Tuesday, June 23, 2009

frustrations and stepping up my game

I can be a very impatient person. I also have the tendency to want to take on the world. These traits can make me frustrated because a) inevitably, things I want don't happen right away and b) high expectations lead to overwheming feelings.

Tim is returning to study postgrad law in August, which I am utterly proud of him for. Though it means he can only manage three days of work per week after then. He currently manages a bookshop that's so hectic the job can't be done in three days a week. The best offer they could give him instead was a hefty pay cut and a demotion (which, if I may say, I find quite ridiculous given his experience and skill there). In any case, he resigned and will no longer be working there in four weeks time. This is worrying in two ways: what if he can't find another job, and even if he does find one, how will we manage without a steady full-time income?

The best way out is for Heidi & Seek to start earning a steady income to make up the difference. I really don't want to have to start applying for jobs elsewhere, because as bloody difficult as it is to run your own business, at least it's mine and runs on my own terms. It's flexible for when I have to be home for Ellie, and since I work from home I don't need to waste time commuting. I don't want to put it on the backburner, as it inevitably will be if I get another job.

So, I've been trying to figure out how to step up my game. I worked out how much I'd need to sell per week and per month, and honestly, the figure feels so far away it's not funny. I'm half moping at the futility of it all and half planning (and continuing to sew winter stuff in between) because I can't get these issues out of my head. Things I want to do:
  • Get to know my market better. This is the one that's troubling me the most, and also what I think is the most important. There is a difference between the things I make and the things people buy, and I have no real idea what that is. I just guess and experiment, and while that's cool some of the time, it's not good enough for every time. I'm not sure how to go about this yet.

    The survey I put up a while ago wasn't as helpful as I anticipated, maybe because I didn't ask the right questions. I need to understand the difference between people saying 'that's cool' and people actually buying something. Maybe it would help to study what things of mine have sold quickly and gotten attention, and try to mimic their features in new pieces, but that's harder than it sounds: How do I know if something sold because that one customer liked it a lot but most people wouldn't?

  • Post new listings every day. I've been good with this the past couple of weeks, though to be honest I'm not sure it's helped sales. But I do think in theory it's better to give lots of choice. What do you think?

  • Open up my Made It shop again. I'm trying to make enough winter stock so I can fill my Made It and Etsy shop. I'd like to try Made It again because it's smaller, therefore easier to get seen, plus it's local and I seem to have gotten mostly Aussie sales recently.

  • Start doing a market. This idea freaks me out a little because it's new and I've never done one before. Plus it involves me spending a whole lot of time finding display things, making signs, arranging the stalls, and so on and so on. But, given my previous income calculations, I don't think I can rely solely on online sales.

  • Work on wholesale accounts.
Wow, I'm not sure if I feel better for having written that all out or worse for the sheer amount of work I have ahead of me.

P.S. Heidi & Seek is in the new Frankie mag, out tomorrow (squee!). Check it out, there's also details to enter a competition to win one of five Heidi & Seek tops! I don't have a scanner, but I'll try to grab a picture of it soon.


Kirrily said...

I wish I could offer some advice, but I'm in the same situation! I pretty much could have written this exact blog post.

The only thing I know is that it CAN be done. Other people have done it, so it is possible. Just how, I'm not sure, other than a whole lot of hard work.

I think that knowing what you need to do as far as sales etc goes is a good start - something concrete to aim for.

If you work out the answer, can you let me know?!

Ryan said...

It's hard going, trying to balance all these things and try to actually move forward.

I've noticed lately that you seem to be getting out there more and more (i actually was discussing it with jess only a day or two ago). hopefully more recognition and exposure will start to work for you.

Also, you should have a chat to jess. i know what you do and what she does are two very different things, but she just seems to get marketting stuff, and i'm sure she'd have some good ideas for you to consider.

hang in there! you've got the moxie, now you just need to get the customers ;)

Heidi and Seek said...

Kirrily -

Yeah, I think so many of us makers have gone through this at some point. It does help to know that some people have achieved it. (Although judging from the Etsy Quit Your Day Job series, it doesn't help to know that barely any of them sell one-of-a-kinds :P).

