Here’s my latest article at Fine Art Views Newsletter called
QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER: Do You Have a Website?
Category Archives: selling online
Here’s my latest article at Fine Art Views Newsletter called
Myth: If only I could get into X Gallery/get Famous Person Y to see my work/get a website, I would be successful!
Reality: No one person, event or venue will make or break your vision.
When I first started showing and selling my art, I read these very wise words somewhere:
Every day you will find an opportunity to move your art/biz forward. Every day you will overlook an opportunity to move your art/biz forward.
I quote them now because a reader posted this comment on my blog recently, and with her permission, I reprint it here:
Hello, again! I get what you’re saying, Luann, I really do. But right now I’m really in a down space.
Filled with excitement, I opened up a space in Etsy back in September thinking that *there* I would find people who would see value in handspun hand-dyed yarn. They do, apparently–there are lots of other spinners on Etsy–but evidently they don’t see any value in mine.
Lots of looks, a few hearts, no sales.
One part of me is bugging me to get busy and make more yarn, but the other part of me is saying, “Why make MORE beautiful yarn that no one will want to buy? What’s the point of doing that, when no one wants what I’ve already made?”
I’m sorry for dumping on you my own pity-party, but I need someone who is an artist and “gets it” to vent to. ..
Maybe the Lord is trying to tell me to give up and become a boring housewife who grades papers and washes dishes and remembers when she used to make beautiful stuff. I don’t know.
Dear Reader, I give you permission to wallow for awhile. Things do get hard, and we all get discouraged. (See Myth #14 about this.) (Not yet, I haven’t written it yet!!)
But I can assure you wholeheartedly that the Lord is not telling you to stay small and regret your lost dreams.
Sometimes we take that leap and many things fall into place. Sometimes we take that leap–and things stay hard.
In fact, that is the major purpose of my blog: To chronicle my journey pursuing my art, with honestly and self-examination. And hopefully, a huge helping of inspiration.
Because, as my husband pointed out to me a short while ago, we always hear about the instant overnight successes. (What I call the Cinderella stories.) And we also hear about the not-so-overnight success stories, where the hero struggles and perseveres, and finally gets a lucky break.
The point is, we already know how those stories end. We know the goal was achieved, because the tales are always told afterwards–not while the ball is actually in play.
My blog is all about the ball being in play. And sharing that process with you.
So here are some possible scenarios regarding this handspun yarn biz, but don’t take the “you” thing personally. These are just some things to think about:
1. When we stand at the beginning of our stories, we cannot see the end.
Sometimes, we can’t even see what our ultimate goal will be. Longtime readers may remember my sad little story about wishing my handknit toy sheep idea taking off.
And when they finally did, how I discovered how much I hated knitting toy sheep.
If your handspun biz where to be an instant hit, you could be locked into a business that takes too much time away from your other pursuits right now. Or you might find spinning is fun for a few hours a day, but not so much fun doing it all day. Maybe you’ll realize you like writing about the process, or teaching the process, more than making yarn to sell. (Although that piece of it will give you the insights you need to do the other stuff–writing, teaching, demonstrating, etc.) Maybe you’ll end up developing a therapy program with your skills. Who knows what the possibilities are?
So maybe right now you think your dream is to sell handspun yarn. But maybe even bigger things are in store for you.
2. We cannot tell what strategy will work, and which ones will peter out.
Etsy looks like a “sure thing” from the outside, but having an Etsy shop does not guarantee success.
We dream of getting into “that great gallery”, sure we will be successful if they would only represent our work. We dream of finding “the perfect show” where we will find all the buying customers we need. We know if only we had a great website, we would be flooded with orders.
In reality, there is no “perfect venue” or “perfect strategy”. There is simply another opportunity to try.
Maybe e-commerce will work for you. Or maybe your yarns would sell better “in person”–at small local shows, or certain events. (We have a big “Wool Tour” here in New Hampshire on Columbus Day weekend. People come from hundreds of miles to tour small farms, see llamas and sheep and angora goats and bunnies, and buy fleece, roving and finished yarns.) Maybe people need to touch your yarn to fully appreciate it first, and then you turn those customers into online customers with reorders.
