In planning a business I find that it is useful to focus on that word ‘business’. I also find that it is really hard to bring that focus when the business involves handmade products. When we make something ourselves we naturally pour a piece of our soul into the end result. I can associate different products that I have made with different times in my life – music I was listening to, TV I was watching, emotions that were being experienced – and bringing a business lens to those products feels like I have to turn off the connection I have to the piece I have made. When I think of business I tend to think of words like ‘practical’ and ‘hard’ and ‘serious’, which aren’t the lovely creative feelings that I have when I am designing a colour combination for a crochet project, or thinking about the design aspects of a piece of jewellery. How to bring those two concepts together is the struggle that many artists experience. I don’t have all the answers to this, but wanted to share some of my thoughts in the hope that they may be of use to other creative business people.
The first part of finding the connection between your creative side and your business side is to work out whether in fact you want a business. I see so many discussions online that start with the line “I am starting a business sewing children’s clothes. I don’t want to make money from it but I want to know about insurance and other requirements”. The concept of running a business and not making money means that straight away the maker is having a conflict – if you don’t want to make money then it isn’t a business. You might wonder why someone wants to make products but not make money. Personally I don’t think that these people truly don’t want to make money from their products – I think that they don’t feel worthy. They don’t believe that their products are as good as someone else’s and therefore feel bad charging money for what they make. They think that because their goods are handmade, they are somehow inferior to what is sold in shops, or that people won’t want to pay for goods that aren’t sold in shops. I think that there are a small number of artists/designers/creatives who truly don’t want money – they want appreciation and love, but they are rare, and appreciation and love does not pay the bills.
If you want to make goods and sell them to cover your costs because you get joy from making, then you aren’t really in business either – you are just selling your products to pay for your hobby. Which is awesome! Nothing better than selling a painting and knowing that the new set of watercolours that you have had your eye on is now within reach! But you aren’t in business.
You know that you are in business when you make products with the purpose of selling them for profit. Profit does not mean that you make a bag using materials that cost $5 and you sell it for $8. Profit means that you take into account your time and expertise, all the costs involved in making products including electricity, insurance, time for research, time spent marketing, and then add on profit on top. Profit is what allows you to earn a living from making, rather than just covering your costs.
Having worked out that you are actually in business, and that you want to make a profit, it is time to hit any feelings of unworthiness on the head. Any time you have the thought that ‘but I can’t charge that much, it is just handmade’ you need to smack that thought out of the stratosphere, because whether something is handmade or mass produced in a factory doesn’t determine whether an item is worthy of being purchased. If you make an item that someone else wants to buy then you are entitled to charge for your time and skills. People buy products that they need or that appeal to them. Some people don’t understand that pricing for handmade items and will say it is too expensive – they are not your customers. They might become your customers with a bit of education, but on the whole they are not the market you need to target.
To bridge that gap between your connection with your products and treating them like a business you need to build a bit of faith in yourself. Once you have confidence that your products are made to a standard that you approve of, then you have to accept that they are worthy of being sold, and that selling them properly, for the right price, is just acknowledging or respect the intrinsic value in what you have made.
There are many well written articles about how to price your goods, value your talent, and promote your wares. Read them, and learn from them. In my own experience, charging the higher price does not mean that items don’t sell. However helping a customer feel good about spending that much money on your product by creating the story that goes with it can encourage the purchase, and help them to find the connection to the piece that you have yourself. This is how we take the creative connection and successfully combine it with a business approach. I recently sold a handmade tea cosy to a customer who saw a picture of it on my Facebook page and wanted to buy it, without knowing the price. I gave her the price and then told her the story about how the wool that it is made from is grown on farms in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, not too far from where I live, and then processed in Victoria, making it authentically Australian wool. I explained that I had made the cosy myself, using my own design and I was particularly taken with this design and colour combination myself. She happily purchased it, because the tea cosy was now more than a photo on a screen, but had a story about it, that included where it came from, and the love that was put into making it. The connection between business and creativity was successful!
Creating the story about your product is what makes it different from every other product out there. It shows that your product has qualities that other products don’t have, whether it is in your choice of materials, or the patterns you use, and that your product is made with personal care and attention, and that these are qualities that are valuable. It is part of your marketing campaign, but also part of your process of acknowledging the worth of your creative output.
Okay, last week’s post about being accepted to have my products in store at in.cube8r Gallery and Emporium was pretty big. But I may be topping it this week with the announcement of plans to be represented in not one but two more shops, and two more States along with it!
I had to practise setting up at home so that I could say that my products would fit into the space I will occupy in in.cube8r so I commandeered the coffee table as my stand in space!
First things first – my box of goodies is in transit to Melbourne today, and should arrive in time for the stocking of my products on 1 February. (Still so exciting!) I have included a couple of new lines of earrings in with the shipment too!
The next shop that I will be appearing in is The Collective Store at Wynnum in Queensland (yes, another interstate move!) This is a beautiful shop that represents handmade artists and designers and gives us the ability to have exposure in a different part of the country! I will be sending up a box of goodies over the next week, to start my appearance in their store from 12 February. I may also need to drive up for a visit at some point, given that it is one of my favourite places! Just in time for sorting out what to send, I have another new range of earrings ready to join the collection, so will be sure to include those in my parcel.
And leaving the biggest announcement (personally) until last, I am very pleased to announce that I am joining the Trove Canberra Collective at the beginning of March (with my products starting to appear in store in late February.) This is big because some of you might recall that way back when, (in fact about this time of year four years ago) I had an idea about setting up a pop-up shop with some fellow handmade designers in Canberra. I saw an empty shop and thought it might be a great idea to do for a month. A group of us got together and the idea grew and became an idea about doing this for more than a month, and forming a collective to represent local artists and designers through a shop front. It was an awesome idea and had lots of support but after a few months I had to face reality and withdraw from it because my family responsibilities were just too big and my time too limited. But the groundswell of support continued and with lots of hard work the very successful Trove Collective has now been operating for several years. I have always stayed in touch but didn’t feel in a position to join them until recently. When I sat down at the beginning of the year to make a plan for how to build my business and to be smarter and more organised about my products, my processes and my brand I decided that it was time to put my hand up to see if I could, finally, join the collective. I am so happy to be able to announce that I have been accepted! It is like closing a circle and is a sign of how my plans are shaping, and how I am keeping a promise to myself to carve out some time for me and what I like. Every now and then I have a moment of thinking to myself ‘what on earth am I doing’, but then I continue on making and designing and realise that all the hard work I have put in over the years has all been leading to this point where I know what I am doing and am happy doing it.
