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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Give yourself the luxury of creative time to craft a more successful business!

I find that one of the big negatives of running a craft business is that the business tends to suck the creativity right out of me.   Most successful  entrepreneurs have a high degree of left brain (process oriented) focus.   I am very much a right brain (creative) person.  Accordingly, it seems to take me three times as long to do some simple business tasks that  my husband does without thinking.   My brain does not easily think in terms of "process."  Unfortunately, businesses without processes are businesses that fail.    So...after almost failing.... I decided to change.  I had to learn to focus on the processes of running a business.  Yuck.  Change is never easy.  

Sometimes it just sucks to be a grown up.

It takes me longer to get those tasks done and I often feel beat to hell by the end of the day.  I work hard to meet the the demands of business and family (two totally different lives it seems).    Over time there was definitely a change.  The business turned around.....but I was really grumpy.  Actually, I was feeling totally  pissed off.... and resentful.   The life that I created was HARSHING MY MELLOW!  I actually purchased this funny print (aptly entitled "Miss Unbelievably Angry 1956 by Etsy artist Bee. )  It lives on the wall  behind my computer to remind me to quit pursing my lips all the time.  Very unattractive.

Busy mothers everywhere know where this is heading.  I was so intent on responding to the various crises throughout the day that I kept pushing my own needs further down on the list of priorities.  My crafting was always the first thing to get scuttled to make time for something more important.  I had lost my Studio to the Shipping Department. My supplies were stuffed in various corners of various rooms throughout my house.  I could never find what I needed when I did steal a minute for myself.    GRRRRRR

What to do? What to do?

It turns out that all of those Self Help Gurus we see on TV are RIGHT!  Say it with me.....You must make time for yourself if you are going to be any good to anyone!   Schedule some time for yourself.  Last week we talked about setting aside a block of time each week for marketing.  Now look at your calendar and determine to free up some time for YOU!

I know, I know....I can hear you already!   You don't have the time!   I respectfully disagree.  You make time for things that are important enough.    I had to do some PRIORITY TRIAGE.  I evaluated what was high level important to me and what was low level important to me.  I found the time.  Friday is Studio Day.  All day.  Every week.  No excuses.  OK, well sometimes there is an emergency but then Thursday is Studio Day.  I never ever miss a day.  Consider doing something similar for yourself--you deserve it.

I had to become more organized.  Compulsive organization goes against my grain but it is sure working for me!   I have started to use Sunday afternoons to cook for the upcoming week.  This saves me about an hour each week day.  I no longer waste 4 hours a month in the nail salon (saved the money and my nails were always a mess from spending time Wet Felting....what was the point?).  I get up crazy early on Saturdays and spend 4 to 6 hours on "business process yucky stuff" when the family is sound asleep and I have no distractions.  I am determined to master the tasks that I avoided and am feeling  more freedom as a result.  I keep to a very rigorous work schedule but I now have the time sew and felt and crochet and bead.  Happy sigh.  Life is good.

By taking the time....enough wallow in my own guilty art pleasures I restore myself.

I am actually more productive at work because I am able to focus on the task at hand.  Like the dieter who "is good" all week confident that her Saturday "cheat day" is just around the bend, I can focus on book work with the knowledge that Friday is almost here.  The quiet time in the studio has become critically important time for reflection.  My mind wanders and I have a few hours (because minutes are not enough) to really think things through.  I resolve business issues that have plagued me and personal issues that have troubled  me.  I remember birthdays that would've been forgotten.  My daughter gets home cooked meals.  My dogs get walked.  My husband gets...well you KNOW what he gets.

In my world a joyful life requires a connected family, a profitable business, and time in the studio.  It took me a while to figure out how to have all three----all at the same time---at least most of the time.  I don't ever want to  be Miss Incredibly Angry 1956 again!   She is a total bitch...just ask my family.   I still veer off the path occasionally but I have gotten better about getting back on the road, quickly and with minimal fallout.  
How 'bout you?  What is your joy?   Is the road you are  traveling going to get you to your happy place?

In other news...

occasionally you just need to challenge yourself!

