Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Custom ordering myths and ettiquette

I've been selling the jewelry I make for twenty years. For twelve of those years, I've been selling online, and I've received countless requests for custom orders and commissions. 

Aren't custom orders the same thing as commissions?  

In both cases, someone is paying me to make something I wouldn't otherwise make. The terms seem interchangeable, but I think of custom orders as something where I've offered a customizable design -- maybe birthstone bracelets with a choice of colors or stones, or a particular style of wire ring in different sizes. Or a custom order might happen when I've designed a piece of jewelry and listed it for sale, but someone asks me to make another for them, in pink instead of red. 

True story.
On the other hand, commissions are when I'm contacted out of the blue by someone asking me to create something to their specifications. It might be a request for a hundred pins that a retailer wants to purchase at wholesale, a batch of acid-etched logo pendants for a fundraiser, or a "Victorian fairy jewelry set with matching necklace, bracelet and earrings, to go with my costume..."

In the early years of my online jewelry selling, I offered several customizable items and I accepted many commissions. I was eager for business and happy to help others. My primary motivations were:
  • A love of creating jewelry
  • The desire to make others happy 
  • To build my reputation, customer base and skills
  • Money -- any little bit I could get
Now, I rarely accept commissions nor will I fill custom orders. Part of the reason for this is that I have so little time. Jewelry is not my full-time business any longer.

But even when I still created jewelry on a daily basis, after awhile I'd ceased accepting queries for custom pieces because 95% of the inquiries were mucked up in some way. (Feel free to substitute an "F" for the "M" if you so desire.) Either the request itself was unreasonable or the process of filling it was a major headache. 

I tried implementing a few guidelines and requirements, such as a 50% non-refundable deposit before I would begin work. I had a design fee of "$20 that would be added to all custom orders" which weeded out that folks who, bless them, could only afford to spend $20 for my materials, time and expertise. 

But I still encountered a lot of misconceptions, assumptions, and downright rudeness. Things like:
  • "You should be happy for any money you can get." Well, no. I don't want to spend twelve hours -- between emailing back and forth with the customer, creating initial design sketches, searching for and purchasing the right parts, actually making then photographing the piece (and/or each stage of the piece) for their approval -- just to make a $30 item. Minus the cost of materials, social security and income taxes, I'm making less than $1 an hour. That's an insult. 
  • "You should be happy to have my business." Not necessarily. Some customers are rude, unreasonable, crazy, forgetful, cheap, ignorant, slanderous and impossible to please. People who sell their art or craft are not the same as a business such as Wal-Mart or Sears. They are just one individual who is giving a little piece of their heart and soul when they make something. They should not be treated poorly, and they do not have an obligation to try and please everyone who walks up to their booth or visits their website. And artists who are in demand have the luxury of picking and choosing their projects. 
  • "It should be easy for you to make another one of these for me. After all, it is just like the one you made before." Again, no. I'm one person working from home, not a jewelry supply warehouse. If the piece is unusual (and it probably is, that's why they want it, right?) then it either involves unique parts and/or a difficult technique. Just because I was able to find a particular bead, charm or watch part on Etsy or eBay or some other supplier last year, doesn't guarantee I'll be able to find that part any longer. And just as clothing styles and trends change, just as car parts differ from model to model and year to year, jewelry materials constantly change. There are some basics -- jump rings, Czech glass, etc -- but colors and styles do come and go. 
  • "But I want it. Really bad." I quote the Dread Pirate Roberts: Get used to disappointment. Your desire, while flattering, does not affect the price of sterling silver or the value of my time.
At this point, I am not looking for reasons to practice and hone my skills. I've put in my 10,000 hours. Unless the customer is asking for something I know will be quick and painless, or (at the other end of the spectrum) offering me a truly unique opportunity to create something awesome, exciting and challenging; and/or a substantial sum of money; and/or something of significant importance (charity auction, thank you gift for someone who saved a burning building full of babies, etc), it's just not worth my valuable time. And I don't mean valuable because I'm a snobby artist. I mean valuable because it's my LIFE. The only life I have. I would rather spend it with my kids, my husband, my friends, my volunteer work, my regular full-time job(s), or doing the fun things that feed my own soul. Honestly, I'd rather fold underwear than make yet another Pink Bead Necklace replica of the one worn by Kaylee in Firefly

An example of something I can only make once.
It features a real watch face and parts from some old,
broken antique jewelry I found at a flea market.

Of course, YMMV. I know there are jewelry artists who would love to accept custom orders. Perhaps their designs make effective use of mainstream, easily-obtainable materials and they have fine-tuned their ordering process. Maybe they are empty-nesters whose husbands work and they have a lot of spare time. They might be college kids or unemployed individuals who really need the extra money, as little as it is (I've been there). Maybe they are fantastic at dealing with difficult people or enjoy making the same thing again and again. My hat is off to them. But even in that case, here are my...

