Friday, 4 July 2014

Jewellery - The Saturated Market

How many times have I seen that. Yet I persistently sell jewellery, I'm so stubborn.

Fact is, if that's what you make - then that's what you make. That's my first love, my passion, and it's what I know. It has served me well over the years, so how come I can sell jewellery?

I think that's the wrong question.

There are several skills required to make a living like this. I am not going to put these in any particular order, because the most important aspect is going to vary from situation to situation, but all of these matter to a greater or lesser extent.

1. Design ability. It may just be a knack, or maybe it can be taught, who can really say, but if you can't combine the elements of a piece of jewellery to make it pleasing to the eye, then you probably shouldn't be doing this. It's not as easy as it looks and you don't need me to tell you that there is some ugly stuff out there. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there's plenty or room for differing tastes, but ultimately either it looks good (at least to some) or it doesn't.

2. Salesmanship. I don't mean the hard sell. I mean having the confidence in your product, being enthusiastic about it, and conveying all of that to the customer. Your enthusiasm is contagious and even when you are selling online it comes across in well-chosen words, careful presentation, and your whole attitude when dealing with customers. With pre-sale customer service you shouldn't come across as pushy or desperate, but you should sound keen.

3. Organizational skills. It's no good making great stuff and convincing people to buy it if you are late shipping it out because you got "behind", or because you ran out of something, and it's definitely not going to help if you actually mess orders up. You need a well-run office, good workshop practices, and an efficient warehouse, even if all of this is one corner of your bedroom.

4. Buying skills. The biggest mistake you can make if trying to make jewellery as a business rather than a hobby, is in buying over-priced supplies, or cheap nasty ones. You have to find sources of quality supplies at reasonable prices. It's imperative. This may involve, at least sometimes, swallowing hard and buying a wholesale quantity from overseas. It will definitely involve a lot of research, and some trial and error. You will have to learn how to judge ( = guess) how much you'll need to keep in stock to stay on top of your orders, and how to get more fast if necessary.

5. Self-discipline/Hard Work. It's midnight and you're tired. You want to goof off and play a game instead. It's Sunday and you just want a day off, watch TV and veg out. Are you committed or not? I've lost count of the times people have said "but you can't make a real week's pay out of it" when they simply don't put in a full week's hours into it. If you want to earn the same from this gig as you would from working 40 hours in a shop, restaurant, office, or factory, then you have to actually work 40 hours at it. Possibly more, especially at first. If you only want to work part-time, expect part-time pay. If you get it right, the day will come when you can cut your hours. In the meantime, remember you don't have to go anywhere to do this, you don't need a babysitter, you can work in your PJ's, and multitask in a multitude of ways. All of that is worth a lot.

6. People skills. Sooner or later you're going to have a difficult customer. They may just be picky and time-consuming, or they may be complaining, either before or after the sale. I often run into people who say there is no such thing as a bad customer, but I find this rather naive. I have already written a post here about the Crazy Customer, and long before it gets to that, there are those who try your patience. No matter whether the customer is right or wrong, there is a professional way to deal with them.

So, in a saturated market you use the same skills as anywhere else, and aim to stand out. To be better, or at the very least to be different from the rest.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Etsy Sellers: What is SEO? How Do Tags Work?

It's not what you think.

SEO means Search Engine Optimization, and it is a complex and ever-changing process of choosing the wording on any web page to attempt to make it show up on search engines as close to the top as possible. For most purposes this means studying how Google works, and just when you've got the hang of it, they change it. Yep.

Not surprisingly, there are experts in the field. If you have your own independent website you'd do well to hang on their every word, and some of them offer advice for free in articles you can find.....on Google.

If you run a massive site like Etsy, then you probably (we hope) pay an SEO expert to help Etsy shops get close to the top on Google. As we do get hits from Google on our shops, we assume they are at least getting it partially right, but we have little control over the basic layout.

There are lots of little tips and tricks believed to help SEO when writing a description in an Etsy listing, which include avoiding repetition, avoiding the word "free" and so on, but there are so many rumours on the Etsy forums with regard to what to do and what not to do in a description for SEO purposes that if this critical to you, you really should join one of the SEO teams, so you can keep up.

What you must do with SEO is use words and phrases that help people find you. That sounds rather obvious, but a lot of errors are made, and opportunities missed.

