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The Business of Lampworking

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Choosing Your Venue--Chapter 3 part 1 The Business of Lampworking

Have you defined success and gotten legal? Are you ready to start selling your lampwork creations? If so, you have some decisions to make. Where do you sell your work?

Online venues:

eBay
Etsy
Artfire
Personal Website
Wholesalecrafts.com

FYI: These are the ones I am most familiar with and the ones I have personally used. And the ones I know other sellers have used successfully. If you know of other successful online markets, please let me know.

Major Bead Shows:

Whole Bead
Best Bead
Bead Fest
Bead and Button
Bay Area Bead Extravaganza

Regional Bead Society Shows

Often areas have a regional bead society and once a year those groups will hold a show. I know there is one in Houston, Denver, Oakland and many more. These local shows usually cost less to do (lower table fees and no travel if you’re lucky) and are very friendly. Check your own area for more opportunities.

Local Craft shows:

Almost everyone has local craft show opportunities to them to sell their work. I personally do not do any of these shows even though there are many, many opportunities available to us. New Orleans has an Arts in the Park program that runs three weekends a month at three different parks in the city. On top of that, there is a festival almost every weekend somewhere around here and a happening Farmers Market in Baton Rouge.

You see, other than the marbles, we do not sell finished work. I can, but do not enjoy making jewelry. I prefer to make the beads and leave that task to my talented jewelry designer customers. As for the marbles, well, that is  a specialized market and not quite right for craft/art shows.

However, if you do sell a finished product, these types of shows can be advantageous. Just be sure to check out the venue first and get a feel for what sells well there.  If you make one-hundred dollar bracelets and the gal next to you is selling two dollar import, base metal earrings, it may not be the best fit.  Use your judgement or you could end up in ninety degree heat for two days with nothing to show for it but a sunburn.

Galleries:

Again for galleries, you are going to need a finished product. You are also going to need to sell wholesale or on consignment or both.

Bead Stores:

Bead stores are great if you can find ones that want to carry artisan lampwork beads. A lot of them do carry imports, but don’t let that scare you off. There is a market for both (more on this later). Again, for bead stores be prepared for wholesale and/or consignment.

Home Parties:

We’ve all been to them. Creative Memories, The Pampered Chef, Tubberware, Naughty lady parties, Mary Kay, etc. Why not one for your beads and jewelry? Work it the same way you would one of those Creative Memory parties. Set everyone up to make a simple piece of jewelry, designate a reward program for the hostess, bring some wine, and lay out your wonderful creations for sale.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be going over the pros and cons for each selling model and give you some tips on how to be most successful for which ever direction you choose. In the mean time, be asking yourself these questions:

Do I like engaging with customers?

Do I want to travel  once or twice a month?

Can I take decent photos or am I willing to learn?

Do I have the confidence to approach bead stores/gallery owners?

Do I have the technical skills to run a website or other online venue? Am I willing to learn?

And finally the most import question: Do I have the  motivation to stick with whatever direction I plan to go?

Getting Legal--Chapter 2 The Business of Lampworking

Now that you have defined your success and hopefully worked out your goals, it’s time to get legal. Before you offer anything up for sale, be sure you have all your legal ducks in a row.

Every state, county, parish, and town has their own rules as to what a person needs in order to be legally running a business. I recommend going down to your county (or parish as I live in Louisiana) offices and find out what you need.

I’ve run our lampworking business out of three states. California, Texas, and Louisiana. Each have their own regulations. But these are the things you need to be aware of:

First things first. Are you going to be a sole proprietorship? Meaning you are the sole owner of your business? In a partnership with another person? Or maybe you want to be set up as a corporation. I understand there are tax and legal benefits to forming a corporation, but you’ll need to do that legwork yourself. Our business is set up as a sole proprietorship, and is by far the simplest way to go.  I am the owner, so yes, Greg works for me. :)

Okay, next you need to decide on a business name. If you are going to operate under anything other than your legal name, you need to file a DBA (aka Doing Business As) with your county. Years ago it was a trend in the lampworking community to use made up business names, especially ones with the word fire or flame in them. In retrospect I think those artists would have been much better off going with their own artist name. JC Herrell, Lori Greenberg, Kimberly Affleck, Andrew Brown Studios, etc, etc. All easy to remember. I don’t have to think, ‘were they Dancing Flame, Fire Diva, Midnight Glass?’. BTW, I just made those all up off the top of my head. If any of those are your business name, I apologize if I offended you.