Maybe a “new product release” about your yarns to a knitting or spinning magazine would bring interested buyers to your Etsy store.
3. We may be trying to sell to the wrong people.
Etsy is the biggest and best-known venue for handcraft. But it’s also a huge venue for vintage goods and craft supplies. And it’s a big shopping venue for other artists. So you may be inadvertently trying to sell to people who can make it themselves.
At a friend’s suggestion, I used Etsy as a way to sell to my current customers. I didn’t actually think I could join an already established, close-knit online community (no pun intended) and create a strong presence there.
Even so, I didn’t have a single sale on Etsy. I’m exploring other ways to sell online, and will use Etsy to offload my old supplies.
4. It just may take more time than you think.
Another reader posted a reply to the original comment, and it’s a good one. (In fact, I just realized I’ve repeated a lot of what Kerin said!! oops…)
And see item #1 above, where things taking time can be a good thing.
5. And sometimes it’s just hard.
It’s true–it’s just hard sometimes. There are days when we just feel like the universe is saying “no”.
But what does your heart say?
Because if you give up, there is only one thing that can happen: Nothing!
If you persevere, anything can happen. Including failure, but failure is not necessarily a bad thing. (Go back to the knitted sheep thing.)
#5: What is “success”, anyway? What does it mean to Y*O*U?
Right now you haven’t had any sales. Is that your only measure of success?
Have you learned how to spin and dye beautiful yarn? You’ve successfully developed a product.
Have you learned how to photograph it? Have you successfully uploaded images to a website? You’ve successfully done something millions of people have no idea how to do. (Since I lost my photographer, I’ve had to work on developing a whole nother skill set, and that learning curve is steep!)
Have you learned how to talk about it, write about it? You’ve learned how to pitch your product.
And have you learned how to create a unique product? Which leads us to….
#6. Are you telling your real story?
Sometimes, especially when we first start out making stuff and getting it out into the world, we focus on the surface of the process. When you hear artists say, “I just love color!” or “I just love knitting!”, we are listening to someone who has either a) not bothered to dig deeper; b) doesn’t know how to dig deeper; or c) or is afraid to dig deeper.
What is it about hand-spinning and dyeing that excites you? What does it mean to you? Don’t say, “Oh, it’s fun” or “Oh, it’s relaxing.”
Tell us why.
Here’s a perfect little example that Bruce Baker tells in his seminars.
A potter makes tiny little pots with lids, very charming. But so what?
She explains that her life is so hectic, so harried, that when she takes time to make these tiny wonders, she envisions she is creating a little moment of serenity, of quiet. “And then she draws up the tops, and makes a little lid, and there is a little moment of time preserved….”
Doesn’t that make you want to own one of her little pots? And when you are harried and frazzled, you can lift the tiny lid….and there is your own little moment of quiet and peace.
She told us the “why”. And when you purchase her product, you can have a little of the “why”, too.
7. If it brings you joy, you should not–cannot–stop doing it.
It’s hard when it feels like the world does not want our beautiful work. But remember when I said, “I have to do it anyway, or I’ll die?” That’s what got me through.
Yeah, I know I wouldn’t drop dead if I never made another little horse. But I know something inside me would wither away. And the world, whether it knew about the loss or not, would simply be a sadder place for it.
I want to believe in my heart that somehow, in ways I may not see or could even possibly imagine, that the world is a better place for me making my work. For me being in the world. I have to believe that. Because to believe otherwise is to give in to self-doubt, and eventually, despair.
And whatever we believe in, whatever our religion or creed or ethics, if we are creative people, then we have to believe that creativity makes the world a better place. That anything we make–a lovely skein of yarn, a useful pot, an inspiration movie, a beautiful song, a warm and loving home for those we care about–the world is a better place for that.
Or what are we here for?
