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by Julie Brooks

Polite notice. All designs are copyright protected. I hope you will be inspired by my designs but please do not copy them. Thank you.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

You're worth it!

Hi everyone

I hope you are having a good week. I don't know what to make of our weather this summer, it's very mixed and a bit odd!

I'm in a contemplating mood, reflecting on some of the things I've experienced since I began my paper-crafting journey 7 years ago. One of the things that really stands out in my mind is my experiences when venturing into selling the things I make, which is completely different from selling the raw materials to make things with.

My first sale came very quickly after I made my first Christmas cards way back in 2009. I decided to list a few of my cards on eBay on the off-chance I might sell one/some and I also wanted to test the market on how I'd priced my cards compared with others I'd looked at. That's the hardest part quite often, what price to put on your cards, when you know how long they've taken you to make and how much the materials have cost. It's a tricky figure to come up with because people will only pay so much for a card, handmade or mass printed! Anyway, I priced them as well as I could and within about four days I sold a pretty little Christmas card which had a wooden rocking horse shape on it and some glitter card in a lovely cinnamon colour - you see, I can still remember it, even now after having made several hundred cards since! I was so chuffed to sell something I'd made - I'm sure you've all been there! And it told me my prices must be about right too, and my style was appealing to at least one person! So I made a few more cards after Christmas and again listed them on eBay, and this brought me my very first repeat customer, who not only bought cards I'd already made, but gave me a few commission orders over the next few years too. I was so chuffed.

I've never had much spare time to craft, much to my frustration, but my life is not straight forward by any means, with an autistic son to care for and a husband who is self-employed so his work pattern is erratic, meaning getting any time to myself is a challenge. Still, I managed to get the odd couple of hours here and there and would make two or three cards if the ideas were there and it all flowed smoothly. Let me tell you though, that was not very often the case, probably because it took me a while to "switch off" from everything else and fully immerse myself in what I was trying to do.

Anyway, my confidence grew and I put feelers out with friends and family, and received a few more orders, every one of which felt like I'd run a marathon and received a medal to prove I'd done it! It boosted my confidence hugely to know friends and family liked my cards enough to buy/order from me.

I reached a point where I felt confident enough to try to sell my cards in a "proper" shop - it's a big step, and it was actually my sister who came up with the suggestion of a place where my cards might sell well, which was a gift shop within an old mill in a little village near where we live. The arrangement was shelf rental plus 5% commission on any sales. There were only two other people selling their handmade cards in the shop (and their cards were a completely different style to mine) along with a few people selling different kinds of gifts from jewellery to soft furnishings. We decided to take the plunge, so armed with some pretty baskets and a huge amount of "fingers crossed" we displayed my wares and waited. I was very excited and blogged about it at the time.

Sales were sporadic from one month to the next but on good months it was enough to cover the cost of the materials I'd bought plus a bit of profit. However, the shop owner then decided to allow more card makers into the shop - which was of course her right to do - but it got to the point where there were 14 of us all vying for what was actually a very small percentage of business because it's only a small village with few visitors from anywhere else. Sadly that was the beginning of the end of my time in that shop, because sales dropped right off as there were so many of us all making similar style cards and some were pricing their cards really low. Also, on two separate months, the cheque which the shop owner presented me with for my sales bounced, which was a really bad sign, so I took the decision to pull my goods out of the shop. Had that not happened I might have stuck it out for longer and tried making things in a different style to snare more customers, but I couldn't risk not getting the money I was due for any sales I achieved, so that was that.

I just want to go back to my comment in the last paragraph about how others were pricing their cards. I'd never try to recoup the cost of time spent making my cards because some take longer than others, and I was making a variety of styles from quite clean and simple to cards with a lot going on, so the time taken varied considerably from one card to the next. Also, the cost of materials varied from one card to the next, as you would expect. I tried to figure out a price which was kind of double what the materials cost me, plus maybe an extra 50p on top. That was how I came to my prices and people were happily buying my cards at anything from £1.50 right up to £4.00. The shop owner did not want to put her own prices on my goods, so the pricing was entirely in my control. But some of the others who "moved in" to the shop were selling their cards at £1 or less, and I just felt this was not something I wanted to compete against, because the more you lower your prices, the less people appreciate the value of something handmade and the less they are prepared to pay. It's a dangerous precedent to set.

So, I'd pulled out of the shop in the mill and it was several months before another opportunity presented itself. In the meantime I listed a few of my cards on eBay again but this time there were no takers. I still received occasional commission orders from friends and family.

Eventually a close friend told me about a new gift shop opening up which was, ironically, in the same village where I'd originally sold my cards! I decided to contact the owner and see if she would be interested in stocking my cards. Her initial reaction was quite negative as she had already taken on 4 people who made cards, so she wanted to know what else I made. I really struggled on the 'phone as I much prefer to deal with people face to face, so I flustered my way through the conversation and she agreed to see me with some samples! I was so nervous! Anyway, she was lovely and what few non-card things I had made - little notebooks, bookmarks and gift bags, she was very interested in having, so that was a relief! Her arrangement was not shelf rental, but a higher commission fee on each sale - 20%. This seemed a bit high to me but I decided to go for it and see what happened.

Because there was no shelf rental I didn't have any say in where or how my things were displayed, and the shop owner was a bit vague and said she would find somewhere for them, so I was a little concerned! But I needn't have been, because my items sold really quickly, within a matter of days, so I had to find time to get more made so I could re-stock! Again, I was putting my own prices on my products, being careful not to overprice things.

