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Seriously, can NOTHING be Simple?

You’re an Artist. You make something wonderful, by your own hand, and you want to start selling it. Good for you!

But you have questions – like:

How much should I charge?

Do I need my own webpage?

Should I sign up with Etsy?

Are Facebook / Instagram Ads really the way to spend my money?

Is this How-To article on going Viral a good use of my time?

Well buckle up, Betty, you’re about to read a very frank, no-holds-barred article full of opinions, experience, advice and balls-out facts. You’re going to have to decide for yourself if we’re off our rockers or maybe speaking a grain of ugly truth. In fact, most of the advice you’ve probably read up until now suggests you should never disclose stuff like this, but we’re not average.

So if you want answers to those quesitons that speak more from truth than the standard confusing rhetoric you’ve been finding, we’ll happily show you the hairy underbelly of the Velvet Zebra.

Question #1 on most people’s minds when they’re considering selling their Handmade items is: How Much Should I Charge?

No doubt you’ve been looking around the web, you’ve even Googled that very phrase, thinking there’s probably some logical formula out there that everyone uses to calculate their costs to produce their perfect sell-for price only to find a convoluted, somewhat confusing explanation that looks something like this:

Cost per Unit x Hourly Wage + Utilities / Rent – Wholesale = Fukitol.

And it makes about as much sense as a Government Budget.

Look – unless you’re opeing a brick and mortar, or you really CAN calculate the number of kilowatt hours you used while making your single unit, how many ounces of water you may or may not have consumed during the making of that unit, figure in what you ate for lunch and come up with some kind of hourly wage you feel you should be making, there’s really an easier way to do this:

Cost x 3 = Retail. Cost x 2 = Wholesale.

The two of us who make up The Velvet Zebra have day jobs – thankfully they’re essential day jobs – if we factored in our hourly wage to our Chainmaille, we wouldn’t sell a single item because the prices would be absurd. And our studio is our home, so the lighting we ‘used while making it’ would have been used reading a book, taking a nap or petting a cat if we weren’t making a product, so let’s be serious.

If you knit, you know exactly how much yarn costs, and how much yarn you used to make that scarf. Take that cost, multiply it by 3 and you have your retail price. Now you’ve made back exactly what it took to make the scarf, so you can make another plus enough profit to either make 2 more identical scarves, or slap it into the bank.

Your wholesale price is lower, but remember wholesale means you’re selling in bulk – you’ll get a big hit of income straight up, and hopefully orders for more, so your profit is volume. For wholesale you’ll want to set a minimum order, for instance ours is $500.00. That’s up to you.

Question #2: Do I need my own Webpage? That depends on a few factors only you can decide, but keep in mind if you’re just now starting out, and you’re asking this question, do NOT spend any money on a webpage! It’s not like buying a new puppy and immediately you need food and water bowls, a leash, a bed, vaccines and something to clean that pee stain off your rug.

You’re just starting. You don’t know for a fact this stuff is going to sell, how well it’s going to sell, or that you’re going to keep at it. You don’t know Jack just yet.

You can get a WordPress blog for nothing, literally, and make it into just about anything you’d like. As you grow — if you grow — that WordPress blog can be altered and grown, in stages and for not a lot of money. If you’re reading this article you’re at a WordPress blog. It says TheVelvetZebra.com in your browser because we pay WordPress a yearly (nominal) fee for the domain name. As we grew, we also upgraded our site to one that allows a BUY button on our listed items. We did NOT upgrade to the plan that is straight-up eCommerce because that plan is pricey. I’m sure it’s worthwhile, but bear with us as we continue on, there’s still lots of information here you can use and not pay a single dime for.

There are loads of eCommerce sites you can pay to use. Sites like Big Commerce, Shopify, WooCommerce et al – where you can set up a web store relatively easily, but pay a monthly fee for the pleasure. We’re talking, on average, $30/month. That’s thirty dollars of YOUR profit, even before you’ve made a profit. Per Month. Including the months when you dont’ sell a single thing. We hate to say it, but you’re going to go several months, quite possibly even years, making zero dollars a month before it kicks into gear and turns a profit. That, or you’ll shoot out of the gate like wildfire thanks to friends and family, then grind to a smashing halt when they’ve had their fill. Now you’re in the hole, and don’t even kid yourself that you’re profitable until all of what you’ve spent has been made up, and then some.

If you’re already using Square to take payments – or you’re about to sign up (and you should if you’re not into PayPal) you need to know they will GIVE you a website of your very own. It’s a web page where you can showcase ALL of your products, loads of photos, videos, and full descriptions, product variations, simple set up using templates – all for free. They will process your purchases via whatever plastic cards your customers want to use, they’ll send the receipt, tell you who bought what and where to ship it, calculate in whatever shipping charges you want, taxes you’ve set, and any promotional sales or giveaways you desire. They even have code that will give you a “button” to put anywhere, at not cost to you, that turns every social media outlet, or blog, or Facebook post into your own personal eCommerce store.