Sometimes we all suffer from a creative block.  We are uninspired and in a funk.  I find that a challenge is usually what I need to get my arty mojo back.  My friend Monica is to blame for my current addiction...Roosters.  She issued a chicken challenge several months ago and I can't seem to get away from the theme.  You will recall that a few weeks ago I posted a darling little crochet bird from an Attic 24 Tutorial.   I think that Lucy's crochet birds are totally charming...sweet, sweet, sweet!    I love sweet.  I cannot do sweet. I try, but my version always gets a little twisted and slightly menacing.   Here is what I came up with this week:

I used only materials "on hand" and the problem solving inherent in building the little guy was entertaining.  His legs are bamboo skewers that have been felted and beaded.  He is standing in a vintage flower frog I had tucked away in a drawer.  I am currently working on Rooster pillow #2.  What started as a simple challenge to get my creativity cookin' again has morphed into an Entire Rooster Movement.  In any event, the chicken challenge continues to be a lot of fun for me.  So much so that I thought it might be interesting to throw some challenges YOUR way.  Check out our March Craft Challenge!

sparkle, sparkle, sparkle.  Swarovski cupchain in Tanzanite, Crystal, and Padparadascha:

Swarovski cupchain is a treat.   Stores do not typically carry this item.  Many of you have never worked with it before because it is a "special order only" product that is primarily used by large manufacturers.   
how 'bout a sparkly challenge to jump start your creativity?

I am looking for challenge participants from various backgrounds (beaders, quilters, stampers, scrapbookers, etc).  

Show us what you can do with some spectacular sparkle! 
Sew it, glue it, solder it, alter it....just show us what you got!

We are looking for 12 crafty souls who are willing to think outside the box and meet an April 1 "picture of finished product" delivery deadline.   You will also be asked to take pictures of your work in progress along the way and offer a brief explanation as to technique.  Each participant will receive a selection of  the product pictured above as well as a thank you gift from Aussie Threads and Fibers.  Please send me an email with contact information if you would like to participate in the March Challenge.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Marketing is not a four letter why do so many retailers simply  discount expensive inventory, send out an email touting  a BIG SALE, and  call it a day?     I have never understood such willingness to bleed away profitability.  If you need to get rid of dead stock or want a quick cash infusion then such a sale might be a good idea.  However, if you are slashing prices just to attract customers then it is time to rethink your strategy.   Your goal should be to develop customer loyalty through your role as a Value Added Craft Reseller, not to train customers to be loyal to price point.  Face it....the world is peppered with bottom feeders, so there is always someone willing to undercut your prices.  Focus on  developing  loyalty to your store brand.   You do not need lots of cash to market your store brilliantly; you do need FOCUS, DEDICATION and CREATIVITY.

Despite the importance of marketing, many Crafty Retailers find the Marketing Hat to be an uncomfortable fit.  It makes you feel pushy, desperate, fake, etc.  You consider it just one more unpleasant challenge in a day that is already over-scheduled.  Yup, you know that you should do it, but the wheel just doesn't squeak loud enough for you to oil it today.    You will make time next week, next month, next year.....

.....Hmmm....are you really listening to what is actually "squeaking"?  Think about it..... Do you ever have trouble making the rent?  (squeak!)  Do you schedule classes that never fill up? (SQUEAK!)  Is your customer base shrinking (SQUEAK! SQUEAK!)  Do you often forgo a paycheck? (SQUEAK!  SQUEAK!  SQUEAK!) is time to listen to that marketing wheel 'cause it is most definitely making some noise!

What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

Get serious about moving your business forward by engaging in some deliberate, results oriented, marketing!

Many craft store owners are creative people.  Few creative people are  process oriented.  Successful businesses must leverage the concept of "process."  Eek.   What to do?  What to do?  Hint:  Get out your calendar and pick a time to focus on marketing your store.  Improve the  odds of success by making it the same time every week. For example, I have started to schedule a two hour "marketing block" the first thing every Monday morning. If I wait until I "have the time" it will never happen.  Mondays are good for me because many craft stores are closed on Mondays, which means my phones are quiet.  Moreover,  I am recharged from the week-end and feel ready to slay dragons.   The first thing that I do is to send out at least 5 hand written "customer appreciation" notes to customers I want to acknowledge.  It takes me about 30 minutes and costs me $2.20 in postage.

