but every penny adds up.
  • Photos - Online sales can only be as good as the photos showing your widget. You should see some of the hideous photos I took when I first started. I cannot believe anyone ever bought a single thing from me (not that I had many online sales at first). I tried to pick a horrible one but this is the worst I could find...and it's a huge improvement from when I truly first started.And it costs money - real money and money in terms of time). A good digital camera is vital. For me, a photo 'tent' was a priceless investment as well. But it was an investment. You can build your own, but I could never make one as good as the one I bought.

Include all of the above expenses in the cost of each item. It doesn't have to be an exact cost for all of these intangibles, but they need to be accounted for somehow.

Once you figure out the actual cost of your widget you need to decide what sort of profit you want per widget. Some people figure out the hourly wage they want and then figure out how long each item takes to make.

Others just take the total cost of the widget and multiply it by a certain number. Sometimes two, sometimes three, it just depends on the person. The problem I find with doing it this way is not always accounting for time. Something that doesn't cost a lot in dollars may still take a long time to create.

I sometimes use a combination of the two pricing methods...figuring out a total cost and factoring in my time as well. I don't really want to work for less than minimum wage. =)

My juices are flowing now with ideas from my coworker ... and it's not even my business!

There are other factors to research and consider when starting up a new business but we can talk about those later.

Monday, December 15, 2008

An Award to Warm the Heart

It's so cold here today, and it's supposed to stay cold all week, so this wonderful award helps warm my heart! =)

Sandee, at Comedy Plus, is such a wonderful virtual I'd love to meet in real life someday. And I appreciate her support and wonderful encouragement.

Here are the rules:
  1. Put the logo in your blog.
  2. Add a link to the person who shared it with you.
  3. Pass this award to your Blogger Friends
  4. Add your link to the list of participants below
  5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blog.
Blog Lovers: 1. Soul Anchor 2. Cookie’s Corner 3. Ane of Life According To Me 4. Tales of a Pinay Single Mommy 5. A Girl For All for Status 6. Sasha says… 7. Say Cheese 8. Comedy Plus 9. Casto Creations 10. You Next!

No one is required to play, of course, but I'd like to tag some bloggy friends who I don't visit often enough but who bring joy to my life.

So I'm tagging...

~ Crotchety Old Man Yells at Cars ~
~ Daisy the Curly Cat ~
~ Beppy Cat ~
~ Posh Mama ~
~ Houndsgood ~
~ That Mutt ~
~ Gather Little by Little ~
~ Tip Tail ~
~ Pamibe ~

I should visit every day and I don't...and for that I apologize.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

To Insure or Not

When selling items online it is of course necessary to ship those items. Depending on their value it can be a tough decision whether or not to insure the package.

I recently shipped a $2,000+ jewelry package. You better believe I insured that puppy and it cost me over $35 to ship. Yes that is a lot of money just for shipping but the peace of mind it offered me was worth the cost. It arrived safely and with no issues. I'm sure if I had shipped it with no insurance it would have done the same. But I would not have been able to sleep until it arrived.

Generally, if an item is over $100 I will opt for insurance. But the fees can add up fast. Sometimes, I skip the insurance, which makes me nervous but generally there are no issues. If I insured every single item I shipped I'd increase my shipping fees and cut into my meager profit margin (because trust me, I do not price my stuff correctly LOL).

Another issue to consider though is tracking your package. If you work with Paypal for your payments you can add free delivery confirmation if you ship Priority. This is my standard shipping method. Plus you get a discounted rate if you print your label online. Just remember, if anyone disputes their order via Paypal, you as the shipper have to have proof that you shipped that item out or Paypal will side with the customer and refund their money from your account.

My advice - if an item is irreplaceable, even if it only costs $20, insure it. It can't hurt and will give you more peace of mind. If it is something you can replace easily and it doesn't cost too much go with Delivery Confirmation instead and save the money.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Free Advertising in the Strangest Places

I'm not big on advertising lately. It costs money and is hit or miss. Plus, in simplifying my site I'm not really pushing so hard for sales as I used to be ... and some of the results I got from ads were weird. A lot of spammers and people trying to convince me to sell my jewelry with them. No thanks. Plus it's expensive...that's the main thing ... I'm really cheap. =)

This morning on my way to work I was listening to my standard radio show on KVI, Mr. Kirby Wilbur. Apparently the Guvna had a big meeting with so called business "leaders" and educators to talk about what the government could do to increase the appeal of doing business here in Washington State.

