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As an art teacher, it can be hard to find the time to create. But what if you were making art and extra money? You can do it by selling your work! Cassie discusses the three things she learned selling her art (4:15), why craft shows are perfect for extroverts (12:30), and why you need confidence to get your work into boutiques (15:45). Full episode transcript below.
So we’ve talked a lot recently on this here podcast about making sure that as an art teacher you are still creating, still making things, still producing, finding that passion of yours and then just diving right in, rolling your sleeves up and making stuff. But let’s say that you are already at that place. You have been creating and working, and you’re starting to get comments from people who are interested in perhaps buying what you’re making. “Oh my gosh. That’s so cute. You should totally sell that.” “Oh, I would so buy that. Will you make XYZ for me?” And you might be thinking, “Huh. I should try my hand at this.”
Me myself, personally, I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I’ve made things I’ve sold on Etsy, I’ve sold at craft shows. I’ve sold my creations in a couple of different places, and I have learned a lot along the way. And I thought today we could kind of explore that. Let’s talk today about the best places for selling your artwork, and kind of the pros and cons of each one of those venues, and I want to share with you the top three things that you need to know before you dive in in selling your creations.
I’m Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room.
Alright. So let me just share with you my experience, what I was making when I decided to start selling, what I was creating. So this was back, and I know I’ve shared this with you before, so bear with me. This was back in a time in my teacherin’ career … sorry, the Southern tends to flare up every now and then … when I was going through my burnout phase, when all I was doing was focusing on teaching. And I realized that the reason I was feeling a little bit bitter, irritated, and angry, was because I wasn’t creating. I was putting all of my time and energy into the lessons I was creating for my students, but I had stopped creating myself.
I got really reflective about that, self-reflective, and I just decided to start making things. And something that I got in my head to create were ceramic belt buckles, and I would stitch the belts that went with the belt buckle. And in my former life, I was called, or known as Cassie Stephens, beltmaker. Really creative name. Trust me, I spent a long time trying to come up with a creative name, and that’s what I ended up within, Cassie Stephens, beltmaker. Kind of like the name of my blog, which is literally just Cassie Stephens. As you can see, coming up with names of things is not my forte.
Anyway, once I created a group of belt buckles in different shapes of animals and birds, just kind of funky, vintage-inspired shapes, glazed them, started sewing up the belts, I had a lot of people comment to me on them. “Oh my goodness. That’s so cute. Where did you get that?” And I thought, “You know what? I wonder if I could try my hand at selling these.” And that’s how that started. I started going to craft shows. I opened an Etsy store, sold belts on Etsy, and I also walked into stores, local boutiques, and showed them what I had, and laid it all out there, “Would you be interested in selling my belts?”
That’s my experience. I no longer make belts, and I no longer sell them. I actually have a bunch. I’m now the proud owner of one million trillion, but I’m no longer interested in making or selling them. But, I will be chatting with you today from that experience. So I just wanted to share with you a little bit of the background on what I was creating and where I was selling it.
So before I chat with you about what I feel to be the best places to showcase and sell your wares, I do want to share with you the three main things that I learned along the way. So thing number one that I learned really quickly is that people never understand. People never seem to understand the effort, the time, the imagination, the thought to detail, and the creativity that you are going to pour into your creations. You are going to hear people say some things that are really going to hurt your feelings: “Oh, I could make that.” “Did you get that idea from Pinterest?” “Oh, I bet if I asked my sister, she could make that. Can I take a picture of that and send it to my sister so she can make one for me?” “No. The answer is no. You cannot do that.”
People just don’t understand, and especially when they look at the price tag, because you need to make sure you price your things fairly to you. And we’ll chat about that in a moment. But when people look at the price tag, we’re so conditioned to buying things inexpensively that when you actually see the price tag of something that’s handmade, people have a little bit of sticker shock. So people, just so you know, they’re not going to understand how much you’ve poured into whatever it is that you’ve created. And you need to just kind of thicken up your skin and know that. Most people are not saying these things to be rude or to hurt your feelings. They just don’t get it. Especially people who aren’t in the creative arena. They definitely don’t understand how long it takes to not only create something, but actually come up with that idea that brought you to that place where you are.