Suggestions for people seeking a custom order
  • Expect to pay at least $50, maybe even $100 or more. Artists who are in demand can demand higher prices. This is not because they are asshats, but because their time is limited and they have to make the best of it. It's basic supply and demand stuff. Plus, if they're popular, people are already paying them tons to do the epic things, so why would they stop all that to make your $30 pendant? Even if they're not in high demand (however you define that), artists and crafters are people who are giving you their time and effort. Minimum wage is at least $7 and that's unskilled labor. This is skilled labor. A labor of love, yes, but still labor. They should be able to reasonably expect at least $10-$12 an hour, above and beyond the cost of materials, PayPal fees, taxes and shipping. 
  • Check Etsy before you ask for a custom item. Seriously. There's like a bazillion crazy things on there. Someone emailed me the other day asking if I'd make him a steampunk ring. Searching for the words "steampunk ring" on Etsy comes back with more than TEN THOUSAND results. Pick any random thing. "Green pickle." More than 400 results. "Mustache baby shower." Over 1,400 results. "Clockwork angel." Almost a hundred items. If nothing else, you'll be armed with a reasonable expectation of cost and a pile of pictures so you can show the artist, "I want something like this item, but with this thing from this other item, and with this other thing, but in brass..."
  • Don't ask for the moon unless you're willing to pay them to build a rocketship. In other words, no, I will not make you an exact replica of each panel of the Gundestrup Cauldron, acid-etched on hammered and riveted copper and brass, but make each face look like one of your children, with matching earrings and bracelet, for only $60. That may seem like a lot of money to you, but twenty hours of my time is a lot to me.
  • Do not request an item unless you are willing to follow through, return email in a timely manner, and pay the artist. This should be a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised.
  • Don't be a dick during the process. Be patient, be kind, be helpful, be gracious. That doesn't mean you should accept something you don't want or that you shouldn't ask questions, but at least be willing to compensate the artist for the time they spend trying to meet your demands and any materials they purchase on your behalf, even if you realize that they are not going to be able to fill your request to your satisfaction.
  • Don't expect a rush job. This is handmade stuff, it takes time. Many artists and crafters have other jobs and obligations -- and probably several pieces to make ahead of yours. It's not our fault you waited until the week of your girlfriend's birthday. 
  • Don't bargain or barter. I don't mind bartering -- once in awhile -- and I've met many fellow artists who enjoy it as well. If you have something of worth to offer, go ahead and offer it. But be realistic -- is a bar or two of your sandalwood soap equal to a sterling silver pendant with real garnets? Don't be offended if refused and don't take up more of the artist's time trying to talk them into a trade. As for bargaining, if the artist says it will cost $100, don't ask "Would you do it for $50?" If they could and would, they'd have already said so. Instead, say, "Unfortunately, I only have $50 to spend. Is there some way to do a smaller version or use different materials to meet my budget?" Which ties into...
  • Give as much information as you can in your inquiry. I don't mean ten pages of design specs, but something more than "Hey, I saw this thing and I wondered if you could make one for me." Please. Don't make me have to ask: What thing? Where did you see it? When do you need it? How much are you willing to pay? Who are you? Is your email and contact info correct? Are you inside or outside the US? Are you an individual or a company? Do you want one or one hundred? 
  • Familiarize yourself with the artist's accepted method(s) of payment. If they have a big PayPal logo on their site and you foster a rabid hatred for PayPal, don't expect the artist to open an Amazon account just for YOU. Do not expect the artist to accept a credit card number in email (ye gods and little fishies, I can't tell you how many people wanted me to do this, though it's insanely insecure and no matter how much I kept explaining that I couldn't just "put their number into PayPal for them" or run it through the credit card machine that I did not possess). Don't expect them to take an out of state personal check #103 from a stranger. Many online sellers won't even accept money orders any longer, because there are so many fakes. 

Jen Hilton makes one-of-a-kind jewelry sold through her website JLHJewelry.com. She is the founder of the Triangle Jewelry Makers and is featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry: Victorian, Fantasy, and Mechanical Necklaces, Bracelets, and Earrings" and "1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art" available at Amazon and other booksellers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Don't drive your customers away

Crossed Wires features a brilliant post about the 9 Convention Customers Everyone Hates. These customer types aren't exclusive to conventions. I've met them over and over again at art shows, parades, festivals and any place I've sat behind a table selling handmade merchandise.

The companion piece to this is 9 Convention Vendors Everyone Hates. If you've ever been a vendor yourself, you may have felt the frustration of dealing with the Blob, whose wares spill out into neighboring booths and the public walkways. Or the "Handmade" Importer trying to pass off mass-produced goods as her own creations.

