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Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Facebook Business Page will Increase your Customer Base but First it Might Drive you Crazy!

It is time to add something else to your To Do List.  I know, I know...you are already on overload and one more thing will push you over the edge....but you still have to do it!  Facebook has revolutionized low cost marketing for the small business owner.  Although a Facebook Business page is one of the most important tools in the marketing arsenal, many Crafty Retailers are reluctant to jump on the bandwagon.  Ignoring Facebook is not going to make it go away.  Nope, ignoring it may just help your business go away!  Don't be hatin' on the messenger...it is what it is...so you might as well deal with it.

845 million users are spending an average of 55 minutes PER DAY on Facebook.  57% of Facebook users are female.  Most of YOUR customers are female.  Ergo, most of your customers are probably on Facebook.  Here are some other things to consider:

1.  Facebook provides a FREE opportunity to engage your customers on a personal level.  You are working with a very targeted audience that already likes you so give them a reason to remember that you are there.  You can  learn a great deal about your customers by paying attention to which posts grab their interest, what they are commenting on, etc.

2.  Every time that somebody "likes" your business page, a notification appears as a post on that person's personal page.  Each of her friends will read that she "likes" your business.  They will automatically tend to Know, Like, and Trust you even if they have never done business with you before.  They will be curious as to why their friend "likes" you and with humans being the funny creatures that humans are, they will want in on the action and check you out.  ....and so on and so on.  This is what is meant by "going viral" and it really works.

3.  Search Engines like activity.  They pay attention to the traffic that you are getting on your links and posts. Accordingly, your search engine rankings will improve as you become more adept at social media marketing.

Even though you know you should get on the bandwagon, I can hear many of you groaning.  Resistance is futile, earthling.  Here are some common objections and the logic that destroys them:


 "I already have a personal Facebook page, so I don't need a business Facebook page."
Sometimes, silence is the best option!
WRONG!  You definitely need to separate your personal life from your business life.  My personal page is for people who really have an interest in what is going on in my life, and my business page is for people who have an interest in Swarovski Crystal, Fibers, and booking me for Fun and Exciting Felting Workshops.  Of course, any Crafty Retailer worth her salt will engage her clientele so effectively that they will become "friends" in life and on Facebook.  Since there is opportunity for crossover,  I have become fairly careful not to post anything on my personal page that could come back to bite me in the ass  unduly offend anyone.  The times being what they are, and my politics being what they are, this has been a bit of a challenge for me.  Frankly,  it has taken great self control to keep my itchy fingers away from the keyboard when faced with some particularly offensive something or other, but it is important to exercise restraint. Do not assume that people share your views.    I have fallen off the Publicly Politically Neutral Wagon before, and have lost a customer or two along the way.  Sometimes the words must be spoken, but the speech comes with a consequence.  

On another note, I  try not to upload the same post on both pages as the news will be repetitive ---and therefore BORING--- to anyone who is a fan of my business page AND a friend on my personal page. I want people to be willing to engage in both pages so I try to be the perfect hostess on each.

"My life is boring!  No one needs to hear about what I ate for lunch!"

Every life is interesting, it just depends upon where you look. The food you ate for lunch would not be the place to look for an inspiring business post, unless you happen to be dining with the Travel Channel's Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Food.  A photo of you eating a worm would make for a good post, while a photo of you eating a baloney sandwich....not so much.  Of course, if you want to post a picture of a beautiful meal that you were just served at a new  restaurant in your area, rave on.  It is always nice to give another small business a boost.

The posts that get the most feedback for me are those that feature pictures of my work,free  tutorials, or my pets.  One of my most "commented on" posts was nothing more than a photo of my hand next to a HUGE lemon from my yard.  It was so bizarre that it evoked interest.


This silly picture of my dog, Beamer, was on my personal page, but garnered responses from just as many of my business acquaintance buddies who have "friended" me as from my  "real life" friends.  Pets are always a safe bet for a post, provided the photos are funny or heavy on the "Awwwww" factor.

This photo of a ginormous Ponderosa Lemon from a tree in my yard was a very popular post on my business Facebook page.  It was just odd/unusual enough to garner attention. (The lemon weighed over 2 pounds!  Yowza!)    

 Life is bizarre.  Life is glorious.  Life is poignant.  Draw on those moments and your posts will be interesting!


"I don't have the time!"   
You are preaching to the choir on this one, sister!  Time is ALWAYS the challenge, but the payoff  is big enough that you should absolutely, positively, no matter what...MAKE the time.   It is like everything else, you must make it a priority for it to happen.  Don't assume that you will "get to it."  There is always a squeaky wheel that will steal your time.  It is kind of like cleaning the baseboards.  I swear that I am gonna do it....but I don't.  Fortunately, I can still function at a high level with dirty baseboards.  Your business WILL NOT function at a high level without social media.  Set aside an hour twice a week that will be devoted to Facebook.

"I cannot  build my fan base so I am not seeing any results."
This was a tough one for me until I finally cracked the code.  Mind you, it was not a difficult code to crack once I tried to figure it out.  Facebook is like anything else....there is a learning curve.  What seems impossible at first will soon be second nature.  Here are some relatively painless ways to increase your "Likes":

1.  Invite your friends.  There is an Admin Section at the top of the page.  Click it and you will see your administrative dashboard.  There is a Tab at the top right of the page called "Build Audience."  The drop down bar offers a number of ways to increase your fan base.  

I periodically "invite friends" which results in sending a message to those friends who have not yet "Liked" my business page.  There is an option to Share your Page and an option to Invite Email Contacts, which I have not yet explored.    The new baby goats have been taking up a whole lot of my spare moments.    I will need to schedule some learning curve time in between bottle feedings!

2.  Create an Ad.  Facebook Ads are WONDERFUL!  My business page is part of a new branding program as I promote my workshops and pursue teaching opportunities.  The page was created in July 2011 and by mid January 2012, had only 123 fans, most of whom were Pity Likes from those who love me....very frustrating!  Accordingly,   I was delighted to have a chance to pick the brain of Paula Rosenberg, a Crafty Retail Rock Star and Marketing Genius while in Columbus, Georgia for a family visit.  Paula told me that it was all about Facebook Ads and she was absolutely correct.  I spent a pittance and immediately saw results.  In two short months I went from 123 to 749 fans....not as many as I hope to get, but better than a poke in the eye!  In addition to the increased fan base, I am filling more workshops, which is gratifying.  The cool thing about the ads is that you are able to drill down to define your ideal customer so that you have a highly targeted ad campaign.  
 
