Category Archives: Business for craftspeople

Being human

This week I am able to announce that I am officially human.  Even better, I am a local human.  I am one of 101 local humans selected to be part of a ‘human brochure’ about Canberra.  My chicks think it is hilarious that I am now a local human.  Over the next couple of months I will meet my fellow 100 humans and we will get to visit all sorts of VIP events at local attractions – many of which involve food and/or alcohol, and places I haven’t visited.  The chicks get to attend a few events with me too.  Then we get to spend time sharing our experiences in our local region, using social media, culminating in a weekend in October where we can show our city off to family from out of town.  It is a pretty big deal.

Of course, you know me – part of me is terrified about all the juggling of competing priorities, about letting myself put me first for once, about meeting all these uber-cool fellow humans and remembering that they have all been fooled into thinking that I am uber-cool too.  The other part of me is really excited about getting to go out and have fun with adults doing cool things!  If you follow me on any of the social media I use (instagram, twitter, facebook – oh my I am so cool these days) you will see the hashtag #humanbrochure appearing and you will now know what it is about! (and I promise I will try to reduce my use of the word ‘cool’, given that it isn’t actually that ‘cool’ these days.)

Of course, with the confirmation that I am human, comes the realisation that I am a mere mortal, and therefore fatally flawed.  Which isn’t really a surprise to anyone!  The notification about being human also arrives at the same time as a whole slew of good things, and an avalanche of challenges.  Life.  Gets you every time doesn’t it?

Good things first (then you can choose to skip the challenges if you want!)  I was selected as part of the launch of a new feature on Ebay where you can make your own collections of things that you like.  They selected a pile of bloggers and other people to create the first collections, to set the scene for the launch.  So far I have had two sets of 5 collections approved, and am working on a 3rd.  I tend to use Ebay for very functional things, so taking the time to stop and look around has been interesting.  One thing I have learned, very quickly, is the importance of good product shots.  I have been aware of it for selling on Etsy for a long time, but really hadn’t thought about it in the Ebay context, until I was looking for images that would hang together well.  Oh my there are some shockers out there.  One image of a gorgeous vintage porcelain piece had a background of a piece of uncovered, dirty rubber foam.  Others showed delicate things for babies sitting on the carpet for the shots – which just didn’t work!  The whole image of Ebay as a place for bargains might be the reason, but given the amazing array of good available there, I suspect that the move to collections might start to have an impact on the way people choose to display their wares.

The next good thing was lovely feedback from a customer, lovely feedback from a colleague, and a request to be allowed to quote one of my blog posts in someone’s book (!!!) all within a day or two.  It is a bit like getting a compliment from a random stranger while walking down the street – it makes your day!  I have also managed to have some of my items on Etsy make the front page after renewing my involvement in my teams on the forums – one of those cases where promoting others really does help yourself.

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This one made the front page of the US site, so massive exposure for my bag!

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The middle chick is currently directing the shooting of a video that will star the boy, as an entry in a competition to represent the local milk company.  Whether they win or not is irrelevant as they are having so much fun making it, negotiating the story line, and adding special effects – it is hilarious to listen to them!

And finally, I was able to sit down and make my first bag using the leather I recently purchased.  It is very different from sewing with fabric – not just because of the bulk of the leather when dealing with seams etc, but because it seems to stretch and move when it is sewn (despite my judicious use of clothes pegs to hold it together) and unpicking (which I did a LOT of) leaves holes in the leather that don’t disappear like holes in fabric do.  Still – the results are so different to fabric that I think I will continue learning and practising.  I am considering investing in an industrial machine – I suspect that would help a lot!  For this one I used some leather from a piece of milled hide, a part of a sleeve from a suede jacket a friend sent me, and lined it with an indigenous print cotton.

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As for the challenges?  My boy.  That beautiful soul who snuggles in and remembers the most awesome details about conversations you have had years before, who loves to be able to help, who fills my heart with joy.  Once again we are back to dealing with challenges.  The respite gained after the trip to the chiropractor was short lived.  I suspect the change in houses over the weekend contributed to it.  For a boy who doesn’t deal well with change, moving between houses each week is challenging.  I have said it before and I will say it again.  Divorce sucks.  It doesn’t just suck because the adults are hurt and grieving. It sucks because the children who have no control over their environment get hurt, over and over, for years after the fact.  I struggle every day to think about how I can reduced the impact of our family circumstances on my boy.  There are no simple answers.   However his school continue to find ways to support him to feel okay about himself.  When a relief teacher did something in reprimanding my boy that still makes me shake with emotion, the boy was able to come home feeling good about himself (and completely unaware of how upset I was) because the executive teachers made sure that he was safe and felt wanted and useful.  God bless them.   We are entering another phase of analysis and diagnosis with yet another specialist.  The next few months will be challenging.  Again.  Thank heavens that when he is good he is awesome!

