Friday, August 10, 2012

Bad Advice

This post is adapted from a post I made on my other blog. It might be thought provoking for people who are running crafting businesses.

I’ve probably started 4 or 5 businesses that failed miserably. There are several reasons for my failures and one of them is taking advice, not always bad advice but wrong advice. Because of this, when I started Gizmo Fiber Arts I already had a lot of experience with failure. I resolved to do things differently so I read a lot of information about how to market my designs. I read advice on photography, on how to set up an online store front, on how to write product descriptions, on search engine optimization, on advertising, on social networking, pricing, giveaways, and so on. A lot of the advice came directly from Etsy, where I sell most of my patterns. This is not a bitter post about the advice that I took, but rather a constructive post about what I learned from it.

Most of this advice was bad, or at least wrong. By wrong, I mean it didn’t work for me and it never would work for me. Here are some reasons, with examples.

1. Fooled By Randomness: I think sometimes people look back on their success and try to figure out what they did right and share that with other people. I can commend them for doing that. However, a lot of the time people don’t really know why they succeeded. In fact, it could be and often is luck. You just happened to catch the notice of the right person who spread the word about your product or you know a friend of a friend who showcased your work somewhere. Meanwhile, you did all of these other things that appear to have helped you succeed but only contributed marginally if at all. For more on this topic, see the book Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (which is about investing, but also randomness in general).

2. Personal Idiosyncrasies: Many times, what works for one person doesn’t work for another. I’ll give you the example of Twitter. A lot of artists use Twitter to promote their work and also connect with the community. I think that’s great. I don’t think it’s essential. I wasted a lot of time trying to force myself into the Twitter mold (because I read how "essential" it is) and it just isn’t my style. There are plenty of other ways to reach out to people and engage that I can pick and choose what works for me (blogging for example). I can’t do everything and I shouldn’t.

3. Nitpicking: Much of the advice was focused on little things like shop bios, descriptions, photo backgrounds, holiday sales, prices, and so on, always saying how crucial it is to get those things right. As long as that stuff isn’t disastrous I think I’m better off working on the important things mentioned below. I also think it should have been a little more obvious to me what was nitpicking, but I was in a space where I didn’t trust my instincts after so many other failed businesses. Since I was just starting out in a new business type (crafts) and mode (online), I really didn’t know what was going to matter most, but I could have found out as I will explain.

How can you know what advice is good?
Look at several businesses that have done well. In my business example here, I finally looked at some very successful crochet pattern shops on Etsy. What I found is that their descriptions, storefronts, practices, and prices were all over the place. What was consistent was that each store had many, many patterns, professional looking logos, and very clear pictures of the products. I really needed that advice on photography. My product pictures were horrible, and I didn’t even know how to use my camera other than point and click. In fact, my shop was lacking in all three of those areas. If I had looked at successful stores to begin with, I could have seen what I needed to improve and focused on that FIRST, followed by tweaking the other things once I had the important things covered.

(A great website that lists top sellers by category is craft count.)

Hope this helps someone or at least provokes some marketing insight.