I highly recommend these two articles for anyone planning to sell at events. They'll not only help you avoid common pitfalls and deal with colorful characters, but you'll have a good laugh (if you don't mind a few expletives).

I'm not only a vendor, I'm a customer, too. So I also have my own list of peeves. Please don't be one of these ...

Vendors Who Drive Me Away (and Don't Get My $$$)

The Talker

This is the vendor equivalent of the Lingering Customer. Whether it's pets, kids, recent medical procedures, extensive knowledge of Renaissance fashion, the time you passed out drunk and woke up in the parking lot of a Waffle House, or a detailed opinion about the event's coordinator -- it's not what I want to hear while browsing your wares.

You might think you're being "friendly," but it's really TMI -- "Too Much Information" -- and it's not appropriate between buyers and sellers. Especially if it's a shaggy dog story and I am desperate to mosey on to the next stall.

Beware, The Talker doesn't morph into The Sob Story or The Hoverer. 

The Sob Story

This vendor just lost two jobs, a parent, an arm and a dog, all in the past month. They barely made it to the event, broke a portable table on the way in, and had half of their inventory stolen by their daughter's boyfriend. Now it's Sunday afternoon and they haven't made their booth fee, so it's time to play Guilt the Customer For a Buck.

Customers are more likely to spend money when they're having a good time. If you're in a really rough patch, take a breather, go outside, phone a friend. But a customer is not there to be your shoulder to cry on. And whining that you haven't sold anything isn't going to make me charitable -- it's going to make me wonder why and what's wrong with your merchandise.  

The Hoverer

Touching -- or even looking at -- any item on their display prompts a monologue from this vendor, explaining the materials, tools, time, skills, history, symbolism and price of the item in which you happened to appear interested.

It's nice to hear a vendor say, "Hello," and "How are you enjoying the event?" Also, "If you have any questions, let me know," or "I made everything myself," is acceptable. Even, "Would you like to try it on?" But save the encyclopedic backstory until the buyer has indicated more than a vague interest. And don't hover at their elbow, even if they are fiddling with everything and not putting it back where it goes. Wait until they walk at least two paces away before rushing in to "fix" it.

The Hard-Sell

This vendor insists you need their product no matter what you say. Example: I once attended a psychic fair and every table I passed, I was asked if I wanted to know about my future, job, lover, angels, aura, astrology sign, or dead relatives. Even if I did not stop at the table or so much as made eye contact.

When I said, "No, thank you," and walked away, I was treated to a pitch anyway. My insistence that no, I did not care about my astrology chart, or that I was not in pain and I did not need to cleanse my aura, thank you, fell on deaf ears. Not very psychic, were they?

"No," does not mean, "Please, talk me into it." And you should never, under any circumstances, touch a customer -- spray on perfume, put a clip in their hair, wrap a scarf around their necks, hold a shirt or jewelry up against them -- unless invited.

The Hunter

Which brings us to The Hunter. This sort of vendor accosts you in the middle of the dealer room, when you’re no where near their booth. They might even stalk you in another vendor's space, on the flimsiest of excuses. "I overheard you say that you saw a rainbow. Have you seen my crocheted left-handed rainbow nose pickers?" They will tell you everything you never wanted to know about their amazing product, and try to drag, lure and/or herd you to their table.

Or, perhaps, you drifted by their table but weren't suitably impressed (in their opinion) so they come after you as you walk away, plying you with pamphlets and business cards, as if to say, "Here, will you throw these away for me?" There's a fine line between eager-go-getter and crazy-psycho-hunter-vendor. Don't cross it.

The Hermit

The opposite of the Hunter, this seller is invisible, incognito, or completely ignores you, even when you are waving dollars in the air. You find yourself asking other vendors, "Do you know who runs this booth?" Or you decide to come back later... but the vendor never reappears.

Even worse, they're right in front of you, but they're reading, checking their messages, counting money, stacking boxes, talking to a friend, or whatever is apparently more important than selling their wares to you, even when you ask for help. "Excuse me? ... Excuse me? ... HELLO?"

The Over-priced Hipster

"Omigod I totally had this idea to cut out felt pieces and glue them to t-shirts and make owl shirts. With mustaches. And they're only $50 each because I have this really quirky whimsical retro boutique lounge themed logo that makes me look trendy and professional. My friend designed it for me. She's an art school drop out and owns an iPad."

Being an artist and crafter myself, I understand that there's a mark up above the cost of materials. Making something takes time, and (typically) talent. Handmade items cost more than mass-produced store goods. But, sorry, I'm not interested in buying your brass Lovecraft cthulhu steampunk squid octopus thing for $80, even if 40,000 other people are selling them for $80 on Etsy, too.

The Pig

A plate of half-eaten food is sitting in the middle of their table and filling it with the stench of stale onions. Their giant dripping slushy cups are looming over the merchandise -- or worse, on TOP of the merchandise. There's empty wrappers, boxes, cups and junk all over the booth space.

