Ever feel like it's hard to know if your business is "normal" or not? If other businesses experienced the year in a similar way to you? Or maybe you have a hard time zooming out to get a big picture perspective.
If that's you at all, then we've created The State of Making: An Online Summit just for you (and the thousands of others like you ;))! It's a multi-day event that will feature experts and other makers sharing their perspective on the year in making and what lies ahead for the holidays.
Today's post is to help you understand how the year in making was for other handmade artists. It's part of an ongoing series we are doing now through the end of September. After reading, I would love to know about your year in making in the comments below!
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.
A: I'm primarily self employed through my handmade business Once Again Sam, and I make jewelry with wood and leather, plus needle felted fiber art. I opened my Etsy shop in January of 2009, and about half of my sales come from the site, and the other half are a mix of craft show earnings and retail / wholesale.
Q: Overall, what did the last year look like for you?
A: My income has steadied over the last 3 years, so it's not doubling and tripling like it did those first few years, but I'm very happy with where I am creatively and financially. In fact, I was hesitant to change anything this year, because I feared any little change could turn into a huge loss. However, I wanted to cut back on the number of craft shows I do each year (because the traveling can really burn you out weekend after weekend), but I didn't want to give up that reliable side of my income, so I decided to double down on wholesale.
As a result, I've done about half as many craft shows as I normally would have, and done twice as many wholesale orders, and I'm thrilled to see that my numbers are looking even better than the last 3 years. It's a little scary to make a change like that, especially when something has been working well in the past, but you just never know what you're missing!
Q: What is the biggest lesson you learned?
A: You can't rely on websites, craft shows, or stores 100%. Most of the time they're fabulous partnerships, and it's a win win situation, but this year I had to learn a tough lesson about selling my handmade jewelry on a consignment basis.
For the first time ever, I had a store fail to pay me for items sold. After 3 or 4 months had gone by and I hadn't been paid, I pulled the plug and closed my booth. I'm still waiting on checks from earlier this year, the owner isn't responding to my messages, and I don't have a record of everything that sold in this particular store, so I have no idea what's owed to me. I don't know how I could have been so disorganized!
Not all stores are going to be looking out for you, so you need to keep good records and look out for yourself. I mostly sell wholesale now, so it's a little easier to track than consignment, and thankfully I have nothing but good things to say about all of the other stores I'm currently working with so hopefully this was a one-time bad experience.
Q: How are you anticipating and making changes for holiday 2016?
A: I have recently started a monthly newsletter, and plan to use this for some big sales and promotions during the holidays. Social media promotions were just okay for me last year, nothing spectacular, so I'm going to try something different this time and offer even more of a reward for those who subscribe. We'll see how this goes!
Q: What about your 2015 holiday? Or are the holidays not your “big” season?
A: The holidays are definitely my big season. I typically earn about 25-35% of my annual income during the months of November and December. Last year's season was excellent, even though I finally put my foot down about my cutoff date (and I'm glad I did). I was able to enjoy the last few days before Christmas and not worry about those one or two desperate customers who waited too long.
Q: What was your proudest moment of the last year as a business owner?
A: Holding my printed catalog for the first time. It was a 6-month process because my husband and I did it ourselves (all of the photography, layout, and SKU's), but it looks great and is a wonderful tool for wholesale tradeshows.
Q: What is one business tool or product that became invaluable to your business this last year?
A: My little GoPro camera. I started a series of videos called "Maker's Eye View" and try to shoot these every few weeks to show my process. It's helped me connect with people, and I've even noticed more interest and sales in a product once I've shared how it's made.
Q: What business tool or product did you decide, “Nah, actually I don’t need to deal with this”?
A: I purchased a CNC router (and waited a long long time to get it) but once it finally arrived, I realized it wasn't going to do much for me that my laser cutter and scroll saw couldn't do.
I decided to return it, because the last thing I need is something else competing for my time and attention. I'm already cramming a lot into each day into the studio, and so I need to be careful about how much new stuff I add to the mix. I'm a sucker for learning new things, but I just had a bad feeling this new machine wasn't going to be all I had hoped it would be.
Thanks so much Sarah! Let us know about your year in making in the comments below.