Saturday, 16 February 2013

Business Tips - Part Four - Photographs

Welcome to Part Four in a series of business tips.

These weeks are flying by.  I cannot believe that we are at week four already with these business tips.

This week is going to focus on photographs.

This was one of the products I made as part of The Design Team Challenge run by The Sewing Boutique

 How do you take photographs of your work?

If you can get a professional photographer to take some snaps for you then that’s great as it is obviously the best way of showing off your work but if you don’t know who to use or if you are like me and cannot afford to employ one right now then you can take perfectly acceptable photographs at home using a basic camera.

All too very often, as often as on a daily basis I come across really bad photographs, in particular on Facebook pages.  A Facebook business page, website, other selling platforms etc is for advertising and selling your things.  It makes me wonder whether people deliberately take bad photographs to hide the fact they have made something quite naff but think if they take an equally naff photograph potential customers won’t notice!  On the other hand you may have the perfect product where lots of love, care and effort has gone into making something but I’m not going to realise that or buy it or look at anything else on your page because the only photograph I have seen is particularly awful.  It comes back to last weeks business tips regarding branding.  You need to set a style and make people want to look further.

You need to approach how you show your potential customers your items in a different way than you would in a shop.  You will know yourself that when you go into a shop and you spot something you like the look of you can usually go right up to it, touch it, get to feel the textures, turn it over to see all sides, smell it and just generally enjoy the experience of picking up something rather lovely.  It could make you fall in love with an item and make you want to buy it which may not have been your initial intention when you first picked it up.  A potential customer cannot do any of these things looking online, especially when seeing many photographs which look a little bit like this: -

Blurry, out of focus photographs taken in a rush.  The lighting is not great.  The background is not right and you can glimpse something else in the photograph which shouldn't be there.  

I see them taken in bad lighting, perhaps because someone is too eager to take a photograph because they have finished an exciting project at ten o’clock at night and just HAVE to take the photo then.  I see photographs that have been taken in the middle of carpets which I particularly dislike, especially if someone hasn’t even bothered to vacuum first!!!  I see photographs of items on laps, feet, arms and other body parts getting into the photo.  Why would your potential customer want to look at your page/website if your photographs do not do your work justice?

Be proud of your product.  Believe in your product and show it off to its best potential by taking a decent photograph.  As well as taking full product photographs, take close ups so potential customers can see the texture of the fabrics you use and so they can see the quality of the buttons etc. 

 Why the rush to take photographs?  If you are eager to try and get a sale then I’m sorry but you’re going to be more likely to grab that sale if you wait until the morning in natural light and set a scene for your product.  Trust me – it makes all the difference.

And guess what?  You don’t have to know much about photography at all.  You can use a basic camera – in fact, a lot of my photographs are taken on my phone!  It’s not about having to make them look too professional, it’s about producing in focus photographs taken in good light and having a little think about props.  Your carpet is NOT your only prop!

Yesterday I took this photograph.

Look ok?  It's a clear photograph, its nice and bright, you can see everything you should be seeing and there are no body parts or carpet getting in on the action. 

Want to know how I did it?

Have a look at this…

It’s nothing special and certainly not professional but it makes a photograph look acceptable.  It has been taken in my living room.  There is a large window to the right which is out of sight in the photo but that’s what gives me the natural light.  Late morning/early afternoon is usually best for this.  I have used a dark coloured storage box for the background to ensure that when I take the photograph I don’t have any of my living room wall or DVD collection in the background!  Customers are not interested in seeing what’s in my DVD collection; they want to know what I am selling! 

I have used a wicker hamper to display my products in.  If I only used the hamper and the box and took the photograph, there is a good chance I would have had a shot with my carpet in.  Remember what I said about carpets?  So, what I did was frame the hamper with a few more props just to hide any carpet – I used a couple of lovely tins I have kept from a recent purchase of cake and biscuits and some jars of buttons.  You don’t see too much of these in the finished photograph but a little bit of something pretty is a damn sight nicer than carpet!  You could use spools of ribbon, jugs of flowers, candles or simply place your product on a nice piece of ironed fabric.

I don’t use any fancy functions on the camera.  I usually turn the flash off as the natural light will do the work for you and I use the zoom function to get the focus just right. 

TIP – DO NOT take just one photograph.  You will be amazed how different a photo can look after taking it several times.  I usually take at least 5 photographs of each product.  I pick the best and delete the rest, but I only do this after viewing them on the PC.  Choosing the best one on the camera screen is not the thing to do, you cannot see everything as clearly and you will spot far more imperfections on the PC.

