Steven: '£110?! That's a lot of money!'
Me: 'Isn't that what you paid for your Luke 1977 jacket?'
Steven: 'Yeah, but that's a brand.'
Has anyone had a conversation like this, even with someone who can see the amount of time and effort that goes into making things? After completing my diatribe as to why a handmade jacket should cost more than a mass-produced one I've been giving this question a lot of thought: When you buy something, what is it that you are paying for?
Is it the craftsmanship? By and large, my experience of handmade goods is that they are of high quality. Properly priced handmade goods tend to be made by people who take themselves seriously and have confidence in their craftsmanship. We are not paid on the basis of how many items we can churn out in a shift as people in factories are (quantity over quality), we make and sell in low volumes so customer satisfaction is paramount (quality over quantity). If you are a small business with a quality issue, your sales base will shrink as you lose repeat customers and word-of-mouth sales.
Is it innovation and design? The handmade sector has a definite advantage over factory made in this respect. We offer small batch runs (or even One Of A Kind and custom orders) and we are more likely to change our designs often depending on available materials and 'creative vision'. I like the fact there are only five orange bird print coats in the world (in three different countries no less), my customers like that too.
Most simplistically, when you buy from big business you are paying for the 'brand' and this means the name, the image, the marketing strategy, the warehouses, the design team, the overseas production, etc. But on a more fundamental level, what you are actually buying is credibility. To a lot of people, a 'brand' equals validation; the fact it even exists lends itself credibility. It makes you think, 'For this to be a brand, people must buy their things. People buy their things because it has value. I will pay money for this (I might even pay a lot of money), because it is a brand and other people must do the same for it to exist.'
So what can you do if you want to be taken seriously? In short, do everything that a brand would do (at least superficially):
- Give your business a name, this is now your brand. Think about the connotations of your name-- would "Amanda's Handmade Baby Clothes" make potential customers think I was professional? If you're stuck, treat it like you're naming your rock band. Do they make any sense?! No, and you don't have to either.
- Get a web presence, or at least a dedicated email address with your company name in it. Buyers would like to be able to contact you at email@example.com much more than they would like to contact you at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you don't want to set up on your own, join a selling platform that will give you your own shop. I've found that sites specifically for handmade goods like Etsy or Folksy are better suited for me than Ebay. You are in a crafting community and your buyers expect (and appreciate) that they are handmade goods.
- Get labels on your products, you will immediately gain credibility. This is less expensive than you think (I buy sew-in name tapes), or you can even make your own with iron-on printer paper or a stamp and twill tape.
- Get a logo. Again, you don't need to do anything fancy. I just have my business name in a special font and bright colours. There are plenty of free font websites to have a play about with. Or, pay a very reasonable amount to a graphic designer. There are hundreds on Etsy alone who will make you logos, banners, avatars etc. and grant you instant professionalism.
- Don't underestimate the power of swing tags. Everything in a shop has one, your goods will look much more credible with them. It's subliminal. All you need is a hole punch and a bit of creativity. Hand tied ribbon or twine looks very pretty but a tagging gun is cheap, easy to use and very quick.
- If you're selling at a fair, get a sign. Or bunting. Anything that draws people in and announces your brand.
- Most importantly, get thick skin. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has heard someone say at a craft fair, 'I'm not paying that much for something handmade!' (Italics used to denote disdain). They are not your target buyers and never will be.
I'd love to know what other people's thoughts are about being taken seriously as a maker! Or any tips you might have as well :)