November 15, 2013

Selling What Sells: How to Get People to Buy More of Your Art

If you’re an artist trying to sell art you’re leaving a lot of money on the table if you’re literally just selling prints or originals of your work. This is because home decor is one of the tougher categories to sell in general.

Don’t believe it? Check out this graphic from Target’s 2011 annual report. Target is a brand that works hard to promote their housewares line and yet apparel and consumables like food and laundry detergent outsell housewares both individually and as a whole.

target

The story is the same at Walmart, where home goods make up a mere 6% of sales while apparel comes in at 13% (more than double). Even health and wellness beats home goods.
walmart

JC Penny’s sales tell the same story.  Home goods make up 21% of sales, almost all the other sales are comprised of clothing and accessories.
jcp

Macy’s sales mix looks the same. Home goods make up only 16% of sales while clothing and accessories make up the rest.
macys

Why is it that retailer after retailer has less success in housewares than any other category?
All of these retailers certainly sell a lot of home decor products and do plenty to market these products in advertising, wedding registries, etc. The issue is consumer shopping habits. Home decor lasts for a long time and people rarely need to restock. People are in the market for home decor usually after they move or when they have a life changing event like a marriage or a baby. Moves, weddings and babies don’t happen for the average person all the time.

On the other hand, the average person replaces their toiletries, clothing and accessories pretty often. That’s why these are such great products to sell. Once you have a customer who enjoys your brand they’ll keep coming back if you sell products they need to purchase more often.

If that’s not good enough reason to get into selling your art on apparel and accessories, there’s more!
If your customer is buying your art for her home, the number of people who will see that art, comment on it and go seek it out to buy for themselves is a tiny sliver. If your customer is wearing your art out in public she is showing your art to thousands of people every day just by walking around. Your customer basically becomes a walking billboard for your art every place she goes. She’s likely to run into more people who will see your art, notice it, ask her about it and seek it out to buy for themselves.

Do you want to make more money?
If yes, it’s time to look for ways to get your art onto products people consume every day. I know this strategy works because I use it for my own brand. While we do offer our art on prints and in the past we’ve offered a few other home decor items, our t-shirts outsell decor items 100 to 1!  Most of our online sales come from word of mouth. People ask our customers where they got their shirts and our customers send those people our way. Most of our traffic from search engines is people searching for keywords from our designs.

So how do you get your art onto products people want to buy?

  • Consider putting your art on functional items like t-shirts, bags, wallets, belts, pendants, etc. You can customize these products yourself or have them made for you.
  • Look for products with great margins. If you can make something for $2 and sell it for $15 that’s a great margin. If it costs you $5 to make something and you can only sell it for $7 that’s a less attractive margin. Only consider items like this if you think you can do a really substantial amount of volume to make up for the poor margins.
  • Look to other retailers for ideas. Take a stroll through a store like Pier 1, Macy’s, Urban Outfitters, Bed Bath and Beyond, gift shops, etc. Notice what sorts of products they offer that feature graphics — things like candles, t-shirts, soaps, pendants, belts, etc. Take note of what they are retailing these products for and think about whether you could produce a product like it featuring your art.
  • Get creative with sourcing. Sites like Etsy are full of makers, often based in your home country, who might be able to produce bespoke goods for you at a wholesale price if you order in bulk. Also check out sites like epromos.com and other promotional product websites. They have a huge assortment of items you can have customized to feature your art. Check our suppliers that specialize in custom products like Ink It Labs. They create custom laser-cut accessories featuring your submitted art.
  • Consider private label manufacturing on-demand, such as dropshipdtg.com, which allows you to sell your art on t-shirts without any up front costs. Or check out Art of Where which allows you to sell your art on device cases and leggings.
  • If you’re going to have products made featuring your art be sure to request samples, especially a sample featuring your art if possible, so you know you’ll be happy with the finished result.

