Friday, 25 February 2011

Radio Silence

I have been skulking beneath the radar for the last week. Last friday the sale on my house fell through. This was bad news for a number of reasons and I over-panicked and my well worked schedule for Etsy and the business fell apart a little.


This disappointment also coincided with me realigning the business. I am no longer making 5"x7" art collages and am shifting my focus onto handmade collage greetings cards and much larger collages.

I completed the first of these last night and while it took me a very long time it was loads of fun and a very different way of working from what I am used to. Also just for fun I am working on comic-book collages which I used to do a lot and have not been playing with for some time now. This might (accidentally) sound planned out and sorted but it's really not and is very flexible depending on what works, what is fun and what I discover from my extended brain-storming session.
I've decided to stop making beaded jewellery for the moment while I am learning how to make silver jewellery. I've got a few experiments going that hopefully I'll be able to photograph and stick up here soon.
As for the near future I have the last few small collages to put online. I'm also hopefully going for a short jaunt in France with a friend who is in the process of moving there.

And I have booked a holiday which I am very excited about.
On that happy note I wish y'all a good weekend and farewell.


Thursday, 17 February 2011

Ashbourne Church

I love churches. Ashbourne Church is in my top five that I've seen. Quite an accolade.
I apologise for this being all pictures but a) they are of somewhere very lovely and b) I'm quite unwell so anything I say at the moment would be complete rubbish anyway.

Both of those last two are from my favourite window in the church, it's beautiful and has some fantastic references to mythology as well as Christianity.
It may not be Chagall or Tiffany but it is so very beautiful.


Sunday, 13 February 2011

Brand (new) Ending

Yes, it’s another branding blog. The last of the questions are going to be answered and then hopefully things will be clearer and I will be free to ponder on what I have learnt.
This is part six. It all started at the start of January when I wanted to sort out the branding of my business with the help of an article in Copyblogger. Part one is here, this is part two, part three can be found here and four over here, and not forgetting part five.

64. Does your niche have a national or regional trade association?
I’m a bit diverse for this. But there are trade associations that I could join and therefore my competitors could also be members. I’m not a trade-union sort though. I think being a part of Etsy is almost like having a trade association because you are part of a large community of crafters and on top of that you can also join more directed teams and groups. It’s a brilliant place to be.

65. What “voice” do they use in their branding?
I think both myself and my competitors are much more informal. I am not looking to compete with big businesses and I don’t think that we have a lot of cross-over customers.

66. How much of a “threat” are they as a competitor?
I think that my competitors are a major threat. Even in the economic climate that we are struggling through at the moment people are still buying art and jewellery but there is a lot in the market and there is an increasing number of sellers. I am by no means selling something completely off-the-charts different. I’m not the only person making and selling collages, or bracelets (I know, it’s a shock, right?) but I think the threat of my competitors is what keeps me fresh. Without the constant competition I could easily get lazy or complacent, but I am always trying to do my best work because I know that everyone else is.

67. What is their value proposition?
This is one of those times when I remember just how new to all of this I really am. I think the value in both my own brand and in that of my competitors is obvious. Pretty things, shiny things.
I do my best to show customers the process behind my work, the inspiration and effort put into each piece and the story that I am selling with it. I think this is a large part of the value when selling as an individual.

68. What are they really selling?
Art/jewellery, as am I. Although I think the point is that we are selling an idea or a piece of inspiration in the artwork and something to make you smile and catch someone’s attention with an item of jewellery.

69. What is their style?
Informal rather than corporate. Approachable and human rather than distant and mechanical. Handmade, one-off, unique and personal is the only way I can see to work and to compete. I’m sure that I will lose some custom to bigger and more corporate companies but I don’t want to go down that route.

70. Why do you think their audience likes them?
I guess in preference to my business there are a lot of people who are better established and are therefore more well known. I need to work on being seen more, writing some guest blogs and articles as well as finding some new ways of directing people to my shop. I do have a very individual style and I am completely comfortable with the fact that it will not be for everyone.

71. Is there anything they might have overlooked?
Probably. But this would mean critiquing each of my competitors and as I mentioned before just for my artwork there is about 9000 of these so I’m going to let it slide. (If I’ve overlooked something, please let me know. Thanks!)

72. How strong is their relationship with their audience?
I hope that I am as engaged with my audience as my competitors. I try to keep at the front of things and I am always keen to talk to buyers either online or in person.

73. How responsive are they?
I think this is the same answer as above. Both at crafting events, fairs and online you must be responsive and have good communication skills or you become known for it pretty quickly.

