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The Business of Lampworking

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Etsy Online Sales--Ch 4 The Business of Lampworking

Have you decided to open an Etsy store? Or maybe you opened one a while ago, and you listed a few things, but you’ve yet to sell anything except a bead or two to your mother or sister. Or worse, nothing at all. Now you’re wondering, what’s wrong with my beads?

Likely, the answer is nothing is wrong with your beads. Nothing at all. It’s your approach that needs help. Etsy is not the Field of Dreams. It’s not the case of build it and they will come. You need to work for it.

Let’s start with the basics.

Are you’re pictures clear? Bright and focused? Do you show multiple views of the bead? One picture is not enough. People want to see every angle and the bead holes if at all possible. Also include a few close-ups on the detail. You get five pictures. See if you can fill them up.  If you’re not aware of the macro feature on your camera, look into it. It’s what helps you get clear crisp closeups with your digital.

Okay, now work on content. For optimum results, try to build up your store to over two hundred listings. People like variety when they shop. Don’t have them leave your store to go to another one. Get them to spend a ton of time in yours. Obviously, this will take some time. If you’re just starting out with your store, work on a build up. But for goodness sake, do not open you shop, list ten things and then sit back and wait to see how it goes. If you offer made to order items, this will help with your overall listing count.

That leads me right into frequent, consistent listings of items. Set yourself a schedule of when you list and how many items and stick to it. I am a full-time lampworker, so when I’m home (as opposed to out at a show) working, I try to list at least one new thing a day. Two or three on good days. Now that doesn’t always happen, but it’s the goal. Shoppers like to browse new things. If your store doesn’t change, why would they come back regularly? I just checked and I listed twelve new items last week. That’s pretty dang good. I also relisted some expired stuff.

Some people like to renew existing listings on Etsy, with the idea that the items will show up first in the category search. I personally have not used this strategy, but I have heard from various other people that it seems to work. It is 20 cents each time you do that though, so be sure to add the extra cost into your marketing budget.

Variety. Do you have a variety of items to choose from? Do you have lower cost items? I’ve found the twenty-dollar and under mark moves a lot faster. If you don’t make any beads under twenty dollars, consider developing something that would work for that price point. I still sell the higher priced work, but the lower cost items move a lot faster.

Shipping. Are your shipping costs reasonable? Do you ship worldwide? I know of some sellers who will only ship within the US due to some Paypal policies (I will get into that in my post on shipping). However, if you are excluding the rest of the world, you’re missing out on a lot of sales. If you’re worried about tracking, insurance, or packages going missing, think of anything that may go wrong as shrink. All businesses have it, and I rarely have an issue with international packages. I’d sure hate to think about how many sales I would have missed out on if I didn’t ship worldwide.

Marketing? What do you do to market your work? Anything? Here are some ideas. Post your work on Lampworketc in the gallery. Advertise it in the self-promotion section also on LE. Become a member of jewelry making forums and post your work there in the appropriate places. Share your listings on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Build a website and/or start a free blog. If you blog, be sure to do it regularly or no one will follow you. Start a newsletter and have a link on your blog, website, and in your email signature line where customers can sign up. Let them know when you’re running a sale or when a new design is being launched. Familiarize yourself with SEO.  I’ll be perfectly honest, I know almost nothing about SEO, so I’ll point you to Susan Sheehan who has already complied the links to read up on it.

Social Networking. I’ve already recommended posting your listings to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, but don’t stop there. Actually social network with people. If all you do is spam people, you will likely get blocked and/or unfriended, unfollowed, and uncircled. The same is true for Lampworketc. Be part of the community and people will come to know you and your work.

Consider joining an Etsy team. I have belonged to a few of them, but ultimately they both went by the wayside. I did, however, learn a lot about marketing from my fellow team members. Check them out and see if any work for you.

The most important piece of advice I can give you (if you’ve followed everything I’ve listed, and your pricing isn’t out of line) is the last thing you need to do is be patient. It takes time to build a customer base. Give it at least six months. Six months of constant listings, promoting, social networking, and new designs, should lead you to a solid customer base.

Sounds like a lot of work right? Well, it is. But starting any business takes a great deal of output and effort before you’ll see results. Even if you’re established elsewhere say eBay or another venue, unless you plan to point your existing clients to the Etsy store, you’re basically starting fresh.

