Get Yourself Some Press

When I was starting out, I was told that it would be incredibly difficult to get press.  I read dozens of articles by so-called experts who told me exactly how my press kit needed to be put together. Deviate from their proscription and it’s no press for you!  I spent hour upon hour crafting the perfect kit, then spent hundreds more hours attaching it to personalized, detailed e-mails to writers.  Nowadays people tell you that you need to live on Facebook and Twitter in order to get “seen.”  Well I tried all of those things and do you know how many press mentions my efforts got me?  Exactly none.  Here’s what did work:

Getting the word out locally: I participated in lots of local events, from craft fairs, to holiday parties, to meat-themed magazine launches — anywhere that my target market was likely to hang out.  Know who else hangs out at local events? Local press!  Last month at the Chillin’ SF event I was photographed for SF Weekly. No extra effort required!  The bonus, of course, is that national publications regularly trawl local blogs and papers for hot new stuff to write about, so the more local stuff you’re featured in, the more likely the big guys are to find you.  Just yesterday Thrillist San Francisco contacted me about some TV opportunities in New York and beyond!

Putting up a full press kit on my web site:  At first I followed the advice of the marketing gurus who told me to make a simple and spare press kit.  The idea was not to overwhelm writers with too much information.  And you know what?  I just ended up getting a bunch of harried e-mails from writers who had a deadline in two hours and could only include me in the story if I could get them the info they needed STAT.

Now I have everything up there: high res photos of all my toys in various configurations, my bio, company statement, current price list, a press release, and some fast facts about my business.  It’s linked prominently right at the top of the press page on my web site, so any member of the press can find it in less than 10 seconds.  The whole shebang is 15.5 MB, but this really only takes a minute to download nowadays.  I mean, the New York Times isn’t working on dial-up.  More than once a publication has thanked me for having all of the photos and documentation ready to go, and it made them much more receptive to writing about me again.  And as for having too much “clutter,”  I think if everything is labeled clearly, it’s not cluttered, it’s informative.

Having professional photos: Okay, so even the photos I took in my bedroom with a cheap point-and-shoot made it onto French national television, but this was a fluke and I was honestly sort of embarrassed to see them on a huge screen. In most cases, if a publication is interested in your business, but they don’t have the time, manpower or money for you to send in samples for photographing, they’ll simply pass you by.  Modern Home is not going to accept those webcam shots you took on the windowsill.  I am not a very good photographer myself, so I spent $300 to hire a friend to take photos for me. It was one of the best investments I ever made.  Here is an example of each:

medleysmallthree

Special note: more than one magazine has specifically requested a horizontal or vertical photo depending on their page layout.  Make sure that you have versions of your photos in both orientations.

Writing a good press release: to write my press releases, I pretend that I am a newspaper reporter who has come to write a story about my business. I mention things that are truly new and noteworthy (new product! cool gallery show!), or kooky facts about myself or my business (my maiden name means “butcher”!).  I even quote myself, never taking my own words out of context.  This practice keeps me focused on telling a good story, not just passing along facts.  I try to imagine reading the article in a magazine.  I ask myself: is this funny, interesting and engaging, or does it sound like a brochure?

The best press release is one that a writer can literally copy and paste from (and they will).  I try to update my press release every 4 months to keep things current.

Having patience: the first person to contact me about press was a German college life magazine called StuLife.  They were doing an article about Etsy back in 2005 and I was one of the first sellers with weird stuff up there.  The second person to contact me was someone from the OMIGOD NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE.  I was so excited, I told everyone I knew.  Then they cut the article at the last minute.  I was utterly crushed and embarrassed, especially when trying to explain to my loved ones why they had bought the Sunday paper for nothing.  Then the magazine said the article might run in another issue three months later.  It didn’t.  The following year an editor from the New York Times style section contacted me about a “gifts under $100” guide they wanted to use Sweet Meats for.  Again I bought the paper, and again, I was crushed.  This time the article was there, but my toys weren’t in it.  The following week, in a frenzy, the same editor contacted me for vertical high-res photos (see above) and a current price list.  Another guest writer had seen the Sweet Meats and was putting them in his “A Little Bit of Joy” gift guide.  This time, they were there, in full color, one week before Christmas.  I don’t have to tell you what that does for holiday sales.  I could be annoyed that my toys didn’t make it into the magazine that first time around, or be thankful that the staff at NYT kept my toys in mind for feature after feature until they ran almost two years later.

