Emma Higgins has learned a lot about selling online since she first started her Folksy shop three years ago. It shows. Her product shots have a consistent style, which helps to give her shop a strong identity, and she religiously promotes her work through a variety of channels while remaining ever mindful not to spam her followers. Her passion for her work and her enthusiasm for what she does shines out. We talked to Emma to find out a little more…
When did you start selling your work, and what did you consider before opening your Folksy shop?
I started selling on Folksy about three years ago. Funnily enough, I started off by selling lino prints and little cocktail hats in the same shop. I soon decided that I wanted to concentrate just on one thing, so I stopped making the hats and focused solely on selling lino prints.
How do you sell your work?
I mostly sell online, which I like because I feel I can reach a wider audience. I’m just beginning to reach my target market through online promotion but I’ve still got a very long way to go. Selling online is convenient because I can manage it throughout the day from my phone – it’s like taking my office with me wherever I go. Applying to have my prints in local exhibitions has really helped with sales because they are usually well advertised and promoted. The best part is meeting the other exhibiting artists. I always ask them lots of questions and learn so much. It’s always wonderful to meet people who buy your work face to face, and exhibitions are great for this. I nearly hugged the first man who bought one of my prints at an exhibition! Another time, a lady wanted a photo of me with the print that she was buying, I was so flattered. I do sell my lino prints in a few local shops and galleries, but this is something that I would like to expand on in the near future.
Do you have a method for calculating your prices?
I always calculate the exact price of making each print, right down to the very last centimetre of mounting tape! As a general rule, I multiply the cost of materials by three to find the price that I’m going to charge. I use recycled materials for my packaging which keeps costs down and I always offer free postage which buyers seem to appreciate.
Your product shots are fantastic. Do you think carefully about how you style your shots?
Thank you. It’s taken me nearly three years to come up with a way of photographing my prints that works for me. I’ve tried so many different ways of shooting my product shots and I’d still like to improve them but I feel that I’ve done my best with resources I’ve got. Using the same set-up and photographing all my prints in the same way each time has definitely improved the look of my shop. It’s made my collection look more cohesive and professional and less like a jumble sale, which is what it used to feel like in the early days.
Have you got any photography tips you can share?
I always take my photos in our conservatory because it’s the room with the most natural light. I prop up my prints against a plain white wall on a little table I bought from a junk shop – it was only cheap but it’s made of nice wood which looks good in the photos. I photograph my prints in a frame but I always remove the glass to avoid unwanted reflections. Just out of shot, I position a mirror on a chair to bounce extra light on to the area I am photographing. I haven’t got a tripod so I place my camera on top of a wooden box placed on a chair, this makes sure that the camera is just the right height for the photos that I want to take. I have got quite a good camera but I didn’t manage to take decent photos until I forced myself to read the entire the manual one day. I use the self-timer to avoid shaking the camera and then I duck out the way to avoid casting unwanted shadows. I adjust the white balance on my camera to make photos appear brighter and then I fiddle about with the images after importing them into Pixlr, which is a free online editing programme.
How do you promote your work?
Word of mouth is always a good place to start and it’s a good talking point with new people I meet. I carry some little business cards with me and talk about my printing to anyone who will listen! When promoting online, I keep a little list of my favourite promotion sites in a Word document on my computer desktop. Any time I list a new print, I religiously go through the list and make sure I’ve promoted in each place, always linking it back to my Folksy shop. I like to use Pinterest, Craftjuice, Twitter, Wanelo, the Folksy forums, Picklistme, StumbleUpon, Facebook, Google+, and my own blog. It can be frustrating at times to spend so much time promoting when I’d rather be elbow deep in printing ink but I know it’s a necessary part of running a little craft business.
Quite simply, the more I promote and draw people towards my Folksy shop, the more I sell.
Which social media channel is your favourite and why?
I’ve started to use Twitter in the last few months and I’ve found it the best place for me to promote my prints. I know I’ve made quite a few sales because of it. I’m very careful not to spam too much with adverts for my work; instead I’ve tried to seek out and communicate with people who I think might be interested in the subject matter of my prints. Being friendly and not always going for the hard sell on Twitter has really paid off. I’ve chatted to all sorts of interesting people and made good contacts with other artists. I was recently invited join an exhibition and I’ve also been asked to sell my prints in a local gallery, all through new contacts made on Twitter.
Do you think blogging has helped your business?
The thing I’ve found most useful is directing potential customers towards my blog to see more information about my products. For example, lots of people tell me they don’t know what lino prints are or how they are made. If I’m at a craft fair I can easily demonstrate this, but when promoting and selling online, I’ve found it invaluable to be able to direct people to a blog post I’ve done, detailing every step of making a lino print. When they know how the product is made, they can then make an informed decision about whether to purchase it or not. I’ve done another blog post showing how I package up my prints ready for posting, and another about my little studio where I make my prints. I want my customers to have as much information as possible about how and where the prints are made and what they can expect when they buy from me. Links to my blog posts in my Folksy listings is the best way that I have found to do this.
We love your Pinterest boards. How do you use Pinterest and do you think it can be beneficial for businesses?
Ah, Pinterest! I’m an avid pinner and I’m almost embarrassed to admit the number of pins and boards I have. There are so many beautiful images to collect and I think you can really tell a lot about a person from their Pinterest account. I predominantly pin for my own entertainment, but I know it’s yet another way to ensure that my lino prints have an online presence. I post pictures of my work with links back to my blog and my Folksy shop to ensure that anyone who likes the images is also clear about where to buy them. Google Analytics tells me that people are being directed to my Folksy shop from Pinterest, so it must work!
Is there someone you think does social media particularly well?
I’m always looking at ways to improve my use of social media. Recently, I have started to follow some of my favourite Folksy sellers who are repeatedly in the best-sellers list. I wanted to see what I could learn from them in the way that they use social media. Time and time again I can see that being friendly, engaging with customers and other sellers and posting interesting content without spamming is the key. Alison Sye is a great example of a Folksy Seller who always manages to post something interesting on social media, and she’s always the first to help out and promote others too.
Your work was recently featured in You! Magazine. How did that come about and how did it affect your shop?
That was a really wonderful surprise and I still can’t believe it! A props stylist contacted me through Twitter to say she had seen my Folksy shop and would I like to lend her a lino print for a photo shoot showcasing products with a coastal theme? I didn’t need asking twice and posted it off straight away. I wasn’t sure if it would be used but sure enough about a month later there it was in the middle of YOU magazine! I squealed when I first saw it and my mum is still showing it to all her friends! I had a good steady trickle of sales for the weeks following. More than anything it has boosted my confidence enormously and encouraged me to keep developing my little business.
Finally, if you could share one tip with other makers, what would that be?
Find something that you love to make and sell, so it doesn’t really feel like work because you feel so passionate about it. It took me until the age of 34 to work out what I wanted to make and I feel like I’m still at the beginning of a very steep learning curve. One of my favourite quotes is by Roald Dahl who said:
I began to realise how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.