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eBay–Chapter 5 The Business of lampworking

Ten years ago eBay was the big game in town for lampwork beads. It really seemed to be list it and they will come. These days, not so much. But if you’re willing to be patient, it can pay off.

Why should you use eBay when you’ve been told (or experienced in the past) other sites like Etsy and Artifre are so much cheaper to use? I’ve got secret for you. The final listings fees vs sold items in my eBay store is often cheaper than my Etsy stores. Last time I looked, sales to fees ratio on eBay was 8.5% and Etsy across both stores was 9%. That is because eBay is now offering fifty free auction listings a month. You only pay final value fees when the item sells. This seems to be a permanent deal, but you never know when eBay is going to change things.

Fifty free listings a month! That’s a huge bonus for someone trying to start a following there, because it takes a while to get noticed.

Greg and I have five different internet stores and eBay continues to dominate our sales numbers. We have over the years tried many different sales strategies, but the one thing we have never changed is listing new stuff consistently. If you can listing something every day, that will mean you will always have an item listed under newest and one under ending soonest in the search categories. And customers will always be able to find you because your store never goes dark.

Got that?

The number one way to drive business on eBay is to list new stuff consistently.

Now that we have that out of the way, here are some ways to be seen on eBay. Have a few items listed at over $50. Many people start their search in lampwork beads by highest price in order to weed out the imported stuff. Go take a look using that search feature. At what page do you burn out and stop looking? Now look at what price those beads are going for. Strive to always have something listed above that price.

Consider adding the Buy it Now feature. Some people really dislike the auction format. They see what they want and would rather just click through to buy it. On the other hand, some people get a high off of auctions. So have a mix of listings if you can.

Here is how I handle it. All of my beads have a set retail price. For eBay I set my BINs at the retail price and the auctions start at my designer wholesale price. Around 25% off.

Every once in a while if I have a new design I feel strongly about, I won’t set a BIN on the auction, just to see what the market thinks of them. If I get lots of bids, it helps me set the retail price.

We also use the Buy it Now feature (no auction format) with the or Best Offer. I set these all at my retail price and entertain offers when they come .  Some of them are ridiculously low. Like $22 for a marble listed at $100. At that point my options are to either accept the offer, counter offer, or decline. Usually when the offer isn’t even close I will just decline it. But most of the time I will counter and we play let’s make a deal. It’s kind of fun, but you have to be prepared that if you counter, the buyer may walk. And that is perfectly okay with us. We already know how much we will accept for something. If the offer is too low, it’s just too low. Try not be insulted by low ball offers. Everyone likes a great deal.

99 cent auctions. I confess, I’ve tried this and I hate it. If you’re going to run a 99 cent auction, be prepared you may very well end up selling your item for 99 cents. I always think of the 99 cent auction as an advertising expense. But I’m not sure it’s effective among the sea of hundreds of other 99 cent auctions. I’d try to use it in conjunction with some other kind of advertising. Something like a month-long ad on a jewelry makers forum, or a blog event like 99 cent Fridays where you run one every week. Something that can help you build a following around it.

Now, if you are constantly making one of a kind items 99 cent auctions may work for you. Or if you have a huge following. Or if you are brand new and trying to build a following. I know many beadmakers who have used this strategy and have had it work for them. It doesn’t work for me. I do a lot of production work and in order to preserve my pricing the 99 cent auction just doesn’t work.

Speaking of preserving pricing, if you sell wholesale to beads stores or galleries, they are not going to like it if you are undercutting their prices on eBay. This is why I go with my retail prices and a designer wholesale start price. If I listed everything at 99 cents, that would be a huge conflict.

Sets or focals? Everyone wants to know what sells better. I can’t answer that for you. I sell both and marbles. So I think it all depends on the work you put out there. I can tell you, often what sells online does not sell as well in person and vice versa. So try different things until you find your niche.

Pictures, pictures, pictures! eBay used to charge for added pictures. Now you can add a bunch for free. I’m not certain how many because I host my own on my website. I just like having sole control over my content in case an image is hot-linked somewhere. But that’s just a personal thing. Use up as many picture slots as possible. Most customers will not read your entire description, so try to get your pictures as clear and accurate as possible.

And as always, link up your auctions on Facebook, Twitter, Lampworketc. Let people know your auctions exist. Put your link in your email signature. Send a newsletter letting your customer know you’ve started a new venue. Don’t have one yet? Time to start. Spread the word, but don’t be obnoxious about it. One post in each place is enough.

Live Bead Demo on Livestream Sunday 2pm CST

Last week was our first Livestream murrina demo. Greg made a butterfly murrina cane and I hosted in the chat area answering questions and/or relaying questions to him to address.

This week I will be making a murrine ring focal and Greg will be hosting chat. Don’t forget 2pm Sunday CST. That’s 12 pm pacific, 1pm mountain, and 3pm eastern. In this demo you’ll get to see how I encase with minimal bubbles and without smearing. Hope to see you there. The chat feature is really cool and mucho fun.

http://www.livestream.com/chasedesigns

Online Feedback-Lampworking Business Extras

If you’ve ever bought or sold anything online you know each seller and buyer has a feedback rating. It’s expected once the transaction is completed, both parties leave feedback.

