Sunday, January 13, 2013

Flourish & Thrive Academy Laying the Foundation Volume 1

I’m usually the last one to admit that I cannot achieve something alone. But every now and then, something shows up in my inbox that makes me genuinely excited to ask for help. That’s how I felt when I got the email about Flourish & Thrive Academy. Have a million-dollar jewelry business, without going bankrupt, in this economy? Yes, please! Teach me how! Below is my entry for the scholarship they’re giving away, as the $495 price tag is just not in my business’s budget right now.

Where are you in your jewelry business now?

I started my chainmaille jewelry business, Do Bats Eat Cats?in August 2009 and have been pursuing it seriously for about a year and a half, when I quit my stressful day job in publishing.

Currently, I sell on Etsy, at consignment stores, on my own website, and at events, and I recently got my first wholesale account. I vended at 33 (!) events in 2012, and I am proud to say that I am profitable, though by a small amount. Everyone always tells you that it takes 3-5 years before a business stops losing money so I am amazed that I have beaten those odds in a poor economy.

What’s holding you back in your business and your life?

There are two main things that are holding me back:

1. I’m worried that I chose the wrong niche, but am not sure how to choose a different one without making pieces I hate. I make goth chainmaille jewelry — adorned with skulls, bats, spiders, creepy sea creatures, and other spooky stuff. Partly because that’s what I like, and partly because there are a LOT of chainmaillers out there, but I didn’t see anyone who was already making pieces like that. 

spider necklace
I LOVE making big gothic over-the-top pieces like this necklace....

While I have plenty of admirers, it seems that people who like goth jewelry are starving creatives who don’t have the income to afford it. I also have found that my goth pieces will get me rejected from larger, higher-end shows and stores because organizers think I’m “too weird.” In response, I started a simple line of pieces, which have sold pretty well — but they’re not terribly different from what every other mailler is doing out there, plus I hate them! I am not sure where to go with this. Do I stay true to niche and make unique pieces that appeal to me, or do I sell out and make pieces that others will buy but do not feel AT ALL like “me” or reflect my point of view as a designer?

.... but most of my customers would rather buy something simple like these earrings.

2. I have a large mortgage. Most decisions I make, in business and in life, revolve around one question: “Will this help me make the mortgage payment?” And if the answer is no, I don’t do it. This severely curtails my ability to take risks and invest in my business. I have a hard time thinking about spending the $495 for Flourish and Thrive, though I know it would be good for me, because I might need that $495 to pay the mortgage if my sales are low (which, in January, they typically are). 

What is your vision for your business? Where do you want to go? What are your biggest dreams and desires?

I want to be able to support myself doing ONLY work I love. The freelance work I’m doing to make ends meet gets in the way of working on my business because it is a sure thing (work X hours, make $Y) while my business obviously is not (work X hours, possibly make $0!). So it's hard to convince myself to step away from the paying work to build my business sometimes.

I don’t need to be famous, or to be worn by all the hot A-list celebrities. (Honestly, I probably couldn’t even tell you who they are!). But I do want to be comfortable, able to invest in my business without putting my mortgage or bills in jeopardy, able to take time for self-care without worrying that if I stop working, my business will tank. And, I’d like to be able to give back to other crafters, and support their businesses and dreams, so that we can all be successful.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NOLA state of mind

Last month, Boyfriend and I took a trip down to New Orleans. We expected to eat lots, drink lots, and chill the hell out, and NOLA did not disappoint on any of those fronts. But we weren't expecting to fall in love with this city in ways I'm still finding hard to quantify.

Perhaps it was the warm, muggy weather that inspires you to move just a little more slowly than you might back home....

Note my utter lack of coat, hat, gloves, or other blustery-weather attire, all of which was still required back home in Chicago despite it being late April!

... or the art and music that felt as though it was exploding at us everywhere we turned....

... or the cats who came out to play (and eat food that'd been left out for them by other visitors) in Jackson Square when it began to get dark....

... or the parades that came out of nowhere, celebrating some great or mundane aspect of life....

Each of these little parades we stumbed across was escorted by cops who'd blocked off the street in question. I can only imagine the reaction I'd get if I rang up Chicago's finest and asked for permission to do the same. I'm certain the response would not be printable!

... or the fact that no one gave a damn if you walked down the street with open booze, as long as you weren't causing a disturbance or hurting anyone else...

... or the shops, venues, and just plain atmosphere that warmed this goth girl's cold, black heart.