So keep making your yarn, because it makes you happy. Don’t give up, but be open to where it leads you (because it may not take you where you think you’re going!) Take the opportunities you find. Let go of the ones you miss, and move on. Think about the deep “why?”, and don’t be afraid to share it.
And know that whatever happens, it’s all good.
Expecting customers to already know how to do business with you, is not good customer care.
I had an
interesting–no, make that incredibly frustrating–exchange with the post office awhile ago. It got me thinking about customer care.
We may have different ideas of what giving good customer care is, but we all recognize when we’re not getting it.
If you want to read the conversation, I put it at the end of the article. If you’re in a hurry, here’s my point:
Nobody knows your business like you do. Nobody knows better than you how you prefer people to order, pay or ask for more information. Nobody knows better than you what your return policy is.
Yep, nobody knows better than you–not even your customers.
Nor should you expect them to.
Expecting people to know the ins, outs and idiosyncracies of your biz, and treating them like they’re stupid when they don’t, is not good customer care.
We all have unique ways of running our business. We have our policies and procedures for handling orders, mistakes, returns, questions and repairs. We know our hours of operation, our location, our inventory. After all, we deal with our business every day.
But our customers don’t.
We should keep in mind that our customers deal with many, many other businesses, every day–not just ours.
They deal with schools, banks, insurance companies, hospitals, shoe stores, hair salons, pharmacies, baby sitters, auto dealers, telephone companies, banks and post offices. They order online from Amazon, Blockbuster, Borders, eBay and Medco.
Each of these businesses does things a little bit differently. Each asks its customers to interact with them slightly differently. Each one has their own hours of operation, procedures, policies, forms, payment methods.
As wonderful and distinctive as I’d like to think my biz is, to my customers–even my loyal, loving, regular customers–it’s just one more operation with its own hours, procedures, policies, etc., etc.
Very few people want to expend a lot of brain cells memorizing all the nuances of each business, especially if their interaction is infrequent. After all, how many insurance claims have you filed in your life? Should you be expected to know the name of the form, the supporting documents you need, and the deadline for filing it? Especially if the procedure was updated since you filed your last claim eight years ago?
Even “standard procedures”–say, writing a check for cash at the bank–is tricky if we only do it once every few years. Do you make it out to yourself, or to the bank or for “cash”? Which method do you have to endorse? Which method does the bank prefer??
If we work at a bank, it’s obvious. However, if we rarely even visit the inside of a bank anymore, it’s not so obvious.
Remember–We are just one more business our customers deal with. There’s nothing “more special” about us that would lead us to expect they should memorize how we want things done.
We may think our website is easy to navigate. We may think our return policy is hard to miss. We may think it’s obvious how to use our product. But maybe it’s not. Or maybe it just gets lost in the shuffle.
It’s even worse when policies are non-standard or downright odd. I bet we all know businesses that are closed Sundays and Mondays. Or Mondays and Tuesdays. Some are only open 4-7 on Tuesday, 12-3 on Mondays and Wednesdays, closed Thursdays, and open Friday 10-3. Saturdays and Sundays by appointment only (but no phone number is given and they never answer the store phone.)
Am I really expected to remember that? Maybe for one biz. But for two? Six? Twenty???
Even something as supposedly stable as location can get dicey. Some businesses around here have moved three, four, even five times in the 20 years we’ve been here. Once I sent my husband on an errand I usually take care of. He called me fifteen minutes later–no store. Where the heck were they?, he wanted to know. He’d gone to their address from five years ago. It was already two addresses old.
It’s bad enough to assume people will remember all our quirky hours, or that we tend to move every three years. It’s bad enough to assume they know all the proper terminology, or are familiar with all the forms they need to do business with us
But it’s even worse to treat your customers like they’re stupid when they don’t know. (Hence my post office story.)
