Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Key to Owning Your Own Business is Perseverance


Well I finally got some good news...but it didn't start out that way...

As you know I'm gearing up to enter the trade show market.  Recently I became aware of Etsy's new Wholesale platform.  I had been researching it for a while but didn't know, or find anyone, who had any experience with it.  Also I must admit I was afraid to take the plunge and apply.  I was afraid of the possible rejection.  But, because I am going to try to enter the wholesale market again, I just decided to do it last week.

Well low-and-behold a couple days after I applied I received the dreaded rejection email.  I was rejected because in the application process you have to list your current wholesale accounts.  I didn't list anything because I don't actually have any wholesale accounts at the moment.  I had some in the past, but when I moved to Mexico I had to put them on hold until I could get production set up here.  I have written to those stores to try to re-establish our partnership but found that three of them closed and the four others haven't responded to my emails.

When I received the rejection I was really upset for two reasons.  1.  How does Etsy expect people to obtain experience if they don't give them a chance to connect with buyers? and 2.  My paranoid side was certain that "experience" was just a front, and that they were really rejecting me for some other reason.  Some of you might not know but dolls are not exactly seen as hip and cool.

Here's my advice when you are rejected and you start to feel the hair on your back stand on end,   think about it for a day.  Talk to your friends and family for advice.  I was immediately in a bad mood after receiving the rejection and proceeded to tell everyone in ear-shot.  More than one person told me to see if I could write back and explain the situation: that I have experience, but nothing currently, because I moved to Mexico.

The next day when I was clear headed and calm I did exactly that.  I responded to the rejection email explaining my situation.  I went back and found all my contacts for my old wholesale accounts and included them in the email.  At first I heard nothing and assumed it was a lost cause but then...then...yesterday, I received an email, and it said "we have reviewed this additional information and would like to welcome you to Etsy wholesale!"

Well as I'm sure you can tell I was over the moon excited!  I have since set up my wholesale account on Etsy and am working on a to-do list of things to improve the overall look of my shop.

First order of business is to get a new photography set up.  Currently I am taking photos in my closet and some days they come out ok and others they come out dark no matter what I do.  Second order of business is to create a better working environment.  My work room is bare bones as I haven't done much decorating since I moved to Mexico.  Etsy wholesale requires you to post photos of your work space and really I'm not ready to share the ugly space I work in.  This weekend I'm hoping to remedy that with a new table for photography as well as some shelves, curtains, and art to make the space more visually appealing.  

Stay tuned as I will be sharing my experience on Etsy wholesale with you.  I have no idea at this point if I am going to even receive any business but I sure hope so.  If you are interested in wholesale for your business, but don't know much about it, check out this article as well as this guide on the Etsy blog.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Be Authentic to Increase your Online Sales



I've posted a lot about this topic in an effort to help other sellers.  I received this message recently:

"I want to give you a BIG thank you! I am slowly trying to use the hints you have given me and this week I sold THREE dolls! Thank you so much."

This message made me really happy because I'm happy to know I'm helping someone with all this writing and also because it is great to know that there are people who really are serious about taking my hard earned advice.

I wanted to write another post about increasing your Etsy sales and it was inspired by a Facebook post I saw this morning on the Facebook group "Etsy Sellers".  The poster said this:


"what's this junk about trading hearts, or trading likes? whatever happened to earning what you get? if you create magic, i'll like you. if you have a simple bead necklace that anyone can make in 5 minutes, after a trip to the local hobby shop, and you're selling it for $25, i'm not going to pay you a like, because of some kinda simple deal for myself to gain a like from you. if you want to show off your talent, and ask for people to be so kind to like your shop if they indeed DO like it, that's one thing. but you can't just post on here, begging for likes, as if you'll get promoted to the next level of artistic fame. at that point, people are like, "oh wow, they have 10,000 likes, but why? look at this junk that they make? welp, now i guess i'm just left to despise etsy completely!..." EARN YOUR KEEP! if you want to get noticed, do something noticeable other than gaining a round of thumbs-up from people who could care less about what you've made. you're screwing up the algorithm for people who deserve that spot. yes, you should feel lame. you've earned that."

