I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it...Picasso

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Time To Connect The Dots

It's time to connect the dots.  Time to draw  cyberspace into physical space.  Giving both ends of the bungee cord the final tugs to bring the seemingly just short hooks together and hold the bundle to the bike.  Here is where I find myself. 

All the while that I have been working away at this lovely little cyber home in my lovely little cyber neighborhood I have had the luxury of not paying much attention to the workaday responsibilities that a new home can bring.  Like moving into a new house.  While choosing paint colors and selecting the perfect pulls for the kitchen cabinets and being thrilled with the newness and shininess of it all, thoughts of what you will do the first time the sink backs up never enter your mind.   Thoughts of whether or not the neighbors will be friendly or if the mailman is efficient are far removed from the fantasy princess world you are blissfully inhabiting as you nest and decorate your beloved abode.  

But then you are satisfied (for now) that your new home is ready for visitors and you'd like to invite people over to celebrate.  You invite some friends and family and those that can, dutifully attend but you realize that the people that you really need to have over are the people you don't know that you want to meet.  Neighbors and new people are the integral element to your new life in your new home and getting strangers to come visit you is not as easy as it was in grandma's day.  Okay, the next door neighbor has a stake in this so they will come.  The people across the street have a bit of an interest in you so they come too.  Yet with the few friends and family, the next door neighbors and the people across the street, there is still plenty of food and drink and the new home looks a little empty without more people.  Where is the rest of the neighborhood?  Did they get the invitation?  Why didn't they come?  Whose going to eat all this food?

And so it is with my little Etsy shoppe.  I've decorated, I've written the invitations and I have laid out the food and drink for all to consume and well, frankly not many of the invitees have shown up.  I know that just sitting and waiting and wishing and hoping are are just that and not a good use of my resources.  I know this is a time for what little salesmanship I have to kick in.  Though I never thought I was particularly good at promoting myself (I'm a killer promoter when it comes to others) if ever there was a time to try harder, it's now.

I started kicking around some of the blogs and websites designed for crafty entrepreneurs like myself.  There's plenty out there.  For starters, Etsy itself publishes a newsletter/blog with advice from other sellers that was helpful to me during the building process.  Now, not so much as I look to expand beyond the Etsy community.  I came across Crafting an MBA,  an amazingly informative and useful site which I go to religiously and Design Sponge, a virtual library of topic driven articles that are textbook-like in the authority and usefulness of their information. 

I also began reading books - Craft, Inc. thorough and full of insight and information including interviews and advice from successful crafters, well, like Jonathan Adler, who if you didn't know, started out as a potter.  Crafty Superstar is a lighter version but well organized and very useful.  Crafting A Business a very pretty, inspiring book which is a collection of personal stories and advice from those successful subjects.  And for all around attitude adjustment and correct focus of ambition there is The Martha Rules from the greatest crafty visionary of all time.  You can say what you will about Martha, love her or hate her, but she is my hero.  She was the first to take baking pies, giving dinner parties, growing her own food and making her own aprons into a domestic and crafting skills empire. 

There are several routes to travel and at the moment I intuitively feel there is one in particular I must take.  The art and craft fairs.  Tis' the season and there are many to participate in.  I made a half-hearted  promise to myself that I would try to do the May Nyack Street Fair  (large, local and well attended) but got hung up on having to have a picture of my booth for the application and because I'd never done a fair before I didn't have those pictures.  Realizing I could set something up in my driveway to photograph, my inner perfectionist got the best of me and while I was intently trying to come up with the displays that would be the be all/end all, well I missed that deadline.  Oh well, there's another one in July.  Late July.  Hot.  Really hot.  I hate hot.  I can almost make myself cry at the thought of sitting in a tent on a 95 degree/80% humidity day trying to look interested, interesting, dripping sweat all over the pretty things I am trying to show an potential buyer.  I can imagine them not wanting me to fasten the necklace on them because I look like I am going to pass out.  Saying thanks anyway as they walk away looking at me looking so pathetically miserable.  There has to be a better time for me to do these things.  Obviously the fall and all those Christmas season fairs.  Those are the ticket for me.

The next Nyack Street Fair is in October.  That's the one.  That is where I will begin.  Then I realize I don't know what that beginning looks like.  I've been to a million street fairs, craft fairs, art and craft fairs - for god sakes, I live in New York.  There are days in the summer that the streets of NYC can look like Marrakesh with fairs and festivals taking up long stretches of main avenues and even entire neighborhoods.  There's a festival in Little Italy that turns several blocks of  NYC into the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore!

