A happy announcement for our family…

Yes, we are expecting or second child!!

And yes, I am still alive. After almost a year of posting on my blog multiple times every week, even while travelling, or packing, or moving across the country — I suddenly fell off the face of the internet. My last post was at the end of November saying I would be back in a week. Yeaaah, that didn’t happen. There has been a lot of difficult things going on lately, and added on top of that, we just moved into a new apartment, Tim had to start working both an overnight job and a day job, and I have been very sick.

BUT – the good news is … Tim was able to quit both of those draining jobs and is now, for the first time ever, able to put his masters degree to work, and is officially an engineer! So happy for him – and so happy that we get to have more family time now that he only has to work one job. And, super happy news for us, the reason I’ve been so sick is that I’m expecting! I’m due in August, and I’m currently 16 weeks along. Our 5 year old is SO excited to be becoming a big sister. :) And a lot of the other difficult things are simultaneously getting better and making us stronger in the process. We are so thankful to God for his provision and seeing us through some dark days.

And sometimes in life you have to say “good-bye” to things that are, perhaps, nice and fine, in order to make room for something better. And so, I am officially closing down my graphic design business and shutting down my Etsy shop for good. We are no longer dependent on it financially, and while I’m grateful that I was able to help our family while still staying at home with our daughter, I am SO much looking forward to being able to devote more of my energy to our family and to more important things. I was, in fact, also planning to shut down my blog, but various family members and friends (including my husband) really urged me to keep it going. And I think I will – it is nice to have a creative outlet, and one where I can chronicle and look back at later and (perhaps) write something that someone else will enjoy, is worth it to me. I will not plan to post 3 times a week, like before, probably more along the speed of once a week. And the focus will be much more on the home and not on business … which was, after all, my intention in the first place with this blog.

But my Etsy shop … it’s going. I’m planning to close in about a week. So if there’s anything you’ve wanted to buy from my shop, now is the time to grab it. I’ve got some inventory I’m looking to get rid of, so starting today until I close, with any order I will also include 3 more prints for free (of my choosing from my inventory.) But very soon it will be closed for good. It feels a little bitter sweet, but I’m also really looking forward to the first time in 3+ years to not be shipping out orders anymore. :)

Anyway, I know I kind of abandoned my blog for a couple months there, and I’m not sure how many of you are still around. If you ARE still around … thank you for your patience. :) I’m so excited about this new phase of our life, and I’m also looking forward to writing here on the blog again.

Onward!

Posted in blogging, creative biz, etsy, family, writing | 25 Comments

Stay tuned – we’re getting a new Abode!

We’re getting a new abode! And I don’t mean online – I mean in real life. Many of you know that about 3 months ago, our family moved to Boston. What you may not know is that in that interim time, we haven’t had our own home. Some dear friends of ours let us use their finished basement as our home base while my husband was working on getting a job up here. We’ve felt so blessed to be able to spend this time with our friends, and grow closer to them and learn from their godly examples. Things have been clicking along for Tim and now he does have a job — and this weekend we are at last able to move into our own apartment!

I’ve thought before that it might seem a little odd that I write a blog called “The Flourishing Abode”, at a time when we didn’t have our own home. And even when we have had our own home, I’ll be the first to tell you, I’m no great housekeeper. But, really, the space in which we live is not really what this blog is about. The important thing to me is not the house, but the home. And we constantly have to be working to improve our home and our family, because that is so much more important than a physical building. BUT … it is going to be nice to have our own physical apartment again! (And I do look forward to taking care of our family’s physical space with a new-found respect after being without it – here’s to improving my housekeeping skills!)

I’m really tickled about the apartment we found. It’s definitely going to be very urban living, which I’m excited about – we’ll be a 5 minute walk to the subway station. Bonus points – we live next door to a branch of the Boston Public Library. *fist pump* (On the off chance that you’ve never visited my art print shop, let’s just say a significant part of it is dedicated to my love of books.) We’ll be without a fridge for a short time, and I’m not quite sure how we’re going to get our furniture up the twisty stairs, but I know everything is going to work out just fine. I’m just SO excited! I hope to be able to put up some pictures of our new place before too long.

In the meantime, though, due to the huuuuge number of things I have to do this week, such as shipping all my orders from Black Friday – Cyber Monday, plus moving our things out of the storage unit and into our new place, I’m taking a one week hiatus from blogging. I’ll look forward to be back next Wednesday and pick up where I would have been this week, if we weren’t moving. So, stay tuned for your regularly scheduled programming!

A shout-out of thanks to our hosts who graciously let us live in their basement. And thank you to all of you who have supported my FlourishCafe shop and/or blog over the last few months – that’s been our family’s income! But most of all, I give thanks to God for his provision and care, even in less stable times of life.

See you next week!

