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).