Marketing Materials for Your Homemade Crafts

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“The Handmade Marketplace,” by Kari Chapin, guides readers through the ins and outs of selling their handmade crafts – from building a business brand to using the perfect marketing materials.
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A well-lit subject is the first step in taking a great photo of your product.

It’s an exciting new world for crafters. Handmade is hip, creativity is what the market wants, and there are many profitable sales opportunities that didn’t exist a few short years ago. For crafters who have more confidence running a sewing machine than setting up a Web site, The Handmade Marketplace(Storey Publishing, 2010), breaks down and makes sense of the global possibilities for marketing and selling crafts. The following excerpt comes from chapter 4, “Marketing Basics.”

Okay, you have created the most beautiful handmade crafts. Your workshop — or spare room — is filled with your fabulous pieces. Now what? The answer is obvious, right? You have to sell your stuff. And this is where many artisans run into the proverbial brick wall. After speaking with crafters from all over the world about starting a business, I’ve learned that the one thing that most mystifies you ingenious folks and causes you to bury your heads in your yarn baskets is -marketing. And yet marketing can be so creative and fun, it’s truly a big ol’ shame that it’s so scary to you.

What Is Marketing?

Let’s start with the definition of marketing: Marketing is simply how you sell what you make. You make things, you want to sell them, you need to market them. It’s as simple as that. You can be the best painter in the world, but if you can’t sell your paintings, you’ll never have that feeling of satisfaction that comes with being financially successful from selling your work.

Sure, the feeling of satisfaction you get from making something amazing is undeniably terrific. But the satisfaction you get from sharing your amazing work with the world and selling it so that you make money — well, that’s something else entirely. And don’t forget that ultimately it will enable you to buy more supplies and paint more paintings.

Marketing is one of the keys to your success, and I promise it can be fun. You already know that you’re artistic and talented; marketing uses those same skills to spread the word about what you do. It’s reaching out to your audience and inviting them to interact with you — to purchase your work, to converse with you about your creations, or to get excited enough to spread the word about you and your craft.

Essential Marketing Materials

As a savvy crafter, you should never be without certain basic marketing materials so that you’re ready to promote yourself at any given moment. Say you’re standing in line at the grocery store, and someone comments on the lovely hand-sewn bag you’re carrying. You’ll tell her you made it, of course, and in fact you have a business selling your hand-sewn creations. She’ll ask if you have a business card, and you’ll reach inside your amazing purse for your card case and hand one over. Right?

Wait! What if you don’t have a business card?! Surely you don’t expect all those admiring strangers to remember your name or your website address or your phone number, do you? Yes, business cards are an essential marketing tool for anyone in business. The others are:

• Promotional postcards

• Nametags and stamps

• Photographs of your creations

Marketing materials go beyond what you carry on your person. You need to take every single opportunity that comes your way to promote your work.

Let’s look at these marketing essentials in order…

Business Cards

Business cards are the very least of your essential marketing materials. You can get them cheaply, and you can control how they look. You can either design and print them yourself (on your home printer), or you can get them custom designed and printed. Some websites will even print your business cards for free in exchange for printing their own business information on the card somewhere; you simply upload an image to a website, and voilà! Business cards will be on the way to you.

How your business cards look is up to you. However, you should consider your overall branding and make sure your cards fit in with the image you’ve decided to go with. If you use photographs of your work on everything, consider a card with a photograph of your signature item. If you use a logo, you should have that on your business cards.

No matter what design you go with, make sure you include all of your basic information so that potential customers can find or purchase your work — which is, after all, the goal. That includes your e-mail address and the URL of your blog, website, and online shop if you have one. These days it’s also appropriate to include your Facebook name or your Twitter handle.

If you make ecofriendly products, consider using recycled paper to further promote your message.

Promotional Postcards

Postcards are not just for mailing from your vacation hotspot! There are so many ways you can utilize these handy, cost-effective rectangles.

I have quite a collection of lovely postcards that I’ve either received in the mail after purchasing things online or that I’ve picked up at craft fairs. I usually tack them up on a bulletin board or hang them on my inspiration wire. I also find them a great go-to source when I’m looking for a gift or want to rediscover work online.

Postcards can pack a big marketing punch with very little effort on your part. You can distribute them seasonally, when you introduce new products to your line, or when you have something special to promote. They make a great cross-promotional tool as well. Say you mostly sell your hand-thrown pottery, but you’ve decided to expand into tabletop items like coordinating coasters and placemats. Next time you’re packing up a box of mugs or bowls, include a postcard showcasing your new wares; it may just result in another order.

Postcards are also an affordable way to send a bigger message than your business card has room for. Again, you need to make sure they contain all of your contact information and also fit in with your overall brand.

If you’re concerned about making the investment in postcards, approach a pal whose work complements your own, and pay the cost together. Simply print your information on one side of the card and your friend’s on the reverse. When you divvy up the postcards to hand out, you’ll also be using the cards as a means of ­promoting each ­other’s work to your ­individual client bases.