Once I have loaded them on the PC, if there is anything I think isn’t quite right, I will open up the photograph in Microsoft Office Picture Manager.  This will allow me to adjust the light and more importantly crop out any corners that don’t look right.  Have a play on an old photograph and see what you can do.

You may then think you want to have a bit more fun playing with photos and want to have a go at something like this: -

You get to place all of your lovely photographs together so a potential customer can see the different angles and close ups at once.  

All I have done to create this photograph is opened up a new document in Microsoft Powerpoint.  I have dragged the photographs into the document, resized them and placed them where I think they look best.  The best thing about doing this with your photographs is that you can also watermark them by inserting a text box.  Remember to save the document as a picture file (jpeg).


Have fun playing and remember, you don’t need to rush your photographs.  Your potential customers are going to have a much more enjoyable experience looking at well thought out photographs of gorgeous items that may otherwise have looked dull and of nothing exciting.

I will look forward to hearing how you get on.

Coming Up Next Week

Part Five

Craft fairs
What you need, how to set up, do’s and don’ts

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Business Tips - Part Three - Branding, Products and Pricing

Welcome to Part Three in a series of business tips.

There are so many things that can make or break a business.  Hard work is a must but this must also be combined with so many other factors to be able to progress and be successful.

This blog talks about a combination of branding, products and pricing which are all linked to one another and are key to your business.

I am still working on these things for my business and have learnt that these three things can make you more money if you get it just right. 


In short this is something that identifies you as being different to the rest.  What makes you stand out? 

There are so many elements to branding.  I think the first thing to think about is your business name.  You will find that lots of people are interested in where a business name has come from.  I must admit to having a mixed response to my business name.  Some people think that Sweet Williams is called that, thinking my surname must be Williams!  In fact my surname is Doyle so has nothing to do with my business name!  It is because they are one of my favourite flowers and William is one of my children’s names.  The flowers appear on my banner at events and on all my product tags.

I love having Sweet Williams flowers in jugs in the house

You may need to think about whether or not your business name is obvious to what you do.  For example, if I were called Handmade by Emma, it tells people straight away that my name is Emma and that my business is craft related.  Being called Sweet Williams, this is not obvious to a new potential customer so I have a simple tag line on my website, which is Sweet Williams – Luxury Handmade Products.  This tells people straight away what I do and will instantly decide whether they want to look further. 

Logos, colours and graphics are all something to think about.  These things can make a potential customer remember you. 

Have a think about what other things you can do which makes your business stand out?  This is all part of your branding.  You could tie each order you send out with business branded ribbon.  You could get logo/business name printed tissue paper. 

How about stickers which you can pop on your parcels?

 Or take it one step further like I have and get some custom buttons made.  These ones I have had made are ceramic and are absolutely gorgeous.  It adds to that luxury brand I am working hard to create and these will be used on my special one of a kind makes to make them more unique.  I am also in the process of ordering small wooden branded buttons so that eventually I will be using branded buttons on all of my products so customers can be guaranteed they are getting a genuine Sweet Williams product.

 You could think about fabric labels too.

Business cards are a must.  When I started out I had some printed from a cheap very well known website.  Whilst cost effective and a quick service I do believe you get what you pay for.  I was put off when I saw another business using the same design that I had chosen from their templates and decided there and then that I needed to be different.  I don’t want to be the same as someone else.  I want to look different and be able to offer something different so I did a little research.  The best option would have been to go to an independent designer to design my business cards and a logo for me.  There are many companies I currently admire, but at the time I wanted to redesign my cards, I did not have the money to go down that route so I went down the route of designing my own through  I liked the fact that you can make use of the back of the cards at no extra cost and that you can upload up to 100 photographs of your choice to be included on the cards. 

What do you do with them when you get them?

Carry them everywhere.  I mean everywhere.  You do not know who you may meet.  Hand them out at events, if you are allowed, pop them on notice boards in local hairdressers, surgeries, dentists, local takeaway etc.  If someone ever asks you what it is you do for a living, produce a business card for them to keep.  Keep a stash on your table at events.  Pop one in with any orders you may receive.  The person ordering may have found you but it is a quick reference if they need to get in touch with you again or to pass to friend.  I have had many sales through handing out business cards. 