In other news I decided to push myself a little and, over the weekend, I entered two of my tea cosies in the Handicraft section of the Bungendore Show. Because I sell my creations I thought I should do the right thing and enter the “Professional” class, which is open to all types of handcraft. It was the biggest class in the section, with some amazing entries, so I was very pleased (and slightly relieved) to have been awarded a Highly Commended for my cactus tea cosy! (First prize went to an incredibly beautiful leather saddle so you can see the competition was fierce!) Putting yourself out there to be judged is tough!
All dressed up and ready to go to Missouri – 8 party favours!
We were also very lucky to have a visit from family who live in Missouri, USA, late last week. I had met my second cousin 40 years earlier (I was VERY young at the time) but hadn’t met his wife. She and I hit it off when I discovered that she loves tea and all the paraphernalia that goes with it! A match made in heaven! I gave her a teapot necklace as a gift, and she then turned around and ordered a set of 8 to use as party favours at her next tea party back home! I was delighted to be able to put them together, knowing that they are off to be shared with some tea loving ladies across the sea!
With all of that happening in my ‘business’ world you would think that things must be going smoothly on the home front! Well – they aren’t too bad at the moment but this is the return to school week so anxiety levels are high for everyone. My middle chick had an interview at her current school last week and her levels of distress at just having to walk through the gates were horrible to witness. (Nothing to do with the school and everything to do with her perception of danger.) She is being supported by a fantastic mental health team, and we have several strategies and plans in place to try and get her there, and engaged, but there are some ugly days ahead of us I fear.
Keeping life bright with some rainbow crochet therapy.
My eldest chick is waiting on tenterhooks to hear the outcome of an application to a different school (she jumps on me whenever my phone rings to see if it is the school) so she is a bit wound up too. If she isn’t accepted at this new school she will happily return to her previous high school, with her friends and where she knows the teachers, so the outcome will be good either way.
The home classroom set up ready to go for this year
And my boy started back at school today! Luckily his first day was a Distance Education day, where he and I worked on the packet of work sent by his correspondence school teacher. I was dreading it to be honest, but the first piece of work we tackled grabbed his attention immediately and it was a great start to the school year. He will go into his other school (the one with physical classrooms) for an hour tomorrow (boy am I hoping that we can increase his time at school this year) to meet his teacher and see his friends, so I will return to the daily drive-and-wait routine. The good thing is that there are excellent Op Shops in the town where his school is, so I will be able to check them for teapots and teacups on a regular basis!
With all of that exciting news it is probably time for me to go and have a cup of tea and tackle some crochet! My mind is buzzing with ideas at the moment so lets hope that I can translate them into creations!
I hope that you have had a good week, and that if you are getting children back to school I hope that it goes smoothly for everyone.
It is only fitting that the last day of the year is the time when I finally sit down to reflect on the year that was. I decided a few years ago to stop saying that the old year was horrible and the New Year would be awesome because there is no magic in turning the page of the calendar. Life is what it is, and if I am always looking forward to the day when it gets better, I will miss the good that is happening right now. With that being said, there is no harm is looking back, reflecting, and planning for different outcomes in the future, so it is with that spirit that I am writing this post.
On the family front 2017 can be summarised as the year of school changes! My middle chick started high school, but after struggling with anxiety issues that interfered with her attendance, changed schools in the second half of the year. Her attendance didn’t improve but her anxiety has, so there are plans in place to support her attendance this year. My boy started the year at one primary school, then shifted to another, across the border, where he was placed in a support class which was much more successful than mainstream classes without the right supports. His attendance was still limited to two hours a day, and then reduced to one hour a day, so in the last few weeks of the school year we transitioned to a combination of school attendance and Distance Education. This is the plan for 2018, so I will be his teacher at home to cover the time when he is not at school. And finally my eldest chick stayed at the same school all year, and made some great progress in her participation in class, and tried out new subjects like Engineering with much joy. At the end of the year, following some health issues, I decided she should go and live with her father for a while so she bid farewell to her school and friends, only for the decision to be reversed after some professional advice about the wisdom of her move. At the moment she is in limbo about which school she will attend in 2018, with several options open to her, including a return to her previous school.
We had our final family stay in hospital in Sydney as part of the ongoing support for managing my boy’s behaviour, and I am proud to say that the staff there couldn’t stop praising us for the major changes that we have made and how well we are doing as a family. The skills that I learned there will stay with me for life and I often find myself thinking ‘What would Tamar (the senior psychologist on our team) say” when faced with a new behavioural challenge. How blessed we are that this service is provided under our Public Health system and didn’t cost me a cent but made such a change to our life.
Supporting three kids with mental health issues, one of whom also has disabilities, is tough work. There are times when, as another one falls apart just when I think everything is going well, I wonder where I went wrong. Luckily there are lots of great people around me who are good at calmly pointing out that I am not the cause of the various issues, and that sometimes life just sucks. I have had some moments of falling apart during the year under the weight of trying to keep everyone’s heads above water, but am happy to be ending the year in a good frame of mind, with solid plans for supporting each child, and continuing the endless search for time for myself!
New teapot earrings made to my own design!
On the farm front we grew our flock by adding a new ram, Gordon Ram-say, who ensured his future with the production of 11 lambs in October, from 7 ewes. Four of our previous lambs went to the butcher at around the same time, and we have since sold two ewes with lambs to our neighbours, so we are currently sitting at 16 head. We renewed our chicken flock and currently have a standing delivery of 4 dozen eggs a week to friends in town, plus plenty for our own consumption, so it is going well – bar the current mite infestation that has me cleaning and spraying the coops every few days, and constantly feeling that I have tiny bugs crawling on me! The realities of farm life!
