Tuesday, April 30

Some thoughts on twitter

Another rambling that may be helpful, may not! As always tweak to your own needs, disregard what you disagree with and have fun in your own way :)

Twitter is a fantastic meeting and melting point for the small business owner, you get to chat to like minded, network, find customers, find suppliers and get loads of advice all from merrily clicking away.  I only asked the other day how did small businesses cope without twitter? And genuinely meant it because I have met (on line and then in real life) some fantastic people.  So many of our newer sellers are because of it, I found a helpful solicitor when I needed one, someone to help me with some branding issues and so so many more that the list would be stupidly long.

Why does it work for us?  Because I use it - and that is the simplicity of it.  To get the most out of it you need to play with it, engage with people, chat, share and generally be visible.

Try to imagine you walk into a party where you vaguely know one or two but the rest are strangers, who are you drawn to? Who do you continue to chat with and meet later?  Is it the one that just says 'did you know I sold 3 cars yesterday, I can tell you all about it ...' and then drones on with tedious detail about the engine size etc etc all of which you have absolutely no interest in whatsoever.  Is it the person that every time you say something they've been there, done it better and got the T shirt? Or is it the person that says 'hello, don't think we've met before - how are you?' and then actually has a conversation and a giggle with you?

Hmm not exactly rocket science is it, and that's exactly what twitter is.  There's a mix of car sellers, T shirt wearers and chatters and you can follow or be any or all 3 of these types.  If you are the one who only ever says 'I just listed 3 items on etsy' you're not likely to gain that many followers, let's face it that's quite dull.  Likewise if someone you tweet with just says 'oh no, another disaster why did I bother' they tend to bring you down.  We all have moans, just like in real life but again we have enough misery of our own without hearing other people's all the time!

I try to work on a 1/3 basis of tweets - 1/3 is information such as 'we've just got our lastest offers going'; 1/3 sharing - re-tweeting people, or talking about someone else and 1/3 random drivel - usually about the stupidity of my cat to be honest, but it works for me.  Not saying I'm an expert but that balance seems to work for me and a basic rule of thumb it's probably a good starting point.

Dont't be frightened of it, and just remember that in exactly the same way you wouldn't announce to a room full of strangers about something really intimate and personal don't do it on twitter!  When you tweet, try to imagine that at the party everyone can hear exactly what you say for good and for bad.  So, thinking you're whispering to the woman next to you 'flip, does she really think she can wear that?' is heard by everyone, including the woman in the wrong outfit! 

Gradually, as you would in real life you start conversations with folk and find some utter gems of people that become friends.  I have twitter buddies around the world, and it's great to catch up with them, it's sort of like when you had pen pals at school and talk to people you've not met yet.  Equally I have met some trolls, and if in doubt block and report them - use your instinct about people, don't engage just report.  It's their choice what they put and not up to you to police them, but often if enough report a person they are suspended by twitter so use that facility if necessary.  Please don't say 'you all need to unfollow @bibble-twit' because all you do is give them exposure which is often what they wanted.

You are not obligated to follow anyone, but use your common sense.  Again, the party scenario - and also try and remember that just because you get annoyed by seeing stuff about for example Britain's Got Talent but love tennis there will be followers on your timeline going yuk tennis again.  We can have different interests so don't be rude about others, just go do something else or ignore them for an hour till it's finished!  As in real life your friends will do or like stuff that you just think is odd, they're still your friend just with a different take on things - exactly the same on twitter.

Hope that helps and have fun, Hippo x

Sunday, April 28

so you want to set up a shop?

We get asked quite often about setting up a craft shop, what advice would we give etc so figured it might be helpful to put a few things on the blog.  As always, not saying this is a foolproof plan or even that what we did would work for you but if nothing else it might get you thinking about what you need to consider - and most of all, good luck! If you don't try you never know what you might have achieved :)

Business plan - ok so this sounds a little formal when all you want to do is knit, natter and enjoy creating.  It doesn't have to be a formal document, but there does need to be some sort of plan.  Even if it's a really basic diagram of what you want to do, ideas of how to get there, what you will sell, who will help out and a rough idea of what you would like to see in 5 years.  Then get the most negative person you know to pick holes in it!! If you can answer and stomach being picked apart and still be determined with a sound idea chances are it will work.  If however you end up sobbing going 'but I just want a pretty shop' then you may to re-think some bits.  Start again, re-write it, go back to grumpy guts and stand your ground.  It may take a few goes, but believe me if you can get past grumpy guts you will have had to consider all the things that might not work and come up with a cunning plan to get round them.  We all need cunning plans to succeed.