The main thing is to be consistent.  Carry design and colour right through your business.  My logo/picture of the Sweet Williams flowers are purple and pink colours.  They are on my banner, the writing on my business cards pick out the colours in my banner.  My tissue paper and packing tape is pinks and purples, and my website is in pinks and purples and has a picture of the Sweet Williams flowers in the corner.  It’s about tying everything together to create a brand. 

Products and Pricing

These are both linked to your brand.

Have a think of the products you sell.  Do you have one main product?  Is it enough?  Do you have too many products?  Do the products reflect your branding and your business name/tag line?

I have big plans for the future of Sweet Williams so I am working on discontinuing lots of lines.  Lots of my smaller items will be going and will be concentrating more on the most popular products.  This is not only to make time for my new ventures but also because the smaller items do not have much of a profit margin. 

It is one thing to be making something that you enjoy but if you are making little or no money in return then there really is little point.  If you are of the mindset that you need to make money to enjoy life, pay your bills and be happy running your own successful business then you need to get your pricing right and if that means that the small non profitable products have to go then so be it. 

You do need to have a look at similar items on the market and do some research on pricing but you really need to come up with a price that reflects the quality of the product and the time, love and skill that has gone into it.

  1. Work out how much it costs to make a product.  Everything, down to the last button.  The cotton, the ribbon, the fabric, the hollow fibre stuffing, the cushion inserts etc.

  1. Work out how long it took you to make.  If you make an item in several sessions, jot down the ten minutes here and the fifteen minutes there spent and total the time up when you have finished.  I base my time on national minimum wage.  There is an argument about not being able to charge for your time on a handmade item because it prices the product out of the market but think of it this way – would you go to a “day job” and expect to be paid 50p per hour for your time?  No, I didn’t think so.  If you have made a product and after calculating how much it cost to make, your time spent in making it prices you out of the market then it’s probably not the product for you.  You may think about making in batches to make up the time.  For example, instead of cutting out and sewing 1 brooch at a time, how about making 10 in one go.  You will find you will probably save time and thus be more efficient, making you more money…

  1. Don’t forget to take credit for your skill.  Something that seems so easy and natural to you, such as drawing out a template, sewing a project etc is not something that everyone can do, which surely is why they are asking you to make something in the first place!

  1. If you do not charge for postage and packaging then you need to think about including this within the pricing of your products.  I charge separate postage because I get a lot of people who want to collect their items and it would be unfair to those people to have included a postage price within the overall cost of the product if that makes any sense.  I currently charge £3.00 for postage and packaging.  This is because the majority of the parcels I send out are £2.70 for First Class post and the 30p gets put towards the tissue paper and the mailing bag which balances out as I buy my packaging supplies in bulk.

  1. You need to think about whether you need to factor in the cost of business cards, thank you cards, other packaging such as gift boxes and organza bags.  Think about the money you may spend on table fees at events and on insurances. 

This is a long list to consider when pricing a product and can be a complete minefield if you have a wide range of products.  However, what is the point in spending money out to run your business when you are not going to get it back to cover your running costs?  You need to be seeing £££ signs, not minus figures on your accounting sheets!!

Don’t forget that if you are a new business, don’t be expecting to be making much of a profit, if any in your first year.

Before I leave you go and sort your pricing out I thought I would post about an interesting question I was asked following last weeks blog which was “do you find it demoralising not making a profit, or does the long terms aim see you through?”

My answer is no.  I have only just come out of my first year in business and there are not many businesses that generate a profit in their first year.  My first year was filled with thousands of pounds worth of initial outlay for all the equipment and tools that will now hopefully last me a long time.  There are costs for the sewing machine, range of the best quality scissors, website costs, insurance, event fees, business cards, printer ink, fabric, wool mix felt, ribbon, buttons, threads, needles, mannequin, tables in case I need to provide my own at events, props and shelving etc for events, and that’s just for starters. 

I look at my accounts often and it would seem that I am on target to be making a good profit by the summer.  This will have taken me a year and a half to get there but it does mean that I have used the best quality materials to get there which are longer lasting and going to be much more appreciated by customers.  Because I have a day job I do not take a wage/drawings from everything that I currently sell through the business.  The money I earn goes straight back into the business to pay off existing start up debt, to replenish any stock I am running low on and I also set aside a small amount each month ready for when I am making a profit so I don’t have to worry about finding the money when I have to pay the tax man!

Coming next week...

How to take Good Photographs
Do's and Don'ts

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Business Tips - Part Two - Keeping Records, Methods of Selling and Getting Organised

Welcome to Part Two in a series of business tips.