74. Is what they offer readily available?
Yes. But so is mine. Choice is not always a bad thing. It’s why there are florist sections and banks are often all on the same street. I don’t dislike my competitors, in fact I am friends with many of them, learn from them and hope one day to teach them a little something too. I wouldn’t have it any other way either.

75. What emotional need do they fill for their audience?
This is the final question but I really don’t want to answer it. Does my art provide emotional satisfaction? You know, I’m not sure and I’m not sure I want to know either. I’ll leave it as a mystery.

I’m going to spend some time this week reading through what I’ve written about branding and trying to figure out where this puts my business. I am hoping to have a more accurate picture of my audience and a clearer vision of what I am going to do next.
So that’s all of the questions answered, there is a follow up section of advice to follow once you have answered the questions over here on Copyblogger. Definitely worth checking out.
Just as an addendum I have had a wonderful response to doing this. In just one day I had more views of my branding blogs than I had for the whole of the last three months of last year. So, thanks for sticking with me, it’s very much appreciated. One of the nicest things about working in a creative medium is the community that you become a part of almost unintentionally.
Hope you have all had a wonderful weekend.


Friday, 11 February 2011

Thanking You Kindly

I just wanted to leave a quick note on here to say thanks. A huge thank you to everyone who has left me a comment on here, sent me an email, contacted me through Etsy, or Facebook, or Twitter.
It's lovely hearing from you.

Happy Friday everybody,


Thursday, 10 February 2011

Do As I Say

In my little world Thursdays are library days. Every Thursday I go to my local library (Thursday and Friday are the days they get orders in from other libraries in the county) and it’s never very busy. Even when I go in on Saturdays it’s never exactly packed out.

There has been so much talk of libraries lately that I have been thinking about what people are generally saying and it seems to largely be a case of 'do as I say not as I do'. I really believe that most people do not go to libraries, and it's why they are under threat.

I love libraries, I spend hours in them and whenever I travel my first draw is to the library. I've been going to my village library since I was about 4 years old and have spent a huge amount of time there. When I was much younger I almost lived there for two summers while they had a summer reading scheme that I was doing. Admittedly my library is a small local one and it's not open all of the time but they have a pretty good selection and are amazing at helping people out.

My village has about 3,500 people in it and it costs £1.10 to get the library to order a book/DVD/CD etc. Surely if people were using these services more, funding would be less of a problem. Perhaps I am being na├»ve but rather than spending one Saturday at the library to show how angry one is at funding cuts would it not be better to go every month or two and actually use the library for its real purpose. I wonder if the fees these days put people off going or if the fees are so expensive now because people are rarely there and so the libraries need the money more.
I don’t tend to talk about topical issues online because 1.) I get dragged into debates easily and am rubbish at knowing when to shut up and 2.) the internet has a long memory and I know that I contradict myself and there are a lot of things I’ve not decided yet. However, libraries I have always and hopefully will always love.

My first stop in about 90% of the places that I visit is to the library. I have five library cards in the UK from using libraries when I’ve been on holiday. I have also visited libraries in Philadelphia, Nashville, Venice, Washington D.C., Rome, Seattle, Munich, Chicago, Sydney, New York City, Melbourne, Baltimore, Little Rock, Portland and Adelaide. The pictures in here are from the Philly public library.

There's really only two points here (not being very concise today). One is that libraries are amazing. Two is that if you ever want a favour then ask me on a Thursday.


Sunday, 6 February 2011

Brand (new) Competition

For the past month or so I’ve been branding my business, it’s supposed to have been re-branding but since I started I realised I had never really branded my business in the first place.  The idea behind branding via a questionnaire came from a website called Copyblogger and a series about branding your business on there. Since then I have been working my way through all of the steps he suggests and I’m putting the step-by-step online. It’s a very useful site. Have a look if you’re interested/involved in small business marketing. This is the fifth part, the first is over here and the second is here, the third is here and the fourth is here

Blog number four was actually the most popular and people seem to be finding this format useful – that’s no compliment to me but all credit to Copyblogger for the fab idea but I’m thrilled people are seeing my attempt as an incentive to do their own branding. 
As a side note, obviously I am not allowed to use pictures from my competitors and this blog is all about competition so the eye-candy for this one is taken from my giant trip around Europe in 2005. Look out for the super-cheerful chap!

51. Who is your competition?
Selling on one of the most popular places to buy crafts makes you very aware of the amount of competition that you have. I have just checked and there are 120,796 items when you search Etsy for handmade collages. In the original collage (my section, obviously) there are 9558 pieces. Crumbs!
So my competition is the same as every person in my village listing three collages. Again, crumbs!
I try to keep a good eye on my competition on Etsy as well as in local shops and at the craft fairs that I attend.