Business Facebook pages are effective and easy, once you master the mechanics.  Here are a few other things to consider:

1.  The new Facebook Timeline will become mandatory at the end of the month.   Thank you to Crafty Retail Rock Star Carol Garfield for giving me the push I needed to get on the Timeline bandwagon.  I was just understanding the whole Facebook thing and was none to pleased to see that I would have to learn the new system.  Fortunately, I read a post Carol  had written about attending a Timeline Webinar so that she could learn the ins and outs.  BINGO!  I did a quick Google search and found lots of online tutorials to cut my learning curve in half.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel...you can watch it yourself HERE.  

2.  Beware of which pages YOU choose to "Like."   One of the ways that Facebook Ads are effective is that when an ad appears on a page, it will list the names of YOUR friends who have "Liked" the page in an effort to get you on the Liking Bandwagon.  This is all well and good if the page is relatively innocuous.  However, you might want to think twice about Liking a Vendor's Facebook page unless you want that Vendor's name to be visible on the Facebook pages of your customers.   Moreover, there are some Likes that just don't need to be all that public....after all, Preparation H has a Facebook page but that doesn't mean you have to Like it! 

3.Go through your Customer List and search for them on Facebook.  If you don't know them well enough to outright "Friend" them, you can send them a message asking them to Like you site.  Offer an incentive such as a free gift or a coupon for a percentage off the next sale.  Ideally, you will establish enough of a connection to "Friend"them at some point, providing a wonderful opportunity to engage them on a more personal level.  You can congratulate a customer on the birth of a new grandchild that you might never have heard about otherwise, simply because you saw pictures of the baby on her Facebook page.  It is a quick and painless way to learn about your customer base.

4.  Use your Facebook page to announce last minute sales and special events.  One post I saw recently touted a "Rainy Day Discount" in an effort to get customers to brave the bad weather.  You want your posts to have value so that your audience will come back for more.  If you find a great free tutorial on another site, post the link.  If you cooked a delicious meal last night, share the recipe.  Write the stuff that you would like to read.

5.  Join some of  the Facebook Crafting Groups that have sprung up.  These groups are a valuable resource for you!  You will learn what the craft world is excited about and what your customers will likely want to find on the sales floor.  A great wool group can be found here, a fiber group here and a nice group of beaders can be found over here.  Craft magazine pages are another goldmine of inspiration...one of my favorites is the Bead Design Studio page.

6.  Facebook provides the ability for you to assign your friends to different lists, which makes Facebook Life much more manageable.  I press the link for my Beady Friends and I catch up on all that sparkles.  I press the link for my Tampa Friends and I get the local news.  Easy Peasy.

7.  Spread the love.  Spend some time commenting on the posts of others.  Visit relevant pages and engage in dialogue where possible.  You will increase the Facebook presence --and SEO ranking---of that user's page.  She will likely return the favor by posting on your page.  Moreover, when you post something interesting on another page, you will attract attention from that user's group of friends.  They will click onto your page, become captivated by your wit, and decide to be a Fan....BINGO!  Yup, Facebook Business Pages are a boon to the small business owner.   The juice is definitely worth the squeeze. Now go and Like my page....and I will be sure to Like yours, too!



Friday, February 17, 2012

You Better "Get Social" if you want your Crafty Business to Thrive!

True confessions....
I built my business by spamming.  I know, I know!  It wasn't nice and I ain't real proud, but it was what it was.... There was a time when I was that person.  In fairness, my spamming occurred early in the internet explosion and people weren't quite as repulsed by it as they are today.  There was no money in the budget for a salary, let alone a marketing plan, so I had to figure out a way to get the word out.  I spent hours and hours surfing the web trying to find bead store websites, copied down  store email addresses from the advertising section of the bead magazines, collected business cards from every store I visited, and carefully added all of the information to a primitive Excel database.  I prepared a weekly email newsletter and held my breath before I hit "send," praying that no one would hate me or report me to the Internet Police.

It worked!


Although my initial email was definitely Spam,  it turned out that the folks I had targeted were generally amenable to receiving my emails.  My unsubscribe rate was very low because I offered a product that bead store owners were having a hard time finding, I sold it at an "easy to swallow" price point in "easy to buy" quantities, and always included beautiful color photos.   My marketing emails solved a problem for retailers because they took the thinking out of the ordering and busy bead shop owners appreciated it.  I was amazed by how well the formula worked---it seemed like magic.  Mind you, although I got the marketing part down, I was sorely remiss when it came to the process oriented side of the business.  You know...the stuff like accounting and recording keeping.

I learned a valuable lesson in those early years....one does NOT need big money to get big marketing results!  Nope, discipline and elbow grease will get the job done.  It was true in 2002 and it is even more accurate in 2012.  Social media is an amazing resource for today's Crafty Retailer.  I recently changed my business model in an effort to beat my life into submission.  It is an exciting, rewarding change that makes me much happier personally.  However, the change came with a need to totally update my branding, my marketing, and my website. 

Sigh.

I am not a computer geek.  I am not a graphics person.  I do not have a clue about how to work with layers in photo editing software.  I am a middle aged woman with a small business to run.  Like you, I have a family, pets, outside interests and the drama and minutia that go along with all of it.   It is just me, by my lonesome.  Yep, I am the one juggling it all...the website, the social media, the creating, the selling.   I bet you recognize yourself!  I do not have a marketing budget but I have passion and I  have gumption.  If I can do it, you can do it.

Your customer shares your passion for creating...leverage that interest through the use of emails, your website, your blog, TwitterFacebook Business Pages and Pinterest, just to name a few.  Of course, it takes some time but it is worth it!  A successful business owner can no longer rely on a website alone.  The new reality is that social media works best when it works together.  It is not enough to have a beautiful website if you fail to reach out via several of the other mediums as well.  They all work together to get the word out about you and your business. 