Posted in blogging, family, travel | 12 Comments
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Winner Announced for the Shabby Apple giveaway!

Well, the Shabby Apple giveaway has ended! And it’s time to announce the winner. Using a random number generator, comment number 38 is the winner, and it is … *drumroll*

Congratulations, Rachael! Thank you to all of you who participated, and thank you to Shabby Apple for making this lovely giveaway a possibility!

Posted in fashion, style | 3 Comments

Gift giving guides

As the gift-giving season approaches, sometimes it can be difficult to know what to get for people. When I design a new piece in my shop, I usually have a specific type of person in mind who would like it – for instance, I’ll make something to appeal to gardeners, or a design specifically for a bibliophile, or a print that I think guys who cook would like, and so on. So I thought it would be helpful to break down into categories some things I have designed that could appeal to certain types of people on your gift giving list! (Plus, if you buy it this weekend while I have my buy-one-get-one-free deal going on, you can get something free for yourself in the process!) All while supporting small business this holiday season. Here are some ideas….

Gifts for the traveler…

- Let’s go exploring print
- Road Less Travelled poster
- Adventure print
- More travel related prints

Gifts for the bibliophile …

- Lost in a Good Book mini print
- Oh for a Book print
- I Love Books and Coffee print
- Other reading related prints

Gifts for the home chef …

- Eat your vegetables poster
- Whisk print
- Beat It print
- Onions quote print
- Other food related finds

Gifts for guys …

- Bacon and Eggs poster
- Brevity print
- Nosh print
- Other prints for men

Gifts for the writer…

- I Write mini print
- Dark and Stormy Night print
- Writer’s Art Supplies poster
- Other writing related prints

Gifts for the gardener …

- Herb prints
- Taste of Nature print
- Farm Fresh print
- Stop and smell the roses print
- Other outdoors related prints

And don’t forget – today through Monday (11/23 – 11/26) for Black Friday and Cyber Monday I am having a buy one get one free special in my shop! Just mention in the “message to seller” at checkout which print of equal or lesser value that you want for free.

Happy shopping and happy holidays!

Curious, too – how many of you do Black Friday/Cyber Monday type shopping?

Posted in art, creative biz, etsy, home decor, style | Leave a comment

Black Friday – Cyber Monday Preview for FlourishCafe!

Black Friday is almost here! Closely followed, of course, by Cyber Monday. I’m very excited to announce that for the entire time from Black Friday through Cyber Monday (11/23/12 – 11/26/12) my entire shop, FlourishCafe, will be buy one get one free.

So how does it work? Just purchase the print(s) you are wanting, and then in the “message to seller” section at check out, simply link to the other print(s) you would like to get for free. If you buy one print, you get one free. If you buy five prints, you get five free! The only stipulation is that the free prints much be of equal or lesser value to the purchased print.

I hope this will be useful to you in your holiday shopping! :)

I’ve also been adding some new and exciting things to my shop! (Some of which will also give you some discounts.) Here are some of the changes….

— some new designs:

— some new ways of purchasing prints! For instance, if you’re interested in purchasing more than one print, you can get a discount for getting multiple prints. Or, if you see a print in my shop that you would like in a smaller size, I can do that for no additional cost. Here are a couple examples:



(you can see various options for custom sets and resizing, here)

— and some prints which I am planning to discontinue at the end of the year, and so I want to get rid of any inventory of those prints, and they are available at a very steep discount until then. You can check out all the clearance prints, here.

So happy holidays from FlourishCafe! And if you want to get some buy-one-get-one-free prints, make sure you catch the deal this weekend, Black Friday through Cyber Monday (11/23 – 11/26). Happy shopping!

Posted in art, etsy, home decor, style | 8 Comments

My Plan & Progress! Look Good Despite the Holidays

Last week I kicked off a new challenge series: Looking Good .. Despite the Holidays. I’m very excited about it! A little while back I emailed myself a list of smaller goals and habits that I wanted to aim for to help me along the way, and I wanted to share that list with you. As you will see, there are a variety of different types of things on my list. The exercise related goals are in red, the style related goals are in blue, and the food related goals are in gray, so there is definitely a mix.

This is certainly not a one-size-fits-all kind of list, this is just my personal list. And it’s really just a list of things I need to do better about, not everything I need to do. For instance, I thought about including “put on makeup in the morning” – but I already do that, typically, so I didn’t add it to my improvement plan. So each person’s list would look different. However, having some smaller quantifiable goals I think can help achieve a more nebulous goal, like “looking better”.

