March 8, 2012

Shop Owner Whoa! & Woes!

Whoa! being the positive aspects of owning an online shop, just to clarify, think Joey from Blossom. I'm writing this really for myself because I do not protest to be an expert on the subject at all. It helps me to formulate what I've learned, where I'm at and what I want to do in the future. Before I ventured into this I read blog after blog post about owning an online shop that helped me so if I can help someone who might be thinking of doing it then that would be a major bonus. In June I will have had my Etsy shop for three years and I have not sold that much over the course of that time. It's only been the past year that it has really started to pick up and even still I'm not really up there with more successful shops. With that said though, I do still have a full time job that takes a lot from me and requires me to actually work the 8+ hours I'm there every day. I'm no longer an assistant (which is what I loved doing) I have a new position that is much different than what I was doing before. I'm still adjusting to it all even after six months. It's hard OK! Ha! I have to have a laptop that I take home every night that I hate doing. I barely remember to feed my dog I can't keep track of a laptop in my messy home. As silly as that sounds to be annoyed at something so little it's really all I can complain about at this point (because of the lurkers).

{warning: long post}


Shipping pricing - so far biggest headache for me. I've been frustrated to the point of almost giving up. I'm not kidding. People get so mad at you. What people need to understand is that small business owners are NOT Walmart or Target or Amazon. We don't get discounts on shipping from various shipping companies for shipping out a bunch of packages like a lot of large companies do. We don't have the type of over head to offer a large discount on shipping. If I charge less on shipping then I'll just have to charge more for the item to make up for it. I have chosen not to do that. The cheapest option for me at this point is USPS and shipping any parcel package over 12" is not cheap. If it's over 12" or more than a 1/4" thick (for an envelope) it gets more expensive and if you don't believe me then us their postage calculator online and see for yourself. And that is just for domestic shipping, international shipping is even much more pricey. For example, I recently shipped out a set of 4 Pyrex bowls to Canada. I charged $36 - USPS charged me $48. You do the math. One factor I didn't take into consideration was because I packed it so tight it weighed a little over 10 lbs which was a big factor in the price. Also, because I shipped to Canada I couldn't have the option to put a decent tracking number on it. It did have the customs tracking number but according to some postal workers they're not always reliable. They say once it leaves the country it's not in their hands anymore. I could have used a different carrier like FedEx or UPS but it would have been much more than $48. A buyer is not going to pay that much. I would have a hard time as a buyer paying that. I get it.  

Pricing handmade items - This sort of goes with the shipping issue in that people don't understand that we don't have a sweat shop in China or Indonesia making thousands of items at not cost for us. We put a lot of time and effort into original, quality work. I go back and forth with this all of the time. It's hard to calculate my time, cost of materials and compare that to what I think people will want to pay. It's an ongoing battle. I want to be the shop to out price other shops with out selling myself short. Sometimes I have to let that go and when I do I feel fine about my choice. 

Calculating Etsy fees & Paypal fees - this is another factor I can't forget to estimate when pricing items. Etsy fees are pretty low compared to other sites but Paypal fees can get ridiculous. It's hard because I do like using them but at the same time they make me want to rip my eyes out with my crochet hook.
Packaging Fragile Items - the worst part is having an item show up to a buyer and it was broken. This has happened and I was so heartbroken. Not having control over this even when you pack something really well is hard to swallow. It's also one of the reasons why I don't ship certain glass or ceramic vintage items internationally. The stress alone is enough to give me an aneurism. 

Criticism - when people message me complaining about something. I take a deep breath and respond with the years of customer service and corporate policy politeness that I've learned over the years.
Advertising - this is hard for me to do mostly due to the limited amount of time in my day. I've sponsored blogs, online indie shops and I use this blog to get the word out. Twitter is a really great tool too. Using hastags like #handmade #etsy #vintage help other people who don't follow you see your tweet. I've tested this out and it works for me. I get more views when I share an item on twitter. I know it probably bothers some of the people who follow me when I go on a self-promotion twitter spree but that's OK, they'll get over it. I don't take up my entrie timeline doing it, those that do that I usually tend to ignore all of their tweets at some point. It try to keep it balanced. Usually I'm just saying something terribly sarcastic. Why is this a woe? Because I wish I had more time to promote my shop. That is one of my biggest frustrations.

Time Management - need more time for it all!!! Don't we all?!!

Space - we do not have enough space to store inventory in a 1 bedroom apartment. Our walls are literally creeping in.