I resisted creating a Business Facebook Page, but when my business model changed late last year, I committed to a low cost marketing regimen that incorporated a website, a blog, Facebook, and --on a much more limited level---Twitter.   Admittedly, I spend a whole lot of time on Social Media.  A blog can take me anywhere from 2 to 6 hours to write and I maintain two of them.  Additionally, I spend about an hour each day focused on the other aspects of Social Media.  Although I try to blog weekly, I fell off the wagon over the holidays and only recently climbed back in the saddle.  It will take me a month or two to build up my audience to the point where it was before my absence, but it will happen if I continue to blog regularly.  I have Pinterest on my radar...my teenage daughter is a fan and my customers are all over it, so I am behind the curve on that one.  80% of the users are female...it is like an Internet Scrapbook and I see all sorts of marketing potential.  So much to do, so little time...but I will get there....

Many Crafty Retailers are overwhelmed by the thought of an integrated social media campaign.  Don't be!  Over the next few weeks I am going to be sharing how I market my crafty endeavors.  I will tell you about how I am managing...slowly and in between everything else I have going on in my life...to get the job done.
 
I recently taught a marketing seminar for Swarovski and  I checked out the web presence of all of the participants prior to the workshop.  The ladies in attendance were incredible...a very talented group energized by the possibility of turning a passion for jewelry into a business.  It was exciting to see!  One of the attendees has a killer website.    No faint praise here...her graphics are crisp, the verbiage is pithy, the photos are artful and professional.  She takes care of the site herself , from the photos to the product updates.  There is absolutely nothing about the website that I would change---it is perfect.  Gulp. I was the one at the podium talking about marketing so I was a bit embarrassed to share my own  homemade, kind of dorky, Urban Stitch Studio site.  Interestingly, my Plain Jane site has a much higher Alexa ranking than the beautifully appointed one.  It didn't make sense to me until I realized that the owner of that site did not yet participate in Social Media. 


Helpful Tip!
Not familiar with Alexa?   It is a wonderful site that computes traffic rankings on all of the websites floating throughout cyber space.  The lower the Alexa Ranking, the more popular and visible the website.   Once you install the toolbar, you will be able to see the ranking of every single site that you visit.  Google is #1 and Facebook is #2.  It is a fun and informative tool for your marketing toolbox.  Take a minute to install the Alexa Toolbar


Take a look at my Urban Stitch Studio home page. I told you it was simple!  It is an average site with no bells and whistles, but it works for me. I can maintain it without killing myself.  Some pages are still under construction, but I try to work on it  for an hour or so several times a week.  It has a shopping cart and runs me about $35 per month.  Quite a contrast from my first website, which cost $26,000!   I had to pay the developer hundreds of dollars every single time I wanted to add a five cent bead to the page!  Never again will I give away that sort of control.  Simple works for me.

My Alexa Rank is circled in red on the Alexa Tool Bar at the top of the page. I will notice a change in my ranking if I fail to make frequent changes to my website.  Google and other search engines like to see that there is activity on your site, so it should not remain stagnant.  I also notice a decrease in my Alexa ranking if I have slacked off on my social media marketing efforts. You can't fool Google. 

Notice that my Urban Stitch Studio Blog is linked on the front page.  I will soon be adding a link for this blog, as well.  My goal is to enable people to find me everywhere I am in cyberspace, as easily as possible.  The more people that click on my links, the more visible I become to Mama Google.

I also include a Link for  Tutorials.  In fact, I will soon be adding the word "Free" to the link because I find that  the phrase "free tutorials" is a popular Google search term.  I want to take advantage of likely search terms to help folks find me.  The tutorials drive traffic to my site and sometimes the "traffic" morphs into a customer, which is all part of my evil plan. 

Finally, I recently added a "Google +" button to the top of the page.  The idea is that if crafters come to the site and like it, they will click Google +  and the site will, through the magic of Google, be recommended to their friends.  I have not done much research into this, but a tech savvy friend told me to do it, so I did.  I have yet to see a direct benefit, but I am watching.  If you happen to be perusing my site, do a gal a favor and press the link!


My next Post will focus on using Facebook Business Pages to connect with your customers...Business Pages ROCK!!!!! 

In the Studio:
I finally finished a pillow that I had hoped to have completed by Christmas 2011.  It didn't happen, but I was determined to get it done so that I could cross it off my To Do list at last!  I used up all of the random poinsettias I had felted for various workshops last Fall, re-purposed an old sweater for the pot, and used Tahki Stacy Charles Cotton Classic for the trim. I enjoyed it for an hour before tucking it away until next December!
 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Encourage Crafty Community to Build a Loyal Retail Following

Every Tuesday I host an Open Studio from 10 - 2.  The second Wednesday night of the month is reserved for a specific fiber project that never costs more than $15.   Fiber minded women settle in to chat and craft together.  The youngest is 28 and the oldest is well into her sixties.  We eat and we crochet...or knit...or embroider...or even felt.  I do not sell product.  I do not talk about selling product.  We laugh.  We have show and tell.  We exchange recipes.  My four dogs are petted and fussed over, even when the puppy grabs a ball of yarn and heads out the door.  One wonderful lady drives almost two hours to get here!   No doubt about it....we have created a real community and Tuesdays have become one of my favorite days of the week.

A side benefit of my little group is that I get to hear the women talk about their projects and their plans for future projects.  I get to see what ignites their creativity and what they want to learn next. We inspire and encourage one another.  They even put my upcoming Swarovski workshop project through an intensive beta test that resulted in some important changes.     I get a whole lot of benefit from these soirees and so do the participants.  .

So....what is the problem?


The problem is that they are not hanging out at their local yarn stores!  Most of the women are members of several other fibery groups and each of those groups meet at restaurants or libraries.  They are connecting with other crafters several times a week-- through MeetUp.com and through Ravelry--while totally sidestepping the  brick and mortar retailers in the community!    These gals are clearly seeking a connection that they are not finding at their LYS.  I have been to both local stores and they are lovely.  They are well stocked and are staffed by capable, personable women.  Where was the disconnect?  Not being one to keep a thought bubble a thought bubble, I had to ask....

.....so........"Why aren't you meeting at the yarn shop?"

The answer surprised me.   It seems that the area shopkeepers have a rule....no sitting and sharing if the yarn in your hand was not purchased from this shop, period.  The rule stands even if you are a regular customer and the yarn is not carried by the shop.   WTF?  Seriously?

 NO SOUP FOR YOU!

 
Uh Oh...  I hear huffing and puffing from those of you out there in Retailer land....I think I might have touched a nerve. You can't pay the rent if customers are buying everything on-line.  You are burnt out from customers who want something for nothing.  Free doesn't get the bills paid.  When customers get together all they do is trade online sources and talk about your competitor.  I get it, really, I do!

