Running a Creative Business: Making Lemonade out of Lemons

From time to time, I share some behind-the-scenes insight into  running a creative business.  This post is also part of a blog tour for April Bowles-Olin’s upcoming CreativeLive class on creative marketing. You can read more about April’s class at the end of the post. Enjoy!

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Getting accepted into my favorite craft fair in the summer of 2014 was a dream come true!

I had visited this fair as an avid fan and customer for years and I often imagined what I would do if I ever had a booth. I had visions of a beautiful display full of my handmade items. Of course, I would get hundreds of visitors to my booth and I would sell out of many of my handmade goodies.

Unfortunately, the dream did not match up to reality. Although I had many visitors who complimented my work, I barely made back the booth fee (the money I paid to vend at the fair).

As I stood by my booth on the last day of the craft fair, taking photos of my booth, chatting with customers, I hatched a plan.

With all my wall art and door wreaths on display in one place, I realized I would have a lot of inventory left over. I had been posting photos of my set-up throughout the weekend and gotten lots of hearts and positive comments on Instagram and Facebook.

Rather than go home crushed that I didn’t make the sales I dreamed of, I would try to salvage the weekend.*

I would take advantage of all the hard work I had put into my booth display and making inventory and try another way to get some sales.  I would make lemonade out of lemons! So, while still at the sale, I made the decision to host my very first Insta Sale on social media. Yes, an Insta Sale! A way for my followers to “shop my booth” from the comfort of their own smart phones.

*Don’t get me wrong. I am so glad I have this craft-fair-selling experience under my belt. I met many wonderful people and fellow makers. And the experience of being in the show and being listed as a vendor on the craft fair’s website led to another one of my dreams being realized as well as many other opportunities! Let’s continue.

HOW DID I DO IT?

I created a separate Instagram account and posted photos of each item with a description and price.

To sweeten the deal, I offered a small discount PLUS free shipping (to the U.S.) and a free gift (felt flower). I also posted on Facebook, where I got additional sales from my Facebook fans on my Catshy Crafts page.

To buy an item, the customer had to be the first to comment beneath the post with her e-mail address. I would then send a PayPal invoice. Once payment was received I would ship the item.

To my surprise and delight, I made more during my Insta Sale than I had during my craft fair! I made my booth fee back and then some!

WHY DID IT WORK?

I believe it worked for a number of reasons.

  1. I built up excitement days before the fair (for my handmade items). This was even before I announced a sale because obviously I didn’t know I was going to have sale at this point. I showed my followers the hours of preparation for the fair, the set-up, and the buzz during the craft fair.
  2. I created a sense of urgency for my items (only the first person would “win” the item). I only had one of each item so you had to act fast to get the item you wanted.
  3. Many of the items for sale were created specifically for the show, so there were lots of brand-new, never-been-seen items, but also some of my most popular items.
  4. My special offers – a small discount, free shipping AND A free gift.
  5. This was my first Insta Sale ever. It was novel way to shop for my items without the go-between of Etsy.
  6. I created mini ads for my Insta Sale using photos of my items and text overlaid on top using an app called WordSwag.
  7. I had a captive audience of followers who could participate by hearting or buying an item. Even if they didn’t end up buying, it was a fun way to interact with me and my other followers. I answered questions almost immediately and thanked people for commenting.

Since then I haven’t been able to replicate that success. I’ve had a handful more Insta Sales since, but none have been as popular as the first one. The other ones were not “Shop My Booth” sales, so perhaps did not have the same buzz as my first one did. I even tried a weekly Insta-Sale – one new item each week. Perhaps in the future, I will make it once-a-year event to make it more special.

MY TAKEAWAY?

The biggest lesson I learned from this experience was not to be afraid to try a new marketing tactic when you’re not getting the results you want. Craft fair not working? Try an Insta-Sale! (I’m sure I’ll get lots of ideas from April’s new class.)

When life gives you lemons (which in and of themselves are awesome!), make lemonade. A new twist on what you’re doing can shake things up for both you and your customers and lead to great things!

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DID YOU LIKE THIS POST?

Check out these other blog posts I wrote about how creative businesses can use Instagram.

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This post is a part of the Double Your Followers blog tour to spread the word about April Bowles-Olin’s upcoming CreativeLive course. Does hearing the word ‘marketing’ make your armpits start to drip with anxiety? Are you terrified of sounding salesy or like you have the personality of a dead blowfish? If so, come join me and 2,500+ entrepreneurs who’re taking April’s latest CreativeLive course, Double Your Followers with Creative Marketing. You can RSVP and watch for FREE. Yep, free. High fives, wildflowers, wine samples. Who doesn’t love free?

 

Behind the Scenes: School House Craft

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Ever since I got back from the hallowed halls of School House Craft’s Fall Conference, my brain has been percolating with all the information and invaluable tips I’ve gathered.