Please note, I used my frequency of listing as an example. As I noted, I do this full-time. If you’re a part-timer, then by all means, adjust your frequency, but still make it consistent. Two, three, four times a week. Whatever works for you. I’d advise against listing a batch once a week. Spread them out a little. It will help in searches on Etsy.

Please leave me any questions you have and I will try to answer to the best of my ability.

Online Feedback-Lampworking Business Extras

If you’ve ever bought or sold anything online you know each seller and buyer has a feedback rating. It’s expected once the transaction is completed, both parties leave feedback.

I’ve seen sellers ask when they should leave feedback. Right after the customer pays? After they receive the item? After the buyer leaves feedback for the seller?

In my opinion, after the customer pays, they have completed the transaction. Anytime after that, I will leave feedback. To me, it doesn’t matter if a situation arises later. I worry about it then, and because my policy is I will accept a return for any reason within a certain amount of time, it just doesn’t matter. Problems arise so seldom it isn’t something I worry about. Plus, it’s rude to hold feedback hostage.

As a buyer, I think it is important that if a situation arises, to give the seller a chance to make it right. Feedback is usually the first indicator of a seller’s reputation. Most professional sellers I know will happily address any problems. Just please don’t leave feedback as a way to get their attention without an email first. That said, if they don’t acknowledge you or handle the situation to your satisfaction, you have every right to leave an honest account of your experience.

On another note, leaving feedback is optional. Hounding buyers or sellers to leave it is annoying. Sellers, I strongly recommend not asking your buyers to leave you feedback. If you must, put it in your thank you email and word it something like this: If you’re happy with your purchase, please consider leaving me feedback (insert link to online retailer’s feedback page). Then leave it alone. Hounding them will only result in an annoyed customer.

Personally, I leave feedback once a month for all my online venues. It’s more time efficient for me. So if you buy something and I don’t leave feedback right away, it’s only because I haven’t gotten to it. But I will, don’t worry.

Online vs Shows--Ch 3 part 2 The Business of Lampworking

The big question online sales verses shows. You look around and everyone who’s anyone has an Etsy store, a website, and eBay account. They talk about the Best Bead show or Bead and Button or the selling at the ISGB Bead Bazaar, and you think to yourself, man I need to be doing that.

Some people spout how well they are doing, others say sales are dead. Now what? Where to start? My best advice is to pick one direction and give it your all. But which direction?

Pros of online venues:

Work from home.
Low cost.
Instant feedback.
Can sell work for less than you can doing shows.
Don’t have to take time off work (if you have another job) to hock your wares.
Your customer base is worldwide.

Cons of online sales:

Have to learn photography skills.
Need to learn to navigate online sales venues (though this is much easier now than it ever has been before).
Don’t get to interact with the community in person (It is certainly possible to make connections online, but there is nothing comparable to the in person connection).
Customers do not get to see work in person before buying. Each monitor is different , making it impossible to accurately portray the color of your work 100% of the time.
Have to deal with shipping. Packaging, lost mail, possible broken product, returns, and customs.
Have to build a following in a worldwide sea of other venders.

Shows Pros:

Built in customer base.
Get to see customers reaction to your work.
Can make connections you wouldn’t online for publications, teaching, demos, etc.
Get to see and interact with other artists.
Get to travel.

Show cons:

Shows are expensive. Every show you do there is a risk you won’t even cover expenses.
You need to work out a table display.
You need to travel.
May need to take time off work.
Can be discouraging watching everyone else make sales if your table isn’t getting much attention.
Need to build a large inventory.
Don’t know what customers respond to until you’re at the show.
Have to sell work for retail to cover show costs.
You lose studio time while traveling and working the show.

Our main focus for our business is online sales. It keeps us consistent with cash flow, and  the overhead is low cost. We’ve recently in the last few years started adding in shows, but that is an addition, not the focus. Also, for each show I sign up for I am prepared to accept the money put out many not be returned.

As I said earlier, my best advice is to pick one direction and give it your best effort, then worry about whether you want to expand in another area. Be prepared that either direction you go, it will take months to build a following. That means your first shows may not make you any money. It takes time to get noticed. There isn’t a magic wand.