The other thing I learned really quickly, and this kind of ties directly in, is that people can be very insensitive in the things that they say. I actually had an incident where when I was kind of coming up with the idea of making the belts, I had a good friend say to me, “That’s not going to work. Nobody’s going to buy that, because the buckles are going to break. That’s just not going to work.” I don’t think she was meaning to be cruel, but it really hurt my feelings, because it was very insensitive to say. Fortunately for me, I took that comment, and it didn’t work. I went the opposite direction and became even more determined to make it work, to show this person, “Yeah, honey. I’m going to make this happen.” And I did.
So, just so you know, like I said, thicken that skin. They don’t understand. They can be insensitive. And the worst part for me is when people copy your idea. That’s like, the worst. Because here you took all of this time, you came up with prototypes, you made varying different kinds to get to the point where you are, and then for somebody to just rob you of all of that and essentially copy what you’ve made, it’s going to happen. And that’s where things like branding become really important. If you make yours a brand that people want to have, as opposed to just having the copy, then people are going to search you out.
Branding comes in the form of, for me, when I made belts, came in the form of having a cute little box to put my belts in, and I had a specific stamp made, and I had a couple other ceramic trinkets that I tied to the box, just to give it that really personal touch, that kind of put it above and beyond anybody who might try to copy mine. And, of course, you could always use hashtags if you’re going to be sharing your wares on social media, that are very specific to your brand. So just be aware of those three things before you dive right in, because it’s like a slap in the face when people start saying things, or start immediately trying to copy what you’ve created.
Alright. Now let’s chat about … What I’m coming from are four different places to sell your wares. I’m sure there are more, but these are the four that I have experience with, so that’s what I’m going to speak from.
I think everybody, their knee-jerk reaction when they get ready to sell a handmade is to sell on Etsy. I’m going to share with you the pros and cons of that. I have had two Etsy stores, and one was for my belts, and the other was actually for vintage things. I’m a lover of vintage. I have a lot of vintage. And as a collector of vintage, finding things at estate sales, or yard sales, and the thrift store, I opened a vintage shop. So I’ve got two Etsy shops under my belt. Both are now closed, but I’m speaking to you from that experience.
So let’s talk about selling handmade goods on Etsy. I’m going to chat with you first about the pros. So the pros are this. Now, when I was selling on Etsy, this was pre-app. So now Etsy has an app, and I’m sure it is so much easier. Prior to the app, you had to take a lot of photos, a lot of different angles, upload your photos, write a lengthy description, because the more you describe it the better, the less questions you’re going to be, and people are going to be confident in their purchase. But, however, I think that these days it would probably be a lot easier to just use your device, your iPad or what have you, to take your pictures and then to upload your information from there, with the app.
The other thing I liked about Etsy at the time when I was using it, was I found it to be a very strong support system. You could reach out to other crafters, you could kind of form groups on Etsy where they would help promote one another, and I really loved that community vibe.
The other thing that’s great about Etsy, is there is a huge customer base. Etsy is massive. It’s everybody’s go-to when they think of buying a handmade good, so you are going to have a huge group of people who are possibly, potentially interested in what you make.
That being said, let’s talk about the cons. The cons, it’s way too big. It’s so, so big that there is a huge customer base, but there’s also a lot of people selling on Etsy, which means it might be difficult to find you. So before opening your Etsy shop, really do your homework to find out how people can find you, which is a lot like using, I don’t want to call them hashtags, but they’re called tags; making sure that your tags are correct. There’s a lot of things to know about being found on Etsy before you dive right in, because you might be a little bit disappointed when you pop things into a shop and it’s not getting any views, nobody is finding you, and it’s not for lack of interest, it’s for lack of being able to find you. So do your homework on that end.
Etsy does take a cut of the profit, and recently, that cut got a little bit bigger. So that’s another con to think about, is they’re going to take a pinch of the profits.
And, the other thing that I have found disappointing about Etsy recently, actually, this isn’t that recent, it’s been happening for a while, is that now there are a lot of products “made in China” that are sold on Etsy and sold for cheap. So now you’re back to competing with non-handmade goods that are undersold, and going to make your prices look inflated by comparison.