Another problem is that I change my mind about 'the most important issue to address' way too often. Learning is all well and good but I'd like to know already!

Ryan -

You know, I'm happy with how my exposure is going. The problem is that it hasn't yet turned into a marked increase in sales - though hopefully the Frankie one will help cause that's the biggest audience one to date. I'm just concerned that the exposure doesn't mean as much as it would if my products were really desireables, and that has to do with knowing my market.

Thanks for the encouragement. Might get in touch with Jess when she gets back.

Sarah said...

Hey Heidi,

Maybe you could consider putting a few pieces for auction on ebay? Or branching into reconstructed vintage clothing? The market for vintage items is huge, if you utilize ebay for just that then it might add a considerable amount to your monthly profits.

I also find that ebay is a lot more predictable in terms of profit margin. Auctions end and all your items are sold, whereas with etsy I could see a potential issue where some items may sit in stock for long periods of time (and if that's the case, then constantly making new garments won't really help). I can safely say that I am able to support myself completely through what I make on ebay, that includes bills, fun money + money saved. Obviously I don't have a family to support, but if you're just after some extra cash without having to look for another job, recon vintage would be right up your alley.

Of course that just means for competition for me! :)

R. said...

Ooh, I forgot you were in this Frankie! ::rushes off to unread copy on bedside table::


Sarah said...

Have you tried approaching small, independent boutiques to see if they'd stock some of your stuff?

c.s. said...

I am trying to figure out the same things! Do you check craftcult often? I check it quite often to see which items I'm selling are popular and which aren't. If an item is consistently unpopular, I remove it from my shop and replace it with something new. If an item is popular, I will often try to recreate it. I've also noticed that people often don't look beyond the first page of listings. It does seem though, that getting exposure on the right blog helps, and maybe helps to identify the kind of people that appreciate your products. I hope this helps!

lyptis said...

Hey, i think lots of us are in a similar situation, making ends meet while getting our businesses running as a 'fully paid job'(its 'full time'for most of us anyways)

Its good that uve written all this down and making plans for the future, i think thats a big and Very important step of moving up!

I hope it works out for u!:)

Pippi Langstrumpf said...

Looks like you've targeted the right elements in getting it all going to it's maximum potential. Good luck with it!
Congrats about Frankie. I hope to get a copy tomorrow too.

Clare said...

I wish you the best of luck with this endeavour. I would love to be in a position where I could live off my own creativeness, but it must be a very overwhelming situation too!

Do you use current clothing trends as inspiration? I think it's really important to stick to your own style, but sometimes popular shapes or colours can draw people in. I particularly like your high -waisted shirt skirt for example and I can imagine seeing it with other clothes in my wardrobe or in magazines I read. This way your clothes would truely be an ecological and anti-consumerist alternative to what I would usually buy on the highstreet.

I'm sure you're limited by the clothes you are repurposing, but if possible more range of sizes and fabric patterns within a style would be great. I wouldn't be able to buy this skirt for example, eventhough I like it, because it is probably too small (maybe also include exact measurements in the listings, I don't think of myself as an XS, but you never know!)

I am in no place to talk about improvements (my shop is currently almost empty!) so I hope you don't find my suggestions rude. I probably fit your intended market so I thought I'd just give you an insight into the mind of your customers (something I often wish I knew!)

Good luck!

Clare said...

I'm a bad person.
I didn't even notice the size chart. Please ignore my plea for more measurements and just hope for more intelligent customers than me!

Heidi and Seek said...

Sarah - Thanks for suggesting this even though I'd be a competitor. :P If things get dire I might consider doing vintage on eBay. It does fit in with my ethos and if it gets me out of resorting to a 'real job' I'm good.

I haven't really done any searching for shops to stock my stuff, I've actually turned down a couple who enquired because I was having trouble with making enough for online listings, plus pricing and sorting out how to wholesale one-of-a-kinds were issues. I really must work out what's best for wholesale arrangements so I can pursue them.