Business Name Tags and Stamps

If you’re selling anything meant to be worn or carried — be it sewn, knit, crocheted, or any other medium  — invest in tags with your business name on them. Wallets, iPod cozies, dresses, or scarves . . . whatever it is, identify your product with your business name. From shoes to cast-iron pots, manufacturers put their names on the products they sell for a reason. Take a page from their book and do the same. Nothing is more frustrating than admiring something and not knowing who made it and where it came from so that you can get one for yourself. Maybe that amazing knitted hat you mailed out to a customer last week was purchased as a birthday gift, and someone at the birthday party will desire one for herself. You want her to be able to examine the hat and know where to get a similar one — and to be able to tell the next person who admires it where they can get one, too.

Jewelry, of course, is a different matter; it’s not possible to mark every piece with your business name. But you can mark the packaging they come in (stamp the box you send your handmade creations in with your company name or have a sticker made of your logo), or have little metal tags made to go on the clasps of bracelets and necklaces.

A stamp or stickers with your business name and logo can be used for all kinds of things and cost you very little. You can get them made at any big-box office supply store, or have one custom-made for you by an online company with an image you design and upload directly to their website. Make sure it fits in with your branding scheme, of course, and at least has your Web address on it. You can use your stamp or stickers to add a little something to the outside of your packaging, to stamp the back of receipts at craft fairs, to mark your shipping boxes, and lots more ways to identify your business.

Photographs Are Key

A beautiful photograph is a tribute to the work you put into your craft. You need beautiful photographs for your store, your blog, and your marketing materials. How to get them? First of all, making your digital camera work for you isn’t as hard as it may seem to be. With a combination of basic experimenting, some tools you already have in your house, and a bit of patience, you can learn to shoot lovely photos — the kind your products deserve. It also wouldn’t hurt to learn basic photo editing, but you don’t need to invest in anything horribly expensive.

Setting up a photography studio in your home can be a snap. All you basically need is a steady base, like a table, near a natural light source, like a window.

Take as many shots of your items as you can from all different angles. Once you download them to your ­computer and look at them up close, you may find a ­hidden gem or an angle that you never thought of before that will make your bar of handmade soap look incredible.

Setting Up a Light Box

Perhaps the best apparatus for photographing small- to medium-sized items is a light box, which is just a fancy name for a three-sided box that you can haul out when you’re ready to have a photo shoot. It’s easy to build (you probably have almost everything you need in your house right now to build one), and it’s worth the time to do so.

Find a decent-sized box and remove one of the sides and the top, leaving three sides and a bottom. (A three-sided box lets you shoot from above or straight on.) A large packing box will do, even an old plastic storage tub will work. Heck, as long as it has three sides, just about anything will suffice. You’ll also need some clean, unwrinkled white paper that’s able to fit over all sides of the box and an adjustable lamp like a swing-arm desk lamp or even one of those clip-on silver industrial lamps that are available at any hardware store.

Now attach the white paper inside the box’s three sides and bottom with bulldog or binder clips. Then set up your lamp, and shine it into the box. Place your item in the box, and adjust the light to your liking. There should be no glare on the object you’re ­photographing. If you need to diffuse the light, try putting a piece of sheer fabric or even a dryer sheet over the light (making sure it won’t catch fire!) or redirecting (reflecting) the light by bouncing it off a piece of white or black paper or even the ceiling. Okay, now you’re ready to lean in and click away.

Use clean, wrinkle-free white paper as a background to help you achieve that floating-in-white-space look.

Propping Your Photos

As well as a writer, I’m lucky to be a freelance stylist, which allows me to justify buying pretty things if I think they’ll come in handy during a photo shoot, even if I don’t personally need them. Chances are, though, you already have all the props you need around the house to help your potential customers visualize how your crafts will look in their homes.

Pay attention to the next magazine you read, and note how secondary objects in a photo can enhance the main focal point. A simple vase of flowers or a lovely dishtowel in the background can make a photo come alive. If you make greeting cards, try shooting your newest thank-you note on a desk with a beautiful writing instrument nearby, or maybe dangle your latest handbag from a hook on a colored wall. The possibilities of improving your photographs with props are endless.

Photograph small items on a plain, solid background. Small things can get lost on fabric that’s too busy or if there is too much else around them. Take close-ups of them in natural light. For larger items, try using scrapbook paper or wrapping paper or even some great fabric as your backdrop.

Try to have fun when you’re working with your camera. Try new angles, different backgrounds and backdrops. As with your crafts, your own unique style will emerge, and soon you’ll be just as comfortable with a camera in your hand as you are with, say, a paint brush.

Selling Tips from Matt Stinchcomb of Etsy

As vice president of community at Etsy, Matt knows all about selling tools and strategy. Here he shares some of his knowledge.