I love having no face-to-face with customers (I articulate better in writing) and it gives me time to calm myself down if I have to deal with a difficult situation. Also, I suck at small talk. I need to work on this though if I ever own a brick-and-mortar shop. Which is a dream in the back of my mind.

I love packaging up the items, it's like wrapping presents which I enjoy. I try to make it fun and use unique items that will help someone remember me by.

I love the branding part and again, I wish I had more time to do this, but I love coming up with different ideas that I could do. I love typography and choosing which fonts to use for labels, biz cards, etc.

I love making things. I love that things that I have made have sold that there are people out there who have taken an interest in what I've made. It thrills me to no end. 

I love the hunt of finding vintage goods to sell. I've always been addicted to shopping. I'm definitely an emotional shopper. I shop when I feel bad and it makes me feel better. I've learned to channel that to thrift stores and then I don't feel so guilty afterwards sometimes because I'm not spending ridiculous amounts of money at the mall. Also being able to sell some of it and make some money doesn't feel too bad. 
Planning for the future - in the near future I'm excited to start branching out into vintage clothing and accessories. I've already started with vintage bags and can't wait to show the neat apparel I've found. I not-so-secretly want to keep it all to myself. Dreaming big is hard for me to do sometimes because I am a realist at my core. I love the imagination and what it does for us but sometimes I find myself stopping because I think something is just too big. I get scared and I start coming up with a thousand reasons why I can't do it. 

Keeping positive and focused - I know I'm all about the snark and nasty comments sometimes on this blog but when it comes to business, especially one that I am passionate about I believe it's important to stay positive and keep to your goals.

I tell myself:  *Don't sell yourself short. *Certain things do not deserve to get the best of you. *Just keep having fun with it.

Why I chose Etsy? What I lack in self-promotion Etsy picks up the slack in a way and helps direct people to my shop, it is where most of my shop views come from. It provides helpful tools, articles and online community support for it's shop owners. I've learned a lot reading their helpful articles using the tools out there.

The Woe list might be longer than the Whoa! list but I assure you that the few things on the Whoa! list are what keep me driven and definitely out weigh the hard parts. I know this is something I want for my future whether it be near or far. It's been slow and I know it will continue to be slow but that's OK because I'm still learning and growing and want it to be something that sticks around.


Messy said...

Great post!!! I have the exact same problems/issues with my shop and selling online! so frusterating sometimes!!!


freaked out n small said...

It does get frustrating, doesn't it? I've got it a bit easier on the shipping end - most of my handmade items are very light, so I kinda have an idea of what each parcel will cost before posting the items. You ship out heavy stuff all the time though, so I can see that would be a total pain in the ass. Do people really get uppity over the shipping costs? I don't mean to be bitchy, but why do they bother buying it? The shipping costs are listed right on the page... You can probably see why I wouldn't do good with face to face customers. People just piss me off. I've been lucky so far (with my whooping 15 sales) and haven't had anyone complain yet.
I've heard a lot of complaints from popular etsy sellers saying that the cost of etsy is too high. I think that's bullshit. For no overhead, utility bills, and to have them do a bit of the marketing for you and directing people to your shop - I think their listing fees and % of sell is actually quite reasonable. Paypal on the other hand is a bit high - but what're you going to do about it? We have to use them. :/
Pricing items is another tough spot - I keep reading etsy articles that say not to sell yourself short on the price - but you always want to stay competitive...that's what business is all about. I love making things - but I don't make a shit load of items just to have them sit around my house - I want to actually sell them... It's a conundrum for sure...

Sorry for the book - this post was something I've been thinking about for the last week. I started selling a few custom softies in the shop recently and I've been agonizing over how much to charge for them. They are a LOT of work - but again, I want to actually sell them, ya know?

Oh, and one last thing. I'm so with you on the whole getting a kick out of people wanting something I created. Seriously. It's a freaking high. Each time I sell something I do the frackin happy dance all over my house for a least 20 minutes.

Colleen ♥

kendahl said...

The pricing thing is exactly why I don't sell my bows on Etsy anymore. There are too many resellers on there that sell things I am taking 15-20 minutes making, for $2. I'm not working for $4 an hour after materials. Selling online is frustrating but also rewarding, that's for sure.

Oh Honestly Erin said...

Shipping drives me nuts too! Well, moreso Henry because that is his role in my Etsy shops and I am forever undercharging shipping.

Speaking of, he just texted me from work yesterday and said he has 20 boxes that are 11in x 9in x 3.75in deep - could you use those? I guess his boss ordered the wrong sizes and was going to pitch them.