Being available: press deadlines are ridiculously tight, often on the order of hours, so if you can’t be reached in time, you will be S.O.L., my friends.  I was three hours late calling back a producer in L.A. because I forgot to turn my ringer back on after my pilates class.  It cost me the chance to have my toys on Weeds.  That one really hurt.  I love that show.  In order to not miss the boat, make sure that whatever number/e-mail you have listed on your site is within reach at all times.

The bottom line?  Don’t waste your time on cold calls.  Get yourself out there (in real space, not just cyberspace), be prepared, have a little faith, and above all, make life as easy as humanly possible for writers, editors and producers.  That’s how you get press.

Ask Biz Miss: Pricing Your Work

Do you have any advice for how to calculate prices for creative products or services?

There are two main approaches to pricing your work: a bottom-up approach and a top-down approach.

The Bottom-Up Approach

The bottom up approach creates a pricing formula based on the time, skill, and materials you put into a piece.  It is usually the best approach for freelancers or other creative service providers.  It looks like this:

Price  = Freelance rate x Hours + Materials

Step 1: Calculate your freelance rate

Visit Freelance Switch to calculate what you need to charge in order to live comfortably based on your business and living expenses.  This is your break-even rate.  Use this rate to charge for the hours you spend on non-skilled work like hole-punching or putting prints into plastic sleeves.

Next, add some profit to that rate to cover your “intangible assets”—that is, your creative ideas and skilled artisanship.  One good estimate is to add $3,000 of annual profit for each year of experience or education you have in your field.  This new rate is your ideal rate.  Use this to charge for the hours you spend on skilled work like sketching designs, brainstorming with clients or intricate beadwork.

Step 2: Calculate your materials cost

Add up the cost of all the materials you need for your project.  This includes transportation/shipping or the time it took you to get those materials (at your break-even hourly rate).  Many Biz Ladies find it easier just to add a mark-up of around 10% to cover these costs.  If a material is particularly difficult or expensive to obtain, you may want to mark it up higher.

You don’t need to include the cost of overhead (i.e. utilities, rent, office supplies) since this has already been figured in to your hourly rate.

The Top-Down Approach

The top-down approach creates a pricing formula based on the current market value of products or services similar to the ones you offer.  You start with a competitive retail price and then work backwards to try to bring your material and labor costs in line.  The bottom-up approach is usually the best approach for people selling products.  It looks like this:

(Price – Expenses) / Hours = Hourly Wage

Step 1: Do some market research

In order to figure out a competitive retail price, you need to know what other people are charging for their goods.  Do your research by visiting stores, fairs and web sites that sell products similar to yours. Make sure you extend your search beyond huge online marketplaces like Etsy and eBay, where items are often bargain-priced.

Pay special attention to products that share materials, style, process, or target customers with yours.  For example, earrings made from a single plastic bead will not cost the same as earrings made from 24K gold cast in the shape of a spiderweb.

If you’re having trouble finding pricing information on your own, do a bit of crowdsourcing.  You can ask participants in certain forums on Etsy or Craftster what they would pay for your products.   Limit your crowdsourcing to forums that specifically encourage this type of feedback.  Good etiquette recommends that you avoid asking for advice from competing sellers or from posting links to your products in blog comments.  Don’t forget to continue the karma cycle by offering your feedback to others in turn.

