Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Other Passion and Life in Mexico

I wanted to take a little break from BeBe Baby business to share with you my other passion.  When I first entered a Mexican fabric store I was both disappointed as well as delighted.  I was disappointed because the fabrics I had come to expect were not available.  For example, they only carry fleece here in the winter and even then it is only like 5 colors and of a very low quality.  There is rarely any flannel, and hardly any choices for children's prints.  However they do have a huge variety, and beautiful selection, of Mexican style fabrics.  These fabrics are woven and vibrant.  They are a pleasure just to look at.

  

Even though I primarily purchase fabric for dolls, before I moved to Mexico I had a very large collection of fabrics I had hoarded through the years.  If I saw a beautiful, unique, vintage or cute fabric I bought it with the intention of some day making something with it.  Most of the time I never used it, which is why I had so much fabric to get rid of when I moved.


So when I first saw traditional Mexican fabric, called Cambaya, I immediately wanted to buy all of it.  I resisted until I moved into my first apartment here and realized that I could use the bright fabrics to make things for my home.  The problem was, I liked buying it more than I had time to use it.  There were two factors that went into the creation of my other shop Mexican Fabric and Fashion.


First I wanted to take a break from dolls every now and then to create other sewing projects.  I started making dresses for myself, scarves, and pillows.  I wanted a shop where I could share these creations with others.  I never intended to be the model for the shop, and in fact it embarrasses me regularly, but with no money to hire a model or photographer, we have made do with what we have.

Second working in Mexico is hard.  The salaries are staggeringly low and the hours long.  With no university degree it is even more difficult to support yourself even by a minimalist's standards.  This is the situation for my boyfriend.  I was shocked to discover that the best job he could find required him to work 8-10 hours a day (with an additional hour of bus travel each way), 6 days a week, for about the equivalent of $600 a month.  It became blindingly obvious that if we ever wanted to have a family, a car, or even furniture he would have to do something drastically different.



With my knowledge of Internet sales and his willingness to work hard at something that might give him (and myself) a real future we decided to start or fabric shop.  We decided on the name Mexican Fabric and Fashion because we wanted to sell fabric as well as creations I make from the same fabric.  There is a lot of work to do, and many ideas for this shop, but as you know I already work as a teacher and run my doll business.  I'm squeezing in time where I can to work on items for this shop, as well as teach my boyfriend everything I know about running a successful Etsy shop.  I want this to be our business, but more than that I want to give him the chance to have a profitable career with reasonable hours.


The biggest challenge has been our relationship.  We have a lot of relationship issues that stem from our personalities as well as cultural differences.  We have a strong love but as we are learning, that isn't always enough.  I'll tell you more about the personal side of it later in future posts.  For now, we are both very committed to this business and continue to rise every day so that we may some day be able to have all the things we want in life.


Check out our shop and if you like it please share it.  We would be so thankful for any help and support for this shop's success.  Our future depends on it.


Find us all over the internets, Pinterest, Flickr and Facebook.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

And the Winner is...

First, I have to tell you all that I am not happy with Survey Monkey where I hosted the contest survey.  I didn't realize with the basic (free) account you could only receive up to 100 votes before you have to upgrade and pay.  I'm not against paying for services but the next level up from basic costs $24 a month!  I think that is a little much for a survey site.  And they held my responses hostage until I paid (ok hostage is a harsh word, but in order to see all 410 votes I had to pay the upgrade).  I had a feeling I knew which photo was the winner but I didn't feel comfortable not confirming for sure.  I will be canceling the service now because I'm not going to pay $24 a month for a survey site.  Hopefully for the next challenge or vote I can find on that is truly free or at least cheaper.

Ok on to the fun part.  Drum roll please....  And the winner is PHOTO 3!!!!  Tonya and her daughter blew the competition out of the water with their Easter photo receiving over 80% of the votes.  Congratulations to Tonya!  I will be emailing you about your prize.  :)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Something Different

Sometimes when am trying to fall asleep at night I think about my dolls and about new designs I would like to try.  For a long time I have been thinking about working on dolls that are a bit more realistic.  In the past I made reborn dolls but tired of them because there were so many people making them.  I didn't really feel that I was good enough to compete either.  I started making cloth dolls because I was always interested in sewing and I loved the idea of creating a doll from my own patterns and imagination.

I like the style of my dolls.  I like their simplicity.  Sometimes I think I over complicate things, when simple is sometimes interesting in itself.  If not there would be such a love of Waldorf dolls.  However it's always fun to try something new too.  After a lot of trial and error I finally completed Sadie, my new realistic preemie BeBe.  She has a lot of features I have never included in my dolls, such as realistic/sewn on ears, fingernails, etc.


I'm really happy with how she turned out but there are still things I want to improve.  For example, I cannot figure out lips.  I can do fine with the lip is tucked under but I can't seem to make natural looking full lips.  I think it is because my painting abilities are lacking.  If anyone has any tips for lips please email me or post in the comments.


I also can't seem to do realistic looking open eyes but I'm going to try that again.  I'm hoping to make a lot more of these little babies because honestly if I was collecting I would want one of these little ones really bad.  In fact, it might be hard to give this one up.  :)


Read more about Sadie here on Etsy.