We acquired a new dog, with Shadow the Belgian Shepherd joining us in August, and then sadly lost our beloved Dottie in the week before Christmas. Our house is a lot quieter without her and we miss her daily.
The biggest change for me was the return to designing and making. After a long period of stagnating, and being uninspired, the return to making started with a desire for a tea cosy for my glass teapot. Then it grew! Between researching and designing reusable teabags, collecting and re-purposing teacups by making candles, and planters, and then making tea themed jewellery, a whole new business has grown up under my existing brand. With that growth I have found a new burst of energy, inspiration and joy. I have attended three markets, and have plans for more in 2018.
Mesh tea infusers with removable charms are one of my new products going into 2018
I also have plans for products that are repeatable (instead of requiring a new design for each product as I have so often in the past) with ideas about selling some through shops as well as online. Whether this all comes to pass or not my brain is happy to be back in use!
Organic cotton resusable tea bags
Heading into 2018 seems a little more full of portent that other years because 2018 is the year I turn 50. I don’t think that there is a lot of magic in turning 50, or that life will suddenly change, but I have decided that there are various things that I can let go of now that I can no longer deny that I am a grown up. Many of my habits have changed over the last few years anyway, so I no longer go shopping for new clothes, no longer worry about what is the latest trend/restaurant/bar/cocktail/book, and no longer worry that I am not worried! Over the last decade I have been practising saying ‘No’, and I plan to continue this for as long as I am around. I am working on identifying when the issue is mine, and when it truly belongs to someone else and therefore shouldn’t worry me. And I am not investing time in people who don’t deserve the small amounts of free time that I have. While my 20’s were about having adventures and learning to fit into my own skin, my 30’s were about building a family and my 40’s were about raising my children as a single parent and restructuring my life to achieve this, my aim for my 50’s is about being kind to myself, my kids and our planet. Anything extra is a bonus!
All of a sudden it is December and I am meant to be thinking about putting up the Christmas tree and getting my presents ready. Having just finished the celebrations for my boy’s 11th birthday it came as a bit of a shock when I realised that my eldest chick finishes school this week and that Christmas is only three weeks away! What have I been doing with myself?
The short answer is focusing on family and on making. The longer answer includes market preparation for a market that was cancelled for technical reasons, managing medical appointments for all three children, and trying to stay on top of the basics like feeding them and keeping the house clean. (Some of those have been more successful than others!)
My son turned 11 last week and wanted to celebrate with a sleepover with three friends. One of them couldn’t make it but the two that did come had a great time and he truly felt that he had celebrated his birthday as he wanted to. Phew! It was pretty low key – I took them to the movies then we came home and made pizza, then they played games, built Lego, shot Nerf guns and slept! Gone are the days of elaborate themed cakes and parties, treasure hunts and party bags, and what a relief that is!!
I have not started on my Christmas making or buying! With not a lot of money around there won’t be extravagant purchases this year, but there will be handmade gifts, made with love and with the person they are being made for in mind. Now to remember to actually make the list and make the gifts! I suspect that, like last year, pyjamas will feature heavily for the younger generation. I like to tell them that it means that they are wrapped in love when they sleep, but really it is because you can’t have too many pairs, and they don’t have to be an exact fit!
As for all the making – well that has been going well. When the market last week was cancelled I even managed to list quite a few of my products in my shop, so feel free to have a browse at what I have there now. A few new tea cosies, some new cacti, jewellery, and even bookmarks have found their way onto my workbench over the last few weeks. I did a big analysis of my products after the last market (just like I recommended in my last post) and did some streamlining of both products and processes as a result. While any handmade business will always be a work in progress, I feel better about my set up at the moment, and ready for the next market I am attending, the Makers + Merchants Twilight Market in Goulburn on 15 December from 5 – 9pm. Goulburn is about 40 minutes up the highway from where I live and I am looking forward to another regional market after the great time that I had at the Gundaroo Market. Being able to meet new customers and talk about my products is fun, and I know a number of the other stallholders who will be attending so catching up with them will be great too!
For now though, I am enjoying the sound of rain on our tin roof, the sight of our tanks and dams overflowing, and the ground soaking it all up. A great day to be at home making and planning and thinking! The danger is, of course, that it means that I am already putting in orders for supplies to use in new product ideas that keep popping up. Next year is going to be busy when all the parcels arrive!
I hope that you have had a great week and that the lead up to Christmas isn’t too crazy. This year my focus is on keeping our celebrations simple and meaningful. We won’t be spending money we don’t have on food we don’t need, or rushing around trying to see all the people we haven’t seen for the last twelve months. Instead I will be working with the kids on making our decorations, making presents for teachers and special friends, and talking about how we can remember the meaning of Christmas and live it in our daily lives. Lofty aspirations are better than none I have decided!
Yesterday I attended the Collected and Created Gundaroo Market as a stallholder and am pleased to report that it was a great day! Not only was the venue lovely (the historic Soldiers Memorial Hall in Gundaroo) but the whole market was well planned, attended by beautifully talented local creators and collectors, and had the whole community supporting it. All my thinking about attending markets, branding, displays, etc, came together seamlessly and I had a lovely day telling the story behind my products, selling to interested customers and generally enjoying the whole experience.
Of course although I am the face of my business the reality is that it doesn’t happen without the team behind the scenes. My parents provide such huge amounts of support that make it possible. Yesterday Dad drove over to Gundaroo (about 15 minutes cross country from us) to help me unload my car, then he came back with my two daughters in the afternoon to help with the packing up. In the meantime Mum looked after the children, tidied my house, and gave me the peace of mind to be away from home for the day.
Now we are the in after market phase and although my first inclination is to sit back and chill for a few days, the reality is that I don’t have time! Last night after going through and counting my sales, working out the overheads and determining the level of profit (important so that you know whether you truly made money or just had fun) I also sat and assessed stock to determine where the gaps are that need to be refilled before the next market in two weeks time. A quick online order to supplement my supplies, a list of products that need to be made, and a plan is starting to come together.