The two places most people overlook are the Shop Title and Shop Announcement. If you use these for your name or a "Hello, and Welcome to my shop!" you just missed two golden opportunities to put important keywords on Google. So, if you sell handmade leather goods, then put that in those places. It really is that simple.

Another simple trick is to put a link in your description to other, related items in your shop. So, if you sell mittens, a link to a matching hat, and vice versa, gives you two links to your shop. Any link to any page in your shop from anywhere online scores you Brownie points in SEO (no, that's not what it's really called, before anyone asks) and is therefore A Very Good Idea.

Don't do this: B U T T O N S. Search engines will not pick that word up, and while we are looking at the fine details of how we type, punctuation is ignored too, so writing words in your title like this:

Blue/Green/Red Abstract Design a bad idea, unless somebody searches for a bluegreenred abstract design, in which case you'll be the first hit.

When it comes to titles, they should be descriptive. You know your painting is really entitled "Arcanasia" but nobody is searching for that, trust me. If all of your traffic comes from fans of your work, then there's no problem, but if you ever want to be found by people searching, your listing has to be searchable.

So, words that DESCRIBE what you are selling should pepper your page. Therefore, in the description you should begin with....a description. In plain language. What to write? Well let's do this the other way around.

Etsy offer you 13 tags. These are primarily used to find things within the Etsy search itself, but Google also sees them, so they matter. The biggest problem new sellers have is in understanding how tags work, so I'll spend some time on it, but first let me explain something.

When we talk about SEO, strictly speaking we are referring to outside search engines, such as Google. Etsy's own internal search is different in how it works, and this is based on relevancy. That is to say, it is set up in a way that is designed to find you what you are searching for, using precisely what you type in.

If you are looking for a "large green pillow", and you enter those words in the Etsy search, any shop that has "large green pillow" as a title AND a tag is likely to be your first hit, or at least on the first page. Obviously, if many stores have this in their titles and tags then other options will decide their placement (number of sales of said item, for example, popularity adds to relevancy), but this would be a good place to start.

However, you are only given 20 characters per tag (including spaces). So, if you are selling a "large green tablecloth", it won't fit. For this you would have "green tablecloth" as one tag, and "large tablecloth" as another and the search will blend them. It is a disadvantage, but everyone is in the same boat so it's not a disadvantage by competition.

So, let's pretend we are indeed selling a large green tablecloth. For a title you are allowed 140 characters, so to get the most out of that, it should be something like "Large Green Tablecloth, polyester, classic tone on tone floral print, fringed edges, 90 x 132 ins, fits 6 foot banquet tables, formal, show".

All of this information should be repeated in the description, in a more natural way, for example:

"This large green tablecloth is made from easy-care polyester, and has a classic tone-on-tone floral print. Finished with lightly fringed edges in the same shade. Sized generously at 90 x 132 inches, it will fit a standard 6 foot banquet table. Ideal for all formal occasions and also useful for shows."

Note how you leave spaces between all elements, including after commas or hyphens. Note also how you don't use " for inches as it will disappear on Google. But we didn't have enough characters left to write inches, so we opted for an abbreviation. To a US buyer 90 x 132 is obviously inches, but as the rest of the world is Metric, this distinction matters. Sizes given clearly (and more than once) prevent a lot of issues after the sale.

You can then go on to explain more, and enlarge on any of these details.

Then, your tags should repeat the salient points again:

"large tablecloth"
"green tablecloth"
"fringed tablecloth"
"classic tablecloth"
"fits banquet table"
"fits show table"
"90 x 132 inches"
"polyester tablecloth"
"green floral print"
"formal occasions"

At this point you may be wondering what other 3 tags to add. There's no point wasting them, and no point wasting any of your 20 character limit either, so don't use one short word. Most people put phrases rather than single words in search boxes. Think like a customer. What is she looking for?

She's hosting a prize ceremony, and the club have a green uniform. That's why she typed in green tablecloth. But what if she knows in advance that she doesn't want a busy print, and is looking for something plain? Your tone-on-tone tablecloth would work for her, she may even prefer it. So it's not wrong to offer:

"plain tablecloth"

She may be a little confused as to what to call it. All she knows is that it's a long thin table like those used at weddings, and she may search with that in mind. So always include:

"wedding tablecloth"

(Always offer a wedding or bridal tag for ANYTHING that might realistically be used for that purpose.)