For. Free.

The only thing you’re paying for is the processing fee that you pay any time your customers hand you a credit card at an Art Show – 2.3%. You’re gonna pay that anyway, whether your customers are in person or using your web page. The kicker is, when you’re not making sales, they’re not charging you anything.

Now ask yourself – does it matter WHERE your webpage is, if it’s your webpage, your brand, your products, and your customers will have no difficulty using it?

Now you have a FREE WordPress blog – if you spent a tiny yearly fee you have your own domain on that FREE WordPress blog – if you’re using Square (PayPal is doing it now too) you can put a Direct Purchase button on any product you showcase on that free page, turning your Free WordPress blog into a Free eCommerce site.

Nifty, huh? And it doesn’t matter “where” your page resides.

Keep in mind, no one is going to find your website unless YOU tell them where to look, regardless of who is hosting it. Shopify, Big Commerce, etc, aren’t spending two cents advertising for you. YOU are paying THEM, so they don’t need to tell the world you exist, that’s not their business model.

Their business model is selling web pages to YOU.

Keep that in mind as we continue . . .

Question #3: Should I sign up with Etsy? In a word – No. In two words – Hell No. If you want to, go ahead, we’re not going to stop you. Your friends probably have Etsy pages. People you meet on the street have Etsy pages. You’re seeing commercials and reading articles in magazines about house fraus making millions from their Etsy shops all the time.

You know why they write about the occasional House Frau? Because that’s so rare, it’s newsworthy.

Here’s the deal – Etsy’s expensive, especially for a Handmade Artist just starting out. They’ll charge you Per Item to list a product for a limited time, then take a cut for running your customer’s credit card, and if your item doesn’t sell within a set time period you have to take it down, or pay again to keep it listed. Here’s the other deal – your customers have to sign UP with Etsy just to shop! They can’t even BUY from you unless they, too, have an Etsy account. Now they’re gonna get spammed by Etsy whether they bought from you or not.

Now here’s the ugly truth – Etsy isn’t a group of Handmade Artists supporting each other, they are a corporation who’s product output is Data Mining. Etsy doesn’t care if you do well. They got their money when you signed up and started posting your products. They get even more when they data-mine from your customers, who had to sign up just to make a purchase. They get paid again in a month if you have to list that item again, or the item’s replacement if it sold. They’re getting paid just because you’re there – how much are you making? And they make damn sure you read about those House Frau’s because that will make you think you can do just as well, and you’ll stay. They know you read that article “How Jannette went from making nothing to 40k a month with her Etsy Soap Shop!” And they know you’re assuming that could be you one day.

Ponder this for five minutes, then make up your own mind:

Let’s say you make a teapot that you sell for $40.50. It costs you $13.50 to make the teapot and you price it at cost x 3 = $40.50, but to appeal to shoppers, you’re going to offer Free Shipping. Now you list it on Etsy.

It’s going to cost you .20 to list that single Teapot for 4 months. Only 1 Teapot (fees add up when you have more than 1 available item or version of that item) then when it sells, you pay Etsy a 5% transaction fee, (that’s 5% of the price you listed the teapot) then a payment processing fee of 2.9% + .30 per transaction.

Your Teapot’s costs are:

$13.50 to make

$15.00 shipping flat-rate medium box for your tiny teapot with lots of padding.

$2.03 = 5% transaction fee (this would be doubled if you hadn’t added “free shipping” because Etsy would charge you a shipping processing fee)

$1.47 = 3% payment processing fee +.25 charge

.20 = product listing fee

.20 = listing the next Teapot to replace the Teapot you just sold.

Total costs to sell your $40.50 Teapot on Etsy = $32.40 (because you are paying for shipping and not letting Etsy get a percentage of that fee) leaving you with $8.10. That’s not even enough money to pay the cost of what it took to make that Teapot in the first place. So while you just sold a $40.50 Teapot in your Etsy shop, it cost you $5.40 for the pleasure.

Hopefully you sell something smaller and lighter, so you can use a small flate rate box for $8.30 instead of $15.00. Or your Teapot is feather light and you can ship First Class for less. Granted, most people would include the price of “free shipping” in the price of that Teapot, but would it have sold at that higher price?

So there you sit, with a brand new Etsy store, wondering where all of your customers are. Etsy told you that just by having an Etsy store you’ll be exposed to millions of shoppers who spend money at Etsy every single day. Sure, you and about 18 million people just like you.

Well, you’re there, but do they know it? Probably not, unless someone happened to search a term that your page had embedded in it’s SEO, and they happened to click on your name instead of the other thousands using the same terms . . . So after a month or two with no sales, you do some research and discover you’re expected to Be Involved. Etsy is telling you in order to lure shoppers to your store, you should get out there, spend hours chatting up other shop owners, visiting their pages, schmoozing around and making friends. You gotta leave comments on Blogs, follow everyone’s Instagram and Pinterest like a Mo’Fo’.