Hey, I know, vendors gotta eat, too. And many of them do not have an assistant to spell them while they go off to nab a nibble. This is where a good vendor coordinator should be available to give the vendor a break.

If you must eat while you sell, keep it off of the main merchandise table, and have some hand wipes or something to clean up before dealing with customers, please. If you're finished, throw the food and any other trash away -- far away -- in the appropriate receptacles.

Jen Hilton makes one-of-a-kind jewelry sold through her website JLHJewelry.com. She is the founder of the Triangle Jewelry Makers and is featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry: Victorian, Fantasy, and Mechanical Necklaces, Bracelets, and Earrings" and "1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art" available at Amazon and other booksellers.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I've got a brand... now what?

As I mentioned in my previous post "Branding - no, not moo cows," I'm an author as well as a jewelry maker. My publisher provides professional assistance through informative webinars, and I've found that some of this information can also apply to the business of selling handmade jewelry. With permission from Jenny Bullough, manager of digital content at Harlequin Enterprises (the parent company of my publisher, Carina Press), here's some information about personal brand -- rewritten to apply to jewelry selling, with additional information based on my own experience and the input of the Gem Gypsy and the Triangle Jewelry Makers.

Super Brand! The magical sparkly you!
Got your BRAND? Your brand is your public presence -- the professional, creative you that is facing the world. It's a combination of your personality, logo, style, and reputation.

Here are the next steps toward making your brand even stronger, improving your sales, and having a successful go at selling handmade jewelry. 


If you're serious about selling jewelry, you've got to have a decent website. Even if your funds and/or computer skills are limited, there are some steps you can take. Check out my "Building a Better Website" for the basics on professional, quality web presence.

Make time to market yourself

This can be as much or as little as your schedule allows, but spend at least 10 minutes a day or an hour a week, updating your websites and social media. If a month goes by and there are no status updates, shop listings, or blog posts, followers will lose interest (or assume you have).

Continue to produce

Don't make your customers wait too long. If they're excited about your work, they will keep checking back. If there's nothing new, they will think you've lost interest and they will lose interest, too. "Buzz" ebbs and flows quickly on the Internet.

The bill-paying job, children, illness, or just the creative doldrums, can leave you without new content. Or without the time to share new content. Life happens. But even that does not need to keep you from producing something.

If you don't have a new piece of jewelry, or time to photograph your inventory, you can still post social media updates and rearrange the pics on your website. Perhaps there are some items that haven't sold in awhile and have cycled onto page 3 or 4 of your website. Relist them with new descriptions and move them front and center.

Or post links to relevant content on other websites -- for instance, I make steampunk jewelry, so I sometimes post links to cool steampunk pictures or books, if I don't have new jewelry to share.

If you are comfortable sharing personal information, you can let your customers know that you have a huge deadline at work, or that your 7-year-old is sick, and thank them for their patience. As I've mentioned several times throughout this blog, part of the value added to what you sell is that it was handmade by a real person. So be a real person, and your customers will appreciate it. 

Social media

It is impossible for most people to keep up several social media sites at the same time -- Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Etsy, Tumblr, Flickr, MySpace, deviantART, Wordpress, etc. Choose one hub that you maintain consistently. Be present on others, but use them to direct people to your preferred social site.

Engage customers with occasional posts, ask questions to prompt interaction, and always reply to queries and comments (politely and in a timely manner) even if just to say "thank you!"

Have short-term and long-term goals

A jewelry business is never "finished." It must constantly meet the changing needs of the marketplace, adopt new technologies and social media platforms, attract customers, challenge and inspire you as an artist.

Continue ongoing improvements and new offerings. How do you want your business to expand? How might you improve each customer's experience? What will you will do if a particular piece of jewelry sells well? Are you prepared to make more, or to make coordinating items?

Where do you see yourself in ten years? What do you want to be doing with your jewelry?

Plans can change. But having a plan will give you confidence, security and direction, which will further enhance your reputation with customers.  

Jen Hilton makes one-of-a-kind jewelry sold through her website JLHJewelry.com. She is the founder of the Triangle Jewelry Makers and is featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry: Victorian, Fantasy, and Mechanical Necklaces, Bracelets, and Earrings" and "1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art" available at Amazon and other booksellers.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Branding - no, not moo cows

Your "brand" is what makes you stand out.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm an author as well as a jewelry maker. My publisher provides professional assistance through informative webinars, and I've found that some of this information can also apply to the business of selling handmade jewelry. With permission from Jenny Bullough, manager of digital content at Harlequin Enterprises (the parent company of my publisher, Carina Press), here's some information about personal brand -- rewritten to apply to jewelry selling, with additional information based on my own experience and the input of the Gem Gypsy and the Triangle Jewelry Makers.