We can tell them, we can show them. Signage in your booth helps. (“We accept all major credit cards.”) But you’re still going to get asked, “Do you take credit cards?” After the fiftieth time you’re asked that, saying, “Read the sign!” is not good customer care. (Unless, of course, it’s the same customer asking fifty times. If that’s the case, I give you permission to say, “Hey, no, I don’t, but that artist (insert the name of your least favorite artist) over there takes credit cards.”) Saying cheerfully, “Yes, we do!” is smart.
Clear, accessible policies on your website helps. (“Custom orders are not returnable.”) Telling them helps. (“If this doesn’t work out for you, you can return this pin for exchange or credit towards another piece within 10 days.”) Putting it in writing helps. (“Items can be returned for exchange or credit ONLY with 10 days of purchase.” on your invoices.) Usually, terms such as your return policy must be posted visibly in your store/booth or printed on the receipt.
Clarity helps. Ensure your website is ridiculously easy to navigate. Redundancy helps. Make vital information incredibly easy to find, posting it in several places if necessary.
But most people (me included) simply let all your information leak into “overflow parking.” It’s human nature: Too. Much. Information. Making them feel stupid when they realize the bracelet is too hard to put on by themselves will put the kabosh on future sales. Offering them a different clasp when they complain, or offering the option of an exchange, will help.
Patience will go a long way when hiccups occur. Yes, some customers ramble and have to be gently reined in. But good listening skills, asking good questions, and simply being professional, courteous–and kind–will help you target what your customer needs from you.
And your customers will appreciate it.
In this case, I was out of the country for over a week, and it took me a couple of days to get through my mail. So almost 10 days had gone by before I found the a form notice that my mail carrier had attempted delivery of a registered item that needed my signature. It said the item was being held for me at the post office.
I know that some kinds of mail get returned if not claimed within a certain time, but I wasn’t sure if this would happen with my item.
Form in hand, I called the phone number for the post office on the form and spoke to an employee there.
The ensuing conversation read like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.
PO: “Post Office.”
Me: “Hi, I’ve been on vacation for a week, and I got a notice that my carrier had tried to deliver registered package, but no one had been home to sign for it. It’s dated over a week ago, almost 10 days. Is it still at the Post Office, or had it been sent back to the sender?”
PO: “What’s the address?” (Spoiler: She probably should have asked if I had the form.)
I give it to her, she disappears, comes back on line.
PO: “There’s nothing there for that address. What’s your name?”
I tell her my name. (Spoiler: She probably should have said, “What’s the name of the addressee on your form?”) I start to ask if providing a tracking number would help, as there are a couple of numbers on the form, but she puts me on hold again before I can say anything more.
PO: “There’s nothing here under that name.” (silence)
Me: “Oh. Was it sent back already? Is there any way to track it? I have some…” (I was going to say “…numbers on this form” again but she says, “Hang on” and dashes off again.)
PO: “I’ve looked at all the packages and boxes, I looked in x, y, z places and it isn’t here.”
Me: “Oh, sorry, it says here that it’s a ‘large envelope, catalog or…”
PO (very exasperated): “Why didn’t you say so?? Hang on.” (Puts me on hold again, returns.) “Nope, nothing.”
Me: “Is there any way to track it? If I give you the number on the form…”
PO (interrupts): “You have a form?? Why didn’t you tell me that?!”
Me: “Well, I thought I did. Let me read you….”
PO (interrupting again): “Give me the number.”
Me: “Okay, there are several numbers on here, which one…”
PO (interrupting again, speaking louder and faster): “The (indistinct) number.”
Me: “The ‘what’ number?”
PO (angrily): “The (indistinct) number! On the back!”
Me: “Look, I can here you say ‘something number’ but I can’t hear what the ‘something’ is.” (silence)
Me (trying again): “I can’t tell which side of the form is the back or front, there are two numbers, one starts with…”
PO (interrupts again): “The (indistinct) number! On the BACK of the form!”
pause…. (I’m trying to stay patient.)
Me: “I can hear you say it’s a number and that it’s on the back. My confusion is it’s not very clear which is the front and which is the back of the form, and there are several strings of numbers. Is it the number starting with RF…”
PO (interrupts again): “No, no the number on the BACK!”
