Vintage sewing machines

Vintage sewing machines

A few weeks ago, I lucked into links for an auction of several vintage sewing machines and sergers. I won the auction for this 100 year old Singer powerhouse, which means that I can once again sew leather with ease.

Sing

My Husqvarna would sew leather, but since I use it approximately 40 hours a week already, I feel better about having an alternative for anything that might put added stress on it. I was also lucky enough to snag this Pegasus overlock from the 1960s. Finally! A working overlock. That’s been on my list ever since my former studio mate moved to Florida and took hers with her.

pegasus

So say hello to my two newest friends!

small business hell

I apologize for mostly just posting a link today, but as most of you know, I’m trying to figure out how to take the many things I do and turn them into some sort of sustainable business. I’ve been an S Corporation before, and one of the worst things about that route was the sheer amount of paperwork involved for what was essentially one person and very little money. A sole prprietorship was seeming the best way to go this round to avoid all that.
Well, not so much anymore. I’ve heard rumors and speculation surrounding some of these new rules that apparently got passed in the health care bill, but frankly I’m still just boggled that anyone thinks this is a good idea.

even the smallest businesses must file 1099’s for goods as well as services

to quote a piece of the article:

Who will it affect?
It will affect all businesses, including sole proprietors, consultants, self-employed people and freelancers, who are considered businesses for tax purposes, but may not think of themselves that way.

What does it mean?
It means that you’d better be ready to track your spending by vendor, and have an easy way of tallying up whether that spending totals more than $600 per year. A business that spends $20 a week on pizza for its employees, for example, would spend a total of $1,040 a yea r— and would need to file a 1099 form to that local pizzeria.

So basically, I would need to send 1099’s to the thrift stores and the fabric stores and the craft stores for all the purchases I make over the year? huh, wha? uh really??? what if I work out of my house, does my mortgage company get a 1099 for the percent I pay in rent on my studio space?
What about when friends clean out their closets and give me sweaters and fabrics to re-use? Do I need to be conscious of the sale value and barter rules?

My brain hurts just thinking about this, especially since the people who get punished for not filing the paperwork correctly are the businesses doing the buying, and of course small companies will have a much harder time tracking everything, and it will be a much higher percentage of extra work for them.

I’m still reading and absorbing, but between this and the CPSIA nonsense, I seriously am starting to feel like small businesses are taking a lot of unnecessary fire these days, right at a time when we should be supporting them the most.

So you want to get into a craft show…

This post originally appeared on the EcoEtsy Team blog, with some minor modifications:

A funny thing happened after I complained about how difficult it was to decipher the application rules of a festival I wanted to vend at last year: This year I wound up running it.
I never intended for that to happen, but it was actually a great experience, if a little overwhelming. It made me see applying for and doing festivals in a whole new light, so I thought I’d write about a few things I learned being on the other side of that jury box.

First of all, do your research ahead of time and find out when the due dates are for applications. Get yours in on time, and make sure it’s complete. If you find out about a great festival after their deadline, fill out an application anyway, and then ask to be considered for their waitlist (and to be added to their mailing list for next year). This may or may not help you this year, but being polite and sending in a good application absolutely cannot hurt. Spaces do open up as someone always drops out, and while many people email after the due date to inquire about space, few take the time to fill out the application. When we had a few extra spots open up, I went straight for those people who had the initiative to do so, even if it meant taking people out of order.

This is going to sound like a no-brainer, but follow the application’s instructions. It’s ok if you don’t understand what some of the terms mean or how something is worded, and it’s perfectly legitimate to email and ask for clarification. There are no stupid questions, especially if you are polite. Trust me – asking for clarification so you know what is needed is far better than sending in an incomplete application and making the jury contact you with questions (hint: they probably won’t and it will go in the circular file).

Here’s another hard truth: If you make jewelry, you need to really be on top of your game. Go above and beyond the application’s requirements, send in extra photos, press releases, blog links, whatever you’ve got. Jewelry is such a competitive category, anything you can do to make yourself stand out is a plus. This is where it is also helpful to know whether applications are accepted on a rolling basis, or if everyone is judged at once, after a cut-off date. If it’s rolling, get yours in early! Almost 1/3 of our applications this year were for jewelry vendors, and obviously we couldn’t take them all.