Heading into the weekend with the rounds of winter weekend sports, children who need to be ferried from friend to friend, and all the other activities that seem to fill our days of ‘rest’ I am hoping to be able to get a little bit of sewing done – and finishing those last few rounds on the rug for the girls’ room!  I’ll check back in and let you know how it went!

Have a great weekend, wherever you are!

Ruminations on value

If you ever want to start a heated discussion between craftspeople, bring up the topic of pricing.  How to determine the value that you will charge for your chosen craft is an extremely emotive topic for many people.  There is a well thought out ‘formula’ that is suggested as the model for calculations.  A post at Ink and Spindle (just one of the many, many places you can find this discussed) explains it well (and if you read the comments following that post you will begin to see the passions that this topics can arouse.)

In simple terms, the theory is that materials plus labour (charged at an hourly rate between $10 and $20 here in Australia) provides you with your cost price.  (I note here that for many craftspeople that rate is covering their skills as a designer, maker, marketer, cleaner, material sourcer, etc.  Just sayin’.) By doubling it you arrive at your wholesale price – a price that allows you to cover your overheads like electricity, insurance, rent, machine maintenance, accountants fees, bank fees, advertising, marketing, product photography, packaging, labels, care instructions, and all those other little things that go into the production of any product.  That means that if you are able to sell your product to a retail outlet to on-sell, you aren’t selling at a loss.  (Because that would actually defeat the purpose, surely?!)  They, having their own overheads to cover, will sell it for double the price they buy it for.  And that makes this your retail price.

Which all makes sense until you start doing the calculations.  Amongst the many, many craftspeople I know, who make items to sell, I can count on one hand the number who actually apply this formula without modification.  Sometimes the modification is sensible – very low overheads for example, or absolutely no intention to wholesale, so a lower retail price that still allows for reasonable profit to put back into the business.  But often the modification is based on a statement like ‘but no one would want to pay that much for this’.  And there you have it.  A self-licking ice-cream, as a colleague of mine once put it so nicely.  Craftspeople sell for lower prices thinking that people won’t pay for higher prices, so the customers expect those lower prices to be the usual price.  Some craftspeople feel guilty charging ‘higher prices’ and will make statements like ‘but I only want to cover my costs so that I can keep making things’.  Which is all well and good if you are making things as a hobby, but is that self licking ice-cream if you are in business.

I am guilty of all of these things.  I have said, both out loud, and in my head, “I couldn’t charge that because people wouldn’t want to buy it at that price.”  I have said ‘oh but I am unknown, so I will have to have lower prices to start with’.  How ridiculous is that when you think about it – takes the same amount of time, materials and skill whether you are known or unknown.  I have improved my processes, reduced my material costs, and streamlined some practises so that my making is more efficient, which means that the gap between my ‘retail price’ under the formula and the price that I sell my products for is slowly getting smaller. (I still couldn’t ‘wholesale’ my bags and properly cover my costs at this point though.)

But I had a revelation tonight.  I was comfort browsing on a discount website that I like (sad but true) when I saw that they had handbags on sale.  I was having a look at what styles they had etc when I looked at the prices.  These bags, made in a factory in China, from synthetic materials, and on a discount site, were selling for over $200.  And no one was commenting ‘oh that is too much for a bag made in a factory out of fake leather that will peel after I use it for a while.  I don’t know the person who made it, or how long they have been making them for.’  Most consumers would look at it and said ‘I like it’ or “I don’t like it” and “I am prepared to pay that” or “I don’t want to spend that much on that bag.”  End of story.  The brands, while well known as being ‘fashionable’ are not necessarily known for having high quality.  Often you are paying for the cachet of the label, the trendiness of the design, and not the care with which it was crafted.

My question is then, why so many craftspeople, myself often included, spend so much time worrying about how much we are going to charge for an item made with skill, love, original design, integrity, and made locally and ethically?  If a customer likes our product they will buy it.  If we are worried about whether they will think it is ‘worth it’ then maybe we need to think about how we are marketing and presenting our product.  Is it a ‘handmade tea towel’ for example, or an ‘artist’s original design hand printed on eco-friendly ethically sourced cloth, that is a piece of art in it’s own right, but can also dry dishes’?  (You will note that I don’t print tea towels so am not using my own work as an example!)

I am not about to hike my prices up to over $200 for a tea towel, but I am going to remember that if I don’t value my work, why should my customers?  Ruminations indeed.