Anyway.  When I have attended these events I have gone and focused on what I was supposed to be paying attention to - what the booth was selling.  The merch.  I was not looking at how they were set up and what equipment they needed to look like they belonged there.  So as the season began, I set out on reconnaissance missions to look at the structure not the stuff.  Obviously the tents were my first priority.  Now I have been to some flea market type events with women sitting on chairs with big black umbrellas the only thing between them and the blazing sun and I can tell you I don't blame them for not getting up when potential customers approach their table.  They just want the friggin' day to be over.  When they were packing up their wares before they left home they had dollar signs in their eyes.  By mid-day the perspiration had drenched all of that into a raging headache.

Rule number one.  No umbrellas.  Let's look at the tents.  I walked around several markets taking notes on my Blackberry of the brand names of the frail canopies lined up one after the other.  Many of these things take place on asphalt so there is no staking the tent like you would if you were camping or doing some Hudson Valley celebration for some natural event (the river, strawberries, apples, farms) on grass (which I will no doubt be doing at some point).  So after I had walked around looking up for brand labels, witnessing a couple of near disasters when a little wind kicked up, I began looking down.  Down to see how the real pros were keeping the tent from becoming air born.  There were gallon water bottles tied to the poles, barbell weights taped to the legs,  sandbags - all very functional but wildly unattractive and in some instances a little dangerous to the wandering public that are not really watching where they are going.  I reminded myself that anything that was there had been carried there and I balked at the idea of schlepping this awkward, heavy and unattractive junk along for the ride after spending days, weeks, months designing the best damned craft fair booth going.  I finally found the answer but it is so ingenious I shall not share it here.  Be advised however, I told the clever gal I was going to borrow her invention and I'll leave it at that.  It's that good.

I Googled all the tent brand names when I got home from a particularly long (hot and sweaty) day of scouting.  Talk about sticker shock!  Most of the folks doing this live on this income.  They don't have the luxury of a working executive husband.  This flimsy little tent thing has to be the largest investment any respectable craft artist makes.  Lordy!  And the rules are the rules and I pay for what I need from what I make so I'm on my own with this expense.  Sports Authority is having a sale.  I guess I better get going and see what they've got and how cheap I can get one of these babies.  I've got a deadline to meet.

No doubt I will obsess on the engineering of each frame (I do have the curse of being an engineer's daughter) and will spend way too much time trying to decide white or a color?  White for light but is it best for sun and heat protection?  Color.  I love color!  But will it be too dark?  For another hundred bucks I could order a pink one.  I love my pink!  Who else has a pink canopy?  Are there organizer's rules against pink tents?  Everyone else seems to have white or blue.  Is that because that is what is usually in stock or do they know something I don't know? 

No doubt there are other tricks of the trade out there waiting to stick their foot out and trip me. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Now what?

It 's been nearly a year since this saga of mine began.  In ten long months I have crammed so much information into my well worn middle-aged brain that I wonder if my headaches aren't brought on by swelling from so much additional information inside the small cavity of my skull.

Like Chicken Little, I've bought the laptop, I've learned to use it, I've bought the camera, I've learned to use it, I've set up the web site and learned to use it, I've started the blog and learned to use it.  I've planted the wheat and baked the bread and though it doesn't feel as though the sky is falling, I regret to say, I'm not sure what to do next.  While I spent all those months in the mosh pit of digitalizing my life, I spent little time reflecting on how it all works in the realm of physical life and practical things - like sales.

The amount of intensely focused time I spent learning all of these skills and creating this shiny new universe for my work to live in created an illusion that when I was done, the world of the Internet would just function whenever I turned on the computer.   Like opening the door and walking in.  Like, somehow, the fact that all this information, all these zeros and ones, would plug themselves in and work like the dickens to make me a successful business woman.  If you post it they will come sort of thing.  Now of course, when I step back and think in an organized, one foot in front of the other sort of way I know that setting up shop, whether it is in quaint little fancy-pants village or a virtual co-op, the work has only just begun.  But I guess that because I had to learn sooooooooo many new skills, I fooled myself into thinking that I had done so much more than I really had.  At the end of the day, all I had really done was rent the space, paint the walls, make the signs, stock the store and opened the doors for business.  Unfortunately, I am the only one there most of the time.

It's an interesting paradox, this cyberspace and physical space.  The computer has the ability to organize our ideas in such tight little spaces with such dazzling visuals that it makes us giddy with the notion that we have done way more than we have.  When once I would have had to cut and paste and draw and xerox and erase and bind and staple and tape and go to the printer (not the one in your office, the guy) I can now sit on the couch and conjure like a shaman.  I can do things with keys and mouses (meece?) that give me the impression that I am better than I am.  It looks to me like I have many  more skills and talents than I actually do.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't discount the value of an idea and the computer is like a magic wand the way it makes it all happen before your very eyes.  Yet, if I had not done all this virtually, I would have had to hire a staff or die of exhaustion trying. 