One more to go, and you are scratching your head. Here's my #1 tip for choosing tags. Imagine you just saw this item on display in a shop window, you don't know what it's usual name is, you don't really know what it is, but you need to describe it. Just from the visual.

"long green cloth"

That covers multiple possibilities of purpose.

Some items are easier to describe than others. There are only so many ways to describe a blue candle. For this you'd offer several phrases referring to size, shape, and hue. But find something to fill your tags with, even if it's a bit of a stretch, such as "peace candle".

With other items you may feel you need more than 13 tags, and you have to choose. Use descriptive terms first, and save clever ideas about usage for whatever space you do have.

Etsy search subtracts and adds the letter s on the end of words, so there is no need to offer plurals as a separate tag, and many words with different spellings in the US and elsewhere are also automatically included so there is no need to use "colour" and "color". But you will need to use "handbag" AND "purse". If you are unsure of the common names of items in other countries (within your own language, Etsy does have a translator) this site may help, but remember there are also more unusual technical terms, and then there's Australian English.....

(You can find more of the same on Google)

Do check your spelling, in all parts of your listing, as misspelled words will be wasted. However if an item is frequently misspelled, to the point that you are very familiar with the error, you may wish to include the common error if you have a spare tag. An example would be "chaise lounge". If, like me, this error grates on your nerves, you'll just have to suck it up, or you could lose a sale. I have an issue with "tigers eye" without the apostrophe, but far too many people write it that way, and in any case Google search won't see the punctuation, and Etsy tags won't allow it.

One way to improve your tags is to see what successful shops selling similar items are using, and you can test your own tags. Try a search on Etsy that you feel applies to one of your items. If your listing is way back on page 13, you have a lot of work to do. Then, look on Page 1 at the first few listings that actually are similar to your item, and look at the tags being used. Obviously, you should consider using these.

It goes without saying that:

a) There is far more to it than this, and some trial and error is always involved, AND
b) Some aspects of how search works is a mystery to us all

But you can probably do better than you are right now. We all can.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

When You Are Almost Ready To Give Up On Photography

One of the hardest things to do when selling online is the photography. When it comes to jewellery it is an even greater challenge, and when you have a week of grey, rainy weather you feel like banging your head on the desk. If you have a $2000 camera this can all be overcome, but if you are working with less than perfect equipment AND bad lighting conditions it may seem hopeless. Fear not.

I was able to turn this:

Into this:

In just a few steps, using the free program GIMP, which works just like Photoshop.

There are websites that will give you that sought after white background automatically, but I find they often mess up the focus. I've never been really happy with the results. My camera offers white correction OR macro, but not both at once, it's automatic. It's frustrating, but this solves the problem.

Before I begin I'm going to show you a couple of other photos using the colour correction offered on my camera, using studio lights, and the "food" setting.

As you can see this is just as dark as the first image shown above, and it's far too blue.

This one, on the other hand has the colour "corrected" on the camera so now it's far too yellow.

As the studio lights and colour correction seem to cause more problems that they solve, and the image is no lighter, I prefer to use natural light from the window, even though it's dreary outside.

I take all photos at high resolution (3648) and then shrink the image down to 1024 for which I actually use Paint (included in Windows) because it's so easy to do on that, faster/easier than on GIMP. This gives me better results than taking them at 1024. By using this aspect ratio I don't have to do any cropping for Etsy. For eBay I use square photos so there's a bit more work involved, I'll come to that later.

The first step is to sharpen the image a bit if need be. The macro setting on my camera is excellent, and I have a steady hand, but when you are working at this level of close-up it can often benefit from a bit of sharpening. On GIMP this is under Filters>Enhance>Sharpen. You must take care not to overdo it.

Next comes that white background. For this go to Colours>Brightness - Contrast.

For this image I used 60 for Brightness and 50 for Contrast. It can vary a bit, sometimes it needs 70-60, sometimes only 50-40, but that's around the amount requires to get the white background and at the same time lighten up the whole image.

With silver items there's a final step at Colour>Hue-Saturation by moving the bottom (Saturation) scroll bar to the left to about -70, which removes any yellowness or odd coloured reflections.

Gold, copper, and bronze are more of a contrast to the background and are much easier. Here's the photo straight from the camera. Natural light from a window on a grey day, obviously far too dark.

