by Donald Clark

Courtesy of The Crafts Report
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Life and self-employment are filled with unexpected personal medical and family emergencies. As I run my small business, how can I prepare for those times when, because of possible poor health, hospitalization, or my assistance with a loved one, I might not be able to work? I'm basically a one-person operation, so such events worry me. --Julie Hammer, via e-mail
You're enjoying a life as a self-employed craft maker filled with perks: no boss, you get to make your own hours, and your days are filled with the joy of creative activity. The craftsperson, however, gives up many of the traditional benefits offered an employee, including health insurance, vacation pay, and sick days. When things are good, it's all about you; conversely, when things are bad, it's still all about you. We all hope to live lives unmarked by emergencies; however, as you point out, they do happen. Whatever our occupation, it's difficult to have a perfect plan. In your case, in addition to the need for financial security, an important consideration is the well being of your business, whether or not you intend to return to it after your absence.

I don't need to tell you that we all need to save for the rainy day; we hear about this daily as the financial markets fluctuate and create a powerful sense of uncertainty. So, let's think about nonfinancial ways to keep your business safe in difficult times. I've never done this, but, perhaps, it's possible to have a production manual. I see this being very much like a cookbook, having a list of the materials needed and a step-by-step description of the construction process. It would be even more useful if there were pictures of the important procedures. This tool might let you hire a skilled person to do your work in your absence. If this doesn't appeal or apply to what you do, think about notifying your customers that you're taking a sabbatical in the case of an emergency. Be sure to let them know when you plan to return. You might send out something along the way just so they keep you in mind.

Trimming Transportation Costs
With gasoline prices rising so substantially in recent months, my transportation expenses for attending shows and fairs this summer and fall will be exceeding what I had projected in my 2011 operating budget at the beginning of the year. Is there a way of attending these events without breaking the bank? --Mark Hursdahl, via e-mail
The cost of moving your product from the studio to the show or to the consumer is, of course, a valid business expense. Therefore, you're entitled to get paid what it actually costs to provide this service, in this case moving you and your work to the shows you plan to do. A plan could be to find other craftspeople from your area participating in a show. This would allow renting a common vehicle and reducing transportation costs. This could be a solution to this year's problem, but it's not the best long-term arrangement. The bottom line is, you have to raise your prices to reflect the increased cost of doing business. The airlines do it, UPS does it, and utilities do it. You can do it.

Success with Shows
Last year, I took my jewelry products to a couple of outdoor shows for the first time. The jewelry, I feel, is of good quality and priced accordingly, but I didn't have too many people stopping to look. Many of those who did, however, purchased a few pieces. I suspect that my booth isn't doing enough. What can I do to improve my presence? --Charlotte Hayes, via e-mail
This situation may be bigger than your booth, you, or your jewelry; let's take it apart. The first clue is that you were a first-time exhibitor. Often, buyers have to see product more than once before they make a purchase. Second, you may have been in the wrong show; shows are not one-size-fits-all. Did you do research and visit the shows before you signed up? I always strongly urge a visit to a show before deciding to sign on. A visit allows you to talk to exhibitors and get a sense of what sells well at a particular show. It's also important to watch the visitors/customers; look for clues that they come from the socio-economic group that might purchase your jewelry. It would also be helpful for you to know how well other exhibitors are doing; sometimes, a show just doesn't work for any of the exhibitors.

So, if your jewelry is well-designed with an eye toward fashion and priced correctly, and you're confident that you were in the right shows, perhaps it was your booth or you. You first. Did you position yourself toward the front of your booth or, perhaps, even in the aisle so you could greet the visitors as they passed? Remember, the show visitor is there to see what's up and needs to be engaged to be turned into a customer. Were you well-dressed and wearing your jewelry? I think it's important to go into a show dressed like you're already successful and to behave that way; success makes more success, so invent some for yourself, if necessary.

Your booth design must also be well thought out. Remember, the visitor is walking up and down endless aisles and needs to be lured into stopping and taking a serious closer look. You want to be sure your booth is easy to enter and leave; or, if your display closes the booth, be sure to have your cases back a bit so that visitors can get out of the crowded aisle and look at your jewelry more peacefully. It's always a good idea to place large images of your work on the walls of your booth, especially the back wall. Of course, you need to have great lighting so your jewelry really pops; people can't and won't buy it if they can't see it.

Once you've caught them, you want to make a sale. That may not happen in the booth, so be sure to send them away with a catalog of your work or, at the very least, a professionally photographed and printed postcard as a reminder of your work. One last tip: Be sure to get the e-mail addresses of people you engage so that you can let them know where you'll be next.

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