Using the internet to embark on a potential business venture involves an entirely different set of skills. Some could make an argument against buying unique handmade items online, particularly those who take great pleasure in interacting with the sellers or in seeing something new and unexpected. These issues aside, the internet could be seen as a giant cluster of ongoing craft fairs with business hours spanning twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. Much like first-time vendors presenting their earliest works, the establishment of an online business requires expressing a clear identity. The absence of in-person communication serves to place additional expectations on both the seller and client.
As the sole owner and operator of San Jose-based Feast of Dreams, Katie Lipton specializes in handmade costumes and clothing of various styles. These include but are not limited to mascot-styled outfits, knitting, leatherwork and some small-scale props or jewelry. Katie handles most of her business through direct transactions by email or personal message with an Etsy store offering only occasional, simple items not custom-designed for one individual.
There are certainly a greater number of opportunities for business, but the process itself comes with a blend of advantages and flaws, as Katie has found in her approach to talking with clients. “An online store is great because it allows you to access a much wider audience than you would normally be able to reach. The drawback of this is that it’s more difficult to be a salesperson. Tone doesn’t always come through in text, and it doesn’t matter how personable you are, if your sales listing is full of typos or is poorly written, people will look for the product elsewhere. You need to have a higher level of professionalism and polish to sell it online.”
Speaking as a repeat Feast of Dreams customer myself, I am able to verify that this is a true small business. With a room in her home devoted exclusively to her work, Katie continuously maintains a busy schedule for herself, further evidenced by a full commission queue on her website. Recently, she announced her intention to begin focusing more on pre-made items that would be readily available for shipping right away.
When we examine these establishments as a whole, we immediately notice that there is more to this than just keeping up a fresh product line. Presentation is an even greater factor, revealing to others where the business owner sees her skills residing. In the selecting the participants for her study on crafting as a full-time occupation, Virginia A. Dickie cited this as a major influence in picking out vendor business cards at a fair. “Whose cards did I select? The crafters who were most businesslike and most memorable were often the ones that had cards. As a group, they had well-constructed displays of products that were different from those people around them, and made themselves available through handouts or business cards or both listing their future fairs and contact information” (259).
After attending Seasons of Crafts, this statement is one that is very clear to us. We made sure to pick up every business card that we saw. Upon revisiting the most memorable displays for the both the blog and the presentation, the ones we choose to discuss had the most organized displays and the most creative offerings. This was the degree of professionalism that we saw with Bonfire Glass and the careful selection of stained glass works that they offered. No matter what type of involvement a newcomer is considering when joining the crafting community, how they present themselves to customers is what ultimately determines the rate for success. Katie offers three separate pieces of advice:
1. “Professionalism is huge. You need to conduct yourself as a friendly professional, stay on top of emails, and make sure that you are accessible. Quick and easy communication will always make a sale go smoother. Also, be very mindful of the quality of your work or product. What you send out is a representation of yourself and your business. If you aren’t happy with the finished piece, it shouldn’t go out.”
2. “Always have a terms-of-service available and stick to it. Don’t bend the rules or make exceptions, this will protect both you and your customers. Never ship something without being paid in full, and always keep the commissioner updated on the status of their order.”
3. “Most importantly, stay true to yourself. If you’re selling handmade items, it’s likely because you’re doing something you love. Don’t lose sight of that, and don’t allow people to take advantage of your skills. Always make sure you are charging enough to make the return worth your effort.”
Visit Feast of Dreams at http://www.feastofdreams.net/.
Dickie, Virginia Allen. “Establishing Worker Identity: A Study of People in Craft Work.”
American Journal of Occupational Therapy 57 (2003): 250-261.