Me (cautiously): “Is it the bar code number?”
PO: “That’s not it! The BACK of the form!”
My tongue is now bloody from biting it so hard. I read her one of the other numbers, which thankfully is the right one. She puts me on hold again, and comes back.
PO: “Are you by any chance also known as ‘Durable Goods’?”
Me: “Yes, I….”
PO (interrupting): “Why didn’t you say so?? It’s right here. You can pick it up anytime.” (I refrain from telling her I answered every question she asked me, but she hasn’t answered any of mine yet.)
Me: “Well, actually, I’d like to have it….”
PO: “YOU CAN PICK IT UP ANYTIME!”
Me: “I’d rather….”
PO: “What else do you need??”
Me: “I’d like to have it delivered.”
PO: “You have to sign the form to have it delivered.”
Me: “Yes, I understand, I can sign the form, I just didn’t know if it were still at the post office…”
PO (interrupting, angrily): “Yes, I SAID it’s RIGHT HERE, you can pick it up anytime. If you sign it, you won’t get it til Friday.”
Me: “Friday is fine…Look, I…”
PO: “We’re busy, is that all?”
At this point I asked to speak to her supervisor.
PO: “Why? She’s not going to get that package to you any faster.”
Me: “Look, this is getting out of hand, I…” and she puts me on hold again.
Supervisor: “Your package is right here, you can pick it up anytime.”
Me: “I know that, I want to let you know how rude….”
Supervisor: “Hold on, the other phone’s ringing.” (puts me on hold) “Look, we’re pretty busy, you’re package is here and you can pick it up anytime.”
Me: “I know that, I’ve been treated very rudely by your employee. Don’t you care about that?”
Supervisor: “Well, I can’t help you with that. Goodbye.”(hangs up)
Now, I usually don’t engage in Post Office bashing. I think they move an incredible amount of mail at reasonable rates. And usually I am treated with courtesy in my interactions with them. Although I noticed the last time I was there that all the nice people have retired….
But if there were another option for mail service, I would have seriously considered it after this little incident.
All this, just because this person assumed I should know their procedures for registered mail. Which I get about once a year. And let me know how dumb she thought I was because I didn’t know.
If all queries are handled like mine was, I have my suspicions about why they’re so busy.
Using PayPal for online sales can be great, but know the drawbacks of PayPal before you get burned.
I found out the hard way that online shopping can be a dangerous thing.
I’ve shopped on Ebay for years, back in the day when its url was actually eBay with a jillion letters and stuff, and many vendors didn’t even post pics of their products. And I was an early user of PayPal, too. It guaranteed your money was safe with Ebay transactions, and it made everything soooooo easy.
As PayPal expanded its services to other online venues, I continued to use it in good faith. I heard rumors of “issues”, but figured it was mostly the kinds of transactions I didn’t indulge in–gold coins, international purchases, deals that were somewhat shady to begin with, etc.
So when I found an ad with a great deal for custom-printed T-shirts on Facebook last month, I didn’t think twice about ordering a bunch for our family. (“I’d Rather Be Watching FIREFLY”, in case you’re wondering.) I paid with my Paypal account, which actually had a balance for a change.
Weeks went by. No T-shirts. I checked back at the website to email the company.
When I clicked on the “contact us” tab, a funny message appeared. And not “funny ha ha”, either.
It said the company was experiencing “problems” processing orders. And it said to be patient and wait “a few more weeks”, as orders would be processed in the order they were received.
Warning bells started ringing. For one thing, the vendor hadn’t been proactive and contacted me. I’d had to track them down. And “a few more weeks” would put me outside the 45-day safety period where I could still file a claim with PayPal.
I immediately filed a claim with PayPal, thinking of their buyer protection guarantee. But that turned out to be a little more difficult–and ultimately problematic–than I’d anticipated.
First the process and the form to fill out was a little confusing. I was asked over and over to contact the seller myself to resolve issues. Been there, done that, did NOT get the T-shirt. Duh!