Monday, April 14, 2014

April/Easter Contest at BeBe Babies

Ok everyone the entries are in and it is time to vote!  I have created a survey through Survey Monkey where you can record your vote/favorite photo.  Voting is open until April 19 and the winner will be announced at that time.  Good luck and thank you to all my wonderful friends and customers who entered.  If you missed out this month make sure to join the BeBe Babies fan club to participate in future contests.  Please post and share this contest with your Facebook dolly friends, or other social networking sites, to support your friends who have entered.


Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.


Photo 1 


Photo 2


Photo 3


Photo 4


Photo 5


Monday, April 7, 2014

How to Sell Products Online


Recently Sandra of Mother Goose Dolls posted on a Facebook doll group asking for some honest feedback on her doll(s).  Her dilemma is so common, and I get asked this question so often, that I thought I would address it here on my blog for Sandra and others who might find the advice useful.  Sandra's question was essentially "What is wrong with my doll/product?  I sell well at craft shows but cannot seem to make many sales online".  I have some good and bad news.

The good news is that the problem is not with Sandra's product.  Her doll is cute, looks to be well made and the photo is clear and bright.  If the problem is not with the product, then the problem is with marketing.  You can have a wonderful product and a beautiful shop, but you HAVE to bring the customers to you.  The online world is huge.  Customers have many options for almost every product available.  You can not rely on Etsy or Google search engines to bring customers to your shop.  You have to go out and get them yourself.

This is where the bad news comes in (well bad news if you don't like marketing).  I personally enjoy the marketing side of my doll business, but I do find myself stressed sometimes trying to keep up with it, because to increase sales you must find time to market.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I find that I have a constant list of marketing ideas that I haven't even tapped into yet.  Let me give you some ideas of what has worked for me and others I'm hoping to have time for very soon.  (This list will be somewhat specifically for doll sales but you can adapt the ideas for any product.)

1.  Social Networking
There are two things to consider when using social networking sites; groups and business pages.

Groups
Most social networking sites have groups you can join that are relevant to your doll or product.  The two sites I use currently for this are Flickr and Facebook.  On both sites you can search groups and once you join, you can add your photos to the group pool.  The only thing to be careful with here is that you read the group description carefully and make sure you are posting appropriate pictures according to the group guidelines.  You don't want to step on any toes in your marketing quest.

Another thing to remember when searching for groups is to be creative in finding a variety of relevant ones.  Don't just search for doll groups.  Think about other groups that might contain potential customers for you.  For example, with dolls you might be able to join Mom groups (if your dolls are appropriate for children), or baby supply groups.  Also there are many Etsy seller groups on Facebook and Flickr.

Business Pages
I highly recommend opening a Facebook page for your product.  Here's mine.  One thing about business pages to keep in mind though, is that you need to post something frequently.  Now, you don't want to over post, because you don't want anyone hiding your posts because you filled up their feed.  I would say once a day is the maximum and you shouldn't let more than 2-3 days go by between posting.  The benefit of this practice is that you will motivate yourself to create content often so that you have something to post.  It's a good motivator.

A few things I like to post of Facebook are new products in my shop, Etsy treasuries that include my dolls, works-in-progress, blog posts, custom orders, news, etc.

2.  Forums
I only advertise on one doll forum: doll-fan but there are many forums out there for many topics.  Etsy also has their own forums where you can find a wealth of information and tips for improving your online sales.  This is one part of marketing a lot of sellers don't have time for, including me.  One way to make forums work for you is to post regularly and get involved in the lives of other members.  Forming friendships can be very beneficial to your business but it takes time to cultivate.  Read this post I wrote about being friends with your customers.  For this reason you might want to take it slow when joining forums.  Give yourself time to get to know the lay of the land.  If you join all the doll forums you can find you will come across as very artificial and you don't want to alienate people.

How do you find good forums?  Ask some of the groups you join if there are any forums they are members of, or just Google it.  I highly recommend doll-fan where I have been a member for over 10 years.

3.  Blogging
Blogging is a two prong approach; your own blog, and advertising on other blogs.  Read this post I wrote about advertising on blogs for that side of it.

As far as writing your own blog, doing so can open many many doors.  However, be forewarned, it takes A LOT of time and work.  When I decided that I really needed to work on making my blog successful I knew it was going to be hard work, and it is.  I don't recommend a blog unless you are prepared to work on it nearly every day.  You need time for planning, writing, thinking, etc.

But!  If you do decide to have a blog you will find that it brings you rewards in many unexpected ways.  For example, this blog post is inspired by Sandra.  I never would have met Sandra if it wasn't for my blog.  Recently I wrote a post about a dear fellow doll maker and she in turn shared my blog on the post Sandra wrote on Facebook.  Now I'm not sure this will translate into sales, or if there is any way to track these things at this point, but the fact is the more people seeing your work, the more opportunities you have to reach new customers.

I will need to write an entire other post about blogging to give you all the ways you can utilize a blog, but I will save that for next time.

4.  Linking
On my old website I had a place for links.  You might see a "links" page on other websites you frequent.  I am hoping to get this section back up on my new website in the near future.  If you don't know about linking here's what I know about it.  The more links a website has, the higher their SEO standing on the search engines like Google.  This means your website will come up sooner in relevant Google searches.  Of course, this really doesn't apply to you if you don't have a website.