Location - this is absolutely critical.  Easier said than done when rents etc are high these days, but would urge you to do some research.  Just because you walk past an empty shop and think 'that would be great as a craft cafe' consider why it's empty?  Did the previous tenant struggle with footfall, did they move, did they close because of ill health?  There are tons of reasons why people close up, just make sure it's not something that might affect you such as footfall.  Do not rush into long term contracts until you know it works - always go for short term where possible, or even blag a corner of someone else's shop till you figure out your stock and customers and know it's working.  Empty shops are often available to start ups for peanuts because they would rather something than nothing - be cheeky and ask! Be aware where your limit is, if you really can't afford it then walk away as there will be other opportunities.  Think of it like buying a house and what you would look for and then replace personal with customers' needs.  If most of your crafters are in a wheelchair a second floor shop is not going to work well.  Try to see venues as a customer not a business owner first.

Customers - without them you are pretty much sunk! Sorry to sound brutal but unless you do all your sales via the internet you are going to need customers.  Don't rely on all your friends and family who are so so supportive in your front room, they have lives too and unless it's something they want to buy or have the time chances are you probably won't see them much.  Again do some research, it doesn't need to be vastly high tech just sit on a bench near where you're thinking of opening up and ask yourself 'this person walking past, would they come to my shop?' If you're brave enough, take some flyers and stop and ask them.  You're going to need a skin like a rhino later so just bite the bullet and stop folk!  The worst they will say is no thank you, the best they will say is wow that's just what I was looking for, when do you open?

Time - the evil thief of creativity! There is going to be tons of work in the background when you are setting up and do you have the time to do it all? Can you go into partnership with people and share the workload?  If you have small people to collect from school you're not going to be able to open till 5 unless you get some help.  It's fun to help at the beginning when it's all new and full of possibilities but you will need the help in month 3 onwards when the slog kicks in.

Systems - sounds deathly dull but you're going to need them! Think about how you work best and play to your strengths.  Some are experts on excel some love pencils - doesn't matter, just make sure you know what's going on and can show this.  You will need some way of tracking people's stock, who they are and keep records because the tax man is going to want to talk to you later - and trust me they always find you!

Change - things change, constantly so accept and embrace it.  You have  a unique position in that you can change quickly, you can respond to customers and sellers easily - you are not a high street giant with a chain of command to work through.  Use this to your advantage, it's your massive plus point. What works for Martha next door may not work for you, but equally you will have several donut brain moments where you go 'ahh that needs to be done like this' so go with it.  Concentrate on the changes that keeps you going, if you are struggling to get customers in the door change your window display, change your marketing.  Try to be as self aware as possible, if you are great at the customer service concentrate on that first and get folk to help with the bits you struggle with.

Money - ahh the sordid topic of coin! Get as much for free as you can, including time.  Time is the biggest cost to any business, and not just paying people.  If you are doing one thing you can't do something else - work out if you were to pay yourself for a task where is that best spent? Back to working out your strengths and weaknesses, ask friends what they consider your best points. Always start with free, then barter, then pay for things.  Ask people if they can lend you display items - you'll be surprised what's lurking in garages and attics. We work on buttons, barter and borrow!  But, and this is quite critical - you do not want to look like a messy throw together, upcycle where possible by using pretty fabrics as covers for units that don't match or ribbon to hold up signage. Be gently critical and think 'would I walk in here? What is my eye drawn to?'  Again, if you're brave enough ask grumpy guts to pick holes and work on the things you can easily and cheaply first.  Things take time, don't expect it to look superb from day one.

