Marketing (part 3)

When marketing people talk about placement they aren’t just talking about where you place your item to sell. They’re also talking about where you place your product within the market. Let’s talk about the actual selling spot first. When I started selling things online, Ebay was pretty much the only option. At the time, I used it like many people do, as a global garage sale for collectibles and such things. When I started selling handmade items, a few went on Ebay, but not many.

When I got ready to really sell handmade, Etsy was it. The end-all be-all of handmade online marketplaces. I don’t think I even knew about any alternatives. They are still the 800 pound gorilla, but they’ve run into some trouble lately (to put it mildly) that is off putting to many sellers. Ask your average consumer where they’d look for handmade goods on the internet and they’re still most likely to say Etsy.

Handmade – but maybe not so much anymore.

Most of my sales to date have been through Etsy, save a few Facebook initiated customs. I’ve tried other venues, but nothing’s come close to the amount of traffic and sales Etsy generates. That doesn’t mean I’m 100%  happy with them as a seller, but my current customer base is using this venue to look at similar items and it would be silly for me not to have Ruggles there.

Of course there is a veritable ocean of other handmade marketplaces out there, with more appearing every day. What you’re selling might also help determine where you should sell. If you’re selling cloth diapers (for instance) you better be on Hyenacart. If your item doesn’t dictate placement, then it’s up to you. Choose Etsy or one of the others. And although you might get a few views or even a sale just by being on Etsy, no matter what venue you choose you’ll have to do your own promotion work to really make your shop thrive.

Have a serious business plan in mind? Go straight for your own website with an integrated shop. Every seller should work toward this, and I’m currently in the process of redesigning my website to include a shop. Even if you use it as a backup, it’s there should you need it.

Other venues to check out:

There are also venues whose main market are Canadians ( or Europeans (Folksy and Dawanda) although they’re open to everyone worldwide.

What about selling on consignment or at craft fairs? I can’t really speak to those. As a Mom of two young, active boys doing craft fairs is out of my scope. I like the idea, and know several sellers who do quite well at them. If you’re personable and a good salesman event selling might make sense for you. There’s a wealth of information on the net about setting up your booth and finding local shows. As for consignment, I’ve never tried it and never will. I don’t like the idea of putting my product in someone else’s hands to sell. I’d rather do the selling myself. I’ve also never heard of a seller who just loved consignment or had great success with it.

I’m going to touch a little bit on placement within the market. This is where factors like competition come into play. Actually, this stuff is pretty interconnected if y’all haven’t noticed already. I should go into target markets at this point, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish I’ll cover as part of promotions.

So let’s pretend the market as a whole for your type of item is a vertical line. You should narrow your focus market as much as possible. So for Ruggles it looks something like this: Toys> Blankets> Security Blankets> Animal Security Blankets. So Animal Security Blankets is my vertical line. I’m positioning myself at the top of that market. I do that with pricing, quality and branding Ruggles as a boutique item. I’d put things like Pillow Pets at the bottom of the same market. If you’re in a highly competitive market, your positioning becomes more important and is one way to help your product stand out. Mine isn’t really a highly competitive market. If I broaden the definition to include things like Taggies then it become a little more so, but nothing like the more saturated categories.

When you search “security blanket” on Etsy you get 7,015 items. Search “animal security blanket” and the field narrows to just 911. I actually don’t have to do much to make sure I stand out in that kind of crowd. I’m not going to lose a lot of business to a competitor because I have no direct competitors. Search for “jewelry” and you get 3,184,739 items. If you’re in one of those highly competitive markets, either your product, or your positioning, or preferably both will have to make it stand out.  I decided to do a search for “stamped jewelry” since I like those necklaces and that narrowed the field to 61,289. In a market that large, positioning yourself in line with your competitors is going to be a factor. Unless you have something super special that adds actual or perceived value, like your necklaces being sterling silver or a special shape.

You might think undercutting your competitors and placing yourself at the bottom of the market would be good, but that can backfire. If everybody else is selling their widget for $40, and you sell yours for $5, you may get some sales but you’ll lose a lot because your item will be perceived as cheap. Unless of course it actually is cheaper. It’s okay to occupy that position in the market. Just do it deliberately.

This is far more “wall of text” than I intended. As always questions and comments are welcome! Promotions is up next, and is what I’m best at. That might turn into more than one post…


Marketing (part 2)

Pricing a handmade item really shouldn’t be hard but it is. I’ve struggled with pricing, and judging from the amount of posts on the subject other sellers have as well. My struggles come from wanting to make Ruggles as affordable as possible. I’d like everyone to be able to afford one, but I know realistically that’s not possible, since I’d also like to afford to make them.