Speaking of standing out – I cannot stress this enough: Send really GOOD photos. Don’t take pictures on your messy craft table in lamplight. Natural light and open shade is best (got a south facing window or covered porch?) and if you can take a photo that shows how your product is used, even better. If you don’t have a good indoor space, you can build a light box for small-ish items for under 10$. (that tutorial is pretty awesome for anyone, even if you aren’t applying for a show.)

This photo by EcoEtsian 4Pippi is perfect. Natural light, a neutral background, a clear photo of the product.

If your items are large and need to be photographed outside, pay attention to your background. No one wants to see your junked car or underwear hanging on a clothesline. (yes, this happened)

Obviously, make sure your Etsy shop is current, and that it represents your products well. A shop link is an important plus and gives you legitimacy.

If you’ve never done a show before and the application asks for a photo of your display, don’t fret. It’s perfectly ok to create a mock-up in your carport, on your porch, or even in a room that gets a lot of natural light. Tape out the dimensions of the booth on the floor and try to create “walls” out of fabric or some other backdrop. Better yet, go ahead and buy or borrow a 10×10 white tent and practice your setup in your backyard. Take closeup shots of displays as well as an overall view. These photos are great tools, even beyond getting accepted into a show. Really look at them and try to see your wares from the eyes of a new person who might be walking by. A straight line of table with a bunch of small objects laying atop it is boring. Think displays of varying heights, and pay attention to your textures and colors. Choose interesting containers to hold your items and pay attention to the back of your booth with a sign, pretty backdrop or even a simple pair of curtains. For inspiration, there’s a great Flickr Group called Show Me Your Booths.

If you have a blog, talk about past shows you’ve done. If it comes down to two similar people and only one slot, the person who promotes festivals they attend on their blog or website is probably going to have an advantage.

So those are a few things I learned to see differently while putting this show together. I’m sure there are a lot more tips out there, and I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

The downside of all this is I totally didn’t follow my own advice here and missed quite a few show deadlines because I was so distracted. Next year, I’ll be sure to plan ahead for the added workload, and I will pay a lot more attention to the details of applications. I really learned a TON during this process and I’m thankful I got the opportunity to do it.

Selling in a brick and mortar; a cautionary tale

this post was originally written for and published on the EcoEtsy Team Blog

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Seeing your work on the shelves of a popular store is a really great feeling. However, that feeling can fade rather quickly if you are unprepared for the ups and downs of the world of retail. Here are a few things I’ve learned the hard way, shared in the spirit of making it a little easier for everyone else.

a great supporter if indie craft


First, choose your store wisely. Just because you like to shop there doesn’t mean they’re a good fit for your products. In fact, the store that sells your items the best may not even be someplace you’d consider entering. Do some research, go shopping at a few different times and see how busy the store is and who’s actually making purchases. Ask employees what a typical sales day is like, and find out if they work on commission.

Once you’ve gotten a target store or two, google the heck out of them. See if they have an Etsy presence, including seeing if other sellers in the shop might be Etsians. Convo the other sellers and ask about their experiences. Read reviews on Yelp if you have this service in your city. Find out if there is a list of disgruntled former sellers or if buyers complain about shoddy goods or poor customer service. One or two random complaints may not mean anything but if you’re seeing a pattern, steer clear!

Each store has their own criteria for submission, so I’m not going to cover that here, let’s just skip ahead to that joyous day when you drop off your merchandise.
Here’s a list of things you really need to know the answers to before you hand over those items you’ve worked so hard on.

1. How are items inventoried? You need to make SURE you have a detailed list of the items you left with the store, complete with dates, descriptions, and pictures if possible. This list needs to be signed by the store owner. I know that seems really basic, but especially when you are re-supplying, it’s easy to just walk back out without this when the store’s computer is down, or management is busy. Get it in handwriting if you must, but never, ever leave merchandise at a store without a signed record of it in YOUR hand.

2. No matter how well staffed and well run a store is, items will get damaged, and items will go missing. Find out what their policy is on this. I honestly don’t know what the norm is here, I’ve had store owners pay me half the value, I’ve had store owners just shrug their shoulders and not even apologize. Only you can decide what you are willing to put up with, but whatever that is, you don’t want it to be a surprise.