I’ve seen sellers ask when they should leave feedback. Right after the customer pays? After they receive the item? After the buyer leaves feedback for the seller?

In my opinion, after the customer pays, they have completed the transaction. Anytime after that, I will leave feedback. To me, it doesn’t matter if a situation arises later. I worry about it then, and because my policy is I will accept a return for any reason within a certain amount of time, it just doesn’t matter. Problems arise so seldom it isn’t something I worry about. Plus, it’s rude to hold feedback hostage.

As a buyer, I think it is important that if a situation arises, to give the seller a chance to make it right. Feedback is usually the first indicator of a seller’s reputation. Most professional sellers I know will happily address any problems. Just please don’t leave feedback as a way to get their attention without an email first. That said, if they don’t acknowledge you or handle the situation to your satisfaction, you have every right to leave an honest account of your experience.

On another note, leaving feedback is optional. Hounding buyers or sellers to leave it is annoying. Sellers, I strongly recommend not asking your buyers to leave you feedback. If you must, put it in your thank you email and word it something like this: If you’re happy with your purchase, please consider leaving me feedback (insert link to online retailer’s feedback page). Then leave it alone. Hounding them will only result in an annoyed customer.

Personally, I leave feedback once a month for all my online venues. It’s more time efficient for me. So if you buy something and I don’t leave feedback right away, it’s only because I haven’t gotten to it. But I will, don’t worry.

Importance of Routine

This last month has taught me the importance of sticking to a routine. It all started with a post on Facebook about how to get motivated in the morning. See, I am not a morning person (my whole family is nodding emphatically at these words). Luckily, neither is my hubby, so we just ignore each other until we both wake up.

Anywho, my work schedule for the lampworking business is sort of flexible. I do computer work and shipping in the morning…er…early afternoon, and torch in the evening,usually starting around 5pm. This means I have all day to do my computer stuff and shipping. Sometimes it takes me an hour and other days I’m at it for five. It all depends on what is going on.

The problem started when I noticed I didn’t have time for anything else. Like writing or working out. Or working on new and fun beads at the torch vs production. So with the advice of my know-it-all helpful friends, I started working out right after I woke up in the morning. My one friend said, “You’ll be halfway done before you even know what’s going on.” She was right of course and I kind of hate her a little (J/K Susan, you know I heart you) because I really, really don’t like climbing on the elliptical first thing. But afterward I feel great and get a jump on my day.

Since then I have also instilled a 1000 word count goal in writing and have managed to stick to it. No going to bed until those words are down and in nine days I managed to eek out over 10,000 words. I am elated. That’s more than all of last month.

So for me, getting anything done, from working out to doing laundry, I need a routine, otherwise I am just a computer potato and end up wasting my whole day on facebook or twitter or lampworketc or etsy and ebay. Okay, you’ll still find me in all of those places, but at least I’m also finding the time to get my stuff done.

Do you have a routine? What are you wishing you could get done but can’t find the time?

Bead and Button-The Before Pictures

Writing goal check in: 1174 words written yesterday.

Last week Greg and I spent some time revamping the show table display. For every show we have scheduled we set up a mock table in the dining room so we can decide on inventory we need and what needs to be revamped. With each show we learn what works and what doesn’t and where we want to make changes. This year the table is getting a major overhaul.

I spent a good deal of time looking at other table displays and figuring out what appealed to me in terms of showing off inventory. So far, my favorite has been JC Herrell’s display. If you are a  friend of hers on Facebook, you can  find her display here.  You can see I have borrow heavily from her aesthetic. Thank you, JC!

Ours is still a work in progress. The cream display on the left is being redone, and please ignore the weird thing to the right of the marbles. That’s an idea in the making and will look nothing like what you see there. I need a special display for my ring focals and Greg and I were brain storming. I still don’t know what it will look like, but Greg is mulling it over. He has ideas, which is always kind of dangerous. 😛 No need to worry though. See that light bar? Yeah, he built it. Pretty cool huh? The only other things I need are white inserts for the bead trays. Got to keep everything orderly.

So, for the next few months I will be buckling down and filling this table. Much of what you see on it right now is Greg’s inventory and of course, the murrini. We have a ton more than what you see there, this is just mock up. Man, I have work to do.

On to the show:

Tucson…Here we come!

Yep, that’s right.  I am finally getting Greg out of the house and we are headed off to Best Bead in Tucson, AZ.  We have  booth 31 in Tent A.  If you are coming down to the shows be sure to stop by and say hi. The show runs from Feb 3rd through the 7th.  We are so looking forward to seeing everyone.  Woot!

All online business stuff will resume in Feb 10th.  However, due to our trusty assistant shipping will continue as normal.

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.

SALE!

Happy Week before Thanksgiving Week!  Greg and I have been busy doing shows and we are done for the year, so it seems like a good time to run a sale.

I am running at 20% off all items on etsy, artfire, and the website.  Just write in my message to seller section “Thanksgiving Sale” and I’ll either send a revised invoice or refund the difference from your paypal payment.

www.cdlampwork.etsy.com

www.cdlampwork.artfire.com/

www.chase-designs.com/

And marbles are included too:

www.chasedesigns.etsy.com/

Last day of the sale is Sunday the 22nd.  Happy shopping!

Deanna