Now you’re spending all the time you normally dedicate to making your product hunting around Etsy, trying to make friends and leaving comments everywhere like electronic breadcrumbs.

The biggest problem with that is – aside from using up all of your product-making time – you’re only luring other Etsy shop owners who are doing the exact same thing.

You know who buys Poetry? Poets who are trying to find out what sells.

Now you start to worry. Everyone who’s anyone has made a fortune with an Etsy shop, right? So what are you doing wrong? You read some more, you research, and you discover Ads.

Etsy will, for a price, allow you to create Ads. Keep in mind it’ll take your time, effort and money to make the Ad. And how does Etsy heple with that? By graciously accepting your money.

There’s no guarantee implied, no money back if the Ad flops, doesn’t reach the audience you thought it would or brings in exactly zero sales.

It’s all still on You. You have to spread the word, You have to get your online store’s name and location out there to your buying public. You have to generate sales somehow . . . Etsy already made their money.

So we’ll ask again – does it really matter WHERE your webstore is, if you’re the one who has to do all the work?

Question #4: Are Facebook / Instagram Ads really the way to spend my money?

The real question to ask yourself is – “How many times have I visited a site I saw in an Ad on Instagram or Facebook?” Don’t get us wrong, we enjoy Instagram quite a bit. Facebook is a tool we use, but Instagram is enjoyable. And yes, they’re both owned by the same corporation, and it’s all about Data Mining. Facebook doesn’t give one shit about you as a human being other than what data it can suck from your marrow. Instagram is the same – they’ll happily sell you Ads, over and over again, but you’ll get no promise or guarantee of results. And they use very complicated algorithms to determine when and where those Ads are placed – yours might cost you money but never really be noticed.

The only answer to this is – Advertiser beware. If you believe your tiny Handmade business can part with what will slowly build into a lot of cash before you’ve even gotten off the ground, then dive in. Spend your money, watch your Follower count tick up, but also check your sales.

Are they ticking up, too? Be honest. 90% of us are window shopping, not buying, on Instagram. We’re looking at pretty things, then moving on to the next pretty thing because we’ve become immune to those Ads that pop up between our feeds. Our thumbs just scroll right by, like putting on deoderant every morning. You do it every day, so you’re pretty sure you did, but on that drive to work as your picture your morning routine, you can’t swear you did it.

We’re going to repeat this one thing: Facebook doesn‘t give one shit about you as a human being.

Neither does Instagram.

Or Etsy.

Not Go Daddy, not Big Commerce – Not one of them.

And those Handmade magazines you’re subscribing to, the newsletters full of advice you signed up for, the recurring subscription to You Can Do It Too (not a real magazine) don’t care beyond that payment you made.

Data mining is the new Black. So Facebook and Instagram et al, they just want your information. They’ve built a platform you find enjoyable so that you’ll give them that information, and your friends will, too.

That magazine seems to have good information, but you soon realize the articles are all the same, don’t pertain to your situation, or are pretty much promoting Etsy ad-infinitum. Then one day you realize if you read one more article about a soap maker and her millions thanks to her Etsy store and a dream, you’re gonna be sick.

Even that online newsletter you found, with what appears to be good solid advice on how to build an online presence. Until you got halfway through and it stopped and offered up a “sign up for our newsletter” and you couldn’t go any further unless you signed right up for their monthly spammity spam spam.

Everyone. Wants. Something.

If it sounds a little like maybe we snapped one day, you’re not far from the truth. If you think we’re a tad anti-Etsy, well . . . Duh. We asked ourselves one day – Do we want to make Custom Handmade Chainmaille, or do we want to spend all of our free time Marketing? There isn’t enough time in the day to do both.

So how DO you make it, selling your Handmade products online? Fake it till you make it, baby. Your biggest help will be doing Art and Craft shows in person, in between pandemics. If you can get into a Gallery, you’re golden. Word of mouth, people who saw your work but didn’t buy hopefully took a business card at least. People who did buy want to know how to buy more.

We do, on occasion, purchase short-run Ads on Instagram. You can spend $10 bucks and in 2 days have about 5,000 people at least SEE your post. Seems like a lot, but it’s not. If you want an Ad that will make more of an impact, you gotta be willing to spend more. And when we say more, we’re talking about $200 a day on each Ad so that it will gain enough exposure. (We don’t do that)

Just remember WHATEVER you’re doing to promote your products, whatever money you’re spending now in the hope of making a sale, or twelve, goes against anything you can call Profit.

And until the Incoming has exceeded the Outgoing, you’re not making money. So keep a tally – all of it – from Booth fees to Ads and, if you do it – Etsy fees. Add up your supplies, everything you have to purchase in order to make your items. Add up whatever you might be spending on a web page, an eCommerce site, an Instagram promotion. Everything you spend on business cards, displays, bags, tissue paper.

Add all that up, then subtract what you “made” in sales.

Only then will you know if you’re profitable, or just a fun hobby.

And check our our next Article: Galleries – are they for realz ?

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