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.
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!)
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 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 !
Today I am very excited to launch my new branding. I have been working with Callie & Co to refresh my ‘little bird’ to reflect the directions that I would like to take my business in. And this is the result. A fresh, modern logo that still reflects all the important things about my business and blog. (And she has prepared some awesome graphics that will really help highlight the adventures that we will be having together!)
Why the change? I have realised that my business is more than ‘sewing and designing bags’. I offer services in consulting and troubleshooting for other creative small businesses, I design a broad range of handmade goods that extend far beyond bags, and my list of plans to grow, support others and live a creative life is long. This little bird will be making all sorts of things happen in her life!
I am particularly in love with the bird/s…..
so expect to be seeing them pop up all over the place!
Are you your own worst critic? I know I am. I can immediately list all the things that I have done wrong, could have done better, should have done better, should have known better, but I have to stop and think before I can list what has gone well. You may have noticed in my posts that I try to talk about the good things that have happened. This is my personal training ground to focus on the good and put the not-so-good into perspective.
With that in mind let me share what I have achieved in the last few days! I sat down on Saturday and made 5 and 3/4 handbags (the last quarter had to wait until the next day when I realised, late at night, that I had made a small error that required a lot of unpicking to rectify). And I am proud of them!
One of them sold that night, so I made a another one from the same fabric the next day, and finished off the one that I hadn’t completed on Saturday. So in one weekend I made 7 handbags.
Then I sewed up 14 bibs, without their snaps and chews. I was kicking goals for those two days! I even managed to do a load of laundry, undertake yet another (futile) search for missing items of clothing for the chicks, take the dog for a walk over to drop some things off to the chicks at their father’s house, and to talk to my Mum for over an hour on the phone.
On Monday morning I zipped around cleaning the house in readiness for a mentoring workshop. (I will come back to that in a minute). Over the noise of the vacuum cleaner I heard the dog going berserk and opened the door to find a courier delivering a large box from China. My teething chews arrived!
The colours are delightful and just as I ordered them, the quality is great and the sight of them had me dancing around the house (which meant that it wasn’t particularly pristine for my mentoring session but it wasn’t the end of the world!)
The mentoring session was fantastic. (Yes, yes I will get to that in a minute.) I felt inspired, energised and ready to tackle my own business when we finished. And then….I tried sewing my new teething pieces onto my bibs. Slump. Big time. The improved quality and flexibility means that, even after a lot of research and tension, needle and thread adjustment, my domestic machine can’t cope with them. (The samples were okay to sew but I increased the thickness in order to provide a better quality…….without realising that this would impact the ability of my machine to sew through them. Obvious now of course.) Determined not to feel like a complete failure I drove across town to collect my good old workhorse Bernina that has been in for a long overdue service. And discovered that the shop that was servicing it sells Industrial machines. I have been researching them online for a while so took the opportunity to pick the brain of the shopkeeper. Then I went back this morning with samples of leather, denim, bamboo, the silicone teethers, etc and tested them out. What a difference!!!!! The stitches through the teether looked perfect – and doubling over my thickest leather wasn’t a problem for the machine. I am hooked! But this particular shop has only just started stocking industrial machines, hasn’t built or set them up properly, doesn’t have a lot of options or choices, and they are quite expensive. So…. back to the computer, more research, phone calls, searching, tagging, searching……. My head hurts! I finished off the new bibs with some of the original stock of teethers, and will have to hold off on launching the new teethers until I acquire an appropriate machine. I have a solution, but it has exhausted me in the process!
The mentoring? I told you I would get back to it! As part of my reflection on what I have to offer, what strengths I have, and what excites me, while assessing how I want to live my life, and find that balance with the needs of my chicks, I realised that all the growth I have experienced over the last couple of years with starting and building my business, and researching every step of the way to the nth degree means that I have a large body of knowledge to share! And I get really animated and excited when I get to share it with other people! (My years of being a lawyer, manager, leader, etc don’t hurt either!)
Because I am working on quelling that inner critic it took me a while to form a firm plan, but the plan is taking shape, the inner voice is being told to pipe down, and I have started to offer my services as a mentor for other creative people in business. I have held a couple of group sessions that have gone really well, and have more planned. I have come away feeling energised just from the community that exists in a group of craftspeople and artists. I am excited to see where each of these women will grow their business to, as their ideas and talents are inspiring. At this stage I have only offered the sessions to a small group of people I know, while I assess structures, venues, approaches etc, but over the next few weeks I hope to launch this as a service that can be utilized by people in my local area, but also people anywhere in the world, through the wonders of Skype! My feedback so far has been positive, and useful, but I am taking my time and not rushing in to oversell what I have to offer, and not undersell the value that I can add! Another exercise in taming the inner critic is underway!