So here's the edited version with 60-50 Brightness-Contrast and just a tad of sharpening. No colour correction required.

My background, if you're curious, is a white plastic banquet table. I've tried many different whites, and this seems to work best. It's not totally plain, as you can see, but the camera does not try to focus on it as can sometimes happen with fabric.

I'm quite sure there are people reading this who will be saying "I can do much better than that" and I absolutely agree. This is not perfect. But it's adquate, under the circumstances, and I think you'll agree it's a great improvement on the original.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Why Is My Stuff Not Selling?

This is an unusual blog for me, because I prefer to encourage people than criticize. The reason I am writing it is to answer a question that is asked repeatedly.

Let's be honest about it. All things are not equal. There are certain advantages in this world and some have them and some don't. No matter how unfair this is, it is a reality.

In order to sell hand-made goods, be it online or off, you need 3 skills:

1. A creative ability.

2. Business skills.

3. Work ethic.

And you also need luck. We can't do much about luck. If you want to try and improve your luck, with positive thinking, superstition, prayer, or whatever, then go for it. Can't hurt. But I will be concentrating on practical measures.

I have written several posts on this blog offering advice and help, today I turn to the negative. It has to be done. People often ask:

"Why Is My Stuff Not Selling?"

Here are the possible reasons. In no particular order. But the more of these that are happening, the harder it will be to sell.

1. Prices too high. As I have explained elsewhere, there is a difference between a fair price and an excessive price. If you spend 40 hours knitting a sweater, I would not expect you to sell it for less than $400. That is a fair price. Nevertheless, most people do not have $400 to spend on a sweater. In order to sell $400 sweaters you need a high end market, patience, and the finest quality photos, marketing, and exposure going. It's not impossible, but it's not going to be easy.

Of course, if you are selling hair bows at $40 you are not likely to sell those either. Because everyone knows how long it takes to make, and what the cost of the materials are, this is simply overpriced. Again, there probably is a market for it somewhere (Beverley Hills, perhaps) but this will not be an easy sell.

2. Too much choice. Talking of hair bows, there is something called saturation of a market. As far as I can tell, every second crafter is currently offering hair bows. If a person wishes to buy a hair bow they have so many choices, at all price points, ergo you are going to find it harder to sell them. Yes, they are currently popular, but the supply has increased to meet the demand, which is what always happens. Making an incredibly popular item is no quick route to success when the competition is enormous. You would need to compete on something else, such as price. Of course if you occupy the first place in a Google search, that would help too.

3. Too little choice. If you offer 5 items, even if they are amazing items, and everything else is great, you will have a hard time selling, because you will not be found. See my other posts on the math of being found.

4. Photography. This is my weakest aspect. KNOW your weak point. If your photos aren't very good, then everything else has to be ultra fantastic to make up for it. I struggle and agonize over photography, and I know I need to do better. However, daily I see far, far worse. Dark, blurry, cluttered photos. They look unprofessional and and I'm certain they put people off. If you are selling things visually (it's not music, perfume, or food) then it must look the best it can. People have short attention spans, you have to grab them visually.

5. Shipping costs. Just last week I bought two Christmas gifts. They were the same size and both came from local sellers. They were bought on the same day, and arrived in the same post. But the shipping costs for one were double that of the other. Because it was what I wanted, I just sucked it up, but who will I go back to for purchases in future?

The reason one was cheaper is that there is always more than one option with shipping. In this instance one seller had chosen the cheapest option, the other had chosen a more expensive option. Only they know why, but it will put off customers.

6. Policies. I often see "Not responsible for damage or loss in the mail." Actually, yes you are. No matter what you claim. Your customer has paid for you to ship their purchase to them, and it is 100% your responsibility to get it there safely. Just because you contract that out to a postal service changes nothing. They are acting on your behalf. I would never buy from a seller who has this policy, and trust me, I'm not alone.

Similarly "No returns" will put people off, and it's meaningless. If a customer wins a claim through Paypal, or a chargeback through a credit card, the refund will be given, and you will have no say in the matter. So why not simply tell customers to contact you with any problem, so that you can handle it yourself?

