Monday, June 14, 2010

Helping the Gulf Coast, one bead/stitch/sketch at a time.

Like many of us, I'm shocked and appalled at the devastation caused by the BP oil spill in the Gulf. I've seen the photos of oil-covered birds (and regretted clicking the link because images of suffering animals never fail to reduce me to immediate tears), and heard the news reports, but until recently, I didn't really have a picture in my mind of just how far-reaching this disaster was.

I recently came across a website, If It Was My Home, which places a big gray blob, representing the size and shape of the spill as it currently exists, over one's hometown. Here's what came up when I plugged "Chicago, IL," where I live, into the website:

This really stunned me, and hit home in a way that no news report could -- it's hard to picture the sheer magnitude of this disaster when you live hundreds of miles away from the affected area. If the spill were in my city, not only would all of Chicago be buried under sticky brown goo, so would the entire sprawling suburban area, Milwaukee, a substantial chunk of Lake Michigan, most of northern Indiana, and parts of western Michigan. That is just horrifying! It seems so much more real when you're looking at it in relation to where you live.

I've felt rather helpless reading and hearing about all of this devastation, but was excited to discover a small way that I could help -- Help the Gulf Coast, a collective Etsy shop that is donating all proceeds to organizations that are working to clean up the spill. As of this writing, the shop, stocked with all sorts of donated items from Etsy sellers, has made 206 sales and donated $1,000 to Oxfam America. Not too shabby for only being in business a few weeks!

Please consider supporting this very good cause (or donating an item or two, if you're a seller). Here are a few of the items for sale:

My donated piece!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What to do when you're just not feeling it.

I have a day job. A demanding day job. A day job that, over the past five years, has demanded 80-hour weeks, untold late nights and weekends, being on call in the middle of the night (and no, I don't work in IT, deliver babies, or deal in any way with emergencies or life-or-death issues), and far too much of my mental and emotional energy.

But, it is what it is, and I'm miles away from being the subject of Etsy's Quit Your Day Job weekly feature. So, like a lot of Etsy sellers with day jobs, I've got to work with what time and energy I've got. Sometimes I rush home from the office excited to grab the beads and pliers and get to work on a new idea. Other times.... well, let's just say that I don't.

I came home from work late last night after an exhausting day that involved a fair amount of bad job-related news. After shoveling in an unhealthy convenience-food dinner, downing a glass of shiraz, and venting to my boyfriend about my day, I sat down to work on a piece I've had in my head for a few days, which I'm going to donate to the Help the Gulf Coast Etsy shop.

This turned out about as well as one might imagine -- i.e., not at all. The charms weren't hanging the way they should, and parts of the piece came out uneven and misshapen. I even got a little too aggressive with the tools and chipped some Swarovski crystals, so those got dumped straight into the trash. By that time, it was close to 11 p.m. and I practically had fallen asleep with pliers in my hands. Yet, I kept on -- I was going to finish this thing if it killed me!

Of course, I didn't finish. I decided the piece looked like crap and that I didn't have the mental wherewithal at that moment to determine the cause of the crappiness and how to make it less crappy. So I put it away... and then *I* felt like crap for not finishing.

You know what, though? I should've put that project away hours before I did. I wasn't feeling it, and continuing to work only made me more frustrated and exhausted. But, I'd seen that the Help the Gulf Coast shop's sales had exploded over the past few days, and I wanted to donate my item as soon as I could, so I ignored my usual methods of finding ways to be productive when one's day job gets in the way of being at my creative best.

Maybe you're one of those people who doesn't lose your creative brilliance when work is kicking your butt. If so, more power to you -- I'm definitely not! If you're not either, you don't need to let your shop grind to a halt during busy times. Here are some ideas for how to keep your crafty business moving along, however slowly, when work gets in the way:

Set a timer. OK, I cannot claim credit for this one; it comes from Flylady, a site that helps people keep their homes clean and organized. One of Flylady's mantras is, "You can do anything for 15 minutes." And she's right -- whether it's scrubbing the bathroom or weaving a bracelet, you can accomplish more than you think if you set the timer for a small, manageable increment of time and promise yourself to work hard, without stopping, until the timer rings. The bonus of this method is, sometimes the timer goes off and you discover you don't feel like stopping. But if you do stop, that's OK too -- you've met your goal.

