Monday, February 23, 2015

How to Make a Million Dollars Selling On Etsy

The internet was all a-buzz last week with the story of the California Mom who makes a million dollars a year from her Etsy shop.  I've been aware of her shop, Three Bird Nest, for quite some time, because, did you know you can search for the top Etsy sellers on this site called Craftcount?  Well you can, and it's worth a look.  I remember the first time I browsed Craftcount.  I was, on the one hand fascinated, and on the other hand discouraged.  I was discouraged because the "top sellers" on Etsy sell supplies.  The top "handmade" sellers sell downloads, patterns, and/or t-shirts, mugs and buttons with cheesy sayings on them.  In my opinion the top sellers on Etsy do not really sell anything handmade (in general).

That brings us to Three Bird Nest.  Beautiful photos, cohesive styling, and modern products make it easy to see why people are drawn to the shop.  As I'm sure you know, if you have been reading my blog, shops like these are something to be analysed.  My method of analyzing the competition is a little different than how some on the Internet choose to investigate *ah hem* I mean analyze.

As with any success story there are those who will come out in droves to poo poo the good fortune of others, and that is where the drama begins...

The first article that I saw pop up in my Facebook was this one titled "The Myth of Three Bird Nest" or "How One Woman Makes Almost $1 Million a Year on Etsy".  Ooooh I thought.  What is the myth?  She doesn't really make that much money?  No my friends, that is not the myth the article speaks of, because in fact it would seem the owner of Three Bird Nest does earn that much from her Etsy shop.  No the myth was that her stuff is not handmade.  Gasp!  Cough!  Blasphemy!  Crafters of the world are crossing their knitting needles and kneeling at their sewing machines.

Ok people are upset.  Etsy is a site to sell handmade items (and supplies and vintage).  It would appear that Three Bird Nest is buying socks made in China and selling them as handmade on Etsy.  They have been reported as adding the lace and/or buttons, but most believe that isn't sufficient or even entirely true.  You decide.

So why are people mad?  People are mad because they are jealous.  Ok I said it, and you can disagree with me, but let me tell you why.

1.  It isn't fair!

The first argument that comes up is that Etsy is a site for handmade items, and because this woman is selling items that are not handmade, then it is not fair.  Life isn't fair, I'm sure you've heard that.  Well it's true, it isn't fair.  It's Etsy's site and Etsy can do what they want with it.  You can bang your head against the wall trying to change it but what's the point?  It's a waste of time, and being all hurt that Etsy isn't your best crafty friend anymore won't bring back the relationship you thought you had with them.

2.  Shops like Three Bird Nest devalue my work!

I read articles all the time about the problem with sellers underpricing their work and how that effects others who charge a fair price for similar work.  Let's imagine you make knitted socks.  I did a quick search and found this shop GrietaKnits, who appears to make beautiful handmade knit socks.  From my search I determined that her price ($50-$100) was reasonable, although most knitted socks on the first page were more around $35 (but not nearly as pretty).  However I would NEVER pay that much for one pair socks.  They are beautiful, and honestly I would love to have a pair, but it doesn't matter how much I like them, I am not in the position to spend that much on a pair of socks.  I could however, maybe afford a pair from Three Bird Nest at around $28.  

The conclusion by most crafters is that because Three Bird Nest has provided me a similar pair of socks at a lower price, then GrietaKnits has lost business, but that is not the case at all.  I would NEVER buy a pair of socks for $50 even if all the socks in the world cost $50.

If you are running a business, then you should set your prices fairly, not for other crafters, but because it makes good business sense.  What the rest of the world is selling similar items for shouldn't matter in your pricing structure, because it will always be a problem for you to overcome.  Your customers will buy your items if they want to, or can afford it, whether or not another seller or Walmart for that matter, sells a cheaper version of it.  I've been convinced in the past to buy a $500 doll, but I'll keep buying my socks at Walmart no matter what you do, because that is what I value.  It's difficult to change the shopping values of people.  You might think $500 is too much for a doll and I think $50 is too much for socks.

3.  I have to wade through pages of crap to find what I want!    

Really?  And you blame this on stuff made in China?  I generally have to wade through handmade crap to find anything good, let alone China.  I never thought Etsy's search feature was very good at finding anything.  I even thought maybe their site should be juried like IndieCart a different site for selling handmade items.  I generally find all my favorite shops via Facebook, craft shows, and/or friends.  I don't think you are wading through China crap.  I think you are just wading through crap.  I would rather look at Three Bird Nest's beautiful photos then 90% of the other stuff on Etsy.