However, you might be able to get your shop or website link listed on different shop directories or websites.  For example, during the holidays many websites have holiday shopping gift guides.  Some times you have to pay to be included and sometimes you don't.  You can find these through blogs, other artist websites, forums, Google, etc.


There is by far many more ways to market on the Internet but these are the ones that I am using currently and have been working for me so far.  My last advice is that you read, read, read.  Becoming a good marketer takes time and trial and error.  There is no quick fix but if you are devoted to increasing your sales and spend time every day working on it, it's possible.  You can do it!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Easter Contest

Wow it's already April 1.  That means I am sending out my newsletter and a lot goes on around here on newsletter day.  If you have not signed up for my newsletter, and would like to, please send an email to bebebabiescom@yahoo.com or comment on this post with your email address and I will add you.  I only send one email a month, on the first day of the month, so don't worry about spam.  The email is just to inform you of BeBe Babies news and special offers.

There's a couple of things I do when I'm preparing to send my newsletter.  First I like to have new BeBes in the shop so usually I am frantically getting dolls photographed and listed on newsletter day.  Today was no exception.


Second I try to get any big news or announcements ready so they can be included in the newsletter.  Today's big announcement is that this month will be the first contest I am hosting on my new fan club.  If you still haven't heard about the fan club you can find it here.  I would like to offer these contests and giveaways exclusively to my fan club members, but as I said the fan club is starting a bit slow.  So!  I'm going to announce this month's contest here and invite all my customers to join in on the fun.

\


Contest Rules:

Post a photo of your BeBe Baby ready for Easter (dressed in Easter clothing, on display with Easter decorations, etc). You have until April 13th to post your photo to the fan club or email it to me. On the 14th i will post the photos on this blog and the voting will begin.

Now for the best part. The winner will receive their choice of:


-50% off their next BeBe Baby purchase (no restriction on the amount purchased). That's huge!


or

-a special surprise dolly.

I think it's a pretty sweet deal and I hope you will all participate!  

Monday, March 31, 2014

Life in Mexico

Hi everyone.  Today I'm just going to share with you a little about my life in Mexico.  I have a lot of business post ideas but I don't have the energy to work that hard at writing a post.  A lot of you probably don't know me personally but if you do, you know that I get sick a lot and always have.  This of course is no exception in Mexico.  It seems that every month or two I have some sort of infection.  Right now it is a throat infection.


These two papayas came from the tree in front of my apartment.  So amazing to walk outside and pick fresh fruit.

I'm not sure if I have strep throat or what.  The way the medical system works here, is that you can see a regular doctor but it's expensive.  It's not as expensive as a doctor in the US when you have no insurance, but still too much for me working for pesos.  Instead you can visit a free doctor who has a little office on the side of the pharmacy.  They don't do any testing, or much of an examination.  They listen to your symptoms and then prescribe you something.  You take your prescription next door and buy the medicine.  Instead of counting out your pills they just sell you a box of them.  This is not economical because sometimes you have to buy two boxes to have enough and then you have left overs.  For my throat infection the box has enough pills for 5 days but I need pills for 7 days.  It's frustrating.  This is why I don't know what I have.  He did no culture.  He just looked in my throat and said the equivalent of "yikes!".

Lucky for me it was the weekend so I was able to rest without missing work.  However yesterday my new roommate and I had planned a potluck for some of the teachers at my school.  My roommate is also a teacher at the school.  I've never had a roommate before, and was skeptical of the idea for a long time.  I like my space.  I like being alone.  But when I met J. I knew that we would be great roommates.  He has been living here now for about 3 weeks and everything has been peachy.  The amount of stress he removed from my shoulders by moving in here has been phenomenal.


One thing that is difficult about moving to another country is leaving behind your friends, family, and comfort zone.  You have to make friends and connections fast, and you don't have a lot of options, especially if you don't speak the language fluently.  Fortunately for me the school that I work for is full of compassionate, amazing people that I would feel blessed to know where ever I live.  We share similar experiences like; making bi-racial and bi-cultural relationships work, finding comforts from home, celebrating holidays from our home countries, and giving general support to one another.


Living abroad is a constant struggle.  I don't know if it will be for me in the long run, but for now I'm building a new life in a strange country.  The small joys make it worthwhile.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Colette McKinney of Desert Flower Nursery

I mentioned recently that I want to start featuring other doll artists on my blog to add a little fun and eye candy.  The first artist I want to share with you is an artist I have admired for a long time.  Her cloth baby dolls are so beautiful and detailed, the mouths she does are my favorite.  Not only are her dolls beautiful but she is a generous artist, always willing to give advice and a helping hand.  Her name is Colette McKinney and her dolls reside in Desert Flower Nursery until adopted.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!


Colette has two doll lines; the Baby Buds which are 9/10 inches and the Baby Blooms which are 15-21 inches.  Colette was nice enough to answer some of my questions about herself and her dolls:

1. When did you begin making cloth dolls? 

I first started to play around with Soft Sculpture in late December of 2011. Just for myself; I'd been a huge fan of Soft Sculpture for many years and wanted to try my hand at it.