 


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November 8, 2012

Using the Ground Game Strategy for Growing Your Business

If you followed any of the coverage of the US elections this fall, you probably heard the pundits talk about two things: how much the candidates are spending and who has a better “ground game”. This is interesting because the same exact tools that win elections can help you win as a business. It’s pretty well acknowledged that a big part of Obama’s success was his ground game, and I’m a big believer in developing a ground game for your business too. You can win by spending money — many elections have been won that way — but it’s not the only option.

Here are three ways I’ve used our ground game to boost sales this year, even though we didn’t spend much money on traditional advertising:

1. Shaking hands and kissing babies
When people feel a personal connection to a brand or a political candidate, they’re more inclined to throw their support that way. This is why political candidates get out there in front of voters and it’s why I spent most of my year getting out in front of my customers. By the end of 2012, we’ll have appeared at 16 pop-up retail events all over the US. We traveled north to Boston, west to Chicago (twice). We did events in Philadelphia (THREE times), DC (2x), NYC (3x), Pittsburgh, and Baltimore (3x). In March we’ll head south to Orlando. We travel to large events with tens or even hundreds of thousands of consumers, and our primary motivation is to get them to meet us and love us — even if they don’t buy anything right away.

We know just showing our line to people and chatting with them will help spread our brand awareness. They might not buy from us today, but there’s a good chance they will remember us and buy from us some other time.

You can employ this strategy, too. Think about festivals, craft shows and outdoor markets, but also think about trunk shows and home parties. Choose activities that appeal to your target customers and enable you to talk to them one-on-one.

2. Making It Stick
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: give people a reason to remember your brand. Political campaigns are usually happy to give you t-shirts, bumper stickers, pens, all sorts of stuff with the candidate’s name on it. They want you to remember their candidate so when it’s time to vote, you’ll remember to vote for them.

We employ the same strategy. We are always giving away loads of fun free stuff. We give it out at shows, we give it out with our orders. We give out cute vinyl stickers with our characters on them, 1″ pins, funny comic strips. We don’t give out stuff that looks like marketing material; we don’t just give out a business card, we give out something our customers would actually want so they’ll keep it and remember us.

Just yesterday a customer told us he ordered from us because a friend of a friend who lives across the country came to visit, and had one of our vinyl stickers on something. That’s how he found us.

3. Staying on Message
If you have a message that resonates with your audience, you’re more likely to attract their support, whether you’re running for office or promoting your brand. What does your brand do? Does it make life easier, does it make your customers more attractive, does it help your customer be a better parent? My own products are conversation starters — we design items you could wear out to a bar and it’s likely that someone will strike up a conversation with you based on what you’re wearing. We’re not just selling clothing, we’re selling human connections.

When you’re presenting your product on the ground, think about how you can present more than just the product: how can you present the benefits of owning your product? Think about employing signage, videos, live demos or brochures depending on the item you sell.

Have you used ground game this year to boost sales? Tell us about it in the comments below.


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August 21, 2012

3 Business Opportunities To Beware

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Tags: , , , , , — Meredith @ 12:12 pm


If you’re a new to running a business the marketing and sales opportunities can be overwhelming. Which ones are good; which ones are a dead end? Here are 3 popular opportunities you will want to consider with caution:

1. Flash Sale Sites
Why it sounds appealing:
Flash sale sites come in so many flavors these days: you’ve got sites like Fab, Gilt Group, Groupon, Living Social, etc. They’ll often come with compelling promises of promoting your brand to millions of consumers and selling a ton of product for you.

What might be wrong with the deal:
These sites are often looking for a below wholesale price from you on your products and they aren’t looking to agree to a minimum purchase. Meanwhile, they’ll want you to set aside inventory you could be selling at full price just for them, and at the end of the sale they will expect you to turn around and ship your goods out within a day or two and it could be anywhere between a few pieces or thousands — either result can be problematic.

What if they only sell a few units? Are you willing to set aside hundreds of units of product you could be selling at full price on the chance the flash sale will call for them? Are you willing to then part with only a few pieces for below wholesale if the sell-through isn’t great?

