small business

Etsy Featured Seller: Amanda Zehner (Living Threads Co)

This month on the blog we are all about Etsy, the online marketplace for “unique goods.” We have a lot of local people who use Etsy as an ecommerce tool, and they’re the best people to talk to about the platform!

We love businesses who love to help others, and that’s exactly what Living Threads Co. is all about. Founded by Amanda Zehner in 2014, Living Threads Co. features handmade textiles from around the world, in an effort to join these communities with the American market. Here’s what she has to say about Etsy as a way to increase online exposure/awareness to products (BEC questions in bold).

What made you decide to use Etsy as a marketplace for your business?   

Access to an already established customer base through a marketplace that attracts a similar demographic as Living Threads Co. is targeting. Access to resources and a network of other similar businesses.

Do you sell your products anywhere else online or in real life?

 Yes, a majority of our business is done outside of Etsy. We primarily use Etsy as a supplemental platform and another way to get our name out, help new customers and businesses find us and then direct them to our e-commerce website. We also sell in seasonal pop-ups and through wholesale B2B relationships to expand our impact on small scale artisans.

LTCo. Nicaragua Family Impact 2015.08.11 from Living Threads Company on Vimeo.

What has contributed to your success on Etsy?  

We view success on Etsy as relationship building and brand exposure but do not have a great deal of success in sales.  Creation of a shop on Etsy does not mean sales and business. You have to prioritize marketing and driving people to your Etsy shop.  That is not our priority as we choose to focus on driving customers to your own commerce site. However, the cost of maintaining inventory on  Etsy is so minimal that it is worth it to us to maintain it.

How do you stand out in this marketplace?  

We are a higher price point product then a majority of products on Etsy and as mentioned above, we strategically focus our energy on driving traffic to our own e-commerce site. However, I do think that our higher end quality product on Etsy helps us to stand out.

From the Living Threads Co. website. One way Living Threads Co. stands out (in our opinion) is their unique story and the fact that their products are not only high quality but have a direct impact on the lives of others.

What’s your advice for anyone considering selling their products on Etsy? 

Make sure that you have a strategy for driving traffic to your shop and standing out, high quality product images and a marketing plan with a focused effort to drive people to your site and convert that to sales.  Whether that is a blog, Instagram, Pinterest, or all of the above.

Tell us about your most interesting Etsy transaction (i.e. weird customer questions/requests, or a purchasing experience).

Have had great experiences purchasing from other vendors and greatly appreciate the ‘small business’  feel. Also being able to interact directly with the owner, have custom work done and have questions answered very quickly.  We have had people reach out about larger orders but have been on completely different pages cost-wise (there seems to be a lack of understanding of the value of hand made artisan products, which is why on our own site we try to tell that story really clearly).

One of our personal favorite items from Living Threads Co is this finger puppets set! There are also sets for other famous children’s books, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Goodnight, Moon.

(Just for fun) If you had $100 to spend anywhere on Etsy, what would you buy?

We would buy more custom handmade cotton tags for out handwoven blankets. I love being a part of the design process of each part of our final product and creating a final product that is hand made from fiber to tagging and supporting small businesses, entrepreneurs, artists and creatives from Guatemala to Maine or Colorado.  So much fun!

Thanks again to Amanda for answering our Etsy questions, and make sure you check out her website! 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Etsy Featured Artist: Dory Smith Graham (Worthy Goods)

 

This month on the blog we are all about Etsy, the online marketplace for “unique goods.” We have a lot of local people who use Etsy as an ecommerce tool, and they’re the best people to talk to about the platform!

Dory Smith Graham, owner of Worthy Goods, has been using Etsy since 2008 to sell her products. She creates bowties, wool felt jewelry, scarves, and much more from organic, sustainable sources. Here’s what she has to say about Etsy (BEC questions in bold).

What made you decide to use Etsy as a marketplace for your business?

Etsy was fairly new back in 2008 when I started out, a handmade selling platform that was just beginning to take off. It had a very low barrier-to-entry, and that was perfect for me. I had a wicked slim product line at that point, four reversible baby slings and very little extra time with a 6 month old, a sewing hobby and working part time as a goldsmith. I was able to get the shop up and online in just a day.

One of Dory’s products, a gum ball felt and velvet choker

Do you sell your products anywhere else online or in real life?

You bet! At SevenArts in Ellsworth, year round, you can find much of worthygoods full lineup of hats, bow ties, linen smock aprons, and more. Other shops that carry worthygoods are Island Artisans in Bar Harbor and Northeast Harbor; Salon Naturelles, Bar Harbor; Quench, Belfast; Archipelago, Rockland and Center for Maine Craft at the Gardiner exit. Online there are three venues: my main website, worthy-goods.com with a full product line and I have two Etsy shops as well, worthygoods, and the other is worthygoodstextile where I sell organic cotton fabrics and vintage wooden spools & bobbins from shuttered textile mills. I vend at a handful of vibrant summer and holiday fairs locally on and around MDI as well as in southern Maine. My very favorite events to show at are the IAA Labor Day Fair on the Village Green in Bar Harbor and PICNIC Holiday in Portland.

What has contributed to your success on Etsy?

For the first couple years I received a lot of support as a member of the Etsy Maine Team. Then as a more senior member, I offered support to new members. Etsy also offers webinars and email/pdf type ‘schools’ that help with solid advice in parcels that are usually easy to work through to improve targeted areas like developing voice, branding, Etsy SEO as well as planning for the holiday season.

How do you stand out in this marketplace?

Since worthygoods is dedicated to gear steeped in Maine style, I stand out with my product line and my branding. Both highlight and reflect my love of Maine from The County to the coast. My branding uses a vintage Maine lobster license plate, something that still resonates with me and my customers, especially. I find that the more I accentuate the things that ring true to me as reflecting Maine heritage, the more my customers see worthygoods as authentic Maine gear.

What’s your advice for anyone considering selling their products on Etsy?

If you are just starting out on Etsy, I would suggest you take a long, hard look at your pricing structure. Since Etsy has become a publicly traded company, they have really increased their transactional fees, added a fee-based payment processing platform, incorporated two paid layers of search-based advertising, in addition to the shipping platform. It’s easy to under-price yourself and hard to bump it up later on once you’ve established yourself a bit.

Tell us about your most interesting Etsy transaction (i.e. weird customer questions/requests, or a purchasing experience).

My favorite sale on Etsy for worthygoods was relatively uneventful, but Farrah Fawcett had an employee of hers custom-order and purchase a hat for a relative. I was on cloud 9 thinking that one of my Little Trapper hats was having a brush with fame in California. An interior design service, Homepolish reached out to me via worthygoods textile on Etsy for a variety of vintage wooden spools and bobbins. They purchased a bunch and used them for a pop-up men’s shop, J Hilburn in NYC. Esquire did a feature article on it and there was a decent bit of local press and write-ups on it, too. I still use their styling as inspiration for my own shop photos and decor.

If you had $100 to spend anywhere on Etsy, what would you buy?

Ooh, fun! I would buy myself a bag (or put it towards one, at least!) from roughandtumblebags.Etsy.com. I was in Portland recently and was thrilled to find a second-hand one at a cool consignment shop there. They are hand-made in Portland Maine and have a great lived-in look and casual feel about them.
Thanks again to Dory for answering our Etsy questions, and make sure you check out her website
Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

BEC Retreat: How, What, Why

Back in March, we had our fourth company retreat. This means that Nicole, John, and myself all got together for an entire day to check in on current projects, things that are going well, processes that could use improvement, and some professional development (this is a very watered down version of the actual agenda).

Different people reading this probably have different ideas about what a company retreat looks like. Some will think “strategic planning” and power points, others may think a volleyball game between different branches or departments (I got that one straight from The Office). The thing is, a company retreat can really be any of these things (and more). While our company retreat didn’t involve volleyball, or Michael Scott for that matter, it was still a productive and fun day for the three of us, and will be beneficial to BEC in the future.

For small businesses like ours, planning something like this can be intimidating. How do you have a company retreat if you’re not even a big company? What if it’s boring? What if employees aren’t interested/engaged? Where should we hold the retreat? And so on. This post will give you an idea of what our retreat looks like, and may be helpful as you consider planning one of your own.

(You can also watch our Facebook Live video where we talk about company retreats 101 here:)

How

There are a few ingredients you’ll need to create a productive company retreat. First, pick a date in advance that everyone can commit to and puts in their calendar. We only have 3 people’s worth of schedules to juggle, but you may have more, which can make it feel a bit like scheduling a family reunion.

After scheduling, make sure everyone has that date/time blocked off in their calendars. Next you’ll want to plan the venue (more on that later). You may also want to make sure that customers/clients know that the retreat is happening in case you’re going to be unavailable for the day. Gather any necessary materials (big sticky paper and markers are a retreat must in our opinion), technology, snacks, and whatever else you can think of to make retreat day a success.

What

Circulating the agenda in advance gives employees a chance to not only prepare, but voice any other items they feel should be addressed during the retreat (this also saves things from getting off topic during retreat day). A few of the items on the BEC Retreat Agenda are here:

Overview of current and upcoming projects. This is where we touch base on things that are ongoing or will be starting soon. Even though there’s only 3 of us, I still find this section helpful because there are some clients and projects that I’m not necessarily working with, so it’s a chance for me to step back from my own work and see what the company as a whole is doing.

What things are going well. We’ve found that a “what’s going well” exercise is a good icebreaker because it gets the ball rolling on a positive note. People tend to be more comfortable sharing positive feedback, especially when the day is just getting warmed up. Plus it starts things off on a positive tone.

What things could use improvement. This isn’t a chance to complain about benefits or requesting longer lunch breaks. This is usually what could use improvement in terms of processes- maybe a better system for following up with customers, increasing staff members at a certain time of day, etc. After identifying two-three items that you want to take action on, create a plan of attack. One of the things that got brought up at our first company retreat was finding a decent password management system. We then made it a priority over the next month or two to research different password management systems, choose one, and do a ton of data entry to move everything in. Three or four retreats later, our biggest item on the list is organizing files better.

Professional Development. One way that we get everyone involved in the retreat (so it feels like less of a classroom lecture) is having a professional development section. As the agenda gets circulated, each of us has an assignment for a 10 minute presentation on a program or bit of software that the company uses. While I’ve never been a big “talk in front of people” person, this part of the retreat is awesome. It’s been incredibly beneficial over the years and I still use what I’ve learned in this section of the retreat in my day to day work.

Goal Setting. At the end, we set some goals for the company, as well as a few personal goals. By this point at the end of the day, we’ve gone through quite a bit of material and discussion, so it’s a chance to reflect and look at some big picture stuff. It encourages us to think about where we’d like BEC to be in a year, but also where we as individuals want to be in the next year.

Where/When

In terms of where to have the retreat, usually offsite is recommended. Sometimes a change of scenery can get people’s brains working a little differently. A few things that might help you make this decision are the number of people coming, technological needs (if you have a projector and screen, for example), proximity (how far are people willing to drive?)- that sort of thing.

Company retreats are often an annual thing. We usually do ours in the late winter/early spring since that’s a good time of year in our business to commit a day to retreating. The idea is not to schedule it during your busy season if you have one- that’s a lot of stress.

Why

From big companies to small businesses, company retreats allow everyone to “regroup.” You may gain a better understanding of a department outside of your own, other company projects, etc. Retreats are also give employees a chance to step back from their daily grind and look at the big picture of the business,  remembering what the actual mission is. Another big reason why is the improvements that get made over the years from dedicating even just one day completely to company focused thinking. As I said in the “What Could Be Better” area, the things we are working on now seem a lot smaller than the bigger issues we tackled after our first retreat. Your company/business could undergo a similar process after a few years.

And this article from Forbes perfectly articulates the ‘Why,’ especially for those who may be worried about losing an entire day’s work: “It’s almost impossible to overestimate the return on investment for a retreat that gets everybody smiling and working together.”

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Rocky and the Power of Failure

(Spoilers ahead)

The best movies in the “Rocky” franchise are not concerned with winning or losing, but about drive, ability and performance. Rocky may be synonymous with Eye-of-The-Tiger-themed training montages and “Yo! Adrian!” catchphrases, but at their core, the best Rocky films are deeply personal stories of perseverance.

In the original “Rocky,” the titular hero isn’t interested in whether he can actually beat heavyweight champion Apollo Creed — winning is a secondary consideration. Rather, as he confesses one night to Adrian, Rocky needs to know whether he has it within him to “go the distance.” That is, to go 15 rounds with Apollo without getting knocked out or otherwise having the fight stopped. That’s where Rocky’s self-worth lies, and how he’ll prove to everyone that’s he’s more than just a “bum,” to use the film’s parlance.

Rocky II’s a good movie, too, but it doesn’t have the emotional resonance as the first film. Rocky III-V continued with diminished returns. It’s worth noting that, especially in the case of III and IV, the franchise becomes more invested with whether Rocky can beat the Big Bad at the end — whether that’s Mr. T or Dolph Lungren. Those films are preoccupied more with man vs man than man vs self. To me, that’s what makes the sequels a whole lot less interesting, (even despite the appearance of a young Hulk Hogan in III or a musical spot by James Brown in IV).

The franchise finds its footing again with “Rocky Balboa” (2006) and the most excellent “Creed” (2015). Like the original, the latest entries in the series are less about a hero fighting a villain and but rather a hero fighting for himself.

Spoiler ahead: The best Rocky films (“Rocky,” “Rocky Balboa” and “Creed”) are the ones where Rocky loses.

So why am I writing about Rocky? Because there’s a good chance your business is going to fail. The small business survival rate, after six years, falls to just 40 percent

There’s numerous reasons why businesses fail, and they’re not all in our control. Economics both macro and micro, disasters natural and man-made and emerging technologies all contribute to uncertainty. We all lose sometimes.

When we first meet Rocky, he’s a part-time “ham and egger” fighting in boxing clubs. He’s alone except for his pet turtles, making money working for a loan shark. His best days are far enough behind him that when challenged to fight champion Apollo Creed as a lark, he initially declines. Rocky fails to beat Apollo Creed, but by at least giving it a shot, he ends the film in a much better place. He found his self-worth in his quest to go the distance. He becomes a legitimate athlete.

He has Adrian.

Whether in business or in life, we mustn’t shirk a challenge.

That “Rocky” got made at all is somewhat of a minor miracle, and is a testament to the tenacity of writer and star Sylvester Stallone. Stallone recalled how, after he finally sold the script, the studio was reluctant to let him star. A relative unknown, Stallone pushed until he got the movie made his way — even turning down a $350,000 offer for the script without him starring. “Rocky” went on to win Best Picture, launched a franchise and created an iconic character.

Rocky teaches us that success doesn’t always mean we win, or that we are considered the best in our field. Sometimes success means going the distance and defying expectations of others or of ourselves.

It’s one of life’s paradoxes that in losing, sometimes we win.

For Further Reading

From Startup Dope: 5 Life Lessons Rocky Balboa taught us

From People.com: 10 Life Lessons We Can Learn from Rocky Balboa

From Brightscope.com: Eye of the Tiger – What Rocky Taught Me About Life and Business

You’re the Boss (New York Times): What “Rocky” Teaches Entrepreneurs

Can Your Phone Do That?

In addition to phone cases that do more, there are lots of accessories and attachments available that can transform your phone into any other tool you may need for your business. I couldn’t cover ALL the possible phone accessories/attachments in one blog post, since there are so many (and you can only really use one or two at a time, otherwise you’d have an Inspector Gadget phone). The following phone related gadgets are practical and affordable, plus their application can mean saving money on an extra piece of equipment.

Car Mount. This is helpful for people who travel a lot for work related purposes, but it can also be useful if you need a mount for pretty much any reason. This mount attaches to many different surfaces, so you can set it up on your window, wall, kitchen counter, and pretty much anywhere else. Think about anytime you’ve been using Google Maps on your phone for directions while trying to drive- not exactly a safe situation unless you have an extra arm. There are several different types of mounts available for different prices, but here is a recent list of 17 to get an idea.

Square Reader: If you’ve ever needed to accept a card payment from a customer on the go or without a retail setup, the Square Reader lets you swipe from your phone. To get the reader, all you have to do is sign up for a Square account and you’ll get the magstripe reader. Although it costs a little extra, you can purchase a Square Chip Reader for $29 that reads both chip cards and the usual stripe. Either way, the processing fee is 2.75% (which, if you consider the convenience factor is a bit of a fair trade). The reader works online and offline, so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of a bad internet/data connection in order to accept payments.

Keyboard. A useful tool for freelancers/people who may not have the budget to purchase a laptop but need to work on the go. Typing on your phone’s keypad is fine for shorter content, but as someone who has to type a lot of longer content, that tiny keyboard gets old fast. Some keyboards can be connected physically or through Bluetooth. Some of these keyboards range from $30-$130, depending on the brand. A couple features to consider- whether or not it comes with a stand (which I’d recommend if you don’t already have one to keep your phone upright while you type), and whether or not you want it to fold (which may be useful if you pack up and go a lot).

Dongles. Need to connect your phone to a projector? Certain dongles (the funny name for certain cords that connect your phone to another device) can hook you up. This Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter will connect your phone to a projector or any compatible AV device. For Samsung users, this HDMI cable will also do the trick. It’s also a great way to do movie night (not really a business application, but a fun idea nevertheless).

Selfie Stick. Don’t knock it till you try it. Selfie sticks are not the magic wand of narcissistic millennials, they can also have a business application. You can use them to get a better vantage point for a picture, recording live videos, and more. (Additional ideas for using a selfie stick include self defense and feeding your pets). Selfie Sticks may seem like a frivolous phone accessory for your business, but you’d be surprised at how handy they can actually be.

Are there any practical phone accessories you’ve found helpful that got neglected in this post? Let us know! We love hearing about useful tech stuff 🙂

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Prisma & Co: The Business Application

Last week, I shared some of the new and exciting apps that have emerged recently. In the conclusion of that post, I recommended trying out one or all of them just for fun. While the fun factor still stands, this week we’re going to explore some ways that one of these apps can be used in business marketing.

Facebook 360

Unfortunately, you can’t upload a Facebook 360 image to a business page yet on Facebook, just personal profiles. However, if you’re really hoping to upload one of these, you can upload it to your personal profile, make that particular post public, and share it as your business. It’s a lot of extra steps for now, but we’re guessing businesses will be able to upload 360 images in the near future.

Prisma

There aren’t many examples of businesses incorporating Prisma in their marketing at the moment, however, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it out. One idea is using it to spruce up a “regular” picture of your business (which is what we did below with Anchorspace).

Original

Original

Prisma Edited

Prisma Edited

Another idea is taking a featured image for one of your blog posts and making it into something interesting (there’s a new Abstract filter that seems pretty fun). Basically, when an app like this is in it’s infancy, you have a wide creative range- go ahead and see what you can create!

Boomerang

Boomerang came out almost a year ago, and it’s still being used consistently by businesses as part of their marketing. As one of Instagram’s satellite apps, it’s easy to share content on social media platforms (Instagram and Facebook) that you likely already have a presence on. It’s also easy to use- all you do is download the app, hold down a button to record a video, and save. Easy shareability and use are important characteristics for marketing apps and encouraging people to adapt a new social media platform in general.

Similar to GIF for business, Boomerang’s business application creates a way to visually grab your customer’s attention. It creates something eyecatching that will grab people’s attention as they scroll through their Instagram feed. As this article points out, “GIFs could potentially be the next emoji,” and although Boomerang videos technically aren’t GIFs, it’s not a huge leap. Boomerangs are easier to make from scratch than GIFs, as mentioned before, all you do is press a button. The one downside: to record on Boomerang you have to be within the app itself (meaning you can’t prerecord on your phone’s camera and reformat), which can make it hard to capture spontaneous footage.

What should you share? 

One of the trickier parts of Boomerang can be finding out what to share. Some ideas include your a fun shot of your storefront/office/physical location:

Happy Friday! By @stuporfluous

A video posted by Boomerang from Instagram (@boomerangfrominstagram) on

Show off a product:

Squad up! ???? by @usabasketball & @easymoneysniper

A video posted by Boomerang from Instagram (@boomerangfrominstagram) on

Or show off your goofy side:

Just rolling by ? with @xantheb

A video posted by Boomerang from Instagram (@boomerangfrominstagram) on

Since Boomerang videos are on an infinite loop, using video with some action or movement typically works best. A common Boomerang example is the blowing bubblegum loop. Reaction clips (think like a mime-exaggerated, dramatic expressions), jumping and throwing are also pretty common. It’s fun to do trial and error with, too- you never know when you’ll strike gold!

If you’re more interested in showing quick demonstrations or tours, Hyperlapse is probably a better Instagram satellite app. This creates a time-lapse video (or a sped up video) that’s longer than the 1 second Boomerang and doesn’t loop back and forth. Although it might not be the best for in-depth presentations, Hyperlapse can create a teaser video that creates interest and brings people to your website or store for more information/fact gathering.

As I said last week, Boomerang is a fun, easy to use app, and can bring an element of fun to your business marketing.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.
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