Dear Design Doctor
After 17 years as a freelance artist, I decided to start up my own small business designing and producing silk scarves. With only £1000 to my name I set to producing the first 3 scarves in what I would like to be a larger collection. It’s taken 7 months and I have a stock of 37 fairytale scarves, an online shop on Culturelabel.com, this is all great.
But I feel like I’ve now hit a wall! With no other finance available, my products have been online for only a month now and no sales yet. I’ve tried social networking, but find the viewers are generally other makers and not buyers! I cannot risk/afford to put my work in boutiques as I have such limited stock. I know I need to add to my range too as my shop looks sparse! Can you offer any advice to help me out of this hole?
The Design Doctor is Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust:
“I really can sense your frustration and disappointment here. Here you are, finally managed to launch your collection with lots of sweat, tears and lack of money, and then …. nothing!
But you know what? This is really really normal, and I can reassure you that you are on the right path. I really do want to congratulate you to what you have achieved so far of getting your products ready! It is a small collection of only 3 scarves, but the overriding theme of fairy tales and the generous size of the scarves with good pricing, are a very good starting point.
Unfortunately creating financial success and getting recognition might take a bit longer than you expected. Setting up your own business takes time, and in the beginning you do need to have the patience and persistence to keep going. There is no quick fix here, it takes time to build up your reputation and visibility, to build relationships with potential clients.
This might come as a surprise to you, but at this beginning stage you will probably need to spend around half of your time on marketing your work.
Don’t forget that people will only buy from people they know, like and trust. It is up to you to make sure that people will find out about you, start to like you and what you do, and then finally will trust you to deliver.
There are a couple of things that you just need to tweak or actions that will help you at this stage:
The importance of images (especially for online selling)
Your images are ok, but could be improved. You have got a great image showing the length and generosity of your scarves. You show an image with a draped scarf on the grass, which makes your work less sharp.
Your scarves hanging from a tree is an interesting link with your fairy tale theme. However, I would suggest normally to have a more plain background, and do not photograph your work outside.
What is definitely missing are some good detailed shots showing the quality and your skills. As a potential buyer I would like to see the illustration/drawing, the colour and its richness, the quality of your stitching, the quality of the materials used. I can’t see any of that now, so I don’t know if I actually like the imagery or the style, which will stop me entirely from buying.
You can find find more tips on photographing your crafts.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
I assume that you actually have the stock at home (and not CultureLabel) and that you will send orders out when you get them. That’s the great thing with online selling: you have got great control over your stock and you can actually promote your work elsewhere as well. Your work can be at more than one place at a time!
In the moment you are only selling through CultureLabel. I would suggest that you look at other online retailers too, such as Etsy, Folksy, or our partners Seek&Adore You can have your work with the same images at these other stores too.
But as your finances and other resources are limited always do check the costs involved with selling (incl. listing fees, memberships, commissions). For more information see this blog post about selling your crafts on line.
Having limited stock available at the moment isn’t really a problem for potential clients. Many established designer makers have often only a limited amount of images in their online stores, to catch potential clients, who then will look at their main own website.
Who are your clients?
Identify who your potential clients are in much more detail, and make sure that your images, tag words and where you actually (online or elsewhere) will sell match as well as you can to increase your chances of success.
Your scarves are an ideal present. Therefore really think about how you would make it more ‘giftable’ - how would you wrap it? Would you have special packaging (in the future) that can also be shown on some of your images?
You can learn here more about identifying your ideal clients and marketing on a shoestring budget. from a recent Design Doctor post.
Create opportunities to meet your potential clients
Also, as you are starting out, I think it is crucial that you actually meet potential clients to get feedback, and to get a real feel of what people like or want.
Direct contact is crucial to help people to know you, like you and your work, and to trust you (see earlier!). Having you talk about your work is the best way to make this happen!
I strongly suggest that you research local craft fairs or markets and start planning now for Christmas fairs as many of the deadlines for these shows are 6 months in advance. You can find here a list of craft shows and design fairs.
You can find lots of additional information on Google about local and regional craft fairs or markets. Before you spend any more money do research if these events attract the kind of people that you are looking for.
You also might be able to participate in an open studio event, or organise your own event or with other local crafts people.
And don’t forget this easy tip: wear your own scarves to special events! Get some good business cards printed, and you might be surprised how many people come to you with an interest to buy from you!
Your marketing focus: direct contact and then follow up
Having direct contact with potential clients will also allow you to build up your database and to have ‘something to invite people to’. These two things together are your main marketing tool when you are starting out!
Do ask for people’s contact details and keep a record. Then next time when you have news you can follow up with an invite or email and send this to people. A postcard with a great image of your scarves will work well. These are great ways to stay in regular contact with potential and existing clients.
Use social media wisely
I personally would not recommend using twitter of FaceBook to sell your work. They are both great social media tools when you have an event on, to stay in touch, to entertain people or for recommendations and finding out about other people and events. But if too many of your tweets are ‘sales’ (more than 10%) then people will consider it spamming.
Selling through retailers, shops and galleries
There is an assumption in your letter that retailers only will buy under ‘Sale or Return’ only. You might actually find that especially shops (as supposed to galleries) will be interested in buying from you.
However, you will need to check if at this stage you are able to afford to sell wholesale. (If you are selling at £80, then they will want to buy them from you at £35 – £40). However, they will need to buy a min. order, and obviously your work will get exposure. You can find a great list of shops and galleries on the Crafts Council website and UK Handmade website.
Become part of the crafts community
I suggest that you get in touch with craft support organisations who would be able to include you on their online directory (which often gets good traffic from potential buyers), help you with trade fairs or crafts fairs, as well as training and a peer network. For your textiles have a look at Design Factory, Design Gap, Craft Scotland or Designers Makers.
Being part of the wider crafts community is essential when you are starting out (even if you have been working as an artist for 17 years!). There is so much to learn from others, to get inspired, to keep you going, and to get a sense how well you are really doing.
Wishing you good luck in your crafts journey!
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