Ok so maybe it's a little harsh but I understand his feelings.  As I said above my advice is hard earned.  Sellers who have worked many years to get to where we are are slighted when people ask for advice and don't listen.  We are even more frustrated by new sellers who expect to reach a high status without putting in the hours we have.  You want long-time sellers on your side, trust me.

Many times I receive messages from people saying "I liked your shop, hearted, shared, etc etc, can you do the same for me?"  Then I go to their shop and I don't like their product or I don't think the quality is something I want to represent.  I've said it before, if you don't like it you shouldn't be sharing it.  It doesn't give a genuine impression which devalues your opinion as well as the product.  I'm still trying to work out a way to respond to these messages without hurting any feelings.  At present I don't respond.  

There are other reasons you shouldn't be "begging" for likes and hearts from other Etsy artists (or anyone for that matter).  I recently read this article "How to Increase Sales Online" by Matthew Deal.  Much of the advice in the article is similar to some of my past articles, but I liked a couple of things he said, specifically these:

"There are activities that are a waste of your time. Case in point is self-posting promotional items in a forum filled with other sellers who are doing the exact same thing."

"The point is that other sellers are not your consumers; especially not in a place where all the other sellers are just there to promote their own products."

Now to a point he's right.  I don't think he is 100% right though.  I'm an Etsy seller but I'm also an Etsy customer.  It's not completely wrong to advertise to other Etsy sellers, however, in general, it isn't the best use of your time.  In addition it's really a waste of time to spend your day trading likes and hearts with other sellers in an effort to promote one another when you don't even like their product.  Read the rest of his article for some great advice, as well as a check-list of much better marketing activities for you to spend your time on.

These two are connected because while I don't think sharing your products in forums where other sellers are sharing their products is bad, the tone in which many people share their work rubs some people the wrong way.  If you are writing a post that says something like "give me a like/heart/share and I will do the same for you!  Let's help promote each other!" then you are probably not giving the impression you would like, and instead are actually annoying people.  

As the Facebook poster above said, if you want to increase awareness of your product/brand post it and let it speak for itself.  If you don't get any likes then take a look at your product.  Chances are either you have an undesirable product or there is something wrong with your presentation (photos, description, pricing, etc).  If it's not your product try to figure out how to correct the problems with your presentation.  I have a ton of past articles on all of these topics and there are many more to be found on the Etsy blog as well as other blogs.

Keep reading, keep trying things, and keep listening to those who have been there and are doing it big!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Calling all BeBe Baby Mommies!

I have spent several months saving my money in order to return to the US, move to a different state, teach in another country, go on vacation and numerous other ideas.  My friends and family have become exasperated with my indecision.  The problem has been that nothing has felt "right".  Then the other day I was returning from a class outside the city and on the car ride I had an epiphany.

As I've said many times I've been working very hard to turn BeBe Babies into a company that can sustain me full-time.  The only way I can see this happening is if I manufacture them.  The only way I can manufacture them is to get them into retail stores.  I need large enough orders to hire someone to help me sew large quantities.  I've searched the Internet high and low for stores that might be interested in carrying my dolls but haven't had much luck.

While researching other companies who started out like me, or sell a similar product as mine, I discovered that many of them do trade shows.  Now, I've thought about trade shows in the past, but have never done one for two reasons: 1.  They are very expensive and 2. the logistics and level of professionalism is intimidating.

The show that I have been investigating is called NY Now or the New York International Gift Fair.  The price of attending isn't even listed on their site as far as I can see, but I assume it is at least $1000 to attend, not including travel expenses.  Then I watched this video on their site and I was even more discouraged.  The booths are beautiful and extensive.  How am I ready to compete at this level?


Well I continued to research and I found this article "10 Lessons from a First-Time Trade Show Exhibitor".  What I realized is that maybe trying to do my first show in such a large venue is a little too ambitious.  So then I found a trade show database and realized that there are many smaller trade shows all over the country, including Portland Oregon, my home state.  Maybe it would be better if I tried a show that is much easier for me to manage just to get my feet wet and see what works and what doesn't.