After market analysis is important so that you can see what sold well, what didn’t work, what you need to change in your display and what you forgot! One of the stall holders I spoke to yesterday said that she was surprised by what sold and what didn’t, and I had to agree. Even with knowing your target audience, and researching what you think will sell best, until you actually hit the event the predictions are just that, predictions. Things that didn’t move at all at my last market went like hotcakes at this one, and items that I thought would really appeal to the community didn’t move at all! This doesn’t mean that I will abandon those products but I will think about how to make them more accessible, appealing, and inviting to my customers.
Things to think about before your next market:
How do you keep track of your stock? Is there a better way to track what sold and what didn’t? Do you need a spreadsheet that you mark off as items sell, a notepad that you make notes on as things move, or an inventory system connected to a point of sale that provides a full retail experience?
How did your display work? Where there products that didn’t move because they were lost in the display, or items that customers couldn’t easily see? Do you need more height variations, more signs, or different ways of showing pricing?
How did your stall set up work for you as the seller? Did you have a place to take money and wrap purchases without crowding customers? Did you have a place to sit when you had a few minutes break? Did your cashbox and credit card facility work for you or was it too unwieldy and awkward?
Do you have supplies to replenish your stock, and how long will supplies take to arrive? If you have enough for the next event but none for the event after that, assuming you sell the same amount, is it time to order more now so that they are ready when you need them?
How did you feel about the experience? Were you happy talking to customers or did you feel overwhelmed? Did you find that people were queuing to pay for items because you were too busy? (I know – there are worse problems that can happen, but if customers get tired of waiting they will just walk away instead.) Do you need to have someone else to help you serve customers for the next event? Were you tired, hungry, thirsty or stressed? What can you do to change that for next time?
What was your most frequently asked question? If the question was about how much something cost, it is time to rethink how you display your prices. If it was about what a particular item was, it is time to rethink how you package and display that item. If it was whether you made all of this yourself then that is a great conversation starter! Thinking about these questions can help you to be better prepared for next time.
Having now addressed all of those questions myself I am off to conduct another Distance Education session with my son, then start making lists. There are some packages that need to be rethought, some signs that need to be made, and a shelf unit that needs to be painted to provide more height on one table. Plus some blue wool and fuzzy green ‘cactus’ wool to be sourced!
I hope that your after market analysis gives you lots of inspiration to keep growing your business.
I am preparing to attend my second market in this, my revitalised small business life. And while I would love to report that all has been smooth sailing i would be lying because that is not how life happens. For anyone!
On the product development side I have lots of positive things to report, including new earring designs, key rings, wine charms, stitch markers, and more ideas that are coming together. I have enjoyed finding new ways to make tea related paraphernalia and the process of sourcing supplies, learning new ways to craft things, and thinking about packaging and branding. The products in the following photos are all available in my shop, with more if you would like to see the whole range.
I have also been crocheting away, making tea cosies and delivering orders. This cosy is my current favourite and sold very quickly so I am inspired to play with this style a little more. You really can never have enough ladybirds in your life!
That is all pretty positive isn’t it? What has real life got to do with all of this? My chicks and I have been having a bit of a rough life over the last few weeks. My eldest ended up in hospital for a week unexpectedly (she is receiving great treatment and support for what ails her and will be fine) and the ripple effect through the family is still being felt. Existing struggles with school attendance have been magnified, and anxiety levels are high. I saw a friend briefly this morning after a horrible couple of hours at home and answered her query about how I was with a very breezy ‘I am great’, then realised that I was great in that exact moment, standing in the sunshine on her front step, even though a couple of hours earlier I had wondered if the sky was about to fall in. It is a useful reminder that there are lovely moments even in days of stress.
Big changes are happening in the latest round of strategies to make life better for my chicks. My beautiful boy is now doing a combination of Distance Education and school attendance, which makes me his supervisor. Not a fun job but we have had some nice moments in amongst the tough ones in the short time we have been doing it. The long term challenge here is to understand how he learns best so that I can support him to gain the right skills to go on and succeed in life. He hates to make errors so any process of asking questions or asking him to give answers is fraught with anxiety, and therefore aggression, for him. In order to give him the best chances I need to stay calm when I really want to scream at him to just do it. Oops. Best keep working on not saying that!
Oh how I wish this was true!
My biggest girl is planning a huge adventure, going to live with their father for a while. She will be living overseas, attending an International School, and being exposed to all sorts of amazing experiences. I am going to miss her but this is the best decision for her at the moment and she deserves to have a chance to live as a teenager without feeling responsible for her siblings and her mother. I keep stressing to her that she is not to feel responsible for her father, and that it is his job to look after her, not the other way around, but only time will tell how that one goes. This is not a decision that I thought I would be making, but it was my suggestion that she go, and I am really comfortable that it is the right decision for her, and that we need to try it as an option for her. And seriously – what teenager doesn’t get excited at the thought of moving to the other side of the world and getting to see and do amazing things for a few months or longer?! (I admit openly that I am very envious of the experience she is about to have!)
As for my middle chick, well, she is still struggling at the moment. I haven’t quite worked out the next strategy for her, to help her to feel safe and secure enough to attend school, but I do have a project to keep her busy for the next few weeks. Today we had a blank library box delivered to our house, as part of a larger community project to see 10 little libraries installed in our community. She is going to design and then paint our box before it is installed, possibly at our driveway, to hold books for passersby to borrow, swap, etc. I am really excited about this project so am keeping my fingers crossed that she maintains her enthusiasm too!
The blank canvas is so exciting in its possibilities!