7. SEO. For online sellers Search Engine Optimization is critical, obviously. This is not easy. It means keeping up to date constantly on how the search engines are working, and tweaking titles, descriptions, and metatags where available. It's a lot of work and can be quite a headache. But if you don't do it right, nobody will find you. There are experts in the field who have entire sites and regular blogs dedicated to just this. Above all think like a buyer. What words would you use to describe what you are looking for? If your titles and metatags are not the terms that buyers are using to search, they won't find you.

8. Other Marketing. If you sell an obscure item that relies on impulse sales, or indeed anything that is unlikely to be found by a search (abstract art, for example), then you cannot just sit and wait. Using social media for marketing is a recognized tool these days. Target advertising maybe worth the cost for some sellers. No, it's not easy, but not making the effort is equivalent to hiding. If you sit back and just wait for people to find you, chances are, they won't. This is not a get rich quick scheme. If you want a 40 hour week wage out of it, you have to put 40 hours a week into it, and probably more at first.

9. Customer service. It should be obvious, but fast, polite, helpful responses to queries is imperative. There are sellers on eBay who don't accept messages, at all. Yes, they can be time consuming, frustrating, repetitive, and more, but they are business enquiries. Simply put you have to treat your customers the way you want to be treated, and if you are slow, or unprofessional it will impact your business.

10. Uniqueness. Let's be quite frank. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Everything sells eventually. But it is possible that what you are offering is a niche product. A limited market. A minority taste. It is also possible that nobody has ever told you this, because they don't want to offend you. There is a weird attitude in craft circles that it's wrong to critique the work of others, that it is unkind. Look at all the work that went into it?

OK. I have deliberately made an ugly pair of earrings. Here they are:

This is also a deliberately bad photo (it's actually scanned) but I've seen far worse. At least it's in focus.

Somebody, somewhere would buy this, if the price was right. In fact, if the photography was optimum, the location was right, and especially if it had a famous designer name next to it, these could sell for $40. That's just how it is. Yet every day of the week I see people trying to sell the equivalent of this and then wondering why nobody buys it. There are some things which just aren't appealing, and that's the cold, hard truth.

To sum up, if you have a good product, that is easy to find, presented well, with a fair price (including the shipping), and you offer a friendly service, you will sell. It's not a get rich quick scheme, but with patience and work you can succeed.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Metal in Jewellery

I promised yesterday that I'd go into a bit more detail. This won't be too advanced, so don't worry, but I do ask you to just have a quick look at this, a chart you may remember from school.

You can click on it for a better look, but briefly, all the orange and light blue squares are metals, as are some of the others. There are a LOT of metals, in fact most elements that occur naturally are metals.

But for the sake of this article we don't need to worry about many of them. They simply are not used in the jewellery industry, or so rarely that you are unlikely to come across them.

When people think of jewellery they usually think of two groups. The first is precious metals (silver, gold, platinum, rhodium, and palladium). They are precious because they are rare, and consequently expensive. Wars have been fought over silver and gold, and many lives lost.

Gold stays shiny and bright without tarnish for centuries (forever, pretty much), and it was this property that first attracted us to it. Silver, on the other hand, tarnishes quickly and is less valuable but still extremely important and desirable.

Beginning way back, jewellery has also been made from other metals often known as base metals; this is our second group. These include copper, iron, and tin. The term "base metal" is a bit of a misnomer as it properly only refers to metals that react with hydrochloric acid, but it's used informally to describe the common metals that are not precious.

Early in human history we discovered that two or more metals can be mixed together to create alloys that have the best properties of each. You may have heard of the Bronze Age......

Bronze was initially made from copper and arsenic, and subsequently copper and tin, and was a revolution, being harder than either of them and incredibly useful for just about everything. Weapons, jewellery, and some of the earliest construction hardware were made from bronze, and when it was discovered that it stood up to saltwater, it was guaranteed a place in our seafaring world long after iron and steel had replaced it for other uses.

Today bronze often includes silicon or aluminum, and other mixtures such as copper and zinc have been used for a long time. Indeed many other metals, sometimes more than one, have been added to copper to create bronze. It's therefore not a strict recipe. This is important to understand, because questions such as "What is bronze made from" really have no single answer.

Which brings me to today's costume jewellery alloys. The debate still rages over these, despite many reassurances from manufacturers that toxic metals are not included and I've dealt with that separately in an earlier blog. Some of the fuss is pure snobbery. Silversmiths look down their noses at costume jewellery, especially if it's mass produced. I believe if you like a thing, you like it, and everything has its place.