But......

....the one advantage a Brick and Mortar store has over the lower priced internet store is the ability to offer kick ass, real, live, honest-to-goodness customer service, to be more than a place that simply warehouses skeins of yarns or buckets of beads.  Rather, you have the opportunity to build a FANATICAL FAN BASE. Store owners are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to connect with potential customers and build a stronger database by not encouraging this sort of crafty community.   Frankly, when consumers are able to bypass your store in the quest for creativity, your business is on the road to irrelevance.

Use the opportunity to glean information. Check your ego and ASK QUESTIONS! Your customers are a goldmine of information and will save hours of research if you take the time to inquire.

Where else do you shop?
What are your favorite online stores?
Why do you like them?
What blogs do you  read?
What other crafts do you enjoy?
What do you want to learn next?
What sort of events would you  like to see?
What would you like me to carry that I do not currently carry?
and so on and so on!


Today's consumer is savvy.  She absolutely, positively knows where to find the yarn/bead/rubber stamp at a better price.  Ever check out the Google Shopping Search?  It will give you sweaty palms, but give it a try.  Go now.  Seriously.  Google "Berroco Pure Pima cotton yarn" and you will find page after page featuring internet stores selling first quality Berroco yarn for a few dollars less than the local yarn store.

Mind you, I owned a brick and mortar shop.  I understand that the overhead of a brick and mortar store greatly exceeds that of a web store, where the yarn/beads/rubber stamps might be warehoused in a guest bedroom.  My clear understanding of the burdens facing brick and mortar retail notwithstanding, the economy sucks and money is tight.   The harsh reality is that there could be a serious price difference for the Money Challenged Crafter contemplating a 10 skein project.  An online purchase could mean a $20 savings  in yarn as well as another 7-10% in sales tax.     Many web stores offer free shipping, as well.  Why should a working gal spend her hard earned money in a brick and mortar retail store?

The answer lies with the retailer.  I am generally willing to pay more --with smile-- if I feel invested in the success of the store.  I get that feeling when I am part of the store's community.  So welcome me, make me feel at home. Better yet, teach me something new and invite me to your "Sit and Stitch."  I may want to use a skein from my stash this week, but I promise you that I will be back to purchase another skein from you next week!  I will probably even bring a friend....


In other news:
The product has shipped and I am packing my bags....I am heading to Tucson!  I skipped last year due to family/dog related stuff and I am tickled to be a part of  Swarovski's Create-Your-Style event this year!

My Design It/Sell It workshop with Nick Regine has sold out, but I still have a few more spaces in the Felted Flower/Crochet Necklace workshop on February 1st.  I will be in the Swarovski Ambassador room when I am not teaching, so  please stop by and say hello if you are going to be in town for the show!





In the Studio:
This last month has been all about show preparations...fine tuning tutorials, dyeing fibers, putting together kits and the like.  However, I have been noodling around an idea for a project that has me VERY excited.  In fact, this might be the perfect vehicle for stores to build that crafty community we have been talking about.  Swarovski is sponsoring an Art Quilt Contest.   You can find the details at Create-Your-Style.com.  The deadline isn't until June, so there is time....like I said, I am only  "noodling" the concept in my head at this point.  The idea won't actually become a gleam in my eye until at least late February.  But I digress.....

There theme is broad...the contestants simply need to use Swaovski elements to to design an original quilt using music as an inspiration. Perfect!   See, for several years I have had this weird obsession with  Bette Midler's rendition of Rosemary Clooney's "This Ole House."    I tend to play it during the holidays.  If you are middle aged and feeling old, with children who have flown the coop, this is THE PERFECT song to make you weep copiously as you prepare the holiday meal in preparation of the arrival of the young 'uns.  Or so I have been told.
I am also playing around with the idea of a quilt based upon "Big Rock Candy Mountain."  The imagery is just  too perfect and I can see a Rock Candy Mountain felted with Swarovski stones embedded in the fibers.  Happy sigh.  I think I know which way to go....

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bratty Beaders, Crazy Catknappers, and the Problem with Spewing our Thought Bubbles...

It has been an interesting few weeks and I have lots of exciting news to impart and projects to enthuse over, but that is all going to have to wait until another day....there is WAY more important stuff to discuss.....like how surreal life is becoming.....

Is it just me or have you noticed that the world is going Nuckin' Futz?  

Seriously.  I feel as though I have fallen down the rabbit hole and landed in a really twisted place.

WTF is wrong with people?????  

First, lets talk about  Rude Ass Designer Syndrome a/k/a RADS.  It is wildly contagious and seems to be spreading from designers to those who love them.  Beader Extraordinaire Beki Haley recently shared the following account of some silliness at a local bead store:

Shopper #1 has been beading for years.  She does not have internet access and lives a very remote lifestyle, making periodic pilgrimages to her local bead shop to gather supplies.  Shopper #2 has a talented daughter-in-law whose sells bead patterns on Etsy.  She noticed Shopper #1 wearing a bracelet that appeared similar to one of her daughter in law's Etsy designs.  She complimented Shopper #1 on her interpretation of the piece and mentioned that it had been designed by her daughter-in-law.  Shopper #1  told Shopper #2 that the bracelet was of her own design from six or seven years ago and then things started to get uncomfortable.

Let the games begin!

Shopper #2 became loud and irate, publicly chastising Shopper #1 for lying.  Shopper #1 was clearly uncomfortable but determined to stand her ground.  She reported that she had designed the piece years before and has never even heard of Etsy.  Shopper #2 was not placated and went on to accuse Shopper #1 of thievery.  Shopper #1 grew increasingly uncomfortable and ultimately left the shop without purchasing her supplies.  Unbelievable.  Reminiscent of  an encounter with a spoiled five year old, wouldn't you say?

 Where is Mr. Woody when you need him? 

(SIDE NOTE:  Mr. Woody was an unhappy wooden spoon that lived on top of my refrigerator and whose primary function was to serve as a deterrent, but who was commissioned to spank a tushie now and then.  Each incident involved a boy with a  penchant for stacking books and pots/pans on chairs to get to the knives hidden beyond his reach.  You see, my son Jeremy had a fascination for all things weapon-like and was willing to risk life, limb, and Mr. Woody to get to the cutlery.   He is now in law school.   Go figure).