What if they sell thousands of units? Is it realistic for you to ship out that volume of inventory with a short turn around? What if they are paying on net 30 terms (which means they pay 30 days after you ship)? Can you afford to produce all that inventory you won’t see money on for over a month?

Why you might do it anyway:
Flash sale sites really vary with their models these days. Some do purchase inventory up front, like a regular wholesale customer. Some give you a longer turn around time to deliver goods. While there are plenty of flash sale sites with unfavorable terms, some flash sale site operators are getting wise to the fact that bad terms means it’s harder to get brands to participate and are offering more flexible terms to woo brands.

If you’re in a position to work with the flash sale site terms and can make it a break even or profitable proposition, the exposure can be a huge boon to a brand owner.

2. Consignment
In a tough economy retailers are looking for ways to cut costs. One way they might do this is by accepting your products on consignment. This means they take your products and you only get paid if the products sell. If the products do not sell you can take them back or leave them on consignment until they are sold (depending on the store). If your products sell you will get, on average, about 50% of the retail price. So if your item sells for $20.00 you get $10 and the store owner gets $10.00.

Why it sounds appealing:
If you are having a hard time getting your foot in the door consignment can be a great way to prove yourself to a retailer. It gets your products in the retail space where customers can see them and allows you to beef up your list of stockists.

What might be wrong with the deal:
I’m not a big fan of consignment; here’s how I see it — I’m parting with a product I can sell myself at full price and trusting a retailer will drive foot traffic, merchandise my goods to sell and then actually follow through on paying me. If all goes well, I’m only getting half what I’d get retailing the product myself. All the risk is assumed by me and the reward isn’t substantial enough. Plus, it’s an administrative headache for me to keep track of which stores have which products, how long they’ve had them, whether they’ve sold or not, etc. For a product like mine, with a relatively low price point (my products all retail for less than $50.00) this nickel and dime game isn’t really worth the hassle.

Why you might do it anyway:
There are really only two good reasons to consign your products:
1. You have a product with a high price point and significant margin, for example an expensive bag or art or piece of jewelry AND you found a retail partner who wants consignment terms but also has a storefront with a significant amount of foot traffic and moves a lot of product. If you have that situation consignment might be worthwhile since your retail partner only has to sell a few pieces for you to make money at it.

2. You have a retail partner you want to work with who is on the fence about working with you. You feel your product would sell for them, but they aren’t convinced. You can offer to consign some inventory with them on a trial basis to demonstrate its sellability — but this is really only worth doing if you expect the retailer will convert to wholesale terms once you’ve proven your product will sell for them.

3. Product Reviews
These days you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who has a blog, and product reviews are a popular way bloggers like to get “paid” for their work. They’ll ask you for a free sample of your product in exchange for writing a review about it.

Why it sounds appealing:
When you’re desperate for publicity any write up can sound attractive. You might also be wooed by the idea of link building if you’re trying to improve your SEO. Bloggers looking for products to review might try to dazzle you with stats on their blog traffic or the size of their mailing list to entice you, making it sound like a pretty sweet deal. Just send them a freebie and get this awesome plug on a blog.

What might be wrong with the deal:
Most successful/high traffic blogs aren’t spending their time soliciting freebies. They already get plenty of offers and are making their money from advertising, affiliate programs or selling their own products. If a blogger is asking you for free stuff, it’s not really “free” for you. You still have to pay for the product and shipping. If you keep sending out product every time you get a request those costs can add up.

You also have to consider whether the blogger actually has substantial traffic and whether the traffic is targeted enough. We constantly get requests for free product from mommy bloggers with only a few hundred readers who focus on blogging about topics like coupons and living on a shoestring. With our youth apparel at a $25 price point, we know we’re not selling a product that appeals to shoestring budgets. These offers aren’t a good match for us demographically speaking, and even if they were, the readership isn’t significant enough to make it worth handing out free products.