It can all be a bit overwhelming after a full weekend of learning, socializing and sitting still in a classroom for hours. The potential for changing your business is huge but how do you put it into practice? How do you know where to start?

To read more, head over to my guest blog post at the School House Craft Blog.

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Marlo Miyashiro teaching her info-packed class on Wholesale.

 

p.s. You might also like to read my other guest blog posts at School House Craft: A Shy Crafter’s Guide for Selling at Craft Fairs and 10 Reasons Why Creative Businesses Should Use Instagram.

Behind the Scenes of My Business: Blog Tag

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From time to time, I get asked for advice on starting a handmade business. One of my favorite creative business gurus/mentors/all-around inspiring people is April Bowles Olin of Blacksburg Belle. I read her blog, enroll in her classes and follow her on social media. So when she invited her readers to join in on a “blog tag”  and answer a set of questions about our businesses, I jumped on the bandwagon. So here’s a peek behind the scenes of Catshy Crafts.

 

Question 1: What’s your two to three sentence bio? (You know, what the heck do you do?)

I’m a felt artist and creative business owner of Catshy Crafts. I make heartfelt decor – felt flowers, personalized hoop art and yarn wreaths – to cozy up your home.

Question 2: What’s your favorite part of your job?

Playing with felt!

Question 3: What’s your least favorite part of your job?

Bookkeeping/paying taxes. Math is not my favorite subject!

Question 4: What are the top three tools you use the most in your work?

Canon 60D dSLR camera; Photoshop CS2 (this version is ancient but still works for me); sharp pair of fabric scissors

Question 5: What business goal would you love to reach before the end of the year?

To sell my items wholesale at two local retail shops.

Question 6: Who are three creatives that inspire you?

Kari Chapin, Anna Bond, Sarah Cornish

Question 7: What do you listen to (if anything) while you work?

I need quiet to write, but when I’m cutting and sewing, I listen to podcasts -(I just discovered Elise Gets Crafty) or I watch a CreativeLive class on creative business advice.

Question 8: Morning person or night owl?

Morning person.

Question 9: How many employees do you have and what are the main things they do for you?

Does my super-supportive husband count? If not, I have none.

Question 10: What’s your favorite social media platform?

Instagram! Love the convenience of snapping a photo, editing and posting within seconds!

Question 11: What’s your least favorite social media platform?

Twitter. I have never mastered the 140 character tweets.

Question 12: What works best when it comes to marketing your business?

Sharing the day-to-day process of my business, revealing vulnerabilities (hello shyness!) and celebrating successes with my followers on social media

Question 13: What’s one thing about your business that your blog readers probably don’t know?

I credit my years as a scrapbooker for developing many of the skills for running a creative business – from photography to my Photoshop skilss to sharing my work on online galleries to submitting to magazines to packaging

Question 14: If your business were a fashion accessory, what would it be?

An airy but comfy-cozy cardigan that I can wrap myself in when I need warmth or comfort like this one.

Question 15: What’s your top tip for someone who wants to do something similar to you for a career?

This took me a while to figure out but my top tip would be to connect with other creative business owners like you! As a shy introvert (a double-whammy), I started with online forums and Etsy teams, but gradually I leveled up to  local meet-ups and conferences.

I’m tagging these four people to answer these same questions in a blog post on their own blog.

  1. Christine of Christine Stoll Jewelry
  2. Erin of wrenbirdarts
  3. Kristina of Baby Bird and Bub Bub
  4. You! (If you have a a creative business and would like to play, go for it!)

 

This blog post is a part of the ‘Behind the Scenes of My Business’ Blog Tag started by April of Blacksburg Belle. She began this blog tag experiment to build community among creatives, help us bloggers to connect more and get to know each other better. This month’s topic is all about sharing the behind the scenes stuff of our businesses. If you’d like to participate or want more info, check out this post right here.

 

Behind the Scenes: A Shy Crafter’s Guide

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I am honored to be a guest blogger at School House Craft – a cool resource for makers and crafters (shy or not) in the Seattle area.

For my latest blog post, I tackled a topic that is near and dear. How I survive in the oftentimes bubbly and extroverted world of crafts and handmade business — as an (incredibly) shy person. In case you’re curious about the behind-the-scenes struggles and milestones of this shy crafter, here’s an excerpt from my latest blog post.

With Netflix streaming on my computer, my favorite mug filled with coffee and my messy piles of felt and embroidery thread and yarn around me, I am in my own little cocoon of happy relaxation when I sit down to make my felt creations for my creative business, Catshy Crafts. I can update my social media sites, photograph my work or post a new listing on Etsy, all without leaving my happy place.

