15 July 2015

Minding My Business

Hello stranger.  I realized when logging on today that it's been about seven months since I've stopped by this page.  Shameful!

A lot has changed over the past couple of seasons.  No longer a road dog, I'm becoming domesticated.  We have a vegetable garden in the sunroom as the ancient oaks here don't allow enough sunlight on the property to have anything fruitful grow outside.  (I always get sideways glances when buying grow lights at the local hardware store.)  We have.... I'm thinking..... let's see.... twenty-nine chickens.  Yes.  Twenty nine.  The coop and the run are in full swing construction, I have ten babies still in the bathroom brooders, and six in the studio brooder.  Aside from the chickens, the garden, and the wedding plans, I've been spending much more time at the bench- creating, taking on custom work, and teaching both small workshops and private lessons here at Westover Oaks.

Life is grand.  And busy!

Also in the chaos and change, I've shifted gears online.  Since the new year, I've been selling exclusively on my independent site, www.rosyrevolver.com, and the experience has been an educational one to say the least.  Overall I've immensely enjoyed the feeling of being somewhat free and set apart from the super-saturated and emotionally-soluble circus that can be Etsy.  The new site, powered by Big Cartel, is wonderful to work with, but in trying to assess things from a "manager" role, I find myself struggling with which one is the avenue best suited to my needs.

Lately, after feedback from a few customers and a lot of thought, I've been debating on returning to Etsy, at least in part. I thought I'd share my thoughts with you and perhaps you can offer up some of your own experiences in ecommerce!

While I'm sure there are many, many more points to consider, here are a few things I've noticed that differentiate Etsy from Big Cartel in terms of my small business success:

Etsy Pros:

* I have to admit, they make the bookkeeping, the stats, shop trends and order info pretty accessible and simple. 

* As a community website, it's fairly easy to gain fresh exposure and find new potential customers.  Their system of tags and material labeling has certainly helped me in the past.  I would definitely say that exposure on Etsy seems much easier to gain than on Big Cartel.  However, I also am not a marketing guru, and do most of my advertising on Facebook and Instagram.  I'm sure there are ways to promote independent sites aside from these two social media outlets that would perhaps bring the exposure levels of both Etsy and Big Cartel into roughly the same arena.

* Everybody knows about Etsy.  Right?  

Etsy Cons:

* I have some moral/ethical/personal issues with what Etsy has become.  I miss the original spirit of Etsy.  Whereas I used to feel I was part of an artist community, I now feel I'm a cog in an enormous machine.  I don't feel loyalty from them and I certainly don't feel loyalty to them.  It was a great platform to begin my little business, don't get me wrong.  It kept me afloat for years.  But over time, I feel an undercurrent of greed and grandeur that somehow sucks away the "shop local" and "buy handmade" soul of artists' works.  Maybe I'm wrong, but hey, that's just me.

* Um, can you say FEES?  Etsy fees and PayPal fees could put me up towards $600 or more a month at certain times of the year, and at that point in time as a single mother, that was hard to swallow.  Hell, it would still be hard to swallow.   

* I dislike how every time my shop is empty, it no longer shows up in the search engine.  This prevents new and returning customers from even being able to see your previous sales and body of work unless they have a direct link.  It's as if Etsy is saying, "Good job!  You sold out in this last shop update!  As a reward for not having anything else left in your store that could make us money, we're going to prevent potential customers from finding you!"  Excellent.  Thanks, Etsy.  

Big Cartel Pros:

* I pay a flat $20 a month to have as many as one hundred products up for sale at any given time.  Twenty bucks.  Sure beats a twenty cents listing fee and a pretty percentage of sales.

* As I mentioned before, I feel free.  I feel like an independent artist, working on my own terms, laying out my own shop, sort of taking the long way around at times but finding pride in creating my own little web space and learning how to do things myself.  

* I love their helpline.  Everyone I've called or emailed with questions about setting up the site, managing listings and orders, etc., has been extremely kind, has responded promptly, and resolved issues quickly.  Can't claim the same for Etsy.  Just saying.

* It's simple.  I don't feel overwhelmed when I look at my dashboard.  I don't struggle to find where certain information is located.

Big Cartel Cons:

* Unless you can code, there are limits to how you can set up your site.  They do have several templates to choose from, but you'll have to spend some time going through them carefully in order to select the one that is best for you and your products.