3. You may run into some ethical issues. Things I’ve encountered in the past include a shop which removed my labels and sewed in their own, and shops where the owners and employees expected to be gifted pieces in exchange for promoting wares to shoppers. I’ve had friends contact shops after not getting checks for a while, only to find out their jewelry lay tangled in a forgotten box in the back room. I’ve had stores change management and refuse to honor the terms I originally consigned under. In one case employees were required to wear store merchandise, but weren’t held responsible if they damaged it.
These aren’t necessarily things you can ask about beforehand, but the lesson here is to check in frequently and make sure you’re still getting a good vibe.

4. The last thing you need to think about is clearance sales. Will the store notify you before putting your items on clearance? Do you have the option of picking up your merchandise, or swapping it out for something more seasonally appropriate? If it will be a problem for the store to sell your item well below cost (some stores do 50, 75, even 90% clearance sales) then remove your merchandise before the sale.

Brick and Mortar stores are great, and I highly encourage people to shop locally and support all the amazing indie boutiques out there. At the same time, I want sellers to stay happy and be prepared for the ups and downs a conventional store can bring. Above all, the best advice I can give is to stay in communication with the stores you choose to work with, it will make all the difference in the world in your experiences!

Finding your Focus

This is another in a series of posts I’m writing for the EcoEtsy Street Team Blog It posted last week, and I’m sharing it here with you guys today.

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Hello! It’s time for another installment of Team Eco Etsy Business tips. *cue soundtrack*
On my last visit here I shared with you the trials and tribulations that were part of the process of writing my business plan. That was a tricky post to write, and I have to admit it was a lot of information to process. I thought I might revisit some of the points over my next couple rounds here, and the first one I want to talk about is the Mission Statement/Company Vision section.
Like I mentioned before, a huge sticking point for me was figuring out how to sum up the many aspects of my crafting into a nice, neat little package. Every business article I read said I needed to “find my focus” and that once I’d done that, the rest of the pieces would just fall right into place.

Focus Necklace by Polarity

Of course none of those articles gave any instructions for how to get to that nice happy focused place, so I had to get creative. I adapted an exercise from a friend who is in school to be a counselor, (she likes having people to practice on!) and here is the end result.

Go to your shop right now with a pencil and paper and look at your items. Write down every word that comes to mind when you look at them.

annymay's shop

Now, go through and weed out the things like “blue” and “cotton” to get to the descriptions like “handmade”, “recycled”, and “good value”. Now narrow it down to the most important of those words. Don’t think too hard on it, just let your gut do the work for you. You want the two or three things that you cannot see yourself compromising in creating an item for sale.
Once you have those words, there’s your mission statement! (Just figure out how to make a coherent sentence or two out of them)

Sowing the seeds of guerrilla gardening love.

That’s how I did it, but I’m no expert so if you’ve got other tricks that worked for you, I’m sure we’d all love to hear them in the comments.

Until next time, happy crafting!

on writing a business plan

So I’ve started assisting the Etsy team, ECOETSY in writing for their team blog. For my first post a couple weeks ago I wrote about the process of writing a business plan, since that’s what’s been occupying a chunk of my time lately. Here’s the post, but you can check out a lot of other really great posts over at the team blog ecoetsy.com:

A Business Plan – you’ve heard over and over that it’s something everyone who is serious about their business should write. I’ve written two for previous endeavors, and they were fairly easy, so I figured this time I’d just sit right down and knock this one out of the ballpark in a couple of hours.
(It’s ok, you can laugh)

Well, that was about 4 years ago, and I’m just now finishing up that sucker. As it turns out, it was a little more difficult for me this time around. Just like Jennifer mentioned in the conversation about pricing that got posted a couple weeks ago, it’s all too easy to fall in the trap of creating and simply hoping the details will fall into place – somehow. However, as was also noted in that post, if you ever want to quit your day job, support your family, or even fill a small goal like saving enough money to take yourself to Paris, it’s important to stop thinking like a hobbyist and start thinking like a businessperson.
So, let’s get back to that plan, shall we?
Now, there are a million templates all over the web, and most of them look something like this:

1. Executive Summary/ Overview
2. Business Description
3. Your Market
4. What you sell
5. How your business is organized
6. Your Marketing Plan
7. The Financials

It’s pretty straightforward, right? So why did I get so stuck?