So those are kind of my pros and cons of selling on Etsy.
Now, let’s talk about another venue which you could pursue, which I always thought looked super fun until I actually did it: craft shows. So I’ve done probably a half dozen craft shows with my belts, and I have to tell you that the first maybe 10, 15 minutes is fun, and then the rest of the day I found to be positively dreadful.
Okay. So let me share with you the pros of craft shows.
One of the biggest pros I’ve found for craft shows is making connections with people, making connections with people who might own shops. If you are an extrovert, if you are a chatty Cathy, then craft shows are for you, because if you’ve ever been to a craft show, when you walk in and out of the booth, if the person is a little shy, or distracted, maybe they’re on their phone, or they’re just not friendly, then you immediately think, “Well, maybe … I don’t see anything here. I’m going to scram.”
So if you are working at one of those craft booths, you want to walk the fine line of not being pushy, but being friendly, being approachable, being chatty enough to know when to share the process. It’s important that people understand how your goods are made, and just the amount of time and effort that go into them, and that will help them understand that price tag. It’s also great if you’re actually sitting there creating, because then you’ll get a lot of questions that way; they can actually see your process.
If you are a shy person, an introvert, craft shows might not be for you, because you really do have to put yourself out there and be very confident, speak confidently about your creations and not be shy at all about what you are making.
It’s also a lot of fun at craft fairs, because there’s always a lull when you can walk around and meet other creative types. I’ve made a lot of friends through craft fairs, made some really great connections, and I really enjoyed that side of it.
Cons. Here’s my list.
It’s time-consuming. Craft shows are time-consuming because you’ve got not only the time you put in to actually being there at the craft show, but you’ve got to get there an hour or two prior to set up, and then also tear down. And that’s not something I really thought about. You’ve got to invest in getting a table or two, or borrow some tables from friends. If it’s an outside craft fair, you’ll definitely want to get yourself one of those pop-up tents. You want to make your craft booth look cozy and fun, almost like a shop that embodies everything that what you’re selling is about. So that takes a lot of time and thought to put into coming up with your theme of your booth. So that end is very time-consuming.
When you go to craft shows, it might not always be your clientele. I remember selling at one craft show, and my belts were definitely not what these people were interested in. It was a different kind of craft show. I stuck out like a sore thumb, and in a really not-great way. And craft shows can be very, very expensive. A lot of craft shows that I’ve been to, there was an application process. Then, if you’re actually accepted, it can be a couple of hundred bucks, or even more to showcase your wares, and you’ve got to really take that into consideration. Are you actually going to make your money back and then make a profit on top of that?
One thing that I did was … which I can kind of, sort of recommend, and I’m going to tell you what I learned from it; are cold calls, or just, like, walking into a store with your wares. You’ve got to have a lot of confidence to make that happen. What I learned really fast is that stores, they don’t like that. Do not walk into a boutique and just say, “Hey, can I talk to the manager or the store owner? Because I have some things I’d love to sell in a boutique.” You are usually catching people really off their guard, and they don’t love that.
I do recommend calling any local boutiques to you, and setting up an appointment. I think phone calls are better than just sending somebody an email, because they can simply dismiss an email. But if you phone call and then ask if you can send an email with some photos, or if you could possibly set up an appointment to share what you have, then that’s a great way to go about that. And having your things in a local boutique is really, really fun. It’s fun to walk into a shop and see your items sitting there, walk in and have the shop owner say, “Oh my goodness, we sold three of your XYZs today. People were really happy.” That part of it I absolutely loved. And I sold to a couple of local stores in the town where I teach, and it was great. I loved it.
Some cons to that are that they do, of course, take a portion of your profit, because they’re actually selling it for you and talking it up for you. So that’s just a little bit of a con, but to me, that’s to be expected.
And the pros, there are so many. That was probably my favorite thing, was selling in local boutiques.
Then, of course, my last place that I would recommend selling is social media. And for me, when I was selling my belts, this was not quite 10 years ago, selling on Facebook wasn’t really a thing people were doing. Instagram wasn’t even around. And I feel like these two entities are great places for you to now give selling your wares a shot. If you’re just kind of tiptoeing into it, I feel like that is where you could possibly start.