Of course there were many other comments and discussions about this, but most were too ridiculous to mention (and basically would fit under the "it's not fair" category).  So what is the point?  If you can't be outraged about it (or if you still are outraged about it) what can you do?  Well I believe this article on Wired called "How Etsy Alienated Its Crafters and Lost Its Soul" can help you out.  While I don't agree with some of the article, I do agree with the part titled "Successful Businesses Leave Etsy".  It's been on my mind for a while since I've been having more sales off of Etsy, via my Facebook page.  

The bottom line is that if your craft is a business then you want to make money, probably a lot of money.  Don't be sour because it's difficult.  Don't blame others because you aren't there yet.  Those are excuses that are holding you back.  If you want to make it big, you will eventually be outsourcing your work.  Let's face it there is no way to make it rich, or even a decent living in the handmade world, as a one man/woman show.  It is not possible.  You have to produce on a large scale.  You have to keep your prices low and your margins high.  Hopefully that doesn't mean undervaluing your work or undermining your ethics, but focus on how you can be successful within your company's limitations.

And finally, the advice I keep giving over and over: You should not be relying on Etsy to find your customers.  I have always seen my Etsy shop as a service to process transactions and display my work.  The few customers that come about through Etsy's search engine are lovely, but few.  If you want to sell your work you have to bring the customers to your shop plain and simple.  As soon as you stop relying on Etsy, and start working on your marketing, you will see that you never needed Etsy in the first place.  At that point all this hoopla about what other people are doing will disappear.

*Other article referenced but not directly.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Simplicity and the Complexity of Thalita Dol Dolls

If you are skeptical about using Facebook to advertise your dolls now is the time to stop being skeptical and start using Facebook.  I believe that right now in the world of marketing Facebook is number one.  If you have to forget all those other sites you love to network on, just make sure you are using Facebook.  I hope to write more in the future about how I use Facebook to sell my work, but for now I mention it because generally I find all the artists I feature on my blog via Facebook.  I will just be minding my business, browsing along all the news updates, and then wow, a stunning doll will pop up on my feed.  That's exactly what happened with Thalita Dol, and I immediately had to see more.

Located in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, Thalita Dol makes Waldorf inspired cloth dolls.  I'm not sure what drew them to me at first, they looked so simple, but there was something so soft, so innocent under the surface.  I do like Waldorf dolls in general, but sometimes they begin to all look the same to me.  Thalita Dol really stood out in a big way.

As I did a little more research, as well as contacted Thalita to learn more, I found that these "simple" dolls were not so simple.  Underneath the surface was a complex sculpting system.  I was intrigued even more, and couldn't wait to learn more about this incredible doll artist.  I hope you will stick around to see what she had to say about her sweet babies.

This was the first picture that truly had me over the moon with Thalita Dol.

1. When did you begin making cloth dolls? 

I began making dolls when my oldest was little and I wanted special dolls for her.  I always loved sewing and used to make clothes for her, as well as some stuffed animals, so sewing dolls seamed a lot of fun!

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

My first attempt was a rag dolls from a Wee Wonderfuls pattern I had bought.  Than I tried making my own patterns with the details I wished.  Soon enough I found out the Waldorf dolls and totally fell in love with the Waldorf inspired universe.

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

I'm self taught.  I started sewing doll clothes (always had some dolls of mine even before I had kids) and stuffed toys out of felt.  I used to make them by hand.  Than I got married and my husband got me a sewing machine as a gift for our first Christmas together.  I soon got pregnant, and started making baby clothes.  Mama sewing blogs helped me a lot in the beginning.  Soon I started drafting my own patterns.  I really love all of the process, from imagining, to creating patterns, than sewing and than admiring the magic of having in your hands something that was only in your mind before.

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

My advice is be yourself, don't be afraid of the process of trial and error, be unique and true to what you love.

Inside Thalita Dol there is a complex sculpting system.  Just amazing.

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

No, but my cats like to steal my embroidery lines and my kids like to stay nearby while I sew =)

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

Well, a little of both.  I enjoy it so much that it can be considered a hobby.  I take it really serious, so it can be considered a business.  But as a stay at home mom, I don't have much time on my hands, and because of that production is slow.

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

Oh, too many!  I love chatting to other doll makers!  Actually I first heard of doll making groups here on your blog, from the owner of Lali Dolls interview. Since than I have searched for those groups online and I'm much pleased to be able to do some dolly chatting.

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

I sell them on Etsy and on a Brazilian shop called Tanlup.  I also have a Facebook page where I talk about the dolls and post WIP pictures.