That is the real life part of running a small business. Family and homelife will always have priority, and plans for products and for growing a business will always be affected by whatever surprise event comes along. And that is where the tea comes in. Over the course of the last few weeks as we have moved in and out of crisis mode, tea has been a constant theme. Sharing a cup of tea with a friend as we talk over the latest development in our lives, finding time to sit and drink a cup of tea as a break from being in a hospital room, or sitting at home with a book and a cup of tea to clear my head. Tea has kept me going in the way that wine would have in my younger days. My favourite flavours at the moment are a Red and Green Vanilla Rooibus, and New York Breakfast (a black tea with almost maple syrup notes) and a refreshing herbal green tea. In my younger days (when wine was the answer, not tea) I was a focussed clothes shopper. I could be in Melbourne for a meeting and pop out at lunchtime and buy my year’s wardrobe before getting back to the meeting. (I was living in Darwin and shopping wasn’t great there!) These days I don’t buy clothes and shoes like I used to, but I can hit T2 and stock up on flavours, present my loyalty card and be back at the car within an impressively short space of time. Same focus, just different products!
Anyway, that is it from my little corner of the world. Preparing for the Collected and Created Market in Gundaroo on Sunday 19 November from 10 – 4, living a real life, and drinking lots of tea. I hope your real life is in solution mode rather than survival mode!
I started this post a couple of weeks ago, when I was preparing to attend my first market (after a long break) but decided to wait until the market was over before completing it, so that I could share my experiences along with a check list. What I have put together is a general list of things to take with you, that you can use as a guide for your own market preparation. And hopefully you will learn from my mistakes!
I can report that I really enjoyed the market. I sold enough to make it financially worthwhile, got to test out my displays, my packing and my products, and I was able to talk to customers. I even sold one of the tea cosies that my mum knitted (as well as a few of my own!) Overall it was a great start on my journey back to markets. I made a few mistakes but recovered from them, and learnt a lot at the same time.
Is your market indoors or outdoors? If it is outdoors are you going to have shelter provided or will you need your own. In my case I have a 3m x 3m portable gazebo that I can erect for outside markets, so that is on my checklist. If you are attending an indoor market it pays to check whether you are allowed to set up gazebos inside as many markets will not allow it.
If you are outside remember to have something to secure your gazebo or marquee in case of strong winds. (Yes – something I forgot to take with me). You can buy weights for the legs or make them yourself – just remember them and remember to put them in place because it would be quite disastrous to have your shelter fly across the market ground if the wind picks up!
It also pays to think about whether you need walls for your structure. I had two walls with me, but as I ended up on a corner site I only used one, as a backdrop.
My set up at an outdoor market with the back wall up.
2. Display furniture
How are you displaying your products? I will be taking a table, some shelves, a screen and some boxes that provide different heights for displays. Doing a run through at home is always good so that you know how things will look on the day. Make a list of all your props so that you can check them off in your packing. Then be prepared for changes. My stall was moved to a corner position on the night, so it would have been useful to have a second table – something I will definitely be taking next time. I am also thinking about floor covering – it makes a difference!
The shelves worked well to display the tea cosies but I wasn’t happy with the rest of my display – tweaking is required!
3. Cloths and props
A table cloth that reaches the ground is an important part of a good market set up. Apart from making your table look good it also gives you an excellent storage spot that is out of sight. I find it handy for hiding the storage boxes that my products are carried in so they are at hand for packing up at the end of the market.
If you are using props for your display these need to be on your list. Most of my props are teapots for displaying my tea cosies so I need to remember these otherwise there will be some floppy crocheted piles on my shelves!
It is a bonus when your props double as storage
Lighting is important whether you are at an indoor or outdoor event. Events indoors can sometimes be gloomy so having some lighting to brighten your display is a great way of attracting customers. Outdoor events that go into the evening will definitely benefit from lighting, and even daytime outdoor events can be gloomy so some lighting to brighten your space will help.
The range of possibilities for lighting is wide. If you don’t have access to power during your market then the range of solar lighting is large and affordable these days. I have some rice-paper-style globes from Ikea that are solar powered that cost about $15 and add light in a nice way. Another option is battery powered lights – rechargable or not. I have a rechargable flourescent light that gives great lighting (from the auto section at a hardware shop) and fairy lights from Big W that run on two AA batteries. All of these provide flexible lighting solutions……if you remember to pack them. Ahem. If the bright light is still plugged into it’s charger on the bench at home it isn’t much use when night falls…..
If you do remember to take your lights, make sure you know how you are going to attach them to your display and pack cable ties, bluetack, hooks etc, depending on your needs.
I have a banner with a stand lets people know who I am and what I am selling. One of the best responses I had to my banner was from a man who said ‘I know that name, ‘a little bird made me’. Let me think – your mother is Elizabeth, and you are Theresa and you live out in Bywong.’ It turns out he is the local courier who delivers my parcels – that my mother always signs for.
6. Bags and packaging
When people buy your products it pays to be able to package them so that they will travel home from the market safely. Paper bags with handles suit most items, but have a think about the size of your products and make sure you have bags that suit those items best. I have carry bags that will accommodate cups and saucers, and tea cosies but a pair of earring would be lost in them, so I will have smaller bags for those small items. If you have a fragile product it is good to be able to wrap it in tissue paper or bubble wrap to cushion it on it’s trip home. Having your packaging branded is good to do before hand too – in my case I use a stamp with my logo to mark the bags as being from my business.
7. Admin Box.
This is the box that holds all the things that you will need for each market, so that you don’t have to find and pack them everytime. The admin box is where you put:
(a) Business cards or fliers
People like to take a card so that they can look you up when they next want a product like yours, so having a pile of cards or fliers is an easy way to ensure return custom. They also provide a great discussion point with customers who are asking whether you sell on line etc.
You need to be ready to give change to the first customer who comes along! And it helps if you remember the KEY to your cash box and don’t leave it sitting on the bench at home, 20 kms away. Ahem. Luckily my parents willingly drove home, found the key and returned it to me. After all of that I didn’t have to make change for any customer – they all had the right money or used my card facilities!
(c) Credit card facility
Again – if you have the facility for people to pay by card they are more likely to purchase from you. Make sure you have any connecting hardware, that you have tested it and that you know how to operate it. If your eftpos facility gives paper receipts carry a spare roll.