And I’m feeling especially good about it now that I’m starting to see progress. As I mentioned before, this is not a weight loss advice series … however, I personally have been needing to lose some weight, and over the last few weeks of working on my list, I’ve lost 10 pounds. WooT! I’m starting to be able to fit back into some clothes I couldn’t wear before. I still have more progress I want to make (and not just on losing weight), but I feel like I’m on a much better trajectory now – and one that I can stick to, even after the holidays. Although I definitely haven’t done perfectly on my list … I think now that I’ve shared it with you all, though, I’ll feel much more accountable to it! I’m still really bad about drinking enough water. *sigh* Some of the goals we might end up talking about in more details in other posts.

So, what do you think of the idea of having a list of mini-goals?
What might be some things on your list? Things that are the same or different than mine – I’d be curious to hear either way! Leave your thoughts and comments below. :)

Posted in Challenge, fashion, food, Looking good despite the holidays, motivational, style | 15 Comments

Truth & Evidences Series: The origin of morality

So, we’re back on an every-other-week schedule for the Truth & Evidences series, currently looking at some various things that in existence, and discussing their origin – such as the origin of life, the origin of the physical universe … and next, the origin of morality.

My sister-in-law made an interesting point the other day. Some things are things that we decide or choose – for instance, whether I feel like vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Some things, on the other hand, are not decided, but rather they are discovered – for instance, that 1+1=2. No one decided that, it just IS. And things that simply ARE, and yet show order, organization, and purpose, we have to ask ourselves – what is their origin?

But asking “where did it come from?” presumes that is does exist. Does morality, in fact, exist? Basically, the question of whether morality exists is asking this: is there right and is there wrong? If even one thing exists that IS, in fact, absolutely and universally wrong, then a universal moral standard exists. And if a universal moral standard exists, then we have to ask where it came from.

We won’t be getting into every aspect of this today, but rather just beginning to think about the topic, and look at it in more detail over the next few posts in this series.

Consider this quote C. S. Lewis,

The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others. Or put it this way. If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something — some Real Morality — for them to be true about. The reason why your idea of New York can be truer or less true than mine is that New York is a real place, existing quite apart from what either of us thinks. If when each of us said ‘New York’ each means merely ‘The town I am imagining in my own head’, how could one of us have truer ideas than the other? There would be no question of truth or falsehood at all.

Is there anything that is absolutely wrong? For instance, does the statement, “racism is wrong”, actually have any meaning? Were Hitler’s actions toward the Jews wrong, or is it merely a relative question of opinion? I would argue that, yes, there is an absolute right and wrong – some standard which is universal and absolute.

The other view is that everything is relative – that there is no absolute right or wrong. One might point out “situation ethics” questions … such as “Suppose you were in a life boat with four people – you, an old man, a young woman, and young child. The lifeboat is sinking because there is only enough room for three people. What do you do?” Because some people struggle or disagree with what to do in such a situation, some conclude that there is no absolute moral standard. However, the fact that people struggle with how to handle such a situation points, rather, to the fact that they have a sense of right or wrong – that there is a standard and they are trying to determine which course of action is most in alignment with it. If there really is no right and wrong, no moral standard, then you could answer, “Just toss them all overboard, and keep the whole boat for yourself. Or better yet, keep one or two, but kill them and use them for food.” And if there is no absolute right and wrong, then no one has any right claim to such an answer is wrong any more than they could claim that a preference for vanilla is better than a preference chocolate. That is, if there is no absolute.

There are a number of things to consider on this topic. Over the next few posts in the series, we’ll be looking at different aspects of it – does a moral standard exist? Or is everything just relative? And if it DOES exist, what is its origin?

Posted in bible, truth and evidences | 2 Comments

Shabby Apple Giveaway! Vintage Inspired Dresses

I have long been a fan of Shabby Apple dresses. Their style is exactly what I love … classic vintage dress styles with a whimsical modern twist, all while keeping it modest. *swoon* So I am completely honored to be able to host a Shabby Apple giveaway .. and tickled for you to get the chance to win something from their beautiful brand.

Also, I thought this really ties in nicely with the “Looking good … despite the holidays” series I just started. What a way to kick things off, eh? (People who know me in real life know that when I get excited about something, I tend to talk very fast and enthusiastically … so I’ll probably end up writing kind of like that in this post.) Oh, and not only is this offer good for whoever wins the giveaway – but Shabby Apple is also offering a coupon that all readers of The Flourishing Abode can use this month. Yes? Oh, yes.

They have quite a range of styles – retro dresses, to lace dresses, to casual dresses – and I love how they organize them by style collections. For instance, I am in love with their Zoology collection, which is where the above dress is from … and the Mad Hatter collection? SO much my *ahem* cup of tea. (I mean, come on, I have a whole series of Wonderland prints in my shop. I love the whimsy!) And their Roamin Holiday collection very much reminds me of when we lived in Europe. *sigh* Here are a few of my favorite dresses…

Eek! I. Love. It. Plus, as I was perusing their website, I saw their handy dandy guides to fit, measurement, and body type … as well as their fast and free return policy – all of which, in my book at least, make buying clothes online SO much easier.

