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Friday, September 25, 2009

The Business of Being an Indie Handmade Artisan


One of my most favorite things about being part of the independent handmade artisan community is the collaborative nature of all involved. I have received advice from so many people within this vast community who love, support, and honor the handmade movement within the country and the world.

When it came to learning how to market my business and attempt to gain an online presence, there was a vast amount of resources available to me! They are proving to be invaluable as I come up on my second year selling my handcrafted jewelry online. Since this is an industry that is all about paying it forward...I thought I'd talk about some online marketing tips I've learned along the way and point you in the direction of some really fabulous resources. If you have this information may know someone who needs it!

Just wanted to take the time to note that before I began establishing an online presence, I spent a good deal of time honing my craft, developing my style, and trying, through various methods such as open houses and small craft shows, to get a clear picture in my mind who my customer really was.

My sister Pat bought me this neat marketing book, "Marketing and Selling Your Handmade Jewelry" by Viki Lareau and one of the exercises she gave in this awesome book was a checklist or series of questions to ask yourself to help you create a customer profile:
  • How old is he/she?
  • Is he/she conservative or free-spirited?
  • How much money does he/she spend on him/herself?
  • What's his/her style--traditional, punk, earthy, elegant?
  • Is he/she a stay-at-home person or does he/she work outside the home?
  • How often and how much does he/she dress up?
  • What does he/she do for fun?
  • Does he/she belong to clubs or organizations?
  • Where does he/she like to shop?
  • Where does he/she go on vacation?
And so on....

Having a clear picture of your customer will help tremendously with all your marketing efforts!

Selling Venues

From what I've seen, most online indie handmade sellers have some combination of a website, blog, and at least one online selling site (i.e. Etsy, Artfire, etc.). I know in my case, since resources were rather scarce during this first year, I set up this blog, and I was set up a shop on Etsy. Now for me personally, as I sit down to write my strategic objectives for the upcoming year (I'm an MBA so I can't help it!), a complete shop and blog overhaul is in my plan but that is my personal choice and is in keeping with the direction I ultimately want to go. Many artists have great success using the selling communities available to them and then perhaps having a blog to tie it all in.

Information and resources available regarding developing a website should really be its own post; so for now I will give you a list of resources for online selling venues gathered from many different articles, blogs, and online communities. The list is by no means complete nor is it in any special order of importance but it may point you in the direction of getting your pieces listed and seen. So here goes:

  • Etsy--more than just a place to shop; There are forums and learning labs. There are chat rooms and news articles. I learn something new about this site every time I log on! There is no upfront cost to set up your selling site but each item listed costs 20 cents for four months. If you make a sale, Etsy charges a 3.5% sales fee. It's very easy to set up your shop and there are guides and tutorials for every step of the way. One of my favorite features is the Etsy mini that you can post to your website, blog or social networking page. I also like they way Etsy guides you through the setup of Google Analytics so that you can track who has visited your Etsy shop by location, referral source, and customizable settings.
  • Artfire--another great selling site! There is a free basic account where you can sell 12 items at a time. There are no selling fees nor commissions for the free account. However, for $12 per month, you get some really exciting features such as the Kiosk that launches to your Facebook page as well as many other robust features. The free account is a great way to begin and then as you begin to gain selling success you can move to a paid studio space. That's where you will be able to take advantage of full community interaction as well as a wealth of features that comes with a full-featured Verified account.
  • ShopHandmade--this online selling site for handmade items and supplies combines it's love for handcrafted items and its love for the environment to provide a site where artisans can sell their items and recycle their unused supplies. There is also the option when setting up an item to be sold that part of the proceeds can be donated to environmental causes! There are no intial setup fees to open a shop and each item listed costs the seller 25 cents. Additionally, they have sponsors who will pay for all or part of the listing fees so that sellers can minimize the cost and risk of opening up a shop. The feature I like the most about this site is that setting items for sale is very easy and you can also be included in ShopHandmade's sales and they do the promotion for you.
  • Bonanzle--this site is marketing itself as an alternative to buying and selling on eBay. There's a little bit of everything here to buy and sell but there's a good deal of handmade items represented. There are no fees to list items in your Bonanzle booth and there are monthly virtual garage sales called "Bonanzas" where you can hold a super sale and Bonanzle will drive traffic to your booth. Selling fees are calculated using a formula and is based on what they call Final Offer Value (FOV) which includes shipping. To give you an idea if you sell an item with an FOV of less than $50 your fee would be $1. One of my favorite features is they give you the ability to tie you shop feed into Google Product Search for massive exposure!
  • UsTrendy--Unlike traditional web companies or existing social networks UsTrendy physically produces products submitted online as well as hosts physical events. Unlike traditional fashion companies - fashion designers submit the designs and then the people's voice determines each season's collection. Designers create a profile of their work. People rate the designs and the highest rated designs are chosen for production. There are no fees to upload your work and you are given a site that contains a portfolio, a blog, a calendar, and an UsTrendy store. If you rate the designs you receive Trendy Points which ultimately can result in prizes. It's a great opportunity to showcase your work in a very different environment.
  • 1000 Markets--their mission is to support small artisan businesses. I originally heard of them through Try Handmade who has a special shop on 1000 Markets. Setup of the shop is free and when an item is sold, 1000 Markets takes 5.5% of the sale plus 50 cents. There is a beautiful look to this marketplace--very sleek and uncluttered--in my humble opinion!
  • iCraft--based out of Toronto, Canada, this selling site connects artists, designers and craftspeople to those who appreciate their work. All creators of unique, one-of-a-kind items, can take advantage of the powerful marketing services offered. They do not charge a commission on sales. There is a one-time registration fee of $25.00 The first five items listed are free and then there are three different packages available: Starter, Professional, and Elite; all with different pricing structures. Their forums are awesome! I have gotten a great deal of information from them!
  • Zibbet-- a global marketplace, connecting buyers and sellers of Handmade Goods, Fine Art, Vintage Items and Crafting Supplies. There are two types of accounts: Basic which you can list up to 25 item for free and Premium which is $7 per month (limited number of accounts available at this price) and has additional features such as the ability to add Custom Widgets to Shop (Blog, Twitter, Etsy mini). It's free to list on Zibbet and there are no commissions for either level of account.
  • Fuzzb--there are numerous types of shops you can open here. The basic shop is sort of to give it a test drive; you can sell up to ten items for free. Then there are progressively more robust types of shops at $5, $7, $10 per month. The higher priced Gateway shops allow you to import all your selling sites such as Etsy, ArtFire, and Ebay, import their widgets, Rapid Carts and more to your Fuzzb Gateway and cross promote and sell right from you FuzzB Studio. There is also a community space to connect with other artisans.
  • Rubylane--there is a one time $75 Setup Fee per shop which is refunded if your shop is not approved. The first 150 items are 30 cents per item; 151--1000 is 20 cents per item. Over 1000 is 1 cent per item. There is a $20 per month advertising fee for each shop. Advertising dollars go towards making the following ongoing marketing vehicles possible, which are designed to promote Ruby Lane and its individual shops, whether exclusive or not. These advertising funds pay for all or part of these, making the price reasonable for shops who choose to purchase them: (1)Regular full page ads in Maine Antique Digest and Antique Week, (2) Regular participatory ads in Maine Antique Digest, AntiqueWeek and American Style (3) Major magazine full or third page ads in Martha Stewart Living, InStyle Home, Country Living Collector, Country Living Magazine, Country Living Holiday, (4) The purchase of Google Adwords based on owners' suggestions from searches, (5) Ruby Lane promotional items such as customized flyers and mailing labels, postcards, window stickers, magnets, pens and more, (6) The Ruby Lane Co-op Reimbursement Program where we reimburse 40% of individual shop ads, (7) Ruby Lane Business Cards customized with your individual name and contact information, (8) Retaining a professional public relations firm on an ongoing basis to increase exposure of Ruby Lane and its shops in media.
As I said above, this list is by no means complete. Here are some links for additional sites to explore: eBay, ecrater, Bigcartel, ImageKind, Shopify, eBid, HyenaCart, Twolia, Yessy, Dawanda, SupermarketHQ, Elsewares, SilkFair, Folksy, MadeItMyself, Trunkt, Erayo, Lollishops, SmashingDarling, Lov.Li, Mintd, WinkElf, Artsefest, Coriandr, Misi,

Just remember to keep in mind when choosing online venue(s) to market you work that it is important to have a clear picture of your own personal style as well as a clear picture of who your customer is. Then thoroughly explore each of these sites; asking yourself the question, "does this site market to my customer?". Then you can make a solid decision whether or not the site is right for you. Have fun!

My next posts will be a series of ways to promote your online shop...stay tuned!

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    I am an MBA Jewelry Artisan and owner of Zur Designs.  I create handcrafted jewelry using only the highest quality materials such as sterling silver,semi-precious gemstones, swarovski crystals, and pearls.

    My designs are inspired by life, love, and the beauty that surrounds me from the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts to the wonderful beaches in Rhode Island...both I consider my home.