Last month while at Bead and Button we were looking for one of our friend’s booth in the booth guide and none of us knew her business name. We knew her name, but not what she was operating under, and we’d all known her for years. After we found her she concluded she should probably just change it to her own name. Unless you are prepared to do a major branding, think about just using your own name. We’ll remember you, I promise. Greg and I use Chase Designs, since there are the two of us. But I still brand his marbles Greg Chase in every listing. Its the connection thing.

Anyway, if you use your own name you can skip the DBA.

Permits and licenses:

Business license. Find out from your state and county if you need one. For some places you do and some you don’t.It’s usually a revenue thing for cities.  Since I run a business out of my house that doesn’t have customers coming here, I do not need one. I found this out by calling my city offices and asking.

Sales and use tax permit. Almost anyone in engaged in business will need one of these unless you are in a no sales tax state. In Louisiana, I needed to register for one with the state and my parish. In California and Texas I only had to register once with the state and the one form took care of both. If you don’t know, go ask someone or call.Also find out what you need to collect taxes for. In most places if you sell on the internet and ship out of state, you do not need to collect sales tax. If you are selling in person or doing shows, yes you need to collect it. Do your homework, talk to an accountant. Know your city, county and state laws.

Also if you do shows out of state, you will need to register for a sales and use tax number for each state you sell in. Most shows will help you with getting the right forms filled out, but if not, just call the taxing authority in that state and explain your situation. They will help you out.

Resale license. If you are purchasing anything and reselling it, you want and need one of these. This little number makes it so you do not have to pay sales tax on these purchases.

It can seem overwhelming and sometimes the forms are confusing, but I’ve found all of the people at my parish offices to be very helpful. They want you to be legal and are more than willing to help.

How to answer the discount question--Lampwork business extras

Periodically I read stuff on my lampworking forums that prompts a blog post. While customer service has it’s own chapter in my series The Business of Lamporking, I couldn’t resist tackling this topic that came up a few days ago.

As a lampwork seller (or any seller) you’ll likely get the discount question at some point. It comes in a variety of forms. Everything from: do you offer wholesale? To: what’s the lowest you’ll sell this for?

The wholesale question is a reasonable one. Many of us do sell wholesale or offer quantity discounts. If you want to sell in bead stores or galleries, you will need to figure out your wholesale terms. Most of us offer a 50% discount if the buyer reaches a certain retail amount.

I’ll admit, the question, ‘what is the lowest you’ll sell this for?’ can be irritating. Especially if you don’t have a history bargaining with that particular customer. But I recommend responding just as polite as you would to the wholesale question.

Here are my standard responses.

The wholesale question:

Hello, thank you for your inquiry.  I offer a 50% wholesale discount on retail orders that reach $xxx. My lead time on such orders is usually two to three weeks from time of order to shipping date.

The discount question:

Hello, thank you for your inquiry. I do not offer discounts on individual beads. On orders over $xxx I offer a 25% quantity discount. In addition, I do periodically run 20% to 25% off sales in my Etsy store. Sign up here for my newsletter to be notified.

If you don’t offer any discounts that is fine, too. I still recommend being polite. You never know who is on the other end of your email. There is nothing wrong with writing, I’m sorry, but I do not offer discounts on my work. Simple, easy, gets the point across. No room for negotiations. And you don’t run the risk of alienating a potential customer. Maybe they are used to bargaining. Lots of cultures do it and the beauty of the internet is it’s global.