The next Portland show is in March.  I'm not sure I can get it together by then but I've put a plan into action, which brings me to the topic of this post.  I have been working to put together a new video that will hopefully be like a commercial for BeBe Babies.  I'm hoping to use it for promotional purposes as well as for my future trade show booth.

This is where you come in.  If you have purchased a BeBe Baby from me for your kiddo(s), I need you to make me a video that is a few seconds to a minute long of your kid talking about what they like about their BeBe Baby.  Every participant will receive a little thank you gift from me, but please note the gifts won't be sent out until after the video is complete, which might be a couple months.



I have received a couple videos already and you can see an example here on Youtube.  Or watch this one below:

video


If you would like to participate please email me your videos or questions at bebebabiescom@yahoo.com  Thanks everyone for your help in making BeBe Babies grow!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

New Video New Design

Just a quick pop-in to share with you a new design I'm working on.  A customer asked if I could turn one of my new Blankie BeBes into a puppet.  I have wanted to make a puppet for a long time so I decided it was the right moment to try it.  I have to say it was easier than I expected but the prototype needs some adjusting.


The finger holes are a little too small and the arms are a little too high to wear comfortably.  I think I'm on the right track though and plan to start again with some adjustments.  Sometimes I love the design process and sometimes I detest starting again.  But that is the life of a designer!

I made a little video of this doll so you can see a little bit how she moves.  You can find it on Youtube here or watch below.



Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Voice you are Presenting to your Customers



This post is inspired by Facebook.  It took me a while to write this post because I don't want to talk about anyone personally.  I've just noticed several people, and one in particular, who seem to post very melancholy status updates on Facebook, many times complaining about not being successful in business.  Every so often I think, "wow I wouldn't hire you because you sound like a real downer."  It got me thinking about the voice we present to our potential customers.

Authenticity

I want to be authentic.  If I'm having a bad day I don't want to say "every thing's peachy!" because it makes me feel dishonest.  But what happens if I'm going through more than a rough day?  Maybe I'm having a bad year.  My advice, tell your friends and family offline.  Customers don't want to hear about how horrible your personal life is, and I doubt most of your Facebook friends want to hear it either unless they are a close friend in real life.  In that case they probably already know what's happening in your life.  Constantly whining, particularly about your business, is much much worse.  I realize it takes self control and I've been guilty of it myself, but it really solves nothing, and can potentially alienate your customers.

Turn it Around

For example, when I feel like the activity on my Facebook or in my Etsy shop is waning I offer a giveaway or a fun challenge for my fans.  It's a way to engage your customers in a positive way and help you work on building more likes, views and hopefully sales.  There are many other things you can do too.  Instead of spending your time complaining, do research.  Read the Etsy blog, search for articles on running a small business, or ask other successful artists you admire how they do it.  Other people have a wealth of advice and experience and most are more than willing to share.  

If you must post about a personal problem it is much better to ask a question.  For example, you hate your dead-end job.  Instead of complaining about it maybe you can ask your Facebook network if they know of any jobs in your industry, or if anyone has experienced a similar problem as yours.  Start a conversation that has the potential to lead you to a solution, not just a bitch fest.  We all need to bitch sometimes, but the venue for that is much better with some beers at a friend's house or a comfortable bar.

Analyze

One thing to consider when you have your own small business is what type of voice you want to represent your business.  This article points out that people who post very negative comments have low-self esteem in general.  This article was slightly disturbing although I do believe the research concluded something very valuable.  I find the article disturbing because it doesn't make me feel good  to know that Facebook is conducting research that can potentially effect our emotional lives without our consent.  However the results showed that constantly seeing negative posts will actually make you feel more negative.  Just like in real life when you surround yourself with negative people you find yourself being more negative.  That is certainly not something you want to pass on to your customers.