2. Have you always made cloth dolls or have you made other types of dolls? 

Cloth dolls are the only type I've done so far.

3. How did you learn to sew and make dolls? 

When I first started, I only knew how to sew by hand. I didn't have a sewing machine at the time and had no idea how to use one. I did a lot of "Googling" for hints and tips of doll making, and purchased a lot of different patterns to study and practice from. In 2012 I bought my first sewing machine and with the help of the manual, learned to use it. (Just like Colette I learned to sew the same way. I used the manual to show me how to thread the machine, and I read about different stitches, but then I just went for it and learned through trial and error.)

4. Do you have any advice for new doll makers? 

Gather as much info as you can, the internet has plenty of resources. Practice, practice, practice. Be patient, don't give up, and never stop learning new techniques. (Colette is so right here. This is my advice to all new doll makers. Any art takes practice and passion. When you turn and stuff something only to find that it isn't what you intended, you just have to patiently start again, or come back the next day. Just don't give up!)

5. Does anyone help you in the creation of your dolls? 

No. I make every one of my babies entirely by myself. I have no employees or helpers.

6. Is making dolls just a hobby for you or a serious business? 

It's my passion, and I take it very seriously. I'm extremely picky and make every baby as if I were making it for myself. I don't sell anything I wouldn't be proud to have in my own personal collection.


7. Do you belong to any doll clubs/groups/forums? 

Yes. Several different groups on Facebook. You can find tons of them just by searching "dolls", "soft sculpture", etc.

8. Where do you sell your dolls?  Where can people buy them?  

I've sold the majority of my Babies just through Facebook. I'm also on Etsy.


9. Anything else you want to share about your dolls? 

More than anything, I adore babies, which is why I make them exclusively. I try my best to capture their beauty and innocence in my dolls. Each one is OOAK (One-Of-A-Kind) and takes anywhere from 1 1/2 weeks to 2 1/2 weeks to complete, depending on clothing and accessories I make as well.


If you would like to be featured on the BeBe Babies blog please send me an email at bebebabiescom@yahoo.com

Friday, March 21, 2014

Easter Series Now Available on Etsy

Remember my fan club?  Well it's in full swing but I want it to be so much more.  These things take time though.  I want to share with you my vision for the club and the steps I plan to take to realize this vision.



My Vision

1.  Community
I want the fan club to be a place for my fans and customers to meet, chat, and get to know each other.  I want members to share photos as well as their lives.  I think this is asking a lot however.  With so many clubs, social networks, etc on the internet I imagine it is going to be hard to get people to check yet another website.  I was hoping Flickr had an automatic email system which would email members when there are new discussions or replies, but I can't seem to find anything.  This is going to be my most difficult challenge; getting members to visit the club regularly.  I'm not sure I will stay with Flickr for this reason, but for now I'm going to give it a try.

On the other side of this, the community needs to be larger in order to incite more discussions.  Right now we are at 15 members.  Hopefully as the club grows more people will join in on discussions.

One thing I am hoping to start soon is contests.  My idea is that each month I will host a contest on the club.  For example I'm thinking this month (or April) will be BeBes dressed for Easter.  Members will have one week (or more) to post a photo of their Easter BeBe and then we will vote for the best photo here on my blog.  The winner of the contest will receive something from me.  I haven't quite got this month planned out yet but I'm hoping to announce it soon.



2.  Photo Sharing
Ideally I would love if every time a BeBe is adopted, the customer posts a picture to the fan club.  I love seeing BeBes in their homes, especially re-dressed or played with.  Right now I am messaging all new customers and directing them to the fan club, hoping this will happen.  I am also thinking about offering a special discount for all new members who post a photo.



3.  Exclusive
The main idea for the fan club is to offer customers special deals and offers available only to fan club members.  I want to create active BeBe Baby collectors who are excited for the next fun series, contest, or giveaway.  This is taking a lot of planning but I have a tentative schedule for the next year mapped out.  The difficulty here is having the time to make the quantity of dolls that I want for each series.  In my experience people really enjoy having the largest selection possible.  For example, when I have done craft shows, I have found that the last 1 or 2 items on the table will never sell.  Even if it is the most beautiful item in the group, it won't sell because there is nothing to compare it to and choose between.



My goal is to have at least 10 dolls per series, but as this month has shown me it will not always be possible.  Some of my series will correspond with holidays, which means I need to have them ready for adoption well in advance of the holiday so the shipping time is accounted for.  Also things like illness, my day job, blogging, shopping, etc seem to always get in the way of my sewing time.  This creates so much frustration for me, so for the time being I am trying to just make as many as I can and not let it stress me out.



Which brings me to the first series!  I was able to complete 4 Easter BeBes.  I hope you like them.  You can find them in my shop on Etsy.  AND don't forget if you join the fan club you will find an exclusive discount code in the discussions to get $15 off of the Easter BeBes.  So join today and let's make a thriving BeBe community!



