Help! My blog is buried by schoolwork!

Hello everyone! Songbird's Branch has taken a back seat recently for this crazy ride called life! My classes have gotten a lot more demanding during these last weeks of school! I'm very much looking forward to getting my precious blogging time back. Meanwhile, let's keep hoping for warm weather as some of us are beginning our farmer's market sales efforts! I just wrote about Jax Hats who will be found at the market, also look for Rickie of Raven Ridge Fiber arts at the Clark Fork River Market (by the Higgins St. Bridge) which just opened on Saturday!

Do you make an appearance at one of our markets? Let me know with a comment- I'm putting together a list ;)

Let the sun shine!

University of Montana hosts local hat-maker, Jackie Priess April 27-30

As a U of M student, I'm delighted to share some great news- Jax Hats will have a booth in the UC starting tomorrow (until Saturday). Just when you needed another incentive to get to school this week, Jax Hats just might save your grade! In the next couple of days I'm posting a great interview highlighting Jackie and her business. She's the one who taught her husband to sew. ;)

Jax Hats will be at the University of MT on April 27-30, 2011 and every Saturday at People's Market in downtown Missoula starting May 14th and ending Oct 15th from 9-1:00.  This is located on Alder St - 2 blocks south of the Farmer's Market by the XXX's (not the market under the bridge). You can also visit them at Upcycled 517 S Higgins, Missoula, MT or find Jax Hats at Rockin Rudy's, The Green Light, the Artist's Gallery, Sorella's in Missoula or Freyed Sew in Helena, Cello in Bozeman, or Fawn in Kalispell.

My personal thoughts on Etsy and how it effects entrepreneurs

Let's face it. I have a love/hate relationship with Etsy. Going back in my blog, you would find instances of lavish praise upon the website, alongside fierce critique. Truth is, I have an underlying contempt for the internet in general, the way it has tried to entirely replace our face-to-face communications, and move all of our interactions and progress into a limitless void. If something were to happen to the internet, many people's life's work would go up in smoke. My blog would be gone and I'd have no proof of what I've written here. To me, that's a scary prospect!

So, I bring that cautious attitude toward Etsy, trying to keep it at an arm's length, not wrapping up my income within it- because after all, we rely on each other- locally, despite the illusion of a global market. (Or at least we ought to rely local). I haven't done much with my Etsy account and instead focus my attentions on Alpenglow Apparel and building a real life social network with like-minded Missoulians.

Here are some things I love about Etsy:

It makes owning a small business attainable even with an extremely limited budget. You needn't save to put on huge advertising campaigns to reach your community, you don't need to know anything about business. All one needs is a basic sense of responsibility and to be computer literate.

Etsy has given artists a real place on the internet and is devoted to the business education of its members. There are great resources on their website! It really is a game changer for the artist community.

Here are some things I can't stand about Etsy:

Many never "grow out of" Etsy and form real brick-and-mortar businesses that America needs right now. It allows these business owners to go under the radar and never fully participate in their local economies. Etsy can steal our sense of legitimacy, making it easy to disregard what we're doing by not taking it seriously. In this way it can hurt our confidence and make us afraid of leaving its cushy environment.

I am concerned that many who make money off of Etsy do not have the business sense to get a business license and pay taxes on their income. This strips money from communities and puts those individuals in a dangerous legal position. That being said... it is very profitable for the individual, and for them- that's great.

What do you think? Maybe I'm way off base with my criticisms of the site? Or maybe you agree. Regardless, I will continue to highlight Esty on my blog and show how it has transformed local women's lives, because it's certainly worth talking about!


Get Real: Montana Woman Moves Confidently away from in Business Website Launch

When I first contacted Julie Burns from Missoula, Montana’s Gypsy Moon Designs, she was about to take a dramatic leap.  Launching a standalone website (powered by BigCartel) and a marketing campaign would permanently establish herself and her company as a legitimate online business, and cut the cord from her pre-fabricated storefront on popular shopping site,  I was pleased to catch her at the crest of this transition, one that many of us are likely to make as we educate ourselves in marketing techniques, business fundamentals, and gain much-needed confidence.