52. What makes them a competitor?
There are a lot of people who are selling original handmade art collages, me included but I’ve yet to find someone else who uses collector-grade stamps, text from gravestones, photographs, print from antiquarian books and photographs all at the same time. They are my competitors because they are people who I compare my work to and they are good alternative options for people who are possibly going to buy my work.
53. How do they describe what makes them unique?
I think that the unique part of selling when you are an individual rather than attached to a company comes from the story that you tell with the piece. Where the materials came from, what inspired you to make the piece, where you learnt the technique and what each item means to you personally. Tags and titles used well can also make people stand out from the crowd, but with 9000+ people to stand out from it's pretty tough to be completely unique. For people looking to buy on Etsy, if you're looking for a completely unique piece then try searching for OOAK (one of a kind) as sellers tend to use it as a tag rather than 'unique' which is ironically never unique. I don't think I could adjust my branding because to be more different online because as soon as you strike out too far then you lose the ability to be found.

54. What do they offer?
I suppose that anyone selling artwork could be a competitor although if someone is likely to buy my collages then I’m not competing with still-life photography for example.
I think this is more to do with services. I am working on expanding what I sell to include triptychs (to sell in person, the frames are too weighty for shipping) and as I keep harping on about - the cards are almost ready to go online. Rather stupidly it will be too late for Valentine's Day but never mind, hopefully lots of people will want them for other occasions!

55. Do they charge for what they offer?
Yes. I offer free gift-wrapping. Is that relevant here? I use pretty ribbon.
56. Are they marketing to the same audience as you?
Good idea – will work on this. I think my brand is generally broader than most - and I intend on keeping it that way.

57. What are they better at than you?
Selling. Nah, only kidding, but I'm new at this. I know that my weakness lies in the business side. While I have been making jewellery and collages for over six years now I have only been doing marketing and accounts for six months and am at a bit of a disadvantage there. I'm signing myself up for various marketing courses and individual sessions to try and work on this. I think that my non-professional approach (non-professional, not un-professional I hope!) does mean that people know it is just me and they are getting something very different and personal.

58. What are you better at than them?
Hugs. Washing-up. Making pancakes. Quoting movies. Spending too much time and money on eBay. Writing letters.
Relevant things? I am better than anyone else at showing how I view the world and understand things within it through creative means. And really that's all I am trying to be better at than everyone, I'm not trying to be the best at art or collages just making the best of my art and jewellery.
59. What colors do they use in their brand?
I think with art and jewellerypink, until it gets to February and then pink and red are everywhere. More on this soon as I build up to Valentine’s Day (I mean business wise...of course!).

60. How would you describe the design style of their brand? Is it modern, conservative, futuristic, or funky?
All of the above. Not all at once but I don't think that my competition are limited to one type of design.
61. What kind of Internet marketing presence do they have?
This splits into two clear sections. My online competition on Etsy definitely has a strong internet presence and they probably have all of the same things that I do, and for this reason I try to keep all of my various internets up-to-date. With the embarrassing exception of my website which I am working on as we speak (almost, it's next on my to do list). Most of my competition at craft fairs are barely online at all, some have email addresses and some have websites, or Etsy pages but rarely do the people I see at local events sell internationally over the net. 

62. Are they trying to attract an audience from a specific geographic area?
I think this is covered in the last one. Etsy - no. Craft fairs -yes. (See, I can be concise)
63. How active are they in promoting their brand? Is their brand a household name in your industry, or has nobody heard of them? 
I don’t believe that I am competing against ‘brand’ name jewellers or famous artists for two reasons, 1. My target market is people looking for individuals who are selling their creativity and a story & 2. If I did try to compete it would be really depressing and well, I would fail. As I said in #58 I am trying to make the best version of my work, not the super-very-best in the whole world.

Okay. This is the penultimate one and the last section is tying everything up with a few final questions. I have 20 cards to photograph and another eight collages to make before dinner tonight. And in completely unrelated news I am addicted to the new Sara Bareilles album. It's been playing in the background for the past day or two while I've been working.


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

24 Hours

I spent twenty-four hours without the internet, laptop, phone, etc. to try and get some more work done than I have been managing recently.
This was the result.
I made a hammered silver ring (plus several copper jump rings not pictured) in class.

I saw the stunning sunset last night.

I made amazing pulled pork

And Spiced Honey Cake
A plant fell over into the sink

I ate even more pulled pork, this time with BBQ sauce in a sarnie. If anything, I can now demonstrate how much better photographs look taken in natural light.
Plus I organised all of my collage materials, sorted out the 'studio'/spare bedroom.
And made a triptych. My first ever.

A good 24 hours all in all. Happy February (we say 'White Rabbits' in this household), and a very Happy New Year to everyone celebrating.