Monday, February 27, 2012

Launching a Handmade Business & Product Photography

Today I want to talk about the nuts and bolts of launching a handmade business. The resources out there are many, but I've been fielding quite a few questions lately, so I thought I'd do a general post here, along with posting links to recommended reading.

If you have a product or business idea, and you've made your first few ready-to-sell items, here's the quick and dirty of what I think you need to get going on Etsy and beyond.

Presenting Your Products

Put genuine time and effort into establishing good descriptive copy and good photos. If you're like me, the first time you photograph your work and look at the photo on your computer, you'll be sorely disappointed at how poorly the image was captured. It's not cheating to tweak your photos until you have an image that looks most like what you see when you have the item in front of you.

On the other hand, if you make it look better than it actually is, the customer will leave bad feedback or even demand a refund. Keep in mind that while you want to make the sale, you still want to represent what you're actually selling.

Writing the description can be challenging too, but try to cover what inspired you to make it, how you made it, what materials you used, and (this can be really tricky - even risky) you might opt to describe the type of person you envision using or wearing it. Alternately, after you've described what you made, you can tell a story about it. Be quirky - even eccentric. It can become part of the charm of your brand.

If possible, establish designs you can duplicate. At SleeplessStoryteller, one of my biggest challenges is that I have to re-take photos and write new descriptions every time I sell a piece, because they're all one-of-a-kind. For Beyond Junk, that's often the case too when I've got some really cool, but totally unique supplies.

Retail & Market Sales

Start in your home town, with stores you see your products fitting in at. This is probably the hardest step for most naturally introverted creatives. Personally, I think it's okay to be shy and introduce yourself via email. That's what I do.

Look for local fairs, festivals and markets you can participate in. Once you develop an online presence, you may be surprised to have festival organizers and boutique owners contacting you. It's a nice change of pace, but it won't happen until you establish your brand and your web sites.

Have you already decided that you only want to sell online, only through one channel (like Etsy or eBay), and have minimal contact with your customers and crafty peers? Re-read that sentence and you'll get a sense of how much you'll limit your income and growth potential by choosing that route. It's challenging and labour-intensive to go offline, but if you're looking for full-time income, it may be necessary.

Pricing, Packaging & Shipping

Setting a price for your work is difficult, but you'll be able to get a sense for what similar items go for by searching online, specifically on Etsy and eBay. Also factor in your expenses for materials and give yourself a wage for labour. Your time and work have value!

I would also suggest considering your price point in relation to the shipping you'll need to charge. Do you make dining room tables from recycled pallets? You'll need to charge significant shipping to make sure you're not losing all your profit to absorbing shipping charges. Does the end price still seem like a reasonable cost for the customer?

On the one hand, you need to receive the remuneration that's fair for what you've made. But keep in mind, your customers will usually consider the shipping as part of their final price. If they're shopping locally and online, your table is competing against one they can go pick up today without paying shipping for.

If at all possible, consider creating a two-pronged strategy of selling large, heavy, or elaborate items locally, while focusing on smaller, lightweight items online. In the case of the same dining tables as above, the artist could be marketing furniture and accessories with the same blog, selling coasters and napkin holders on Etsy and tables at her local indie retailers.

Better Businesspeople Than Me

Finally, as promised, here are my go-to blogs for handmade business advice:

No matter what marketing and production decisions you make for your brand, it has to fit with your personality and lifestyle. Strategies that you won't follow through on - or that don't produce the results you feel are worthwhile - are not worth forcing yourself to continue over the very long term.

Some examples are: tweeting, updating Facebook, buying banner ads online, buying print ads, engaging customers individually, engaging peer artists individually, blogging (ha ha) and any other action you take, in person or online, that you hope will generate traffic, attention, or awareness for what you do.

The great thing about running your own shop is that you're the boss. When something isn't working, stop doing it. When something works well, do as much of it as you like. That's the best part of what we do and why we're willing to work so hard to stay self-employed.