All I know is, I left feeling as though I'd found my creativity and inspiration again, and I can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

When crafts attack....

So I posted the other day about the Attack of the Craft iPad giveaway, but neglected to mention just what Attack of the Craft is and why it is awesome!

It will surprise no one when I say that my work doesn't exactly fit into the mainstream of "normal" crafting, whatever that means. So of course the "normal" craft forums on Etsy and elsewhere also aren't a good fit for me! I would always get a little nervous posting in the Etsy forums because my skulls and bats would sometimes freak people out, but I certainly wasn't going to change my avatar just to avoid frightening away other posters!

Not the case with these folks, who bill themselves as the "crafting misfits." I feel like my gothy goodness fits right in. In addition to crafty and promo talk, you might find discussions of vegan recipes, music, books, or how to dye your hair in Crayola brights. I'm not as active on the forum as I'd like to be, but I am working on it!

They also have their own handmade shop filled with team members' work. And, Etsy sellers: they have super-reasonable ad rates! I've run a rotating banner ad a couple of times on their site and it got me a lot of traffic (and some sales too. :) )

Check them out!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Attack of the Craft Etsy team iPad giveaway!

The fine folks over at the Attack of the Craft Etsy team are running a "Simon Says" contest to give away an iPad. I know these guys, they are a cool and unique bunch of goth/punk/alternative crafters, and this is definitely NOT a scam, unlike those Facebook links that sometimes pop up on your feed.

Grand prize is a first-generation iPad or $300 Visa gift card... honestly, I'm not sure which one I'd choose. I don't yet have an iPad and I've been drooling over them for a while, but there is definitely something to be said for cold hard cash. :)

Here are the rules, copied from this thread on the team forum: Note: You do NOT have to be a member of this team to participate!

"Contest Starts: Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Contest Ends: Saturday, May 21, 2011

Objective: We are going to play our own version of Simon Says. There will be 40 daily "tasks" assigned over 40 days. You must complete 30 of these 40 "tasks" to be entered in the random drawing for the iPad. This means you can skip 10 tasks, or come in a little late on the contest and still be able to participate. The drawing will be RANDOM, so anyone who has completed 30 tasks can win, not just the most "motivated" player

How does it work: Every day, we will post a new thread to this forum. This thread will have your "Simon Says Task" description. You will have 24 hours to complete the task, and post whatever "proof" is required for task completion. You will receive ONE point for each task you complete.

What kinds of tasks will be assigned: Anything and everything. Some photo scavenger hunts, some creative challenges, promotions for shops and AotC pimping, and lots of sillyness. If you're not a *crafter* you can still participate, as we will have no more than TEN craft related tasks. However, this means you have to complete ALL 30 remaining non-crafty tasks. But really, take a chance, try some crafting. You might surprise yourself.

How to win: There will be 40 tasks assigned. Every entrant who completes 30 tasks (receiving 30 points) will be added to the random drawing for the grand prize.

Grand Prize:

Your very own iPad (16 gig wifi FIRST GENERATION) or $300 Visa Gift Card, your choice.
Free month of banner advertising on AotC
500 pm limit and the ability to change your own title"

Good luck, everyone!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On niches, rejections, and asking the question

As a goth crafter, I am pretty accustomed to people not understanding or liking my aesthetic. It's a particular taste, it has a definite niche, and I'm cool with that. Skulls, spiderwebs, and bats are not everyone's cup of tea and there's not a whole lot I can do to change that.

eeeeek! A spider!

That being said, staying true to my style sometimes results in a "which of these things is not like the other?" situation at craft fairs. I can't help but stand out like a black thumb among other crafters whose work looks more like what Etsy regularly champions on its front page. Depending on what neighborhood the show's in and what demographic it serves, being different can be a plus, or a HUGE minus. I had more than a few customers giggling or snarking at my Halloween-tastic displays at a recent show (and, the show was in October, for heaven's sake! I mean, sure, I follow Ministry's edict that "every day is Halloween," but aren't spooky things the norm at this time of year?).

And, I was positive that my aesthetic was the reason for the big fat no I got last week when I applied to the Renegade Craft Fair for the first time. I've shopped at the Renegade shows -- which are huge, filled with amazing handmade wares, and lucrative for sellers -- on many occasions and have never seen much that resembles my work. That's also true of the brick-and-mortar store they have here in Chicago. I've always sort of viewed the Renegade folks in the same way I viewed the cool crowd in high school -- something I'd love to be a part of, but probably would never attain because I don't really fit in with them.

