Running a Business by Trial and Error

Because I had another improvement in my health since starting the new treatment, I decided I could put some effort into making Kitty Mine Crafts grow. I think my search engine optimization is decent, because people do find me, but I think I suck at advertising. I tried advertising by using Ravelry first, then by using search ads on Etsy. I didn’t feel like I had a whole lot of success with the Ravelry advertising. I got maybe a 1% click rate on my ads, and that tells me that either they aren’t good ads or that the ad placement wasn’t good (or maybe I have expectations that are too high). I think the problem was that my ads aren’t good enough – Ravelry is a place where knitters and spinners gather, and I make products for those people in particular. These are some of the ads I made (the others won’t display in my browser – they worked just fine on Ravelry, though, and got the same number of views each):

 KMC Yarn Ad2 KMC Batt Ad

The ads rotated throughout the notebook section of Ravelry. I designed them myself – I’m no expert at graphic design, but I’m also not a professional photographer and my shop photos seem to work out. I might try to figure out what went wrong and redesign the ads.

I read both positive and negative things about Etsy’s search ads, so I thought I’d try them for myself. At first, it worked well – I got sales right away. I think that it had an effect on me like gambling has on some people (early payoff makes me unrealistically expect more payoff in the future if I just wait long enough), and I stopped getting sales from the ads but kept them running too long. Now I’ve spent more on advertising than I made in sales.

I realized that I need to learn how to more effectively use what advertising I have, both the free stuff and the paid stuff. Someone had great advice about how to make the ads more effective on one of the Etsy forums – choose a few items with “clickable” photos and only advertise those. It doesn’t mean that your other items aren’t good, it’s just that some pictures make people want to click more than others do. Fair enough – that’s what I’m trying now. I just started this approach a few days ago, so I’m still tweaking my selection.

In the meantime, I’ve gotten more foster kittens.

8 - wandering

I thought that since my business is called “Kitty Mine Crafts”, and I do sell a few cat toys,  that it would make sense to post pictures of the fuzzy babies on my Facebook and Twitter pages. This would serve two purposes: 1. It gets the foster kittens some exposure, so that maybe someone will fall in love and want to adopt them, and 2. Kittens are cute and will make some people come to my page just to see them, and maybe they’ll see some yarn or wool that they like, too (there’s a huge overlap in the knitter/spinner and kitten lover communities). The kittens seemed to have at least expanded my Facebook membership. Maybe the Twitter membership as well. I’ll call that a win.

I’m also trying to develop some unique products that I can repeat. I’ve developed these batts that I call Opalescent Batts (they will be available next week):

Opalescent batts

I can repeat these because the wool is commercially dyed, so I can get the same colorways again and again. The great thing about a listing like this is that I only have to take photos once, because all of the subsequent batts will look exactly like the first ones. I spend far more time photographing, editing photos, and listing items on Etsy than I ever do in making them. Most of my other rovings and batts are one of a kind, so I have to put in a massive amount of work every time. This should make my process more efficient.

I’m also going to try to repeat roving colorways that sold quickly. If they’ve sold once, maybe they’ll be good again, right? I’ve also learned to dye more than one item for each listing of “limited” items. Again, more products for almost the same amount of work.

I feel like I’ve done a good job so far, given that I haven’t had a single formal business lesson in my life. I’ve been open for eight months and have sold a total of one hundred and eighty items to over a hundred people. I know the first year (or more) of a new business is harder, that it takes time to grow a client base. Despite all that, I get frustrated that I will get sales every day for a couple of weeks, then none for long stretches of time. I see other Etsy people/businesses posting things they make on their Facebook pages and people want them so badly that they sell out before ever having to list them on Etsy. I need to figure out how to make that happen.

I also hope to be able to attend craft fairs some day. Right now, I am so small that the cost of renting a booth is prohibitive. I also worry that, because I sell a niche item, there really won’t be an audience for my wares at the local craft shows. If I could get a booth at a wool market or other specifically knitting/spinning themed gathering, I’d have a shot, but it’s really expensive. The Estes Park Wool Market, for example, costs $350 for the weekend. I’m just not that big yet – I can’t be sure I’ll make that back in sales. I’m also not healthy enough to put in those hours. I think the by the second day (and quite possibly half way through the first) I’d be half dead. I could hire someone to cover for me, but that just adds to the costs that I already find to be too steep.

With all this talk of wanting to grow, I should add that I also need to figure out just how big I want to be. Right now, I run my business from my home. When the ME/CFS  tells me I can’t work, that’s ok. If I get too big, I’ll need to consider a studio, maybe even a brick and mortar store. I’d have to have employees, and I’d have to have regular, predictable hours. This is just not something that I can do right now. Also, I travel a lot. If I get too big, I’d have to either stop traveling or deal with a giant backlog of orders while I am out. I get anxiety when I get orders while I’m gone. I always check to make sure buyers have gotten my message that I will ship upon my return, but almost none of them read the shop announcement or the automatic email in which I point this out and give them the opportunity to cancel the order if they just can’t wait. I fear that one day someone will leave me bad feedback about being slow because they didn’t read my messages. I have too many items in my shop now to edit each listing with this information. I don’t want to put my shop on vacation while I’m gone because people aren’t seeing what I have to offer, and I keep reading nightmare stories about people who have done exactly that and lost all the progress they’d previously made getting found (and no one can buy your items if they can’t find them). The solution I want to try for my next trip is to deactivate all but a manageable number of my listings and put a note about my travel dates right at the top of the few active listings.

So, you can see that any success I’ve had in my business is not pure luck – it has taken some exhausting work. I’ve had to set limits on the time I put into this (and I’m getting better, but not great, about enforcing them) because I work too hard. The process is constantly about learning and adapting to the sales environment. Speaking of, I’m off to learn some more about how to make my shop successful.

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