Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Things I've Learnt From Tiny Hands

Saturday, May 15, 2010
I've been reading a number of crafty business books recently which have really inspired me to share my own stories of me and my own handmade business. Everything that you do in life is always a rewarding experience - whether good or bad, it's what makes you who you are and it's up to you to decide how to make use of that experience!

Sticking with One Product
I started my business way back in 2006 when I was still a teen! (Bet you didn't see that coming!) I have a love of blank handmade journals and that was how I started crafting for a profit.

At the same time, I loved jewelry and had taken a basic jewelry-making class with my mom. Armed with techniques for both bookbinding and jewelry making, I was selling both types of products in the same store.

Major mistake right there! I couldn’t agree more with what other crafters say about sticking to one product and style in your store. The problem with this is that you’ll soon come into roadblocks when you start to think big, in terms of branding, advertising and marketing. Selling books and jewelry at the same time confused me with who I was to market my products to. Neither could I derive an attractive brand image that would work for both products (it’s not impossible, you might need the help of a professional!). I told myself that I had to make a decision. I ended up choosing jewelry for a number of reasons.

First, jewelry was so much less time consuming. That in itself made it easier for me to make and sell my product for a price that my customer and I could both respect. I didn’t want to slave away making books and price them at over $50 and not sell a thing!

Second, I made a shift into polymer clay, in particular because I knew this was my main material for my jewelry that I can easily find anywhere for a low cost without having to worry about quality or major price differences. I knew I could expect to get the same thing every time. I didn’t want to make beaded jewelry back then because that would require a lot of time resourcing for supplies (beads) and the worst thing is, some suppliers can sometimes up and leave you high and dry! Unless you’re selling one of a kind items, this should really be something you want to consider.

Polymer clay jewelry making for me is a very low cost/capital in monetary terms. As a student in university (I’ll be graduating in December 2010, yippee!), Tiny Hands is my only source of income so I don’t have a lot of capital to start with.

Jewelry is also something that people buy more than handbound books. Most ladies wear jewelry, it’s only a matter of what style or look you go for. But a handbound book is something that a person would use for a year, at least! How many journals does a person need at a time anyway?

My materials for jewelry making are also convenient for me to pack and bring wherever the wind takes me! I would almost consider myself a nomad, shifting from one location to another a few times a year. I can’t imagine having to tug around a huge piece of machinery every time I moved!

Even as a student and a nomad, I found something that really works for me.

Another thing that I want to talk about is the quality of your product and the price tags you put on them.

I started out selling everything I make for a rock bottom price, so I could test the waters and see how well people accepted my work. When I started getting more orders, I became tired and unhappy with how I was working. I didn’t feel like it was all worth it!

The important thing that I learnt in the past couple of years is that you can never undercharge yourself or your time (though that doesn’t mean putting unreasonable prices on your items!). I spend several hours on an order, and I truly believe that my prices represent the quality of the work that I deliver (including photography of products, customer service communication and packaging).

When you have very low prices, it may seem very affordable to a potential buyer, but as a consumer myself, I have been turned off by products that are charged too low because I immediately lose confidence in what I’m looking at.

Not only does it look fishy (I’m thinking, “what’s the catch?” *suspicious eyes*), but it really shows through how much you value your own work. Quality and price should go hand in hand. Even with a fantastic photo of your product, I won’t believe that it is of high quality based on the price tag. As they say, “you get what you pay for!”

The Ultimate DIY-er
As I mentioned above, being a full-time student doesn’t give me much financial capital for a business. I would encourage anyone to make use of this as a motivator to learn new things! Build yourself your own website, make your own graphics and business cards! Do your own copywriting and photography! The Internet is full of resources, tips and tricks and tutorials to teach you everything, and I mean everything! Even if you fail at first, remember that you’ll only get better the more you try and practice. I believe that a good eye and attention to detail is a good habit to instill in yourself – be sensitive to little details, they matter!

Being Critical
I would consider myself to be a critical person when it comes to my work. As long as you can obtain a healthy balance of being critical and being able to tell yourself to slow down, this can be a great asset for any person to have. Because you are critical with your work, you will always strive for developing improvements. And because you’re always on top of yourself, you can be sure that you’re working towards a successful business and a happier You!

I often look back at some of my older products and go through a verification process of whether or not I should keep selling this item. If I feel that the item lacks quality or just doesn’t look as good as my other items, I will either make improvements, or discontinue the product. When I sell my jewelry, I like to be confident with my work. I couldn’t live with myself if I knew that I’m sending out a necklace that wasn’t great! Your customers tend to see this as well. If they’re not receiving something that was made well, you can’t count on them for being repeat customers.