Your brand is your public presence, the professional, creative you that is facing the world. It's a combination of your personality, logo, style, and reputation.

I was skeptical when first confronted with the concept of branding myself. It sounded like corporate advertising buzzword BS. But if you are a handmade jewelry seller, you are not just selling jewelry, you really are selling yourself -- your skills, quality, and passion.

People have ample opportunity to buy jewelry from department stores, gift shops, friends, family, Etsy, flea markets and craft shows, right? So, how do you stand out? That's where your "brand" is important. Or to put it another way...


I'm not suggesting you be something you aren't. In fact, the more honest and authentic you are -- with your customers and yourself -- the better.

Here are a few things you can do to get started building your brand.

Offer a quality product

This should be a no-brainer. Constantly strive to improve your jewelry-making skills. Offer dependable, consistent quality and customer service. This will build your positive reputation.

Develop your own unique vision

When you started making jewelry, you were probably taking lessons, using kits, following YouTube tutorials, using magazine instructions and copying someone else's style. When you grow as an artist and begin selling your work, you'll be developing a style all your own -- you'll have to, or it's copyright infringement.

You may not do it on purpose, but you probably already have a style of your own (or one emerging). As the founder of a jewelry artists group, I've had the opportunity to see the work of many jewelry makers, of all skill levels. Every single one of them has a different style. Show me a piece of jewelry from someone in our group, and I'll tell you who made it, based on the materials, the subject matter, and the way it's put together.

No one else can be you. You have your own unique experiences, preferences, abilities, interests, and those should come through your work. This is what sets you apart from everyone else. It's why customers will choose to shop with you, and it's what they will expect when they return.

Choose a focus

You might be in the early stages of developing your style, experimenting with several different materials, and that's fine. But if you are selling your work, you should have some consistency. No artist wants to be limited, and it is okay to evolve and change. But if people are buying what you do, that means they want you to continue doing it -- and they will come back to you expecting more of the same.

This should not be a narrow, specific category, like "red rosaries" or "glass pendants." You are looking for a general direction. For authors, we would use the word genre. Just as it's difficult to build a readership if one jumps from children's books to erotica to crime drama, it's difficult to build a following of repeat jewelry customers if you are jumping back and forth from metals to clay to beads, or from inexpensive to high-end, or from pink cutesy girlish to black Goth to conservative bank teller.

If you're not sure how to define yourself, look over your body of work. Themes will emerge.

I'm known for creating jewelry that embodies a unique combination of imagination and history, with Victorian, Celtic and science fiction elements. If I try to list anything else on my website -- say, hippy woven hemp necklaces, pet charm bracelets, rosaries, birthstone gifts for moms, etc. -- it does not sell as well. Because my customers are looking for the style they've come to associate with Jen Hilton.

Craft your brand statement

This is also called a tagline or slogan. Some very well-known jewelery slogans include A diamond is forever or Every kiss begins with... Whatever it is, use it on all platforms: Etsy, website, blogs, Facebook, Twitter profile, business cards, etc.

Like your logo, it should be associated with you and it should communicate who you are to your customers. Why? Because in our modern, digital world, potential customers will only spend seconds -- or fractions of seconds -- looking at your ad, website, logo, or listing. They need something that tells them all about you, in ten words or less.

If you're having trouble with this, look at your design elements. What can you say that encompasses the bulk of your work? What feeling does it evoke? What imagery? Here are a few examples:

"Fun, fresh and flirty."
"Dark jewels, deep secrets."
"Strong women, bold jewelry."

The Gem Gypsy, owner and operator of Earth Traditions, uses "Gifts from legends, lore, and fantasy."

The Gem Gypsy says... "An important factor with marketing you and your merchandise is your NAME and the LOOK of your logo, website, emails, letterheads, business cards, social media, even the way you dress and present yourself. Your look needs to have a common theme to set yourself apart. Find a common thread and be consistent. I have been using the same signs, logo, name for 12 years now. I've had all kinds of people tell me, when they see my logo that they've 'seen this before' and that makes me feel great! My branding is working."

My tagline is Embellish your adventure with unique handmade jewelry. I liked the idea that "embellish" could apply to writing and jewelry, as I consider myself a storyteller in both areas. Because I make so much jewelry for cosplay, costuming, science fiction and fantasy, I felt that I was creating more than just something pretty -- I was helping people live out their own adventures. So, we have "Embellish your adventure..."

"OK, I'm working on my brand. Now what?" 

That's the subject of my next post!

Jen Hilton makes one-of-a-kind jewelry sold through her website JLHJewelry.com. She is the founder of the Triangle Jewelry Makers and is featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry: Victorian, Fantasy, and Mechanical Necklaces, Bracelets, and Earrings" and "1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art" available at Amazon and other booksellers.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Building a better website

Making jewelry is my part-time hobby and sanity-saver. Last year, it became even more part-time because my cyberpunk romantic thriller Stellarnet Rebel was published by Carina Press, a subsidiary of Harlequin Enterprises, and I'm currently working on the sequel.