OK! So, on to the giveaway details…
For one winner, Shabby Apple is offering a $50 gift card to their shop.

‣‣‣ 1. To enter, visit www.ShabbyApple.com, pick out your favorite dress, then come back here and leave a comment telling what it is. (This is mandatory to be entered for the giveaway.)

You can also get additional entries in the contest with the following:

‣‣‣ 2. Tweet about this giveaway

‣‣‣ 3. Blog about this giveaway

Leave a separate comment for each entry.
Open to US addresses only, for ages 18 and older.
Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm 11/26/12

And for all my lovely readers, here is the coupon code for 10% off at Shabby Apple:
theflourishingabode10off (Good until 12/12/12)

So have fun browsing around Shabby Apple! What’s your favorite dress?

Posted in Challenge, fashion, Looking good despite the holidays, style, vintage | 92 Comments

Looking Good … despite the holidays. New challenge!

Ah, the holidays. I love this time of year. Special memories with family, seasonal good cheer, laughter, delicious food … and the post-holiday surprise of extra pounds when we step on the scale. Um, yeah, not so fond of that last part. No wonder getting in shape is such a common New Years resolution! This year, I’m hoping to keep all the good parts of the holidays, but not feel the regret in the mirror. So for the next weekly Friday challenge, happy holidays can still be healthy holidays!

This challenge is actually very personal to me. It’s not that appearance is the most important thing at all!! But over the last couple years, I’ve put on some weight. And at the same time I’ve been going through a style dilemma. And I’ve not been as active or as healthy as I wish. And I don’t like the results. So this autumn, I’ve started working out again and trying to get into some healthier habits, and finally have been starting to make some headway. WooT! But I don’t want the holidays to stop (or reverse!) my progress.

This series is *not* going to be a weight loss advice series. It is going to be about my attempts to become more healthy, and to improve my appearance in the process. I definitely am not going to be giving any medical advice! I’ll be just sharing what is (or isn’t) working for me. Some of it will have to do with getting in better shape, while some of it will have to do more with style and poise. I feel like I’m muddling through some of that right now, and I intend to share my thoughts, foibles, and even perhaps some occasional successes. But I can pretty much guarantee there will be opportunities for you to laugh at me. :)

And, right as we are getting started, I’ll have an exciting announcement on Monday for a special opportunity that I think you’ll be excited about! So stay tuned for that. :)

But in the meantime, here is one thing I’m going to try to be working on this week: posture!

Posture can have a huge (and immediate!) impact on your appearance. Even if your outfit is well put together, and your hair looks great, if you are slouching, that can make you look so different. Whereas even if you’re not perfectly put together, good posture can give your appearance a boost (don’t you always stand with great posture when you’re looking at yourself in the mirror?) – plus it is healthier for your body.

I’m fairly tall (around 5’10″ or 5’11″, plus I wear high heels), and I do like being tall. But I don’t always have very good posture. My grandmother was also very tall, and I remember her saying to me, “Don’t be ashamed of your height, stand up tall!” I remember being surprised to realize I wasn’t standing up straight – I didn’t feel like I was slouching. But as soon as I stood up straighter, I could feel it.

It wasn’t until I went to the chiropractor when I was older that I realized part of why I didn’t stand up very straight. When I was small, we were hit by a drunk driver, and it did some permanent damage to my neck, making it lean forward. My chiropractor urged me to work on standing up straighter and retraining those muscles, and not holding my head so far forward. He said that one of the biggest differences between how healthy and limber his older patients were was in what kind of posture they carried through their life.

I realized in talking to him, just how little I realized what good posture actually felt like! I found this interesting little info article thing that helps to define exactly what good posture is.

So! I need to work on better posture. Hm. I’m suddenly overwhelmed with how ironic it is that I’m writing this while slouched back on the bed.

Ahem. Excuse me. *adjusts position*

Much better. I think in addition to just trying to remind myself during the day to have good posture and build better habits, I want to work on stretching and doing more yoga/pilates to help practice good posture.

Plus, as a friend recently said to me, “The quickest way to look 10 pounds lighter is to stand with great posture.” So true.

How’s your posture? And what do you think of this overall idea for the new challenge? I’m excited about it – it will definitely give me some accountability during the holidays. Leave your thoughts and comments below! :)

Posted in Challenge, fashion, Looking good despite the holidays, motivational, style | 11 Comments

Ta-Da! Marketing: Creative Biz Challenge Finale

Well, we’ve reached the end of the 6 weeks for the Creative Business challenge! And for the finale, we’ll be covering the single most asked-about topic from your handmade biz questions: marketing.