It is a delightful way to kick off the week because it provides a necessary opportunity to count my blessings.    Seriously!  I have to think of five customers who have made me smile in the last week or so.  It is a kick for me and for my customers!   After all, in this age of tweets, IM, Facebook and the like, there is something special about receiving an unexpected---a genuine--- handwritten thank you note.  I will send out over 250 such notes each year.....imagine the impact for less than $115!

I use the rest of my time to plan upcoming coupons, write tutorials, and research.  Today I spent about 45 minutes taking part in an invaluable online class created by Diane Gilleland, Twitter for your Crafty Business.  I learned more in 45 minutes of focused time today than I have learned in months of using (misusing?) Twitter.  Thanks, Diane!  In fact, I was so impressed that I asked Diane to put together a special class for my blog readers.  Stay tuned for details....tiny investment, big reward!

I use an excel spreadsheet as my marketing calendar.  There is a worksheet tab for every month of the year and it enables me to quickly see what is coming up, what work needs to be done for the next promotion, etc.  Email me and I will send you the full 12 page spreadsheet template for you to adapt to your own store.

Take Away: Affirmatively scheduling adequate planning time for your marketing program.  Everyone knows that diet and exercise programs are destined to fail without adequate discipline and focus.   Similarly, your marketing plan will be dead on arrival if you do not make it a weekly priority!  You don't get skinny by scarfing cupcakes and you will not become a Marketing Ninja by wishing it were so.  MAKE THE TIME!

 I often hear retailers explain their reluctance to plan marketing events because they "had a few events last year and no one came."  Lame, lame, lame!  It takes time to develop a reputation as the town craft mecca!  Your first few events might not reach the level of success you had hoped for, so refine them.  Stack the deck in your favor by asking some good friends to show up for your events with the understanding that they have a job to do.  The mission:  to be enthusiastic participants in whatever you have going on.   No one need know that the group is made up of your best friend, your cousin, your babysitter, and your mother in law! People tend to be followers and if something looks like it is causing excitement and interest, they will want to be a part of it.

Study after study demonstrates that the buying "experience" is more important to the consumer than price. You won't have to worry about prices that are "higher than the internet" if you are providing value in other areas.   It is expected that you will have a clean store, friendly sales staff, and lots of great inventory.  So does the online retailer!  You need to step up your game by making your store the place to be for crafty community.   Schedule one big event and 3 or 4 minor events at your shop EVERY SINGLE MONTH.   A sporadic event here and there will not have the desired impact.    Send out your newsletter on the same day of the week, at least twice a month.   Does writing leave you cold?  Don't let it!  Click here for a Newsletter Cheat Sheet.  Hand out Bag Stuffers to every single customer.  Bag Stuffers are fliers which tout store events/programs/new inventory.  Check out a sample Bag Stuffer here.   Use slow time in the store to pick up the phone and call customers that you haven't seen in a while.  Is it easy to do?  Nope.  Is it effective?  Yup.  Misery loves company....ask every staff member to make 5 calls per week to customers of their choosing.  Track the impact of the calls ....because there will be impact!

Take Away:  Vow to be consistent and to be dedicated to your marketing program...this month and every single month throughout 2010.    You may not see results immediately, but stick with will see results...guaranteed.

Does your advertising need some tweaking?  Although newspaper circulation is down everywhere, my customers still report success with that medium.  A weekly ad gets the word  out and acts as yet another nudge to the consumer.  Ad rates are flexible, regardless of the number of the rate sheet.  Ask for a discount.

Lacking the budget for advertising?  I read about a store that had a pretty girl in a bikini knitting in  the front window.  Talk about making an impact!!!!  Not ready for a swimsuit?  Put fliers on cars in nearby parking lots.  Better yet, pay a teenager to do it so that you can spend your time developing new marketing strategies.

Brainstorm with your staff to flesh out your marketing calender for the year.  It takes lots of imagination but very little cash to fill your calender.  Humans are tribal.  Leverage the fact that people like to hang with like minded folks.  Start a craft group for young moms....they can meet in the morning while the little ones are at pre-school.  How about a Stitch and Bitch group for divorced gals?   I would be attracted to any group that paired wine with fiber!  A monthly wine/yarn tasting sounds good to me!