Why you might do it anyway:
If your product’s sample costs are low and the sample requests are coming from media outlets that cater to your target audience you might want to consider ponying up the goods. If you sell a product like food or skincare goods, you can probably package samples in a way that makes them cheap enough to produce and ship to reviewers.

While I wouldn’t recommend giving away freebies to everyone who asks, a review on a site with decent traffic that attracts your target market can be quite worthwhile.


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June 29, 2012

4 Things That Matter More Than Your Product

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Meredith @ 11:13 am


I’m willing to bet this has happened to you:
You walk into a store and pick up a [bag/necklace/shirt] and think to yourself “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe this [bag/necklace/shirt] is in this store! My [bags/necklaces/shirts] are a zillion times better! Why are they such a big deal? Why won’t this store carry my [bag/necklace/shirt]?”

You may be totally right, your product might be way better than a competitor’s version and they might be selling their crap right and left while your struggling to sell anything. The problem has nothing to do with your products vs theirs. Here are some of the more likely reasons they’re outselling you:

1. Distribution
I talked about distribution channels yesterday but can’t emphasize their importance enough. It’s the same idea as a crappy top 40 song getting huge. If every radio station is playing a song all day every day it will get popular, whether it’s good or not. If a product is in everyone’s face enough people are going to buy it. Take a hard look at how your branding and product are being distributed now and what more you can do to get your brand and product in front of more people.

2. Presentation
Packaging and presentation are sometimes way more important than the product. I wrote a post several months ago about companies selling incredibly unremarkable products with great packaging. If your competitor’s presentation is nicer than yours they’ll sell more product, even if the item itself isn’t special.

3. Relationships
Relationships matter in every industry. Knowing the right people can make or break your brand so forging connections is an important part of growing your business. A famous blogger is more likely to write about her friend’s company than a stranger’s company. A buyer at Saks is more likely to buy product from a friend who started a handbag line instead of you. A magazine editor at Lucky is more likely to feature a friend’s line instead of a stranger’s. You may not have friends in high places yet but making friends in the right places can have a huge impact on your bottom line. Look into trade shows and networking events where you have the opportunity to meet people and see if friends of friends have connections that can be of value.

4. Sales Skills
Whether you’re doing direct retail at pop up events like craft shows and festivals or business to business sales with store owners and buyers, sales skills are important. I’ve been to so many live events where people working in the booth are surly, unfriendly or snobby. I can’t imagine those people trying to charm a store owner, since they can’t even talk to a consumer. If you aren’t a naturally outgoing, confident, charismatic person hire someone who is to deal with the sales side of your business.

While I won’t go so far as to say having a great product is meaningless, it won’t make or break your company. A good product helps, but without the other ingredients you’ll have a difficult time realizing any success.


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June 28, 2012

Growing Your Brand With Distribution Channels

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 9:07 am


I obsess about pretty much one thing 24/7 — getting my brand and products in front of as many eyeballs and into as many consumer hands as fast as possible. This might sound like a no-brainer for a product-based business, but I’m always surprised when I talk to other budding entrepreneurs who limit their distribution channels.

When I talk about distribution channels, I mean all the ways you are getting your brand and products in front of consumers. While I won’t say it’s impossible to make it with a single distribution channel, it is much more difficult. If you rely only on Etsy or only on craft shows to distribute your product you’re missing out on a lot of other ways to build brand awareness, boost sales and ultimately make more money.

When you think about distribution channels, think about the options that are a best fit for your product and brand and think about all the different options within a type of distribution channel. Here are some examples of distribution channels you may currently be overlooking.

1. Online
While most of my readers do some form of selling online, there are tons of sub-channels within online sales such as:

  • Your own wesbite
  • Marketplace websites (Ebay, Etsy, Amazon)
  • Deal-a-Day Sites (fab.com, Living Social, Zulily)

The more online venues you use to sell your product the more consumers you can reach. If you currently sell online, look into more places you can sell online, instead of relying on a single venue.