I left it for last because one of the reasons marketing can be so difficult is because there are other things about your business that have to be in place first to be able to market more easily, and so I wanted to cover those in the first in the series. I hope you found those posts helpful. If you missed them, they lay out groundwork for how to your marketing so much smoother:

‣‣‣  #1: Your product: the base of your handmade business.
The importance of having a unique, quality and highly marketable product.

‣‣‣ #2: Your target market: who and where are they?
The importance of knowing to whom you should be marketing your products.

‣‣‣ #3 Pricing: one of the hardest parts of running a creative business.
The importance of structuring for profit before marketing.

‣‣‣ #4 Product Photography and Descriptions: your product in its best light.
The importance of letting your product market itself as much as possible.

‣‣‣ #5 Product Photography and Descriptions: Double critique week.
Additional practical tips on your product’s photos and stories.

Once you have all these things in place, marketing becomes SO much easier. And one of the reasons for this is that once these are really firmly in place, your target market will start marketing your items for you.

Positive word of mouth is typically much more effective than marketing you do yourself. Social media sites are obviously a huge part of this. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr – the list goes on and on. In general, when we talk about marketing and social media, we’re talking about how you as the shop owner are using those sites yourself. But I think the first way to look at it is in how your target market uses those sites.

This is where tips from earlier topics in this series come into play. For instance, I suggested to one shop to remove the huge watermark from the photos of their pillows, or at least to make it much less noticeable. I know that the desire is that your photos aren’t used without crediting you – but the unfortunate result is that the photos then aren’t used much at all. I sell art prints. I don’t watermark them. Yes, someone could steal them. (But I keep them at a small enough Internet-res file size that even if they did, there isn’t a whole lot they could do with it). But my prints DO get featured and shared all over the internet. I get tons of traffic from visual sharing sites (Tumblr, Pinterest, etc.) – and not because I was the one sharing my products, but because I have a product that is honed in on one specific target market, and I make it “user friendly” for that target market to share the word about my work. So, a few tips on letting your target market do the marketing for you:

1 – KNOW who your target market is and have a product that strongly appeals to them.
2 – Photograph your photos in a way that is appealing to your target market.
3 – Upload images that are a size that can’t be printed very large – but that is large enough that blogs, Pinterest, Tumblr sites, etc. can share it in an attractive way. (I recommend between 700-1000 pixels wide)
4 – If you use a watermark, make it so that it is not too distracting.
5 – Make sure there are social media sharing buttons on your site.
6 – Give occasional “call to actions” on your site, inviting people to share your site to Facebook, etc.

If you do all of this well, you’ll find that your target market will be doing a lot of your marketing for you. With all the buzz of social media, people love to find and share things that love. Let your target market do the same for your shop.

But, of course, there is the more typical marketing – the kind you do yourself. I’m going to break down this kind of marketing into two basic categories: online and offline.

Since we’re talking about running an online shop, I think online marketing is most effective, so we’re going to focus more on that one. There are four basic strategies to this that I want to point out that seem to give the best results in my experience, and then four strategies that I recommend avoiding.

So, on the four approaches I recommend:

#1 – Selling and marketing on a site that is tailored to your target market. What I mean by this is sites like Etsy, Artfire, Folksy, iPublicate, etc. If there is an e-commerce website that is already working to try and bring in YOUR target market, you can tap into that by choosing to sell your wares there. I personally find Etsy to work best for me – they are the highest traffic. Sure, there are fees, and I could do it cheaper if I built my own site – but the number of hours I would have to put in to try to bring in even a fraction of the traffic into my site makes the relatively small fees of Etsy SO much more worth it. Once you are selling on a site like Etsy, there are a number of things you can do to market your products more effectively there:
- Tag and title your items with words and phrases which your customers are likely to use. Sellers often use phrases like “OOAK” and “ACEO”, whereas a customer is probably more likely to be searching “personalized” or “miniature size”, etc. Instead of starting your title with something artistic that no one is going to be searching (like, “Somber Midnight”), begin it with the words people are more likely to be searching (like, “Chunky Black Scarf”), and include the artistic name of the item somewhere else.
- Join a treasury team. Getting on a really effective treasury team does require great photos and a time commitment, but can be a great marketing approach, especially as you’re trying to first get found.
- Follow the merchandising reports. Etsy publishes regular reports on what trends and merchandising approaches are currently very effective, which is also a reflection of what types of items Etsy itself is looking for to be able to promote. If, for instance, royal blue is huge this season, and you have an item that color, but you’ve been calling it “bright blue”, it might help to change your tags to “royal blue” instead.
- List new items regularly. To show up high in the search results, there are a wide variety of factors that you need to have in place, such as how precisely the search term the custom is using matches the terms on your listing. But one of the factors is how recently the item has been listed. Rather than constantly renewing the same items, though, I find it more effective to add new items more often. Not only does this help you in the search, but also keeps your shop fresh.

