Brand your Craft

Why your Art Needs a Story

As an artist, making each piece by hand, do you worry about competing with knock-offs made by children in China? Even if your designs are trademarked and copyrighted,  you likely can’t afford the lost time or emotional reserves to fight these mass manufacturers.  I’ve watched it happen to so many artists and I know it’s a struggle to stay ahead of the copy-cats. So, what can you do about it? How can you differentiate your work from the inexpensive look-a-likes? Well, the best way I know is to make sure that shoppers know the difference so that they appreciate the value of your work and understand why it commands a higher price tag. Otherwise, they are not going to pay $279. for a piece that looks just like what they’ve seen in the Target or Walmart. And the one element that makes your work worth paying more for is the YOUness. If your work doesn’t have a story, your customer can’t understand the value and there is no way they are going to pay more for something that looks just like the cheaper one. Now, more than ever, your art needs a story.  Annette Simmons, author of The Story Factor,  said  “in today’s world almost anyone you want to influence is operating under a deficit of human attention.”  They are drowning in facts, information and  statistics. They need a story they can relate to.  Most people don’t remember facts and figures. They do remember stories. As an artist, you need a story too. If you’re showing your work at a juried craft show, chances are the attendees  understand the value of your work. In that case, just being personable and explaining a bit about your process, inspiration, etc will help reinforce the old know-like-trust factor. They’ll be loyal fans because they know your face and like you. However, if you exhibit at an un-juried show, it’s likely that some vendors have slipped imports into the mix and you’ll have to work harder to make sure the customers know you.. Knowing your “story”, where you came from and how you got where you are now, adds that human element and makes your work worth the higher price. If your art is represented in a gallery, you may Continue reading

6 Ways you can make your small business stand out from the crowd

It’s been a week since all the hype and hoopla over Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.  So how are you keeping your small business in the forefront of your ideal customer’s shopping psyche?

Discounting your products or services is not going to gain you loyal customers. Markdowns will simply put you in a space to compete with Big Box and you can’t do that. Why would you even want to? The elements that make your small business special have nothing to do with price and everything to do with creating an experience.

Even if you don’t have a brick and mortar business, you can create a unique shopping experience for your customers so that they keep returning and referring friends to your site. Let’s say, for example, you sell handmade candles, soap or jewelry online. You can stand out from big business in a number of ways.

  1. Offer the best darn customer service on the planet.
  2. Address the customer by name in all communications.
  3. Include a card with your bio, your story.
  4. Use packaging unique to your store.
  5. Include a poem, quote or inspirational message with each piece.
  6. Show your clients appreciation for their patronage with a brief handwritten thank you note.

What are you doing to make your own small business stand out from the crowd? What special experiences are you creating to keep your customers coming back? As always, you’re invited to share in the comments below.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make on your Etsy or other craft market site:

Are you hurting the sales of your crafts by trying to be a “Jack-of-all-styles.” The past few days I’ve been perusing Etsy sites and noticed that many crafts-sellers make everything from textiles to metal jewelry to pottery and it muddies up their image to have it all on one site. Sure, it’s fun to try out different mediums and techniques but you need to have a specific “look” that is YOU.  Yes, it’s important to have a variety of price-points but try to keep a unified image that “brands” you.

With something like a half million Etsy sellers (don’t quote me on that figure- I keep reading conflicting numbers) your work has to not only be beautiful, priced right and of superb quality, it has to be memorable. It has to stand out from the crowd. Your Etsy site has to have a distinctive image that shoppers connect with your name.

You don’t have to get boring and do the same thing over and over to keep a unified look. If, for example, you enjoy making jewelry out of found objects, make sure your site isn’t a mish-mosh of beautiful pieces. Find a common factor and tie your work together that way. You might make initial jewelry with old scrabble tiles, vintage type-writer keys and pieces of torn paper. The common factors will be recycled and monogrammed. Then to tie it all together, maybe photograph it all on the same type of paper with your logo.

Find your best selling style, and of course one you enjoy creating and do different versions of that but keep a similar look across your site that is YOU.

How are you creating a unified look on your Etsy or Artfire site that brands you and makes you stand out from the crowd?

5 Signs you are you courting the wrong clients

Do you feel like you spend so much time trying to grow your client list but you aren’t bringing in the revenue to show for all your efforts? You may be wasting a lot of energy courting the wrong customer.

Many fledgling entrepreneurs make the mistake of trying to make everyone their customer. Motivated to grow their business quickly, they fear turning any business away so are too general and don’t take the time to define and target their ideal customer.