So, I figured that getting accepted to their show was a long shot in the extreme, but applied anyway. When the rejection email came, I believe my direct quote (edited for a family audience) was, "yep, I got rejected -- and in other news, the pope's Catholic and bears poop in the woods!"

My fellow Chicago crafter Kelli of Greenie Bean Recycle recently wrote a great blog post about getting up the nerve to email the Renegade coordinators to ask why she was rejected from their upcoming holiday show, and getting some useful feedback from them. To be honest, it had never occurred to me to do the same. I assumed I knew -- they obviously were creeped out by the freak with the skulls and bats! After reading her post, though, I decided to suck it up and write a very polite email, asking them what I might do differently to improve my chances in future years. I figured that, if nothing else, they might tell me "sorry, we don't like goth stuff" and then I'd know not to spend my energy (and $25 nonrefundable application fee) applying in future years.

I heard back from them today, and to my utter shock, I was completely wrong about why I didn't get in. Here's a recap of what they said:

1. Their main reason is that jewelry is their most saturated category (which is also true on Etsy and pretty much everywhere), and they strictly cap the number of jewelry sellers. They said I might do better at their September show where there are more vendor spaces.

2. I should consider using less of certain materials that they felt were a little too mainstream. The materials they objected to are not items I HAVE to use. I can find alternatives and perhaps work up a new line that does not depend on them.

Interestingly, the materials they had issues with were not in the photos I submitted with my application, though they are all over my shop. This is really valuable information -- they will not just look at whatever photos you've cherrypicked for your application. If they ask for your shop URL, they will scrutinize your whole shop. In retrospect, I might've temporarily deactivated the handful of pieces that I'm not terribly happy with but am leaving in my shop until after the holidays in hopes they'll find the right buyer-- this line of bracelets, for example. But, I wouldn't deactivate too much, because they noted that my shop was well-stocked. Good to know that they look for that too!

3. Here's the point that practically made me fall over in shock: "I think style-wise that your work is pretty close to our vision of 'renegade crafts'.... I think you're doing really cool things with chains and I like the updated-victorian/gothic vibe!" What? You mean they really weren't pointing and laughing at the freaky black-clad girl and her weird crafts? ;)

So, lessons learned:

*Never assume -- it makes an ass... oh, you know the rest. :)

* Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions. The people who run these big shows are people too, not gods. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else, and I believe most of them do genuinely want to see us succeed. (And if you encounter one who doesn't, and sends you a snarkly response in return, is that someone you really want to do business with?)

* The crafting community isn't high school, though sometimes it might feel that way, and there's room for a lot of unique styles and aesthetics. I need to let go of the assumption that every rejection, Etsy dry spell, or unsuccessful show happens because I'm in the wrong niche.

I really encourage anyone who's been rejected from a craft show to consider asking the organizers why. You might be really surprised by the answer -- I was!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fall craft show schedule

... also known as, to steal a pet phrase of my father's, "watch as I attempt to cram 5 lbs. of you-know-what into a 2-lb. bag!" Oh well, 'tis the season for spooky gothy sparkly stuff. I can sleep when it's January, right? :)

If you're in the Chicago area, here are some places where you'll find my skull-tacular goodies this fall:

*The Gothic Craft Fairy, Sunday, Oct. 3, from 3-8 p.m. at the 1901 Gallery, 1901 W. Belmont (entrance on Wolcott), Chicago

* Handmade Market, Saturday, Oct. 9, from noon-4 p.m. at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago

* Urban Folk Circuit, Saturday, Oct. 23 form 5-10 p.m. at Cole's Bar, 2338 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago

* Handmade Market, Saturday, Nov. 13, from noon-4 p.m. at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago

* DIY Trunk Show, Saturday, Nov. 20, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Pulaski Park, 1419 W. Blackhawk, Chicago

* Handmade Market, Saturday, Dec. 11, from noon-4 p.m. at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago

And, possibly more to come.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Things I learned from my first outdoor craft show.

This past weekend, I vended at an outdoor show for the first time. I've done craft fairs before, but setting up in a field presents many challenges that I didn't have to deal with in an art gallery or indoor communal space. As I suspected, I learned a lot about what works, what doesn't, and what's just plain out of your control when you're showing your work outside!