What's this have to do with selling jewelry? Well, my publisher provides professional webinars to assist its authors, and I noticed that some of this information would be useful to jewelry makers, too!

So with the permission of Jenny Bullough, manager of digital content at Harlequin, here are some tips for creating a better website -- taken from my webinar notes and modified to apply to jewelry selling. Additional information is from my personal experience and the input of the Triangle Jewelry Makers.

First of all, YES YOU NEED A WEBSITE, regardless of where else you might appear or where your work is sold. It doesn't need to be an online store, but it needs to be the nexus of all of your shops, blog, upcoming events, promotions, social media, etc.

A website of your very own is under your control. An Etsy shop is subject to Etsy. A Facebook page is subject to Facebook. Your website is yours.

And it needs to look presentable. Which should be obvious, but in a nutshell, PROFESSIONAL LOOKING WEBSITE = TRUST

Not sure what makes a good web design? Check out: WEB PAGES THAT SUCK for some guidelines.

But before you sit down to build a website, MAKE A PLAN. List everything that would need to be there -- theme, logo, navigation, social media, jewelry categories, points of purchase, etc. Ask yourself what your customers are going to be looking for. The main thing, of course, is they'll need to know what you make and how to buy it.

Part of the value added to what you sell is that it was handmade by a real person. So don't forget to include a BIO, artist statement, photo of yourself, or other personal info. 

REGISTER A URL. For jewelry sellers, this will probably be your name, your name and the word "jewelry," or your FBN/DBA. As I've mentioned before, try to keep it simple.

REGISTER YOUR EMAIL AND SOCIAL MEDIA to match the url as much as possible, to eliminate customer confusion. If someone hears about you from a friend, or meets you at an event, or stops by your booth at an art show, and they search for you on the internet, they need to be able to find you. Being consistent ensures you are not only easy to find, but that you will be at the top of search engines and it will be obvious to customers that they've got the right person.

Now, onto the specifics about the website itself...

Your HOME PAGE should readily identify who you are, what you do, your logo, tagline, style, site navigation, and your newest pieces for sale.

The screen they see before they have to scroll or click for any reason should contain the header, site navigation, and links to social media -- at the very least. New material and the latest information should also be front and center, so that return visitors will know right away that there's something new to explore.

The HEADER GRAPHIC is the image at the top of your website. It should not dominate the page, forcing visitors to scroll down before they see anything else. The header should reflect your style and overall theme. Don't have a theme? Then it's time to make some decisions. See my next post about branding...

The website should be EASY TO NAVIGATE. If visitors have to go searching for the cart button or the contact link, or if they can't find the information they're looking for, you've lost their trust and you're going to lose them.

Your site should be CLEAN AND UNCLUTTERED. This aids in navigation, but it also allows for faster download. Some of your customers might be on a dial up connection, a slower computer, or a smartphone. No auto-play music, sounds, animations, flash, etc., that might slow the download time or crash someone's browser.

NOT an example of "clean and uncluttered."
Always use DARK TEXT ON LIGHT BACKGROUND. It doesn't have to be B&W, but use dark colors on lighter colors. It's called contrast, and is easier on the eyes.

Use a READABLE FONT. There's a temptation to make it small (to squeeze in more information), but not all of your customers have great vision. And you might be tempted to use fancy swirly pretty fonts. Go right ahead and use them... in your logo or header. But the rest of your text should be simple. When's the last time you read a book or magazine article in Medieval Uncial or Gothic Calligraphy?

NO 3RD PARTY ADS. It might sound like a good idea to put Google ads or something on your site to generate revenue, or use a "free" web service that puts ads on your site... but this can backfire. Ads like this are often targeted to users based on keywords within your site. So, you could end up with several jewelry websites luring your customers away. Or customers might incorrectly associate you with other businesses. Or you could end up with ads that your customers find offensive.

TEST THE WEBSITE in different browsers. Don't assume that if it looks ok in Internet Explorer it will also look fine in Firefox. Also, check the website's functionality. Do the shopping carts work properly? Is the shipping being calculated correctly? Do the links work? Enlist the help of friends, or go down to the local library to try it from their browser. (Notice I didn't say try it from work. Your workplace might not mind, but I don't want to get you in trouble!)

Finally, KEEP THE SITE UPDATED. If your last post was three months ago, the public will assume you've lost interest and they will too. Stay fresh. If you're not adding new items, rotate the items you have so new ones appear on the home page. If you don't have time to write new content, consider adding a widget that will automatically show your latest tweets or Etsy listings.

Good luck!

