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Competition, Community, and Respect

leather raven feather ponytail holder or shawl pin

Had a rough day today, contemplating an unsavory situation. As luck would have it, I came across these words that I wrote last year. It was a timely reminder of where to focus my energy. While the lame situation still needs resolution, I’d like to pause from my pissed-offedness for just a moment, to acknowledge the good:

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy griping about those unethical competitors who copy, undercut, and just generally slither around the internet. It’s true – they are many. But perhaps I haven’t spent enough time acknowledging the friendly and ethical competitors who have treated me kindly. There are many of you as well. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀                                                                                      ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to know countless artists who’ve helped me to hone my craft and to learn the ropes as a vendor.

Despite the fact that we’re “competing” in a similar market, you’ve treated me with integrity and respect, helping me to learn and encouraging me to grow. We’ve empathized with each others’ struggles, and celebrated successes.

These positive professional relationships have endured time and trends, and many have grown into genuine friendships that enrich my life. Thank you for this! It proves that “competitor” doesn’t have to be a dirty word. We all choose how we conduct our businesses (and ourselves) and we CAN lift each other up without detracting from our own goals. In this way, we all thrive.
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So yeah, the jackasses are out there – but so are the good ones!

I’m grateful for those of you who choose to take the high road (even when it’s not the easy road) and I promise to treat you – and your work – with the same integrity and courtesy that you’ve shown me.

Raven feather ponytail holder © 2010 Andrea Adams/ Beadmask

photo courtesy of Priya Alahan Photography

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Dont trust people with neat yards…

the side yard at the House of Joy Bordello Boutique

This morning as I was musing about what inspires me, my thoughts turned (once again) to Jerome, AZ. Obviously, I love that town — it has such spectacular vistas, interesting buildings, colorful history and quirky galleries. When I visited last February, I was very drawn to one place in particular, the House of Joy. The owners have created a whimsical assemblage of curiosities and “junque” along the balconies, patio and yard (not to mention the amazing collection of vintage goodies that they have in their gallery! Words fail, just go). It is beautiful and bizarre, and a perfect example of the kind of found art that I envision in and around that dream house that I keep yammering about.

front patio at the House of Joy in Jerome AZ

When we passed back through in November, I had to show this place to Robb. As we giggled and wondered about the various piles of “trash” and treasure, an older gentleman emerged from the house. R took that opportunity to ask the man about his yard. His reply was so awesome that I had to write it down. I wasn’t able to do so straight away, so I’ll give you the disclaimer that this is paraphrased (and Mr. Dempsey, if you ever read this, I hope you will forgive me if I’ve bungled your words) hopefully I managed to capture the essence:

meeting this man was one of the highlights of our trip

“I don’t trust people who keep neat yards. You’ve gotta have some individuality. People live in these places where they want to tell you how tall your house can be and what colors you’re supposed to paint it, and it makes them small. When you live in a place where everything looks the same, everyone starts to think the same too. Soon, you just stop living cause you’re so busy worrying about who has a bigger car or a better house.”

He talked at length about the value of individuality, and also about the importance of knowing your heritage. He is proud to be of Mexican descent, which is one of the reasons that he has an ornate shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe on his front balcony. He gave us a wry smile and told us that he wanted “to be sure to remind everyone who was here first”.

Lady Guadalupe presides over the balcony

We chatted with Mr. Dempsey for some time while he gave us an impromptu tour of the town. I was honored when he went back to his yard and brought me out a handful of crystals and iron slag from the old mine. I used them to build a tiny shrine on my desk, to remind me that one day, I’ll have crazy art gardens too 🙂

He’s an excellent storyteller and a pretty deep guy; we felt very fortunate to have bumped into him.  So when I thought about an inspirational subject to write about today, I remembered this fabulous yard and its owner. What a character — I can only hope to be that cool when I grow up!

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My top 7 tips for selling on Etsy

Over the years, many people have asked me for tips for selling online. While I’m certainly not an expert, I have learned a few things along the way. I made this list because I kept hearing the same questions — hopefully my experience (and many, many mistakes) will be helpful to my friends who are just starting out.