Step 2: Do the math

Now that you have a good idea of what your retail price should be you need to decide whether or not you can afford to wholesale.  Usually, a product’s wholesale price is about half of its retail price, so if intricately cast gold earrings are selling for $300 these days, their wholesale price would be $150.

Now, let’s say it costs $25 in gold (including shipping) to make your spiderweb earrings, and each pair takes you three hours to make.  Using the formula above, you can make $41.67 an hour for each pair of earrings you sell wholesale.

($150 - $25) /3 = $41.67

Pretty good, right?  But wait a minute, earrings don’t just sell themselves (no matter how talented you are).  You spend your time on all kinds of things in order to run your business, so let’s take a monthly view instead.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you only make 24K gold spiderweb earrings.  You work full-time on your business (about 180 hours a month) and you are able to spend half of that time actually making your products.  The rest of the time you are doing things like bookkeeping, shipping orders, and answering correspondence.  Let’s also say that the overhead for your business costs around $1,000 a month.

In 90 hours, you can make 30 pairs of earrings.  Assuming you sell all of them wholesale, you make $4,500 a month.  Let’s take that number and figure out your actual pay:

($4,500 – $25 x 30 - $1,000) / 180 = $15.28/hour

If you can live comfortably on that wage, you’re all set.  Otherwise, you’ll need to make some adjustments.  For example, you can buy larger quantities of materials to get better deals, or you can try to make your jewelry-making process more efficient.

If none of these adjustments gets you to a comfortable hourly wage, you might want to sell that particular product only at retail.  Many designers who make high-priced items but still want to reach a wider audience will create a second product line that is specifically designed for wholesaling — for example, a line of less expensive earrings where the spiderweb design is stamped into a square of gold-plated metal.

Pricing is part of the marketing plan in my business plan template.  This doesn’t make any sense to me.  Why is it in this section?

Marketing encompasses more than just advertising.  It’s comprised of everything that influences the way people see your business, and that includes your prices.  For example, while it may seem counter-intuitive, raising your prices can sometimes boost sales by making your work seem more desirable.

At a Biz Lady meet-up in San Francisco years ago, I participated in a group session led by Meg Mateo Ilasco, author of the excellent business book for crafters, Craft, Inc. She described how she had decided to ramp down her wedding invitation business by doubling her prices. Instead of causing fewer people to hire her, however, it more than doubled her number of clients.  The higher prices made her look like a more sought-after designer, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, raising your prices doesn’t always cause a stampede.  The trick to maximizing your sales is to bring your prices in line with the rest of your marketing, including the taste and craftsmanship of the work itself.  Whether you make stylish home furnishings or adorable character art, your prices should not surprise your target audience, and should look right at home on your packaging, on your web site, and in the stores and galleries that sell your work.

I cut my prices pretty drastically for a craft fair this past weekend to try to get rid of some inventory.  I have a day job, so I just need to cover my costs.   Another vendor selling similar stuff got angry at me and accused me of “threatening her livelihood.”  I think she was totally out of line, but my friend disagreed.  I don’t get it.  Every business is free to set their own prices, right?

True, there’s no minimum wage law when you work for yourself, but there is a polite way to price.  Here are a couple of common pricing faux pas to avoid:

  1. Changing your prices too often: yes, you should absolutely market-test your prices, but don’t just throw numbers out randomly to see what sticks.  Focus on testing one or two products at a time, and try to do it at a live event like a craft show, where you can gauge customers’ reactions directly.  Changing your published prices too often (like the ones on your web site) will make repeat retail customers think they are overpaying, and will make your wholesale customers struggle to keep their prices current.
  2. Pricing just to maintain your hobby: I think it’s lovely that you make so many beautiful things that you’ve run out of people to give them to.  I also think it’s great that you sell your extras in order to support your hobby.  It’s selfish, however, to sell a fair-isle sweater you knitted for just the price of the yarn.  Your customers might be thrilled, but underpricing devalues creative work and makes it harder for creative professionals to make a living.

