Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Handmade Overhaul: Blogs, Twitter, local networks!

Since opening my Etsy shop in 2009, I’ve seen a pattern of lots of sales in November and early December, and trickling sales the rest of the year. Most people associate my cup cozies with cold weather, but they can be very useful on cold drinks as well. They soak up condensation, keep your hands warm, and come on – CUTENESS lasts 365 days a year. Still – they just don’t sell that well during the rest of the year.

I would like for my shop to be more of a year-round business, so I’ve put together a plan of things I want to do to make this happen. Time will only tell if it’s successful! Fortunately, I am open to changing my mind in the middle of my plan and trying new approaches.

I’ve already written about introducing new products, improving my photography, expanding shop promotions and discounts and updating my shop banner. I’ve also written about updating the look and use of my blog, Twitter account and business cards.

Today, I’m going to write about being a part of communities like Twitter, the blogging world, my local handmade community and my local Etsy team.

Gonna combine the blogging world and Twitter – communities exist and I’m slowly becoming a part of them

· Blogging and Twitter communities are vast, there are so many ways to get involved and get your name out there. So far I’ve mostly concentrated my “following” efforts on craft folks, but I really need to diversify. I want different types of content coming my way to think about, respond to and share with others.

· Though this blog hasn’t had lots of interaction from readers, that doesn’t mean I’m new to the blogging world. Have you ever heard of LiveJournal? I’ve had a journal there since 2003 and if anyone knows about community, it’s LiveJournal. Many people who’ve been longtime journalers there compare each new social medium to LJ, and find them lacking. LJ allows you to get into more in-depth discussions than Facebook. The comment structure makes more sense than Blogger’s. The communities are perfect for discussion and debate, and due to the ability to create different security filters, you can easily control who sees what. And you can develop really intimate relationships with the people whose journals you read and interact with. I know that blogging out here in the light of day allows you some of those same things, but I’m telling you – and any LJ user will agree – LJ takes it to a HO. NUVVA. LEBBO.

· All of that is to say that I’ve found it somewhat difficult to jump into these other mediums. It seems as though many blog posts expect only short comments, and that’s mostly what people leave. The comment structure in Blogger doesn’t facilitate conversation, and I don’t like that. I feel as though people only really know each other on a very surface level . . . and maybe that’s what they want? I suppose when I want a deep circle of friends who know me very well (online) I’ll turn to my LJ. Or maybe there’s a deeper piece to these blogs I’ve followed recently that I’m not seeing?

· I have recently become MUCH more active on Twitter, and have added a bazillion new crafty peeps, who are great to get to know and helpful about sharing expertise and promoting each other. I’ve “followed” many of their blogs, too.

· One issue I’ve discovered is that I began added people willy nilly and now I can’t really keep up with them all. I’ve considered unfollowing some who are less active or who I haven’t really interacted with much, but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I don’t know the dynamics of these groups well enough to know if that would be a problem, or if they would even notice. I’ve been active in online communities long enough to know that things can get drama-rific VERY QUICKLY, and cliques abound online just like they do in real life. I suppose if drama develops just because I quietly unfollow some people, I should say good riddance? Surely I’m blowing this out of proportion, but like I said – I’ve seen it happen many times.

Local handmade community – Chicago has a MASSIVE one

· I had no idea, when I started my Etsy shop, at the sort of handmade community Chicago has to offer. Unlike many others, starting my Etsy shop was how I was introduced to a handmade community, anywhere. Lots of other people I know have been involved in handmade/crafty stuff for a long time – doing shows, making gifts for people, selling on consignment, etc – and then they finally decided to open an Etsy shop. After opening my shop I was blown away by the community within Etsy and the glimpse of my local handmade community.

· Chicago has different types of handmade communities, but like any large city, the “indie” community rules the roost. There are probably just as many handmade artists who wouldn’t consider themselves indie or hipster, but they’re not as visible, or as tied to community, as the indie artists are.

· I’ve just barely dipped my toe into local community waters, by attempting to sell my cozies at 2 very different craft shows. One was at a very indie handmade market held in a bar on a snowy Saturday afternoon – at the very end of the day I made my only sales, just enough to cover my entrance fee. The other was at a very soccer-mom-ish PTA craft show held in a school gym in the suburbs on a snowy Saturday afternoon. I made a couple sales but didn’t come close to earning back the semi-hefty entrance fee. Both were great learning experiences – I have an idea of what to expect at a show, what I need to have with me, what sort of expectations I need to let go of . . .