Failure - be realistic, because it is sadly an option.  Apologies for sounding negative but once you accept this possibility somehow the risk seems so much smaller.  If the worst that happens is you tried but had to give the keys back then what could be the best? The best could be you working with your creative friends in an environment you love and making it work for and around you.

Instinct - don't be fooled, this is a massive asset to the small business - especially a creative one.  You will get a gut feel for people, customers, trends, what might work so use it.  And be yourself, always.  You have to sustain this, you have to drive it forward with your vision so pretending you love pink and dressing the shop in pink because you saw it in a magazine will not work unless you really do love pink.  Falsehood is quickly exposed, and you do not want to be considered false.  Kooky, ecclectic, slightly bonkers but lovely is all fine and to be honest partly expected but false never.

Above all, have fun! You chose to do this, you stuck your neck out so try to enjoy the bumpy ride and with tenacity, hard work and using your strengths you could be the next big thing!  Hope it helps, Hippo xx

Saturday, April 27


This is a collection of posts to showcase our amazing artists and crafters, apologies if your favourite isn't on here yet but got quite a few to go through! 

Friday, April 26

How and why we work the way we do!

It has come to my attention that it's not always easy to figure out what we're up to. Not in a horrid secretive way but because we don't really broadcast it that much.  We figured you would rather shop and trade somewhere with lovely things and fabulous makers rather than listen to my political beliefs all day!  So, if you don't do politics or mission statements look away now and coo over some of Silver Ether's bunting (which I have to admit is rather gorgeous).

Firstly - we aim to make a profit.  Profit in community ventures is not an evil thing, however what you do with that profit potentially is.  Any profit made goes straight back into the shop, events, or advertising for everyone.  Like me paying for a website to show off everyone, or getting new banners done to say 'craft fair here today' as they all cost and need paying for.  No one person ever profits from someone else's work or takes a wage.

This is a grass roots group - our main target group is the start up artist or crafter.  The ones that have made a few things for their friends who have said 'you ought to sell that' and thought err how do I do that?  We run low cost events so that everyone can have a go, and even if it doesn't work for them at least they got the chance to try. 

We intend to grow and stay around for a while - we know it's starting to work.  We get a lot of interest from other community groups such as WaveLength in Telford who asked us along to their event to show how disabled people might start working for themselves if that's their choice.

Choice - it's all about your choice.  We don't tell you how much to sell for, we don't tell you what to make or how.  That's down to the makers themselves - we have absolutely no right to challenge their creativity or desires, just as they don't have the right to tell me not to watch Emmerdale!

Makers - we don't really care about your background or what drives you to create.  We just like working with creative people who have a passion for what they do and want to improve and meet like minded.  We have a wide mix of self employed artists including artists who use it to top up pensions, crafters who use it to bolster self esteem after mental illness, crafters that need an extra income on top of disability benefits.  Your background is your story, if you choose to share it that's fine but we would never judge or discriminate.  Some of our most talented crafters have had a varied life journey with many bumps along the way, but they found us somehow and we love working with them.  Also, we don't believe in putting up signs saying this person is disabled - why would we? What does that achieve? The customer is looking for a present for Margaret's birthday, not a back story.

Support - one of the over-riding things coming back to us constantly is the support we offer.  So many of our crafters arrive with hugs and presents saying 'thank you for all your help'.  Truthfully we just see it as helping someone be the best they can be, and if tweaking branding or saying maybe that would be better in yellow helps then we will.  We don't have all the answers, but we certainly have a growing communuity that might!

Community - the Hippos are growing fast and solicitors are working with us to become a legal Community Interest Company which is where we ultimately want to be. We like the challenge we place on the High Street, we like the speed that we can change at because we are grass roots and a bunch of small makers.  We like the community spirit we're building which was brought home today from an event where the venue said 'we tried this before, but obviously having the right people running it makes it work - thank you'.

If you think you could get involved, or have something to share then get in touch - and as many of the crafters already know bribery with cake will always get you an excellent first hug! Hippo x

Wednesday, April 17

A basic guide for putting work in the shop

This is not meant as an exhaustive list, things change all the time so please don't take this as set in stone.  However, the principles that apply to us probably apply to other shops and galleries so it may be useful to use this as a starting point for other sites.

