In And Out Of Grace (Huh)

Fate is a fickle thing. So is luck. And so is fortune. They say it favours the brave, but it seems that it deserts even them sometimes.

Why am I talking in riddles? Well, it’s been time for a bit more introspective navel gazing here at Brownton Abbey. Too much fucking time on my hands to think and think and overthink about my business and where it’s headed.

That also means too much time spent hanging around on Twitter and reading blogs and Facebook posts and general tidings from the indie craft community at large and getting an inferiority complex. Am I really the only one experiencing what’s turning into a prolonged downturn in business? Is it not the economic climate at all that’s to blame but that I’ve fallen out of favour?

Is my once jokingly-said claim that “everyone in the UK has a Make Tea Not War sampleron their wall by now, surely” actually true? Maybe so. Or maybe there’s some piece of bad mouthing out there that I’ve not spotted. Or maybe my website doesn’t work for anyone but me (it does, I’ve checked. A lot).

The fact is that sales are down. Traffic is not a great deal different from last year, if anything, it’s increasing. But the conversion of those visiting to actual sales is not where it once was. Why might this be? All the articles on the topic suggest it’s the product itself, or the site before it gets anywhere near talking about global financial meltdown trends and recession.

I’m happy with the product I sell. I believe in it and I think it’s still relevant and unique in a steadily saturating handmade market. I think I have played down the craft angle to focus on the quirky home goods one instead and I think that pitching at that level works for me. I feel I have a good balance of that.

I’m also happy that I have a cracking website with excellent product photography. I’m not being conceited by typing that. Believe me, until the tail end of last year, I’d have never written that. Sure my website and branding was great and stood out for the crowd, but my own photography was woeful. It didn’t sell the products well and looking back, it was, in places, shonky enough to be embarrassing. It was a disservice to not only the product but the brand (sorry, Marceline). Now it’s being done by a semi-pro. There’s consistency and a clear theme. The website is minimalist and fresh-looking. Elegant, someone called it recently. I feel it’s much more in keeping with my whole angle. I’m not happy with it – I’m fucking delighted.

I’m lucky in that I’ve never really had to try hard with advertising before but I’ve upped my spend on advertising by several hundred percent in the last year. I’ve looked at the other avenues I sell through to focus on the ones that generate the best return. I’ve spoken to bricks and mortar stockists to see what we could do there with custom products or special requests (although with several of them closing in the past 12 months and a slow uptake on new wholesale customers, those are getting fewer, too). I’m making a conscious effort to get out and do more events this year and broadening my horizons and looking at travelling further afield for them. I’ve even been considering going back to Etsy to list my charts and kits and we all know how I feel about Etsy.

So maybe it really is down to the fact that belts are tightening more and more in the UK, where the majority of my custom comes from, and my goods are “luxury items”. People have less and less disposable income these days, we’re told.

However, that trend was bucked slightly over Christmas where the number of orders fell but the value of them rose. Perhaps people feel that they want their money to go further and they’re happy to invest in quality independently designed and produced goods over the High Street?  Two conflicting arguments there. Neither of which solve my predicament.

I have new products in the works. A whole bunch of them. New samplers, new kits, prints, badges and two really exciting collaborations in the works that I can’t wait to shout about. But will anyone be listening? I should be excited about that but I’m worried, instead. I need to take the energy I’m putting into worrying into being awesome. It’s hard. I need to be less of a turtle and more of a cheetah.

I’ve spoken beforeabout the dangers of sticking your head above the parapet and taking too much notice of what others are up to. I really try not to get sucked in but when all around you all you see is tales of how awesomely super-well everyone else is doing and they’re tweeting pictures of their 95 sacks of parcels and all that, it gets a little dispiriting and makes you think maybe I am in this alone after all. I’m not saying I want everyone to do badly. I’m really pleased for the people I know who are making a success of their business, because I know they are working their arses off to do so and deserve the success they’ve built. Transparency of the difficulties and self-doubt and support that’s needed to arrive at that is what I think is missing from our community. The whole graceful swan paddling furiously beneath the surface thing. It’s hard to quantify. But I know that some of you get it (hey, this is my blog to vent on).

My new motto is You Must Be Tough And Tireless (yes, I’ll be stitching that up soon). I guess I have to take my own advice and keep my head down and keep on ploughing my own furrow. Keep on falling in and out of grace (huh).

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5 thoughts on “In And Out Of Grace (Huh)

  1. Interesting. I’m always busy (I manage to always have lots to do) but that doesn’t mean I am busy making orders – quite the opposite in fact! My orders have been down for the past few months and I’m not getting nearly as many as I have done over the past few years. Which is strange as I’m putting myself out there a lot more. I’m hoping to get some advertising done for Swirlyarts and then that may help lift the sales a bit. If I ever tweet that I am busy, I am, but not necessarily with sales!

  2. I very much get where you’re coming from. Between trading standards, increased postage and a small person who seems to hate me doing any sewing (oh and the part time job) then I am busy, but not with any actual making. I don’t know how my days go by so fast but they do. And then before you know it it’s the weekend again and all I seem to have to show for it is some washing and a bucket full of half done things that look accusingly at me.

    Procrastination is my go to state at the moment.

  3. Pingback: So much going on… « Clarebearscrafts's Blog

  4. This post rings so many bells with me, you have no idea.

    I love being self employed + running what we jokingly refer to as my “felt empire” but crikey riley this stuff is HARD.

    Not just the day to day stuff of juggling everything, working crazy long hours and having to be boss and employee and marketing department and so much else all rolled into one… but all the big scary overwhelming “is this right for my business? should I try that? why is this not working? am I going to be able to pay my rent?” type stuff we have floating round our heads all the time.

    I think we all get worn out and have too much to do (I am totally trying to take control of my To Do lists cheetah style at the moment, need to FOCUS to stop important tasks + bigger plans + creative development getting lost among my day to day business chores) and have crises big and small in our businesses… but do we talk about it? Hardly at all.

    It’s seemingly “okay” to say “oh gosh I’m so busy and stressed out at the moment” or “argh my laptop died!” but “not okay” to admit to genuine anxieties about the future of your business or to admit that sales are slow or that something’s stopped selling and you don’t know why… I think maybe it’s a mix of peoples general reluctance to talk about money, and wanting to present that professional + positive image to the outside world – like how you read lovely blogs and thing god how is her life so perfect? but then when you write your own blog you don’t mention the crap stuff and carefully crop the mess out of your photos 😀

    I try to remember not to compare my insides with other peoples outsides, and remember that everyone’s business is totally different, etc etc etc, but it is “nice” (not *nice* but you know what I mean!) to see people admitting to tough times / self doubt / etc amongst the constant stream of stupendously talented people (apparently) making stacks of money selling awesome things.

    For myself, I am definitely finding sales harder to come by in the last year or so. Not necessarily slower exactly, but more work required to get them, if that makes sense. To borrow your swan metaphor, I’m paddling faster but staying in much the same place.

    I think it’s partly “the economy” and partly to do with our own mini handmade economy – three or four years ago the market for handmade was a *lot* less saturated, now Etsy is just huge and there’s all these other online marketplaces popping up (plus everyone’s individual webshops of course). There are definitely people who are more prepared to spend on special / handmade / UK-made items these days but the competition for that money is much more intense, which might be why you’re seeing fewer shoppers but higher value purchases when people do shop?

    I am going to stop waffling on now and go eat some chocolate cake 🙂

  5. Thanks for all the comments – all interesting things to consider and some good points there! “Paddling faster but staying in much the same place.” is a good way of putting it, Laura!

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