Consider joining forces with area craft stores to sponsor a Craft Bazaar.  More and more crafters are looking to earn extra cash (or at least some money to cover the costs of their addiction!) Start small...align with a church or civic group.  You will be performing a service for your customers, generating some great publicity, and encouraging sales.

There are National "holidays" celebrating different food items almost every single day of the year.  You can inexpensively fill up you marketing calendar by simply celebrating those days!  Silly?  Yup.  Effective?  Absolutely.  So....It is National Coffee Cake Day?  Great!  Make sure to promote the wacky celebration ahead of time!  Talk about it in your newsletter,  remind your customers via Bag Stuffers and on the big day simply hand out lots of coffee cake.  Better yet, give away a copy of the recipe!  The cost in dollars will be relatively insignificant, but you are on your way to proving yourself to be a Marketing NINJA!
Did you know that National Lingerie Day is celebrated on the same day as Pigs in a Blanket Day?

Hmmm....Scary coincidence, wouldn't you say?  Download a Calendar listing daily holidays through June 2010 here.

Take Away:  Be imaginative and be clever.  Although your marketing does not need to directly relate to your craft, it must enhance the shopping experience!

Other news:
Need a quick Make and Take  Project for an upcoming event? 

This is the one! Your customers will learn to craft a felted flower barrette using only 5 grams of wool top and some beads for embellishment! Fast, easy, and inexpensive...what could be better?

Click here for the free tutorial.
Attention"Flying Solo" participants:  Please send in your questionnaire responses if you haven't already done so.  Additionally, the Campfire Chat format is proving to be unworkable, so we will be moving to a Ning network.  Details to follow by the end of the week.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Create a newsletter that your customers will love to read!

E-mail newsletters should play an integral role in your retail marketing plan.  Newsletters are inexpensive to send and wide reaching in scope.  Moreover, most E-mail Service Providers offer templates and unlimited customer support for a small monthly fee.  I had  a two hour learning curve when I first started, but the rewards have far exceeded my expectations.  Surprisingly, many crafty retailers ignore this valuable weapon in the marketing arsenal.                                                              
What's up with that?

First, many retailers are squeamish about being perceived of as "pushy" and they do not want to "spam" their customers.  Second, some retailers lack confidence in their writing ability and are afraid to subject their customer base to something that might not be interesting.   Finally, the busy store owner is dealing with lots of squeaky wheels and newsletters do not squeak. 

What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

It's not spam, do follow some basic Newsletter "how tos" , and do make the Newsletter a squeaky wheel.  A marketing weapon that is virtually limitless in its ability to inexpensively impact your bottom line is worthy of your attention.

1.  No need to Spam!  Make it your mission to grow your permission based email list.  
Employees are notoriously loathe to ask customers for email addresses.  I never liked to do it...I was concerned with closing the sale and did not want an overt marketing push to get in the way of my success.   Many retailers settle for the easy to ignore "guest book"  placed by the cash register.  Don't waste your time.  A better plan of action is to offer your customer a freebie in exchange for the valuable personal information.   She hands over the goods and you send her a coupon, via e-mail,  for an inexpensive but highly desirable product.  This affords you the opportunity to verify that the address is a good one, and it guarantees a return visit by the customer in order to claim the free gift.  Your website should employ the same offer to engage your online visitors.   Bath and Body Works employed this strategy, offering a free lipstick in exchange for the email address.  Their database now purportedly contains over ten million names.  Talk about a win-win!   Extrapolate the value of that customer over the next year or two----the money spent on a free fat quarter or small sampling of Swarovski crystal is well worth the investment.

2.  Follow some basic rules to enhance your customer open rate:

Be Consistent.  A newsletter that is sent whenever the retailer feels like sending one will not be as effective as an email newsletter that is routinely sent on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month.  Marketing takes time to have an impact.  You cannot judge the success of your newsletter campaign unless you dedicate the time and resources necessary to consistently follow through with your plan.

Use a font that is large enough to read easily.  Many crafters are middle aged.  Middle age comes with lots of annoying baggage....declining eyesight was one of the most recent to hit me.  I won't bore you with the litany of other indignities that have assaulted me of late.  Suffice it to say that I carry tweezers with me at all times.  Sigh.