Set meetable goals for nights when you've worked late. Be realistic -- if it's 10 o'clock at night and you just walked in the door, starving and exhausted, are you REALLY going to knock out 20 Etsy listings, photograph 10 new items, and create a stunning {fill-in-your-craft-here} from scratch? My boyfriend has grown accustomed to me arriving home from work and announcing, "Tonight, the things I am going to accomplish are as follows..." and then listing off no more than three small, manageable tasks that I know I can get through before falling into bed. Which leads me to my next tip:

Enlist support. If you live with someone or have a friend who can hold you accountable, this helps a lot when it comes to the noncreative parts of a craft business -- packing orders, cropping and resizing photos, or listing items, for example. I've told my boyfriend not to let me go to bed until I've finished putting together a package or Photoshopping my photos, and I count on him to gently remind me when my listing-things-on-Etsy time devolves into checking-Facebook time, obsessively-reloading-Twitter time, or randomly-screwing-around-online-for-no-good-reason time.

Do repetitive but necessary tasks, rather than creative work. After a long day at the office, I might not have the mental energy to figure out that new chainmaille weave. But, I can pre-open and pre-close the rings I'll need so that when I do start that piece, I can jump right in. This is what I should've done with my Help the Gulf Coast piece -- I could've gotten the rings opened and the wire cut, and stopped there, saving the design decisions for when I was a little fresher mentally.

If you have a day job or some other commitment on your time, how do you balance that with your craft? What do you do when you're just not feeling the creative spark?

Monday, June 7, 2010

I can't afford to buy handmade ... or, can I?

Yesterday, I vended at a small, local monthly craft fair. Due to violent storms that kept sweeping through Chicago in waves, there was nearly zero foot traffic. Most of us who regularly sell at this show all know each other, at least vaguely, so much of the day was spent wandering over to one anothers' tables, drooling over the new pretties that everyone had made in the past month, and following that with a heavy sigh and the obligatory "I really wish I could buy from you but I am sooooo broke right now -- maybe if I make some sales today."

Disappointed in my lack of sales, my inability to afford other sellers' sparkly wares, and in my fellow Chicagoans' unwillingness to leave the house in bad weather, I hunkered down with my pliers and chainmaille rings and got to work. I reminded myself that the day wasn't a total loss if I could at least get some new pieces made.

The storms finally eased a bit, and we had a few shoppers come through as the show was about to wrap up. One woman immediately made her way over to my table. She had about a decade on me and looked utterly normal on the surface, but I could tell from the black hair and something about the way she'd carried herself that she'd been goth back in the day. After spending a fair amount of time admiring my jewelry, holding various pairs of earrings up to her ears, and asking lots of questions about my process, she uttered those same words I'd been hearing all day: "I'm unemployed and I have NO money to be spending on this sort of thing -- seriously, NONE."

OK, fair enough. I was in the same boat (though I do have a day job) and I'd been hearing the same thing all day; times are tough for us all. I started to commisserate, and then she added, "but, I'm starting a business and I believe in supporting other small business owners. You can't put out to the universe that you have no money and can't support others, and then expect others to support you, right?" With that, she took a pair of earrings off my display, paid for them, and left with a smile.

Her words are still stuck in my head as I write this. Here was a woman most likely worse off than me, yet she somehow found 10 bucks to support my craft. Why were none of us vendors doing the same for each other? Is it that we really didn't have the money, or that we were choosing to spend our money elsewhere? Speaking only for myself, it was the latter.