Was Shopper #1 so insecure and narcissistic that accosting an old lady in a bead store seemed to be an appropriate resolution to a dispute?  Really?  Frankly, while I am occasionally tempted to channel my inner three year old when confronted with life's little challenges, the angry words are generally edited before they slither out of my mouth.  It is all about self control.

Moreover, what is with all of the Haters?  Why are so many artists so quick to assume that a similarity in design is necessarily indicative of malfeasance?  Why do so many people think that they own something that belongs to everyone (or no one)?    I recently posted on this sort of thing, and the issue continues to be a source of considerable discussion.  It has been my experience that big egos and big insecurities get in the way of a happy life. 

YOU CAN'T FIGHT CRAZY WITH CRAZY

So...on to the Crazy Catknapping....

My son lives in California, doing the waiter/actor thing. Er.....if any of you are related to Quentin Tarrantino, pass along the headshot, won't you?  ...but I digress....

Jake's lovely girlfriend recently moved out to LA, bringing her two cats, Kitty and Vinnie.  Jake and Janice spent Thanksgiving with us while the cats were being cared for  by Roommate. Vinnie went missing so Roommate and Hero Neighbor combed the  neighborhood, to no avail.  Hero Neighbor noticed Crazy Neighbor peering out while they were calling for the cat and suddenly got "a weird feeling."   Hero Neighbor knocked on the door to ask Crazy Neighbor if she had seen the lost cat and noticed Vinnie sitting inside.   Crazy Neighbor told the pair that the cat was actually her cat, Star, who had disappeared 1 1/2 years ago.  Crazy Neighbor picked up Vinnie and went on to say that while she appreciated Jacob and Janice taking care of Star, she was going to be keeping the cat from this point forward.  

Alrighty then.....

Roommate and Hero Neighbor explained that Vinnie could not possibly be her cat because he was only six months old, was a male not a female, and had arrived in Los Angeles only three months before.

Nonetheless, Crazy Neighbor was adamant...she knew her cat and this cat was hers.

Roommate was flummoxed.  Hero neighbor was perplexed.  Clearly, they were at a stand off.  Fortunately, Hero Neighbor suddenly grabbed the cat from Crazy Neighbor's arms and ran out the door before Vinnie could even deliver a parting scratch.  The cat was home safe and sound when Jacob and Janice returned.  I asked Jacob how he was going to handle the situation as I would be afraid to let Vinnie outside unsupervised.  He said, "Mom, you can't fight crazy with crazy.  I wanted to call her out, but instead I am going over with copies of vet bills and pictures of Vinnie as a kitten.  I have to live next to her, so I might as well help her get to a better place."  Damn.  Good looking and brilliant, too.  He is learning to use his edit button!  Is the neighbor really crazy?  Did she intentionally steal a cat?  Who the hell knows....but I want to believe that she simply misses her cat and harbors a secret hope that Star will find her way home.   I am glad that Jacob and Janice are kind humans who have turned this weirdness into a funny story and simply moved on.  No histrionics, no accusations, no drama. Happy Sigh.

FORGET POLITICS....LETS JUST CONCENTRATE ON BEING GOOD!
Several months ago I happened upon a blog post written by a woman I do not know personally.   I know of her based upon her internet presence.  Moreover,she is a friend of many of my friends and I would welcome the opportunity to get to know her.  She seems talented and cool and totally my cup of tea.  Yup, I would most definitely like to spend the afternoon beading with her and trading crafty stories.  She seems responsible and smart, compassionate and caring, and all around Good---yup, just the type of human I would welcome into my home and heart.  ....Yet a particular blog post contained mega doses of political vitriol and other angry nonsense that shook me.  

Understand that this was not simply a case of promoting a particular view point, rather, it was kind of mean spirited and snarky, playing on lots of silly stereotypes.  It totally bummed me out because I figured that if she knew of my personal politics, she would probably not want to spend an afternoon beading with me and trading crafty stories.  Damn.   I imagine that she would gasp in horror and write me off as one of those crazy right wingers protecting my non-existent wealth by withholding emergency medical care from desperate children while simultaneously starving old people just for giggles.  Really?  So silly, so stupid, such a waste of time and maybe a friendship or two.   I honest-to-God do not know anyone who thinks like that, Republican or Democrat.  Why are folks so quick to assume that those with an opposing viewpoint, or even a different idea on how to reach an objective, are evil and stupid?  I don't get it, I really don't.

No doubt about it....we are living in a wacky time right now.  A grown man watches another grown man rape a small child in a college locker room and walks away, fear for himself trumping any concern for that boy.  I know as surely as I am breathing that I would have saved that child, period.  My response would have been visceral and it would have been sure.   Similarly, I bet the blogger who hates Republicans would have turned into a raging warrior princess and pulled that son of a bitch off of that little boy if she had stumbled upon the crime. Good is Good and Bad is Bad...period.  It is time for those of us who are good to stand together, regardless of politics.   It is time that we start thinking more critically about our visions for the future and standing up for Right even when it is uncomfortable or requires that we steal back a kidnapped cat.    We must demand a bit more from ourselves and those we love.  It goes without saying that we must demand more from our politicians (and I ain't talking entitlement programs!). 



I  think that the blogger is a good human.  She would have protected that boy and even though we are rooting for different sides of the political ticket, I still want to be her friend.  I imagine that if she met me, she would like me and we could have a crafty blast.    Two good people, taking care of their families, working their asses off, and trying to make a positive difference in the world.   I just wonder if she would give me a chance?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rekindle your Creative Muse to Ignite your Customer Base!

Do you remember the rush you felt when you first learned to knit, bead, or [insert your craft of choice here]?  The exhilaration was INTENSE---less sweaty than sex, with zero calories----It was GREAT!  You couldn't stop thinking about it...working out the design in your head again and again, stealing minutes away from work, friends, and even family so that you could work on the project.  It was INTOXICATING!

....and then you opened your store and your Creative Muse got squashed like a bug!
Your daily To Do list is overflowing with more obligations than could be satisfied in a week.  There is inventory to order, inventory to unload, a class calendar to put together, some promotional events to schedule, bills to be paid, phone calls to be made....and a family that needs you, too.  Time spent crafting or learning new techniques has become a guilty pleasure that is limited to coming up with classes for the shop.  Sigh.