Sadly, there is no magic formula for pricing, but with some research, careful thought, and a little finesse, you can find the sweet spot that makes your business the most successful it can be.  If you have any other pricing tips or questions, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

Thing-A-Day #12: Show Some Gratitude

Finally managed to print those tanks cards today.  The print areas were so large that they turned out with a little bit of distress but I really like what it adds to the image.  It makes it look more military-industrial complex with a hint of hand-printed propaganda.  Sweet.  (**Update: They’re up in the shop now.)

Today’s instruction: make something that shows gratitude.

Your inspiration for today comes from Jeff Rudell’s ingenious client-getting nutshell book.  Enjoy and be thankful.

Shop Local, Bay Area

Whenever money is tight, the same dilemma comes up: shop at a discounted big box to save money, or shop from small businesses to stimulate the local economy?  Most people would rather do the latter, but we simply don’t have the cash this year.  Luckily, there is a solution.  Ever the creative problem-solvers, many Bay Area businesses are participating in programs that give serious discounts (usually 15% and up) to local shoppers.

If you live in San Francisco, you can take advantage of Only In San Francisco’s ShopSF program.  Just show your driver’s license or other ZIP code-bearing ID and you’ll get great deals at their participating merchants.  Some of my favorite stores are on that list, like Urban Fauna Studio and Candystore Collective. Want to add your business?  Sign up here.

If you live in the East Bay, wear plaid this Friday to show your support for local businesses on Plaid Friday.  Their participating businesses include a lot of artists, including Ezme Designs, which makes beautiful ceramics, and TWO art subscription services — The Present Group and Art in a Box.  If you are an East Bay business, there is still time to participate.  Visit this page for details.

Ponoko Meets Spoonflower

over at Envelop.  The Belgian-based company digitally prints your designs onto fabric.  They make aprons and pillows (and other things) out of it.  They set up the eCommerce web site and do all the selling.  You upload your designs and reap the profits.  Becoming a member is free, but not all designs make the cut.  For tips, see their submission guidelines.

via SwissMiss

Happy New Year

Fall is the beginning of my year.  It always has been.  In the first place, I’m Jewish, so I celebrate the new year in the fall rather than in January.  I take stock and make my resolutions in the fall.  Fall is also when school starts, and when people come back after having a long break.  Fall is when I naturally feel compelled to start in new directions and when the economy begins to ramp up again.

This year my main goal is to take those new directions and make them more, um…directed.  I’m trying to set clear, achievable goals for each of my current projects, which I am trying to cull and focus in service of a greater professional goal: an independent and sustainable career as a creative professional.

I’ve decided I need help with this, so I’ve been in contact with Lisa at the Renaissance Business Center here in San Francisco.  Renaissance is a non-profit dedicated to helping people start and/or grow small businesses.  What makes them different from SCORE, SBA and the SBDC is that they are much more focused on providing intensive, long-term assistance.  Two programs I’m currently looking at are their 14-week business planning course (which has been described as a mini-MBA program), and their 1-3 year business incubation program (probably the virtual incarnation).  I’ve got a tour and orientation on Wednesday.  Hopefully they can help me focus and kick my ass a little.

In the meantime, I’ve been applying for some holiday shows, and trying to create new wares for them.  The one I’m currently most excited about is DesignerCon in L.A. (formerly Vinyl Toy Network).  It’s sort of a combo trade fair/cash-and-carry for folks who make the kinds of things you see in designer toy and comic shops — plush and vinyl collectibles, limited-edition prints, and character-driven art of all kinds.  At $125 for a one-day booth, the cost is comparable to your standard craft fair.  I’m planning on showcasing/selling Sweet Meats on one side of the booth, and presenting samples of my plush design work on the other.  DesignerCon is on November 21st, which gives me a concrete deadline by which to have my new web site and business cards done, as well samples of next year’s toy line.