Saturday, March 15, 2014

How to Play up your Differences

If you are an Etsy seller (or any small business owner for that matter) I highly recommend that you read the Etsy blog, and especially the Seller Handbook.  Sometimes I have an idea for a blog post and then I am reading the Etsy blog and I see they already have a post about the same topic, and it's written better than mine.  Sometimes this is discouraging.  Other times I do find something amongst their posts that is new to me.  Yesterday I was reading this post Sellers: What's Your Point of Difference?.  The second topic in the post is titled "How to Discover Your Difference".  I decided to try her exercise.  Here is what I learned:

1.  I found a lot more ways I am different from other soft sculpture doll artists than how we are the same.

2.  It would take a lot more research to really discover our differences and similarities, because just looking at someone's photos doesn't give you the whole picture.  For example, how is their customer service compared to mine?  What is the quality of their work in person?

3.  I was distracted by all the amazing dolls out there I had never seen before.  Ha!

I absolutely adore these sleeping newborn babies from Fretta's Lovable Dolls.



Because I was so distracted by the dolls I decided that I would like to add a little more "fun" to my blog.  I've been writing a lot about business and I would like to start including more features; features of other artists, and lots of pretty pictures.  So I will be contacting a few artists I like, but if you are interested in sharing your work on my blog please send me a message or comment below.  Also a note: while I'm interested in all kinds of art I will probably only be featuring soft sculpture doll/plush/bear type artists on my blog to keep it cohesive.

I love love love the drawn faces on the babies in the EFamilyCreations shop.  This little guy is very dark but is my favorite.



What did I learn from this exercise?

One thing I noticed is that many soft sculptured dolls sold on Etsy are made from another artist's patterns, for example Dinky Baby or Waldorf dolls.  There seem to be very few soft sculpture baby doll artists creating their own patterns and unique look.

You can find many people making and selling Dinky Babies, but here is the official Dinky Baby shop on Etsy.  I love their big cheeks.



Another thing I noticed is a problem with cohesion.  A few of the artists I looked at sell many doll styles or different products other than dolls in their shop.  I personally think this is a negative if you are trying to build a recognizable brand (and maybe they aren't trying to do that so I'm not knocking anyone).

Lastly I noticed that overall my photos are better.  I am not a perfect photographer let me tell you.  I hate the photography part, especially when I take the photos, upload them, see they are wrong and have to start all over.  I get very irritable.  Since moving to Mexico I have been struggling with this because I used to have a photography setup complete with a light box and several lamps.  I have not purchased or created a light box yet here and I only have two small lamps.  I need to work on this, but for now I think my photos are ok, some of them just need to be brighter and without so many shadows.

The idea of this exercise is to find your differences and play them up.  I guess for me that means I need to continue working on building my brand.  I need to focus on my dolls being unique and original patterns and I need to continue to improve my photography.  Of course I already knew all this so really all I got out of this was some new doll favorites ha ha.  However, all of these exercises are worthwhile because even if you don't learn anything new, it can help you refocus or solidify notions about your business that you already had.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tips for Increasing Sales- Part 2

"Would you like a free makeover?"
I looked at her friendly face.  The sound of her voice triggered my tingles.  I definitely wanted a makeover.

I didn't notice her makeup or style.  If I had, I would have seen that she wore much more makeup than I did.  She wore a long skirt; an outfit that brought to mind religious zeal.  Nevertheless a free makeover sounded fun.

Later, sitting on the floor of my mother's dining room, makeup samples spread around us, I felt taken.  I had to put the samples on myself, Mary Kay policy.  I had envisioned more of a spa day, myself lying like a dead fish while someone rubbed fresh smelling creams and exfoliaters into my skin.  But I couldn't say no to this woman.  By the end of the day I had an armful of products and had signed up to be a Mary Kay sales representative myself.

What I learned later was that I wasn't a salesperson.  Whatever she had, I didn't have.  I was too nervous to approach people.  I anticipated the no and started to sweat.  I've told you, I don't like approaching or talking to strangers.  But if you are going to sell a product then you have to figure out how to be a seller.

Selling products online makes it a little easier for those of this with social anxiety problems.  However a seller is a seller and there are many direct selling tips that can be incorporated into online businesses.  As I was looking over this set of tips, I was relating them to my experience with Mary Kay, and it made me realize that they have a solid sales strategy which targets many key selling tactics.

1.  Be friends with your customers
Mary Kay does this well by offering "free makeovers".  The sales rep goes to the customer's house and has basically a "girly day".  This creates rapport and friendship, making the customer more likely to buy something.  This can work online too.  For example, I have started my fan club in order to connect more with my customers.  I have been a member of other online doll groups and fan clubs before and have actually made some genuine friends.  Some of my online friends I have known for nearly 10 years and keep up with them as if I have known them in real life.

It is important to note here though, that you want to make genuine friendships with your customers.  Some people will always just be customers.  You shouldn't force or fake friendships that you don't feel, just as you shouldn't in real life.  This is not as hard as it sounds though, because as I said, I have many great friendships with my customers and I am hoping my fan club will develop many more.

2.  Over deliver
For those of you who buy things online you might have experienced receiving a package that has been lovingly wrapped with little gifts inside.  Even small gifts like samples or stickers are delightful.  Mary Kay, and most makeup companies, offer many free gifts or samples in order to make the customer feel the purchase was extra valuable.  The other benefit for those companies is that the customer tries a new product and hopefully will purchase it in the future.  This is a little harder for products that aren't used up, like my dolls, but the principles are the same.

