The Trouble with Sponsorships.

I have a crafty business that I am trying to grow, and one of the things you need to do in order to get customers is promote your business.  This can be a tricky task: Where do you promote?  How much do you want to spend?  Will more money yield more views?  Do you focus locally or online?

For many Etsy shops and bloggers, they turn to other bloggers and their sponsorship programs, where an ad on a popular blog may bring views and sales you may not get otherwise.  You are hoping by advertising on a blog that people who may not already know you will get to know you, thus branching out to a new audience.  This is also a tricky task.

Sponsorships can vary from free ad swaps to ads costing hundreds of dollars depending on the blogger.  In general, the bigger and more popular the blogger, the more money you will need to spend.  But in theory those bloggers have more readers and you will be reaching more people at a time.  So does it work?

For this past Christmas advertising season I decided to seek out a few blogs that I thought would be a good host for my products, some based on recommendations, some based on my following of them, all based on how responsive their readership seemed to their posts.  Of all the bloggers I contacted, only one declined and only one deal I made fell through, leaving me with a hole too late in the season to fill.  Plans were made, questions were answered and posts were posted.  The results?

Honestly, not much happened.  On the day that things were posted, there was some decent traffic to the shop, but nothing stellar.  If there was a giveaway, then there were some new follows.  But all in all, not one coupon code was used, not one sale was netted.  And that's the risk you take.  In talking to other shop friends who pay for blog sponsorships, the results are mainly the same.  The problem is, you never know who another person's audience is going to connect with.

(Let me be clear: this is not to say that these are bad people who didn't live up to their end of the deal.  It's not that at all.  I am not slamming the bloggers I worked with- they are amazingly nice people who opened up their blog to let me in and I'm happy to have chatted with them and worked with them, and I totally appreciate all their effort.  All I'm saying is it didn't work for me, and that happens.)

Here are some things I've noticed, and others have noticed:

Blogs advertising is dependent on the blogger herself.  One friend paid for a few months' advertising, only to have the blogger tell her sponsors she was taking a blogging break.  Another friend paid for a pricey sponsorship and wasn't promoted beyond the ad.  Another sent products to be reviewed and they never were, though the products were kept.  Several noticed that in the month they paid for advertising, the blog changed tracks and started down a different path.  It happens.  We're all human and we all have things going on in our lives.  For most people, blogging isn't the #1 priority, and that's okay, but it might mess with someone's advertising plans.  (This is why I no longer take on sponsorships- I wasn't consistent enough to be effective.)

So what can you do?  Honestly, I probably won't pay for blog ads anymore because it hasn't worked for me.  So many people I know skip over the sponsorship posts on blogs.  I do it, so why am I surprised that advertising didn't work?  Why would I think it would be different just because it my product?  I actually get the best feedback from people who show off my products naturally.  For example, I got two sales from an Instagram shout-out from a popular blogging friend who took a picture of herself wearing one of my scarves.  That was an amazing result from a very organic post.  This is to say I like connecting with people, and so I'm going to continue to try and focus on that, and not go a route that can seem forced.  If people like my products, they'll share and show them off, and that's the best thing I can ask for.

Have you had a similar experience?

The Act of Stealing.

This is a story about that one time I almost stole someone else's design from the Internet. 
It started with this image on Pinterest: 

I was enthralled by the clean lines, and I loved how each symbol related to a keyword.  The image was originally pinned for an idea for a tattoo, but I thought the symbols would be amazing as embroidered hoops, singular or in combination, as it certainly would be both interesting and unique.  I envisioned them to be a major seller, and within minutes had already developed a plan of attack in my head when I decided to go in search of the source, hoping the glyphs came from some ancient language and would therefore be usable, but naturally, the image was sourceless.  So were the other nine or ten pins of the same image that I clicked on, but thankfully one had a caption that sent me to Google and lo and behold, I found the source.  Eight Hour Day Design & Illustration features the work of Nathan Strandberg and Katie Kirk, creators of the glyphs shown above, and for a brief few minutes I almost stole their work.

It all happens so easily.  You see a striking image or idea posted out there on the Internet and think you can easily copy it, replicate it, or use it in some other creative way to make it your own.  That was my exact plan- take these symbols and turn them into something I could sell.  The problem is, these symbols are not universal (as are, say, the structure of the constellations)- they were completely developed by someone for a specific client, and I'm sure it took them a very long time to perfect their concept.  Using those glyphs in any capacity without permission is stealing their work, flat out.

When it came down to it, after searching multiple pins with no results and getting frustrated, I was ready to give up on trying to find the source, ready to just use the glyphs.  Use them now, explain later.  Except that felt wrong.  Really, really, wrong, because deep down, I knew that someone must have created them, and by using them I would be (really) knowingly stealing them.  I may have been able to sell some hoops but I would have felt guilty every time.

