Promoting handmade work for sale online

#1

I’m going to throw this out to the general public since there are probably other makers here.

I have a handmade jewelry business; it will be 10 years old in August. I make (mostly) goth chainmail jewelry, which I admit is a niche and does not appeal to everyone. On the other hand, my best sellers (often my ONLY sellers) are my Gay Pride and Trans Pride pieces, which have absolutely nothing to do with goth or my branding, but I keep making them because that is clearly what people want. (I’m straight and cis so I do feel a little odd about that, honestly.)

I sell on Etsy, on Amazon Handmade, and on my own website (though literally no one ever visits that and I’ve had fewer than 10 sales total there in 10 years, mostly people I know personally). Also do craft shows now and then though I have cut WAY WAY back on that due to Day Job and general burnout and exhaustion. I used to sell in stores, and my stuff’s still in one store out of state, but one by one the stores have dumped me because my sales weren’t high enough.

My sales over the past 3-4 years have been steadily declining and currently are very poor. Last year my profit was a bit over $2,000 and that is it. And honestly, that was mainly due to me keeping my expenses very very low and doing fewer shows, since that can be a several hundred dollar investment per show with no guarantee you’re going to make it back.

To be honest, I’m pretty burned out on the business and my thinking recently has been, sell through my current stock and then do only made-to-order (as in, only pick up my pliers and make a piece of jewelry when someone has already bought it and I have money in hand.) Over at the other place, people have been urging me to just donate all of it or give it away, and yes I realize it is a sunk cost fallacy, but I just can’t bear to do that. I want SOMETHING for it.

I admit that my current low sales are at least partially my fault because I have not been promoting myself. Honestly? After 10 years I am thoroughly bored with my own work and have run out of things to say about it that might convince someone to buy it. I have not been making new things that might increase my interest in my own work because that’s not really the goal - goal is not to make yet more stock, goal is to sell what I have and then go to made-to-order.

Mainly my promotion has been on social media. I tried paid ads but that did not result in increased sales. I used to have an email list but one by one everyone unsubscribed - and I wasn’t spamming! I sent maybe 1 email a month with that month’s craft fairs and a promo code to get free shipping or some % off!

It’s been suggested to me to find places online where goths hang out and promote my stuff there. I did do that for a while, on message boards and such, but that literally never resulted in a sale and I felt sleazy.

At any rate: I am now determined to sell off my stock once and for all because that is going to be my travel fund for this year (and, uh, I already have two plane tickets to pay off). To do that, I am going to have to get off my ass and promote. UGH.

I am really, really, really bad at asking for money, you guys. I am out of ideas! If there are other sellers of handmade things here, I would love to hear how you promote and how you come up with interesting things to say - that also inspire people to open their wallets for you - about shit that you’ve had in your stash forever, don’t even like any more, and just want gone.

(Oh and, yes, I’ve tried sales and deep discounts. Oddly, that seems to result in FEWER sales for me. ???)

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#2

I am useless at sales but calling in @Ckni27 for marketing expertise

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#3

Thanks for the batsignal @diapasoun!

I do both of these things for a living, though my sales aren’t near what I’d like them to be for my clothing line. I do a mix of made to order and off the rack selling and I feel the same as you about wanting to get something for it. I also have a little consulting businesses where I do training for small businesses on how to use social media and/or run their social media and marketing strategies for them.

One thing I recommend to clients who actually make the thing they sell (vs. boutiques and the like who buy things wholesale to sell in a brick and mortar) is to take video of yourself doing the making. That can be things from the entire process of making, at the store selecting raw materials, sketching designs, actually making the pieces, behind the scenes of how you photograph them, prepping to attend a show, etc. People really love feeling like they aren’t just seeing the polished marketing side of your business but seeing the real person and the real work that goes into the finished product. It helps them feel connected to you and what you make and gives them a feel good reaction when they buy from you that they don’t get from bigger corporations.

Another thing that works for me on social media, especially when I’m feeling burnt out is to take supplies I already have and just make something for fun simply because I want to. I post about it and usually say that it’s an experiment or just for fun and often it brings people out of the woodwork who either want to custom order something or who ask me for something I already make. It also just creatively refreshes me and since I’ve already bought the materials I don’t feel bad using them.

Another idea would be to connect with any kind of related business in your area and do a workshop or pop up if you can. Are there any places local to you that serve your target market that you could partner with? If your goal is to just get the pieces you have sold, that could work. You could offer to run a jewelry making workshop where people bring their own materials (you could provide a basic and relatively inexpensive supply list or put together supply kits from materials you have and charge a fee? Might help get rid of what you’ve got on hand if you have raw materials) and then offer your jewelry for sale at some kind of workshop discount.