#2 – Social Media Marketing.
I’ve posted some before on using Facebook and Twitter (which you can find here), but my basic thought is to use each social networking site toward a specific purpose that it’s own unique features tend to mesh with well. Since we’ve moved, I haven’t been doing as much social media marketing as usual, but here is my general use of each site:
- Twitter: I think of it as my open-door office. Good for conversations, good place for people to talk to you. Be conversational! Use it to talk to people one-on-one. I’ve heard Twitter described as the watercooler where you talk to your co-workers – use for networking with fellow entrepreneurs. Join group conversations and Twitter events like hashtag blogging discussions, etc.
- Facebook: I think of my business facebook page as kind of a backstage pass into my business. Good for posting photos, good place for people to share your content with others. Post photos of behind the scenes work, share photos from blog posts, put up polls to let people vote for new products, etc. Good calls-to-action to ask for on facebook: feedback on new products, sharing announcements with their friends, voting in polls, answering questions to generate discussion.
- Pinterest: I think of my pinterest as my gallery – a visual display of my taste and style. Good for pictures of helpful or interesting posts, good place for people to share and have things go viral. Pin pictures related to things your customers find helpful. Pin your own posts/items, but not too often. Watch your page’s source page, or search your shop name to see what people like to pin from your shop/site.

The social media sites you choose to use, and your use of each type of social media may vary from my approach. I think the helpful thing is just to have your own game plan for each site.

#3 – Blogging or newsletters.
These two are not mutually exclusive, you can do both! Personally, I prefer blogging and personally am not a big fan of doing a newsletter, but I know it works well for others. Basically, though, the purpose of doing a blog or newsletter is to have a repeated-touch way to keep in touch with your customers and/or target market.

If you run a blog, write posts about topics that solve the problems of your target market. For instance, if you sell hair bows for kids, then your target market is moms, so write blog posts about fun family activities or healthy recipe ideas, etc. If you sell art supplies, then your target are crafters and artists, so write blog posts about projects to make, how to organize your crafts, etc. Basically, offer valuable information to your target market for free, and that will draw them in. Have clear links to your shop, do occasional posts about a new line of items in your shop, put your wares in the sidebar, etc., to convert traffic to sales. For some more info on blogging, you can check out my series on blog design.

If you do a newsletter, don’t just add people to your newsletter list, or you could get into legal trouble for spamming. Instead, use a site like MailChimp or MadMimi to get set up, and the provide a way on your shop or blog for people to subscribe. Offer an incentive to subscribe – a free printable, a free shipping coupon for your shop, etc. Basically, offer something valuable for your target market for free to encourage them to sign up. Then use each newsletter to give one clear call to action.

#4 – Advertise on targeted sites. Consider finding sites that are highly targeted to your target market, and put your ad on there. Set a limit on your advertising spending, and don’t lock into a long term commitment of payments with a site before purchasing a relatively short time. For instance, try out one month of running an ad on that blog before you buy six months. See how it goes, and if it is worth your money.

As far as the 4 strategies that I recommend you AVOID:

#1 – Running lots of big sales. There’s nothing wrong with running the occasional reasonable promotion (like a giveaway, or a free shipping special), but if you’re often running big discount sales, it’s going to undermine with value of your product and make people think your prices are too high. Generally in a handmade biz, we’re not always making enough profit on our prices for the amount of time we’re putting in anyway – but if on top of that, we’re offering half off sales every couple months, people are going to get used to and expect that and won’t want to pay full price. Make sure you’re still making profit. I know right before we moved, I was trying to move some inventory and ran some sales to try to make some extra money before packing everything up. Looking back I think it did more harm than good.

#2 – Spamming. Just don’t do it. If you wouldn’t run into someone house or business, throw your flyers up in the air and yell, “CHECK OUT MY STUFF!”, and then run out again, then don’t do that online either. Don’t add people to mailing lists they haven’t signed up for. Don’t jump into someone else’s forum discussion and interrupt it with an ad for your shop. Be a real person, not a spammer.

#3 – In-your-face promotion. This is similar to spamming, in that it annoys people, that it isn’t effective, and that it puts a bad taste in people’s mouth toward your business … but the difference is that you’re doing it in places where you’re “allowed” to promote. For instance, on your Facebook page, in your product description, in your Twitter profile, etc. The key in those cases is to still talk like a regular person – not like a shouting advertisement. If your product description are meaningless hype, like “THIS SCARF IS AMAZING!! QUALITY MATERIALS!!! LOOK GREAT WHEN YOU WEAR THIS SCARF!!” or if your Facebook posts are just constant links without specific reasons or enticements, like “Come check out my great products!!! http://myshop.com” or if your Twitter profile is just an obvious list of search terms, like “art prints typography prints modern prints kitchen art”, or thing along those lines … um, yeah, that’s what I’m talking about avoiding. Talk like a regular person. Use meaningful words. Don’t tell me “this is fabulous!!”, instead show and describe the techniques, materials and inspiration of the piece, and gently allow me to realize it is fabulous, rather than just asserting it. If you want to share a link on Facebook, let me know why I would want to check it out (and just telling me “it’s great” doesn’t count). Let me know you’re launching this new line of aprons because you think this new style of pockets will really be helpful for cooks, and then give the link. That will get me to click. Just remember to be personable, not in my face.