Your displays probably aren't secure enough. Most outdoor vendors know the importance of staking and weighting down tents so that they don't become airborne in a strong wind (and if you didn't know that -- yes, it really is THAT important.) I'd heard horror stories about flying tents taking out a fellow crafter's entire stock, so was extra paranoid about securing mine, and the tent did just fine. The added bonus of a good secure tent is, you can tie things like easels and table legs to the tent's supports for extra stability.

It was the other parts of my display, which I really wasn't worried about, that succumbed to Mother Nature. (more on that in a bit.) Free hint: If the back supports of your necklace busts are cardboard, they will turn to mush if heavily rained upon. Duh. That didn't even occur to me, and those are now in the trash and will need to be replaced with something more impervious. If you can easily knock a display over with your hand, the wind can knock it over too. Are you planning on reusing your empty boxes by draping them in some nice fabric and placing them on your table to create height? Don't leave them empty -- a bad wind will send them flying even if they're duct taped to your table. I stuck a couple of hardcover books in each one and that helped weigh them down against wind.

These necklace busts are now in the trash -- their cardboard back supports were no match for heavy rain.

Next time I'm going to vend outdoors, I'll take my displays outside on a windy day, throw some earrings or necklaces on them, and see how they behave. I don't want any more surprises!

But even if you do everything right, the weather may still defeat you. As the show was opening Sunday, a freak storm with strong winds blew up out of nowhere. I was horrified when I actually saw one of my weights -- a big bin full of kitty litter -- become airborne. I'm sorry, but if the wind is strong enough to take out something that heavy, nothing short of Super Glue is going to hold down little sparkly pieces of jewelry! The most terrifying moment came when we were struggling to take down the tent walls -- yes, they kept out the rain, but made the wind worse -- and an entire folding table upended, spewing earrings and bracelets all over the ground.

I'm still working on solutions for serious storms going forward -- if you've got a great tip for windproof jewelry displays that also create height and visual interest, I'd love to hear it! At this point, the best advice I can offer is to have a well-staffed table. I had a friend helping me but we needed more than two people to hold everything down during the worst of the storm. I really regretted sending my boyfriend home after he was finished helping me haul everything -- a third pair of hands probably would've saved the table when my friend and I were racing to get the walls down.

Be flexible regarding your setup. I did a test run, in my living room, of my tent's layout, finally settling on an L-shaped configuration of tables and easels with the entrance at the front and me at the back. When I arrived at the park at oh-my-god-o'clock Saturday morning to set up, I was shown to my spot and the person in charge casually mentioned, "oh, and people will be coming into your tent from both sides so you'll want people to be able to pass through the tent." Uh, OK then! So, on the fly I rearranged my setup so that the tables were on either side of the tent, and people could walk right through. It worked out OK, but next time I'll arrive armed with a few different setup ideas just in case of unexpected layout requirements.

Yep, there's the kitty litter bin that went airborne. Also, midway through Saturday I realized that everyone was entering only on one side of the tent and no one really had felt the need to pass through. So I moved my sign to where people could actually see it.

If the weather turns really bad, you also may need to redefine your idea of a functional display. I finally committed the cardinal sin of laying some necklaces flat on the table, and just dealt with it. Did it look bad? Kind of.... but not as bad as having broken necklaces because the easel they're hanging on keeps blowing over despite being pounded into the ground and tied down in three places.

My lovely necklace display, which had to be scrapped when the rain and wind hit Sunday.

Bring more rope, tape, and tools than you think you'll need. At the last minute, I ran out and grabbed a roll of duct tape and some of those big black plastic binder clips like they have at the office. I wasn't sure if I'd need them, but decided to have them on hand just in case. And I wouldn't have made it through the weekend without those two items. The binder clips were great for attaching displays to my table and clipping down my blowing tablecloths... and, well, duct tape solves everything, right?

Sunblock, sunblock, sunblock. As a pale-faced goth who truly prefers to stay pasty white, I am religious about slathering myself with SPF 1,000,000 whenever outside. But it's funny how quickly thoughts of protecting one's skin go out the window when one is more concerned about holding up one's displays and accounting for all the jewelry that just spewed onto the ground in a big old tangle. Yeah, I'm rocking an awesome sunburn on my back right now, since the sun came out and I apparently was sweating off my sunblock faster than I could reapply it.

You can't control some things. The weather, for example. Or, whether other sellers don't weight and stake their tents, which keep falling over into your space. (though, there was one crafter who brought extra weights for those who needed them -- not a bad idea if you happen to have extras lying around!) Or, whether almost every other vendor at the show elects not to ride out the storm, packs up, and leaves. I chose to stay, and I'm glad I did. The day turned sunny, and shoppers started trickling in. But they were expecting a lot more vendors than the six of us who decided to stick it out until the end, and every one of them told me, "I thought this show would be bigger." That's out of my control, though, and all I can do is hope that, next year, Mother Nature is a little kinder to us.