Jen Hilton makes one-of-a-kind jewelry sold through her website JLHJewelry.com. She is the founder of the Triangle Jewelry Makers and is featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry: Victorian, Fantasy, and Mechanical Necklaces, Bracelets, and Earrings" and "1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art" available at Amazon and other booksellers.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Choosing an art show, event or festival

You've decided to sell your handmade jewelry. Perhaps you've set up an Etsy store, built a website, or put a few pieces in a local shop. But why sit around, waiting for something to sell? Why not do an art show, festival or some other event, where you can get out and meet customers face-to-face, talk to them about your work, hear feedback, meet other artists?
And SELL things! Well...

Just because you've got a vendor booth, doesn't mean you'll vend anything.

I don't want to discourage anyone, but it's true. As a jewelry designer myself, the founder of the Triangle Jewelry Makers with a membership of more than fifty local jewelry artists, and as someone with many artist friends, I've got a lot of stories about The Shows That Went Wrong. Usually, it goes something like this...

You paid a $200 vendor fee and there were 30,000 attendees at the festival, but you only had $200 in sales. (And, no, that's NOT "breaking even" because there's still the expense of the materials you used to make the jewelry you sold, the time you spent making it, the income and social security taxes you'll have to pay, the time you spent being at the event, the gas money to get there, the signage, etc.)

OR... you bought a new 10x10 tent, folding tables and matching table covers, and spent all day in the 100-degree heat. Your jewelry and displays are all dusty because you were located in the corner of a dirt parking lot and the wind was blowing. And worst of all, you sold nothing. But, hey, you gave out a lot of business cards!

Not all vendor opportunities are created equal. 

Not all shows are well-advertised. 

Not all festivals are popular. 

Not all audiences are a good fit with what you're selling.

Sometimes when we're vendor noobs, we're eager to get into any show we can. And that's not a bad thing. It helps to gain experience at a few small events before applying to a large one, or one that is juried. You'll learn how to streamline your set-up and take-down processes, figure out what displays attract the most attention, get the hang of your Square credit card reader, and be able to take photos to submit with applications to other events.

Participating in an art show, event or festival is also very validating. It's encouraging to see people's faces light up when they look at your work -- even if they don't buy a single thing. It makes you feel like a "real" artist, in a way that Etsy doesn't.

Another good reason to do a festival is networking. You might not sell much, but you're meeting people and making connections -- with both the attendees, the event coordinators and your fellow vendors -- and that can really pay off later. You might make a friend for life, be invited to show in a gallery, get picked up for a consignment opportunity, score a custom commission, or receive an invitation to an even bigger and better event.

But if you've had a string of Bad Shows, or you just don't know where to start, here are a few tips.

1) Try small, personal venues. I have better sales at small events where I am the only seller, or only one of a few. I've made as much profit, or more, than at large events such as parades and festivals with 20,000+ attendees and tons of vendors (and a high booth fee). And I spend a lot less time setting up, taking down, and sitting there. Small venues might include:

* A gallery or featured artist showing.

* Setting up in front of a restaurant/cafe/pub/theater/etc during a holiday, such as Christmas or Valentines.

* Private jewelry parties in someone's home or office.

* Unusual events where you might not normally think of vending -- such as dance recitals, fundraisers, athletic competitions, animal shows, cultural performances, etc. The key to doing these sorts of events is that your jewelry should tie in, somehow. Horse jewelry at horse shows, Celtic jewelry at Irish dance recitals, etc.

2) Select a show, event or festival which has a vendor/attendee ratio of about 1:200. That would be about 7-8 vendors for an event with an attendance of 1,500. Or 50-60 vendors for an event of 10,000. There's nothing magical about this ratio, and it's not set in stone. But it's a general observation made by my friend Christi, the Gem Gypsy, and it seems to bear out in my own experience.

Think of it like this: An increase in potential customers, along with a decrease in the number of vendors vying for attention, should mean more sales for you.

Other factors certainly apply -- how the jewelry is displayed, how well it fits the audience, and also ...

3) You are probably going to sell more at an event where people pay to enter, and less at one that's free. Don't know why, but it's a phenomenon many jewelry sellers experience. Possibly because people who can afford admission are generally going to have more money to spend, and be willing to spend it. Or possibly because paid entry events are more of a "happening" for which attendees want souvenirs. Or both. Or some other third reason? Don't know, but keep it in mind.

4) You'll probably sell more at a juried or exclusive art show, or a special event to which you've been invited, than one open to anyone who applies. Juried and special events are understood to be "artsy," and will attract people seeking quality goods and who are willing to pay for them.

At events without any vendor vetting, there's often too much competition from flea market type sellers with cheap mass-produced goods. You'll be stuck between the knock-off purses and the made-in-China sunglasses, and people won't realize that you're an artist.