(d) Notebook and pen
For taking orders, fo writing reminders to yourself about what has worked and what hasn’t, for writing out notes for customers, or taking down phone numbers, this is important to have.
(e) Repair kit
Accidents happen, both to your products and to your display. Having a small kit with sticky tape and duct tape, a screwdriver, scissors, pins, and whatever else you might need for your set up is sensible.
Because there is nothing worse than running out of battery on your phone, your eftpos facility, your lights etc. Having the right charger cords and plugs, plus a power bank if there is no power provided, takes a lot of stress out of managing your stall.
8. Price tags
The best way to ensure sales is to have the prices for your products clearly marked. If people have to interrupt you serving another customer to ask how much something is they will often walk away instead of asking. If you can’t put a price on each item, make sure that you have clear and easily visible signs that announce the prices. Ikea picture frames are handy for making your signs look professional without breaking the bank.
9. Drink bottle and a snack
Keeping hydrated helps you to maintain your energy levels while you serve customers. A low mess snack to help keep your energy levels up is important. High protein snacks like nuts are a good option here.
No point going to a market if you have nothing to sell! Make a list of your products and then tick them off as you pack them, so that nothing is missed out and left behind, Then check that you have packed all your boxes in the car so that you haven’t left one behind either (not my mistake but a very common one for other people I know!)
Having a box for each product category helps keep track of what you are packing
If you have other ideas that you think should be added to the list do let me know!
Thanks for all the lovely feedback on my earlier post about things to think about before attending a market. I have had some great conversations with people as a result of this! Today I am going to focus on the things that you should be doing in preparation for attending a market. These are all things that take a bit of time and organisation and need to be done in the weeks leading up to the market – not the day before. The stuff you are doing the day before is a whole other list!!
Organise some great product shots.
What? Why do I need good photos of my products for a market – the customers at the market will be able to see them in the flesh (so to speak!). Hypothetical narrators questions aside, the answer is that having great product shots means that the promoters of the market are going to be able to share your images on social media, and on their advertisements, so that people are enticed to attend the market. If you have some dodgy shots taken on your old iPhone3 in dim lighting and with a cluttered background the organisers are not going to want to use your images, so you miss out on attracting a whole bunch of potential customers. I have seen some shocking product photos provided by designers – one set was of some beautiful handmade knitwear displayed on a glass topped table that was covered in greasy hand prints and dust – which definitely did not induce me to look further at the products.
Tips for good product shots include natural lighting ( I personally love taking photos outside in spring in the middle of the day but that is not always possible or convenient!), a flattering background that doesn’t overpower the product, and if the product is an unusual one, having it presented so that it’s purpose is obvious. For example a scarf will have more impact draped over a form than folded flat on a table. Backgrounds don’t have to be elaborate – I have friends who have had great success with some patterned wallpaper that gave the look of wooden boards or bricks. Once again, making sure that your photos reflect your brand is important. You don’t have to have a professional photographer take shots for you (especially if all of your products are one of a kind) but it can be a good idea so that you have a nice set of professional images to use in your marketing.
A designer I know has a great eye for matching objects and creating stories. She has helped out a few other designers I know by taking flat lay photos of their products paired with accessories that enhance them. Those photos really pop on social media! (Hmmmm……maybe I need to give her a call myself!) Remember – you don’t have to do everything yourself – you might know someone who is happy to help with making sure you have great photos.
2. Make sure you have a way of letting people know who you are.
I get really frustrated when I attend a market and see a stall that I like, but I can’t see the name of the stall or business so I can’t make a note about ordering from them, etc. Letting people know who you are is really important. Getting a banner made up doesn’t cost a lot these days – a vinyl banner with your own design from Vistaprint starts at about $20. If you want to do something different to match your brand there are lots of options for handmade signage, from painted fabric banners, to bunting, painted wooden signs, light boxes and more. It just needs to be something that can be identified by someone who is a few metres away from your stall. Hanging it below your table may look cute but can’t be seen by someone the next row over. Hanging signage above your stall or on a stand that stretches above eye level is much more effective.
The second thing you need to have organised in this regard before you attend a market is business cards or flyers. Customers will often take a card so that they can remember you for a custom order, or to come back to at the next market, or for them to follow you online and purchase from you in the future. If you don’t have an easy piece of paper for them to pick up they aren’t going to remember you. What should be on your business card or flyer? Your business name, your tag line (you know – the bit that tells people what your business does), your email, social media addresses and website. I used to keep mine really anonymous until a marketing expert told me that if she is given a business card that doesn’t have a name on it she throws them out. As a result I now have my name and phone number on there too – in case someone wants to place an order that way.
3. Be ready to take people’s money.
After all, that is the name of the game. You aren’t there to take names, you are there to take money in exchange for your wonderful products. (Actually you might also want to take names but we will talk about that later. Right now we are focused on the moola, the cash, the big bucks. Alright – I will stop now.) What does that mean for preparation? You need to think about how to look after the cash that you receive in a safe manner, and you need to decide if you want to be able to offer credit card facilities.
Dealing with cash first, there are two main options that I think work for a market – a cash box or a cash apron. A cash box is useful because you can separate the notes and coins out and therefore give change easily. It can be locked and you can keep the key on yourself for added security during the market. An apron has several advantages – you can have a zipped pocket to hold the money so it is on your person at all times and less easily stolen by dodgy thieves, and you can use the apron pockets to hold your phone and credit card reader. I have previously used an apron that I made myself so it had pockets for everything, plus a copy of my old logo printed onto fabric so it marked me as the stall holder. I am undecided about which option to go with this time, but will need to make the decision soon so that I can buy or make what I need.
With regard to taking payments from bank cards it is worth thinking about because many markets don’t have ATMs and once people run out of cash they stop buying if they can’t use their cards. The options for taking money via card are broad these days. Paypal offers a facility that connects to your Paypal business account, many banks offer a facility that connects to your bank accounts, and there are card readers such as Square which allow you to take payments without belonging to a certain bank. Each of these methods will charge a fee for transactions, so you need to be aware of how this affects your prices, but with the ability to buy a unit like these starting at $60 it is a good investment to make if you are going to be attending a number of markets.