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But sooner or later, I know, in order for me to have a successful business, to grow my business, I must venture out in the world. Make connections. Meet people (potential customers and collaborators). Show my work. For this (once) painfully shy person, this has always been a challenge for me…..

Do you want to read more? If I’ve piqued your interest, please click over to the School House Craft blog to read about how I prepared for my first craft fair…. as a shy crafter. 

Plus, if you are a shy crafter (hello!) and have a topic you might want to see me tackle next, please, please, please leave me a comment! I’d love to hear what is troubling you as a shy crafter as well as connect with you!

Have a great day,

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10 Tips on Surviving Your First Craft Show

A few months ago, I blogged about my first craft show experience as a seller at the etsyRAIN Handmade Holiday Show. When I was invited to participate in the show (you can check out my blog post about the show here or a review of the show here), I was very happy to be chosen. But. (There’s always a but, right?) I quickly got overwhelmed with all the things I would need to do. Making enough inventory. Creating an awesome display. Interacting with customers. Taking credit card orders. Even the thought of making change was giving me angst.

Now that I look back on the whole experience, I can say that it was worth all the worry and effort. And I would definitely do it again. There were things I would probably do differently, but all in all I think it went well! Plus, now I can share my experience with you and give advice to some of you lovely makers who are thinking of doing a craft fair yourself.

And if you’re not a maker, but a lovely buyer or lover of handmade….first of all thank you for supporting handmade! Without you, I would not be in this business. I hope you will enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at preparing for a craft fair.

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So here we go! My ten tips for surviving your first craft show. (Plus, as a bonus for reading all 10 tips, I’ve added some online resources at the end of this post!)

1. Get Schooled

Once I committed to doing the show, I had about 3 months to prepare. The first thing I did was read all I could find on the topic of craft shows. (At the end of this post, I listed some of the online resources I used.) I searched the web and pinned inspiring booth displays. I talked to other makers who already had a few craft shows under their belt. I read forum threads. I even attended a crafty conference, specifically to attend the class on Craft Show Vending from A to Z (taught by the organizers of Urban Craft Uprising).   All this research helped me figure out what I needed to do, what I needed to buy and most importantly let me know that everyone is nervous their first time selling at a craft fair!

School House Craft Conference in Seattle WA

 

2. Break It Down

I am not usually a to-do list kind of gal, but because I had so much to accomplish before I was ready for the show, I decided to make a list. I listed all the things I needed to do and put them in my planner. I spaced it out so each week I had one or two tasks to do. For example: Order a credit card reader. Order more business cards. Make a store sign/banner. These were manageable chunks I could do and check off my list.

Some of the things on the list couldn’t be done in one sitting. For example, I had to create enough inventory to fill my booth. Most of my items are made-to-order or personalized, so I didn’t have much inventory to start with. Creating and designing a decent stock of items took me several weeks. But I did it a little at a time. To make it even easier, you could break this task down even further such as make 20 hoop art. Make 50 flowers. Etc. For me, I just kept making until I thought I had enough inventory to fill my craft display.

The other task that took several weeks to complete was: designing my booth display. This, in fact, turned out to be my favorite part of the entire process! For this task, you can break it down even further: choosing table/chairs; deciding on lighting; creating signage; choosing display items (racks/shelves/etc.). (In my next post in this blog series, I will show you how I used vintage finds in my display.) 

3. Shop at Home

Before you head out to the store for items for your display, take a look at what you already have at your home. Chances are you can find many things to use in your crafty display.

For example, do you use props when you photograph your items? I have a wooden tray that I love to use for my product photography. It is carved. It has a richly stained patina. It has scratches and is well-worn from use. If you read this blog, you may remember when I picked it up from one of my favorite thrift shops last year. It continues to be my go-to photography prop. Not only is this item doing double duty, it will tie back to your online shop. It’s nice to have continuity between your Etsy shop and your craft show presence.

This tray has served me well!
Other things to watch out? Look for small tables, jewelry stands, sheets, tablecloths or baskets that may work for your display.

4. Repurpose

When you’re looking around your house for items, think about ways you can repurpose household items for your display. For example, I repurposed a clothing drying rack as a wreath display. A small round table as a place to display my business cards and mailing list sign-up sheet. I used an empty basket (placed upside down) as a way to add height to my display. I even turned a picture frame into bulletin board to display my hoop art. Be creative (and save money in the process.)

This is a clothes rack that I repurposed as a wreath display.

 

5. Set Up Mock Display at Home

One valuable piece of advice that I heard during the School House Craft Conference was to set up a mock display of your booth at home.

Measure out the space you will be allotted and set up your tables, chair, lighting and other display items.
This will give you a great visual of how much items you can bring, where you will sit. You can also play with your display to see what goes best where.