 Julie has always taken her business seriously. Her very first day in Missoula, she approached a jewelry street vendor and started asking questions... And the answers she received, coupled with a high motivational drive and sense of self, empowered her to begin her own venture. Soon, Julie was selling her wares in front of Sterling Savings Bank at the intersection of Higgins and Main Street, giving herself an instant job.  “[But] hot summer days and cold Decembers can be exhausting as a street vendor,” she explains, “So many of the tourists were asking if I was online.” So when she found Etsy, she left street vending for good in favor of the comfort of her home and  embarked on an exciting world marketplace.  And with over 1,800 positive feedback ratings on her shop, one would agree Etsy + Gypsy Moon Designs = a match made in heaven.

Julie attributes the bulk of her success to a growing customer base due to her efforts to self-educate (through online research).  “I have learned so much about marketing and sales from the Etsy forums. Even if you do not have a Etsy shop I recommend searching the forums for valuable information. A major factor for any online business is being found. Search engine optimization (SEO) is something you will spend most of your time on. It's all about creating keywords for your site and back links,” she says.

Also, her confidence didn’t come overnight. “When I lived in Taos, New Mexico, I starting making jewelry and selling it at local markets. I also owned a gift shop in Taos. Taos is an artist community full of wonderful galleries and boutiques. I worked in a few fun galleries prior to taking the leap into store owner.” These experiences have given Julie an entrepreneurial edge. What experiences can you draw from that will give you 
an edge, too?

Gypsy Moon Designs will begin its online advertising campaign through Facebook and ads placed on high-traffic blogs. We look forward to hearing how these venues are working!

Other than marketing through her Gypsy Moon Designs Facebook page, Julie relies on face-to-face networking. “Most of my networking is done locally at Missoula Saturday Market. Friends will tell you about upcoming shows…  I generally hand out 1000 business cards during the Summer. This past holiday season I had a huge order of necklaces from someone back east who I gave my card to while she was at the Missoula Saturday Market.”

Why Julie loves her job:

"I love creating. Color and texture are so fun to play with. I could stay up all night making jewelry. Also, when a customer emails you and tells you how much they love the piece. Complements are very encouraging and rev you up for more creating." 

"I must admit I love working for myself too. It takes discipline, you work many more hours than you would working for someone else, but it is so rewarding.

Julie’s advice to an aspiring businesswoman:

"Often people think you open a store and money just comes pouring in. Nope. A business is built one small step at a time. Stay focused, disciplined; determine who your target market is. 

This to me is the most valuable advice, open a savings account. Retail sales are always up and down. If you have money saved for the lean times you are less stressed. I think customers pick up on desperation. Lastly, do not undervalue your work. 

When it comes to pricing I usually set the price and then raise it by 20% more. I learned that trick from financial advisor, Suze Orman. She said that most woman undervalue their work by 20%. If it is a well crafted piece there is a customer for it."

This is the second installment in my latest series: "I Love My Job: Stories of Real Missoula Business Owners" Read more about this series and how to be featured here. Thanks for reading! It's easy to get Songbird's Branch delivered to your inbox. Just see the "follow by email" button on the sidebar! Never stop learning, growing, and reaching. 

"The Birds are Back, and it Makes me Happy"

Missoula jewelry artist, Jami Shipp made this happy announcement as the title of her latest treasury collection of birdy things from all over Montana. She also included my bird stationery set with her treasury! Here is a link:

Jami's Birds of Montana Etsy Treasury

Our state bird, the Western Meadowlark!

Aside from just making gorgeous jewelry, Jami also makes a consistent effort to gather Etsy artists around Montana and celebrate their art in her treasuries. Amen to that!

I'm so happy the birds are back, too. I have a not so subtle love for birds... as you may have noticed. *wink*

Connect with Jami's business today on her Facebook page!

And most of all, enjoy the beautiful beginning of Spring!

Artfire VS Etsy: FIVE BIG Reasons Artfire is Better

Hello Readers! I am delighted to introduce Gail of Cross Stitch Cards to explain why she packed up her handmade greeting card business and made the move from Etsy to Artfire. She is here to bring us the facts so show her the love with your comments, clicks, and witty responses!

P.S. I also have a comparison of Etsy VS Big Cartel and Storenvy, so check that out too if you're thinking about spreading your business to one of those venues!