The simple fact is, the superiority of a metal is relative to its purpose. For an heirloom piece it makes sense to use a precious metal. For everyday fashion jewellery it does not. Many of the modern alloys retain their looks without cleaning, and busy people do not want to be forever attending to the oxidization of their jewellery. If you want a valuable item, that you can resell later if need be, then certainly, buy gold. But if you just want something you can discard at whim as the fashion changes or you bore of it, it makes absolutely no sense to spend large amounts.

A greater concern, surely, is allergies. It is the inclusion of nickel that is the usual problem. While it is still widely used, public demand seems to be affecting that quite powerfully. Some countries even restrict the use of nickel. Manufacturers in the Far East really have no choice but to follow this demand if they are to stay in business, so increasingly nickel is found less and less in jewellery, restricted to the cheapest end of the market.

So what is your costume or fashion jewellery made from?

There are several types. Very light jewllery is often made from aluminum, or an aluminum alloy (with silicon, etc). Although there is talk of world shortage, and consequently it's not as cheap as it once was, there is plenty of it on the market. Aluminum is very easy to colour by anodizing and it doesn't tarnish. We have tested anodized aluminum inadvertantly by losing it under a pile of snow for months. It didn't change at all. If you want a real carefree material, this is your first choice.

However, this light weight can put some people off. The look and feel of the heavier alloys is desirable and this is the reason that plated metals are so popular.

It surprises many people that many components of plated costume jewellery are often iron, with a reasonably thick plating of a more resiliant alloy, or a light plating of silver, or sometimes even gold. It's not hard to discover which pieces have iron at the centre as they are magnetic. If the plating is good, these are perfectly serviceable for some time, and vintage pieces are easily found on the market dating back many decades.

Slightly upscale the central core could be brass. I've had many people tell me their bass based components are finer as they are not magnetic, as if iron is somehow a "poor" metal to use, but just as the rust can break through the best plating if an item is allowed to get damp, green corrosion can occur on brass based items under damp conditions just as quickly. The answer is to keep it dry.

Brass itself is similar to bronze, but is usually a mixture of copper and zinc. There is a lot of overlap here though, and the distinction between bronze and brass can be arguable.

For that reason modern bronze jewellery is often "actually" brass, but with other additives to enrich the colour, so it's really strictly neither one nor the other. As I stated earlier there is a lot of variation in alloys, both in composition and ratio, and it's hard to pin definitions down.

The most popular alloys on the market today are the zinc based, antique silver coloured pieces known frequently as Tibetan silver or "silvertone". Once upon a time there was a silver alloy made in Tibet, and there still is, in very small amounts. The vast majority of Tibetan silver on the market today contains little or no actual silver (except sometimes as a plating) and the name is simply a convenient trade description.

Zinc and what then? This varies a lot. Like pewter, which is very similar, it can have a number of ingredients, and one of them was typically lead. Due to public demand this has been removed from the recipe by most manufacturers. Copper is less common these days as prices rise, although the weight of many pieces makes its presence felt, and increasingly nickel is being replaced by iron, to prevent allergic reaction. Therefore your magnet test may well pick these up. But there is no hard and fast rule, and most observers believe the metals used are at least partially decided by price and availibility.

The benefits of these modern alloys are obvious. They are both inexpensive and easy-care. So long as you don't store them in damp conditions they will last for decades, even long after you lose interest in them. If the design is timeless they can become favourites just as easily as expensive pieces. I have been making costume jewellery since 1991, and pieces my friends had at that time are still being enjoyed. This isn't throwaway jewellery.

There is a tremendous difference between the quality of mass produced fashion jewellery, and carefully hand-made costume jewellery. In fact, I may be accused of bias, but I would go so far as to say that the care and attention to detail in small scale production costume jewellery makes it superior than mass produced mall jeweller "fine" jewellery. Quite apart from anything else, the uniqueness of the piece beats "everybody has one" of the mall jewellers' sterling trinkets, hands down.

I'll just touch briefly on two other metals you may come across, titanium and niobium. These have become extremely popular in recent years for their zero allergy reputation, and the effect anodizing has on them. An electric current will change the surface colour depending on voltage. Titanium has spectacular, bright, almost garish colours, while niobium is more subtle. Neither will tarnish and consequently they are increasingly being thought of as an alternative to precious metals.