On the importance of marketing:

Marketing doesn’t mean big ads on television or in magazines. Marketing, to put it simply, is how people perceive you and your business. Any way that you put yourself out there is marketing. It is how you communicate. Whether that is by an advertisement or a blog post or a tweet, marketing is the message you send to the world about you and what you’re selling.

On the importance of customer service:

Create a positive experience for your customer. Package your product creatively, and include a personal note when you send it. These kinds of details will make you stand out in the minds of your customers — personal touches that will make people remember you and buy crafts from you again.

On the importance of community:

People who are involved with Teams on Etsy are more successful than those who aren’t. Being an active member of your community is vital.

On the importance of making your online store stand out from the pack:

Take great photographs. Describe your products really well and in general-enough terms so that someone who is not an expert in your medium can understand what you’re selling. I would also use your descriptions as a chance to tell your product’s story. People love buying handmade, and your stories provide a deeper meaning for your customers.

Photo Tips from Paul Lowe

• Have great products, great props, and beautiful backgrounds.

• Use natural light.

• Don’t clutter the image. Make it simple.

• Look in books and magazines for inspiration.

• Have fun with it!

Read the Manual!

One of the best ways to become friends with your camera is to read the manual. That may also sound like one of the most boring ways to be friends with your camera, but it works. After all, who knows more about your camera, you or the camera manual? The manual explains what all of those symbols mean and how to change your settings. Some cameras allow you to easily adjust the white balance, which can result in crisper, clearer photos. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then you better get reading, my friend.

Q&A with Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks

There is a lot of frustration out there when it comes to photographing of one’s wares. I turned to Karen Walrond, an amazing photographer, to help me demystify this aspect of marketing for you.

I can’t afford to buy a really expensive camera. Will my regular old point-and-shoot digital do when it comes to taking decent photos of my goods for the Web?

If it’s a decent point-and-shoot, you can absolutely take great pictures of your goods. The beauty of single-lens-reflex cameras, or SLRs, is that you can switch out lenses, plus have more control over how your camera takes a photograph; however, today’s point-and-shoots are also capable of taking amazing shots. The trick is to make sure that you’re not taking the shots too closely to your subject [as to be blurry] or too far away [so that you can’t discern any detail]; also, make sure that your subject is well lit. In general, a well-lit subject is the first big step in taking a great shot.

On the subject of “really expensive cameras,” consider buying a secondhand camera. You can often get a really good secondhand SLR for the same price as a really good new point-and-shoot. I purchased my first SLR 15 years ago, and back then it was a 10-year-old camera body with 10-year-old lenses. I don’t use the camera body anymore (I prefer digital), but I still use the lenses to this day. My only advice is to go to a reputable camera shop and actually try out the camera before you buy.

I have no idea what the settings on my camera mean. Is there a formula for taking a good picture?

Well, there are certain basic technical aspects of your camera that you should know to take a good picture. Probably the biggest one to be aware of is the ISO — this tells you how easily your camera will “catch light.” The lower the number, the less your camera will have to “work” to catch light, so use a low number (100, 200, 400) in bright sunlight. The higher the number, the more your camera is working to “catch light” — a high number ISO (800, 1000, 1200) is good for dimmer light.

I’ve heard that flash isn’t the way to go when taking photos of objects. Why? Wasn’t the flash invented to help bring light to what I’m doing?

It is intended to bring light. The problem is that unless you’re really good with a flash, the light looks unnatural. If you have a choice, shooting a subject with abundant ambient natural light is always nicer than shooting with a flash.

Speaking of light, when I try to “see” light, I just see, well, light. Could you explain that a little bit?

When you “see light,” you’re not just looking at the light but, more importantly, how the light is falling. Is it creating shadows? Is it dappled? Is it golden? White hot? Dim? Is it making your subject sparkle? Gleam? Is the light falling dully on a matte surface?

It is true that the trick to good photography is being able to see the light — and when you’re really good, to manipulate the light. It just takes practice. So start by just noticing the light in your day-to-day life, separate from photographs: your favorite window or sun-dappled corner of your house, the bright midday sun and how it affects the way things or people look in its rays . . . . Once you’ve noticed the differences, grab your camera and start shooting it.

I’ve also heard it is not a good idea to photograph stuff outside. Why?

I love photographing things outside! Outdoor light often results in a much crisper, more detailed shot. Just be aware of:

Backgrounds — If you’re photographing a product, backgrounds can be distracting. Place your product on a really bland background or, alternately, create a “seamless background” — a large white piece of paper, for example. What photographers call no-seam paper is ideal.

Shadows —  Make sure that there aren’t any strange shadows caused by the sun. Overcast skies can be a great way to shoot your product.

What are your basic tips for taking a really good picture? Are there any supplies other than a camera that I need to take photos?

No. Tripods or fancy flashes can be nice to have, but you don’t need them. A good camera and some decent light, and you should be able to take a great shot.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The Handmade Marketplace: How to Sell Your Crafts Locally, Globally, and Online, by Kari Chapin and published by Storey Publishing, 2010.