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.

Advertisements

Getting Busy

There’s been yet another drastic change in my world since my last post. Who am I kidding – there have been A LOT of drastic changes in my world since the last post. I’ll break them down by category.

Health:

Ever since March, I’ve been gaining weight. It’s been happening despite a lack of change in my diet or activity level. As I gained weight, I started to feel more and more exhausted and my ability to focus just kept diminishing. I gained about fifteen pounds all told, which put me back to where I was before I started to see Dr B. I started to feel defeated – I know that ME/CFS has a relapse/remission cycle, but every time I go into a relapse, it feels like someone has yanked on my short leash, bringing me to my knees.

During one of my weekly talks with Dr B, he suggested that maybe I was gaining weight because I was holding on to hormones. We tried an effort to force my biliary systems (liver, gallbladder) to work harder (hormones are detoxified using, amongst other things, bile). I learned then that I actually have a very hard time digesting proteins. I ate nuts, and they would come back out completely undigested. This suggests a shortage of bile or liver or gall bladder dysfunction. I am aware that Yaz, a birth control pill I used to take, causes a sludge to build up in the gall bladder, and sometimes it gives people gall stones. There are lawsuits about this, but I can’t prove it was the Yaz, and I don’t have actual stones (the sludge is not visible on the ultrasound – they only see it if they take out your gall bladder), so I’m not sure I can be included.

I tried a gall bladder cleanse next. The idea is to let bile build up in the gall bladder, then force the contents out all at once, with the pressure forcing out any stones or sludge. The short version of that story is, it didn’t work. At one point during the cleanse, you’re supposed to drink a mixture of 1/2c olive oil and 1/2c grapefruit juice (it tastes way better than I would have guessed – if it were mixed with a little vodka it would have been a decent cocktail). Well, rather than getting digested, the olive oil came out in the exact same form it went in.

Armed with the knowledge that I have a problem with detoxification, I looked for something that might help me. I remembered that when I went for non-cognitive biofeedback, H said to ask my doctors about Calcium D-Glucarate. It’s supposed to aid the detoxification pathways for steroid hormones (like cortisol and estrogen). None of them knew anything about it, so I just discarded the idea.

I shouldn’t have.

I started taking the Calcium D- Glucarate a few weeks ago, and I’ve been feeling A LOT better. It was a slow process, but by the next morning after starting this new supplement my brain fog started clearing and I started losing weight. The weight loss has continued, and I’m down about five pounds now. I never in the whole time changed my diet or my exercise level. It’s incredible. What’s even more interesting is that my chiropractic adjustments have been holding better, too. Dr B said that his research turned up evidence that this supplement helps treat ligament laxity. Well, that’s been a problem for a long time, and might be part of the reason I can’t hold an adjustment. Ligament laxity led to me breaking an ACL in high school. In a Facebook post a few months ago, I surmised that I might be having a problem with estrogen given the correlation of flare ups with my hormone cycles. Looks like I was right. Estrogen is an inflammatory hormone, and it makes my brain burn like soy does. It seems that this supplement is working as it’s supposed to.

As my brain started to defog, I became more ambitious. I thought I was getting more energy, so I undertook a few larger projects. It turns out that all I got was ambition. I am motivated to do things, and thinking part is easier, but I burn out hard and fast in a day. What’s worse is that because I’m overexerting myself, I’m triggering Fibromyalgia flares. This is another prison I find myself in. As soon as I can see the outside world that I want to be a part of, I try to join it, only to be rudely prevented by the glass wall I didn’t realize was there.

One little bright spot in this health thing – check out this article. I’m also considering attending this teleconference with the FDA.

Projects:

At some point during these last two years (yes, it’s been that long now since I got so sick I couldn’t function normally), I came to accept that I cannot work in a regular job with scheduled hours. It’s a problem that a lot of chronically ill people face, actually. We can and want to be productive, it just has to be on our own terms (or more particularly, the diseases’ terms). I knew the only way I was going to be able to have gainful employment was to work for myself in a job that I could do when I felt well and neglect when I had a bad day. At first, I just did volunteer activities like fostering kittens and patient advocacy. I figured if I wasn’t accountable to anyone for a paycheck, then I didn’t have to work regular, scheduled hours.

Just last week, though, I embarked on what will hopefully turn into a paying gig. I opened a store on Etsy, Kitty Mine Crafts.    Nothing has sold yet, but I’m not terribly worried. I need to build inventory. I looked at competing stores and products, and I realized that there are hundreds of pages of merchandise available. I need to have a larger stock in order to increase my chances of showing up on any particular page. I spent most of the first week dying fiber, making batts, and purchasing supplies.

  I bought these dyes

 and this thirty-pound bump of undyed merino wool.

I had some undyed Falkland wool that came with my new drum carder (a Strauch Finest), so I got started with that while I was waiting for the supplies above. So far I have a few wool batts, some dyed roving, and one skein of handspun yarn listed. I also plan to sell handmade cat toys, but  I have to make some first!

I created a Facebook Page for the business as well. If you stop by either the store itself or the Facebook page, it would be helpful if you could click “like” on those pages, and/or on the particular items you happen to like. It helps publicize my stuff. I intend to put an Etsy widget for my store onto my blog, but I haven’t yet figured out how to make that happen.

There is another big project that I attempted (this week, in fact). Michael left for Gen Con ( he made a card & dice game called “Chaos and Alchemy” that he brought to demo at the convention), so I got to a task I’ve wanted to accomplish for a while – fixing the wood floor in the hallway between the kitten room, laundry room and office. A few months ago, my washing machine flooded that hallway – a $0.06 clamp broke, letting the machine overfill. After I fixed the machine, I noticed  the floor boards were all wavy. I had leftover boards from when I installed the floor in the first place, so I ripped up the warped boards and replaced them. In two days. I’m still paying for that, but I’m glad I did it. There was black mold that smelled like death near the kitten room door. Yuck. It’s gone now.

Kittens:

Today, I have five kittens in my kitten room. I returned their mother to the shelter yesterday because, despite being a very devoted mother to the kittens when they were all very ill with a URI, she suddenly turned on the kittens and started attacking them. It made me cringe to see the way the kittens cowered when their mother even walked near them, and I didn’t want them to learn to fear adult cats. Now Duck plays with them, patiently allowing the kittens to learn that not all adult cats are cranky.

Anning, the kittens’ mother, was only six pounds when she went in for her spay surgery!

Anning’s litter of kittens came to me because they had special needs. Two of the kittens had an eye infection so severe that the vets thought they might need to remove the eyes. I was given a ton of medications to treat these kittens: an antibiotic called “Clavamox”, an anti-viral pill called “Famvr”, an antibiotic eye drop called “Ofloxacin”, and another anti-viral eye drop (given HOURLY) called “Idoxuridine”. The kittens have been going back to the vet weekly to check on their progress, and I am happy to report that they are going to be able to keep their eyes! I suspect their vision won’t be as good in the infected eyes, but as of today, their eyes look so clear you’d never know they had an infection. This is what foster homes are so good for – the shelter staff did not have the time to devote to hourly treatments on the kittens, but I did.

So yeah, busy life.

I plan to get photos of the kittens in the near future, as well as continuing to stock my Etsy store. I hope this means I’ll have more time and ambition for blogging, but we’ll just have to see. No promises, but wish me luck.

P.S. Today is Michael’s and my 10th anniversary. It’s unfortunate that he has to be away, but it is for a good cause. Plus, we went on a cruise earlier this year, so we’ve already celebrated. 🙂