My next few posts will focus on how to be successful with both online sales and shows. Stay tuned.

Look Where You Want To Go

When you learn to ride a bike, one of the first lessons is to look where you want to go. It’s pretty simple; whatever direction you’re looking is where you will end up.

This lesson can be applied to just about anything we do. For instance, if you are always saying, “It’s too hard to sell my work.” Or,  “The import market is killing my business.” Or, “I’ll never be as good as *fill in your favorite lampworker*” Then all of those predictions will come true.

Try this, “I will make ten beads this session.” Or, “I commit to ten Etsy listings a week.” Or, “I will spend one night a week trying new techniques.”

The idea is to focus on what you want. If you’re busy thinking about the ten beads you want to make and are excited about that, chances are you’ll get those ten beads made. Likely they will be better beads, too. The same thing applies to committing to ten listings  a week on Etsy. Your energy is flowing toward the positive.

However, if you are thinking: I’ll never sell anything anyway. The imports are taking over. You aren’t going to be motivated to get your business moving are you?

This isn’t a Pollyanna post. I know it’s hard to stay focused and motivated. Competition and economics are a factor in all business.  When things aren’t turning out as expected, take an honest look at what you’re doing and make a plan to try something new. If what you are doing isn’t working, try something else. Different beads, different price points, take a class, study what successful lampworkers are doing business wise and see if you can apply anything to your own business.

Always be looking forward.

Custom Orders--Lampworking Business Extras

You fire up the computer, take a look at your email and there it is in the subject line: Custom order.

Now what?

When I say custom, I mean custom. Something totally new, that isn’t just a small variation on something you already know how to do. If someone asks me to make a peacock bead in pink instead of blue, that is not custom. That’s just a made to order item. Okay now that we have that straight on with the post.

I’m going to be totally honest. Most lampworkers I know hate doing custom orders. Sure, there are a few out there that like it. I can only assume they enjoy the challenge or the opportunity to work on something they hadn’t thought of doing before. But from a purely profit standpoint, we almost always lose money on custom orders. At least on that particular order.

Here is how I handle the custom order question:

If the item in question is something I think I can do and I want to do it, then I tell the customer to give me a few days (a week or whatever) to come up with something. Once I have something I like, I email a picture to the customer. At that time we talk pricing.

If it isn’t something I think I can do, or if I just plain don’t want to then I politely decline. If I know of another artist who I think can do it or likes custom orders, I will point the client to them.

Notice how I don’t ask for a deposit or even give a price until I complete the piece. This is because if it’s truly custom, I often don’t even know if I can make whatever it is the customer is asking for.

I also will only consent to trying a custom order if I think it’s something I can sell if the original buyer backs out. Or if it’s a design I might want to add to my bead line.

Look, custom orders usually take ten times the amount of time to complete than something I already know how to do. Usually it takes anywhere from five to ten beads to get the design right and that’s if I started out on the right track. So if someone wants me to make something for ten bucks that I have no idea how to do and it’s going to take me three torch sessions to figure out, it isn’t exactly the best short term business move as far as profit goes.

Now, if I want to spend some time learning and it’s a design I’m excited about, then there are more benefits than that first initial custom order. You can’t put a price on development. A few of my beads came about because I explored ideas brought to me by customers. My peacock beads are one of them.

There are lampworkers out there that require a deposit to do custom  orders. It’s a sound business move. But for me, if I don’t know if I can fill the order, I’m not comfortable taking any money in.

For my made to order stuff, items I know I can make over and over again, if a customer places an order, I do require payment up front. In full.The customer pays. I make it, then I send it out. Usually within a few days.

Custom work can be fun if it’s the right project. Greg once had a request from the adult children of one of our long time marble buyers. It was a custom marble for their parents fiftieth wedding anniversary. The style was one Greg felt comfortable with and he went ahead and took on the order. The marble came out beautiful and the family was very pleased. Greg got a lot of joy out of making that piece and I know he felt honored to have been asked to make it.

I’ve heard many lampworkers groan over custom work. I’ve done it myself. But since I started picking and choosing what I want to do and politely declining those I don’t think I can successfully pull off, I no longer cringe at the ‘Do you do custom work?’ email.

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