Thursday, January 28, 2010

eBook Review: Social Media for Your Crafty Business

Social media can be an overwhelming thing, and it's hard for the small business owner to strike the right balance when promoting themselves online. I've been on Twitter for almost a year, and mostly I've just been having fun. I've connected with some really awesome like-minded crafters and have been introduced to some amazing art that I never would've discovered otherwise. I've also made some true, offline friends through the platform. But I know I could be doing more to forge connections and to grow my business.

Enter Diane Gilleland (or Sister Diane, as she's known in
the social media realm). Many of you are familiar with Diane as the creator of the fabulous CrafyPod blog and podcast and an all-around craft superstar. A few weeks ago, she offered some of her Twitter followers a free copy of her new eBook, Social Media for Your Crafty Business, in exchange for an honest review. I purchased Diane's previous eBooks about blogging and found them tremendously helpful, so I jumped at the opportunity to review the new book, knowing I still have much to learn about social media.

Social media
In her usual sincere, warm, and clear voice, Diane walks the reader through the do's and don'ts of social media, teaching you how to use these tools effectively to bring more visibility to your business.

This is a large eBook, divided into two sections, or books: Understanding Social Media and Using Social Media. In the first book, Diane tells you everything you need to know about what social media is, understanding your followers, building your network, providing value, and setting goals.

What? Set a business goal for Tweeting? Yes, and Diane explains why in a friendly, conversational tone with concrete, easy-to-follow examples.

Book Two shift focus to the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts details of using social media. How often should you update? How can you best manage your time? How do you know if it's working? How personal is too personal? Again, Diane offers clear, detailed examples that are very easy to put into practice.

What I liked best about this book is how easy Diane's tips are to put into practice. Diane is very adept at taking an overwhelming topic and distilling it in easily digestible chunks. She doesn't talk down to her reader, and she doesn't fill her books with fluff, either. Every sentence in the book has value.

I also appreciated Diane's focus on engagement, rather than broadcast, marketing. Broadcast marketing is the traditional advertising method of sending the same message to as many people as possible, whereas engagement marketing is about earning people's trust by forming genuine relationships with people and offering real value. The broadcast marketing trap is something I see many people fall into. It gets annoying really fast, and it's pretty ineffective in the long-run as most of us are by now experts at screening out such messages. Diane's book is chock-full of tips on how to avoid this trap.

The Bottom Line

Whether you've been using social media for years or are just getting started, this book is an invaluable resource for those seeking meaning and engagement.

Social Media for Your Crafty Business. 72 pages, $12.50.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Price of Handmade

Last week, a fascinating conversation about Etsy, the price of handmade, and the culture of cheap was taking place over on Crafting an MBA. Before you read this post, I strongly encourage you to go read Megan Auman's thoughtful post: Etsy and the Culture of Cheap, as well as all the comments. I know, there are a lot of them. But trust me, they're well worth the read.

All done?

You'll notice I commented on Megan's original post, so why am I writing this entry? Well, I couldn't get this topic out of my head all week, and I thought it was worth the time to craft a more thoughtful, hopefully more eloquent response to such an important topic. So, here goes.

In my comment, I may have made it sound like artists shouldn't get angry about having to defend their prices. So to be clear, I don't think we should lower our prices to appease the masses. Pricing handmade is a balancing act; you want to pay yourself a fair wage, but you also need customers to purchase your item, or you'll just have a massive amount of stock and no customers. Not the best business model. So we should be thoughtful about our pricing, and re-evaluate it every so often to ensure that we are achieving this balance. Just because we're crafters and our businesses are small doesn't mean we shouldn't be answering the 5 Ws of business like everyone else. It's important to keep asking questions like: Who am I? Why is my work valuable? What do I hope to gain by selling it to others? Who is my customer? Where will I find them? How do I get there?

While performing these periodic evaluations, we also need to be realistic. Just as not everyone can be doctors and lawyers, we can't all be the next Martha Stewart; heck, we probably can't all even quit our day jobs to be full-time crafters, as sad and unfortunate as that might be.

And yes, it's okay to get angry that our culture as a whole still doesn't value handmade, that someone who will shell out $40 for a name-brand t-shirt won't spend the same amount of money for a lovingly handcrafted item. But we need to focus our anger in the right direction. Walmart and Etsy are just small pieces of the overall puzzle. We; that is, Americans and American culture, created these marketplaces, for better or worse. It's fine to get mad that big-box retailers are perpetuating the culture of cheap, but we need to also point that finger back at ourselves. What do we need to change to make big-box retailers irrelevant? Is it possible? How can our society start dismantling this culture of cheap?