2. Wholesale
A lot of creative entrepreneurs are wary of getting into wholesale. You have to learn some lingo, talk with confidence to total strangers and try to sell to them, and get your product to a price point where you can sell it for 50% off and still make money. Admittedly, there’s a lot to know but it’s not an insurmountable challenge, you just have to educate yourself. (Side note, I LOVE this wholesale e-course. If you want to get into wholesale this is a top notch resource!)

Within wholesale, there are lots of ways to sell to stores, you can try:

  • Sales Reps – Reps will sell your product to stores for you, though they take a percentage of gross sales. Usually 10-15% depending on the industry. You’ll need a price point such that you can pay a rep, sell for half off and still be profitable to make this work.
  • Trade Shows – Trade shows are events where buyers and store owners gather to shop for products to carry. Be prepared to invest about $10,000 to do a trade show. (You’ll be paying for booth fees, booth decor, marketing/sales collateral and most likely hotel, air fare and rental car.) They’re not for the newest of newbies but if you have a little experience under your belt and the cash to invest, a trade show can be a great way to get seen by stores.
  • Cold Calling – This requires the least outlay of cash, though it will eat up a lot of time and you’ll need to be comfortable with calling up stores and asking them to carry your line. My company has had a ton of success with this method.

3. Events
I love events, it’s not only a great way to sell a lot of product directly to consumers, it’s a great marketing tool. I always go to events with a sign up sheet for my newsletter and a huge supply of the most adorable swag you’ve ever seen. People love it. I always leave with thousands of dollars in sales, hundreds of new email subscribers and thousands of people taking my free comic strips and stickers with plans to adorn their laptop, car, fridge, office, etc. with my branding.

I recommend vetting events carefully, choose events that attract your target customer and have a large audience. These things are a numbers game so you are likely to make more money and get more marketing impact out of an event with 50,000 attendees than 5,000. Here are some kinds of events to consider:

  • Craft shows – I am not crazy about craft shows for my own business but lots of people love them. There are all kinds of craft shows from the alternative variety that attract the young and hip to traditional craft shows that attract suburban moms.
  • Conventions – I have had great success with comic cons, but there are conventions for nearly every niche interest such as scifi, tattoos, steam punk, etc. Check local media or convention centers for lists of upcoming conventions.
  • Festivals – think music festivals, food festivals, wine or beer festivals. Pick festivals that attract your audience. Check out your local chamber of commerce, newspaper or other local/regional publications for listings and ads for upcoming events.

Distribution channels feed each other
The more good distribution channels you have, the more the other channels benefit. I’ve found stores to carry my line doing events and I’ve had them contact me online because of my web presence. I’ve had retail sales online shoot up from having my products and brand seen at events and in stores. I’ve had my event sales grow because I go to the same kinds of events all the time and people recognize and like our brand, sometimes they recognize us from seeing us online or in stores.

They more you do all of these things the more they boost each other and the more overall revenue your company will see. Experiment with different channels and sub-channels to see what gets you the best results. You need not do every single channel, but you’ll likely see a big boost to your business from working on more than one.


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June 18, 2012

Dreaming Big? Then Spend Bigger

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 8:45 am


When I hear a business owner say “but it’s toooo expensive!” what I really hear is “I don’t really want to be in business.” Being in business requires spending, and growing a substantial business is going to require substantial spending. I’m not suggesting reckless or ill-thought-out spending. I’m talking about the kind of spending that takes you from small timer to next level. Here are two important ways spending small hurts you in the long run:

1. Nickel and Diming
Which appeals to you more: 50 poly-mailers for $10 or 1,000 poly-mailers for $100? If you said 50 for $10 you’re nickel and diming and it’s hurting your bottom line. While it’s more tempting to lay out less money up front, you’re paying double the cost to do this. Apply this same philosophy to other business expenses like supplies, manufacturing, etc. and you end up with less profit and poor margins.