People shop for many different reasons.  It's very important to know who your customer is and why they buy your product.  I make dolls for collectors and children.  In general I am marketing to the indulgence crowd (buying a doll is purely for fun or a gift).  When people are shopping for a gift for themselves or someone else, they want the experience to be easy, convenient, and fun.  Therefore I want my posts to always convey this attitude.  Be sure to analyze your product and target market in the same way.  You don't have to not be genuine in an attempt to connect with your customers, but you must find your own unique voice which will be in line with what your customers expect to hear when they buy your product or hire your services.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Trick or Treat Auction!!



Hi everyone!  I have been working very hard for the last month or so to release a very special series.  There has been so much interest in these guys that I have decided to try something new.  In the past I have used Ebay but I don't like how much they charge sellers, and I also don't want to open a new account here in Mexico.  It doesn't seem that Ebay allows you to change countries and retain the same account, and unless I change it the shipping and location information will not be correct.  So I have decided to try running my own auction for this series.  If it goes well I might do it again in the future.

Here's how the auction will work:

1.  Below will be photos and information about each doll.  The starting bid is $150 each.
2.  If you would like to adopt one of them please email me at bebebabiescom@yahoo.com with your maximum bid.
3.  The auction will run for 3 days, ending on Saturday October 4 at midnight.  Any emails received after that time will not be counted.  Any dolls not adopted will be listed in my Etsy shop.
4.  I will be updating my blog showing the current bid but I will not be putting the name of the highest bidder.  This will be a private auction.
5.  If you are the auction winner the doll must be paid for within 2 days of the auction end date or the doll will be offered to the second highest bidder.  Payment plans are available but MUST be arranged BEFORE bidding.  So just let me know in your email if you require one.
6.  I will not be taking orders for these dolls, or doing any more in this series this year.  They are all truly one of a kind!
7.  Shipping will be $15 worldwide in a padded envelope or $22 in a box.  I highly recommend choosing the box to avoid any damage but I'm giving the buyer the option.
8.  Bidding increments will be $5.
***9.***SPECIAL!!  All BeBe Babies fan club members will receive $25 off their final bid.  If you are not already a fan club member join here.

Now on to information about the dolls!  Each doll has been meticulously created.  I have never spent so much time working on the details of a doll series, and I have never completely sewn their entire outfits!  Each one has completely removable costumes (although I wouldn't recommend removing their shirts as some of them are a bit tight).  Each doll is completely wired in the arms, legs and body.  Their heads are jointed and can turn side to side.  They are each about 9 inches (22.86 cm) tall.  These dolls are not intended for children and are all OOAK.  Below is specific information about each one.


Katie
This is Katie!  She is dressed as a little pumpkin and she is as sweet as can be.  She has blue eyes and strawberry hair.  She also has adorable little freckles and cute little pigtail-braids.

Starting bid: $150
Current bid:

$150- bidder #1
$155- bidder #2
$160- bidder #3
$205- bidder #1
$210- bidder #3







Rafael
This is fun little Rafael!  He is dressed as Frankenstein.  His face is painted permanently with green fabric paint and his little bolts are glued to his head and not removable.  He also has two tiny teeth peeking out of his mouth.  His skin color is ethnic and he has a black mohair wig and brown eyes.

Starting bid: $150
Current bid: 

$150- bidder #1






Marley
Marley is a sweet little tomboy who wanted to be a robot!  Marley has a blond mohair wig and green eyes.  Her helmet is removable along with the rest of her outfit.

Starting bid: $150
Current bid:

$150- bidder #1
$155- bidder #2
$205- bidder #1
$210- bidder #2








Constance
This is happy little Constance!  She is dressed as a witch.  She has red-orange tibetan mohair and smiling eyes.  Her face is permanently painted green and she has a witch nose that is permanently attached.

Starting bid: $150
Current bid: 

$150-bidder #1



Please let me know if you have any questions.  I am hoping that I am not forgetting anything, but please be patient with me if I have.  This is my first time trying anything like this so I have no idea if it will work well.  Good luck to all the bidders and good luck to the BeBes!