Lessons Learned From 2 Years + Thousands of Sales in Handmade Business

Photo credit.

{Today’s post comes from Lisa Jacobs, and you are about to be blown away! Incredibly generous, personal, real-life insight here from someone who’s “been there” with a handmade online business. Whether or not you sell handmade, you will take something valuable away from this. Enjoy! –Stephanie}

I’m Lisa Jacobs of Marketing Creativity, and I help people build their hobbies into creative businesses. Fairground Media is one of my favorite resources for information and inspiration, so I’m thrilled to be here today!

I have been selling on Etsy and writing about my sales and strategies for the last two years. I started the Energy Shop with $100 worth of supplies. I’ve earned more than $60,000 in the last two years. I now work from home and provide a healthy second income for my family.

Here are a few things I know for sure about handmade business:

Give Stuff Away.

If you check out my shop, it will come as no surprise to you that I’m a real believer in karma. Share your product. If anyone I know personally shows interest in my product, they get a bracelet. I appreciate support in all forms.

Before I started selling anything, I gave packets of bracelets to many of my friends. Their feedback was essential to my beginning, and it proved that I had a lovely little gift in each creation.

This reminds me of something written by Wayne Dyer, “When you say, ‘How may I share?’ the Universe responds, How may I share with you?” Let me be clear in that I don’t share for what I’ll get in return. I’m often thinking of someone when a new stone comes across my desk, and I love making a new bracelet with loving thoughts of someone I know.

Having clarified that you don’t want to give just to get, here’s my point: Anytime I put an unexpected gift package in the mail, I see a huge increase in sales that week. How can you share?

But, Don’t Do Give-Aways.

Early on, I ran a sweepstakes on my blog for a free bracelet. I was just starting out and I had a lot of time to spread the word about my shop using free marketing methods such as this one.

By the time of my sweepstakes drawing, my business had increased and I had become quite busy. I made the sweepstakes bracelet and sent it to the winner, who had an issue with the bracelet on arrival. Her story was suspicious. I was sorry to disappoint the winner, but I did not have the time or personal energy to perform customer service for a non-paying customer.

I’ve learned to work around this by offering gift certificates for sweepstakes, and I only do this for other bloggers to go along with their reviews. In order to redeem my gift certificate, the customer will need to log into their Paypal account and fill out all of the information on Etsy as well. That person is then a customer with a gift certificate, rather than a sweepstakes winner, which means we’re “in business” and following all of the regular policies.

Celebrate Your Sales.

When I hit 100 sales in my first month of business, I was beyond ecstatic. To me, it meant: I really have something here! I saw a full-time job and a second income in my near future. I needed to CELEBRATE! And I wanted to do it with the people who got me there.

At 100 sales, I created a “Customer Appreciation Special.” I ordered Chrysanthemum stone for the first time, and this sale is how it was debuted in my shop. I made a stock of 10 bracelets and priced them so that I didn’t lose, but my customer clearly won.

I’ve since gone on to celebrate sales at 250, 500, 1,000, and 2,000. These landmarks and the customer appreciation sales that follow have become very popular with my email list. I’m approaching 3,000 sales and now my customers participate in online polls for which attributes they would like to see in my next special. I’ll create 150 discounted bracelets, and I typically sell out of them within thirty days.

Be Friendly but Business-Minded.

Customers have come to expect personalized treatment from handmade businesses, as they should. However, custom requests can sometimes require so much extra work, you may question if they are worth the effort.

When I became a little too busy to take custom requests, it made me feel guilty. It required a lot of extra work, and for the same price as all of the other listings in my shop. I had a moment of resentment: was the Energy Shop serving me, or was I serving the Energy Shop?

So, I sat with that resentment for a moment, and I asked myself: what would it take for me to feel okay about completing this request? For me, the answer is: I want to get paid for my time and service. If the customer is making a request that will cost me an extra hour’s worth of work, the only way I can feel more comfortable with it, is if I charge the extra for my time. Every other customer that shops my store pays for my time, so I decided to charge the custom orders a custom price.