So selling on Instagram, one thing I’ve noticed when people want to start having, like, a store, or selling their wares, is they create a separate Instagram account for just that. I don’t understand why people do that. If you already have a decent-sized following on your Instagram and you’re just getting started on this, sell on your current Instagram. If you have, let’s say 400 followers on your Instagram, why wouldn’t you approach those 400 people? Why would you start a separate Instagram where maybe you’ve got 40 people? Then you only have 40 eyes on your product. If you want to have a separate “businessy Instagram”, wait until you actually have a business rolling, and then put that out there. But if you’re just getting started, put it out on your personal Instagram. Why not? Because your friends and your family, those are probably going to be your biggest support system, and they’re going to share that with their friends and their family who will also be interested in what you’re making.
And if you’re going to sell on Instagram, of course you’ll need to probably think of a payment method. Usually what I’ve seen people do is, “Direct message me if you’re interested.” And then you can either bill them via PayPal or Venmo. Same with Facebook. Facebook is way bigger than Instagram, so therefor, you’ve got a way bigger audience. So why not just throw that out there on your current Facebook page? Like I said, wait until you actually have the ball rolling before you start opening a webpage, or opening up a separate Facebook. Think about where you’re going to have the most eyes on something, and go with that first before you get all “businessy”.
I think sometimes people get caught up in, “I’ve got to get a business card before I can actually open up a business. I have to get a webpage. I have to do this, that, and the other.” No. You’ve just got to actually see, “Are your wares going to sell? What are people more interested in? What color palette? What do they like? What are they not liking?” Use those folks as your testing ground first before you go official with your shop.
So, yeah, it’s so fun, and it’s so exciting when people want to buy your creations. There is literally nothing better. Just make sure you thicken up that skin. Don’t take it the wrong way when people just don’t get it. And explore all the avenues. Why not? It’s so amazing to have your creations in somebody else’s hands.
Thank you guys for letting me share my experience with selling my belts. It seems so funny to say I made belts. Why? Why not? You know? Why not? If I can sell belts, then you can sell whatever tchotchke awesomeness you decide to create. Good luck, guys.
Did somebody say Mailbag Time? That was ridiculous. I’m trying to work on a new Mailbag intro, and obviously that is not what we’re going with. Alright, everybody. Let’s take a little dip into the mailbag. Yeah, we’re sticking with that one. This one comes from … I’m still wading through all the questions on my Instagram when I threw out there that y’all should send me questions. This one comes from @SecondGradeLove, and I love her question: “How do you deal with criticism and negativity from others when it happens?” And she says, “Probably doesn’t happen often.”
It happens often. More often than you would think, because I feel like sometimes when you’re a person who puts things out there as I do on my blog, on my Instagram, on my everywheres, people are inclined to just kind of share how they feel about it, and it’s not always positive. I could talk for a long time about all of the incidences that have happened where people have sent me emails that have not been friendly, made comments on my Instagram that have not been nice. Yeah. I’ve lost friendships over things like that, where it’s just negativity that I don’t want or need in my life.
So how do I deal with that when it happens? Well, the first thing I do is I try very hard not to let it rattle me, not to let it get to me, and I try to flip it around and think, “Where is this person coming from?” So I’m not thinking so much of what did they say, but why. Why would you say, “Cassie,” and this is an example of something someone has said in an email, a fellow art teacher, “if you spent half as much time as you did on your art lessons as you did planning your outfits, you would probably be a good art teacher.” That was literally sent to me in an email from an art teacher who I used to work with in my district.
So, trust me, that rattled me big time. But I had to stop and think, “Where is this comment actually coming from? This is actually coming from a person who is themselves not happy with their life, I guess, in general.” I don’t know, because nothing I did warranted her to say that to me. I mean, I put a lot of effort in everything I do, including my lessons. I might not write them all out. But, yeah, I think it’s important to always take a step back from that comment and kind of flip it around and think, “All right. What’s going on with this person here? Because this actually isn’t about me, it’s about them.”