For a bit of background info, I started selling my work at west coast art shows and festivals in the late 80’s. This enabled me to hone my skills and style, while learning some basic sales skills in a real world environment (no small feat for an introvert). My online selling adventures began on eBay in the mid 90’s. For many years that enabled me to be a stay at home mom while still earning a livable wage. That was before they hiked their fees and changed their policies to be a bit less seller-friendly.  These days, I find that I prefer selling on Etsy. To be fair, I haven’t sold on eBay in a few years – so I may want to check back and see what it’s like these days – but generally speaking, I find that Etsy’s fees are more affordable and it has a stronger, warmer sense of community. In addition, Etsy customers seem to be more appreciative of hand crafted work, as opposed to many of the eBay bidders who seem to be willing to overlook quality in favor of a “bargain”.

YMMV, and depending on your product and/or personality you may find that you prefer selling on one of the many other venues, such as eBay, Artfire, Dawanda. Some of these tips will probably translate to those venues, but they’re primarily geared toward Etsy, since that’s the venue that I like and am most familiar with right now. So without further ado, here are my top 7 tips for selling on Etsy:

1) Learn to take great photos: I don’t feel that my photos are “great” yet — but I’ve definitely improved and I can see a direct result in my sales. Whenever possible, use all 5 photo spots, and try to show the piece from all angles. If you can, include some close ups/detail shots as well. People can’t touch your work online, so you have to bring those details to them through the images that you provide. Simply put, you should always strive to provide excellent pictures. If you don’t know how to take excellent photos, it’s well worth the effort to learn. Here are a few links that I’m finding helpful in my quest to build better photography skills:

Small Object Photography

A great post about using a light box

Etsy’s Guide to Photography

The Beginner’s Guide to Product Photography

(I purchased that last one & felt that it was well worth the price)You could also just skip the above & enlist the help of a talented photographer friend, but I feel that there’s value in knowing how to do things by and for yourself.

2) List often: After my first attempt to sell my artwork on Etsy, I almost gave up. I listed 6-8 items all on the same day and then waited for them to sell, wondering why nobody seemed to notice them. I sold maybe one or two items over a four month period, and it was so disappointing that I didn’t try again until nearly 2 years later.

My second time around, I spaced out my listings and listed one or two items a day over the course of a couple weeks. I added new items to my shop as often as possible, and if I didn’t have anything new, I “renewed” older listings so that I would always have something coming up in that first page or so when people search for the types of products that I sell. It only costs 20¢ to renew an item on Etsy, which is cheap advertising IMO. I saw a tremendous difference when I did it that way. Since then, I’ve made an effort to list as often as I can – because I see a huge difference in my sales when I am listing frequently, compared to times when I am not able to list as often.

3) Use clear and detailed titles and descriptions: Too often, I see people trying to get artsy with their titles, without offering enough specific information to make viewers want to click. For example, a title like “Blue Journey” is just fine for an item that’s displayed in a local coffee house where the customer can touch the item and see the connection between the product and its title – but it just doesn’t play as well in an online search. It doesn’t tell the viewer what the product is or does (“Blue Journey” could just as easily be the name of a shirt, a painting, or a pitcher) and customers are probably unlikely to search for abstract titles like this. Instead, think of keywords that shoppers might use if they were trying to find products like yours, and work those into your title. You don’t have to forego your creative title completely, but try working in some concrete information that will help potential buyers to find your products. For example, “Blue Journey – A Hand Painted Silk Tank Dress in Aqua and Cobalt – Size Small” gives the reader far more detail, and is more likely to be picked up in a search.

When it comes to item descriptions, it’s definitely a good idea to try and be succinct – but make sure that you’re including all of the pertinent details! As I said earlier, it’s important to remember that the viewer cannot hold or see your wares – you have to bring the details to them through excellent pictures and detailed descriptions. Don’t assume that the viewer is already knowledgeable about your product. Educate them a bit by including a brief background on how it’s made as well as the materials that you use. Other important details include size, fit (if applicable) color and texture. You might also want to mention if it is a one of a kind item, or something that you can re-create in other colors and sizes.