I used to pack my dolls with little gifts like stickers, pencils, notepads, cards and other little things.  Since I have been in Mexico I haven't been able to get my stock of little gifts together but it is on my to-do list.  Basically the idea here is to go above and beyond for your customers.  Make sure they are beyond delighted with their purchase.  Watch this video if you are interested to see how BeBe Babies were packaged in the past (and will be again in the near future).

Another thing to note here is over delivery can also mean excellent customer service and communication.  For example, ship your items the next day.  If you cannot ship the item the next day tell your customer the shipping date.  If you don't ship on the date you give send a follow up email to tell them what day you will be shipping.  This seems like a no-brainer but many online shops do not follow this advice and it can cause worry and uncertainty for your customer.  You want the entire buying process for your customer to be perfect.

Which leads me to another point.  If you have an unhappy customer, go above and beyond to make it right even if it means taking a loss.  If you are doing everything right, you will hardly ever have an unhappy customer (I can only remember one at the moment).  And if you are doing everything right usually an unhappy customer is the result of a misunderstanding.  Regardless of the reason though, do anything to make them happy.  Refund the item, exchange the item, offer a free gift whatever you feel will turn their unhappy experience into a happy one.

3.  Get a small yes, and you will get a yes to something bigger
Mary Kay asks if you want a free makeover.  This is non-threatening because it's free and it sounds fun. Of course the ultimate strategy is that you will of course buy something at the end of the makeover.  I wanted to include this tip because I have read it in several places, but I'm not exactly sure how to incorporate this into my business.  Any ideas?

I have several more tips to share and analyze but I am going to stop there for today.

Here's a view of Guanajuato Mexico, which I visited recently.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Tips for Increasing Sales

As you know I have been reading a lot about business and sales as I try to turn BeBe Babies into a business that will sustain me financially.  Of course this requires a lot of reading about sales and sales strategies.  With so many tips I'm going to just give you one (or a couple) tips at a time and show you how I'm incorporating them into my business.



First tip: Keep a list of tips

I have a notebook where I jot down to-do lists as well as helpful things I read on the Internet.  This is a great place to re-visit as you work on incorporating new techniques into your business strategy.



Second tip: Display testimonials

People love seeing products in action.  People also love reading reviews.  Most people are much more likely to buy a product that has been recommended to them, therefore testimonials provide a psychological influence.  This is especially important for someone like me who makes a collectible product.  Also it's super fun!  How is it fun you ask?  Well there are lots of BeBe Babies reviews which you can find on Etsy here, but I thought it would be a lot more fun for me and my customers if they had a place to share their BeBe Babies.

Hence the BeBe Babies and Friends Fan Club is born!

You can find the fan club on Flickr here.  You need to have a yahoo account and sign up for Flickr to become a member.



Third tip: Limit Availability

The idea here is people are more likely to buy on impulse, or make a buying decision quickly, when they feel that they might miss out on the chance to own something special.  This is especially true for collectible dolls, where many artists create limited editions and one of a kinds.  This has always been a struggle for me because although I make one of a kind dolls, I don't seem to inspire quite the frenzy to snap them up as I would like.  So in conjunction with the fan club I am planning to offer exclusive deals, giveaways, and one of a kind doll series to my fan club members before they are available to the public.  This will obviously take a lot of planning and organization, which I am hoping I'm up for.

The exciting news!!!!  The first special giveaway starts now.

-The first 10 people to join the new BeBe Babies Fan Club and post a fan photo will receive a FREE BeBe Baby miniature bunny.  The next 10 people to join and post a photo will receive a handmade BeBe Baby felt magnet.  This only applies for BeBe Baby customers as obviously you need a BeBe doll in order to post a fan photo, however all BeBe fans are welcome to join as there will be many future giveaways and first priority on new BeBe dolls for fan club members.


You can see all the fan photos and more on the fan club.  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response- ASMR

I could smell the Cheetos residue on her fingers.  She tugged them along the skin behind my ears and raked my hair down my back.  I momentarily thought about the Cheetos getting into my hair but the thought melted.  The teacher opened the book and looked up at the 15 lunch-heavy 3rd graders waiting to hear the story.  She began in a quiet voice as Jessica began braiding my waist length hair.  The back of my head began to prickle.  My eyes became glassy as the sensation spread throughout my scalp.  My thoughts slowed.  I hoped the moment would last forever.

I have Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response or ASMR.  Recently I was working on a blog post where I wanted to mention the strange sensation I have lived with my entire life.  I had tried to google it in the past with no luck, but the other day I googled "head tingles" and finally found an answer.  It turns out there is an entire community now, including preliminary researchers trying to explain it.  I have finally found other people who can understand something that is difficult to explain.  Here's what I can tell you from my experience with ASMR.

1.  How it feels
When ASMR triggers it begins in the back of my head, right above my neck.  A tingling sensation starts. It continues to tingle with occasional bursts of the sensation.  It is not goosebumps.  My eyes generally go blurry, my thoughts slow, and I feel relaxed.  It is a very very good feeling.  I have read it described as a trance and I suppose it could be described that way.  However if a person in real life is triggering my ASMR there is a sense of control as I am acutely aware of not letting the person know they are triggering something in me.