R - Yay! I wasn't actually sure it was going to be this one until I got a congrats tweet from Leeloo. Doh.

c.s. - I'm glad you posted because I adore your Etsy shop! I check Craftcult a lot, but I don't really gain much useful info from it. Hearts are really scattered, unless something appears on the Etsy front page or gift guide.

One reason I think a lot of stock works for me is because I list by sizes, so although I have 76 items, only 19 are a size small, 9 are an extra small, etc. I imagine they check their size and that narrows down what's available to them.

In the past I've been really active in contacting blogs for features but I've mostly stopped. Really must keep it up, thanks for reminding me!

lyptis - Thanks! Yeah, I'm good at making plans, but also good at getting distracted by things that seem more important at the time. :P

Pippi - Thanks very much! We will see if it works out well.

Clare -

Really appreciate the perspective, I don't find it rude at all. It's exactly what I'm after.

I really agree with you about taking inspiration from popular shapes and colours and things. When I started I was intent on avoiding every trend I possibly could. But now I tend to think that it's possible to still make unique things that have a 'current' modern feel to them that will still last and be cool in a few years.

The problem with making the same style in different sizes is that if it's not popular I will have wasted the time and materials for say, 3 things, instead of one. I suppose I could wait to remake something similar until after it sells or gains attention. Hm, I'll definitely think about that!

I'm glad you mentioned you didn't see the size chart, originally I thought you wanted garment measurements as well as the size chart. I used to do garment measurements, but I found it really time consuming and doubled the time it took for me to list.

AnastasiaC said...

i wish I could help too but sounds like you've got some great steps to think about, goodluck with it! i think the local market is a good idea... Id love to be home working on my papergoods full time...evntually i hope this happens for me too!

Stepstotheleft said...

One of the things that I have noticed with your stock is that all the stuff I really like is in size S or XS. I know the amount of larger items you make has increased in the past few months but I think it could continue to do so to give those of us who take the larger sizes a bit more choice.

jb said...

I think you are doing amazing things. The start of a small business is always the hardest part. I have been supporting the family for a few years now and it is so rewarding, yet also stressful. Would be happy to talk over my limited knowledge with you when I get home.

Keep up the great work - I love your stuff.


Cosmic said...

I can clearly hear your plight and a good business(Or any business)need your attention / passion / love etc., but not to the extent of you being overwhelmed with pressure! You are doing what you love and as long as you don't neglect(Highly unlikely as you are so committed to your lovely biz / 'baby':) I reckon you are doing just fine(By regularaly monitoring and maybe doing some market research etc. the business will grow accordingly; you've got an extremely viable and profitable business there - with careful nurturing the business will work for you:)!

A fine balance is the key:)


Arielle Antoinette said...

You can do it! :)

I think you're getting great advice and its nice to see that you're getting great support and encouragement from lotsa people. If you're going to try doing a market, try doing it at Camberwell Markets on a Sunday. Good luck and hopefully see you there!

Sarah said...

Ooo a suggestion about the markets. You should try Rose St markets in Fitzroy. It's a lovely space, all the stalls are from arty folks/designers who sell their own wares and they have some amazing things. Much better then Camberwell Market as probably your target audience too.

The guy who owns/runs it is a good friend of my bf's and I really vouch for it as an option.


Megan said...

One thing that I think has helped me (and some other sellers) is to diversify! You have the badges, which are a great start, but it would be great to be able to go to your shop and grab a quick little something as a pick me up on a bad day or as a gift. Maybe you could do some fabric jewelry or belts (belting is big right now!) or headbands/scarfs or something. Stick with your style of up-cycling! I think that on Etsy, people are more likely to buy something cheaper and something that isn't size dependent (especially for gifts). I love your stuff- but like a previous commenter noted, not much of it is in larger sizes!

craig-hunter said...

For the first time ever since I started CubistLiterature, I looked up part-time jobs on Craigslist...

Damn this economy!

Gina said...

Hi Heidi,
I'm offering a buyer's perpective, not a seller's, and of course I only speak for ME, not everyone! That said, here are my thoughts, hope they're helpful.