You've created your handmade products. Congratulations! You've already made the decision to make something and sell it online, but now there's a more important decision to be made.  Which online marketplace is right for you?  There are many to choose from and two of the most well known are Etsy and Artfire.   Using my own experiences, I will be looking at several aspects of the sites to help you decide which one (if either) is right for you.  I started using Etsy and then moved to Artfire after about a year, as a lot of my Etsy friends were moving and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about!

Check out our great  2012 Update!

1)  Fees that Don’t Require a Graphing Calculator

Let's start with the bottom line:  Fees and Charges.

Etsy will charge you $0.20 for each listing that you activate or renew.  They will also charge you a small Final Value Fee of 3.5% when you sell your item.  The listings are active for four months before they expire.  I consider this to be a cheap price to pay when you compare it to Ebay for example where the fees are much higher. [Don’t forget the Paypal Fees on top of this!!]

Artfire offers two levels of seller accounts.  The Basic Account is completely free in every aspect.  No monthly fee, no listing fees, and no final value fees.  The Pro Account is currently $9.95 per month with no extra fees, and it gives you more features like a blog to use, shop sections to organize your items, and preferential appearance in search results. The listings are permanent until you deactivate them.  I currently have a Basic account which means that I do not pay any fees.

More about Artfire’s Basic Account:
The purpose of the basic account is to let new users get a feel for the site, get to know their way around, and get some items listed; a free introduction to the online experience.  Most will upgrade to Pro because of the extra features that it offers.  The most useful of these features to me right now would be shop sections.  Once you have a large number of items listed, it is easier for the buyer to jump straight to the shop section that they need rather than scroll through pages and pages of your items.  I mean, you don't go into a department store and wander all the way round menswear if you are looking for the lingerie, do you?  You go straight to the right part of the store!

2)  Sure-fire Search Engine Results that Won’t Put a Hole in Your Pocket
(A significant cause of the Etsy-to-Artfire movement)

When you list an item on Etsy, it moves further and further down the search listings the longer you leave it there.  In a saturated market such as Jewelry sales, your items will soon disappear among the masses.  The only way to bring it back to the top of the search list is to re-list the item.  This will, of course, mean paying the $0.20 fee again.  Many sellers were needing to re-list their items several times a week to keep them on the first few pages of search and the cost really starts to mount up.

Artfire recommends leaving your listings alone.  The longer they remain active, the more likely they are to be found in a search.  They submit your item details to Google Shopping and your items will pop up on there on a regular basis when shoppers search for them.  If you start deactivating or re-listing items, it can damage your placement in search results.  

Artfire get a definite plus point on this as they do some of the work for you there.  The constant need to re-list with Etsy is time consuming and expensive, and takes time away from you creating your product.  With the fixed fee per month on Artfire, you know exactly how much you will be paying.

3)  Show More Photos of Your Product- You Deserve It!

I liked the layout of the Etsy storefront when I was using it.  Particularly the way that the photos were displayed.  The alternate photos are displayed right next to the main picture and it was so simple to click on the one you wanted to view.  

Artfire has the extra pictures displayed underneath the main one, with a scroll bar to look at further pictures.  I am finding this a little hard to come to grips with at the moment.  The reason for the difference is that you can upload more pictures on Artfire than Etsy, and using a scroll bar is the only way to be able to put them on the screen without having the pictures take over.  It's a small point, and one that just takes a little bit of getting used to, but still worth mentioning.

4) Artfire Will Help You Make the Switch, with a Guide Tailored to Former Etsy Users

The act of actually listing an item for sale is different for both sites.  Etsy wants a short descriptive title, and Artfire likes a long title with lots of keywords.  It's important to read the help guides on each site before starting.  In fact, Artfire has a special guide for you to read if you're moving from Etsy, as the two sites do operate differently as detailed in the previous section.  The rest of the listing process is pretty similar on both sites as you choose your tags and upload your pictures.
5)  All Shoppers Welcome, No Need to “Sign Up”

I have bought and sold on Etsy and it is a straightforward user experience on both sides.  Just like any other online purchase it is easy if you are used to it!  I have only sold on Artfire so far, but my buyers certainly didn't have any problems, so I have to assume that the same applies with buying.  As with any online purchase, if you want the item, you'll find a way.  Not much to choose between them on this as it's pretty standard across the web.