Well, as Becky from Glue and Glitter pointed out, these templates aren’t really designed for crafters. She also looked online for starting points, but wound up ignoring most of what she found. The templates just didn’t seem to fit her needs, so she actually made her own.

In much the same way, I found it really difficult to translate traditional business terms into something that I could wrap my craft around. For instance, I got pretty stuck right off the bat because what products I make often depends on what materials I find to rework, so I had trouble finding a common thread to describe what I did.
Further, in a plan which focuses on traditional marketing, financial statements, and corporate definitions of profit, where do you put your business’ ecological footprint? What’s the monetary value of not making waste with packaging? How do you explain the choice to use unwound sweater yarn at a labor cost of 30 bucks, when you could go buy a skein of something similar for under 10$?

In short, I kept putting off finishing the plan because it made my head hurt trying to figure out where things should go, and how to account for those discrepancies. Last fall, however, I decided that it was time to get serious and stop procrastinating. I made a few changes in how I did shows so that I could more accurately figure out what was working and what wasn’t. I paid attention to what products people gravitated to, and what they saying about the designs. I really listened to what people said to each other about my work, and paid attention to what got repeated.

I highly recommend doing this if you have a chance. If you only sell online, figure out those google analytics, send your customers a mini-survey (maybe give a coupon for future purchases as a reward?), talk to people in the forums, or get a stranger to look at your shop. Google your product and see what else comes up. Who’s talking about products similar to yours?
Hearing what other people are saying about your work can really help you articulate your vision, and that makes putting it onto paper a lot easier.

So with that in mind, let’s re-look at that template.

1. Executive Summary/ Overview
Ok. This where you explain your business in fairly general terms. The biggest goal here is to make whoever is reading the overview want to know more. Some places suggest you write this last, although I found writing a rough draft of it first helped me get going with everything else.

2. Business Description
I know this sounds like a repeat of #1, but it isn’t exactly. Your summary is usually a few paragraphs and covers all the topics in brief, more like what you’d say to someone you were trying to hire, or to the press. Your business description is actually pretty short. It starts with your Mission Statement (what you intend to DO) and follows with your Company Vision ( where you intend to go, what you intend to BE) Finally, your description should include a history of the business and who exactly is involved.

3. Your Market
Who’s going to buy your products? This is where all that people-watching pays off. Develop a customer profile, but remember that where a traditional customer profile might center around an age group or a socio-economic class, crafters – especially eco-friendly ones – often find their customers are connected by some other thread.
You also need to figure out the market trends where products like yours are concerned. This can be a little more difficult, because you might not know where to get this information. Ask around at galleries and indie boutiques. Ask them what they’ve sold more of lately, and what no longer seems to move. Ask in the Etsy forums, or walk around trade and craft shows and see what other people are buying. Talk to the people who sell supplies.
Finally, you need to know why would someone buy your product over another similar item. Again, ASK. As it turns out, your no-waste packaging policy might just be the tipping point that encourages buyers to purchase from you and not your next competitor…

4. What you sell– this is pretty self explanatory, but don’t forget to include the pricing structure and how your products are competitive. This is where photos and patterns are great! This is also where you can use your eco-friendly ethics to your advantage. If you use all recycled materials or only organic cotton, play it up! This sets you apart, and helps explain your pricing.

5. How your business is organized
There are several options for business organization. Sole proprietorship, Partnership, LLC, etc. Talk about which you are, then include bios of the people who hold key positions in the company. It also helps to explain how your business actually gets run, and you should include whether or not you are required to have a license to do what you do.
This section might sound kind of silly when it’s just you and your sewing machine in a corner of your spare bedroom, but it’s a necessary step to being able to see yourself as someone who actually runs a real business that will grow.

6. Your Marketing Plan
This is a whole can of worms that really deserves it’s own post, but the short version is: figure out how you are going to get your products out there. Figure out how you are going to make sales. You really need concrete steps here, like “Get my wares into 6 stores by the end of the year” or “advertise on these 6 blogs who reach my target market” or “do one in-person show every month”.
More on this bulletpoint in the future, I promise.