First of all, the people she meets with are obviously those who have contacts or connections in order to get to the meeting in the first place. Second, I doubt there was one small business person in the crowd.

So Mr. Wilbur asked for business people to call in and give their ideas for how the government can truly ease pressures.

I decided to call in...Because a few months ago they started a new tax rule. For sales made in Washington State I have to charge sales tax. It used to be that I could charge the sales tax from my area for all sales. Now I have to charge tax based on where the customer lives. So someone in Seattle may have to pay 9.2% where someone in Tacoma only has to pay 8.8%.

Unfortunately, my website (and Paypal) isn't set up to do these kind of complicated things - I'd have to figure out the sales tax for every town in the State and then program the Paypal shipping for each one individually. It's insane.

Not only that but when I pay taxes at the end of the year I have to report on each town's sales tax. Trust me when I tell you that it sucks.

So that was my suggestion. And after the call was over I hung up and flipped back on the dial (you can't be on the radio while talking because there's a delay and they get feedback). Kirby was saying that he wished he'd gotten my business name and if I called back in he'd give me some free advertising.

You better believe I called RIGHT back. Thankfully I got through. And I got to give my website address out on the radio!!! OMG! I was so excited.

Will it result in any sales? No idea. But people listen to his show across the country on the internet and he's very popular here in Western Washington.

You just never know when you can get a plug in for your business. I didn't anticipate getting a plug here...I really do think the new tax rule is insane and wanted to express my opinion.

Keep your ears and eyes open. Free advertising can sometimes be found in the strangest places.

UPDATE: I just checked my stats and I definitely have a higher volume coming in from this area. =) I hope those who visit bookmark me for later or make a purchase. But it's nice that they checked me out at all. Woohoo!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Is Having a "Real" Website Worth it?

I've had my own website for several years now. When I first started out, I tried making my own but found my skill in the area definitely lacking. So I started looking around for someone to help me out and hired someone who helped me create a better site. But it still wasn't what I wanted.

Through networking sites I met and started working with Lightning Bug Designs - I was one of their very first clients. I LOVE their work. Things aren't always perfect because we're all very busy but I'm always happy with the final results. The first site was great but a year later I decided I wanted it changed again.

The second site is what I have now and I love it. We did a change again this year, but not a redesign. This time I decided to remove my shopping cart. It was not an easy decision to make. Having my own shopping cart allowed more flexibility and it also gave a more "professional" feel to the site.

However, sometimes life takes over and I ultimately decided that simplicity was more important than appearing "professional" (because I know some very unprofessional sites that have shopping carts).

I decided that Etsy will be my shopping cart. Have sales slowed? Yes, but it could have more to do with the economy than with my change over to Etsy. I know that some people will prefer not to shop via Etsy and pay via Paypal. So I also have to be a little more flexible with payments. I'll accept money orders but it will take longer for people to get their jewelry that way.

In the end, I may end up adding a cart back to my main website in the future. But for now Etsy is my main focus.

Which is better? I don't think that can be determined ... it is an individual choice and each person will have a different experience. I love Paypal and find it easy and secure to use. Others don't feel the

A website adds legitimacy. Even just having the address already gives that air ... but Etsy allows people to leave feedback publically. My rating so far is 100% and I hope it stays that way. To me, that feedback is super important.

I also love that I can see who 'hearts' me ( a way to add a favorite in the Etsy world). I do not contact people who heart me but it is nice to see new people finding my work.

Etsy has a built in audience. When you post a new item it is added to the front page, for at least 15 seconds, but is also added to the top of the list in your category. The list can move fast but for those few minutes you are at the top. To stay visible you need to post several times a day throughout the day.

On a website you can post new items and not be seen for days, weeks, or months depending on your sites SEO. Etsy items are able to be found via search engines as well.