Do some research!
Where possible visit the shop/gallery beforehand.  Would you shop there? Can you see your work fitting in with what else is on offer? Do they already stock something similar to you? Which items are likely to be your biggest competition? Does their price range match your work?

As a general rule shops and galleries have lots to do in the background so just turning up with boxes of items with no prior warning will not get you the audience you would like.  Try to chat to the owners first, find out how they like to be approached - or, if at all. And once you know this, follow the guidelines they give you.  If they ask for 5 examples don't turn up with 20 - all  this says is you can't follow instructions and therefore puts in question your ability to work with us.

Be aware of your prices - most galleries and shops will want to know your trade price.  They then put a percentage mark up on to create the retail price.  If you have really strong views about your sale prices say so, but be aware that if the gallery doesn't agree they are under no obligation to stock your work.

Don't be offended if they say no - sadly we say no to more than we say yes to.  Mainly because we already stock similar work, it doesn't quite fit our audience or practical things like it would require specific display that we just don't have room for.  It's not personal though.  We are not saying we don't like you or your work is rubbish - we're just saying that at this time it doesn't fit in for a variety of reasons.  Ask us for feedback on why not - is it something that can be overcome in the future?  Also, please remember that sometimes our location restricts what will sell or won't sell.  We have seen the most amazing pieces that would work in an urban gallery setting but not with us - each shop/gallery knows their own audience and can usually signpost you to somewhere where the customer audience would be perfect for you.  We're not out to stop folk sellling - but need to ensure your work is sold in the most appropriate place for you.

Shops and galleries are in business - we need to know that the work we stock has a chance of selling because without sales none of us keep going so bear this in mind if you don't get the reaction you wanted.  Listen to the feedback, it's not criticism it's feedback - big difference and it's there to help you.  Sometimes we ask people to have a craft stall with us first because we're just not sure of public reaction.  This is not a no - this is a genuine we're not sure so want to test your work out first before stocking it.

Also, and this is important try to do some research on what people think of the shop from a trader and customer point of view.  If all the comments you see are 'what a lovely place to shop, so glad I found you' then chances are they will look after you too.  If all the comments are 'please can you reply to my complaint' chances are something's not quite right.  Use your instinct, you are about to leave work in the hands of strangers and trust that they sell it for you.  We have come across some horror stories in our time which is why we always try to be as open and honest as possible. 

Be clear on what you want out of the agreement - because it is an agreement between the shop and you.  You as the crafter have the right to say sorry I don't want to leave this with you as equally the shop have the right to say I like the blue ones but not the yellow ones.  Negotiation and communication are part of building a working relationship.

Visit the shop - everyone is busy, everyone has loads of demands on their time but just as you expect the shop to sell your work they expect some interaction in return too.  Don't just turn up when you want your sales money, try to keep in touch or just pop in to say hello.  We know from experience that the more folk pop in and check how things are going the more they get out of the arrangement.  They can see customer reaction to their work, see what sells well and what's struggling.  Also rotating and freshening your stock helps you and the shop.  A strong relationship really helps in the future too, especially to those bribing me with cake :)

Be clear on what promotion you expect and ask the questions, again this is an agreement between two parties and you as the crafter have the right to query things.  Without crafters we can't survive, without shops stocking work crafters would struggle - it's a two way process so remember that when you get all excited about being in your first shop then get home and think err I didn't ask whether they would actually put my stock out or just leave it in a cupboard?!

Tuesday, April 16

It's your first craft fair stall - don't panic!

This is not meant as an exhaustive list of things to do or not do, and those of you that are more experienced will probably chuckle at some of the things you forgot on your first outing!

Firstly - don't panic! Easier said than done when you are surrounded by fabulous stalls that seemed to take no effort, but everyone started somewhere.  Each crafter had their first stall somewhere - however slick and organised they may look today.

If you get chance go to an event, look around, talk to the stall holders.  We all borrow ideas - especially regarding display from each other but far nicer to say 'wow that looks really good, think I  may need to borrow that idea' because chances are you'll bump into each other later.

