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Minerva Li
Member
Posts: 36

I thought this might be a useful post here since a lot of people seem to be starting up Steampunk themed handmade businesses. I've worked in the handmade market for a number of years now both as a designer and writer on the topic.  I just wanted to share some advice on how you can help your company along!


 

1) Pictures - The most important part of selling online is good pictures.  I lucked out early on in my workings because my boyfriend's mother is a professional product photographer.  She helped me get a good start.  Recently I've learned for myself some awesome tricks to make really good photographs:

   - Lighting.  My trick is to use a lamp with the shade removed.  On it's on the light is usually too harsh so I create a filter by hanging a sheet of white broadcloth from the wall or ceiling between the lamp and my work.  That way i can still move the lamp around for different lighting angles but the light will still be filtered enough.  You may need to use more than one lamp or even the light from a sunny window until you find that right lighting. The draped sheet also works great for a plain contrast background!

   - Close ups - For jewelry I suggest using the Macro setting on your camera (It usually looks like a flower symbol) and no flash.  Once you manage to get the lighting set up right for it it will take beautiful detail shots of close ups.

   - Set up.  DO NOT USE YOUR BED.  I've seen lots of pictures where someone's made a beautiful dress or outfit and then laid it down flat on the bedspread for pictures.  It's a very unflattering look for the outfit and the print/wrinkles/details of the bedspread will distract from the outfit.  Instead, use a dress form, model or mannequin.  Clothes just don't look as nice laying down.  For jewelry and accessories try props like a solid colour book, draped over a wine glass, etc.  But still, try to avoid making the picture too busy.

   

 

2) Store location - I fully understand the allure of using a free hosting service like lycos or geocities.  However, most people when their shopping don't check out those kinds of sites.  Why?  Because they do have the stigma of being unprofessional.  You need to think like a consumer.  Would you buy products from a shop that didn't even pay for it's webspace?  And most of them have annoying pop ups.  If you're looking for a cheap alternative and you make handmade products try out companies like Zibbet, Artfire and Etsy.  They're very affordable and you'll appeal to a greater market.  Also, I always suggest buying the domain name for your company once you're really keen on making it a company.  You don't have to build a website to use it but most domain providers are willing to redirect the traffic to your etsy, zibbet or artfire page.  Makes for a very professional look and you can usually get a good domain provider for $20 a year.


 

3)  Look professional - If you're serious about having your own design company or clothing label you need to convince people to take you seriously.  What sets you apart from ever other teenage girl with a sewing machine today?  Business cards are good for promoting yourself and making yourself look legit.  Shop around locally for a good printshop.  I know there's a lot of "Free business card" promos online but in my experience a lot of them have been really, really unreliable.  Signage at booths and fairs is also important.  A piece of paper with your name sharpied on it won't cut it.  Take some time and effort into building a brand, image and style for your company if you don't want to be lumped in with Misc arts and crafts hobbyists.


 

4)  Promote - So you've got a website and you told some of your friends.  That's not going to pay the bills.  Always keep promoting yourself.  Hand out business cards, flyers, post posters take advantage of cheap advertising sources like Project Wonderful.  If people can't hear of you, they can't buy from you.


 

5) THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT OF ALL - Make A Business Plan!!!!

    It seems silly to a lot of people.  After all "I'm just making dresses/necklaces/spoons on spec and selling them." right?  If you actually want to make money, build a label and get paid you need to build a business plan.  Most business fail within the first couple years of launching, because they didn't plan enough to see what was coming and wound up bleeding money the whole way.  There are many business plan templates and guides on the net to help you.  It will take a lot of time but it's soooo worth it in the end.  Even if you're just making earrings or soap a good business plan will help you see where your prices need to be, what your costs/risks/expenses are and a lot of stuff you never thought of will come up in the process that will save you a lot of stress in the future.  They may seem intense but it's the responsible and smart thing to do.


 

6)  Get out there - Shows, events, galas, etc.  If you can find a place to merchant, do it.  I've found craft shows don't bring in much revenue because everyone there is a competing handmade artist.  So instead I focus on events like cons, historical re-enacment gatherings, gift shows, etc.  Even if you don't make a tonne of sales, you can hand out promo materials and get your name out there.

 


--

The Renfield Trading Company - Serving the Undead Since 2010.  http://www.TheRenfieldTradingCompany.com


http://www.GothicBeauty.com

http://www.DressUpandDuel.com

November 21, 2010 at 3:37 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Stuart
Member
Posts: 185

just a note, there are free hosting providers that provide lots of nice features like php databases, ecommerce solutions, and more discreet advertising on page than lycos or geocities or any of those.  I've had to use a few for various student groups and such that I've worked with or been a member of.

November 21, 2010 at 3:41 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Isabel
Member
Posts: 51

Selling your creations and becomming self-employed [part time or full time] is more than just a business plan and standing behind a table at a show.  You need to be aware of the laws pertaining to your product and where your make it and what it is made of. So not to fall afoul of the law [ignorance is no excuse] check out the government federal and provincial and municiple sites geared to self-employment/cottage industry.  Really root around the sites for links to start up funding and grants. My daughter started her own jewelry business [now rolled into the family business Balmy Attic Arts] under a government program that fully funded her called the Summer Company. No matter if you rent or own contact your insurance agent about what you are doing. None disclosure of self-employment or a small business being run out of your dwelling can make your insurance null and void, not a nice thing as insurance is a mortgage requirement.

No intention at all in turning anyone off from selling their creations rather sharing some of the lumps and bumps I found along the way.

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November 23, 2010 at 1:14 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Minerva Li
Member
Posts: 36

I agree Isabel!  But if you do an in depth business plan, that should be one of the things you do as part of it.  You should have a whole section of legal dealings in a business plan so you know you're covered.  Even if you're just doing something small or part time, small business insurance for the liability coverage alone is a great thing to have!

--

The Renfield Trading Company - Serving the Undead Since 2010.  http://www.TheRenfieldTradingCompany.com


http://www.GothicBeauty.com

http://www.DressUpandDuel.com

November 23, 2010 at 11:02 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Isabel
Member
Posts: 51

Minerva Li, you make all truly valid points.

  In my experience  though organizing cons, shows and farmers' markets many starting out vendors do not understand that being self employed or trying to make a hobby into a paying hobby is being in business.  As a result the business plan is not done in depth but more of a profit over cost of material view on sales. I tend to stress the find out if it is allowed part first before getting your hopes up that you can make candles in your condo. For those that don't use the web there are plenty of books in the library that will walk you through starting to sell your own work.

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November 24, 2010 at 1:06 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Minerva Li
Member
Posts: 36

Oh I totally understand that "method" isabel.  I've seen so many new businesses fail because they don't think they're big enough to be considered a business so they don't bother with acting like one and then I've seen a lot of people go with with "My sale price is higher than materials cost so it's all good!".  They fail to charge a reasonable recovery cost for their materials and they don't charge for their labour.  Not only does this mean they're going to bleed money, they're doing serious damage to the market to the people who do it for a living because customer's see a $100 item in shop A being sold for $20 and then go to shop B and starting freaking out when they're actually charging $100 for it. 

--

The Renfield Trading Company - Serving the Undead Since 2010.  http://www.TheRenfieldTradingCompany.com


http://www.GothicBeauty.com

http://www.DressUpandDuel.com

November 25, 2010 at 7:51 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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