2.  Why don't we talk about it?
Most people don't talk about this strange sensation until they are well into adulthood, even though they can trace their first triggers to childhood.  My oldest memory is my friend Jessica playing with my hair.  I think there are two reasons for this.  The first is that everyone's first question when you tell them about ASMR is that it is in some way sexual.  This is NOT the case AT ALL.  There is no sexual arousal whatsoever and I've never met a person with ASMR who says they experience sexual feelings with ASMR.

The other reason people don't tell you about ASMR is because it can be slightly embarrassing.  For example, when someone is triggering my ASMR I want to tell them, and somehow convince them to be my friend forever.  However because most people's first impression is that it is sexual, I would imagine some very strange or even hostile looks.  When I told my boyfriend about the tingles, or when a man triggers me, his only response is "I don't like it".  Honestly I don't blame him.  It's a strange thing, that many people just don't understand.  It's interesting to me that even as children people with ASMR were aware that most other people were not experiencing it, and therefore they feel different or strange.  A woman on This American Life explains this point very well in their episode called Tribes.  The ASMR part is in Act 2: A Tribe Called Rest.

3.  My triggers
Even before I discovered the world of ASMR videos I knew what my triggers were.  While people with ASMR are triggered by different voices and different scenarios, many triggers are very common.  Common triggers include; explaining something in detail, soft or whispering voices, accents, haircuts,  survey type questioning, physical exams, and facials/makeovers.  For me I knew when someone was going to explain something to me in detail, or do a survey, I would have the possibility of a trigger.  I am triggered at makeup counters where the saleswomen explains the makeup to me and applies it to my face.  I was triggered once at the physical therapists office when they did a carpel tunnel exam and then instructed me on how to use my wrist braces.  I can even be triggered by non audio or visual stimuli, such as an email from someone explaining something in detail.

4.  The future
I actually hesitated to write this post because I still feel slightly embarrassed.  Now that I found ASMR videos on Youtube I do find myself watching them every couple of days.  To the average person I imagine they are strange, silly and boring.  I don't want people to think I'm weird I suppose.  But if you are interested, here is a link to my favorite ASMR video artist and one of her videos that is my favorite.  

I recently joined a Facebook group for people with ASMR who are interested in the research that is starting to take place.  I think it's exciting.  My interest is in how ASMR can be used in therapies that might reduce stress, frustration and anxiety.  We will have to wait and see, but for now I just wanted to share with you something about myself that you might never have known existed in the world.    

Thursday, February 20, 2014

How to Advertise on Blogs

Did you read this news story that was published recently?  The woman asked for a free Christmas dinner for her family of 5 in exchange for her promotional services via Facebook, her website and Instagram.  For some reason this was reported as scandalous.  People started commenting that she was "tacky", "tasteless", "a joke" and more.  For me I really felt the scandalous part was the restaurant releasing her email.  Why didn't they just decline and move on?

I think part of the problem is that there is a phenomenon of average people starting blogs in order to get free stuff and it's somewhat nauseating.  I've had a few bloggers contact me over the years asking for a free doll in exchange for a blog post reviewing my product.  I don't think I have ever said yes.  I didn't say no because I have anything against anyone asking, or because advertising on blogs isn't successful.  I have had many successful experiences advertising on blogs.  In fact the reason I am writing about this topic is because I'm gearing up to start another advertising campaign at this moment.  I'm looking into different options on blogs and other sites. 

First and foremost, blogs are looking for content.  Less known blogs are looking for stories to fill their posting slots.  This means you shouldn't always need to pay something, or give away something, in order to get onto a blog.  On Tuesday Mr X Stitch featured me on their blog for their "Too Cute Tuesday" slot and I don't consider them an unknown blog at all.  Post your photos on Flickr, join groups and post your photos to the group, post on Pinterest and Facebook, all of these will get your work seen by bloggers looking for content.  You can also email blogs directly, but if you employ this strategy make sure that your content is a good fit for the blog.  Have a professional letter that lets the blogger know why your product or idea is a good story for their blog.  For more on how to pitch your product to a blog read this article.  

Of course it's much nicer when wonderful blogs like Mr X Stitch approach you first.  I wish more awesome blogs would approach me so I don't have to do all the searching and writing myself.  Above I told you I have never said yes when a blogger approached me for a free product.  Here is why I said no:  

1.  Amount of followers/visitors on the blog
You can usually see the amount of followers a blog has on their page.  In addition, the blogger approaching you should give you some statistical information such as their amount of monthly page views, unique visitors, etc.  For me this number has to be over 1,000 AT LEAST but preferably over 5,000.  I have 123 followers on my blog.  I'm pretty sure the only people who read my blog are my Mom and the lovely Carla.  I would never expect anyone to pay me money to advertise on my blog.

2.  Infrequent posts
I saw a review blog during my research yesterday that had 22 posts in 2103.  That's an entire year of 365 days and the blogger only posted 22 times.  If you only blog 22 times in a year no one is reading your blog and therefore won't read about my dolls either.

