Business Trends 2016

by Cassie Noble Beyer

Courtesy of The Crafts Report
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Every year offers new opportunities and challenges to handmade business owners. Market strategies change, demands fluctuate, and new potential threats constantly develop. Keep up-to-date on the latest business trends to encourage success in the upcoming year.

Increased Demand for Handmade Goods
The good news is demand for handmade goods has been on the rise, and that trend is expected to continue into 2016. Understand the reasons why, and tailor marketing to best attract customers who are already on the lookout for artists like you.

Historically, mass produced items have remained popular due to affordability and availability. Small businesses have struggled to remain competitive with big corporations using cheap labor in large factories. Even people actively seeking out handmade art sometimes have difficulty finding local vendors.

Then the Internet came along. Handmade artists gained a tremendous amount of visibility, whether they're featured in articles, discussed in forums, or selling online. Even if you are not yet selling online, you're benefitting from the trend as consumers gain new appreciation for artwork overall.

So why are people willing to forgo cheaper, mass produced items in exchange for handmade ones? Art lovers seek personal connection with the artist. Any factory can pump out a set of plates, but there's something uniquely intriguing about handcrafted ones. Let potential customers know your story and that of your pieces. Consider the following:

1. Uniqueness Reinforce that no two pieces are ever identical. Share descriptions of the materials and processes that lead to your creation of unique items. Enamellist Houston Llew dedicates an entire page on his website to discussing his methods, which includes rolling a pin over fused glass in order to craze it.

2. Stress the Handmade Aspect You may think it's obvious your goods are handmade, but that might not always be the case, particularly on the internet where all a viewer can go on is photographs.

3. Inspiration Where do your ideas come from? What inspires you? Those stories build a strong bridge between you and your artwork.

4. Make a Difference How does your business relate to the wider world? Are your materials environmentally friendly? Does it support others in your area or even people in a faraway community? People are more likely to buy when they know they're also supporting something good. The upcycling artists at Blackwater Folk Art, for example, help ''provide livelihoods for a number of local families that salvage old warehouses, barns, and dilapidated buildings in order to provide us with the recycled metal we use to craft our goods.''

5. Partnerships With the rising popularity of handmade objects, many gift stores are looking to partner with artists and feature their works in their stores. Consider partnering with a local store. First, identify their brand, types of products, target audience, etc. Then show how your products can reflect that brand. Remember that while stores might be interested in partnering with local artists, you still need to sell the idea of why they should work specifically with you.

6. Growth of Online Sales If you aren't yet selling online, ask yourself why. If you think your target audience doesn't shop online, think again. Everyone from millennials to aging baby boomers now buy off the Internet in large numbers.
Protect Youself!
  • Antivirus Software like Norton, McAfee, Webroot and Avira scan files for malicious code.
  • Firewalls help keep hackers from getting into networks. Both Mac and Windows devices come with firewalls for free, but make sure they're turned on.
  • WiFi Security. If you have WiFi, you need to set a strong password.
  • Downloads. Never download a file from a website that you didn't explicitly request. Be suspicious of anything with an unfamiliar extension or which has a nonsense name. Beware of files with the extension .exe, as those execute code. Some are completely legit, such as when you are updating software, so be aware of where it's coming from. Never download a file from an unfamiliar sender.
  • Keep Browsers and Plugins Up-to-Date. Software companies constantly duel with hackers. While hackers are figuring out how to exploit new code, the software engineers are creating updates to patch holes hackers expose. Regularly installing updates gives your computer the best protection.
  • Pay attention to Email Addresses. A common phishing scheme is to pose as a legitimate company and request personal information for any number of reasons. Make sure the email address matches who they claim to be. No one at Amazon is going to be using a Gmail account and if the email address is random letters, just toss it in the trash.
  • Passwords. Passwords are an annoying but essential part of the 21st century. Make your passwords include a combination of uppercase, lowercase, numbers and symbols, and change it regularly.
  • Education. Your network is only as secure as its weakest link. Put a security policy in place, talk to your employees about it and make sure it's enforced. Most small business security breaches are caused by someone inside the company giving away sensitive information or downloading infected files.
If you're concerned about the complexity of an e-commerce solution, take a good look at what's now available. The online marketplace Etsy has been popular in the past, but a considerable number of competing sites have more recently developed including Aftcra, ArtFire, Bonanza, Storenvy, and Zibbet. All you need to do is upload photos and input product information. Visitors type in what they're looking for and the best matches are returned.

There are plenty of options if you want your online store to be a stand-alone site. WordPress is the most popular content management software (CMS) out there, and it offers e-commerce plugins such as WooCommerce, as do many competitors. CMS makes it easy for people without a lot of Internet savvy to create attractive and well-functioning websites. In addition, platforms such as Shopify are dedicated entirely to creating e-commerce sites.

7. Sophisticated Cybercrime Unfortunately, as online technology evolves, so do those who aim to exploit. Big companies have sophisticated IT departments and top-notch security to ward off incursion. The result is that more and more cybercriminals are targeting small businesses.

The results of cyber-attacks are numerous and varied. A common use for stolen information is identity theft, which is just as much a threat to a business as it is to a person. If they get hold of credit card or debit card numbers, they can quickly rack up some very high bills. Here's more bad news: some of the laws that protect individuals from this sort of fraud do not protect businesses.

8. Love of Upcycled Art The popularity of upcycled art has been steadily increasing over the last several years, and 2016 will be no different in that regard.

Upcycling appeals to our growing concern for the environment. It takes old, broken things that would otherwise go into landfills and gives them new meaning and purpose. Buyers feel they are contributing to something positive by supporting an environmentally conscious artist.

The upcycling trend is also part of the anti-consumerism culture that is drawing people to handmade businesses in general. The modern world is full of promises of instant gratification, cheap goods, and disposable everything. Upcycling finds value in what society says is trash. It recognizes items have value above and beyond what it costs to replace them. Pam Mitchell at Blackwater Folk Art explains how her company came to focus on upcycling materials after a series of hurricanes struck: ''With those storms came an abundance of raw materials that absolutely cried out to be turned into something fun and creative.''

For some, the upcycled component is a raw material such as old wood which the artist shapes and paints or scrap metal that is beat into new forms. For others, the materials remain in their original manufactured state but are also crafted into something new, such as paintings on old fire alarm bells or saw blades. There's a significant market for all sorts of upcycled jewelry. Upcycled clothing is popular in certain circles, such as among steampunks. Mosaics can be constructed of broken glass and ceramics. There's no limit on what can make its way into a piece of upcycled artwork.

9. Take Time Keeping abreast of current trends is a vital component of any successful business. Consider what the most important aspects of your business are and pay particular attention to them, whether it is in magazines, online, or in the news. But also take the time to read up on small business issues in general. You probably already know the trends in your specific artistic field. You need to treat your business the same way, ensuring you're making the best use of available resources. Arming yourself with knowledge is the best way of encouraging the growth of your business in 2016 and beyond.
Watch Out for Cyber Dangers!
  • Phishers trick their victims into giving up sensitive information, including personal info and passwords. Phishing often comes in the form of an email--often urgent--claiming to be something it is not.
  • Viruses and malware. There's a variety of names for malicious code that gets into computers. Some of these programs gather information about you, while others just play havoc with your system. Some, known as ransomware, lock up your computer, then offers a program for purchase which will unlock it.
  • Hackers get into computer systems directly, where they can cause immense amounts of damage.

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