Before I throw myself full force into part two in this series of business tips, I want to thank everyone who not only took the time to read part one but also to comment.  I had many comments on the blog post, emails and Facebook messages, which were just lovely, very encouraging and I am just so pleased that its been of some help to some of you. 

Also, I just wanted to mention that all opinions expressed in this blog are my own unless otherwise stated, that not all procedures and ways of working will be suitable for everyone else, my tips are just there to guide you.  And I've added in some pretty pictures of some more of my work too!

Right then, down to business…

How to keep records

I can not stress the importance of keeping careful and accurate records.  It is such a chore and does take a while to get into a routine but updating your records little and often is far less stressful than leaving it build up for several months and having a panic because you have millions of receipts, post it notes and scrap bits of paper stuffed in a shoebox, not in any order and you then have to spend days sorting it out which then impacts on your working time.  Been there, done it, several times actually and I stress about it every time. 

This is how I keep records…

Each time I receive an order I pop the details in an order book which looks like one of these. 

I tear off the top slip and it gets placed in my “to do” pile.  When an order is completed I send that top copy to my customer with their order as a receipt.  I then set aside time each week to transfer the information from the duplicate page of orders received that week into an A4 book which has columns to help me keep track of my earnings.

This is the information I record for each order…

  • Date
  • Name
  • Order Details
  • Cost of Order
  • Postage and Paypal Costs
  • Running Total (this figure is taken from the "cost of the order" column only)

I also pop my earnings made from any craft fairs in this book to keep everything in one place.

I then do something similar in an A4 book for business expenses.  I keep a list which details this information…

  • Date
  • Where        (i.e. shop I bought from)
  • Spend Details (i.e. what I bought)
  • Cost
  • Running Total

At the end of the month it is so much easier to see how much I have earned from the running totals.  I finish off the month by making a note in the A4 books which looks like this: -

Money Earned     £
(This is your turnover from the running total from all the orders received)

Money Spent               £
(This is for supplies, Paypal charges, postage etc)

Profit                        £
(This is money earned minus money spent)

At present my business has not yet made a profit so I also pop on my running total carried over from previous months of trading so I know each month how much more money I need to make to break even and start making profit so currently my overall profit figure is a minus (-) figure.

If you make an effort to set aside some time each week, for example dedicate one hour each Sunday to updating these records then you will find that come the end of the tax year you already have all your figures ready for your tax return which I think you will agree is far less stressful!

I am still a little behind the times as I am still shock horror keeping solely paper records but I am setting up spreadsheets using Excel in readiness for April where all the information stated above will be kept electronically. 

It does not really matter how you keep the records, paper or electronically but just very important that you do actually keep them in some shape or form. 

Methods of Selling

Things have changed dramatically in the last few years.  Ask yourself how you would have set up your business and have got yourself known 10 years ago.  I believe it would have been much harder, cost a lot more money, time and effort as I think concentrating of different methods of advertising would have been more common.  Now, we have the option of social media sites including Facebook and Twitter.  We have access to blogs, Pinterest, selling platforms such as Folksy, Etsy, Not on the High Street and of course we do still have access to the wonderful world of Ebay.  The social media sites remember are FREE so use them to your advantage.

The way in which websites can be designed has also changed.  I remember a time when I was researching how to build a website many years ago at college and how it was all based around HTML codes which I didn’t and still don’t understand and that getting in a web designer would have been my only option.  Now of course it has been made so much easier to build your own.  With a little patience to play around with a bit of software you can now build your own for little cash.  If you have the money to invest in your business getting one professionally created I think would be the way forward but if you are on a budget like me then there are so many hosts you can find to set one up yourself.  To name a few you could look at - Weebly, Mr Site, 1&1.  I use Moonfruit which I find very easy to update. 

My website if you wanted a browse -

Tracy who runs Handmade Hearts has some great tips for selling on Etsy if you want to take a look.  Here is a link to her blog post – 

Apart from online you could try craft fairs, supplying to trade, which could be as simple as agreeing to a sell or return basis.  I have tried this but only with local shops that I trust.

How to Set Up a Facebook Business Page

When I first started up I set up a brand new Facebook account for my business which gave me a personal profile but with a business name.  This is NOT the way to do it.  Facebook does not like it and they also don’t like you to run a business page through a group either.