As far as straight up promotion on social media, I do it a lot and I still find it hard to know what to say that gets people to buy things. Social media is great for raising brand awareness and people love to comment “omg I need this!” but translating that into an actual sale is harder than people think. My goal on social is to get people talking and engaging with what I post since rarely do people see a post and immediately go buy my stuff. I aim to be top of mind when they think “hmm I really need a new dress” or whatever. So I don’t have a ton of advice for what kind of marketing copy translates directly into $$, but what I’ve had the most luck with is showing more of how it’s made and that there is a real human behind the business rather than a nebulous corporation.

Sorry for all the word vomit and I hope it helps! I really like helping other small businesses with marketing but I find it hard to do for my own business, I think talking it out in places like this is super helpful.

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#4

Thank you so much! I agree, it’s really hard to do this for one’s own business but it’s SO easy to look at other businesses and say “you know what you should do…”

UGH, I was so afraid someone was going to mention video. I hate video. I hate when other people post video to social media! But, I know it’s a thing. I am, however, EXTREMELY unphotogenic and I present very poorly on video, to the point that I think it would hinder sales, not help them. Do you suppose video of my hands making something might work? (I have terrible hands, though, too - gardener’s hands which are also usually covered with cat scratches. At least with still photos I can photoshop that stuff out, haha)

To be perfectly honest, I am unclear on how video of someone making something inspires someone to buy that Thing. I have read stuff before about “people want to see the person behind the work!” and I admit that I just really don’t get it. I can see a person behind the work and think very highly of that person and think “wow, they’re really talented/creative/etc” but in the end if I don’t have a need for their product or it’s not my aesthetic, then I’m not going to buy it. But, OK. I’m willing to entertain the thought that I am too MMM to be my own customer.

(Honestly, I have some moral issues around making money by convincing people to buy things they do not need. Jewelry is rarely if ever a need. But, that’s a larger issue.)

I have gotten out of this habit, and I miss it. The only way I’ve kept myself profitable over the past few years is by being VERY careful about expenses. I literally only buy the supplies that I need to make stuff that I am relatively sure will sell. (The Pride jewelry, which does sell, unfortunately requires that I always be in stock of 6 different colors of rings in 2 different sizes…) So, I don’t have much that I feel OK parting with, but maybe I can spare enough to make some earrings or something.

I used to maille a lot in front of the TV at night just for fun but then we got kittens so that’s no longer possible, LOL. I literally have to lock myself in Boyfriend’s office to do that (which is like his mancave and he hates when I do this. I need to find some public place to maille. Maybe that will result in sales, being out there mailling in the wild? :smiley: )

Believe it or not, the VERY last brick and mortar goth-friendly business in my city just announced they are closing. :frowning: It’s been one closure after another in the past 5 years or so. It makes me wonder, maybe we don’t have the market for my work here? I mean, it feels like we should, we are a very large liberal city. But if even the famous goth store that’s been here for a million years shut down a while ago because sales were too low, maybe that is not the case.

Doesn’t explain why folks online aren’t buying, though. Almost all of my sales are from other states.

AHA, and here’s the other “I hope no one suggests this” thing. I used to teach chainmail. I HATED it. HATED every minute of it. I don’t like to talk publicly. And the thing is - I feel like, especially locally, there is a huge overlap between “people who like goth things and thus might like my jewelry” and “people who like to DIY everything and will look at my work and say ‘I can make that.’” Historically, when I’ve trained people how to make jewelry, they then go off and make more of their own jewelry. Which is great! But they never, ever turn around and buy mine.

PREACH. People are all “OMG WANT” and if you dare to respond by saying, “yeah? OK, well, if you’re interested, here is the link” then crickets.

Do you pay to boost posts? I have more than 1,100 followers on Facebook and it’s disheartening when it tells me 20 people were shown the post. Once, just for shits 'n grins, I blew 10 bucks on boosting a post. 300 people then saw it. Better, but still less than half of people who have liked my page and thus want to hear what I have to say at least in theory.

Also, do you have any thoughts on how to get people talking and engaging with your posts? I know one way is to ask a question in your post. I have done that. No one responds. I think my posts are just not getting seen, honestly. I know that Facebook in particular will only show people your stuff if people are already liking and commenting on it, which sort of reminds me of “can’t get a job without experience and can’t get experience without a job.”