I see this in every kind of business from coaching to retail to service. In fact, I just heard a story this morning about a young woman who in an attempt to build a Mary Kay business, held a party for all her friends, college students who are mostly on financial aid.  No one at the first party purchased except the host who received a huge discount. But the representative wanted to build her customer list so she asked each of the girls attending to host a party. The idea is for each of them to bring in other friends who will purchase and bring their friends who will refer their friends and become repeat customers. But, if none of them purchased at the first party and they each have a party to get the free hostess gifts she is going to waste more time and effort doing several more presentations to the same girls who will do nothing to grow her business. She’s wasting energy wooing the wrong client.

I saw this in my own businesses as well. Years ago I studied massage and wanted to grow a practice quickly so gave discount coupons to everyone I knew in hopes that some would become regular clients. Thinking I should practice all the different bodywork I had learned,  I would do whatever type of massage the client wanted. What I saw very quickly was that many of them enjoyed the massage but couldn’t afford weekly or even monthly bodywork. Then I sat down and wrote out criteria for my ideal client.  I decided to specialize in one modality and only target clients who could benefit from upper body, neck and shoulder work and who could afford to pay for the work regularly. Then I made a list of people I knew who either fit that profile or who were in a position to refer my target client. Rather than offer discount coupons, I gave this targeted group gift certificates for a free session. Instead of attracting clients who were only taking advantage of a free or discounted service, these were chiropractors, physicians and people with the means to pay and refer. By putting my time and effort into targeting a very specific profile rather than courting everyone,  I very quickly built up a thriving practice.

When I opened a gallery of contemporary american craft in a tourist town, I realized that the majority of people walking down the street patronized the shops that sold souvenirs and imported nicknacks. I quickly learned that only a small percentage of the visitors either valued or would pay for handmade items. I knew in order to make it, I would have to adjust my inventory to appeal to at least twenty percent of the foot traffic. I could have started carrying chinese knock-offs and thus brought in more customers but I had made a commitment to support American crafts people. Also, if I carried the same old trinkets everyone else did, I would appeal to a larger population but what would differentiate me from the other shops in town? So, I made the decision to stay focused on a specific client and added in some more affordable pieces that were still handmade and continued to target the customer who would refer and return. Yes, I missed eighty percent of the foot traffic but the twenty percent who I did reach were my ideal client and became loyal, long-term customers.

If you’re you working too hard to be everything to everyone and finding it frustrating and unprofitable, ask yourself the following questions about your client list:

Can most of them afford to pay you fairly for your product or service?

Do they come in regular contact, either in person or virtually, with others who are your ideal client?

Are they people you enjoy working with who will tell their friends or clients about you?

Will they become long-term repeat clients?

Are they likely to purchase other products or services you offer in the future?

If you answered no to any of the above questions, you are courting the wrong client. Stop and make a list of the qualities your ideal client possesses and then figure out how you can reach those people. If you stop trying to reach the eighty percent who won’t become long-term paying clients, you’ll find the twenty percent you do target will bring in the majority of your income.

Thinking about expanding your niche? Think twice!

Sometimes it’s tempting in a slower economy to try to be everything to everyone but it could be your demise. If you’ve been successful in a particular niche, you are likely thought of as the  expert in that specific area and that’s what attracts your customers or clients to you.

This was never more evident than yesterday when I visited a glass gallery that has for nearly thirty years been one of the premier glass art galleries in the country. They had a strong following both on and off line with great tremendous loyalty from both the customers and artists they represented.

The merchandising in the  gallery was exactly as it should be in a tourist area. A few items priced in the thousands were sold infrequently but necessary to draw attention. Serious collectors purchased the many medium priced items. Then there were lots of smaller, affordable pieces that were the galleries bread and butter. The gallery carried only handmade, American glass. Nothing else. They were THE go-to place for American glass art.

A couple of years ago, the gallery was purchased by a long time employee. She saw business slow as it had a number of times over the years as the economy dipped. The previous owners successfully rode out several economic slumps, probably selling more of the less pricey pieces and held in there until the next recovery. The new owner, however, has tried to compensate by stocking  wood, metal and other fine craft. (note: I will go into more depth in a future post about the mistakes new business owners often make when they purchase an existing business.)

In a village with numerous galleries featuring multi-media, the once renowned glass gallery now blends in with all the others. The gallery is obviously suffering slow sales and low cash flow. They built a reputation over many years as a specialty business with a very specific niche. Why would they want to blend in and become “generalists”?

In your own business, does fear of not having something for everyone tempt you to broaden your specialty and become more heterogenous? Are you tempted to diversify so that you appeal to a wider audience? If you want to grow your business, or compensate for sluggish sales, what can you do to maintain your own niche so that you are still known as the expert in your specific area? Can you provide other products or services to the same customer group? Wouldn’t you rather be known to have the best selection of products and services in your own specialty niche than have a little something for everyone? When you are tempted to diversify, be careful not to become too general because blending in can mean becoming invisible. If you’ve found a niche that works when times are good, stay true to it and things will be good again.