Well, it’s about that time for me to get back to doing other things. In the future, I would still love to talk about my experiences with other aspects of a business. I wanted to include a “Photography” section here, but time flies and before I know it, I have other responsibilities to tend to!

I hope you enjoyed reading this. I can’t ask you to agree with everything I’ve said, but I think that sharing my perspectives with you will help broaden yours too! Please write me comments so I can read what you guys think!


Irit said...

Thank you so much for sharing this valuable information!

Regarding high vs. low prices, I couldn't agree with you more. I am also extremely wary of shops/sellers that offer items at rock bottom prices. I always wonder if maybe the items are not handmade or not original.

I also greatly commend you for not willing to compromise on the quality of your items. I have seen too many handmade items that were far from perfectly crafted, and I always wonder how those sellers have the nerve to sell items that did not come out right. I make beaded jewelry, and would never sell an item that I didn't consider perfect.

I have yet to make any purchases from your shop, but I must admit that I am tempted by the Scented Shortcake Heart Cookie Charm. Alas, it is no longer available in your Etsy shop... :-(

Mei said...

Irit! No, thank YOU for taking the time to read through this :)

While there are stores that sell their handmade goods at very low prices, I notice that there are still buyers for them. Who can resist a low price, right? I believe that people need to be educated to see the difference in quality when it comes to people's work - but at the same time I think it's a good thing that there is a demand for any handmade product. I will still support it!

I'm glad we're on the same boat :)
Have you been crafting for a while now?

I know what you mean about attempting to be perfect! My cupcake icing can sometimes take a life of its own - on better days I can get the icing to "swirl" nicely, but on other days it just won't let me manipulate it! I try and try until I finally get something that I like. Sometimes when I'm clumsy, I drop the whole cupcake on my way to the oven! :O LOL!

If you're tempted by the Scented Shortcake Heart Cookie, you can get it at my Etsy store - it's there!
(If you buy it out of my own website at, I'll give you a free 18k white gold chain to go along with it :D )

Anyway, thanks again for giving me your own input on these business aspects. It's nice to hear other people's opinions!

Irit said...

I've been crafting for a while now, but have not sold more than a few items. I guess it's more of a hobby for me.

Recently, I started making felt dolls, and it's so therapeutic. :-)

I took you up on your offer, and ordered the Scented Shortcake Heart Cookie through your website. Thanks for the free chain! <3

Nadine said...

mei! thanks for this article! (:
I must say I've always wanted to
buy your books but I guess I'm too
late now >.<

Tiffany Brown said...

Hi Mei,

I saw your adorable charms from another website (can't remember which...I look at so many) and just thought your products are so cute!

I am a crafter by night and graphic designer by day. I have been making homemade cards for quite some time and have been thinking about starting my own etsy shop and selling my products. Recently, I finally came up with a name and created some marketing material for myself since I have been getting more recommedations from friends to create them cards for misc. occasions and I want to look "professional".

Your recent article on your blog about your experience and it really hit home with your pricing recommendation. One of my recent jobs was to create 45 baby shower cards and I gave a really low quote because I wanted the business and thought this was a good way to go about it. But, in hind sight I should have at least charged double because I really didn't make any money off it. I think the hardest part was that this was for a friend and I felt wrong charging her so much. Perhaps it might be different when you are with selling items to strangers?

Also, thank you for letting me know about focusing your business on one thing. I do some many different creative things besides cards (painting, little girl hair bows, photography...etc) that it's hard to narrow down what I want/should sell for my shop. This will still take some more time to figure out what sells and what is worth my time in order to make a profit, but thanks for your advice. It was very useful.

If you are interested in checking out my blog (mainly my friends are the only ones that read it), but it has all sorts of fun items that I find that I think are cool and might inspire others to create. I am an avid Martha Stewart fan, lover of paper products (from Paper Source)and party planning blogs so most of my posts come from those. It's

Best of luck to you and your business...and graduating school soon! That's a big accomplishment!

R. said...

Super cute website!!! Thanks for visiting my blog! How did the pulled pork come out?

Michelle said...

i love your post!! do you mind if i tag some of your cute pics for my blog? (i live the charm bracelet on ur website..that you posted back in january. Keep up the good work! ur very talented!!

Michelle said...

I posted your cute pic on my blog! check it out! ^-^ said...

Thanks so much for posting this on your blog!! I've recently been trying to expand my mediums of craft (i'm also a knitter/seamstress) and considered putting all the items in one shop but I guess I should start a second one.

Thanks again for stopping by my blog! I hope your first craft fair goes well. :) I hope you can blog about it!