When I have to spend money on my business my primary concern is what’s going to cost me less in the long run per piece. If I am sure I will use all of whatever I’m about to buy and then some, I’ll always opt to buy in bulk and get a lower cost per unit. These choices of course have to be made with some common sense, you might not want to buy a million poly-mailers and have all of your budget tied up in one thing that will take you years to use, but it’s important to take a close look at what your business buys. What could you spend more on up front that will drastically reduce cost?

2. Missing Opportunities
Have you ever said no to doing something you felt would grow your business simply because of the price tag? Maybe it was a trade show that was going to cost $3,000 for a booth. Maybe it was a pop up event that was going to cost $1,000.00. Saying no to things that can deliver a boost to your business is a surefire way to hamper your growth.

When you consider a business opportunity it’s important to calculate the projected return on investment, not just concern yourself with the initial outlay of cash. If you did the pop up event could you sell over $2,000.00 worth of product? If you did the trade show could you generate over $3,000 in wholesale business? When you see opportunities like this always think about how much money you can make from them after expenses, rather than just considering the initial expense.

Are there ways spending bigger could help you save money and grow your business? What’s holding you back?


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May 25, 2012

Doing What Your Best At (A.K.A How Not to Fail in Business)

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 7:45 am


From time to time we get to chatting with our manufacturers and suppliers and we’ll hear “I really want to do what you guys do, start a label. Can you give me any tips on that?” or “I tried to start a label, it never worked out for me.” While I can understand the appeal of starting a label, it’s not the job description most people think it is and it’s not the job for everyone.

A surefire way to fail in business is trying to take on a job that doesn’t play to your strengths and interests. While some companies succeed in wearing multiple hats, it’s not what works for most businesses. When you are working with products you usually are going to fall into one of the following categories:

1. Manufacturer
My very first attempt at entrepreneurship mainly fell into this category. I liked making stuff for myself and thought it would be fun to make a whole bunch of stuff and sell it online. I pretty quickly realized that I actually hate making stuff. I enjoyed making one or two things for myself, but making hundreds or thousands of things didn’t interest me in the least. It was repetitive, it was boring, it was tedious. I failed because I’d taken on the wrong role for myself. What I really liked was product design, not manufacturing.

If you’re truly happiest chilling in your workshop all day listening to music and cranking out products manufacturing is for you. Maybe you enjoy working with your hands or find the repetitive nature of that work soothing. The world needs makers, so if this is your strength this should be the focus of your business.

2. Retailer
Having a storefront is an entirely different job description than being a manufacturer. To take on this role you’ve got to enjoy working with the public and have a knack for curating and merchandising products. People often ask me if I’m ever going to open a store for Ex-Boyfriend. The answer is probably not. We have no real interest in running a store of our own. We’ll do pop up retail events every few weeks, but we’re always glad when they’re over.

If you love the idea of decorating a space and filling it with your favorite finds and showing your space off to consumers and chatting with people all day, a retail store owner might be the perfect job for you. If those are the things you love, there’s no reason to get bogged down with tasks like product development or manufacturing.

3. Product Developer/Label Owner
This is what I do. My partner and I are most interested in designing and developing products and bringing them to market. We suck at making things, especially in high volume, but we love the design aspect and don’t mind the logistics of coordinating with manufacturers or finding stores to carry our line.

If your strong suit is design and you’re comfortable managing manufacturers and conducting business to business sales, this is the job for you. You can’t spend all day talking to consumers or making products, because you have to spend your time developing new products, coordinating their production and bringing on retailers to sell your wares.

You’re going to need partners…
While it’s possible to do two or more of these jobs, most business owners will find they are best suited to choose one or two at most. Your best shot at thriving is focusing on the role you’re best at and most passionate about. You can choose other businesses to work with to take on those other roles.

If you find yourself struggling with one of these roles, consider whether it’s really what you want to be doing. If you love making stuff but can’t stand sales and marketing, running your own label might not be the best fit for you. Consider working with other businesses that like that stuff and providing them your manufacturing services. If you want to start a store, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to fill it with your own exclusive wares, find labels you want to support and fill your store with those products. Think about what you enjoy doing most and excel with, that should be the focus of your business.


