After wrapping up a very busy and sometimes lackluster holiday craft show season, I have come to a few grand conclusions about the economy at the moment, and – no surprise – it sucks! Though the jury is still out on how the craft community will be impacted by our nation’s (and world's!) crashing markets, it's always good to prepare for tough times when in the midst of uncertain ones. As independent artists and crafters with scarcely a safety net in sight, we are vulnerable in many ways, and I sometimes worry that we may be hit the hardest. Sadly, many customers are now opting for the lower quality, cheaper priced, large chain store gifts over our handmade masterpieces. While sitting there for hours at my booth at various craft shows contemplating this fact, I dwelt on what I could do better next time in order to combat the holiday season of lookie-loos...
- Be flexible: It might be time to think outside the box with special promotions, painstakingly hunt for a cheaper supplier, or work on a fresh new idea that you may have been stewing over. The more items you carry and the more price points you have, the wider audience you can appeal to and the more sales you will make.
- Learn to tighten your own belt: Do not under estimate the smaller, more local craft shows, such as the ones run by craft mafias or Etsy Teams. Since many of these shows are well-run and attract a specific audience, they are some of the best and cheapest ways for you to get your items out there. The simple fact is that the more money you spend traveling and paying for tabling, the more money you need to make in order to break even.
- Network, network, network: Get to know other crafters, and listen to the wisdom they have to share about specific craft shows, cities, and markets. Why waste your time sewing purses for craft show in a city that is really into housewares and already flooded with handbags? You are just wasting your time and supplies. I know it takes time and can be tedious, but check out the Etsy forums, Craftster.org forums and the switchboards for some real talk about the business end of things. It does not cost anything to be friendly!
- Promote intelligently: I think I find this the hardest part of this business, because I tend to just sit around and think the customers are going to come to me. However, in these tough times, we all know that is not the case. Stop just giving everyone a plain boring business card or an elaborate promotional item that costs way more to make than you have to comfortably spend. This year I started giving people buttons, magnets, and pencils with cute images of items in my shop. Not only do the customers love to get free gifts, but when I got home, I had tons of new hearts and orders from people who got my promo items at a show. These promo items were cheap and easy to get and got me a much better response than a plan business card. Also, get creative and friendly with your local print shop – you will save money doing the printing yourself.
- Be realistic: Although some of us (like myself) really depend on the money made from crafting to live, it's time to get realistic about potential changes that you may need to undertake in order to stay afloat during these lean times. If buyers are thinking twice about their purchases, then you need to think twice about the best, most cost effective way to run your business. Be smart and in the true spirit of D.I.Y., do it your damn self…it is cheaper anyway ; )
- Don’t underestimate the quality of your own work: Many people might not understand the time-consuming process or expensive materials that go into producing your items. However, once made aware of the time, effort, and love you put in, buyers will be more apt to fork out the cash. I noticed this a lot at craft shows. A person would pick up a yarn from me and admire it, but when I told them about the almost 6 hour process that goes into making every one, I think they felt more comfortable paying almost triple what they would for it at a large chain store. Don’t be afraid to market your process. Describe it in your Etsy listing and profile; include it on the back of your price tag, or chronicle it on your blog.
Published on January 6, 2009