Nov 052017
 

This past Saturday was the culmination of months’ worth of evenings and weekends when I crocheted an endless stream of women’s winter accessories: head warmers, scarflettes, fingerless gloves and boot cuffs. I sell these items at only two craft fairs a year, which is likely my capacity because I also work full-time in an office. It can be challenging to create as much product as needed, or to start a new line. This year saw the introduction of boot cuffs.

Saturday’s craft show—the first time at this particular venue—went well. My husband and I rose early to set up our booth space at Santa’s North Pole Village in Ankeny, Iowa. When the doors opened at 9:00 a.m., we were ready to sell, the shoppers were lined up outside the doors, and we were off to the proverbial races.

You never know how a venue will turn out, so you have to be prepared for anything. Two weeks earlier, my husband and I traveled to Clarinda, Iowa to sell the same crocheted goods at Clarinda Craft Carnival. This has been an excellent selling venue for us in past years, but this year the weather was unseasonably warm—weather that does not exactly put winter apparel in the minds of shoppers. Our results, while not awful, were also not spectacular. The lesson learned—and you always learn lessons everywhere you sell—is that it probably would not be a bad idea to make part of my merchandise less weather-dependent. I have already started a list of possibilities, not least among them crocheted lace earrings.

This past weekend’s venue had a number of positive factors going for it, cooperative colder weather among them. The booth space was larger than other venues where I have sold, enabling me to set up my tables in a shallow U-shape. At the two ends of that U-shape, I set up props—one tall boot and one short boot at one end, each accessorized with a boot cuff. For the boot cuffs in particular, having real boots on hand as “models” served a useful purpose; at Clarinda’s craft fair, some people had no idea what boot cuffs are. In fact, many were more familiar with the term “boot toppers” than boot cuffs, and a few people couldn’t understand why you’d wear them at all. I guess that just meant they weren’t my typical customers; you can’t take these things personally!

On the other end of the U-shape, I stood up a table mannequin who wore a head warmer and scarflette. This gave me the opportunity to show how you wear both accessories.

In the case of the scarflette, I could point to the button on the back side of the flower embellishment that allows the two ends of the scarflette to cross and fasten into place. Inevitably, this led to an explanation that there is a second way to fasten the scarflette: you can scrunch up one of the tails and slide it beneath the petal openings of the flower, using friction to keep the tails of the scarflette crossed.

At the end of this weekend’s craft show, John and I packed everything up, counted the earnings, and talked about what we had learned at both craft shows this year.

  1. A prop—not just a picture—is worth a thousand words. One woman’s boot cuff is another woman’s boot topper, and sometimes no one knows what either term means.
  2. Pay attention to traffic flow. Foot traffic was heavy at the Ankeny craft show, moving counterclockwise around the gym in which we were located. The shallow U-shape provided a welcome space for people to stop for a breather, invited conversation, and subsequently drew them to the merchandise.
  3. Pay attention to customers’ comments. A color that I wear a lot—jade—was nowhere in sight among my products. Next year I will remedy that omission!
  4. Don’t set up your booth display the same way at all craft shows. Even if you have sold at the venue previously, you create customer excitement with variety. Brick-and-mortar retail stores do the same thing, rearranging the location of merchandise frequently to draw attention. Think about booth arrangement before you arrive, and get clarification from the show’s organizers if you have no idea what to expect. Often a map of the venue is available online or via email.
  5. Weather can be a factor in people’s shopping habits. Take this into consideration when you evaluate your show’s results. If I had never sold my products previously in Clarinda, I might have come to the conclusion that this is not a good venue for me. Instead, I need to think about how I can minimize the effect of weather on what I can sell.
  6. When you evaluate the worthiness of a craft venue, don’t look at only your sales. There are many factors that define success. Consider not only your expenses (booth fees, travel, meals, hotel accommodations), but also how much you have learned about your customers, future product possibilities, and possibly also other selling opportunities.

Do you typically take the time after a craft show to do more than count your earnings and take inventory of your stock? It’s critical to hold an honest conversation with yourself and possibly a partner to evaluate what went well, what didn’t work, and what you can do differently in the future. In the process, you’ll create better possibilities for your next selling event.

© 2017 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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Feb 182017
 

In my previous post, How to save time and money for your craft business design needs, I described—among other items—how I used ordinary office software to design a custom photo album. In this post, you’ll see how the software design translated into reality when I assembled the parts of the album.

I began with two stacks of card stock, one in black for 5-inch x 6-inch pages, and another stack in ivory for 2-1/2 inch x 3-1/2 photo mats.

My best friend for adhering the photo mats to the pages is Scor-Tape because it’s strong, lasting and lightweight.

When I adhered the photo mats to the pages I really did not want to have to measure their location with a ruler, so I created a U-shaped card stock jig that helped me with consistency in placement.

To each page, I adhered a strip of printed paper for a splash of color. I cut a narrow length of card stock to serve as a temporary spacer between the photo mats and the location of the printed strip. This speeded up the placement process considerably.

I usually round the corners of the pages I add to any book or album; not only does this look more finished, in my opinion, but rounded corners tend not to curl or crease as easily as 90-degree corners do.

I punched the pages for insertion into the photo album using my We R Memory Keepers Cinch. I do have a Zutter Bind-it-All, but because the latter punches only six holes at a time, I find the Cinch works better for me for larger books. On the other hand, the Bind-it-All punches through thicker covers and more pages at a time than the Cinch, and its owire crimping produces a more rounded appearance. The Cinch punches both square holes and round holes, depending upon which version you purchase, while the Bind-it-All punches square holes only. Each binding tool, in other words, has its strong and weak points.