My first Ruggle sold for $25. That was too low, even given I was using Velboa fur (less expensive than Minky) and they were a tad smaller than the ones I make now. I’ll never know for sure because I didn’t do the math. I just looked at it, thought “$25 sounds pretty good” and went with it. Very scientific, I know. When I finally did do the math, I choked on my coke. At that point “doing the math” meant coming up with a loose materials cost. Then I used the standard formula that most blogs, businesses and even Etsy recommend – materials x 2 = wholesale; wholesale x 2 = retail.

My very first sold Ruggle.

That number really did make me choke. It was north of $120 for a standard Ruggle. I wondered if people would even pay the wholesale price that equation had given me, but I did slowly start to raise prices trying to get to the point where my materials would be covered.

I still wasn’t paying myself for my time. I think it’s utterly ridiculous now, but like many other handmade artisans I didn’t think my time was worth anything. Of course, your time is the most important part of the materials equation. You can have a bunch of materials lying around, but without your time and talent it won’t amount to anything other than a stack of stuff.

The second time I did the math, I got serious about it. I factored in (almost) everything. Not just the things I’d taken into account before (fabric, thread, batting, etc.) but all the things I hadn’t (my time, pins, printer ink, and a ton of other stuff). I choked again. Then I turned to the Attack of the Craft forums and got several gems of advice that really helped me in pricing.

First, I am selling a luxury item. It’s not food or shelter and it’s not going to negatively impact the life of anyone who can’t afford it. Second, I am not my target market. My target market exists in an income bracket above myself, so just because *I* can’t pay that much for it, doesn’t mean it’s not worth the amount. Third, you have to trust the math. If you aren’t making enough money to make the process worth your time you will come to resent it. This is supposed to be fun and rewarding, not a pain in the budgetary ass.

And last, but not least, wholesale makes absolutely no sense for handmade. To be profitable in wholesale, you need an economy of scale that you just aren’t going to get with handmade. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling 1 or 100, you’re still doing the same amount of work. There are no savings for handmade in wholesale because there’s no automation in handmade. This lesson actually took me a while to really sink in. I had to do a few wholesale orders (losing money on each piece) and kill myself in the process before it hit home. I think for the longest time I equated wholesale with success. But it’s just not.

Wholesale orders were good for introducing new animals like this wombat.

I try to review my costs once a quarter, or whenever I know something I use is going up in price (like postage or fabric or what have you). My materials include fabric, thread, batting, stuffing, labor, fleece, pins, tags (which includes fabric, thread and printer ink), shipping envelopes (I pay a bit more for compostable/recyclable, reusable eco enclose mailers), business cards, thank you cards, ribbon and postage. I don’t include the cost of shipping materials to me, photography costs, internet access and website costs, licenses, gas and other things like that.

I’m pretty happy with where my prices are right now. I make enough to cover my time and materials plus about $10 in profit (sometimes less) on each Ruggle I sell, but because of those other expenses I don’t factor into pricing I haven’t made a profit overall yet. I have hopes for this year, but we’ll see. I have never charged what that original formula told me to, not even the wholesale cost and I don’t really ever intend to use it as a real pricing tool again. It may make sense for others, but not for me.

Writing this made me realize that I don’t have pricing on my website. That’s one of my big pet peeves – not being able to find out how much something is going to cost. So here’s a quick breakdown with a more detailed pricing structure to come on the main site…

Standard Ruggles $50 + $5 shipping (most animals who are simple, i.e., have two ears and a tail.)

Horned Ruggles $55 + $5 shipping (animals with ears and horns and maybe a fleece muzzle like this moose.)

Involved Ruggles $60 + $5 shipping (anything that is more involved than horns and ears. Critters with ridges down the back or wings fall into this category)

Pieced Ruggles $65 + $5 shipping (any animal with two or more colors of fur pieced together, like this fox.)

Mini Ruggles $25 + $5 shipping (I only do animals that fall into the “standard ruggle” category as minis, and they are always ready to ship. No customs.)

Giant Ruggles $135 and up + $20 shipping (final cost dependent on the critter, but most “standard ruggle” animals will be $135 as giants.)

Even though it should be simple math, and easy, pricing just isn’t. There’s always an emotional component when you put a price on something you’ve made, as well as other factors that make it more difficult. But starting with the math is a smart way to go. As always, questions and comments welcome! Next up in the marketing series: placement.