Another huge benefit Etsy offers is affordability. It wasn't inexpensive to have my website built. I won't quote my figures but having an effective site can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 and more.

Etsy charges $0.20 for each item listed and then when the item sells takes 3.5% of the price. If you also use Paypal to receive payments you'll be charged a fee there too. But together they are still a decent cost of a business, in my opinion. It costs me at least $16 a month (that is with no sales) to have a merchant account to take credit cards. On top of that monthly minimum fee, when I do have sales to charge I get charged a percentage of each sale - a different one depending on the card used. Then there are other fees if the customer uses a rewards card or if they return something.

In the end, for small businesses like myself who hand make their products, Etsy is an amazing and wonderful option.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Expanding My Comfort Zone

While I love to play with metal I've shied away from doing a lot of sawing and soldering. I don't have a great area in the house where it's easy to saw ... we set it up in the garage but it's cold out there! :)

But I got a bug in my booty last week with an idea for a ring using a gorgeous bright blue Topaz stone I bought a couple of weeks ago. This thing GLOWS.

I ordered a strip of sterling silver and dove in with my saw. I get sort of nervous when I do new things but I was determined to create this ring.

Using fine silver round wire, I soldered two circles together and hammered to get my size. 'Cause this ring is for me...did I mention that? *grin*

I created the bezel with fine silver bezel wire, a much harder task to do with a small stone than with a larger one. It kept moving around. Thankfully I managed to get a nice tight fit.

I wanted the light to be able to show through (from my finger? I know...illogical) so I also cut a hole in the piece of metal that form the bottom of the bezel. My fingers STILL hurt from the sawing and filing. I don't like filing.

But I'm thrilled with the results!!! I hope you like. This one is mine. =)

Maybe now I will keep working to saw metal. I do have a pendant with a gorgeous deep grey/purple Iolite tone that I'm working on next. It will be a pendant. =)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Another Custom Necklace

I enjoy custom orders. They sometimes stretch my imagination and give me ideas I might not have acted on otherwise.

The request was a freshwater pearl necklace that modeled itself after the faux pearl Chanel necklace where the pearls varied in size.

I avoid designing anything to match another design so my take on the necklace is slightly different than the customer's Chanel necklace...but that is what makes it unique and handcrafted. =)

It's hard to tell in the photo but these have such a gorgeous luster that it's nearly like looking in a mirror.

It's long enough to wear as a single strand or to double up as a choker. It looks so beautiful on my little cousin. I might need to make a similar one for myself. =)

I pre-stretched 100% silk before hand knotting between each pearl. Silk will continue to stretch after being used in a necklace like this but if you pre-stretch it you will not get nearly as many gaps later on.

Knotting pearls is relaxing for me. I don't have to do it at my work desk, I can sit on the couch and work on a board. Plus the result is always so beautiful.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Akoya Saltwater Pearl Necklace

I was blessed enough to receive a custom request for an Akoya necklace. Akoya pearls were originally from Japan (though there are now cultured Akoyas coming onto the market from China, South Korea, Vietnam, and Australia) and are saltwater pearls, as opposed to the more common freshwater pearl.

The strand of pearls I bought to use in this necklace were labeled as Japanese Akoyas, but the reality is that many of the pearls labeled as Japanese are imported to Japan from another country.

Regardless, the strand I finally found was gorgeous. It was slightly above my budget but to stick to my budget would have required buying inferior pearls and I was not willing to do that.

Laying the Akoya strand next to a very high quality strand of Freshwater pearls, the difference was immediatley clear. The luster of the Akoyas is superior. The whole look is a step above even the nicest freshwater pearls.

Don't be fooled by cheap strands claiming to be high quality Akoya pearls. All the lower priced Akoyas I saw while searching were poor quality...lots of scratches, scuffs, dents, and mediocre luster. A GOOD quality strand of Akoka pearls will cost a lot of money. Mikimoto Akoya pearl necklaces start at $2,000 for smaller (not-round) necklaces and can go up to $20,000 and higher. Of course, there you are partly paying for a name. The benefit is that they have access to a lot of high quality pearls. It was very hard for me to find the strand I did.