But yea for me and here I sit all by myself wondering what to do next.

In the olden days you would have bought some advertising.  That would have meant that either you had the skills to lay out art boards with computer generated type and hand drawn rapidograph artwork with velum covers to give to the publication for your insert, scaled to the size of the ad you were purchasing or wish that you had a friend that worked at a design studio and would do it for free after the boss had gone home.  And if this sounds like a lot, it was and not cheap at all.  Advertising was a gigantic expense.

Now, I can do my own ads.  Now I can use photos and my logo, do it myself and not have to produce a physical representation of the ad.  And there are a myriad of places to post my ad for not much money.  In fact, the most sensible use of resources is to advertise on the Internet.  Okay!  Cool, simple and I don't even have to leave the house.  This is yet another wonder of the modern age.  The democratization of commerce.  Everyone and anyone can open a business with a little drive, a computer and something to sell.  Brilliant.

I love Facebook.  I say it with no reservations and not a lick of shame.  I love it.  It has opened a whole new world of social interaction and I have met some very interesting people that I would never had met were it not for this innovation.  I have even had the pleasure of meeting, face to face, two fascinating and intellectually stimulating sisters that I had befriended through my dear friend Dinah (who insisted I sign up for this thing a couple of years ago - she didn't know what it was about, really, but let's do it) and during the holidays we all met for lunch.  It was truly a 21st Century moment for me.  I was married pre-Internet so I had never done any online dating (though I had answered a few personal ads in the back of New York Magazine and The Washingtonian - ohmygod) and was not in the mainstream business world so had never developed a virtual relationship with a coworker and then met at a meeting.  This was a defining moment for me. 

Okay, so the reason I bring up Facebook is that it seemed a likely place for me to dip my toes in the water of virtual advertising since it was a community that I was familiar with and a part of.  Yes, I had some reservations about it since I had already been targeted for women my exact age being eligible for a free pair of Uggs and skin care products that were going to make me look ten years younger and remove age spots (are you talking to me?) so why would I want to inflict that on others?  Business is business and everything I read about FB advertising said that the ability to target and the flexibility to only pay for hits made it a no brainer for advertising a small business.  The idea that I would create an ad to appeal to a highly specific crowd with a very narrow commonality to get them to my site to see a particular item in hopes that they would stay and look around and maybe purchase something was a little astonishing.  Yes, hard copy advertising had a targeted approach but it was not like the hairdresser I read about that focused on young women who loved red lipstick and were fans of Lady GaGa.  Holy smokes!  Now that is zeroing right in on just who exactly you think would be interested in the very specific type of hair designs, that you personally think are the bomb (but may have  very limited appeal) and would be interested in sporting your personal fashion sense as all the rage!  The object is to come up with tags (for those of you that don't know, we'll talk later) to attract the buyer that you think is your best clientele.

I'm overwhelmed again.  Now I'm not just looking at demographics like age, sex, financial and marital status but I'm trying to determine if everyone that likes my work also listens to the Ting Tings!  I'm trying to psychoanalyze the keyboard choices of millions of people in order to get a few sales on my little Internet site where I sell my humble wares.  This is out of proportion.  It is mixing the modest with the grandiose.  It is asking me, the artist, to try to figure out the buying habits of  potential customers when  I usually have no idea why I made such thing except that is seemed like a cool idea at the time.  I am not calculated.  I am impulsive, particularly when it comes to what I make.  There are not enough hours in the day for me to address all the ideas that come into my head for every medium I am able to work in - and them some.  I am a bit all over the place sometimes and for me to zero in on my best customer is like trying to determine how someone takes their Starbucks, just by looking at them.  If you study it enough I suppose you could become pretty proficient at it but who wants to drink coffee all day and take notes about what the chick in the trendy outfit is drinking today - and is that what she always orders or is she as hard to pin down as I am?

I'm trying to untangle this.  I believe that things in life are at their best when they are simplest.  I am not adverse to editing and I believe in common denominators.  I don't think that what this means is that there are more determining factors out there than there ever were.  I think that access to the virtual world of others has just highlighted how many different variables there are in one single human being.  We can choose to have the massive amount of information that has been compiled about every single person that has logged onto the Internet overwhelm us and send us to the couch for a nap.  Or we can realize that everyone belongs to a tribe and we recognize our tribe members when we see them and that what is required here is  to rally the call for our tribespeople and bring them together in a place they may recognize.  I am choosing the latter.  Well, that's what I'm doing on my good days when I get enough sleep, wake up on the right side of the bed, make particularly excellent coffee and have the router work the minute I log onto my computer.  Some days though, things don't go as smoothly and the router just won't let me in and  I have to crawl under the desk and unplug 46 tangled wires, count to 30 and then try to reconnect them properly without my glasses.  Those are nap days.