I’ve seen many people get upset when asked for a discount. I admit I’ve gotten irritated myself. But why is it so hard to just be nice? Especially when we are selling our work online. We have the opportunity to step back and calm down before we hit the send button.

It’s my firm belief that being nice is one of the most fundamental business practices and crucial when selling our own artwork. We each have our own ideas of what is acceptable and what isn’t. But lets get real. When you get an irritating question it isn’t like you are entering a relationship with that person. You don’t need to school them on social graces. Stay polite and you won’t run any risk of harming your reputation.

But you don’t care what that person thinks, you say to me. You don’t want to do business with them anyway. Be careful here. There are pieces by lampworkers I used to covet, until I got to know them better. Now I don’t have any desire to have a piece these particular people made in my personal collection based on how they treated other people.

If you are selling your work, always remember this is a business. Your business. Don’t let one or two irritating questions get the better of you.

Define success - Chapter 1 The Business of Lampworking

For a few years now a friend of mine and I have been kicking around the idea of writing a book on the ins and out of the lampworking business.  It’s always been, “Hey we should collaborate and write a book about that.” Maybe we still will one day, but in the mean time I’m going to do a summer series on the topic. So far I have over twenty chapters to cover and the first one is to define what success means to you.

Success comes in a variety of different packages. Does it mean making a living off of selling lampwork?  Making  some extra mad money? Maybe you want your work to be published in the various glass magazines. Do you just want to sell your work as a form of validation? Then there are those who only want to make enough money to keep up their glass buying habits.

All of these are valid goals and don’t ever let anyone else define what success means to you.

Let me say it again. Only you can define what your success is.

If you want to sell your work for a dollar a bead, then go for it. Last I checked we live in a free market economy. But are you on the right path to being successful? If you’re looking at people buying your work as a form of validation, you might be. But if you want to make a living at this, then probably not, unless you are selling spacers or seconds.

In order to be successful, you need a goal. One person success may be another person’s failure.  For instance if your goal is to make a living off of lampork, the financials are going to be very different for someone who has a two thousand dollar house payment and two kids to support compared to someone who’s rent is five hundred dollars and only needs to care for a dog.

First set the goal, then make a plan. When Greg and I got serious about being full time lampworkers our version of success went something like this:

Greg: To make what he wanted, when he wanted to.

Deanna: To make enough money we didn’t have to work for anyone esle.

Looking at those goals, we set a plan. And only part of that plan was financial. We did a budget and figured out how much we needed to make each day to live. Then we took that number and added in how much we wanted to save and came up with a daily sales goal. Then we looked at the items we were making and made sure we listed enough items online each day to at least cover that sales goal. In the early days, if I had it on hand, I put up twice as much as we needed since not everything sells the first time around.

Happily, that worked out just fine. But remember, Greg said he wanted to make what he wanted, when he wanted. He’s got that artist gene. You know the one. When the artist feels stifled when they can’t do their own thing regularly. Luckily, I don’t have that problem. I like production work. So, while Greg tolled away being an artist, I did the production bead work, happily making the same kinds of beads day in and day out. I still do that, but have also learned to build in some play time at the torch for new designs. Greg on the other hand has learned he sort of likes production sometimes. Being creative all the time can be exhausting.

Our version of success had changed over the years. As I said, early on it was to make enough to not have to work for anyone else. That’s a good goal, but does that mean it’s okay if we are barely scrapping by every month? I’ve since revised. It’s now, to make a comfortable living. And my sales goals have changed accordingly and so has my marketing tactics.

For instance, I can sell a lot of beads if I lower my prices. A Lot! But I’m far better off selling less beads at a higher price. Not only do I make roughly the same amount of money (if not more) but it also gives me some free time to enjoy my life. We’ll get to this in another post.

For now, I urge you to set your own parameters of success. It will then be far easier to set your goals  and work out a plan to get there.

 

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