1. MARKET - do a market!! Clothing is a hard thing to buy online for the majority of people. As a buyer, I've bought a bit of clothing at markets, and because I know what works on me I'd happily buy online from those makers. But without trying first, I'm not confident that things would fit, flatter and suit. Only the most fashion-savvy (and the slimmest figures) can buy online confidently I think. Markets will not only mean a concentration of sales, but also ongoing custom for those who really like your stuff.

2. Modelling true to size: your clothes look gorgeous and I know you do a full range of sizes. My problem is that, as a 'fuller figure' (size 12-14) I look at you wearing your clothes (which look fabulous!!) but can't translate to whether they work for me. I get intimidated when everything is modelled by a very slim person and tend not to buy. I know I'm not alone.
So, one of two things could be done about this: either concentrate on the small sizes which you can model yourself, OR get yourself a friend who can model the larger stuff for you so we can visualise a bit better. Either is fine... you don't have to cater to everyone!

3. Selling through a store? I know this one is complicated because of marking up prices, keeping up supply etc. But - I live in Brunswick, and there's an 'ethical clothing' store just opening on Sydney Rd, and lots of vintage stores and high-end op shops. People love this stuff and have a growing conscience. You could really find a big market in the right place and the right shop.

I hope that's helpful. I really support your ethos and would love to see you succeed. I'm already floored that you're doing this as well as parenting, and now with your partner returning to study... sheesh!

Gina said...

And er, yes, I meant hi Hayley!!!

Heidi and Seek said...

Anastasia - Thank you. I'm starting to think the market idea is the best of the lot. Best of luck to you, too.

Steps - Thanks for letting me pick your brain about this last night. I'll be taking things you said into consideration and start making more larger items.

Jess - Thanks, I really appreciate that. Hope you're having fun in Sydney.

Cosmic - Yep, I agree with you about balance. It can be hard to know what the line is, though!

Arielle - Thank you. I've heard that the Camberwell market isn't so great for handmade sellers because everybody wants a bargain. I do go there every now and again and I know that's what I'm looking for!

Sarah - I've been to Rose St Market a couple of times and loved it. That'd definitely be my first place to apply for, then maybe the Shirt and Skirt Market at Abbotsford Convent. It's cool that you know the person who runs it! Thanks for the suggestion.

Megan - Great idea. I've been trying to think about what to diversify into and I think belts is a good option. I know what you mean about not buying size dependant things, I'd love to tap into the gift market a bit more. I got a few great ideas about larger sizes from Steps, so you'll probably see more larger sizes than usual soon.

Craig-Hunter - Wow, that sucks. You seem to be doing so well on Etsy, I really love your shop.

Gina - Thanks for the detailed suggestions! You really hammered home how important a market would be, and I really agree with you. I agree about the larger sized model being a better option.. I'm going to think on that.
I know about the ethical clothing store, Woods and Fields, right? They contact me about wholesaling but I said I wasn't able to then. Hopefully once I work everything out I can approach these shops again.
P.S. I'm so used to people calling me Heidi that I don't even realise half the time. :p No worries.

Carolyn said...

Hey Hayley,

I'm sorry to hear about yours and Tim's situation. I don't really have good suggestions - the only real thing i can think of that may not have been mentioned is that 2 hands are better than 1 (i.e. get the bloke to help) hehe..

Yeah, i would agree with the larger model suggestion too, even though i am a small size.

And in case you're wondering about why some customers heart your items but never buy, i can only speak for myself: i've got 0 income at the moment. =( So really, it's not because i don't think your clothes are not practical etc. I just cannot afford to do so right now. Having said that, i'm really looking forward to your winter collection. THis is a good time to say i'm looking for a plain-ish warm winter knee-length-ish dress.

Best of Luck! You can do it!

Heidi and Seek said...

Carolyn - Thank you for the insight.

If Tim ends up unemployed for long I definitely will try to enlist his assistance, haha.

Must do some more winter dresses, so far it's been mostly outerwear.