Someone I know did a test and found that Facebook would only show posts to her followers if she literally did not mention or even imply that she might be a working artist with work to sell. Like, her posts had to be completely unrelated to her art in any way. And then people saw them. That seems so counterintuitive because I don’t see how one gets from “I saw this artist’s funny meme on Facebook” to “I need a pair of earrings so will buy from her” but maybe it is worth a try. Thoughts?

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#5

This is me also. I get it.

Re video: I hate filming myself too, but most often I film my hands stitching by hand or at my machines or cutting fabric. I also film my pieces on my mannequin or laid out nicely on a table. Video gets higher priority in the social media algorithm and this more views. You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to, most of mine are without sound. I don’t know why but every time I post a Hyperlapse of sewing something up people are mesmerized and will take the time to post a comment which helps my posts and account in general to be seen. To me it is boring to see a machine stitching away but I guess other people don’t really know what that’s like so it’s cool to watch. I guess it’s similar to my love of cookie decorating videos.

The videos don’t 100% convert to sales, but they do make you more memorable and then the next time a person wants to buy a gift or something for themselves they think of you.

I pay sometimes to boost posts but usually only for a sale. I have mixed results with it. You are better off focusing time and effort into getting your audience to engage with your posts to get them seen. And by posting regularly. If you don’t post regularly than your boost is going to be weak from the start. Plus the algorithms are just harsh these days with everyone paying for followers and the number of fake/bot accounts screwing things up. It sucks.

The way to do this is to comment and engage on other people’s posts and to DM stories when appropriate. I try to leave meaningful comments on other businesses posts a few times a week. Ask them a question or leave a comment about something you like, etc. Doing that helps boost your engagement and encourages those businesses to respond to your comment or to reciprocate and comment on something you posted. Even if they’re unrelated to your business you can still do it, I comment on my favorite local coffee roaster all the time because I love them.

I haven’t experienced this but I’d be curious to see analytics of the months before/after this test to see what she was posting and the frequency. These platforms now reward users for using them as the developers intended. So for Instagram that means taking photos and posting them in real time (vs scheduled posts), tagging other users, using the full breadth of features (video, boomerang, stories, gifs, hashtags, etc) not all in one post but in general using a lot of the features offered in different ways, and engaging with other users in a meaningful way. So depending on how you use the app determines (in part) how your posts are shown to others.

Another important distinction is your following. My clothing company has a pretty small number of followers in comparison with some other places. But a really large number of my followers actively engage with my post and are personally familiar with my brand which means they are better quality followers than others. I tell my clients never to buy followers since it throws everything off and is a waste of money and time. It is exponentially more valuable to have a small number of engaged followers than a large number who don’t engage with your posts. I also try to keep followers/following in proportion to one another. Following 10,000 accounts but having 250 followers doesn’t make sense for small brands (or anyone really, how can anyone take in that much content?) and those things factor into the overall engagement picture as well.

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#6

This is so helpful! I wonder, does the simple fact that a file is a video help get it seen more? Like, I see sometimes videos that are really slideshow collages of still images. And I wonder if people do that to get around the algorithms that say video content is somehow more valuable and interesting and therefore deserves to be seen by more people.

I have not posted regularly this calendar year, but I scheduled a whole shitload of posts last night. I tried my best to find something interesting to say about the pieces that I’ve had in my stash for literally years and am sick of looking at!

I think the problem is that I just don’t know how to be interesting. One would think that after so long I would understand what makes people interested in a jewelry-related post, but I do not. I barely even wear jewelry myself any more - I got sick of it! On the plus side this is excellent for my budget; I used to buy tons of it and now I’m completely not interested.

I can definitely do this - but doesn’t it just seem so mercenary? I used to do this a lot but I felt sleazy because I knew deep down I was only doing it because I was desperate to try and make some money. Or to get someone to follow me back or to share my content or otherwise enter into some sort of mutually beneficial relationship with me. It didn’t feel genuine. Do you ever feel that way?

I have to do more research on how to use all of those Instagram features; I don’t have any idea how to do stories or what a boomerang is. I do my best with hashtags. But I’m pretty sure Instagram has never resulted in a sale for me. I think it’s hard because you can’t direct link to anything that’s for sale, you have to say “see link in profile” (and I did learn about Linktree, which seems useful, but again, someone’s gotta click on it). And I feel like that’s a step that is too much effort for people to take. People do not click on things. I mean, I’ve had pissed off customers who clearly did not read my Etsy item description - and then someone told me that everyone shops by phone now (I don’t, I am clearly an old) and on the Etsy app you have to click to see the actual description of the item which probably contains stuff like sizing information. Suddenly it made perfect sense - no WONDER people were leaving me poor feedback with things like “smaller than I thought it would be” when it says RIGHT THERE how big the thing is. They weren’t even seeing the description!

