Just popping in quickly to let you know that I am still alive and very busy being creative! This weekend I have my return to the Handmade Markets in Canberra after a 4 year absence! Well – I wasn’t really absent, I was working for Handmade Canberra, but this is my return as a designer, so it is a bit exciting! I have been flat out making and designing and getting carried away with ideas, so here are a few of the products I will have on sale and on display at the markets this weekend!
All that colour!! I will be back soon to fill you in with more detail of what has been happening in the nest, what other projects I have on the go and, of course, how the markets go, so stay tuned!
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.
This year has started with a bang but I still feel like I am back in the twilight zone between Christmas and New Year, where I am never really sure what the date or day is. I find myself constantly wondering if March is a long way away, and being unsure of which weekend it is that various events are happening. I swear it is because my brain is too full, and not because of my advancing years.
Despite this sense of time escaping me, or perhaps because of it, I have been rather productive. I have been analysing what works for me in my product lines,and what was a great idea but hasn’t really translated well. As a result I am working on producing my tea cosies in ‘collections’. I am still to fully tease out the names of these collections, but in theory there will be a classic collection, a colourful collection and an artisan collection. I am not rushing into the final details for this plan because it seems to be benefiting from some reflection and refinement! As part of the classic collection I have been working on some repeatable patterns, with the intention of being able to keep them easily stocked in my shops, and with the longer term intention of releasing the patterns for them. So far the classic collection consists of spots and stripes!
I also finally had a chance to play with an idea I have had for a while of combining patchwork and sashiko stitching to make some insulated dome tea cosies, and I am very happy with the results.
And of course some flowers were created and applied with gay abandon to a number of cosies.
One of the lovely discoveries that I have made over the last month or so, with thanks to a helpful friend, is the wool from Bendigo Woollen Mills. It is wool that is grown near my home, and processed and died in Bendigo, so is 100% Australian. It is also beautiful quality wool, so I am switching over to only use that wool in all future creations, which means that I will be supporting other Australian small business people in the process.
And I finally have my products in place at The Collective Store in Brisbane, and in Trove in Canberra. (On reflection perhaps my sense of displacement in time has more to do with the sheer amount I have achieved so far this year!)
My initial display at Trove, Canberra
On the home front we have a slightly different landscape after my eldest chick was accepted to attend a boarding school located about 4 hours from home. She has settled in well and is discovering the differences between her all-girl Catholic school and this co-ed agricultural fully residential high school. She will be home at the end of this week for a few days and I am looking forward to seeing her. I must admit that I am very happy that the advent of smart phones means that I can stay in touch with her much more easily than when I was at boarding school myself. Back then (in the dark ages) my sister and I had a phone call from my parents once a fortnight, or we had to dial the international operator to make a reverse charges call to them, and letters written and mailed that took a couple of weeks to arrive. Now I can be texting with her before breakfast, send her a photo of something happening at home, and she has it instantly. I am trying not to smother her with contact, but it is nice knowing that it is there when she needs it.
The two chicks who are still home in the nest are having their ups and downs. I, and they, have fallen back into some old habits, which means that old patterns of behaviour aren’t changing in the way that I need them to. My current task is to form new habits myself, and then with them, in the hope of improving behaviour and school attendance respectively. This parenting gig is hard and I have been tested a lot over the last few weeks. I am definitely at the point of needing a break, so am working on putting steps in place to see if I can manage some time away. Fingers crossed!
For now though, it is time to sit and contemplate whether to crochet or sew this evening. Tough choices! I hope that your weeks aren’t getting lost in the fog of being too busy, and that you are finding time to do little things for yourself.
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.
Fanfare please! Da da da da dum…………Big news from the nest today. Starting from 1 February 2018 you will be able to find a selection of my products stocked in Melbourne! I know – interstate even! I have signed an agreement with the wonderful in.cub8r gallery and emporium, found on Smith Street in Fitzroy, to take over one of their ‘cubes’ and make it all about tea!
After that news everything else seems a little pale in comparison, but there actually is more news! The holiday period has been delightful. We have had a house full of visitors several times a week, lots of kids laughing and playing, and generally sharing time happily. And this means that I have had time to get some work done on my business. Planning, scheduling, making and a bit of dreaming have all been happening. I even did my filing and bookkeeping (just a few months or years overdue – ahem). Of course this is how I was able to make the arrangements to start stocking my products in Melbourne. There are further plans like that in the works, but I am sticking to my plan and not getting ahead of myself.
All of that lovely time to work means that there are new products in the pipeline, while some will be quietly retired as not really representing my brand. I am eagerly awaiting some deliveries before I show you part of the new range I have planned, but can share my latest crochet pattern here today. This came about after watching a friend put one of my cosies on her steel teapot. I realised that it’s different shape meant that she was likely to burn her fingers putting the cosy on when the pot was full of hot water, and started looking at a design that would address the massive range of different shapes and sizes that teapots come in. A few different ideas clicked together and the end result is this new design – classic, flexible, a little bit different and ridiculously practical despite it’s beauty!
The theory behind the design is that if you can slip a hot teapot into a cosy without having to fit the cosy over the spout and handle, the chances of being burnt are reduced. So instead of slipping it over the top of the pot, the pot slides in from the side of the cosy, and is then fastened with a cord to shape the cosy to the pot.
The design is so simple that it provides its own embellishment and doesn’t need any added if you want to maintain that classic style.
But of course I can’t just leave things alone, so there is a rainbow and flower version coming along in the next day or so too!
Speaking of rainbows and flowers, here are two recent creations completed and listed in my online shop. The Ladybug’s garden cosies are always popular, and everyone is unique.
And rainbows lend themselves to needing statements, so this time I added a proper statement – “Tea”.
It isn’t quite world domination by tea cosy, but it is a good start!
The next few days here are going to be extremely hot, so my plan is to move between the pool that I bought the children for Christmas (honestly one of the best ideas I have had in a long time) and the beautifully cool family room where my wool is all set up waiting for inspiration to hit while I have downtime from supervising the children making whirlpools and floating in an inflatable flamingo.
Stay cool, leave water out for the animals, and look after yourself. This year is definitely going to be a marathon not a sprint. (And if you are reading this in the northern hemisphere do the opposite – stay warm, and make sure your animals have shelter, but still look after yourself!)
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!