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May 9, 2012

Should You Quit Your Day Job?

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Meredith @ 9:04 am


Steve over at MyWifeQuitHerJob recently posted about why he hasn’t quit his “day job”. He makes some interesting points, though I’ve made the opposite decision for myself. Are you thinking about leaving your day job? Here are some things to consider:

1. Do you really want to quit your day job?
On the face of it, you might say yes, but really think about whether you want this. Are you comfortable with leaving a career you may have spent years building? Are you okay with giving up the steady pay check, the guaranteed health insurance, the 401k matching? Some people can’t, psychologically, feel comfortable with giving up those things.

I struggled with this myself. I was wary of leaving a very lucrative career I’d spent over a decade building. It was also a shift in thinking for me. I’d always had my own thing throughout my partnership with my husband. Leaving my day job meant being entwined professionally.

In the end, I chose to leave my day job for a few reasons:
1. I hated my day job.
2. I am truly happiest spending my time with my husband/business partner.
3. I can actually make more money leaving my day job and focusing on our growing business, and this point brings me to…

2. What are your revenue streams and financial forecasts like?
It’s one thing to want to leave a day job, it’s another thing entirely to be able to still pay your bills doing it. In order to be sure you can afford to leave your day job, it’s important to examine your revenue streams and income projections.

It’s important to map out specifically how much money you’ll make from various income sources once you’ve left your day job. Will you be doing pop up events? How many, what will the attendance be, what percentage of attendees do you expect will buy, how much will the average order be? Have you done these pop up events in past years/months/weeks? How much did you make last time?

Will you be doing wholesale? How many accounts do you have, how often do they order and what’s their average order value? How many new accounts do you project you can bring on each month and what is the average order value?

Will you be doing online sales? How many orders per month do you get? What’s the average order value? What are your costs with doing online sales?

It’s important to answer questions like these and be sure to take into account all of your costs and income. Can you still earn enough money to support yourself based on your past experience and projections?

3. What is your safety net like?
If your financial projections aren’t met, what is your back up plan? Do you have savings or assets you can leverage to get through difficult periods? Are you comfortable with falling back on your safety net if things do not go as planned? At what point will you consider going back to a day job if your projections aren’t met?

3. How serious are you about your business?
I would argue that if you are deeply serious about building an empire, you are going to have to eventually quit your day job. I can’t think of many nationally recognized brands with an owner who has a separate day job. If you want to build a large business it’s going to demand your full attention. What I mean by this is you probably won’t be the next Ed Hardy or Kate Spade if you expect to run your creative business and work a day job simultaneously from now til you retire. If that’s your ambition, you are eventually going to need to leave that day job.

Not everyone wants to be the next Kate Spade or Ed Hardy, and that’s fine too. Building a brand of that size means you probably won’t be doing any hands on making of products. It means you won’t be the person answering the phone when customers call, it means you won’t be doing it all yourself. You will have to manage staff, rent the office space, hire the lawyers and accountants, etc. It means getting a lot more corporate and a lot less mom and pop. It’s not the model for everyone and there’s certainly tons of variation between DIYer and corporate mogul. It’s important to think about where you want your own business to go and what choices you’ll have to make to get those results.


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April 12, 2012

4 Indicators That You’re Not Serious About Your Business

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Meredith @ 4:45 am

Do you toil away at your day job and scheme ways to make your living selling crafts? While this isn’t an impossible dream, it’s not going to be easy. There is no magic bullet or special trick to growing a business. It’s mostly about putting in the time and money and having a plan. Here are some signs that you’re not on track for growing a real business.

1. Your income goals are not significant enough to earn a living or grow
I often hear people say things like “If I could just sell 10 necklaces a week! That would be like $500! So much money! I could live on that!” First of all, $500 per week is going to only make you $26,000 per year, a fairly meager living. Plus, you have to factor in your costs. You’ll need to pay for supplies/manufacturing, internet/website, marketing, etc. The list can go on forever once you’re running a real business. I consider my own business fairly small and we have a six figure operating budget. If you want to grow a business, your income goals need to account for paying you and your business expenses.