4) Follow YOUR heart: It might be tempting to find another seller whose style or success you admire, and simply try to imitate them; but really, such behavior is quite hurtful. Knock offs often flood the market and undercut the original artist; but even if copying another seller doesn’t hurt their business, it will hurt you. Why? Because stifling your own individuality and creative expression in order to mimic someone else simply isn’t conducive to inspiration, joy, or success.  And while those terms may sound flighty and flowery, they do hold value — after all, most artists create because they love to. Because they need to. It’s an important part of how we experience and process life. You can’t get to that if you don’t trust in your own creative voice.

Unfortunately, there is no blueprint, no cookie cutter method for success with creative work — so there’s no point in trying to follow in someone else’s footsteps. It is helpful to notice how others market and promote, but reproducing another artist’s product line is unlikely to reproduce their success. You just have to tune in to your own muse, and have the courage to forge your own creative path. I know that sounds esoteric and vague, but please trust me on this one. Respect yourself enough to be yourself — it will shine through in your work, and in turn, in the way that others respond to your work.

5) Check out the competition: I know, I know – I just told you to tune into yourself, and now I’m telling you to look around at everyone else. It’s not as contradictory as it sounds. It’s a good idea to look up from your workbench now and again to see what else is going on in your little niche. Pay attention to listings for similar items. Be respectful of course, but try to notice what’s happening in your field.  I find this helpful on several levels…

One is that it give me a reality check on my pricing. Just to be clear, I follow a set pricing formula that ensures that I’m getting paid for my time and covering my business expenses. Many people who sell online are hobbyists or just looking for side income, so I’d never just blindly follow another’s pricing. Still, I do like to make sure that my prices are not unusually high (or low!) compared to similar items of comparable quality.

Studying the market can be a great way to spot trends (is that an up-and-coming style, or a niche that is quickly becoming over saturated?) and it also helps me to notice the details that can separate me from the herd. For example, a lot of mask makers use pre-fab beadwork that can be bought by the yard. While it’s pretty enough at first glance, that stuff is mass produced in third world countries using inferior quality beads and questionable labor practices.  It’s not my intent to be rude or put down their work; but I can use these differences to talk mine up! For example, I could make a point to mention the rarity and quality of the beads that I use, along with the fact that I hand sew all of my original bead embellishments. Some customers won’t care about details such as this, but many do. That being said, studying the competition can help you to illuminate the details that set your work apart.

6) Join a street team: I joined a local Etsy street team for Seattle artists, and it’s been a huge help. From what I hear, this group is bigger and more active than most — but I would still recommend joining your local group even if it is small. It can be so empowering to network with supportive people in your area — my group has taught me about local shows, credit card processing companies, community events, SEO tricks and much, much more. I also belong to a street team for Fantasy artists, which is very fun.

While I connect with the EtsyRAIN people on general topics and local events, the Fae Team people share similar inspirations and creative focus. I’ve never been a “joiner” but I feel like I get a lot out of these communities. These groups inspire and inform me in ways that my friends and family cannot, and that comradery really helps to keep me focused and motivated about my business.  Self employment can be very isolating, and it really helps to connect with like- minded people with similar goals. The teams are free, and most let you participate as little or as much as you want. I’ve met some really nice people and learned SO much! You can look over the list of teams here: www.etsy.com/teams

7) Etsy Newsletters: I signed up to receive email updates for a couple of the Etsy blogs that are aimed at sellers. I don’t always have time to read or implement everything they send, but they often have great advice on topics like product photography, SEO optimization, goal setting, marketing and more. They have several blogs to choose from, depending on your interests. Personally I would recommend “Etsy Success” and “Etsy Finds”. You can find more here: www.etsy.com/mailinglist/

So there’s my list. It’s not an exhaustive resource, but hopefully it’s a good starting point. My learning curve has been pretty steep, so I’d love it if this info can make it a little easier for others. If you find something here that is useful, I’d love to hear about it. By the same token, I’m still learning and striving to improve, so if you have any great advice to share about Etsy, I would love to hear it!