In the debate on "inspired" design, there are obviously exceptions to the rule: common processes, techniques, and materials that used again and again cannot entirely be considered original.  You can't stop a person or company from using the same fabric as you, or wrapping gemstones in the same way.  If I wanted to come up with my own glyphs to use, for example, I could do that.  It would be playing off their idea, but the actual symbols would be my own.  I would have been inspired by their idea but the actual work would be original, which is the basis of how most fonts are created.  There is, however, a huge difference in taking an idea and creating your own, and using something that someone else has created in entirety.

The moral of the story: always err on the side of caution.  Check, check, and recheck for sources.  Make sure that an idea does not come from someone else's hard work, unless you have express permission to use it.  When in doubt, or when something is sourceless, don't use it. Make your work as original as possible.  There is a fine line in design between an original idea and an inspired one.  You may play off a color scheme, a common phrase, or use a similar technique, but the heart of the idea should be your own.  Using something word for word, or in this case symbol for symbol, or even copying a signature design style is indeed stealing.  I would have felt horrible knowing I took someone's work for my own, and I would have been horrified if they found out.

Have you ever almost had this happen to you?  Do you check for sources, or has taking what you see become a common thing?

2014 Goals.

Happy New Year!

I am thrilled to welcome in a new year.  Even though I know it's really just another day, it's the classic fresh start, like a giant reset button.  I think it's great to take a good look at where you are and make a plan for where you'd like to end up.  It may not work out completely, but having a goal in mind at least gives you a starting point and may make you feel a little more accountable throughout the year.  Having looked back at 2013 yesterday, it's time to look ahead to the coming year and the things I would like to accomplish.  Unlike last year my list this year is mainly business-based.  I'm hoping to make more efficient use of my time and be able to grow the business this year.
1. Spend less time in front of the computer. (sub-goal: stop looking at gossip sites.)

This may seem completely counter-intuitive first goal given the fact that I am running an Internet-based business that, by definition, requires lots of computer time, but I find myself glancing at my computer every time I walk by it, or hanging around it looking at nonsense like People magazine online.  I would like to cut out a lot of the junk computer time this year.  I would like to make my online time more productive, possibly setting aside specific time in the day for emails and convos, for finding and ordering supplies, for listing items, and for writing blog posts.  Which leads me to item #2:

2.  Find a clear direction for this blog.

In my mind, I know exactly what I want this blog to be and how I want it to work.  I can envision the content and the beautiful photography and sleek design.  Putting it into action is a whole other thing.  The problem is I have never felt like this blog falls into any particular category, so I'm hoping to determine my purpose here and define some sort of theme and stick to it for the most part.  (That's really clear and decisive, right?)

3. Maintain the shop at over 100 items.

I have the hardest time keeping up the amount of inventory in the Milo and Molly shop.  It usually hovers between 50 ad 75 items, but I would like to beef up the amount of each of my products, to hopefully become more searchable, and just because I have so many ideas that I want to put bring to life.  So, I would not only like to get up to 100 items, I would like to keep it there.

4. Branch out locally.

This is a tough one for so many reasons.  First you have to find places that might want to sell your stuff.  Then you have to get them to sell your stuff.  (I am not an outgoing person.  Talking to people I don't know is scary and anxiety-inducing.  Talking about stuff I make is even harder- I'm sure it shouldn't be, but I have a really hard time explaining what I do, so I generally feel like I end up sounding like a bumbling idiot.)  You have to decide if you want to try to sell wholesale, or if you are okay consigning.  You might consider contacting local media outlets, you might look into your own retail space.  You might try to find local craft shows, which can be a crap shoot as to which will be the most successful for you.  This is exhausting for me to even think about.  But, I think it does help when people can actually look at what you're doing and can see and touch your product so this is something I want to start investing some time in.

5. Join a treasury team on Etsy.

I would love to see one of my items on the front page of Etsy.  I really, really would.  So I decided that this year would be a good one to join a treasury team.  Belonging to one of these teams helps get you into more treasuries and the more treasuries you are in, the better your chances of front page exposure are.  Now I just need to find the right team.  I actually tried applying to one of the very exclusive treasury teams on Etsy but got denied because my items were too similar to those of others on the team.  So I am sure that will be a process but I hope to find a good fit.  This works directly into the next goal:

6. Improve product photography (again).

This is a constant work in progress, and though I feel like I've already come a long way, there's always more that can be done.  Clearer, brighter shots, artfully styled, beckoning shoppers to click on them, or give them a favorite- that's my hope.


I have my work cut out for me, that's for sure, but I'm excited to see what the year holds.  What are your goals this year?