Include pictures and subheadings to provide a visual "break" for the reader.  Use restraint when choosing a background color for your newsletter.  Splashes of color go a long way and some hues---like cherry red and mandarin orange--can be jarring to the reader.

Keep the tone light, informal,  and friendly.  Write the way you speak.  This is not a Freshman English assignment.  Your customers know you and like you.  If you are funny, be funny.  If you are sweet, be sweet.  The bottom line is to BE GENUINE.

Provide something of value to your reader.  
You are sending out the newsletter as a marketing vehicle.  After all, you want to separate your customer from her money. You know it and she knows it.   No problem....just make sure that you give something to her as well!   We are a culture that has been inundated by spam.  Many individuals complain about not having enough time to read all of their emails.  Rubbish! The cold hard truth is that  we all make time to do the things that are important to us.  If there is a value to me in opening an email, I will open it.  If I know that it is going to be a waste of my time, it gets deleted.....UNREAD.

I generally open Anthropologie emails because they are ascetically pleasing and often include links to artsy sites that I enjoy visiting.  Interestingly, I noticed that one of their recent emails had a visible "counter" identifying the number of opens.  I was number 213.  I checked back a few times and within 3 hours the email had been read by over 2000 people.  Not too shabby.  If you want your customers to pay attention to your emails, then use them as a vehicle to build community.  Include links to interesting tutorials or even seasonal recipes that you enjoy. Include funny little factoids.  For example, did you know that February is National Wild Bird Feeding month?  Here is a link for Creative Kismet's tutorial for an adorable crochet bird feeder.

Speaking of birds...I have become captivated by the little crochet birds from Lucy, who maintains a wonderful blog,  Attic 24.  Lucy's blog is a delight...beautifully photographed and lovely to read She has a great free crochet bird tutorial.    Most crafters have a plethora of orphan yarn from various projects and would probably welcome a crafty push in a creative direction.   Give 'em something to do with the leftovers so that they can buy some new stuff, guilt free.

The "Take Away"  is that your newsletter must do more than tout your latest sale or your newest inventory.  You are a VALUE ADDED retailer.    You want to be the Crafty Hub of your community!  Your customers are your friends, the life blood of your success.  Treat 'em that way!

3.  No more excuses!  Take your Newsletter SERIOUSLY and put it on the "squeaky wheel" fast track! 

You know that  newsletters are important and have promised yourself that you will get on track someday.  Someday is here!  Sign up for a newsletter service (I use Constant Contact and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE affiliation, no recompense....just a satisfied customer) and then block off a morning to learn the system.  Decide when your newsletters should go out and mark those dates...IN STONE... on your calendar.  No excuses.  Newsletters play an important role in moving your business forward in 2010.  Need a "bullet list" of items to be included in every newsletter for best results?  Here you go! 

Put your big girl panties on and take care of business!    The price?  An extra night of Take Out instead of Homemade, a little less know the drill!!  You can do it!!!!

Other News:

Tucson was a blast!  Although I never made it to a single vendor other than Swarovski, that venue alone was  enough to sate me!  The Spring/Summer 2011 launch will prove to be the most successful in recent years, based upon the reactions I saw!  I will have more on the new products next week, but wanted to share some quick pictures with you now.  The Swarovski Customer Appreciation Event is always a great time, and this year proved no exception.  Those folks sure know how to throw a party.  This is THE PLACE for to see some amazing jewelry and personal adornment.  I was delighted to spend some time with Marcia DeCoster, whose recent book Beaded Opulence is a must have for any passionate beader.  She was my hero as she sauntered in to the party wearing crystallized Birkenstocks.    She even put teeny tiny crystals on her toes.What a woman! 

While Marcia definitely wins the award for "most playful," there was plenty more to see!  The most elegant fashionista had to be Tatiana Van Iten  , whose stunning jewelry and stately beauty was a treat to behold.  

Finally, it was wonderful to connect with great customers and reconnect with old friends.  Felter Extraordinaire Monica Durazo  (pictured with Jewelry Designer Susan Allen) was my right hand at the Felting Workshop.  The event sold out and was a ton of fun!

Twenty happy, if somewhat tired, nuno felters! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

See you next week!

The Crafty Retailer is taking the week off to do little bit of teaching and a little bit of shopping at the Tucson Gem show.  

See you next week!