This is one the very first mock displays I set up. I had a card table with a bedsheet on top. A vintage luggage table on top of that and thrifted bulletin board propped up on plate racks. If you compare this mock-up to the display at the show you can see it changed quite a bit. Feel free to play with your display until you’re happy.

This mock-up will help you plan your display and help you figure out what you need to bring. You can gauge if you need to make more items to fill a hole in your display or if you have to scale back to avoid looking cluttered. As a bonus, it also serves as a place to store your items as you make them. As you can see, my mock display went through several versions before I settled on one I liked best.

This is later version of my display set up in my living room. It’s a lot closer to my actual set up of the show. What is different? I added a 5-foot table. I added more items on display. I added lighting (two table lamps and several small battery-operated votive candles). I added a large display piece for my hoop art. I created price list/sign as well as smaller signs next to each collection of items. I added felt bunting.

 

6. Ask for Help

No lie. Craft shows are a lot of work. So ask for help early and often. For example, ask for help loading and unloading the car. Ask for help setting up your display. Ask your friends and family to visit you at the show. Or better yet, ask a crafty friend to sit with you during the show (a few hours or even the entire day). He or she may be curious about behind-the-scenes or want to shop the show.

Also, it helps to talk with other people who have already done shows. They will give you tips and reassure you that you can do it! I often looked at this Etsy Team’s Forum for encouragement and advice.

For my first ever craft show, I had the support of my husband (who helped me load my car the night before and unload the day of the show) and my oldest daughter who sat with me for the first 3 or 4 hours of the show (what a trooper!). On the second day, my friend Hannah kept me company the entire day, watched the booth during bathroom breaks and got us lunch and even got her friend to help us break down the booth and load up the car. She was a lifesaver!

So, yes, do ask for help. If you can’t find anyone to help, most shows have volunteers on hand who can help you unload or fill-in for you when you need to take a bathroom break or just want to stretch your legs.

Pretty Please Hoop Art by Catshy Crafts

 

7. Prepare for the Big Day (the night before)

To make your big day go smoothly, take time on the night before to have all your ducks in a row.
Print out the Vendor FAQ/Instructions from the craft show organizers.
Print out directions to the venue.
Pack your car the night before. Make sure everything will fit.
For a wonderful checklist on what to bring, go here.
Get enough sleep.
Take a deep breath. You’re almost there!

Notepad by 1canoe2

 

8. Be Friendly (during the show)

This is probably an obvious tip….But if you’re shy like me, this might be a tough one. Try to be super-friendly with everyone involved in the event. From the organizers to your booth neighbors to the volunteers and of course, the customers! Say hello to everyone who enters your booth. It’s a compliment to you that they are stopping to take a peek, so the least you can do is say hello.
Don’t forget to say Hello to your customers :)
For me, I tried to say at least a “Hello” with a friendly smile. If I was brave, a “how are you?” or “how is your day going?” was a good opening.
By no means, do you have to change your entire personality overnight, but at the same time you don’t want to offend anyone by not acknowledging someone when they enter your booth. Even a nod or a smile is enough. Again, this is probably a given for many, but for my shy ones out there, I know it can be difficult! But don’t feel bad if your neighbor happens to be a chatty one and you feel quiet in comparison. She is probably just being her natural self. And you should be too. But because you are there to make sales after all, push yourself a little outside of your comfort zone.
Banner Ad for the first craft show I ever did.

9. Reward Yourself (and all your Fabulous Helpers) After the Show is Over

After the last part of your booth is broken down and reloaded into your car, celebrate! Pat yourself on the back for a job well-done. You are no longer a craft show virgin! Yay! Celebrating your success is so important, especially after you’ve spent days, weeks, months planning for this event.

Better still, celebrate by treating your friends or loved ones who helped you at the show to a round of drinks  (or coffee or tea). Thank them for their help, their support and being there for you.

Celebrate your success!

10. Reflect

After the show is over (whether it be the next day or weeks after or both), take time to think about what you’ve accomplished. Reflect on all the work you put in and the great things that came about. Did you  meet new crafty friends? Did you get the positive feedback you were craving? Did you make a few sales? Did you accomplish one of your crafty dreams?

Write a blog post (like I did). Write in your journal. Share your experience on a forum. Tell a friend. It is a great way to look back and see what worked and what didn’t. So that the next time you sell at a craft fair, you’ll be ready!

Reflect on yourself  and see how much you’ve grown!

I hope you found this list of tips useful. If you have other tips to share, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you have to say!

***Bonus: Online Resources for Craft Fair Sellers

And as promised, here are a list of resources that I turned to during my months of craft show prep. There are so many helpful creative folks who have gone before you who want to share the secrets to their success.

 

Coming Up

In my next post in this mini-series on craft shows, I will share how I designed my craft display using vintage finds! Here’s a peek of what’s in store.

Hope you will join me! Until next time, happy crafting!