4. Know how you are going to display your products
In Part One I talked about designing your display to enhance your product, etc. In the lead up to a market you need to know what props, tables, screens, marquees, etc you are going to use so that you can buy parts you don’t have, repair any that have been damaged, or make what you need. A few things to consider here are the size of your furniture and props, and how you are going to transport them to the venue of the market. For example I have a great set of shelves that would be really attractive as part of my display in a stall, but they can only go in a trailer, not in my car. Taking a trailer will work well for some venues but not for others, so making sure you know what you are taking and HOW you are taking it is good to work out well in advance so that changes can be made if necessary.
If you are going to use a table cloth (cannot recommend this enough) you need to make sure that you have one that fits your table/s, and check whether it needs cleaning, ironing, etc. Again – not something you want to be doing the night before a market if you can help it.
Having a trial run of your set up a few days prior to the market is a good plan as it allows you to check that you will fit into your allocated space, that you have all the pieces you need, and that nothing needs repair or replacing. If you are relying on the venue to provide a table, display board, or chair, make sure that you know the dimensions so that you can measure and check your equipment at home and know that it will fit.
5. Know how much product you have and what you need to make before the market.
I know I sound like Captain Obvious but you might be surprised by the number of times designers ask a few days before a big market how much stock they should bring. If you are going to have a successful market then you need to have this worked out a few weeks in advance. It is a good idea to make a list of all the products that you already have, and how many of each item you have, then to make a list of what your target amount to take to market is. This then allows you to map out how much you need to make before the market. In determining how much product to take things to think about are what sort of traffic the market is expected to get, how long it goes for, what have been your best sellers previously, etc. One designer I know who attends a quarterly market keeps records of each market so she can predict how much stock to bring for different times of the year. When you are starting out it is definitely a bit of trial and error so it is important to have a plan and then you can assess after the market what worked and what didn’t.
I recently read a comment in a forum I belong to by a woman who explained that in deciding whether to attend a market she looks whether she can make 10 times the cost of the stall hire. If she can’t then she doesn’t apply. This is useful to think about when determining your stock levels. If you are paying $20 for a stall then on this formula you need to sell $200 worth. If you have paid $50 you need to sell $500 worth. How much do your products cost – do you have enough to sell to make that sort of money? Do you have a good level of stock at the price point that you think will sell best? For example a school fair will probably see a high turnover at the low price point with kids spending their pocket money and parents supporting the local school. At a design market touting itself as high quality, exclusive, etc, customers are going to be willing to spend larger amounts of money on big purchases so you would be short changing yourself if you only take a small number of high price point pieces.
6. Tell people that you are going to be at this market
Social media promotion of an event that you are attending is a free but effective way of drawing customers to your market. Most markets will have some graphics that you can use, or you can use your own images and set out the location, date and time of the market. Creating a Facebook event and inviting all your friends is another great way to make sure that people know that it is on. And don’t just tell them once – remind people in the lead up to the market that you will be attending and share some images of what you are bringing with you to the market. Build a campaign so that they can’t avoid knowing that there is a market on next Saturday and that you will be there, and that there are lots of other great things to do in the area.
7. Read the stallholder information
When I was working on the administrative side of a market it was incredibly frustrating to have repeated frantic phone calls from stallholders asking questions that had already been answered multiple times. It was equally frustrating to arrive at the market to hear stallholders say things like ‘If I had known there was this event on at the same time as the market I would have brought different products’ when the details had been provided and advice given on this very issue a number of times. So many of the designers would then say ‘Oh I don’t have time to read that material’. Really??? This is your business and you don’t have time to read the information that will help you to have a really successful market experience, not get fined for breaking local bylaws, be promoted as a designer to watch, etc?
If you are serious about getting the most out of your market experience, do yourself a favour and read the material provided. Know what time you can bump in and what time you have to bump out by. Know what the rules are about whether you can set up a marquee inside a building, whether you need to have your electrical cords tagged and tested, whether you will be allowed to drive into the venue or not. Know whether you need to provide your own tables and chairs, what size your allocated space is, whether there is free wi-fi, and what will get you banned from the market! Because when you don’t know these things and are confronted with them during your set up, or in the middle of selling your products it causes nothing but stress!!
If you are on top of these 7 things in the weeks leading up to the market you are attending then you are well on your way to a successful market experience! My next post will be the list of things that you need to take with you to a market – the checklist of what to pack the day before. If you have any suggestions to add to the list of pre-market preparation I would love to hear from you!
In preparation for my return to the world of being a market stall holder in a few weeks time, I am going to publish a series of posts on preparing for a market, and attending a market. I have spent the last few years working on the other side of the fence, supporting designers to hold stalls themselves, and giving advice on how to maximize their sales, their business and their brand. Now that I am back on the designer side of the fence it is time to remember all my good advice and apply it to myself. By writing a series of posts I hope to help myself remember all that good advice, and share it with you at the same time!
What is the purpose of you having a market stall?
This might sound silly but actually there are lots of different reasons for taking your products to market. These can include testing your products, marketing your products, taking orders for future delivery of custom products, attracting wholesaler buyers, and, of course, making money. Your purpose might be a combination of all of these reasons, but it is good to be clear with yourself why you are doing this, as it will help guide your decisions about which markets to apply for, what products to take with you, how to display your products and how to design your stall presentation.
2. Who is your target customer?
While it is easy to say ‘anyone who wants to buy my stuff’, actually knowing who your target customer is can help you with everything from which stalls to apply for, to how to display your products and how to market them. When I was holding market stalls selling my bags I had a description of my target customer that I wrote down – it included the sort of job my customer might have, the things she liked to do in her spare time, and where she lived. While my target customer never actually presented herself to me and said ‘Hi, what you have is perfect for me, let me buy it all’, having a clear idea of who I was aiming my products at helped a lot. It especially helped a lot when someone who didn’t fit my target market criticised my pricing, or when someone who didn’t fit my target market started a conversation with me that ended up with them learning more about my product and buying it after all!