Anyway, I’m off on a tangent. I’ve never bought followers. I didn’t see the point. I just don’t know how to get my existing followers to a) see my posts and b) buy something, and it’s frustrating because after 10 years shouldn’t I have this down? I feel like maybe it’s just that no one wants what I make - which, I understand, it’s a niche. But in the meantime WTF do I do with this huge pile of jewelry?

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#7

instead of targeting goth, what about mail for GoT fans? (caveat - I do not watch GoT)

video is interesting. I think doing video of your hands, and being honest about your insecurity is fair. But it’s hard to get traction with the number of folks out there. I wonder if YouTube Live or Twitch might work? And then you aren’t having to spend all the time afterwards doing editing or needing to listen to yourself.

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#8

I like watching videos of hands doing cool stuff.

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#9

I too do not watch GoT. I once did a GoT piece because I was given a pendant from the show - the lion? Targyaren (sp?)? I don’t even know. And it did finally sell. But until it did, people always wanted to talk to me about GoT and I had to be like, “uh, sorry, not my fandom!”

At any rate, the goal now is less to make new pieces, and more to sell through what I have. I do have some dragon pieces, which fit with GoT. However, I can’t make mention of that in my listings on Etsy or Amazon, or use anything GoT-related as a tag to market it or come up in searches. I will be busted for copyright. I already have been busted twice on Etsy, once for saying “inspired by Hunger Games” and another for saying “inspired by Battlestar Galactica.” In neither case did I use any copyrighted images or logos or anything. But you’re not even allowed to use the title.

(and yes, go ahead and search right now and you’ll find a shitload of fandom art on Etsy for sale still. The policy is very inconsistently enforced. But since I’ve gotten two Nasty Lawyer Letters already, I don’t dare; I know people who’ve had their shops pulled for that.)

That being said, there’s no reason why I can’t post about my dragon stuff on social media and include some talk of GoT.

Smacky (and others), to what extent does it bother you if the hands in a video aren’t perfect? Like, I have kitten scratches on them all the time and my nails always look like hell and I don’t bother with manis because I garden so often.

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#10

Imperfect hands make it better for me.

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#11

Good to know! At my last job, which was at a jewelry supply company, I was in charge of tutorials. I had to hand-model the steps of how to make our various pieces, while someone else photographed my hands - and I got reprimanded a LOT for the condition of my hands. Even though I tried really hard to keep them nice, and that stuff can be photoshopped out anyway. It’s left me with a bit of a complex, TBH. I totally missed the girl gene for “have nice nails.”

OK, that does help!

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#12

Yep, certain file types get priority.

Nope, I try to follow other local businesses that I like, other makers, etc. and that way when I’m interacting with them it is genuine. I comment when I like something or when they ask a question. I also follow hashtags for things relevant to my business and I comment on some of those posts when things catch my eye. I rarely mention my business since they can just click on my profile to see that stuff.

If you have a Facebook account connected and have a shop on Facebook you can link Instagram posts to items directly. Then people can click on items and shop. It’s cool once it’s set up

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#13

Can you work around it sideways? Like allusions to the show without stating ‘Game of Thrones’? Is that allowed? I don’t watch it, so I can only come up with Mother of Dragons Pendant or something. Do they copyright minutia like that?

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#14

It depends! I know that for Doctor Who stuff, which I also make, not only can you not say Doctor Who but you cannot say TARDIS, Dalek, Cyberman, I believe “police box” is also out believe it or not. It all depends on what the copyright holder has copyrighted and I’m not certain how to find that out (I only know about the Who restrictions because Boyfriend is a diehard Whovian and until recently ran a Who podcast so he is deeply, deeply into that fandom). I do know that character names are likely out, so no Jon Snow, Daenerys (sp?), etc.

I could say that stuff on social media though, probably, or say something like “This makes a great gift for a Game of Thrones fan” or similar.

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#15

Point of clarification: These words/phrases cannot be copyrighted. What you’re running into are trademark problems. One of the requirements of maintaining a trademark is that the trademark owner enforces it, so that’s why, unfortunately, even small craftspeople get slapped down by the trademark owner.

The good news is, the US trademark database is searchable.

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#16

I’d have a lot less issue with getting smacked down for this if EVERYONE was smacked down for it. There is still a ton of fanart on Etsy and it is highly unlikely that everyone selling it has permission to do so because some fandoms simply don’t grant that to small sellers.

It sucks for buyers too! If I want something with a TARDIS on it I would MUCH prefer buying something handmade from a small seller rather than something officially licensed by the BBC! But, of course, no one asked me. :wink:

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