Lampworking in these tough economic times

Over the last few months I have read more and more posts by my lampworking collegues, informing us they are closing shop, taking a hiatus, or *gasp* headed out to find the JOB. It makes me sad. Yep, times are tough. It isn’t like it was two or three years ago when all you had to do was list it and buyers will come.  Everyone has needed to take a good long hard look at their marketing plan and really evaluate where they are at.  I have, multiple times in the last few years.

A few weeks ago I read a blog post by a literary agent.  He basically said eighty percent of the problem was just showing up. For writers if you just show up and write everyday, strive to learn everyday, and keep going no matter what, you are eighty percent there.  I have completed my manuscript and am just testing the waters on finding an agent, so my opinion on this pertaining to writers is juvenile at best.  However, when it comes to lampworking as a business, I am going to agree one thousand percent.

In order to succeed it is my firm belief you have to keep moving forward everyday, no matter what. But, just listing beads on ebay or etsy whenever you feel like it isn’t going to cut it.  To really make this a business you need to show up everyday with something to sell. At least this has been what has worked for me. I show up every single day with something.  It may not be a new design, it may not be the fanciest design, and it may not be the most innovative, but gosh darn it, I list new stuff six days a week (unless I am backlogged with orders like I am now).

Just like in publishing, this is a business.  You have to make something people want to buy. If I write a novel I have feed my soul and have accomplished something very few people have.  Many people talk about writing a novel, but out of all those people, very few actually complete one. It’s an accomplishment and one I should feel proud of.  But if it’s on a subject no one wants to read, then it isn’t good business. Many of my colleagues make gorgeous, technically challenging beads, but if they can’t find a market for it, it isn’t good business. Good for the creative soul yes, good for the pocket book, not so much.

I do know what I am talking about here. Greg, my hubby and business partner, makes pretty much what he wants to make when he wants to make it.  It isn’t the best business practice. Sometimes his marbles remain unsold for weeks, even months. But it is what he loves, so he shows up every day and makes something new. (Well six days a week.) He is eighty percent there.  He shows up. And yes he has success. Some months his marbles sell fabulously and others, well…lets just say we have a lot of marbles rolling around. As a compromise, I do a lot of production, made to order stuff, and custom orders. To be honest this is what keeps us going and in business. I don’t mind. It makes me feel good when people like my stuff enough to buy it. Plus, you know, I like to keep the mortgage paid.

Still, we each keep trying new stuff and adding new designs to our repertoire. It really is true that if something isn’t selling, its time to move on to something else.  Even if what you sold before was hugely popular. Here is what I do in that situation. I move on to a new design, but I keep the old design as an option for a made to order item.  It works! I promise. We also try different venues.  Currently I have four. The more exposure the better. But they all take effort. Make no mistake. This is a six or seven day a week job.

My advice to you, my fellow lampworkers:

Figure out what it is you make that sells well and focus on it.

Do market research and find out what is simular to that and the price points they seem to be moving out. Figure out if you can compete.

Keep designers in mind. I’ve learned my designers like to know they can come back and reorder beads that sold well for them.  Reliablity is huge. Think about your own favorite vendors. Don’t you always go there first? Make it easy on them.

Try new things and keep trying new things until it sticks.

One of a kind is fabulous, but if you have ten people bidding on a set of beads, isn’t it better to sell ten sets for a decent price than just one for a great price? Remake what you can sell. Don’t get caught up in OOAK. They are beads people, not the Mona Lisa.

So if you made it this far my advice is geared toward the lampworker in it as a business.  If you are just making beads for artist expression and joy of it and happy to wait for the sale on etsy whenever it may be, then carry on.

**Full disclosure, I have been making my sole living as a lampworker for five years.  I do not consider myself to be an “artist”. I’d say crafts person and I am just fine with that. Greg, he’s the artist around here.

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