My target customer is more than someone who likes tea. My target customer also includes people who are buying gifts, who like quirky ideas, quality materials, and unique, one of a kind items. This means that they probably aren’t going to be found in abundance at a garage sale set up in the carpark of a shopping centre, but will definitely be found at a market promoting handmade or local makers.
3. Do you know your brand and how you want to represent it?
Describing how you develop your brand is a whole separate post, but the question is, do you have a brand, and do you know how you want to use your brand to sell your products? Knowing your brand can help with things like how you want to display your products, what you will wear while working on your stall, what colours and styles you will use in your signage, and how you will ‘dress’ your stall. For example, if you are selling a product that is organic and earthy in nature, your brand is likely to be one based on nature, clean lines, and healthy. Having a market stall dressed with flashing coloured lights and blaring 80’s rock is not representing your brand or telling your story.
My brand is more than just a logo (although my logo reflects my brand). It is about handmade items made with care using quality materials to create unique, one of a kind, products, and products that are kind to the environment. My stall set up needs to convey this, so there will be no flashing Christmas lights, or hawker style inducements as they don’t reflect my brand. (There probably will be a few cups of tea happening though!)
4. Do you have a range of products that will appeal to different price points?
If your products are all handmade, unique or artisan items they are likely to have a higher price point. Not all customers can afford large purchases, but many are attracted to your stall by the promise of beautiful things, so having a range of items with differing prices can allow them to buy something that gives them that sense of being part of your story, without breaking their bank. At my first stall at the Handmade Markets, selling my bags, I also had a box of fat quarters for sale. My bag prices started at $40, but the fat quarters were $5 and $6 each. Part of my brand at that time was about sharing a love of beautiful fabrics in each piece that I made, so selling some of those fabrics stayed with the brand, but allowed for smaller purchases too. I also had smaller pouches and pencil rolls priced between $10 and $25, again providing a range of prices for those attracted to my brand.
5.Is there a cohesion between your products and how you are displaying them?
The ways in which you can display your products at a market are many and varied and range from the simple to the elaborate with everything in between. I will write a separate post about the options with displays but the question I am asking here is a little like the question about branding, but has a different emphasis. A designer who I know and respect changes her display props regularly, always looking for a point of difference between her stalls and her neighbours. However there is one key point that always remains, no matter what her props – they are always re-purposed objects that subtly highlight that her products are ethically made from recycled clothing. The cohesion between her products and her display means that the display doesn’t overpower the products but enhances them.
Knowing your brand helps here, but also knowing how your products will stand out helps with this question. Now that I am focused on quirky tea paraphernalia using large shelf displays where teacups will look lost in proportion to the shelves isn’t going to work. I need to have smaller displays that won’t dwarf the products, and will allow them to be clearly seen. A flat shelf full of teacups has much less impact than a tiered display where each cup and saucer can be seen fully. Tea and all it’s paraphernalia lends itself to a cosy indoors feel, so having an industrial style display shelf would be incongruous.
My next post will be all about the list of things you need to do prior to attending a market, and then I will follow it up with a list of things you need to take to the market. With all of this writing I am sure to be organised for my first stall! I would love to hear any advice you have about things to think about before you attend a market!
A few weeks ago a recent acquaintance asked me if my ‘making ‘ was a business or a hobby. I have been pondering this ever since. A couple of years ago the answer was straightforward- business. I had a plan, I made enough profit that I had to pay tax and there was regular money making activity going on.
Then I had a break for over a year. Little income, no regular activity and no plan. Until 3 months ago when something clicked and I started making again. At first it was just making for making’s sake but it has grown again and while I don’t yet have a fully laid out business plan I do have some vague mental ideas about where I am going! Some of it is instinctual from my earlier time in business and some of it is aspirational because I continue to daydream that my life will magically change to create space for me to have time to be successful. A lot of it is held back by my pessimism/reality checks that my plans are so often undone by family life and my resultant mental health. So I ask myself, like a mantra, ‘hobby or business , hobby or business?’
Where does the line cross from one to another? For me I think it comes with making decisions about ‘making’ in a profitable, repeatable way. My crazy crocheted tea cosies where I create a whole new pattern for each piece? Hobby. I don’t recover the cost of time spent in making each piece if I apply a business model. But do I love making them? Yes!!!! Reusable tea bags? Business. Now that testing has finished I have a repeatable process for making, marketing and selling them.
All the things in between? Some land on the side of hobby, some cross the line to business. What to do with all of that? At this stage my approach is that it is all business. The unique, one of a kind, time intensive creations are attention getters that have a marketing function. The repeatable patterns that can be made in batches cover the costs of making the one off pieces. It all works together to fund materials, marketing and growth.
I also think that for me, thinking of what I am doing as a business helps to add a piece of self esteem back into a life where I previously self-identified as successful through my career achievements – a business is something that is about me, something that other people admire, something I can succeed at. (Because let’s face it, any judgement on my success as a parent and carer won’t really be known until they are grown and leading happy healthy lives!!)
The next hurdle is a mental one. I have products that are ready to wholesale so I can, in theory, start marketing them to retailers to stock. Gulp. But I haven’t. It remains on my ‘to do’ list. Why? Because the last few years have been so much like a roller coaster ride I have an ingrained fear that I won’t be able to keep any commitments that I make. Which begs the next question – why am I worried about letting others down? Do they really have high expectations of me or am I just setting my own bar too high and then self sabotaging so that I don’t reach it? Hmmmm…. self-analysis via writing this post indicates that I am, as usual, my own worst enemy!!
To shift myself fully into that business mindset it is probably time to write the plan down, instead of having vague aspirational thoughts and wandering around making stuff. Time to be a grown up, do the analysis and make a clear decision on business vs hobby. Wish me luck!
(In the background I have been playing with fabric combinations to make fabric insulated tea cosies- getting back to my happy place combining colours and patterns!! I have also been perfecting the cactus teacosy pattern!)
If you also ponder the line between hobby and business I would love to hear your thoughts !