* Items that have sold do not get relocated to a separate page or gallery, so unless you manually remove these listings, customers can get frustrated, seeing "sold out" on each thumbnail and having to search through your pages and categories to find what is still available.  You can manually arrange your listings so that all the sold-out items are at the end of your catalog, but that's something you'd have to stay on top of each day or with each sale... and I have not been very good about that.

* The photos.  For my template, all my photos have to be square.  I don't mind square photos- it actually can be nice when pulling images from Instagram; however, sometimes I make a long lariat or want to put a vignette together of several pieces, and the square format doesn't always lend itself to the types of photos I want to post.  This isn't an issue with Etsy, where it's easier to take photos in proportions that will lend themselves best to making the jewelry more appealing.

* The exposure can be tough.  I've had to start spending a bit of money to advertise on Facebook. (That kind of negates being excited about not paying Etsy fees, though I still shell out way less than I used to.)  I've been blessed to have many repeat customers and many have followed me over from Etsy, but I rarely get a new customer now, and that's not so good for growing the business and brand.


For the record, I'll probably think of more points and comparisons after I hit the "publish" button on this post, but at least you have some food for thought, and maybe you can understand why I've been fluctuating on this decision.

Here is what I think I'm going to do:

I am going to use Etsy as a place to keep all of my production pieces.  It will be a place for made-to-order items.  This way, the "selling out" of each listing isn't an option as I can keep the quantity up and just fill orders as they come in.  With items always available, my shop will stay in the search engine results.  Meanwhile, I'll put up a message in the Shop Announcement section (I hope people read those things) saying that all of my one-of-a-kind and art-to-wear pieces will be over on www.rosyrevolver.com.  By keeping the more expensive, elaborate, and frankly, artistic pieces on the Big Cartel domain, I avoid paying Etsy's fees on the higher end items.  It also maintains the feeling I need of being a bit more "grown" in my business and creative ventures. Finally, I'll keep posting preview shots and direct links to new work on the Rosy Revolver Facebook page so that there is a central hub to all this division and madness.

Does that makes sense?

I do worry about maintaining two outlets for sales, but fortunately for me, I have an amazing assistant who keeps my paperwork and orders straight.  I may have to open a third store for chicken sales if things continue to escalate as they have around here.  No, really.  

Where are you selling right now and what do you like and not like about that space?  As a disclaimer, this is not meant to be a blog post giving you business advice, and I am learning everyday myself how to run my business a little better.  I'm also eager to listen if you have thoughts to share.

I hope all is well with each of you.  I'm going to try to make more time to spend here sharing life and love and art with you via words as much as metal. 

Hugs to you, pistols.

31 December 2014

Year of the Rose and Warmest Wishes

As I sit here, having completed my final pieces for 2014, and as the year closes with the sound of music and laughter from the other room, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for making this one of the most successful, joyful, inspiring years I can remember.

You have fed me in more ways than one, you've unfolded me when I was feeling so small.  I took my son to school and picked him up each day because of your support and the subsequent absence of my needing a "real job".

You've blessed me.

I am in awe of your kind words, your patience, your interest, your hearts.  Friends, customers, fellow artists and smiths... each of you has meant more than I can say.

On Monday, January 4th, I'll be welcoming a new assistant full time.  She's been a dear friend for nearly fourteen years and is an incredible metalsmith in her own right.  She'll be leaving the safety and routine of the retail world to come join me in the chaos and creativity that is my little business, and it is my prayer that we'll build each other up and just make each other better.  She'll be the one making sure I'm organized, caught up on my communications, she'll be the one shipping your orders, filing mine, and freeing me up so that I can spend more time with my hands at the bench.  She is one of the strongest, bravest, most inspiring women I know, and she's also the inspiration behind these No Dream Killer Necklaces.

I'll introduce you soon.  We are incredibly excited for the potential of the new year....

I hope you all have have a safe and joyful New Year's Eve.  I am going to trade my camera for an apron and a spatula, as I have pickle dip to make for a few friends coming over tonight.  Tomorrow, we'll head up to the family farm in Virginia for a belated Christmas with my grandfather.  Life is good, amazingly good, and so incidentally, is the pickle dip.

Sending love from Carolina and looking forward to seeing you on the other side.  Joy to you, friend, wherever you may sleep tonight.