Monday, June 6, 2011

Business, Learning, and Links, OH MY!-- A Midwest Craft Caucus Recap

This past weekend my friend and creative cohort, Jess of Iris Photography, and I took a road trip from Cincinnati to Columbus to attend the "Midwest Craft Caucus". I had been super excited about it from the moment I registered a couple of months ago, but even with all the anticipation it far exceeded my expectations!

The caucus took place over the course of two days: Saturday from 9:00-4:30 and Sunday from 9:00-2:30. It was comprised of both Q&A expert panel discussions on topics such as Social Media, Being Successful on Etsy, and the Future of Handmade as well as smaller breakout sessions. These breakout sessions were more intimate discussions led by crafty business owners, bloggers, and other experts. Everyone attended the panels while each session period had 3 different options to choose from. The fact that attendees got to choose whichever topics they felt were most applicable to their current business was genius planning, in my opinion. It prevented boredom and kept us engaged, instead of having to sit through a discussion that was far too novice or advanced for us.

 To give you a better idea of the overall event, here is the exact schedule that I chose for myself, a general description of each session, and some tidbits of wisdom I gained from each:

1. Social Media Roundtable:
The effectiveness of various social media platforms including Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, etc. and how to use these platforms to engage with your customers.

Tidbit: Don't bombard followers with only sales-related information. You will start to look like a spambot. Use the 1:1:1 rule-- for every 1 sale-related post, do 1 personal post, and 1 post that is related to your craft but not about you (post about other shops, interesting articles, etc.) Balance is key!

2. Financial Planning for the Craft Entrepreneur:

Assistant VP of Business Banking at Chase, Aaron Pitcock, told us everything we needed to know to get things organized on the dreaded financial-side of business form how to open a business checking account, tips for keeping things organized, and what business structure is best for our business.

Tidbit: If you are planning to borrow money for your business at some point, don't wait until you need it. The best time to take out a line of credit is when cash flow is good. Think of it more as an insurance line for when cash flow is not so good.

3. Pricing Strategies for Crafters:

Grace Dobush, creator of Cincinnati's Crafty Supermarket and author of Crafty Superstar, discussed different pricing structures, wholesale vs. retail pricing, and the downfalls of under- and over-pricing.

Tidbit: Keep meticulous records of all of your administrative costs (listing fees, shipping costs, merchant fees, domain name, etc.) for a year. Divide this total by 2080 (# of working hours in a year) and be sure to add that to your hourly wage. It's these little things that add up and eat away at your personal hourly wage.

 4. Careers in Craft:
This panel focused on the lifestyles and journeys of successful business owners who were able to transform their hobbies and passions for craft into full-time careers.

Tidbit: Set goals and put them in writing. Re-evaluate these goals frequently to help you stay on track and to hold you accountable.

5. Working with Retailers:
Handmade shop owners Olivera Bratich (Wholly Craft!), Amanda Mauer Taflinger (Homespun: Modern Handmade), and Nicole Wolfersberger (Paper Crane Studio and Gallery), talk about the best strategies for approaching stores, the differences between consignment and wholesale, and the Do's and Don'ts of retail selling.

Tidbit: Research each store thoroughly before approaching them to sell. Check out their website or visit in person if you can to make sure your item is a good fit. Blindly emailing owners without a sense of where your products fit in with their shop is never a good idea.

6. Maintaining a Webstore:

Alison and Nick Nocera of offered insight into the world of e-commerce outside of etsy. They discussed the various shopping cart options to add to your personal site, how to remain customer-friendly, and how to direct traffic to your shop.

Tidbit: Keep shopping cart simple, streamlined, and light in order to direct focus to your products and to avoid overwhelming customers.

7. Organizing a Craft Fair:

Successful craft fair planners walked us through the process of planning a craft fair from beginning to end. They gave us tips on finding funding, how to promote your fair successfully, and how to select venues and vendors.

Tidbit: Start with developing your show's identity and go from there. Create a theme, a website, a logo, and branding before promoting to make it easier for potential vendors to decide whether they are a good fit for the show, as well as to make the event more memorable and identifiable for potential attendees.

8. Connecting to Your Community:

Panelists discussed the importance of going beyond dollars and cents to develop relationships with your community as a means to positively affect local cities and towns, as well as to promote the handmade movement.

Tidbit: Most people these days have heard about the economic and environmental importance of "shopping local" but many are still unsure of how to go about doing that. We as artists and crafters help by giving people an outlet to accomplish this.


1. The Craft Fair Experience:
Craft fair insiders gave us the scoop on everything from getting the most out of your application process to being a good vendor and neighbor at the show. 

Tidbit: Don't expect the show organizers to do all the leg work. Utilize the promotional materials that each show gives you and promote to your own fan base.

2. Teaching Your Craft:
Emily Westenhouser, teacher of both craft and fine arts, talked to us about her experience in each of these fields, how she got started, the differences between teaching children and adults, and venues where freelance teachers work. 

Tidbit: For those who are newbies at teaching in the arts and crafts realm, start out by volunteering at community centers, shops, and museums that offer classes. Think of your volunteer experience as long-term training for the teaching jobs you would like to pursue down the line.

3. Getting Published:
We got to interact with Grace Dobush once again as she gave us insider tips on how to get started guest writing for popular blogs, getting articles published in magazines, and even writing your own craft books.

Tidbit: When pitching potential articles to magazine editors, don't just offer a topic, offer a new angle on that topic. For example, don't email and say, "I'd love to write an article about crocheting for your Crochet Monthly Magazine". Be more specific such as, "I'd love to write a How-To article about crocheting miniature dog replicas to go in purses so you can get the look of accessory pups without purchasing a real dog. I have sold many of these crochet dogs at shows and online and many people have expressed interest in learning how to crochet them for themselves."

4. Finding Success On Etsy
We attendees were lucky enough to be graced with the presence of Danielle Maveal from as she spoke to us about what it really takes to be a successful Etsy seller. She addressed such topics as accurate tagging, thorough item descriptions, and what to do if you're an Etsy virgin.

Tidbit: When trying to figure out who your target market is or what your ideal customer looks like, just remember that they probably look just like you...but with more money.

5. Working with Street Teams and Collectives
Stephanie Tardy of Handmade Detroit, Abby Langdon of Etsy's Plush Team, and Cinnamon Cooper of the Chicago Craft Mafia offered incredibly insightful words of wisdom about the ins and outs of starting and operating a successful crafty collective. They discussed everything from funding, to team organizational structures and committee responsibilities, to how to gracefully part ways with not-so-great members. 

Tidbit: Set up a group mission statement at the beginning of formation to establish guidelines for team membership and to avoid getting members whose goals do not align with those of the group.

**WOW! WOW! WOW! So much great information!**

The funny part about all of this is that I only attended 1/3 of the possible sessions that were being held at the caucus. If I were able to attend all of the informational sessions I think my brain would have turned into blissfully educated mush. The creative energy in the room was buzzing, and we left feeling inspired, motivated, rejuvenated, and re-focused. The organizers and volunteers did an excellent job of keeping everyone engaged, informed, and fed. I would definitely attend another caucus in the future!

Did you attend the caucus?? What did you think? I would love to hear from you!

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