Look at stalls and think about it with your own stock in mind.  Do you need to show off smaller items, or would yours look better hung up? Do you need people to be able to try or taste work on offer? Also, don't forget we never stop learning new things so don't expect to get it exactly right first time out.  Expect to use each event to learn something new.

One of the things often overlooked is making sure people know what your work is for or does.  Might sound daft but if you sell chalk boards make sure one is hung up with a piece of chalk and something written on it - you have now explained the function without having to tell everyone! Plus if you are shy it saves you explaining each time.

Change - again might sound obvious but if all your items are rounded up to the nearest 50p do you really need lots of small change? Plus, make life simple for yourself - round sales figures up or down to make your cash handling simpler. 

Card readers - unless you already have one do not rush into a contract until you are sure it's worth it.  Sadly you might lose a few sales, but the costs are quite high until you know you can justify it.  Make sure you know where the nearest cash point is and offer to take a holding deposit while the customer goes to the cashpoint if necessary.

Tables, chairs etc - find out from the venue what is provided and what size.  Also, it is worth asking if you have access to wall space or back boards to hang work on.  Many venues don't but if they do then take full advantage to create your display.  If you have a bad back or need to be seated for any length of time I would always advise you bring your own chair to be sure you're comfortable.

Power - if you need power it's best to ask the organisers in advance.  Depending on the size of the venue this is often something they have little or no control over but if they know they can work with you.  Arriving with 20 minutes to set up demanding a power socket is not going to make you their favourite person!

Temperatures - might sound obvious but make sure you are warm enough! If a venue is likely to be cold take a piece of cardboard or old offcut of carpet to stand on to stop the cold striking up at you.  There is absolutely nothing worse than being cold while trying to be pleasant to customers.

Practice getting your stuff in the car - will your table, chair, 5 boxes, dog, child going to Nanny's actually all fit in?  Also, try and pack so that tables come out of the boot first to help you set up more easily (don't forget to take the child to Nanny's either).

Leaflets, business cards, flyers - it would be wise to print off some simple A5 leaflets that tell people who you are and where else they can buy from you with the details you want them to find such as your Folksy shop or facebook to contact you.

Layout - you will probably be stood behind your stall all day but have you looked at it through a customer's eyes?  Stand at the front, make sure you can see everything, is it priced up, can you reach things to look at them, does it look interesting?  Or, if you have a willing assistant set it up at home first and ask them to look objectively.  Mixing height is a good way of making a stall look interesting.  Concentrate on using your most attractive items to draw folk in, or maybe you have an unusual gimmick that draws conversation?  Anything that gets folk to stop, chat and engage is helpful.  Don't forget, you don't have to stand behind a table all day - you can often change layouts to make it a little different.

Talk to customers - craft fairs are a social outing for both you and the customer, they are usually really interested in how or why you make things so take the opportunity to share what you do.  Sitting down all day with your nose in a book will not gain you the highest sales of the day!  If you are able to actually demonstrate what you make then do it - people love to watch crafters at work, plus it proves that you really did make all the gorgeous things you have on display.

Share - make sure you take your details to share amongst the other stall holders and get their details too.  It's surprising how many times the same faces pop up so it's far nicer to be able to chat to them between events and possibly share ideas or suggestions.

Be realistic about what you expect from events - unless you are very lucky and have a loyal audience you are unlikely to make your fortune on your first outing.  Or, is it more realistic to use events to generate new business leads?  If you have food products be sensible about quantities and use by dates.  It is better to sell out of a smaller volume than have to take home 50 unsold cakes (however happy your 6 year old is with this idea!).

If there was something that was really bad make sure you tell the organisers - sometimes they are unaware of your issues and without being told they can't put it right for next time.

Above all - HAVE FUN!! You chose to do the event, you spent the time making your goods and you paid to be there.  There will always be good and bad events, grumpy and happy stall holder, organised and disorganised event organisers.  Trust your instinct, if you think it's not right for you then don't book.  There are many different events for different audiences and in time you will find where you best fit.

Hope this helps, and if you have other bits to add in please do so.  Hippo x