#4 – Shot-gun approach advertising. You’re not trying to advertise to everyone. This is why if you’re selling handmade goods, you’re going to be able to get people to pay a high price on Etsy than on Ebay … because you’re focused on the right target market on Etsy. If you pay for ads all sorts of places that aren’t really honed in on your target market, you’re going to be spending a lot of money, and even if you do get some traffic from it, it’s not really going to increase your sales, because it’s not your target market.

Ok, so we’ve covered letting your target market do the marketing, and online marketing. Very briefly, now, offline marketing.

I think the degree of importance that offline marketing has is somewhat dependent on how much you’re actually selling offline. Personally almost all of my marketing is done online because I sell almost exclusively online. Here are a couple offline things, though:

- Have business cards. I always have my business cards with me when I go out. The fact that I run my own small biz comes up sometimes, and it is definitely handy to have business cards to hand out. When I asked for you to share your marketing tips on Friday, Alyssa mentioned that you can get 250 free business cards from VistaPrint. You still do have to pay shipping, though, which is about $11. I’ve gotten them from VistaPrint before, but personally my favorite place to get business cards is UPrinting.com.

- Encourage repeat business when you mail out your orders. Include business cards, perhaps a small free gift, or free shipping coupon code to encourage them to come back, and package the item they purchased in a very that is safe, secure, and attractive.

- Wear/use your product. If you make jewelry, wear it out. If you sew purses, carry one. If you make art, hang in on your wall. And have business cards on hand when someone compliments it.

- Consider craft shows, art fairs, farmers markets, selling in boutiques, etc. If you live in an area where these types of things are available, you might find them to be a valuable asset to your business.

OK! It’s the end of the last post of the Creative Biz series. Time to move on to our last critique…

This week is Abernathy Studios, run by Yvette Norris. Here is the question she posted:

One or two particular areas I would like to learn how to improve in my biz are: I feel like my store is too much of a hodge-podge and I probably should have a main theme. I also don’t know how to promote myself other than sponsoring blogs. I currently sponsor on ShrimpSaladCircus.com but just now started. We’ll see how that goes.

Great questions! Let’s take a look at her shop:

First of all, before we jump in, I notice that Yvette has made some changes to her shop since I first checked out her shop when she asked this question a few weeks ago. She had a wider variety of products, such as hair bows and fabric key ring wristlets. It looks like she is working on consolidating her products, as she mentioned she felt like the variety felt more hodgepodge.

Ok, first of all, let’s look at some things she is doing well…

- Photography skills: Her photos are beautiful. They are clear and crisp. The lighting looks great, and all the images are in focus, have proper white balance … and are even cropped nicely on the dolls. I love how we get a really clear view of the face in the thumbnail. She clearly knows how to use a camera! And the photography style is very cohesive.

- Descriptions of the dolls: You can read the love and the joy that goes into her dolls when you read their descriptions. There is personality, warmth, and quality conveyed, all without being in-your-face. Plus she did a nice job dividing it up into sections to make it easier to read. You can’t help but love the dolls, both from the photos and form the descriptions – that is exactly what photos and descriptions should do! It would be good to have that kind of description on all the items in her shop.

Now onto good, but could be improved:

- Profile: She has conveyed a lot of personality and info in an interesting yet concise way on her about page, giving a little of her history, and the joy she puts into her dolls. It’s very well done. I might recommend doing something similar on the profile page as well, since there is not much information there, but there are many links on Etsy that lead to the profile.

Things to work on:

- Shop cohesion and product focus: I can see from her question that having a cohesive theme is something of a struggle for Yvette. And I know how that feels – I ran a couple of different shops and had several types of products before I finally figured out what my theme was. It looks like she has narrowed down somewhat, but I still have a little trouble seeing the connection of items in her shop. I think a good thing to do would be to come up with a statement of what she wants her shop to be about. For instance, mine (which I also use as a tagline) is “FlourishCafe: a place for those who love food, books and art”. That is what my shop is about. It would be good to come up with some kind of summary like that for Abernathy Studios.

Since I’m not the maker, it is hard for me to know exactly what and where Yvette would like her shop to go, so the rest of this will be speculation.