Do you have any more tips for choosing a good venue? Ask us your questions and share your experiences with us!

Jen Hilton makes one-of-a-kind jewelry sold through her website JLHJewelry.com. She is the founder of the Triangle Jewelry Makers and is featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry: Victorian, Fantasy, and Mechanical Necklaces, Bracelets, and Earrings" and "1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art" available at Amazon and other booksellers.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Etiquette tips for buyers and sellers

This excellent article by Stacey Merrill shares etiquette tips for both buyers and sellers at art fairs. These words of wisdom and experience apply to any event where you might be selling your jewelry -- or buying something handmade from others.

For vendors...

The suggestions include such things as having prices clearly marked, being available to answer questions instead of on the phone or chatting with a friend, keeping your table clean and neat, and being helpful but not hovering. 

For buyers...

This is something I wish was issued at the entrance of every event! Some of the requests include: Please don't block someone's booth or foot traffic, don't criticize the art/price in front of the artist for all to hear, and keep an eye on children (of ALL ages) and pets.

Read the entire article here

Based on my own informal survey of the Triangle Jewelry Makers, we would also add (or emphasize) the following.

Buyers, please...

* Don't hang out in my booth just to get out of the weather. I love for my customers to enjoy the shade if the weather is hot, or the warmth from my space heater if it's cold. However, if you don't plan to buy anything and are blocking my wares from being seen by others, have the consideration to move along.

* Don't tell me I should charge more for my pieces. I know that you think it's a compliment, or you're just trying to be helpful, but what you're really saying is that I'm an idiot. Many factors go into the pricing of handmade work. My prices are based on careful consideration of the venue, the current market, the vendor fee, the cost of my materials, my level of ability, and even my psychological comfort zone. If I'm so cheap, then buy lots of my stuff and enjoy it!

* Don't tell me something is priced too high. No, it's not just like the one you saw at Wal Mart for $4.99. It might look the same to you, but the one in the store is made in a foreign country where people are paid less, and the materials used are base metal (such as nickel or lead), plastic and simulated gems -- not silver, glass and semi-precious stones.

* Don't try to barter me down on my prices. That's another way of saying my time and talent are not worth paying for. If you honestly love my work but cannot afford it, simply say, "As soon as I get a job again, I want to buy one of your lovely pieces. Do you have a website?" or even ask, "Do you have something similar but at a lower price?"

* If you come back to buy something and it's gone, don't whine about it. Sellers  hear "I wanted that!" countless times. If you wanted it so badly, why didn't you buy it when you had the chance? Better to ask, "Do you have something similar?" or "Could you make another?" than to throw a hissy fit. I'm here to sell things, not read your mind. That's the psychic fair.

* Don't say "I could make one just like it" because while it might be true, there's this thing called copyright and it applies to jewelry, too. Along the same lines, don't ask for step-by-step instructions how to make one the artist's pieces for yourself. We are here to sell jewelry, and some of us also make our living by teaching our techniques. We're not going to give that away for free.

* Do ask to try on the jewelry or look at it more closely, but don't come through and touch, move, knock over, and/or relocate every one of my pieces, and leave fingerprints, sticky substances, dripping umbrellas and drink cups all over my jewelry and my displays. As I often tell my children, "Unless you're going to buy it, look with your eyes and not your hands."  

Sellers, please...

* Don't have cups, papers, half-eaten sammiches and other junk on the tables with your jewelry.

* You can't expect me to pay a premium for things you've thrown in a basket. That's called the bargain bin. If you are charging $12 or more for something, put it on a card, hang it on a display, box it in a gift box, or set it on a necklace bust.

* Do some research and think carefully when you price your work. It may only be your hobby, but sellers who price things just to "cover the cost of materials" undervalue handmade goods for everyone. On the other hand, just because you teach classes or appeared in an art book doesn't mean you can ask $100 for a washer on a chain. It makes you look like a pompous hipster snob.

* Don't charge exorbitant prices because a particular style, item or color is currently popular. Eventually, people are going to figure out that you're gouging them, and you're going to look like a jerk. Yes, you want to make a living and value your work, but keep in mind that the average income in the U.S. is only $27,000 a year so consider your audience when pricing.

* Don't tell me stories about your child/dog/husband/surgery or any other subject unrelated to the things you're selling. It's not friendly, it's inappropriate. And I don't want to overhear these stories while I'm browsing, either. If you are sharing a booth with a friend, cut the personal chatter until I move along.

What are some tips you'd suggest to buyers or sellers of handmade jewelry? 

Jen Hilton makes one-of-a-kind jewelry sold through her website JLHJewelry.com. She is the founder of the Triangle Jewelry Makers and is featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry: Victorian, Fantasy, and Mechanical Necklaces, Bracelets, and Earrings" and "1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art" available at Amazon and other booksellers.