The cover of the album was created after the pages were completed. I began by gathering the papers and heavyweight book board, and cut them into appropriate sizes. The book board I use measures .082 inch in depth, which is thicker than I feel comfortable cutting with my Rotatrim Professional M18 rotary trimmer. Instead, I use the Zutter Kutter, which is designed specifically to cut through thick materials such as chipboard, book board, foam board, stacks of card stock and leather.

I layered all papers together the way my customer specified, covering the book board, and bound the album with a one-inch-diameter owire. I have discovered that the wider the diameter of the owire, the more trouble the Cinch or Bind-it-All have with crimping it. Too often, the owire ends up with a kink in it instead of being perfectly rounded. Sometime last year, I decided it was time to locate a commercial tool that is dedicated to owire binding. I discovered that MyBinding.com sells some of its equipment at a reduced cost if the box has been opened and the item inside is damaged in some way, but still is functional. In my case, some of the paint was chipped on a Tamerica DuraWire 450 Manual Twin Loop Wire Closer, but the tool itself worked perfectly in every way. I bought it at a seriously reduced cost, and find that it crimps consistently every time. These days I use both my Cinch and Bind-it-All for punching holes only; when they no longer punch well, I will likely replace them with a commercial punching tool.

The wire closer accommodates owire diameters from .24 inch to 1.25 inches.

My husband gave me his old tool chest, which is the perfect place to keep this rather large piece of equipment.

The front and back sides of the finished photo album are essentially the same, except for a floral embellishment on the front. Although I do use some purchased solid color papers for custom orders, I generally print papers from digital designs, and then seal them with Tim Holtz Distress Micro Glaze to make them water-resistant. For some of the papers whose white inner core edges I don’t want to be visible, I brush them with Tim Holtz Distress Ink.

The last item I add to an otherwise finished book or album is the cover embellishment. I crafted a yellow zinnia from 90 paper petals—nine layers in all—die cutting the petals with Spellbinders Create-a-Flower Zinnia. After the layers were adhered, I spray-misted them with Ranger Perfect Pearls Mists to give the flower a little shimmer.

I glued the flower to the cover, gave it 24 hours to dry, and shipped off the album.

As I mentioned in my previous post, creating a digital proof for custom orders is essential to making sure that both the customer and I are on the same page. I don’t have expensive design software, so I use ordinary office software to get the job done. It does add a few extra steps to the creation process, but in the end, I think everyone is happy.

In the comments below, describe a challenge you faced when you crafted a custom item, whether it was for an order or a gift.

© 2017 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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Feb 052017
 

Recently a customer asked me to design a photo album to commemorate her elderly mother’s birthday. She already had 2×3 mini photos, but was looking for a special album to display them. We settled on a spiral-bound album using digital papers she selected, and exchanged convos (short for “conversations,” or messages) for other aspects of the custom order, such as papers and accents.

As a small business owner who designs and crafts handmade books, I don’t have a large budget for design software. To save time and money—but mostly to ensure my customers and I are on the same page for custom orders—the use of digital proofs is critical. My solution? I use standard office software, Microsoft Office, to get the job done.

I developed a template in Microsoft Office Word that allows me to insert thumbnail images of digital papers. The template is nothing more than a table, with alternating rows for images and captions.

After I insert images into a copy of my template, I save it using a customer-specific file name. This allows me to edit the file later without affecting the original template. Then I save the file once more as a PDF file, which is a universal file format that anyone can use by downloading Adobe Acrobat Reader. Because the software flattens images so that they’re not as high resolution as the original images, this also helps to prevent distribution of them. This is important because I purchase digital papers from sellers who rightfully want to protect their intellectual rights.

After the customer selects digital papers, I create a proof in PowerPoint, outlining further choices that may need to be decided. If nothing else, providing a digital proof enables me to know that my buyer has approved the design. Then I can write a custom listing that the buyer uses to purchase the item from my Etsy shop.

In the images below, the customer needs to decide whether I should add a red or yellow handmade flower accent to the front cover. The floral image is clip art, so it serves an illustrative purpose but does not reflect either the exact placement or final appearance of the handmade paper flower I will create.

A proof image also gives the buyer a chance to review the inside cover page and approve it.

Even the inside pages require review. One image shows a pre-matted page for 2×3 photos, while the second page shows a decorative paper strip that might add a splash of color to a page. All these pages were designed using Microsoft PowerPoint.

Microsoft Office is useful for designing more than custom order options. You can use either Word or Excel to design your craft show booth space, and then add colored shapes for the different tables or fixtures inside it.

For the image below, I created an Excel workbook with a different worksheet for each booth layout. I changed the width of each row and column to .25 inch, then outlined the entire dimensions of a 12-foot wide by 9-foot deep space with a thick, dark line. Colored rectangles represent the different sizes of tables I own. It is easy to copy and paste the shapes from one location on a worksheet to another.

You can also create a scaled image of your booth space with Word by creating a table, but it takes more time to move the shapes around. Honestly, I thought it was easier with this method to print everything, cut it out with scissors, and go “old school” to design your booth space. You can then snap a picture with your smart phone, and take the phone with you to your show.

Have you ever applied to a craft show that requires sample images of your products? It’s easy to do using Microsoft Word. I simply insert images into a blank page, re-size them, and drag them to the desired location. Below is a product sample page I used for a recent application for a craft show, where I will sell my crocheted women’s accessories.

When I first began using office software for design purposes, I used Corel WordPerfect, as that is the first major software package I learned. In fact, ran a home-based desktop publishing company for 10 years using WordPerfect, serving local area businesses. I still have design templates from that program that I use, but am gradually migrating to Microsoft Office because it is more universal. I keep coming up with additional ways to use both packages for design applications for my craft business, and love to hear about the ways other people use them. How do you handle design issues for your craft business or hobby?

© 2017 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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