I have gotten into the habit of checking handmade venues first when I NEED to buy something -- for example, I recently needed a get-well card for a relative and bought one on Etsy rather than picking up something generic at the CVS down the street. But for those of us, like me, who have a little room in our budgets for the occasional want, couldn't we sometimes choose to swap one want for another? Here in Chicago, $10 buys you one fancy girly martini in a nice bar, cab fare when you're too impatient to wait for a delayed bus, an ordered-in lunch at the office, entry to a club. Couldn't I pass on that drink, suck it up and wait for the bus, brown bag my lunch, or forgo a night out now and then, so that I've got a little extra cash to support another independent crafter?

I generally don't believe in "The Secret" -- positive thinking is all well and good, but I think saying that people who have cancer or are starving to death in third world countries just aren't putting out enough positive, abundant energy to the universe is a load of hooey. But I do believe in karma, what-goes-around-comes-around, do-unto-others, whatever you want to call it, to some extent. And the next time I catch myself telling another crafter that I can't afford to buy from her, I'm going to think about whether that's really true, or whether I could make a different choice so that I can.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Etsy D List team, or, is venting really the secret to more sales?!

When I first started selling on Etsy, I could tell right away that it was not just a commerce site like eBay, but a community of uniquely creative people. But I had no idea how to begin connecting with them. If you've spent any amount of time in Etsy's forums, you probably know what I mean -- those forums move FAST! Any new post you make is buried almost instantly, and posting there can feel as though you're just shouting into the void.

The solution for me has been joining teams. I'm currently a member of three very diverse Etsy teams, and I get something different and valuable from each one.

The first team I joined was the Etsy D List team, which was started by Sandy (soulstone321 on Etsy) last fall as a place where sellers new to Etsy or who just hadn't had many sales yet could gather and share tips in a no-question-is-too-stupid atmosphere. (Seriously -- you should see some of the clueless things I posted to the group when I was starting out!) It's a very helpful and noncompetitive environment -- everyone works to share tips we've heard or ways to improve our shops and increase sales. I almost never miss a new Etsy feature, forum thread seeking out submissions, or neat hack for my shop, because one of my teammates saw it and posted it for all to share.

I am pretty sure that I'm the only gothically inclined person on this team, though I have seen some skully goodness in others' shops. My aesthetic is vastly different from most of my teammates', but thankfully no one laughs at me or runs away screaming when I post to the forums or our private message board squeeing about the latest skull- or bat-infested creation I've posted. (Or if they are, they're doing so quietly where I can't see or hear them, hahahaha).

We promote one another in treasuries, tweet and Facebook (that's a verb now, right?) one another's new items, and recently ran a buy-and-replace treasury in the forums resulting in 19 sales for the team. We also have a private message board which we use, among other things, to celebrate each other's successes and vent about whatever's not going well. In doing so, we discovered a curious phenomenon. If we posted to a thread whining about slow or nonexistent sales, one of us would immediately sell something. Seriously -- this happened to me at least three times -- once within 10 minutes of me posting my whiny vent -- and I am not the only one! Are we onto the secret to Etsy success?!

Since we started the team, several members have been featured in Etsy finds and the Storque, and some have even reached that holy grail of the Front Page. Does that mean we're now too successful to be called D-listers? I don't know, but I'm so very glad that I found these ladies!

Search for the "dteam" tag on Etsy to find items by these very talented teammates of mine -- you'll find everything from crochet to felted hats and purses to jewelry to paper ephemera. If you're a new or undiscovered seller and would like to join the team, send an Etsy convo to VintageCarolina, who's in charge of new membership.

If you sell on Etsy, have you joined any teams, and what's been your experience with them? What can we as crafters do to support one another?

Here are some of my favorite items, handmade by the Etsy D List team:

Felted cat phone cozy by Fiberpuppy:

Harry the Hipster comic book by NerdJerk:

Sassy Peg Leg Pirate Necklace by SassyBelleWares: (see, I told you -- skulls!)

Isn't It Dinner Time matted print by DeborahJulian:

Class of 2010 graduation scrapbook page by PinkyCrafts:

June birthstone earrings by JulieEllynDesigns:

Shades of Silver flower necklace by TheWhirlwind:

Wine crochet-top kitchen towels by HippieChickBoutique: