My adventures on the information superhighway...

This blog chronicles the activities of my Etsy and Artfire shops, and my adventures as both a jewelry designer and information specialist.

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

The state of the field - some musings on selling handmade online.

Last week, Etsy drastically changed its feedback system.  Very few people had any idea that this was going to happen as most account holders rarely visit the forums.  Since the change, the forums have been peppered with threads expressing confusion and outrage. Personally, I'm none to happy about the changes, but I've decided to wait it out a bit before making any sort of decision regarding my Etsy store.  Change is always difficult, but even though I fear that this time it's not simply a matter of adjusting, I'm going to let the dust settle.  This time of year is super busy for me since it's back-to-school, so even if I did want to worry over things, I quite simply can't.

That does not mean, however, that I can't, and didn't, do a little research to determine the state of the field as it were.  The last time I did any comprehensive poking around regarding other handmade selling venues and avenues for self-promotion was at least 2 years ago.  Things have, understandably, changed.  While Etsy is still the biggest fish in the big sea of online handmade goods, there are a number of other contenders out there. The following is a list of some of the "older", more established sites:

Artfire      Zibbet       Big Cartel       Dawanda       Bonanza       Folksy      RubyLane      maiautumn

I have a storefront on the first two:   Artfire and Zibbet.  I spent some time in headless-chicken-mode after opening my Etsy shop and ran around reserving my name on a lot of sites in order to protect my brand.  I've never sold anything on Zibbet, and eventually emptied out my shop because I couldn't devote the time to running three shops.  I've sold a few things on Artfire, but it doesn't get anywhere near the traffic that Etsy does, so until recently my shop there was pretty much empty as well.  Because I happened to get in on the $5.95 pro account deal several years back I decided that if I was to prepare a place to jump to, I should probably get reaquainted with Artfire.  Therefore, I have started listing there again.  Except I am going for an entirely different style there than on Etsy in order to avoid duplicate Google content.  At the moment I am selling only glass tile pendants, such as these:

However, the field for venues to sell handmade has exploded in the past few years with sites popping up all over. Here are a few that have received attention recently:

icraftgifts         shoply      storenvy        indiemade
Handmadeology Market      craftinest       TheCraftstar    luulla      Goodsmiths      custommade      Wish
RebelsMarket           Opensky       Abesmarket       Madeitmyself       Craftcafe       HandmadeArtists         lilyshop

You're not limited to venues that represent multiple shops, however. It's now quite easy to develop a standalone shop and website even if you haven't the foggiest idea how to code.

Many years back my husband purchased my domains on GoDaddy in order to reserve my shop name.  For years, they just sat there, waiting for me to find the time to do something with them.  This summer I finally bit the bullet and created a small, informational site for both which points to my Etsy shop.  Although I do know how to code, I found it quicker to use one of their many free templates for the time being.  You can see them here:


It's not difficult to add a cart function.  I just don't have the time to manage multiple shops at the moment, so I haven't done it yet.

GoDaddy isn't the only option if you'd rather have a standalone store for your handmade items. You can make gorgeous websites using:    supadupa,       squarespace,       craftlaunch,    and   Tictail. I set up a small storefront on Tictail the other day and was very impressed by the fresh, modern look of the site, as well as how easy it was to use.

So, there are certainly options out there for those of us looking to branch out. As they say, it's best not to put all your eggs in one basket. However, it's probably best not to put your eggs in ALL the baskets either. Pick a handful of online venues, or less, and work on making them the best you can by having excellent pictures, tags, titles, and descriptions. It's also best to spend some time on self-promotion using social media, which I will discuss further in my next post.

Monday, May 7, 2012

In praise of moms

This time of year marks a period of festivities that begins with my mom's birthday, ends with my own, with Mother's Day sandwiched somewhere in between. As a child this was an incredibly fun time of family, friends, and celebration. This year in particular it is especially important and emotional as I nearly lost my mom a few weeks ago in a major car accident.

We are all incredibly lucky that her injuries - minus a lingering hearing issue - are all minor and superficial. But it has really made me realize what a lucky daughter I am that I have the mom that I do, and that she is still here. As soon as I was able I packed up the car, tossed the little bear in the back, and headed down to Michigan. Things are tight this year so my mom was insistent that I not do anything big for her.
I was lucky to find this gorgeous cardigan in the sale section at Anthropologie,

and my little guy picked out this cute, yet budget-friendly hat at Target.

Of course she also received a few goodies from my Etsy shop... well as a custom version of this beach glass bracelet

Special birthday dinner will include wild salmon steaks, Michigan asparagus, endamame and Arnie's torte.

I wish I could adequately express to my mom how much I love her, how much she means to me, and how much I appreciate what she's done for me over the years. She's my greatest support and cheerleader as well as a friend and confidant, I do not know what I'm going to do without her. So, here's to moms everywhere. You are loved and appreciated.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Keeping up with LittleBearsMom

It's been a long time since my last post which is totally my fault...again. Part of the reason for that is that I was away for a significant amount of time before the holidays. During the month of November I took the little bear down to Michigan on an extended vacation to visit my parents and friends. Although I did have internet access during that time, I found myself so busy that I barely had time to check in, much less write a blog post.

My big news, though, is that while there I had my very first home jewelry party. And it was a great success! I'd ordered a bunch of display items and perused many other blogs on the web about how to go about it, yet I was still a bundle of nerves since it was my first time. Luckily the party was hosted by my very best friend who also happens to be a food rep. Not only did she provide all the food, but she's an old hand at setting up displays! And it also helps that her house is gorgeous and comes with two mini helpers. I was serious when I told her that they're coming with me to every craft fair and home show from here on!
The layout of the home is very much open concept so that people were able to walk easily from one room to the next, and then into the kitchen to sample a variety of yummy goodies. There were two large tables, and then some smaller end tables that I was able to make use of.

I displayed some of my earrings and necklaces on branches inspired by a design I came across online. I found some great branches in the woods near my mom's home, and I bought glass vases at Michael's and filled them with colored glass stones. However, there wasn't enough room for all my earrings on my homemade display so I ended up laying some flat on the table. They popped nicely against the black background. The rest I put onto earring cards that I made using my own printer and heavy cardstock, and placed them in jewelry boxes.

I had also purchased some wooden jewelry displays on Ebay in an effort to present a cohesive look. While the bracelet display was perfect for showcasing my charm bracelets, the ring display didn't work as well as I had planned. The dowels for placing the rings were all one size, and smaller than the majority of my bands. Along with the heavy cabochons on many of my rings this really wasn't an optimal situation as many of the rings drooped downwards, not allowing all the flowers and lovely stones to be easily seen.

Luckily, I'd also purchased one of those gorgeous printer's drawers as an earring display. I'd thought that I'd save some money and get one without hooks, since there was such a huge price difference. Now I know why! Putting hooks into that thing was a bear, and I eventually gave up since the tools my mom owns just weren't up to the task. In a way, though, this ended up being a good thing as I decided to use it to showcase some of my rings and clip on earrings. Since the printer's drawer is a lovely aqua color and my resin jewelry is mostly bright colors it created a really eyepopping display. Next time I do this I'm going to ditch the ring holder and place all my bright floral items in my beautiful aqua printer's drawer!

A fun time was had by all, and I learned a lot that I'll be able to apply towards future home and craft shows. Oh, wait, that's not a recent picture...old friends are the best

Table runners are from WickedWalls
Fabric bins are from YKBags
Printer's Drawer is from sugarSCOUT

Monday, October 24, 2011

Packing small items to beat Canada Post's 2cm rule

As a seller located in Canada I find it hard to be competitive with shipping costs. If your package exceeds 2cm in height you'll find yourself paying not $2.69 which is the light packet rate to the US, but rather $7.46 for small packet. That's a huge difference, especially when compared to what US sellers of similar items pay with USPS. In fact, it can often be more expensive to ship a package within Canada than it is to ship the same package to the US or overseas depending on which zones/cities you're shipping between. But there are ways to optimize your packaging in order to work the system a bit. Although this affects Canadian sellers of many different types of items, I would particularly like to address small, light items like jewelry since that is what I sell.

Most of my bracelets, necklaces and rings are too large to fit under 2cm, but it is possible to package earrings so that they can be safely mailed at a light packet rate. I started mailing my earrings by light packet last fall. I wrapped them securely in bubble wrap, being careful not to use too much, and placed them in padded mailers. This worked well for the most part until a customer contacted me about a broken earring. They were the resin flower type of clip on, which are thicker and more fragile than most of what I sell. I shipped her out a new pair immediately, and she was extremely happy with that.

But suddenly I had a moment of panic. How could I keep shipping my items this way when I knew that something had been broken? I searched the Etsy forums and talked to my Ohcanadateam teammates, and came up with another game plan. I started using small jewelry boxes - much smaller than those that I use for my bracelets - which are able to pass through Canada Post's slot of doom.

I put a bit of bubble wrap or tissue paper in the box along with cotton batting so that the earrings aren't jostled around too much and then I tape the sides shut.
The boxes measure approximately 18mm in height on their own. I now use small, unpadded manila envelopes that measure 23x15cm rather than a padded mailer, since the box alone is approaching the height limit. I place my Etsy receipt inside, folded in half, as well as my Little Bear's Mom thank you card. I then slip the taped jewelry box into an organza gift pouch along with my business card. All of that measures just under 2cm.

I used to tape the entire envelope in a grid pattern to keep the box from slipping out in case a hole was poked in the envelope, but recently I ordered some plastic address sleeves from Venture One, Canada Post's program for small businesses. It's free to join, and they have a variety of products, like address sleeves, that are free to members.

I always print my labels through paypal - it saves so much time waiting in line! And if you ever need to ship something Expedited Parcel you'll get a small business discount by doing so. This is especially useful if you ship within Canada as Expedited Parcel is actually less expensive than Regular Parcel.

I now just trim my pre-printed labels to fit in the plastic sleeve and affix the whole thing to the front of my manila envelopes. The plastic is slightly longer than the envelopes that I use so I fold it over on one end making sure the entire address label is visible on the front. I then seal the flap, and tape a 2x3 grid on the back of the envelope with packing tape. I stick an air mail sticker on both the front and the back (also free through Venture One), take a picture for my records, and pop it in a letterbox. This is so much quicker and more efficient than what I was doing before, and a lot more worry-free.

This would work well for anyone selling smaller items, whether they are jewelry, or something else. I've also received hand knit items from Canadian sellers that were mailed at the light packet rate because they were packaged inside vacuum pack bags inside manila envelopes.

Here's hoping that this post is helpful! How do you package your handmade items?

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Obsession with Pinterest

Over the past few months I've noticed references here and there to the elusive Pinterest. I'm older, though I hate saying that, and don't take easily to new social media, though it is my job and I'm trained in Information Technology. I still don't quite *get* Twitter (OK, that's because I talk too much!) so I'm a little wary of a lot of social media sites.
My main Pinterest page

Finally, I caved and asked a fellow Ohcanada teammie for an invite. Wow, is it ever addictive! I've been on Kaboodle for awhile for my fashion cravings/urges, and obviously Facebook and Twitter, but this is the first time I've been so totally hooked that it's keeping me up at night. My first board, fall fashion in orange and neutrals

I'm one of those crazed people that obsessively turns down pages in magazines of stuff that catches my fancy. I've been doing this since the early 80's. With the dawning of bookmarks both my IE and Chrome were chock full of links. I had an account with Delicious, but they've been bought out and I can't remember my original password.

My point? I can now chuck all the magazines and various torn pages stashed around my house dating back to the decades of neon and big hair, and forget about religiously bookmarking each and every "good idea" I come across on the web. Pinterest allows me to create themed "boards" with my own comments, which link back to the original posting. This is huge for someone who lives in a super small urban walk up. Truly, this might save my family from being on an episode of Hoarders ☺ Ok, I'll be honest, I probably won't chuck the "style books" I've already made. What did you expect, I'm an archivist by training. But going forward...this is huge...HUGE!

If you're not on Pinterest, you should check it out. Or not. How's that for a glowing endorsement? If you're an addictive personality like me maybe it's best if you steer clear. Truly. Personally, I'm justifying my activity and membership there because it's "job-related" ie: my library/archivist personna. Though I have yet to share my info with any of my IRL librarian and archivist friends. I should get on that...

My board of boot possibilities allows me to do a side-by-side comparison, while linking directly to the retailer.

Of course, one of the dangers with creating wish lists and shopping lists if you live in Canada is that by the time you get around to buying the item the season may have changed. I'm hoping against hope that that isn't so, while trying to balance my wants with what could conceiveably be worn before the first snowfall. Notice that I have yet to mention a budget. That's part of the fun. Wish lists should be fun and fantasy :)

My favorite pinboard of shopping and packing list for my upcoming girls' weekend in New York City!

Fall News 2011

Hello everyone! Long time no see...which is obviously my fault since I haven't written anything in a while. I've finally got some news to share that's worthy to print. I'm back from our wonderful Michigan summer vacation and not only are we now fully unpacked, but I've got a ton of beach stones and Petoskey stones to turn into gorgeous jewelry for my shop ☺ I'm also refreshed and full of inspiration for the Fall season.

We ate well, partaking of delicious local offerings, caught up with friends and family, took lots of long walks on the beach, and spent a lot of time just enjoying our gorgeous natural surroundings.

We also foraged for beach stones and treasures!

Back in my shop this autumn are Petoskey stud/post style earrings, and beach stone and Petoskey stone rings, as well as Petoskey stone and beach stone braclets.

Over the summer I used some of my Etsy profits to buy a Dremel drill as well as a rock tumbler so expect to see new items in my shop. It's been frustrating to me when I have ideas that I'm unable to carry out because I don't have the proper tools. So, I'm incredibly excited to start using both of them.

It's been a bit of a learning experience including trying to keep the little bear away from both! For some reason he thinks that anything that arrives at this house in a box is his.

I thought this a fitting weekend to write this post as we're having gorgeous end-of-summer-like weather here in Montreal, yet we've also had our first taste of the cold winter to come. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope it's a good one ☺ I'm excited to share more of the responsibilities of preparing our special dinner with my little bear (broadly stated!), and to get out and enjoy the last vestiges of summer.

Check out the sale in my Etsy shop! In honor of Canadian Thanksgiving, everything has been temporarily marked down.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Interview: up close and personal with bstudio

1) I know that some may be surprised to read this, but silk ribbon embroidery and selling on Etsy is actually a second career for you. What was your inspiration, and how did you start off in the business of handmade?
When I lived in Toronto I had a career in interior design, mostly commercial clients with office space.

My mother was the one that got me interested in silk ribbon embroidery in a serendipitous way. Back in the late 80’s she had requested that I find her a book on the subject. Since I was working in a creative field already, I wasn’t looking for or didn’t feel the need for any other outlet.

That all changed when I quit my job and we moved to the country. I found that the urge to design was still there and I always remembered how pretty the silk ribbon projects looked in my mother’s book. I read up on the subject and was fascinated with the way you could manipulate the ribbons and the range of colours available. I gave it a try and realized that I really enjoyed it.

I followed the usual route of making gifts for my Mum, relatives and friends. After a while I still wanted to make stuff but ran into the dilemma of what to do with what I made. Luckily I found Etsy and got up the nerve to start up my shop at the end of November in 2007.

2) Although I will admit that I love everything in your shop, my absolute favorite is your ruffled silk ring. So, what is your favorite item?
Now that is a very difficult question to answer! Each and every new idea I create gets me excited and I can’t wait to see what sort of reaction it will get when I list it in my shop. I guess right now my ‘French knot’ pieces are my favourite, it’s fun putting together the colours and then seeing the finished product.

3) You have a wide variety of items in your shop yet they are all remarkably cohesive when taken all at once. Is this deliberate, or happenstance?
Quite deliberate, I want all my items to be made in some way with silk and/or silk ribbon. I feel that a shop that has a cohesive look in terms of the type of medium used and a consistency in their style projects a better sense of an established design direction.

4) I find that many Canadian artisans tend to take their inspiration from our amazingly gorgeous natural surroundings. Is that true for you as well?
It’s certainly true when it applies to my pieces that feature flowers and insects. I have large perennial gardens that attract butterflies and we also have a few ponds on our property so there are lots of dragonflies flitting about.

5) You are very active in curating treasuries and have produced some really lovely - and successful - results. Do you have any advice to other Etsians about reaching the front page? I have been on the FP 39 times since 2009, 14 of those were made by my teammates on the Curation Nation team that I joined in July of 2010. If you’re in a team that makes a lot of treasuries all the time your chances of getting on the FP increase dramatically, but as others have said time and again on Etsy your photos have to be top notch.

6) Do you have any new products in the works for the coming year?
I’ve just ordered some fresh, new silk dupioni colours so I’ve got a few pillow designs in mind for those and I want to experiment with some other modern designs for my brooches and necklaces. Even though silk ribbon embroidery is a traditional needlecraft I want to show that it can be quite contemporary looking.

Many thanks to Brenda for giving of her time with this interview. ☺ You can see all these wonderful items, and more, in her Etsy shop: bstudio
Other links include:
Bstudio's blog
Bstudio's website

Copyright 2011 Little Bear's Mom and bstudio.
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