What is a Crafty Retailer to do?

Recharge your creative batteries!  Rejuvenate that flaccid muse!  You will feel happier and more fulfilled, while your store will be healthier and more successful.  I recently taught four workshops at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival ("SAFF") in Asheville, North Carolina.   Always curious about the state of crafty retail, I took the opportunity to survey some of the folks I met about their brick and mortar retail experiences.  It was no surprise to learn that 100% of those asked told me that they frequently shopped online, both for reasons of price and product availability.   When asked to identify what was special about their favorite brick and mortar stores, most were uniform in their response there as well:  INSPIRATION and EDUCATION.

The US craft market is huge and crafters are still spending, economy be damned.  Seriously, I was astounded by the amount of enthusiastic shopping being done at the event.   I went to teach, with no real intention of buying.  Nonetheless, I still managed to drop $200 on some spectacular Kid Mohair and Wensleydale curls. Clearly, I was not alone as the vendors with whom I spoke were all quite pleased with their overall sales.  People didn't  show up just to shop, though.  Most of the hundreds of workshops that SAFF offered were sold out. Yup...it is all about Inspiration and Education.

Savvy Crafty Retailers will take that role very seriously. Set aside some high priority/absolutely no interruptions time every week to release your own creative spirit.  I am happiest when I am creating and I grow very resentful when I ignore that need.   I bet the same is true of you.!  After years of living in an artistic wasteland because "I didn't have time," I decided to make Crafting a priority.   I have become  regimented about giving myself the time I require in the studio.  Additionally, I spend several hours a week online, surfing the web, lurking on blogs, conducting Google Image Searches, etc. in an effort to see what is inspiring the rest of the craft world.  There is always something that lights a fire in my own heart and I am soon OFF on a new journey.  My recent interests include stamped metal jewelry, torch fired enamel, and three dimensional fiber work.  The more I learn about other techniques, the more exciting and original my own work becomes as I  incorporate my new passions into my current creations.
 The same will be true in your shop.  Your enthusiasm will be contagious and your customers will respond accordingly.   After all...they are looking to YOU to provide Inspiration and Education!    It is a basic rule of Crafty Retail:  Inspire and the cash will follow.  One side benefit is that you will be able to direct inventory purchases rather than playing a guessing game with new stock.   Stock that we love sells better than stock to which we are indifferent because we push it.  Our genuine enthusiasm shows and the shopper responds with her wallet.   Similarly, it is important to really know what you are selling.  Some retailers jump into a new trend without adequate product knowledge.  They hear about a hot product and figure they should have it on the shelves.  Sadly, such  product will often languish until it eventually moves to the dead inventory "Sale Table" and the shopkeeper considers it an epic fail.   It was a failure all right, but not necessarily because the customers were not interested.  More likely, some customers would have loved it if the retailer had provided some crafty education!

Time is limited and there is no need to reinvent the wheel---shorten your learning curve!  It has never been easier to learn a new technique that can be twisted and tweaked for your shop.  Check out the amazing tutorials available at Beaducation...home of some of the stars in the jewelry world...for an opportunity to learn metalwork, bead weaving, PMC, Chainmail, Wire work and more.  For example, download the tutorial for Tracy Stanley's killer riveted metal ring  for only $24.95!

 
Etsy is a  Mecca for tutorials and I have learned a ton from the talented artists who maintain Etsy shops.  In fact, just this morning I popped a wire crochet video tutorial into my Etsy shopping cart.   I have seen a number of online tutorials on this subject, but Israeli Artist, Yoola, does the best work I have seen.  I have crochet experience and could probably teach myself, but I know that I will save myself lots of time (and wire) by plunking down the cash and learning from an expert!

Although on line tutorials are awesome, there is no substitute for "hands on" learning, so make it a point to take some classes a few times each year.  I am embarrassed to admit that, until recently, I have been remiss in this regard.   One of my resolutions for 2011 was to focus more on being a student.  I have taken four classes in the last six months and it has been a blast.  I recently took a stamped metal jewelry workshop from Holly Hancock, owner of Beads in Tampa, Florida.  Cold connection metal had been on my To Learn List for several years, but I was too busy and too intimidated to tackle it on my own.   An email newsletter from Holly was all it took --- I got the last spot in her class a few weeks ago.   The class lasted most of the day and I made the sweet little heart pendant Holly had on display, as well as a more personal piece.  My workshop creations were very primitive and clearly the work of a Newbie, but I am SMITTEN!  I bought all of the tools Holly had at the shop and then went on line and bought even more.  I happily used my clothing budget for craft products yet again.  Yup, inspire first and sales will follow...
 
Are you getting the job done?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Fine Line Between Artistic Inspiration and Crafty Exploitation

Color.  Texture.  Design.  I am a big fan of visual stimulation.  I spend hours each week surfing the web --- popping in on artsy blogs and conducting countless google image searches to discover the best of  what is happening in the crafty world.   The time spent in this creative revery is always a treat...throw in a cupcake or a glass of wine and I have myself a Happy Meal.


While this sort of research is important for business purposes, there is a secondary benefit as well.  Oftentimes, I come across a piece that ignites my own creative spark and I will obsess for days until I find an opportunity to give birth to my own creation.   Sometimes my finished piece reflects the inspiration that I received, other times the connection would not be obvious to anyone but me.

 So---when does INSPIRATION cross the line to EXPLOITATION? While the line is a fine one, it is often quite murky and not particularly absolute.  It makes for a lot of hard feelings and wasted energy for artists involved in a dispute over a design.

When does the work cross the line? 

I had a customer contact me a few months ago. She was frustrated and irate, having just been accused by another artist of copying that artist's work.  The two are not true friends, although she thought they had a friendly relationship.  They would see each other at the occasional trade show and kept in touch throughout the year.  Accordingly, she was shocked when she received the following email in response to a text that she had sent with some helpful information relative to a sales rep:

I got your text today and so I wanted to write you back an email instead of a text since I actually have quite a bit to say.  I am rather confused by your actions.  On the one hand, you text me about reps, asking how the show went, leave Facebook messages on my page about my designs etc...as though we were friends, and then on the other hand, you have taken an idea of a necklace from me and are exploiting my design through what you consider your own....