3.  Posts are only reviews or giveaways
If your blog is only a front for receiving free things I won't advertise with you or give you product.  The main reason is because most likely all your readers want is something free.  Those are not customers.  If there isn't interesting content on your blog, no one is reading it.

4.  Review photos
Once I received a solicitation from a blog asking for a free doll so she could review it and feature me.  When I went to have a look at her blog I was appalled by the review photos of the products in her posts.  One product was positioned on a dark dirty carpet with a dog walking by and visible dog hair on the carpet.  Another photo showed her baby laying on the same carpet wearing whatever product it was she was reviewing.  The photos were dirty and unappealing.  Never give your product to someone that will show it in a bad light.

The bottom line is to weigh the cost versus potential customers.  If you don't feel that the review will result in viable future customers then its really not worth the money.

Oh and hippity hop the bunnies are coming...



Monday, February 17, 2014

How to Make a Teddy Bear Pincushion

     When I first came to Mexico I spent a lot of time working with materials I had never used before, because it was hard for me to find the things I needed here.  I think I have mentioned before that the fabric stores here carry fabric more for clothing and household needs (towels, curtains, etc).  While "crafting" is becoming more popular in Mexico, most stores are small and don't advertise on the internet, making them difficult to find.  I only happen upon them while out and about.

     One of the first things I made when I came to Mexico was a teddy bear pin cushion because I didn't bring along my old pincushion.  It isn't actually a cushion, because it is made from styrofoam but it holds all my pins securely and is cute too!  I decided to offer a tutorial here on my blog for anyone interested in making their own.  This is a very easy creation and would be great for older children too.  Enjoy!

Supplies

Styrofoam ball cut in half (I imagine different sizes would work but I used one with a diameter of 3 inches)



2 calf length socks
Coordinating thread
Black embroidery floss (or any color you like)
Fabric paint for eyes
Red ink for blush


Instructions

1.  First cut your styrofoam ball in half using a sharp knife.  Be careful not to destroy the ball in the process.  Carefully trim the flat part to make it as even as possible.

2.  Cut the toe off of the brown sock.  The piece should be about 3.5 inches but doesn't need to be exact because we will trim it more.



3.  Put the styrofoam half piece inside the toe of the sock and pull it down snug, positioning it how you would like it to be.  Be careful not to make it too tight or you will see too much of the styrofoam underneath.  I like the toe seam of the sock to be right at the bear's eyebrow level.  Now make a mark at the bottom edge of the styrofoam piece.  You will cut carefully around the styrofoam so that the top of the bears head will be ready to sew to the bottom.





4.  Use a piece of the left over sock to cut a circle.  This will be the bottom of the pincushion.



5.  Hand or machine sew the circle piece to the head piece with right sides together.  You will be sewing the piece inside out.  Make sure to leave a space big enough to turn the piece and also big enough to insert the styrofoam.  Socks are very stretchy so you should only need to leave about an inch and a half opening.  Turn right side out.

6.  Now insert the styrofoam and adjust the circle piece at the bottom.  Add a little batting or polyester stuffing to the bottom to fill in the uneven parts of the styrofoam.


7.  Sew the opening closed with a ladder stitch.

8.  Use some of the leftover fabric to make the ears.  Turn the leftover piece of brown sock inside out with right sides together.  Draw your ear on paper to the size you want.  **Tip: If you want pieces to be symetrical, draw your pattern piece on paper first and then fold it in half before you cut it.**  Draw the pattern piece onto the brown fabric using a fabric marker and then sew along the line, leaving the bottoms open for turning.  Turn the pieces and sew closed with a ladder stitch, leaving a piece of thread to attach the ears to the head.




9.  Cut a slightly smaller ear pattern and make another set of ears with your contrasting fabric.  Sew them and close them the same way.  Match them up and sew the lighter color to the front of the darker ears.  Then pinch the ears at the bottom and sew the two bottom ends together with the black thread to make a cute crease.





10.  Decide your placement of the ears.  Different places will give you a different expression.  Experiement with where you like best and then sew the ears in place.  Use a long needle to sew and secure the ears through the styrofoam.  If you do not sew some stitches into the styrofoam the ears will be wonky.  It is hard to sew into the styrofoam and you don't want to break it into pieces so use a long needle to go deep into the styrofoam.



11.  Now decide where you want your nose and trace a triangle onto the face with a disappearing ink fabric marker.  If you use a real marker you can have a mess because it is very difficult to sew on sock material in the exact place you intend.  The disappearing ink will provide a guide but disappear if you don't quite have your stitches fall were you meant.  Use embroidery floss to make the nose, mouth and eyebrows.  Embroidering on stretchy stock material is tricky.  You cannot pull too tightly or the fabric will be stretched very awkwardly.  Go slowly, adjusting as you go.  I'm sorry it is hard to see in the photos.  You can use a more contrasting floss to see the nose better.



12.  Use the eye color paint you chose to paint a circle for the eyes.  Paint the color first, then the black for the iris, and then add white accents.  I use a ball pin dipped in the paint and then I dot a perfect circle onto the fabric.



13.  Add ink blush to the cheeks and ears.

14.  Stick your pins in and your done!  Try using different colored socks for fun combinations or try experimenting with other animals.  If I had the time I would make a lot more but I need to be working on BeBes!