To buy an Etsy item you do need to register on the site and open an account.  Some people don't wish to do this to just buy one item, they will go and look elsewhere.  To buy on Artfire, you do not need to register or have an account.  You can simply “add item to cart” and checkout using Paypal or any other form of payment that the seller accepts.  I think this opens up the market much more and makes it easier for the buyer.

Sorry Etsy, You Lose:

My general conclusion would be that there is nothing that I particularly dislike about either site.  I would be happy to use Artfire or Esty for selling my products.  However, the fees and charges is the main place where it is won or lost for me right now.

Etsy was a lovely, friendly environment for me to begin my handmade venture.  It seemed like a gentle introduction to the world of handcrafted item sales.  I was able to put as much or as little into it as I wanted.  However, there did seem to be a certain pressure there to sell because I was paying a fee for the listings and re-listings all the time.  There was a month where I paid more in fees than I received in sales.  This caused me to think again about whether it was the right place.

On Artfire, I feel that I can take my time.  It feels a little more relaxed.  I am not currently paying any fees, and yet still making sales.  If I don't have any sales for a while, or take a week off, then I haven't wasted any money on fees.  I like the environment, the forums and the ease of listing an item.    I am sure that I will upgrade to Pro in due course, and accept the monthly fee as a regular outgoing business cost. 

I also love the fact that buyers do not need to sign up with Artfire to make a purchase.  It just seems like a more open environment where people outside of the site can easily make a purchase.  On Etsy, you are aiming your marketing at the existing users, and it seems a little shut off and in it's own little world by comparison.

Artfire gets my vote.


See more of Gail's beautifully embellished, hand-stitched cards at Cross Stitch Cards Artfire site. You can also follow her on twitter

Want to read more of Gail’s interpretation of Artfire VS Etsy? Read about her experiences in their unique community networking environments, a very important part of online sales! All this in Artfire VS Etsy part Two: Comparing the Social Experience, coming up soon to Songbird's Branch! Following is easy. Just enter your email address in the sidebar and it will be delivered to you privately by our server. Thanks for reading!
Never stop learning, growing, and reaching!

Check out our great  2012 Update!

Differentiate and Dominate! An important lesson from Missoula Business Owner, Elena Ulev

You may have heard of Mrs. Elena Ulev’s other business, Hummingbird Designs- a real Missoula mainstay, with 10 years of jewelry sales at markets, arts and craft shows, and in local retailers. But in 2008, when HummingbirdMontana entered the online sales community, it soon became clear that Elena would need to differentiate from her competiton. “I did not have much success selling my jewelry on Etsy and was quite disappointed…” Elena says. “I thought I would give Etsy another try with my jewelry organizers because they are unique, and I figured that there might be less competition compared to jewelry.”  

What Elena and her husband Seth developed is a truly problem-solving work of art. Built like a screen frame and mounted on a wall, the beautiful organizers are a perfect blend of form and function, keeping jewelry organized, beautifully displayed, and most importantly- out of children’s reach. These clever displays are also handy for showing off original work at shows and markets!

After five years of successful offline sales of these jewelry organizers, Elena had proven her hunch was right.  And so, just this December, she came back on the scene with Eventyr Woodworking. “ We are excited but a bit nervous to see what will happen with our little shop. ‘Eventyr’ means adventure in Norwegian and my husband and I are indeed on a creative adventure.

These days, Elena’s two young children are first priority. Still, she looks forward to building her business further. “As they get older, I might explore more ways to get connected and increase sales.” When asked about her greatest challenge, she explained that the fast pace of the internet, with its social networks and constant innovations, has been overwhelming. “I’d rather sell my product face to face at a market or show than someone over the Internet but I have to keep up with the times, I guess.” I’m sure this is a sentiment that many of us share!

“What I love most about making my jewelry organizers is having a creative outlet and time to myself in the woodshop. Being a mom takes so much energy and the ways that I replenish that energy are spending time outdoors and being creative indoors. I'm thrilled that people like what we have created!”

Elena’s advice to the aspiring businesswoman: “Get exposure. The more people see you and your products, the better.

This is the first installment in my latest series: "I Love My Job: Stories of Real Missoula Business Owners" Read more about this series and how to be featured here. Thanks for reading! It's easy to get Songbird's Branch delivered to your inbox. Just see the "follow by email" button on the sidebar! Never stop learning, growing, and reaching. 

Content by Laura Gabriele