9. Do you collect dolls yourself? 

Yes I do!  I don't have many, but my collection is growing.  My most recent buy was a Mariengold baby, and she is so sweet!

10. Who are your favorite doll artists? 

I really admire Lalinda's work.  Also Mon Petit Frere, North Cost Dolls, Sweet Dimplicity, Lali Doll, Iva Dolls, and Bebe Babies of course.  The list could go on and on.  So many talented doll makers out there!

Hair detail

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

Doll making is about love.  I think everyone who is inside the "doll universe" will agree.  Each doll is created with so much love and care.  They start as an imagination spark and come to life in our hands little by little, by thread and needle, and cloth and wool.  A little piece of the doll maker's heart goes inside every little dolly.  It's magical, joyful, and I'm so grateful to be able to experience this amazing process.

I hope you enjoyed learning about Thalita doll (as well as all the other doll artists she mentioned.  I had so much fun looking at those as well).  You can find her on the web in these places; Facebook, blog,  and Etsy.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Customer Isn't Always Right and Why Paypal Sucks

When you want to explode at a customer remember to breathe.

That's my mantra right now.  Breathe in, breathe out.  You don't want to say anything inappropriate.

Ok you want to say something inappropriate but it's not the best course of action in business.  Very very hard not to do sometimes.

Here's the situation:

Recently we sold the first item made by my boyfriend's Mom.  We were all so excited because she has been working so so hard, and finally she was earning a little money.  I sent the scarf off, paid her, and everyone was so happy and excited.

Now, I'd had reservations about paying her before the item arrived safe and sound.  I just had this gut feeling that I should wait until the transaction was completely complete.  But I went ahead and paid, because it was so exciting for her.

As some of you know, shipping from Mexico is taking 2-4 weeks at this time via the regular post office.  I realize that's long, and it stinks, but it's the situation, and I can't change it.  (I am working on solutions for the BeBe Baby shop at this moment but the Mexican Fabric shop will have to wait).

So anyway, 8 days after shipping the scarf I receive a notice from Paypal that a dispute has been opened and that my funds have been withheld.  The woman who bought the scarf started an "item not received" dispute.  She never contacted me on Etsy, or in another manner, to inquire about the scarf.

It's a long story, with a lot of back and forth, but yesterday the scarf was attempted to be delivered and the customer wasn't there.  She tells me today she will try to pick it up tomorrow and "cancel the dispute in the next day or two".  In the meantime Paypal has withheld my money now for about 2 weeks.

I am angry number 1 because the customer opened a dispute without reading our shop policies or contacting me, but I am even more upset with Paypal.  I have been a Paypal customer for over 10 years.  I have NEVER had a dispute filed against me.  Paypal is a company that makes their money from SELLERS and when a dispute is filed they automatically take the money from the seller?  I can understand allowing the dispute to be opened, but to withhold the funds without any type of information?  Now I could open a claim myself, and get Paypal involved, but why should I have to?  I have done everything right in this situation and this customer is overreacting.  She also mentioned that if she closes the dispute she can't open it again, which leads me to believe she has done this before.  I on the other hand wasn't even familiar with this process until now.

I knew that Ebay bought Paypal, and I left Ebay for the same reasons I am now thinking about alternative payment options.  These companies really need to realize that their paying customers deserve more respect than this.  I know there are bad sellers, but there an equal amount of bad buyers, and creating policies that side heavily with one group over the other is bad business in my opinion.

I encourage you to use direct pay through Etsy when buying BeBe Baby products.  Etsy has much friendlier seller policies and I would love to someday get away from Paypal all together.  In the meantime I won't be using Paypal for my own purchases, and will start using my credit card more often.  As for the customer, I wanted to slam her when I read her last message about how she'll release my funds in a day or two.  What person believes they can receive their item before paying for it?  Instead I wrote, "I would appreciate it".  We will see if she is just a nervous nelly or a real scammer when the scarf is in her possession.

The consolation I suppose, is that in over 10 years this is the first real bad egg I've had.  It's just extra rotten because my boyfriend's Mom won't be able to pay me back for the loss, and I don't want her to.  This stinky customer ruined the excitement of a first sale, and I don't want to take that from his Mom, so I haven't even told her this happened.

I'll keep you posted on the outcome.  The moral of the story is that these things happen to the best of us.  It really sucks when it happens but as a business you must take it in stride, no matter how much you rage inside.

Update: The customer received the scarf, cancelled the dispute and even sent a thank you message about how much she loved it as well as the packaging presentation.  I still don't believe I would like to have her as a future customer but I am thankful everything ended well.