A little bit further down the list is a book proposal.  I’ve heard from fellow crafters that writing an instructional book is extremely difficult and takes about a year of full-time work to complete.  According to Crafty Chica Kathy Cano-Murillo, just writing the proposal takes a week.  Things being what they are in publishing, writing a book is often not very lucrative, assuming that your proposal even gets picked up a by a publisher in the first place, which is unlikely.  On the other hand, authoring a successful book significantly increases your profile as an expert in your field, leading (hopefully) to press, more clients and higher rates.  What doesn’t get picked up you can always publish on your own, so I’m keeping it as an option for now.

As for making a Thing-A-Day, I’m still doing it, though I’ve fallen back on the “work on an existing project for 30 minutes” net a couple of times this week.  Yesterday I made and decorated a cake for my friends’ 26th/30th birthdays, but I didn’t like it enough to photograph it.  Otherwise I’ve mostly been working on re-making my pieces for the Plush You show next month.

It’s going to be a busy fall.  I’ll keep you posted about what I learn along the way.  Happy New Year, everyone!

Sketchbook: Bacon Newsletter

Spent my day hand-sewing dog squeakers into 48 plush toys then dealing with UPS (see prevous post).  Not ideal.  But I also managed to finish this image for my newsletter announcing the Shapin’ Bacon to the world.

sweet meats shapin' bacon plush newsletter
sweet meats shapin' bacon plush newsletter

Using a very limited font collection and breaking TONS of typography rules, I tried my best to imitate this California Gold Rush pamphlet I found with Google images:

As soon as I finish entering the hundreds of new subscribers I picked up during fair season, this baby will be good to go.

Apparently it is Easy Being Green

Did you know that in addition to running the Bazaar Bizarre and working full-time in science education, Jamie Chan and her husband Blas Herrera also own Urban Fauna Studio, the best little fiber arts shop in San Francisco?  It’s enough to make a girl feel downright lazy.  Ever the overachievers (and responsible business owners), Blas and Jamie recently went through the process to make UFS a certified green business.  Jamie agreed to share their experience with me so we can all become green businesses, too.

First a little background on their business: Urban Fauna Studio sells independently made and eco-friendly craft supplies and tools. They focus on ecologically and socially considerate manufacturing practices, products made in the US and handmade items. They host a growing community of consignment artists and crafters, all of whom are committed to bringing quality handmade goods to their customers.  At UFS you can also explore the fiber arts through a revolving series of workshops (see their calendar for details).  Blas has a background in environmental science and Jamie is a science educator. Both of them come from families that have long enjoyed the fiber arts, crafting and DIY.

Why did you decide to pursue green business certification?

Just because many shops are independently owned and selling green products does not make their business practice green. We decided that a more genuine commitment to sustainability was to get certified by the San Francisco Green Business program. SF Green Business helps San Francisco businesses adopt environmental practices that are sustainable as well as profitable. They set stringent criteria, provide technical assistance, and publicly recognize and promote Green Businesses with a seal that enables customers to shop in keeping with their values. The Program is made of up of three City agencies: the SF Department of the Environment, the SF Department of Public Health, and the SF Public Utilities Commission.  We are the first fiber art and craft shop in the SF Bay Area with a green certification. We feel this sends a message to our customers and our fellow business owners that our commitment to sustainable retail goes beyond selling green, we live green too. It’s not hard to do considering many of us engage in green practices in our personal lives.

What are the benefits of being a certified green business?

San Francisco Green Businesses can save money by implementing practices that lead to cost savings in energy, water, and garbage bills. We have sought out a greener web provider who uses 100% green renewable energy, Carbon Neutral, who was actually less expensive than our previous, non-green, web hosting provider. We also participate in Carbon Offsetting with our electrical company and reduced our garbage bills.

We use all non-toxic, plant based cleaning chemicals which make us feel safer in our workspace and for our customers entering the store. We buy 80% post consumer, chlorine-free, recycled toiletry papers, 100% post consumer, chlorine-free printer papers, and 80% post consumer, chlorine-free business cards and promotional materials.

We enjoy a marketing edge over the competition. Coupon books, web site listings and other promotional strategies are fine. But a certification system with this level of transparency about standards and regulations makes us feel secure that people will know we are not trying to “green wash” them with hype.  (**Blogger’s note: I was shocked by how few businesses are listed on the SF Green Business site.  I thought SF was so eco-forward….)

Blas spent his college career studying environmental policy and social justice and I have studied marine sciences. We have seen the data firsthand and know this planet is not heading in a good direction with our current rates of consumption and use.  He and I both care very much about the future of our environment and we want our business to reflect that. The biggest benefit is the peace of mind that this certification brings, that we are helping to make our local and global community better.

How long did it take over all?

We started the certification process right before we opened our shop.  So about 10 months.

What did it take to earn the certification?  Were there requirements you found particularly easy or difficult to fulfill?

We had to submit a written application and then a detailed table or checklist of actions we would take to make our business meet their retail business standards. Then we had a phone consultation with some follow up e-mails. There was an initial site visit from a consultant. Between that time we had more e-mails and to provide more evidence that we were engaging in green practices. This included taking pictures of certain parts of the store, providing bills and proof of certain services.  Then there was an on-site assessment to verify that San Francisco Green Business standards are being met. We had a few more things to change and follow up on after our assessment. After submitting our changes, our San Francisco Green Business status was awarded! We were listed on the site within two weeks and warmly welcomed into their community. Nothing was particularly difficult. It was at worst, annoying and eye-opening to realize how every detail of our business could be greener. We thought we were “green” already and it was good to know that someone else was there to ensure we got all the aspects of our business to be more sustainable.

Would you recommend the process to other crafters/designers or only to people with stores?

Yes, if your business is certifiable we would suggest it. They currently certify hotels, restaurants, offices, retailers and dentists. This INCLUDES home businesses….and we do mean you, indie crafters! Your studios, offices and work spaces within your home can be certified. It does not take a long time. Our case was an exception, most applications should be approved within 4-6 months.  There is really no reason not go through the process if you can devote the time. We estimate that we spent no more than 20 hours total on this certification process. The certification program in SF is free of charge.  Many towns have a green certification program…we encourage you to look at your options and get involved.

Did you get any help during this process?

Nope. We didn’t know of any certified green indie retailers at the time, but now YOU do! Feel free to contact us. We are willing to answer questions and in general help to promote other green indie craft businesses. The nice thing about being indie is that we all really DO need each other to make an impact in the world of corporate run, big box stores. Being green together, being transparent about our goals, is a good thing. Lean on people in your local business community, you’ll be surprised about how much you can gain from it.

Well, folks, there you have it.  I’m definitely going to look into this for my own home office.  Thanks, Jamie!  If anyone else has experience with this process or is thinking about becoming certified, please share below.

Finally, Some Validation

I was delighted to read this article/interview by Jenny Hart about how important it is to keep accurate, current books.  She’s a super-savvy Biz Miss with a veritable empire of embroidery products.  Her emphasis on bookkeeping makes me feel a little more validated and a little less geeky for having taken all those Quickbooks classes.

Also, somebody (Gary Taxali) finally gave a huge company (Google) the finger (literally) for soliciting original creative work in exchange for “exposure.”  It has always floored me how ready companies are to try to take advantage of creative professionals, especially those companies who can afford to pay them fairly.  I have personally been asked for free products or services in exchange for “exposure” on many occasions and I don’t understand why I’m not supposed to be insulted by this.  I mean, you wouldn’t suggest that a lawyer work for you for free because you’re providing them with “exposure” to the dozens of “potential future clients” watching them work in the courtroom, would you? (NY Times via The Present Group)