The very first time I set a higher price for a custom item, I realized I was having that entire argument in my head, with myself. I told the customer the increased price, and she agreed right away. And that’s what I’ve done from then on. If they don’t agree to the higher price, I saved myself an hour’s worth of unpaid work. But, if they’re paying for my time, I’m more than happy to accommodate special requests.

Buy Advertisements.

I love! love! love! my Facebook advertising. Where my stuff is trending is where I need to advertise. I pick very select groups to sell to, which keeps my cost per click rates on Facebook very low.

I’m not going to give away my entire strategy here, so let’s say I made boutique-y children’s clothing (I don’t). I used to subscribe to US Weekly,* and man oh man, did I think that I needed to outfit all of my children (there are four) in upscale, boutique-y, one-of-a-kind outfits. If I were selling this line, I would take out an advertisement on Facebook for married women aged 26-38 who “like” the US Weekly Fan Page. I would put a child that looked simple and neat, a life-like Suri Cruise, in one of my cutest outfits and create a fabulous headline.

*If I were a boutique-y children’s clothing store, I would also subscribe to US Weekly to keep up with Hollywood baby trends and change my item tags to match what other US Weekly subscribers might be searching each week.

In start-up, Facebook Ads have been everything I need. Facebook recently started accepting Paypal, which is just one more convenience. Google Ads are another very user-friendly advertising resource. However, I find the cost per click to be insanely over-priced. Books that teach the CPC strategy, like The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris, have increased the popularity of search engine advertising. I recently cashed a coupon for $75 in free Google advertisements (magazines, like Inc., will offer great deals and coupons for small business owners) and I was paying more than $1 for every click (two years ago, each click would have cost $.10). In my opinion, $1 is simply not worth it.

However, you may have a product that would do very well on Google Ads and every $1 spent could potentially bring in great profit. Obviously, your marketing strategy depends on your market.

And Finally: Take Action.

There’s no better way to slow down and grow frustrated than to stop production. Sometimes, sales slow. Keep working. Keep creating. Keep plugging away. If you’re miserable in business, it’s typically because you’re waiting for something to happen. Stop it. Get moving, and go make something happen.

In the opening of Kevin Hart’s movie, Kevin Hart: Seriously Funny, he and his entourage shout: “Everybody wants to be famous! Nobody wants to do the work!” With the smash success of movies like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, and the aforementioned Kevin Hart documentary (if you haven’t seen these movies, go rent them right now!), people are waking up to the fact that greatness awaits, BUT YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK. Outlast the quitters, and you’re already famous.

My dear friends, take advantage of this.

Please DO: realize that two years is longer than most will stick with it.

Please DO: realize that the only people achieving their dreams are the ones who worked hard for them.

Please note: I’m writing to you from a place of “dreams manifest into reality”–not because I’ve realized all of my dreams, but because I pay attention to every step that gets me closer to them.

The point I don’t want you to miss is that we are, each one of us, creating something out of nothing. We are artists. Two years ago, I didn’t have a small business. I just had an idea. I invested my time, energy, and a little bit of money–just as you did. It’s something to be proud of, whether you’re waiting for your first sale, or celebrating your first thousand. You are creativity, and I want to thank you for bringing all of that fantastic energy here and sharing it with me!

Thank you, Stephanie, for allowing me to share with you! Wishing you all continued success~

Lisa Jacobs writes Marketing Creativity for fellow creative spirits who aim to build a career with their own two hands. She leads group webinar programs and offers one-on-one coaching designed to help you get paid to be … you.

{Editor’s Note 11/8: If you loved what Lisa had to say in this article and are interested in picking her brain even further– brace yourself for the good news! She just released a new program called “Shop Fundamentals,” and you can get in on it today. Click the banner below to learn more.}