· I don’t feel as though I have the time to get too involved in the Chicago handmade community. I work in the city but live in the suburbs, I have a family to take care of and an education to finish (one day). My observation is that if you have the time and money to get into a number of craft shows, if you can get involved in various other events and activities within the indie culture in Chicago, you can make a name for yourself. I don’t have the time to commit to that, and my items – though eco-friendly – just aren’t indie enough, I think, to be taken very seriously by that crowd. Which is cool – I don’t have to fit in EVERYWHERE. That’s not to say I’ve been treated poorly – not at all! It just takes much more to get noticed than I have to give right now.

Local Etsy team

· An area I *have* been able to get involved in is my local Etsy team (we call it a “street team”). The funny thing s that it is partially made up of these indie artists I say I don’t fit in with. Like I said no one has been mean to me, I’m just kind of invisible in that crowd. However, with my Etsy team, I’ve taken an active role in getting things organized lately, so I’m very visible with them.

· My Etsy team rocks! We were inactive for a while, but have met once this year and will meet again in a couple weeks. We’re figuring out what sort of committees we’re going to have and how we can work together to share our expertise and promote each other. We have a bazillion new members and they have a lot of energy and excitement about having an awesome team. Right now, the plan is to met quarterly for official meetings, with various workshops and events in between that aren’t mandatory.

· Everyone comes with something different – some have been in every craft show known to man, some sell their items in retail stores, some know all about accounting and taxes. Some are photography buffs, some have very active and well-known shops/blogs/Twitters/Facebook/Flickr/Tumblrs/Etc. A couple of our long-time members have started up a traveling craft show – remember the show I was in, in a bar? Like that, but they’re at a different bar every month. Some have been doing handmade stuff forever and are the prototype for the hipster artist. Some are brand new to Etsy. Some are city folks, some are suburban, we even have people from Indiana and cities/towns well outside of the Chicago area. Some do this as their main source of income, and some, like me, consider it a “side hustle”. :) (That’s how a small-business accountant was referred to by a team member recently – that he knew how to work with people who had “side hustles”).

· We have plans for holding workshops to share expertise, a team blog, a team craft show. We already have a team Etsy shop, Twitter and Facebook page.

· My team is the best and I can’t wait to learn from them and help promote them!

What communities are you a part of? Are they beneficial? Is there anything like an Etsy Street Team in your area? I bet there is!

Keep an eye out for an upcoming post detailing my plans for:

~ Using my Facebook more effectively for community building, brand building and promoting great shops, artists and deals to my “fans” ~

Want to win some free cozies? Zip over to the Wattlebird blog and enter her giveaway, you could win 4! Hurry before time runs out! She also has other giveaways this week, they rock!


renee said...

Heeeeeeyy! LJ user! REPRESENT.
One thing that keeps me from commenting much is my lack of social skills, and was a problem for me on LJ as well. So I just have difficulty finding my place in online communities in general.

But let me say I have seen FAR less drama over unfollowing outside of LJ. It does not seem to be a problem.

renee said...

Also, I think wordpress has a better comment format.

Ashley said...

Every social network I've ever joined, I see someone make a comment about how LJ IS SO MUCH BETTER. :)


I'm glad, then, that, there is less drama. I've already unfollowed some peeps and haven't heard anything. I'm sure they won't even notice. Also, I don't think they followed me in the first place so I don't think they can talk. Ha!

Maybe when I get big and rich and famous I will graduate to a WP blog.

renee said...

The wordpress software should be free. Matt set mine up for me, but I'm not sure how to do it.

eNVe said...

LJ shout out!! I miss that journal. I think I'll be dusting it off and posting a little more these days...I hope. Anyway, I absolutely agree about all you said about LJ, esp the comment structure. That's what I don't like at all about blogger.

And YOU GO GIRL! I love that you go full force on everything that you do AND you have time to blog about it! How in the heck do you do it?? I've said it before, but seriously! I've been trying to update my blog for several days now and never get a chance. That is why I'm on this thing at 2:30 in the morning trying to update. anyway, tell me your secret! ;)

gina luv said...

I love your posts and they are really super helpful!!! :) As for not being able to have a discussion through the comment section in blogger, have you considered disqus? It is free to my knowledge and the main goal of it is to create conversation and engage in dialogie. Just a thought...:)gina

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