  ....Before you texted me this morning I had actually posted a link on my Facebook to an article that I hope you will read regarding exploiting someone else's work.  If you get the idea for a piece by using someone else's work, then that is stealing.  Regardless of what you think, I am hurt by your actions and do not desire to be friends with someone who would do that.  I go to great lengths to offer unique products, and have copyrights on all of my designs because I believe in what I am doing and I design my work without the use of others to take ideas from. 

What confuses and hurts me the most is the fact that you seem to think that what you did was ok because you still remain in contact with me.  I tried a while back to very subtly let you know how I felt about your taking my idea, but either you didn't pick up on what I was saying or you didn't care.  The very fact that you starting creating pieces just like mine is why I chose not to share a booth with you at the [tradeshow].

I guess in the end, you will do what you want to further your business and your choice of ethics is ultimately up to you, but due to the fact that I feel ripped off by you, I do not wish to remain friends. I am sure you would feel the same if the tables were turned.


Ouch.  Pretty harsh stuff.  Clearly, The Accuser felt wronged and  The Accused felt wrongly accused.  Both women are very talented.  Both do a great job marketing their work. My take is that they are both good, kind women and I would proudly sport a necklace made by either.    

So where is the disconnect?  

First, lets take a look at the work at issue:






 Each necklace has the same 27mm  Swarovski Crystal 1201 stone (in different colors)  hung on a simple chain. 

I pondered long and hard about the karma of this dispute and came to the conclusion that  my customer should be able to sleep at night.  We are talking about one Swarovski crystal stone....albeit a spectacular stone....on a chain.   Period.  The stone is widely available.  No special techniques were employed, no complicated construction was required.  If you like sparkle, you would probably hang either --or both--around your neck.  Both designers have expansive product lines.  This is the only item in dispute.  They ARE different.  One has a romantic, vintage quality.  The other has a clean, modern look.  Yet, one human feels victimized and another feels under attack.  It sucks.


I have been on both sides of this issue...early in my art career, long, long ago...back when I was a naive young thing... I was accused of copying the work of another artist.  It totally freaked me out.  No doubt, I was definitely influenced by her work, but  I honestly did not think my product bore a close resemblance. I still don't.   Regardless, the original artist saw my piece and went NUCLEAR.  I thought she was crazy, but I  backed off the design.  The juice wasn't worth the squeeze and I didn't want to find my pet rabbit  boiling on the stove top A La Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.  On the other hand, I have also had my work copied on a very large scale.   The product involved a basic design and was easy to duplicate...so it was.  Yup...It sucked...but it wasn't personal---it was business.  C'est La Vie.  No doubt about it....Simple designs have a shorter shelf life.

I am a fiber artist.  I have long avoided using the classic "felt ball" in my work because I found the humble fuzzy ball to be kind of silly...silly, that is, until I happened upon the work of Gail Crosman Moore.  Gail is talented in many genres...she is innovative and has a killer grasp of color and form.  During one of my web surfing Happy Meals, I happened upon this photo:
OMG!  Be still my heart!  Felt balls that were not just interesting....they were SPECTACULAR!
  
I couldn't wait to get to the felting table!  Here is my version:

They are both multi layered cuff bracelets featuring felted balls embellished with bead work.
Uh Oh.
OH. MY. GOD.   
They are both multi layered cuff bracelets featuring felted balls embellished with bead work!

Should I be able to sleep well at night?  

Honestly, I have had no problem catching ZZZZZs but was curious....what would Gail Crosman Moore think?  I looked at the two photos carefully and I still felt good about it....but then, I don't see a big issue with the two pendants described above.    Hmmmm..........I decided to shoot Gail an email and ask her opinion:


Hey there, Gail!  I messaged you via FB, but wanted to make sure that I touched base with you with a more complete explanation of my quest.   I am a fiber artist/crafty business owner.  I have been making fiber jewelry for years and use beads/crystal embellishment in every piece.

I am writing a blog post on the difference between being inspired by a piece and copying a piece.  It is always such a hot button and “in the eye of the beholder” so I wanted to illustrate my point regarding inspiration with a photo of a piece you did that inspired me to make my own. 

You made a killer cuff bracelet (photo of your piece is attached) with embellished felt balls that knocked my socks off.  I have always been a bit of a felt ball snob because most of the work that I have seen is pedestrian and kind of clownish.  Your bracelet has a sophistication that wowed me and got me looking at felt balls in a whole new light.

I have attached a piece of my finished product, which I perceive to be an original piece inspired by your incredible piece.   I am curious as to whether or not you agree.  You are the artist of the piece that inspired me…copy or inspiration?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Please feel free to be as honest as possible.  It would be helpful to blog readers and shed light on the whole process from both perspectives, even if you want to bitch slap me.  

Pat Riesenburger

I sent the email......and then I started sweating.  I looked at the photos again and compared them closely.  She made a cuff bracelet.  I made a cuff bracelet.  She embellished with beads.  I embellished with beads.   NOOOOOOOOOOO!   How have I been sleeping at night?

Much to my relief, within a few hours the following message appeared in my In Box:

Hello Pat,

Thank you for your thoughtful and complimentary project.
Absolutely no worries re: copying, I love that this bracelet of mine inspired you. Your piece is very different from mine and it makes me happy that I was a springboard towards an excited energy to carry out your piece. Well done!

I am also happy that my piece framed a material in a new light to make it useful to you!

Enjoy, with many thanks for your openness.

Best,

Gail

 
WHEW! I knew how I felt about it and it was nice to know that Gail agreed....I could breathe again.  Thank you, Gail!  


I tend to think along the same lines...I am flattered on those occasions when my work serves to inspire another.  I consider it an Art Hug.

The thing is.....Art is derivative.  We are naturally influenced by the world around us.  Artists who post pictures of their work online, or publish patterns in magazines, are putting their work out there for others to see.  It is lovely affirmation for the artist and the exposure is good for those seeking to promote their crafty careers.   However, what about the work that you see in the course of living your life?  What if you decide to sell the work?  When are you INSPIRED and when are you EXPLOITING? 

I think that it boils down to INTENT.  Did my customer intend to copy the design of the Accuser?  I don't think so.  I think that she was excited by it, and that she was inspired by it, and that she loves Swarovski Crystal.   She saw a stone that she admired and she wanted to use it.  The construction of the necklace in question involved one stone, one bezel, one chain and a clasp.   She has a large product line and this is the only item at issue.   I just cannot get my panties in a twist over this one.  