Other lessons so far this week include that taking a fresh look at branding and marketing my business is useful. A reminder from the lovely ladies at Shop Handmade (where I sell my bibs and bags here in Canberra) about packaging saw me re-evaluating what I like in a product and looking at my products from that perspective. Today I spent some time designing a new package for the bibs. They will now be packaged in a clear bag (that can be resealed if customers want to open it to feel the fabric) with a sticker on the front telling them who made it, and an insert inside with the care details and the story of the bib (you know – where it was made, what music was playing, etc!) I am not sure if this is the final design for the packaging, because everything is evolving, but for now I am happy to put them on display in the Shop!
After a few days of highs, and then lows, I think that tomorrow is a day for even-ness. Hmmmm…. lets see how that plan goes!
I can’t believe that I completely skipped referring to Mother’s Day in my last post – and that it has taken me all week to post again! My own beautiful mother (you know – the one who flies in to help at a moment’s notice, who was my super-assistant preparing for the Christmas markets last year, who is amazing in all areas) is worthy of a day of her own. Last year she was with the chicks and I on Mother’s Day and was part of the celebrations. This year we missed her and had to suffice with a phone call. That meant that I got all the celebration fuss from the chicks on my own! First of all they presented me with the most wonderful gifts including a ‘Mummy Survival Kit’ they had made with their step-mother – chocolates, panadol, throat lozenges (for when I have been yelling too much!!), tea bags, a scratch and win lottery card (I didn’t), a needle and thread so I can always sew, a bottle of gin (they know me so well!), and bed socks, all in a beautifully decorated container!
The middle chick had made me a jar of cleaning slime (!!), the boy bought me a new mug with chocolates inside it, the eldest chick bought me some bath fizz, and they all gave me a mug decorated with little birds. Now this was all pretty wonderful, but they topped it all off with my breakfast in bed. First the menu, then the preparation and delivery.
(For the record I had ‘Perfect Pancakes, Everything tastes better with Bacon, a cup of tea and freshly squeezed orange juice!) They even stuck the order up on the cupboard above the stove, and presented me with my bill (to be paid in hugs and kisses) when I was finished. My little people never cease to amaze me at all they can achieve!
I hope that you were able to celebrate Mother’s Day with your mother, or, if you are a mother, with your children.
The week then started off with a new idea I am pursuing. I invited a small group of craftspeople that I know to participate in a group mentoring session, facilitated by me, to discuss the business side of having a creative business. Three amazingly talented women were able to attend and we had a really interesting two hours talking, sharing, and exploring ideas. It is such a privilege to be able to share the knowledge that I have gathered about having a creative business, and we are going to meet again soon to continue our discussion. I am exploring the concept of being able to offer this as a service for individuals and groups – including by Skype for those who don’t live close by, so as I develop the concept I will keep you informed. There is something so invigorating about being in a conversation with other people who are developing their craft and are interested in how they can take it to the public – this is going to be fun! I added a few new links to the Resources page (at the top of the screen) so do pop by and check them out.
A large part of my week has been spent juggling children’s sporting activities and social lives, attempting to get organised at home, and getting involved in some discussions about my future (wooooo…..scary stuff!) This has meant that not a huge amount of sewing has happened. Which is a bit slack given that it is three weeks until the Handmade Markets and I have 1000 ideas that I wanted to have completed for the Markets! Looks like I am going to have to rein in my ideas and streamline the items I am making (which is of course very sensible, but always slightly frustrating to any creative person who loves to follow bright and shiny objects and ideas wherever they may go!) I have cut out a pile of fabrics ready to create bags, and will be making bibs this weekend too – all those pretty fabrics have been calling my name all week!!!
However today I spent the day working with a fellow craftsperson, teaching him how to sew a cushion cover. He normally works with wood (and makes beautiful creations with his wife that you can see at Creations by Holmes) and it was really interesting as we worked together on designing and making the cover how similar the principles of construction using fabric and wood are. Although it took most of the day we were both pretty happy with the end result and, as usual, identified how to do it much more efficiently on the next occasion. The exchange of ideas and concepts in sewing and wood-working was a really good intellectual exercise too!
I wrote last week about the humour that we have been enjoying about the fact that I am officially a ‘human’. Another factor in being a human is that we ‘mature’ according to my optometrist. I tried to tell him that it is just getting older but he insists that my eyes aren’t getting older, they are ‘maturing’! Anyway – whatever the phrase, I have had to accept that my eyes are changing and after wearing glasses since I was 12 I now discover that I need to move to multi-focal lenses! Eeek. Forget the ‘maturing’ thing – that just feels old! A friend and I had vowed not to move to multi- or bi-focal lenses until we were 50. I had to send her a text of defeat telling her that I couldn’t wait that long after all. She was in a very high level meeting and tells me that she saw my text and couldn’t help laughing despite her surrounds! Ah well – at least it brought a smile to someone’s day!
I have many other exciting things bubbling around in my head, but have to wait a while before sharing them. What I can say is that I have had great joy this week in making decisions that are good for my family, even though they may not be good for my finances. The future looks different, but it looks happy.
And now I need to leave the vortex of the internet and get to work sewing!!!
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