  • Log into your personal Facebook account
  • In the search bar (where it says “search for people, places or things”) type in the words “Create New Facebook Page”.
  • You will get a screen which looks like this: -

  • Click on the option that suits you best.  For me it was the second one but I guess I could fit into the third category also.
  • Fill in the fields as requested and click “get started”
  • Choose to upload a profile picture.  You can skip this bit and add one later if you prefer.
  • Add a description of your business next.
  • Next, choose a Facebook web address.  I think this is quite important.  If you are at a craft fair for example and someone asks you if you are on Facebook it can be difficult to find your page using your business name if its not something completely unusual so having this set up is useful.  Mine is because its relevant to what I do – tells people my business name and that is a handmade business all at once.
  • On the next screen I skipped the “enabled ads” bit as its something I will go back to look at later on. 

Well done – you  now have a proper Facebook Business Page

Now the fun starts.

At the top of your Facebook page under the little star like looking icon which you use to sign out you will see you business page listed which you click on the star.  Here you have the option to use your page in business mode.  Click it. 

You will have a control panel at the top of the page which will become very useful the longer you use your page and as you learn how it works.  You can now start uploading pictures, post status updates, start by inviting your friends to like your new page.

 If you want to switch back to personal mode, simply go back to the star shaped icon at the top of your Facebook page and click on the option to use Facebook as yourself again.  Its very easy to use and in the long run so much easier and safer that opening up a personal page or a group for your business.  From experience I have found that more people are willing to “like” a page rather than join a group and overall that’s far better for business!

I will be posting tips in a future blog on running your page now you have set one up, how to network etc so keep an eye out for that but in the meantime there is a feature on scheduling posts below which you may find useful.

 Time Keeping and Getting Organised

Have you ever looked at the clock and cursed because those pesky fairies have been in turning the hands again?  Do you ever wish you could make time stand still even just for 30 minutes to catch your breath? Are you fed up of being unorganised, no real routine, feeling like you are constantly rushing around, post it note reminders stuck all over the house and then having to set reminders on your phone to remind you of the sticky notes stuck on your fridge, your computer screen, your bedside table?

Get yourself a diary.  How many of you purchase a diary but don’t look at it daily or don’t even write anything in it?  Go and get it now and on your way back to the PC collect every sticky note, scrap of paper and any other reminders you have.  Get them all written in your diary right now – both personal and business related, that way you have everything in one place and can simply refer to just one place once a day to check what’s coming up next.

I now want you to create a time keeping sheet that looks like this.  You can copy and paste this image into your own document and print out or write it out in a page in your diary etc.

 Test it out over the next two days filling in your general day to day activities and you will be surprised where time is wasted.  How much time do you waste on Facebook?  How many hours have you lost to Pinterest drooling over gorgeous inspiring pictures?  Whilst these things are most fun it’s not really helping your business is it?  I am still on a learning curve with this.  It is so hard to prise yourself away and yes it is important to spend time online to network and get yourself known but there is a time when you have to turn the screen off and get your butt in gear. 

When you have completed a day or twos worth, you need to look carefully and start reorganising your day.  Print off another couple of sheets and write down all the things you HAVE to do in your day.  It may be worth doing it for a full week if you have a varied week like mine.  Pop in all the times you may be at the day job, school runs, set aside time for breakfast, lunch and dinner and any other important commitments you have to make.  Is there anything you can change in your routine, for example, can you try online food shopping rather than going along to the supermarket?  I have not been to a supermarket to do a full food shop for at least 6 months now and I don’t think I could now either.  I have all my regular items I buy in my favourites folder, add them all to the basket, add in anything extra I need and checkout.  It takes 20 minutes and turns up at the time that’s most convenient to me.  Yes, you pay a delivery charge but convert that money into time saved spending 2 hours or more travelling to and from the supermarket, doing the shop, loading the trolley, unloading onto the belt, packing it away, putting it in the car, when you can spend all this time getting your business up and running instead.  There are probably lots of things in your day to day life that you could change/reorganise to make more time for your business.  If you have a day job, could you use your lunch break to do business related things?  I work 3 days a week at a law firm and often use my lunch break to do my banking, post parcels, shop for business supplies and have even been known to take in a batch of hand sewing!

 I have a place for everything.  Ribbon is stored in one place, buttons are stored in jars which are colour coordinated, fabric is stored in one place neatly folded, packaging supplies are kept together and I keep a file full of templates, labels and other bits and bobs that I often use, including a box full of thank you cards and business cards.  Being organised at the outset again means more time can be spent doing more important things.

Planning planning planning and keeping organised is key to any business.

Good luck and have fun with it because if its not fun is it really worth doing?

Coming Up Next Week

Products, Branding and Pricing