For one, we need to reteach and relearn, as a society, the value of handmade. How is this done? By reaching out. By telling our stories. When a customer asks why our prices are so high, we can calmly and kindly explain the work and care that goes into each piece. The hours spent, the quality of the materials used, the special techniques employed.

Yes, it sucks to have to tell this story again and again. Why can't people just "get" it? I think we forget that not everyone had mothers or grandmothers or aunts who crafted. Who sewed us school clothes or knit us afghans or taught us their favorite embroidery technique. When I'm at a craft fair, I can pick up an item and appreciate the time it took the artist to make. I might recognize a technique similar to one I use, or one I've seen my mom use, and I understand why the item is priced as it is. But for a lot of people who don't craft themselves and who didn't grow up surrounded by crafters, all they can see is the difference in price between that cotton tote at Target and the cotton tote at a craft fair.

Because money is personal. People, really nice people, can get awfully judgy awfully fast where their pocketbooks are concerned, especially during a recession. After all, if Connie Customer has a right to know why she's shelling out $1,000 to her mechanic, why doesn't she have the same right when she's buying handmade?

So we must keep telling the story. Only through this type of education and outreach can we start to open eyes. Start to affect change. But it will be slow. It will take time. I think many of us, myself included, become frustrated with the pace of change. This may partly be a by-product of our instant-gratification culture, but I think it's also partly anticipatory: I thought it, why can't it be true?

But just because we've managed to shift our thinking doesn't mean that others have done so, or that it will come as easily to them as it may have to us. A bitter pill to swallow, I know. Patience is definitely not a virtue of mine, and I once had a mentor tell me that life would be much easier for me if I didn't expect everyone to be at my level. So I'm learning these lessons right along with everyone else. Telling myself to be patient, to keep teaching others. 

We need to shift our thinking from the superficial to the real. What do we value? What is the real cost of our $5 morning coffees or the cute sweater at Banana Republic? What do we want, and what do we need? Where can we trim costs so we have more money to support handmade? What can we get locally? Can we trade goods or services for some of our wants, or even our needs?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this matter. Do you believe the culture of cheap is real? Do you think a societal shift toward valuing artisans and their work is unattainable? How do you balance supporting handmade and putting food on the table?

By engaging in the community and continuing to have these conversations, we can overcome the culture of cheap. It won't be easy, and it won't happen overnight, but I believe we'll get there.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I Heart All of You

Thanks to all of you lovelies, my yeti won the HandmadeMN January team challenge! You guys rock! I have now earned a month  of free advertising on the HandmadeMN blog. Yay!

Thanks also to everyone who has voted for me so far in the Poppies. I can't say enough kind words about all of you! Please know that I truly appreciate everything you do to support me and my work.

Speaking of work, I've added four new plushies to the Etsy shop. Two froglets and two giraffes. More frogs, froglets, owls, and owlets to come later this week or early next!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Poppies


I've been nominated for Poppytalk's first ever handmade awards, The Poppies! My nomination is in the Crafters category. I have some outstanding competition in this category, but I sure would appreciate your vote! Click the Crafters link above for details and to vote.

In other news, I've been sewing like a madwoman so that I can bring you a sizable shop update; frogs, froglets, owls, owlets, and giraffes. Stay tuned; I hope to have them all in the shop within a week.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Handmade Olympics

The Winter Olympics are right around the corner. Not all of us get too
excited about sports, but if you're a lover or maker of handmade, there
are several fun ways you can get involved.


First, the lovely Kristal from RikRak Studio has put together a fun event that even non-makers can participate in. She has a whopping $2,000 in prizes to give away to winners of eight different events (including a $50 Plushroom Soup gift certificate!). Head to the RikRak blog for details and to nominate your favorite shop, item, or blog in each category.

Next up, the always awesome Kristen of Plush You! and Schmancy fame has come up with an Olympic Challenge for plush makers. She's assigning all participants a particular sport, and they'll each make a plush inspired by that sport. Think your plush could take home a Gold, Silver, or Bronze medal? Click the Olympic Challenge link above for details on how to enter what is sure to be a fantastic event!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Better Late Than Never: January Goals

Goal image_small Whew! The end of 2009 was quite the whirlwind. After No Coast, I unintentionally took a whole month off from Plushroom Soup. Not okay! But I clearly needed it. As mentioned in my New Year's post, I will be working on balance for all of 2010 so I don't take anymore last-minute binge breaks from the business.

And, despite the month off, I did pretty well with my December goals. Let's recap:

  1. Kick butt at No Coast. Specifically, I hope to sell at least half
    of my inventory, and make some new connections with sponsors/vendors I
    haven't chatted up in past years. Status: complete.
    I sold 52% of my inventory to be exact, and I feel really good about that. I'd say it was the second best No Coast ever. I met so many wonderful new people, and everyone was SO excited about my zombies and yeti ornaments; both completely sold out! So, a huge thank you to all of you who came out to support me and all the other fantastic vendors!

