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

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!