Personally, though, it looks to me from the way she talks about them in her About page, and the way she writes about them in their descriptions (as opposed to how she writes in her other listings), that her dolls are the core product to her shop. The dolls also seem to be getting more views. The natural thought to me would be to make some more dolls. Dolls with different hair color, different skin color, some with freckles, etc., to have a variety of options. Maybe even do a listing for a custom dolls, where parents or grandparents could describe their little girl and have a doll made to match her? For instance, you could have a form for customers to fill out with hair color, hair type like curly or straight, features like glasses or freckled, etc. I could see people just loving that type of thing.

However, I do notice that she only has a couple dolls listed. Perhaps making the dolls is so time consuming that it is difficult to build up an inventory? In which case, the price may need to be raised, and then other products introduced that would be quicker to make and would be at a lower price point. Maybe her shop could be a celebration of young girls’ imagination? Extra special dolls, and maybe bring back the hair bows, and incorporate other such special girl items. I can totally see parents/grandparents/aunts/etc. coming to a shop full of your beautiful dolls and some other items that celebrate little girls’ imaginations and saying to themselves, “Oh, yes, THIS is the place I want to buy a gift for my little girl.” That’s the moment you’re wanting to create with your target market. I don’t know if that is the direction you would want to go or not, but it is one idea.

Another idea would be to go with a more home decor route. As far as the birdhouses, they are super cute, but from the info I can see from the preview before I click on it (the picture and the title), there really isn’t any way to know that it is not a real birdhouse to be used outside. I would imagine that if people see that and think it is a regular outdoor-type birdhouse, then click and find out in the description that it is not, that they would be disappointed, which makes it harder to sell. I’m not as familiar with that sort of decor type item, so I don’t know as much about whether it is actually a marketable product. But if it is, and it is something she wants to keep selling, I would recommend using the photos and title to make it clear that it is decor, not an outdoor birdhouse. Maybe let the first words of the title be “Home Decor Birdhouse” or something like that, and perhaps photograph it sitting attractively on a white book shelf, or as part of a table centerpiece, so that right away people are viewing it in a different context than a regular birdhouse. But in that case it would be so obviously different from the dolls – toys and home decor. You could choose to take your shop the more home decor route – I noticed on your facebook page you seemed to have a variety of more home decor related photos there.

Another idea for what you could do, since it seems from your blog and shop that you enjoy doing a wide variety of crafts – you could look into selling your own PDF tutorials, patterns and such, maybe write a crafty e-book to sell.

Of course, the particular direction of the shop is solely up to the shop owner themselves, so it is hard for an outsider looking in to give very particular guidance, not knowing what direction Yvette would be interested in taking her shop. But the overall advice is this: come up with a phrase that describes what your shop is about, and let that guide your shop cohesiveness.

- Marketing: This is one of those cases where I think once you have a more cohesive shop that appeals more strongly to a more narrow market, they will help to market your shop for you. For instance, if you started specializing in custom-made personalized dolls, I can see people sharing and recommending that online. Or whatever particular direction your chose – like if you started focusing more solely on home decor items. I just think right now since the items are for different people, it is harder for people to say, “Oh, this shop is SO right up my alley, I want to share it!” And I think it is harder, probably, for you to know who to share it with and who to market it to, due to the different target markets for different items.

I see you have a Facebook page, and that is great. I’d recommend posting no more than once a day, no less than a couple times a week. You might consider Twitter and see how it goes for you. Also, you have a great blog that could probably help you out a lot with traffic- I think the main thing you are missing is posting a lot more often. Maybe aim to post at least once a week, and start building some steadier traffic? That could help with marketing. Since you’re doing a lot of crafty posts, have you looked into submitting any of them to CraftGawker? That could also bring in a lot of traffic. I’d also recommend putting an Etsy mini in your sidebar – you can find it under “Your Shop” -> “Promote” -> “Etsy Mini”.

I would also work on marketing within Etsy itself, starting with tags and titles. Right now a lot of your tags are taken up with “orange” “yellow” “red” “soft”, and other single word adjectives. When tagging an item, think less about describing it, and more about how someone would search for it. You can still use those words, but try using them in tags like “soft handmade doll” or “red head doll” or “toys for girls”, etc. For some good ideas on tags, start typing one of your main words (like “doll”) into the search bar and see what suggestions drop down. Those are common searches. Play around with that and see what you come up with. Use more words in your title, and move the really important words to the front. For instance, in a doll listing, doll should probably be the first or second word. You might also want to look into joining an Etsy team. If you work on some of those things, your traffic from within Etsy should increase.

Anyway, I hope this has been helpful for Yvette, and for others as well! Running your own creative biz definitely takes time and strategy, so I hope this series has been useful to help focus on some high leverage tasks to make the time you spend more effective.

What marketing tips do you find useful? Whether from this post, or something you’ve heard elsewhere! :)

Posted in Challenge, creative biz, Creative Biz Challenge, etsy | 11 Comments
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