  2. Complete all my custom Christmas orders. I received 6 custom order
    requests before November was even over, so I don't think I'll be
    accepting any more Christmas customs at No Coast this year. Status: complete.
    The zombie squirrel below is one of them.

  3. Clean up my craft room again, organize shelves, take pictures, and blog it. Status: incomplete.
    Severely so. I'm afraid No Coast prep came through my room like a tornado.

  4. Send out at least 2 more inquiry emails to retail stores/art
    gallery boutiques. (If any of you know of an awesome store/gallery in
    your city that I should contact, please let me know!) Status: complete.

    Total Accomplished: 3 / 4

What's in store for January?

  1. Turn in answers to interview questions.
    I was asked to do an interview about Plushroom Soup, crafting, and the creative process for an international magazine! This will be my very first magazine interview, and I am so excited about it. The issue will be coming out in April. I don't want to spoil any surprises, so I won't mention the magazine title until then. Sorry!

  2. Update the Etsy shop with at least 2 new items. More would be ideal.

  3. Make 3 examples of my best work to submit to the MN Textile Center. Deadline: January 28-30.
    The shop at the textile center accepts new pieces only once per year, through a juried submission process where artists drop off up to 3 samples in person during a specific timeframe. I was out of town during the particular weekend last year and was super bummed to miss the opportunity. This year I'll be ready!

  4. Clean up my craft room! I'm not even going to commit to the blogging part for this month. Just getting it clean will be a big enough accomplishment.

I feel a little guilty about some of these since they're already done, but an accomplishment is an accomplishment, right? I'd like this list to be longer (so much to do!), but I know my limits much better than I did when I first starting participating in the Goal Meetup.

Speaking of which, if you're new to the meetup, it is now being hosted by the lovely Liz over at Athena Dreams Designs so Jena can focus her energies on her new shop, Miss Modish, and the Modish blog. Many thanks to Jena for starting this wonderful group, and to Liz for keeping us going!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

5 Years

That's how long my sweetie and I have been together, as of today. It's amazing how much changes in that time, and how much stays the same. Friends, addresses, jobs, hobbies, looks; these change. What hasn't changed is how smitten I still am with this guy. I still get butterflies when he smiles at me.





Happy anniversary, love.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Hello, New Year or, Where Does the Time Go?

Happy 2010, everyone! I can't believe how quickly the time flies. I say it all the time, but it really does. Hope you all had a fabulous holiday season and are looking forward to the coming new year; I know I am! 

I could recap the year, but I think you all know what I've done and how far Plushroom Soup has come in its first year. It's been a fantastic journey so far, and I couldn't do it without all of you. Really and truly, I appreciate each and every one of you. I may not always respond to every comment on the blog, but I do read and cherish every single one. Thank you for your support and for being awesome!

I have a lot of exciting plans for the coming months, and two really big ideas that I hope to bring to fruition. Right now they're just tiny seeds, and I'll share more when they've had time to mature.

Three things I really hope to focus on in 2010 are balance, better marketing, and better blogging.

After No Coast was over, I took a completely unintended four-week break from the business. I did a lot of stuff for just me; I read many books, finished knitting a project that had been on the needles for two years (!), taught my dogs new tricks, listened to a lot of new music, had much restful quiet time, laughed with family and friends. My time away told me that I really need to find a good balance between personal crafting and business crafting throughout the year, so as not to binge-break at the end of it. 

As for marketing, I hope to introduce Plushroom Soup to a wider audience this year, meaning a larger presence online as well as selling in more retail stores.

And the blog? Well, we all know I'm not the most prolific blogger. And I still struggle with my words and how to best express them. So I hope to blog more often and make the content more meaningful for you. So here's the part that's all about you!

  • What type of posts and features would you like to see on the blog regularly?

  • Interviews with plush artists?

  • Art reviews?

  • Technique discussions and tutorials? What type?

  • More information about the person behind the business?

  • My inspirations.

  • Non-crafty things I like.

  • Wardrobe remixes.

  • Random snapshots of my daily life.

  • What would you really like to see Plushroom Soup create this year?

  • More of a specific animal? Which one?

  • New types of animals? Which ones?

  • New mythological creatures? Which ones?

  • More patterns? Of which critters?

  • A whole new product line altogether? What should it be?

  • What do you hope to never see from Plushroom Soup again?

  • Any animals or patterns I should retire?

  • Any types of blog posts or features I currently have that you think I should discontinue?

These are just a few questions to get you started. Please share any feedback you have in the comments section below. I want to hear your thoughts!