2. You have no roadmap of how you plan to meet your income goals
Even if you’ve settled on an income goal, if you don’t have a plan to meet that goal it’s still no good. It’s not enough to say “I want my business to net $50,000.00 this year”, you need to specify how you expect it to do that. Will you be doing this with wholesale? Online sales? Pop up events? In order to meet income goals, you’ll need a specific plan that maps out how you plan to meet your goals. What revenue streams will you rely on and what are you goals for them each week, month or quarter?

3. You refuse to properly invest time or money in your business
If starting a business was cheap or easy everyone would be doing it.  If you want to run a real business expect to invest significant time and money. Don’t expect to build a quit-your-day-job-sized enterprise in your spare time on a shoestring. Yes maybe you’ve heard a story about someone who did that, but it’s extremely rare that things work that way. If you’re not willing to do the 60+ hour work week and invest tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars before you see a significant return you’re going to have a hard time growing a real business.

4. You refuse to do the really hard work
Owning a business involves doing a lot of stuff you do not want to do. Most creative people don’t enjoy bookkeeping, sales, marketing, etc. The creative stuff is more fun, but it is a small part of what you’ve got to do to run a business. My partner and I spend about 10% of our time doing design work. Most of our job is administrative tasks, marketing, sales, vendor relations, managing people. Sometimes it’s tedious crap work like scanning receipts and taking inventory. We’ve just started hiring help so we can be more productive, but it’s not a perfect solution since the more people we hire, the more managing we have to do. It’s all hard and most days we feel like strangling someone. If you want your business to grow, you’ve got to be willing to do anything and everything the business requires, even if it’s stuff that’s not in your comfort zone.


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March 22, 2012

This is Why You’re Not Selling More Online

A common question I see on forums, in coaching sessions, etc is “Why am I not getting more online sales?” I don’t have a magic bullet solution for this problem, but the cause is almost always one of the following issues:

1. Mediocre Products
Sometimes the product itself just isn’t that great. Maybe it’s ugly, maybe it’s unremarkable. We all like to believe our creations are great, but if there’s no market for what you’re selling it doesn’t matter what the creator thinks.

The Fix: It’s hard see our own creations objectively, but if you suspect your products are the problem, test them out at a live event like a trunk show or craft show or festival. Notice how people respond to your products in person. Are they buying? Are they checking the items out? Do people seem enthusiastic about the product line?

If people seem to keep passing your display by or no one is buying then it’s probably time to rethink the product line.

2. Mediocre Website/Online Store
A bad online store is going to make it hard to sell even the coolest products on the web. I feel like I beat this horse to death, but I still see websites every day that just aren’t optimized to convert. I see bad product photos, confusing navigation, poor site copy — the works! Contrary to popular belief, products won’t just sell themselves. If your online store isn’t up to par you’re guaranteed to be losing business as a result.

The Fix: If you know your products are proven sellers (i.e. they do well with wholesale and at live events), it may be time to give your web shop more polish so your items can shine online too. Consider working with a professional designer to make your site look its best. Use a professional photographer for product photos or educate yourself on how to shoot better photos and retouch them in a program like Photoshop. Study up on conversion rate optimization, a topic I frequently obsess about here on Smaller Box. Making sure your site is easy to use and looks professional will turn those site visitors into buyers.

3. Lack of  Effective Marketing
If your products are great and your site is top notch but you’re still not seeing sales then the problem is probably marketing. People can’t buy from you if they haven’t heard of you, so it’s important to have a plan to promote your products to your target customers.

The Fix: Create a marketing plan so you know how you’ll get your products in front of customers. Consider incorporating SEO, advertising, publicity, viral marketing, live events such as festivals or craft shows, social media, etc. As you build your marketing plan make sure you’ve thought about how you’ll select and prioritize marketing initiatives and how you’ll measure the results.

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