It doesn’t mean you have to accept that comment. It doesn’t mean you have to even respond to that comment. It just means that you have to realize it’s not you, it’s them. And knowing that some people are coming from a rough place, some people are going through thing we might not understand, it can kind of help us maybe not get so upset and angry with them, even if their comments were horrible and negative, and just realize that it’s not about you, and to just kind of keep that at the forefront of your mind.
It’ll take a while to brush off comments and negativity like that. I always have things that … like those kind of emails and comments, those stay with me, because they rattle you. They stick with you a bit. And it just means you’re going to have to keep telling yourself, “It’s not about you.” Don’t become all introspective and think, “Oh my gosh. What am I doing wrong?” You’re not. It’s not about you. It’s on them.
That was a great question. I’m going to take … Let’s see if I have time to do … Yeah, let’s take one more question. Why do I act like I’m actually giving these on air? I would love it. We could have a call in. That would be super fun.
Let’s see. This one comes from @ArtATCCS. She says, “I have been thinking about a collaboration with classroom teachers, how to make it work without compromising the curriculum?”
Yeah. That is the question, because I think classroom teachers, when they want to collaborate, they don’t always stop and think that, “Oh, wait. You have, like, standards and a curriculum?” Yeah, we do. We actually have that thing. I know it looks like we’re just flinging paint around in here, because we is, but that’s actually, like, what we’re supposed to be doing according to standards.
I think collaboration is great, but I also think there needs to be an understanding on the front end that there’s a give and take here, that it’s not just all going to be on you to teach their curriculum, but, you know, you also have your own curriculum to teach, and that, “Maybe if you can’t make it happen in your art room, how about I share with you a couple of things where you can integrate art into maybe your social studies project that you’re going to teach that’ll make it more engaging and interesting for your students, adding that other element?”
So what I like to do is kind of share with teachers some projects they might consider doing that are simple for them to do, thinking of their time, their space, and their tolerance of messiness, and really having them also do that collaboration with you. Why is it always that we have to work with them? Why can’t we share with them some ideas to make it work in their room?
I know that at my school we’ve don an Art PD before, with not just the art teachers, the entire school. They all came into my room and I did a clay project with them, and it was great for them to see just how much goes into teaching art, so they understand that when they need a little help with their curriculum, that we just can’t stop, drop, and let everything go that we need to teach. Doing a little PD like that, but instead of it just being on project, share with them some mini-projects, some mini-techniques, “mini” meaning small, techniques they can do to kind of inspire them to be like, “Oh, so when I teach that unit on geography or geology, I can tie in this really cool marker print, or I can do this really amazing wax resist,” something simple and easy. So you might want to consider that, too.
Thanks guys for the questions. Always fun taking them. Keep sending them my way. You can find me at the firstname.lastname@example.org.
So two things I learned, real fast, selling on Etsy. Thing number one. Don’t do custom orders. I mean, unless your whole thing is custom-order-based, custom orders are a total pain in the booty. I remember when I was making those belt buckles, somebody wanted one shaped like a bumblebee, and a really specific cartoon-character-looking bumblebee, that when the image was sent to me I was like, “Oh my gosh. I hate this. I hate the way it looks. This is not something I would ever make.” And because I had written in my Etsy statement that I do custom orders, I was bound to that. And I made this thing that I was not happy with. The person who got it absolutely loved it, wrote me a great review. That’s awesome. But I didn’t feel great about it. It just felt kind of like, “Ew, this is zapping the fun out of it.” So unless you are custom-order-based, I would really think hard about just opening yourself out to making anything for everybody.
Another thing I learned, really quickly, is they buy is what they get. All sales final. I had on mine that if they broke a belt buckle, I would make one again for free. Well, my belt buckles are ceramic, so if you weren’t careful with them, if you just threw it down on the floor or chucked it onto a counter, hello, it’s going to break. And I did do my share of replacing those on the house for free. I learned pretty quickly to take that little tag down from my Etsy store, because doing replacements and stuff like that … All sales final, y’all. That is the way to go.
So good luck on your ventures. I would love to see anything that you guys are creating and interested in selling. So if you decide to pop them up on Instagram or something, make sure to tag me, because I would love to see what y’all are up to. Thanks guys, and have an awesome week.