Death, Taxes and the CPSIA

Once I decided I was running an actual business* the next logical step was to get all legal. It’s amazing how doing this will change your perception of what you’re doing. Paying for a business license and trade name makes you really think you’re legit. Part of that may be that navigating the bureaucracy of getting those items is akin to going down the Amazon river in an innertube. It’s frustrating as hell. Not to mention time consuming, confusing and expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. (Except the expensive part. That’s pretty much a given.)

He wants your money.

I see more questions on my Etsy team discussion boards about getting your business license and taxes than almost anything else. I had no clue where to start, and like most people (I imagine) I started researching taxes at the state level. Save yourself a lot of time and don’t do that. Start at the smallest level and work your way up. Most of the time you’ll find that when you meet the requirements for your city or county, you’ll have met them for the state and feds as well. The only exception to this is the Federal Tax ID number, which you’ll need if you want to get wholesale pricing from some sellers.

In my case, I started with the county since my place of business (my house) is unincorporated. If I were within city limits, I would have started with City Hall. So I’ll use the county example, and you can adjust for your own situation. Start by Googling “business license” and your county. That should at least get you a site telling you where to go. If you’re lucky, the forms you need will be online. It’ll also tell you how much it is and whether you’ll need to submit it in person or if you can mail it in. (Gwinnett County, GA information is here.) You will have to renew this license every year, and mine runs on a calendar year so it pays to do it as close to January 1st as possible. They don’t prorate. In Gwinnett County, GA it’ll cost you $80.

Next, you’ll need to register your trade name or DBA (doing business as). If you sell under any name other than your own, you need to do this. It’s expensive, but you never have to renew it. Google “trade name registration” and your county to find the details. Pay attention to how they want to be paid. In my county, they want two different payments. One money order for the courts, and a check for the local paper to publish your name. I can mail mine in, and the form is online so that makes it a bit easier. (Gwinnett DBA form PDF.) Here the trade name will cost you $161 and publishing it (which is required) is another $40.

That should take care of your licensing, but be sure to ask when you’re at the business license office if you need anything else. I found them very helpful and knowledgeable. That brings us to…



You’ll want to do this part, because you can file a Schedule C with your taxes and any business loss you have will be deductible. Of course, you’ll be paying if you make a profit and you’ll also need to make sure you pay appropriate taxes on what you sell. As complicated as most people seem to think this is, in reality it’s super easy.


In Georgia I have to charge tax and keep records on sales made within the state. So anytime a customer from Georgia buys a Ruggle, I have to collect tax and pay that to the state. My county taxes are paid in that same lump, so I only have to file with and pay the state. (The business license is also considered a tax.)

For Georgia, everything can be done online, which is awesome. You will need to know how much the taxes in your area are. For me it’s 6%. This is Georgia’s tax website. Once you get signed up, I suggest you appeal to have a more reasonable schedule for reporting. Georgia’s default is monthly, but I’ve only made one sale in Georgia and it was annoying to remember to go tell them I hadn’t sold anything every month. I just filled out a simple form on the site and it got approved fairly quickly. Now I report yearly, but you can also choose quarterly if you do more local business. Once you sign up with the state, that should cover you locally, but it’s not a bad idea to ask while you’re at the courthouse getting your business license.

You don’t need a Federal Tax ID (or Employer Identification Number – EIN) unless you plan to buy wholesale from someone who requires it, or you need it to get into special retailer events and whatnot. They’re super easy to get though. Just go here and follow the instructions.

As you can see, people are pretty passionate about this issue.

Which brings me to the CPSIA. Otherwise known as the bane of children’s products crafters everywhere. If you don’t make items for kids consider yourself lucky. Very lucky. The CPSIA (or The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008) was passed after all those toys from China ended up being lead filled. It’s huge, encompasses a lot of crap and is necessary reading if you make child oriented things or plan to anytime in the future. I actually know a couple of sellers who decided to stop making things for kids altogether because of this law. Which is a damn shame.

HootNAndy stopped making awesome things like this Skelepony rocking horse as a direct result of the CPSIA.

Cool Mom Picks has a great list of things to do to fight for handmade children’s items sellers. Some things are exempt, like fabric, which makes it much easier for me. Even fabric items like my Ruggles have to comply with labeling laws.

Here’s a couple of cliff notes versions of the CPSIA to get you started:

You’ll need to add some way to track your material lots. It would be impossible to track lot numbers from every bolt of fabric I’ve cut. Instead, I add a date to my label which serves as my “date of manufacture”.  This way, if there ever is a recall on fabric I can track it down via receipts.