Got a great craft show horror story or lesson learned? I'd love to hear it!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Just a quick note for the Chicagoans...

I'm excited to announce that I'll be doing my first outdoor craft show this coming weekend -- the Crafters Round-up! The show runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7 and Sunday, Aug. 8 in Chase Park, Ashland and Leland (a block or so south of Lawrence) on Chicago's north side. If you're in the area, stop by and check out the work of lots of talented local crafters!

It's been.... an "adventure" getting ready for this show. I've done shows before, but small indoor ones where you get one table, not anything where you need to fill a 10 x 10 tent attractively. I took all of last week off from the Day Job and got to work tackling my HUGE to-do list -- which, I'm proud to say, did actually get done!

Also, I had to finally break down and buy a tent (which is a good thing -- I've skipped applying for other summertime shows because I didn't have a tent yet). My ever-supportive boyfriend and I discovered, during our trial run setting it up, that "EZ-Up" is definitely a misnomer! hahahaha. Living in a small condo, we had no space to set it up, so we hauled the thing to the elementary school parking lot across the street from us and set the thing up there, amid much cursing and squinting at directions. We got some VERY strange looks from the neighborhood dog walkers!

I thought about adding some of my best craft show success tips here, but as of today, I don't know that I've got anything new to say. Stand up and smile in your booth -- check! Create levels with your merch instead of laying it all flat on your table -- check! Weigh down your tent -- check! So, instead of rehashing all of that, I'm going to tell you all, after I've survived this show, what I learned and what I'd do differently next time. I have a feeling I'm going to learn a LOT. And, yes, there will be pictures!

Just keep your fingers crossed for me that we don't have another one of our violent storms with sideways downpours and 80-mph winds, yes?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Even during Christmas in July, every day is Halloween....

In the Do Bats Eat Cats household, the Halloween decorations stay up all year 'round. (I know you're all shocked to hear that!) The spiderweb candelabra and skull votive holder are still adorning my mantel, there's a large fake spider seated atop our stereo speakers, and I'm sure I've frightened a neighbor or two with my skull and crossbones welcome mat. Muahahahahaha!!

It may be July, but some of my fellow Etsy sellers are also putting out their pumpkins, witches, and skulls a little bit early this year.

Today's featured Christmas in July Etsy seller, PinkyCrafts, handmakes adorable scrapbook pages, party decorations, gift tags, die cuts, and other goodies for life's big and little celebrations. I checked out her shop today and was excited to see these cute and spooky Halloween-themed scrapbook pages:

Halloween pumpkin jack o'lantern scrapbook page

"Boo!" Halloween pumpkins scrapbook page

Aside from Halloween, one of my favorite things in the world is Alice in Wonderland, so I fell in love with these adorable "Eat Me" cupcake toppers. I kind of want to pick some up and stick them atop some cupcakes to bring to work -- come on, don't tell me there isn't someone in YOUR office who richly deserves that sentiment?! ;)

"Eat Me" cupcake toppers

All orders placed between July 13th and July 25th in PinkyCrafts' shop will receive FREE SHIPPING! In addition, all orders over $100 will receive an additional 20% off! All refunds will be given via PayPal (Valid only on in-stock items; does not apply to Gift Certificates).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Have a sassy Christmas in July!

Yep.... still hot as hell out there. PSA for the day: if you're going to spend an afternoon sitting outside in the shade with friends, beating the heat with icy cold vodka pink lemonades, for god's sake get some water in you too. Oof!

Speaking of girly drinks, today's featured Christmas in July Etsyseller is my fellow jewelry maker SassyBelleWares! Sassy Steph creates fun and whimsical pieces that pop with color. She and I enjoy many of the same things, such as skulls, sparkly things so bright you can see them from space, and, of course, cocktails.

For the Etsywide Christmas in July promo, Sassy Steph is offering 20% off all items -- enter code "CIJ20" in the message to seller section at checkout & the discount will be refunded via PayPal. Offer valid 7/15-7/31 & cannot be combined with other offers.

Here are a few of my favorites from her shop:

Fireworks necklace

Wino wine necklace

Skull and crossbones pirate link bracelet

Check back tomorrow for more Christmas in July goodies!