7. The Financials
The tricky stuff for most crafters, and also really deserves it’s own post. This is where you really have to take a hard look at your pricing, your overhead, and how much you can sell.
There was a great post on the ecoetsy blog just the other day on pricing your goods, and the comments continued to be quite enlightening. I recommend starting there, and then spending some time really examining what it takes for you to create what you do. Then you’ll need to spend some more time figuring out exactly what you need to make in order to make a living.

Becky also added another category: “Design and Development” where she talks about new products and revenue streams she has in the works.

lunch tote from the Glue & Glitter shop

So, in summary, the hardest part for me about doing this, was just getting going, and forcing myself to answer the really hard questions, no matter how long it took. I was totally guilty of the “but I just want to create things” whine, and this was a really great exercise to get me out of that mindset. While I still have no desire to become a corporate overlord, examining my business from this angle really helped me see how to make it not only more profitable, but more enjoyable as well.

The EcoEtsy street team

So you may have heard me mention the EcoEtsy street team before. They are really focused on not only highlighting Etsy sellers with earth-friendly business practices, but the team really helps each other find better ways to run their businesses, as well as holding events to fund-raise for different causes.
I’ve been a member for a few years, but a few weeks ago they put out a call for a business tips blog editor, and it seemed like as good a time as any to try and give a little back. Since I’m currently sort of in the middle of re-organizing and trying to answer a lot of questions in my own business, it seemed like sharing my experiences could possibly help others going through the same process.
Friday they did a little introductory post on their blog, which was really sweet. Thank you guys!

My first post for them is coming up on the 16th of July, and it’s going to be about the process of writing a business plan, since that’s what I’m currently mired in the middle of.
Anyway, you can check out all of the members and the team blog right over here:
http://blog.ecoetsy.com/

Rogue Pop-Up Shop

I’ve been going back and forth on whether I could do this show, since we’re leaving for vacation the next day, but I’ve signed up anyway. Even if I only bring a handful of items, it should be a fun time, and good practice for indoor show displays. Plus, the Lady Rogue Business Ladies are an awesome bunch of people =)

Check out the event page here, complete with list of vendors: Pop-Up Shop at WmTurner Gallery

Mattel gets a free ride from the CPSIA

This week, bloggers across the nation are taking to their keyboards to raise awareness of the mess that is the current Consumer Product Safety legislation regarding children’s products, and I’m joining them. Yesterday I started with an overview of the situation and an introduction to the Handmade Toy Alliance. I also hinted that Mattel was getting a free ride out of the legislation.

One of the biggest shockers coming down the pipe as of late in regards to the CPSIA was the announcement that Mattel, one of the biggest offenders in regards to producing poisonous toys, responsible for no less than 19 recalls in the past 5 years, would not be required to use independent, third party testing like the mom n pop shops would be.

“On Friday, however, the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted unanimously to approve Mattel’s request to use two more of its own company laboratories for the third-party checks on its toys.”

Yes, you heard me correctly, the fox is guarding the henhouse where your kids are playing. These same labs that allowed the dangerous products through in the first place have been deemed “rigorous” enough to to be exempt from these regulations that are about to crush many small businesses across the country. Oh, and over half those labs are overseas. In China.

So basically once again, the government is using a very real concern by the American people to draft legislation that practically rewards the corporations who created the hazards to begin with, while at the same time penalizing the indie businesses who were never part of the problem.

Do I sound angry? Well good. I think you should be too.
What would you rather give a child you care about?
1. A petroleum-laden plastic toy which promotes war and violence, will break, and is not repairable, which will wind up in a landfill within a couple of years, to sit and sit and sit, brightly colored for decades to come:

or
2. A one of a kind, hand crafted from natural materials toy that promotes the use of the imagination over prescribed tv-show scenarios. A toy that can be repaired repeatedly should it break, and one which your child will cherish for years, possibly well into adulthood where it might just get passed down to their child.



If you at least want the option to have the handmade toy, now is the time to get involved.
This page from the Handmade Toy Alliance is a great place to start.

Check back tomorrow for a little more on the eco-friendliness of handmade toys vs their plastic counterparts…