Then I was asked to submit “documents”. What documents are there in an online transaction?? I left that blank. For the rest of the process, a stern and rueful “You did not submit documents!” glared at me from my report.
Then I was told I had to escalate the claim before any action could be taken. But if I waited too long, the claim would automatically be dropped.
I waited a few days, then escalated.
I waited a week for a report on my claim. And the results shocked me.
PayPal had indeed determined that I had paid for goods I had not received. They had determined the seller was not responded to emails. And then they determined the seller had no money in her account. Hence, no money could be refunded to me.
So the case was CLOSED. Thank you for using PayPal, the safe way to shop online.
I could not believe it. I called PayPal, and got the same answer.
Short story: PayPal guarantees buyer protection only for transactions made through Ebay. No other transactions are guaranteed.
I think of the hundreds of transactions I’ve made over the years buying books, craft supplies, all the shopping I’ve done on Etsy and other vendors over the years, and I’m floored.
I asked what happened to the vendor who’d disappeared with my money. “Oh, we’ll watch and make sure they don’t open another PayPal account!” Huh? How are they going to do that?? They don’t have any way of contacting this vendor other than an email address, and yet they were sure they could “identify” this person if they ever open up another PayPal account…..??!! Yeah, we all know how hard it is to get a new email account.
I feel fortunate. I am sadder, $36 poorer and wiser. But all I lost was less than $50 and a few hours of my time. It could have been worse, much worse.
And I’ve learned my lesson. I now make sure that when I pay with PayPal, I select the “other funding options” which puts the money on my credit card instead. I may pay extra fees, but if I have a dispute, my credit card company will do battle instead. And I believe they will take better care of me than PayPal did.
So be forewarned. Read the fine print. If “guaranteed buyer protection” means “We kinda tried to get your money back but we didn’t have much luck”, then that’s a guarantee I can do without, thank you very much.
Once again, I’ve been inspired by thinking about someone else’s problem.
Someone posted on a professional forum awhile back. They’re just starting to sell their work online, and they’re having trouble with keywords for search engine optimization..
Their art is unique and indescribable. It takes a lot of words to even begin to describe it. So how do they compress information about this incredibly unusual work into a few keywords that will shoot them to the top of a Google search?
Thinking about an answer helped me a lot.
I started setting up my first Etsy shop last night. Filling out all the boxes (a welcome section, an intro section, etc.) quickly overwhelmed me.
I struggled over how to introduce myself to an audience who has no idea what I do or how or why I do it.
Then I realized that’s not what I have to do.
There are two approaches to selling your artwork on the Internet:
1) Marketing and selling to people who don’t know your work.
2) Marketing and selling to people who do.
In the first case, your focus is figuring out how to rise, even for an instant, above a sea of other artists and competitors, all hawking their unique, unusual, desirable work. That’s what the artist on that forum was trying to do.
In the second case, you already have an audience–your current customers. That’s who I want to to sell to.
I thought to myself, “These people are not strangers to me.”
My customers already follow my work and my writing. We’ve met and talked, at shows and online.
They already admire my work and want collect it. They may even already know what they want to buy. They don’t want to wait another year for my next retail show. They want to buy it now. They’ve hinted, nudged and outright bonked me on the head to start selling online. They’re waiting for me to get going, because the holidays are coming and they know what they want to give–and get!–for Christmas.
My initial marketing plan is simply letting them know they can now buy from me online, anytime, day or night, winter, summer and fall.
I don’t have to work my way through the tens of thousands of other vendors on Etsy. I just have to let my collectors know I’m there.
Of course, as time goes on, perhaps my marketing will grow and change. But so will my work, and so will my customer base.
The internet will never totally replace personal interactions at shows or open studios. But the internet can support, and encourage, and expand upon that.
And once those bonds have been formed, it’s up to me to make it easier for the people who love my work, to have it.
P.S. If you are someone who loves my work, I would welcome any suggestions about what you’d like (or expect) to see in my Etsy shop (both artwork and words). It’s great to have your perspective!