Sales continued to come in at a steady rate. I decided to make some boxed wedding cards and take them to show her on the off-chance she might like them and want to stock them - she had nothing like them in the shop already (I'd checked!). She absolutely loved them. I'd made four and they all sold within the first week! So again I had to quickly get more stock made and in to her. It still gave me such a buzz each time something I'd made sold. These became my biggest earner and sold steadily every month. And at this point the shop owner decided to stock any cards I could make, boxed or not! I also received a few commission orders via the shop which was nice.

Along the way I expanded my range of papercraft products and also made some home decor bits and pieces. Some sold, some didn't, but that's ok because I was very much feeling my feet on all of that.

So, there were a few very good months were I recouped the costs of materials and had a bit of profit. The first Christmas was phenomenal. Then the shop owner took in more people selling papercraft items in particular, meaning more competition again in a small village, but she did more than that. She decided to change the way she was doing things in terms of the prices. Everyone who'd been selling their wares via her shop had been setting their own prices and paying the 20% commission to her for every sale. One day she informed me that she'd changed the way everything was priced and I was the only supplier now putting my own prices on my products; she wanted to put her own prices on everything "to make it viable" and said she needed to add at least £1 to the price of every item. I was not happy about this because I felt I'd priced my products fairly and taken into consideration, as previously mentioned, the maximum that customers would be prepared to pay for something handmade, so this meant that all of a sudden, a card which I'd priced at, say £2.50, would be £3.50. That's a big increase. But I allowed it to go ahead and decided to wait and see what happened. Sure enough, sales began to fall and then dropped significantly over the second Christmas, to less than half of the previous year's total. I was hugely disappointed and actually very upset about it.

The final straw came when the shop owner decided to force all her card suppliers to accept a specified price for each card that sold, but without actually taking responsibility for the stock herself. She did not buy any stock off us. If she had, maybe her new way of wanting to do things would have been acceptable, but since she was not taking any financial responsibility at all, and we were basically coming out worse off on top of no longer having any control over the prices being put on items, that to me was very unfair. I did make a collection of cards for which I was happy to receive her stated amount of £1.50 per card if they sold, and a few did sell, but she priced everything so high that virtually nothing else was selling any more.

So once again, and with much sadness, I stopped selling my goods in a bricks and mortar shop. I have not tried to sell them anywhere else until just recently, and I've now listed a few on Etsy. No sales so far, but it's early days. And I am looking for somewhere else "physical" to sell my products again - because they're worth it, they're more than good enough.

So, my friends, this has been my experience to date of selling my handmade goods.

I think there are quite a few insights/lessons you can take from my experience.

The first one is, never allow anyone else to put prices on your goods unless they are going to buy the stock from you for an agreed amount, in which case they then own the goods and can put whatever price they want on them - you've got your money! You know how much your products cost you in terms of materials used and time spent making them, if you wish to try to factor that in, and you will know better than most people what is a reasonable price to ask for your products, whether you're asking for that amount from a shop owner or an individual customer. Don't allow any shop owner to take advantage in this way because, no matter how good a business relationship you have with them; they are not playing fair and are only interested in what they're making at the end of the day and they will avoid taking financial risks as much as they can. If they want to put their own prices on your products, they must buy them from you first!

The second thing is this: don't be afraid to pull out of an arrangement if it suddenly becomes considerably less beneficial to you. Shop keepers will change things if they're not working for them to the level they want them to. It's nothing personal, it's business. But sticking around out of any kind of loyalty, or for the sake of the good business relationship you may have built up, or because you'd rather be getting £10 a month than nothing, and then seeing sales of your lovely products plummet, is disheartening. But the fact of the matter is that it's probably not about your products, but more to do with the number of suppliers selling similar goods to a relatively small customer base (some competition is healthy but if there are 14 of you all trying to sell your cards in a village with a population of only a few hundred that's not going to bring the returns you're hoping for) or, the fact that the shop owner puts their own prices on things because of wanting to achieve a certain profit margin and as a result out-prices your goods in the eyes of their customers so the sales don't materialise.

The third thing I would say here, and of course you are quite at liberty to disagree with me if you so wish, is never confuse a good business relationship with friendship. They are two entirely separate things and if you are supplying a business with your goods, then what you have is a business relationship and really, it needs to stay that way, so that no-one's feelings are hurt if it all goes pear-shaped for one or the other! This is an area I do find quite difficult - keeping business relationships purely business, because I like to like people and I'm a friendly sort of person. But friendship really cannot come in to it because it can be very detrimental to your business. It must be very difficult to run a business with a friend or partner and not let things get personal when all is not going to plan, or if you have fundamentally different perspectives on various aspects of the business. I am quite sure many a good friendship has been sacrificed because of problems with a joint business venture.

The fourth thing I would say is this: DO take chances. If you have a good product and there is likely to be interest from potential buyers, do take the risk of finding somewhere to sell that product. If promoting yourself and your products is way out of your comfort zone, still do it. Push yourself out of that comfort zone, take a deep breath, and jump! You may just land on your feet.

And finally, if it doesn't work out, well hey, you tried, and you should be very proud of that fact. Don't beat yourself up about it, don't throw your wonderful products in the bin! Just because no-one bought them this time, in this place, doesn't mean they won't sell in the future, somewhere else. It's definitely a case of trial and error and frequently about geography - what is the demographic make-up of the area you're thinking of selling in? How affluent an area is it? and so on. But if you never try, you're just letting yourself down. At the end of the day, it's not about anyone else, it is all about you. And I do think it is so much better if you can say you tried rather than always thinking "what if".

So, all you creative entrepreneurs out there - go for it! You deserve it! You're worth it!

Bye for now,
love Julie x

PS. Hey creative entrepreneurs, short on supplies? Go to our shop, Beebaab Crafting Supplies and stock up! We offer free postage on all orders over £30 (UK only) and if you use code BDB1 in the basket where it says "coupon code" you'll get 15% off the total cost of your order (excluding postage). See you there! x