Friday, June 12, 2009

Wish I Knew Enough Then To Have Done What We Have to Do Now

Not long ago I read something in an Etsy newsletter about how their demographic of artist/sellers included an unusually disproportionate number of work-at-home moms, disabled people, and family caregivers. When looking for stories of how the changes at Cafepress were going to affect individual shopkeepers over there I discovered an unusually high number of people needing to be home for the same reasons.

Paul and I have been pondering this phenomenon and it occurred to us that what's happening at Cafepress is particularly heinous specifically because of who these people are that are being hurt. Why were these people sucked into the world of freelance internet business dealings in the first place? Because they had to find alternative sources of income that enabled them to take care of the personal challenges keeping them from more traditional forms of employment. Sure, there were entrepreneurial types who worked at this on the side while keeping their day jobs until they could cut loose, but the vast majority of people who wrote to tell their stories in the Cafepress forums had all kinds of extenuating circumstances in their lives that pushed them to be much more industrious than the average person uploading things to the site. That's why they were a success—they worked hard to make it that way.

In recent blog posts Paul and I have been putting out that we're looking for some kind of patron or larger ethical organization to help promote our work. We should probably be much more specific than that. We don't need a hand-out as much as a business manager, a literary agent, a healing retreat or conference center, a book publishing company, or any number of other things. We want to work and get paid for what we do, not just put our energy out all over the internet for free.

Nobody wants to do that! That's why what happened at Cafepress got to Paul and me—we were working at that, building something, annoying people who read our blogs with constant advertisements for it. We were even seeing significant enough results from adding things to our Cafepress shop more often that we were encouraged to do it more. That's what this intense hew and cry is about—we were investors in this business and the company we thought was our partner charged us money for the so-called benefits of building our shop on their site and then stole all the profits from that work for themselves.

Again, we hadn't succeeded yet. Most people report that it took at least 2 years of daily effort before they started to make a significant portion of their income from their Cafepress shop. It takes almost that long to figure out what works on a product and what doesn't. After a year and a half, we had only just started to crack the code ourselves. Art for products has to fit certain parameters. Art we like on our walls, wonderful landscape photography for example, doesn't sell well on a T-shirt. But Paul's photo of a Snowy Owl face did from time to time. It takes awhile to learn that. Just because you might wear a photo of a dead tree on your shirt doesn't mean the buying public will. (Although it might do really well being sold in a gallery as art for someone's wall.)

So it takes time to learn the ropes in a business. Some business tricks that an experienced literary agent might know how to pull off, the creative talent they promote may never get the experience to do. Those of us who love typing blog posts like this in our room for hours every day might be really well suited for writing books...but never gain the networking and confidence in selling that a more gregarious person does naturally. And why should we do that? I have been berating myself constantly for not learning how to sell Mama Love more consistently. I do well with it in specific circumstances. But my father made his living as a manufacturer's rep. Schmoozing with buyers, making "friends", doing the old-fashioned versions of social networking is what he did best. It's how it's done. It's not what I like to do.

We feel for our comrades at Etsy and Cafepress because it takes a lot of effort to learn how to make it in business and both of those communities are full of hard-working people like us who really put their heart into what they do. But when I think about what I learned from Cafepress, I'd tell people just starting out on any online selling venue to build your own websites first and link everything you do back to yourself. It won't matter if Etsy is "ethical" enough if they start to have financial difficulties and change things or find that the size of their marketplace grows at a rate that nobody's work stands out from the crowd anymore. They may have to cull the deck like Cafepress someday.

Most of my readers are Etsy people right now. Buy yourself an easy web design program like iWeb, do a trade with a great experienced web designer or, better yet, PAY them to help you get your start. Then use everything you learn on these other websites to do whatever makes sense to get your work in the public eye. And get help from old-fashioned business people, too—people who have made great livings for themselves and didn't settle for just muddling through.


Renee[Q][C] said...

Great post and some food for thought for everyone!

kim* said...

thanks for sharing this.i have an account already and forgot about it. i am going to add some stuff up for my dads site.:) have a fab weekend!

Sheryl Karas said...

Before anyone follows Kim's example, please actually read my posts before commenting! If Kim had done that she would know that I think spending any more time on Cafepress is a rip-off!

UniqueNurseGranny said...

Good post.altough I have no idea what is going on at Cafe Press, I know that was my first venture and I sold nothing there.Have some blow back about the article that is frequenting the forums about Etsy .all we can do is promote and hang in..If i get another website it will be through Crafters Buzz people.They are very helpful and the things included in the low monthly fee is remarkable...

Denise on Etsy said...

Thanks for posting this. It's a shame that CP got greedly like that. I haven't been there in years, but i remember when they first started and it seemed like such a wonderful way to get a home business started.

LOL about kim* who didn't even read the post. What do you get out of commenting randomly on someones blog?