The Accuser acknowledged that the Accused treated her as a friend, offering encouragement and support; yet, she was willing to believe that this woman would deliberately screw her over.  HUH?  She then handled the matter by dropping a "subtle hint" about her feelings, and when no response was forthcoming she became hurt and then angry.    I have watched a number of artists respond the same way over the years.   Sometimes  people really do steal designs and the anger is legitimate. On other occasions, two people have similar taste. Again....I would point to the matter of INTENT.   Look to the character of the person involved.  If someone does something that is inconsistent with the behavior that I typically see, I do not automatically assume the worst and then write them off.  I inquire.  I ask about it.  I COMMUNICATE. 

Life is short.  I don't want to spend my days mulching a Bitterness Garden, tending each grievance so carefully that it thrives, growing bigger and more toxic over the days.  No....my time is better spent mulching a different sort of Garden...one filled with wonder, and creativity, and peace.  Give folks the benefit of the doubt until they prove unworthy----it will make your life more pleasant.

Whaddayathink?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Carol Cypher, Marketing Magic, and a Middle Aged Slumber Party

Promotional events are the lifeblood of a spectacular retail experience.  It is all about SHOPPERTAINMENT!  You know you should do more Store Events and I know that I should do more Studio Events.  Life often gets in the way of our intentions.  After all, there are only so many hours in a day and the "Hostess with the Mostest" Ball is often the first one to get dropped in our struggle to get the bills paid.  However,  in the interest of practicing what I preach, I am going to share with you the evolution of  a Cooperative Marketing Event that I am orchestrating in my little corner of the world.  It is a first for me and I am sure that there will be some lumps and bumps along the road, but I figure that it will be a great learning and networking opportunity.

First the idea....

I was thumbing through my copy of Hand Felted Jewelry and Beads this past July and found myself wishing that I could take a workshop with Carol Cypher.  I have been a fan for years as her work was the first that I had seen that combined felting with beads.  I checked around but she wasn't teaching anywhere close by...Sigh.  Maybe another time.
WAIT!  I have a studio with plenty of space.  I really, really want to take a workshop with Carol Cypher.  Tampa has a large crafting community and a number of fiber and bead hobbiests.  Maybe Carol could teach from MY studio.   Hmmmm.....


  Most National Instructors charge between $375 and $575 per diem, plus all expenses relative to travel and accommodations.  A quick call to Carol confirmed that her fee structure fell well within these parameters. She had one open week-end before the end of the year and I snagged it!   
[Yup---that's me.  Leap first, consider the consequences later.] 

YAY!  CAROL CYPHER IS COMING TO URBAN STITCH STUDIO NOVEMBER 11-13!
[Gulp.  Carol Cypher is coming to Urban Stitch Studio November 11-13!]

The biggest challenge:  My customer email list is composed of Brick and Mortar Shopkeepers throughout the country, not crafters in  the Tampa Bay area.  Clearly, my existing email list is NOT going to fill Carol's classes.  What to do?  What to do?

[What if no one signs up?  What if I am the only one in the class?  What if there is a hurricane?  First inklings of self doubt start to plague me. ]



BRIGHT IDEA!  I decided to call a couple of the local craft store owners to see if they wanted to split the cost/share the profits of the workshops.  The gals I talked to love the idea of a National Instructor, but no one was keen on the idea of sharing expenses.  EPIC FAIL[Gulp].

NO!  Failure is not an option.  Carol is amazing.  There is a dearth of  amazing instructors in Tampa Bay.  I just need to figure out how to make this work. 

Ruminate.  Ruminate.  Ruminate some more.

BRIGHT IDEA!  Clearly, I need to keep costs to a minimum.  After some mental hemming and hawing,  I got up the nerve to call Carol  and asked if she would be willing to stay in my home rather than a hotel.  We are almost pals, after all.  I offered a comfortable bed, wonderful home cooked meals and even promised that my dogs were well behaved.  [well...they are.  Kinda sorta.]  She graciously agreed.  [Whew.  OK, this might just work out]

Although I was able to save on hotel/car rental expenses, I still need to cover Carol's teaching fees as well as airfare, so it is critical to get the word out to area crafters.  What is the best way to let them know that a Beading Rock Star will be in their midst?   [Hmmmmm....While the store owners didn't want to take on financial risk, I wondered if they might be willing to jump on board in a different capacity......]
  
Ruminate.  Ruminate.  Ruminate some more.

BRIGHT IDEA.  I sent an email to several local craft stores, choosing those who had some miles between them in an effort to avoid sending emails to direct "competitors" to the extent possible.  My email was entitled "Cross Promotion Opportunity" and detailed my decision to host Carol Cypher at Urban Stitch Studio for a series of felting and beading workshops that might be of interest to their customer base.   

I included a coupon code offering their customers 5% off any Carol Cypher workshop fee, as well as a 5% referral fee for each shopkeeper.  Participating stores would agree to post a coupon on my site offering 10% off supplies purchased for the workshops.  Finally, I offered each retail store owner who participated one free workshop with Carol.

I wanted to make participation easy, so I included a PDF flyer touting the event for electronic dissemination by the store owner.  I figure that it is a win-win.  I am not selling supplies that compete with any of the businesses that I approached, but we all have a similar customer base.  The stores get to avoid the financial risk, have something fun to talk about with their customers, and get the AWESOME OPPORTUNITY to take a free workshop with Carol.  I get to build my customer email list while fulfilling my need to work with Carol Cypher.  Happy Sigh.

HOW COOL IS THAT?

Reaction has been very positive and the classes are starting to fill up.  We still have some availability, so I figure that I will send out a press release as well as email all of the local bead and fiber guilds in the next week or so. I am totally stoked about this event, but am taking it one step further.    I invited Felty Diva Marlene Gruetter of Marlene's Felting Madness to join us for the week-end, and to my delight, she will make the trek from Ohio.   Carol and Marlene know and like one another, so I figure that it might as well be a slumber party!   My husband agreed to head out of town to visit his mom for the week-end, which means we have the house to ourselves. In fact, I still have two extra bedrooms so if any Crafty Retailer needs a creative week-end getaway, let me know!  The energy is sure to be INCREDIBLE and I am counting the days to the big event. I know it will be fun...but with a little luck and elbow grease, maybe it will be profitable as well!