The textile labeling laws are actually under the FTC (more long, boring reading). The short version is on the second link above. Here’s what my tag currently says:

Made from natural and synthetic fibers & materials.
delicate wash, dry on low
Hog Mountain, GA

So you can see I had to be very general since I use all sorts of fabrics for the claws. The space after the washing instructions is where I write in the date of manufacture before putting the tag onto the Ruggle.

There’s also an entire forum on Etsy dedicated to CPSIA regulations. Here’s the one I found most helpful when I was researching what I needed to do.

As much information as I’ve put in this post, you should be able to see that it’s fairly easy to get all legal and legit. Aside from the CPSIA which can be a huge pain in the ass. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. As always I’m no expert, but I’ll do my best.

You thought I’d forgotten Death, didn’t you? Of course not! What you probably should do is amend your will to give any and all assets from your business to a beneficiary. I admit to not having a will (eep! I know). So I made a file folder for my husband which lists all the passwords, usernames and any other pertinent info he would need if I kicked it. If you’re awesome like me, you’ll include some names and contact info for people who might be interested in any supplies you have.

That’s it for this post. Curious about another aspect of running a micro business? Leave me a comment. 🙂 I love comments.

*honestly, I’m still waffling. Probably because I don’t have the time to really focus on it and make it take off. I won’t until the boys are both in school, so until then I’m just trying to keep it going. So it’s really somewhere between business and hobby at the moment.


Since there’s a man painting the window on the other side of my sewing machine, and if I worked I’d be about a foot from his crotch I’ve decided to write a blog post instead.

The first thing any crafter struggles with is what to make and I’m no different. I can walk into a craft store and spend hours, coming up with a thousand different projects that would be really cool. I’ve done it, and have the materials of hundreds of cool projects lying fallow in my supplies to prove it. (Plus another couple hundred pages of magazines with inspiration or things I want to make on top of that, and let’s not even talk about my Pinterest account.) Starting a crafting business was like that for me. I had a lot of ideas and little direction. Now, when I look at business sites and they talk about formulating a business plan and 5 year goals and whatnot I just have to laugh. I don’t know a single handmade business owner who did it that way. We all just started making stuff, thought “hey, somebody might buy this” and opened shop.

Aren't these blown egg geodes cool?

Which is a good a way to do it as any I guess. Especially when you’re working on this kind of scale. If we were talking about a big corporation, or hell even a small brick and mortar business, that would be different. But when you’re talking about a business whose greatest investment capital is probably already sitting in the craft room then it’s a different story. I didn’t have to go to a bank and take out a loan to get started, I just made stuff with what I already had. Even though it’s not a bad way to do it, I would have done it differently had I gone into this thinking “business” instead of “make a little money, might be fun!”

For one thing, I would have nailed down my product to begin with. That would have saved me a little money on supplies that never got used (in the case of the pet items idea) and a lot of time and effort (in the case of the diaper idea). Arriving at my one true thing wasn’t a long process, but it was long enough. I think that’s one of the beauties of the micro scale handmade business. You can fail without going bankrupt. You can try new things without a great deal of expense. Research and development is natural and fluid. Feedback is pretty instant. Change is a good thing, and doesn’t feel like such a huge risk. Because it isn’t.

Of course there have been changes to my shop even after I settled on Ruggles. I’m constantly trying to improve my items and my customer’s shopping experience. Being online, I have to keep updating my product and my shop to stay viable and current.

Some of the changes I’ve made have been to make my Ruggles bigger. Create a permanent pattern base that I can work from so they are all consistent in size. Went from using Velboa furs to Minky. I switched from using safety eyes to embroidered eyes. Made my tags double sided and filled the back with everything I need to be CPSIA compliant. I’ve changed my picture background (several times), orientation and size. I streamlined my item description and moved a lot of useful but not critical information from there to the policies section. I created a stand alone website. I’ve tried and discarded a dozen different marketing ideas (I’ll save the specifics on that for another post).

I still like this background, but it didn't do anything to showcase my Ruggles.

And that doesn’t even begin to touch all the changes I’ve made in suppliers, supplies, logo design, tags, and on and on. To sum up: change is good. When you’re running something this small $10 spent on new business cards can make it feel like a whole new business. So you can change quickly and respond to customer input, competition and innovation.

It only took me about 7 hours to write this post! I’ll have to talk about the unbalanced balancing act of Mom, wife, housekeeper and business owner. Later.