Stainless steel and surgical steel are often considered good choices, for appearance and durability, but they are very hard to cut, which is part of the reason for higher prices. Still, they have nice bright finish, which like the other alloys, requires little attention.

Finally, tungsten carbide (not an alloy, but a chemical compound, only the tungsten being metal) has taken the market by storm for it's hardness and durability, which surpasses that of gold. The downside being, if it is broken, it's not repairable.

When you choose a metal the important things to consider are:

How often will I wear this?
How much do I want to spend?
What "look" am I aiming for?

The three often have to be juggled a bit.

You know my mantra by now...jewellery is to be enjoyed. Its value is in its appearance. Although we have spot prices on gold these days, it is not truly worth anything unless people want it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That's you. Buy what you LIKE.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Giving Jewellery As A Gift

It's that time of year, and whether you were planning on buying from me, another small business, a cheapy import from the Far East, or an over-priced shop in the mall, or even making it yourself, the same question arises, what would she like?

Sometimes it's really hard. I've been making jewellery for over 20 years now, and I am no closer to reading minds than I was before I began. Tastes vary.

Not only that, people change. What was eagerly received ten years ago might not be now. Fashions change, obviously, but people are just at a different stage in their life. The student who loved hippy beads is now a businesswoman and would prefer something more classic.

So where do you start?

First things first. There are two fundamental things you need to know before anything else:

Is she allergic to any base metals? You may be able to tell simply because she never wears any. This doesn't mean you are restricted to silver and gold, read on.

Does she have pierced ears? If so are they regular piercings? There is no point buying standard 20 or 22 gauge wires if she has stretched holes.

If she has no piercings, don't just assume you can buy clip-on earrings as many women find them uncomfortable.

So far so good. Most women with no allergies and pierced ears like jewellery.

Let's consider a few guidelines here.

Is she conservative in her overall look?

If so, you will not go far wrong with a string of semi-precious gemstone beads, not too large.

Oval beads around 15mm in length, alone or in combination with other, smaller beads, are extremely useful as well as attractive, and will work for business clothing as well as more casual.

Is she a very girly girl?

Then buy crystals, and stick to pastel colours.

Is she artistic herself?

Don't be afraid to choose for her, in fact she'll probably value funky choices even more than the average person. And she'll definitely prefer handmade.

Is her appearance important in her job?

Then buy a matching set rather than random items, to help her with her "put together" look.

Is she very fashion conscious, keeping up with all trends - and you are not?

Don't worry. Sellers do keep up with trends. If you buy from anyone's most prominent position, it will be a popular item.

Does she already have a lot of jewellery?

That means she likes it.

Does she work with her hands?

In general avoid bracelets and rings.

Does she work with children or animals?

In general avoid very long necklaces, or very dangly earrings.

What about older people?

Even old ladies in nursing homes still like to look pretty. Get her something with an easy clasp for old hands.

What about colours?

When in doubt buy for the season. Sparkly cheers up Winter and works for holiday parties etc. Once Spring comes around people are looking for fresh, natural colours. Come Summer they want a bit more colour, possibly even tropical colours if their personality is fairly extrovert. As summer ends, earthy and Fall colours appeal.

Should I choose her birthstone?

It usually goes down well, but she may already have enough. Try that colour in other materials or the same stone in less obvious ways, such as rough tumbled beads on a bracelet, rather than the usual cut stone.

I know her favourite colour, that's safe isn't it?

Fairly but not certain. There are many shades of blue, for example and a lover of turquoise may not necessarly be into cobalt. Unless the favourite shade is known, that's an easy rabbit hole to fall down. Consider style first.

What do you mean by style?

Let's consider several girls.

Susan wears jeans and t-shirts a lot, works with horses, like to cycle, and usually keeps her hair tied back. You know she likes jewellery, but she seems to be quite understated with it, to avoid fuss.

She will probably be thrilled to bits with a simple necklace, a gemstone or other pendant, on a light chain, which can just dress her up without a lot of effort. Go for unusual and interesting without being outrageous.

Karla works in an office and has a very busy life. She doesn't have time to mess around with matching things.
Buy her neutrals, pearl beads, or clear crystals, fairly classic and simple, and make sure the clasps are easy to do.

Helen has a hectic social life and is out several nights a week. Bit of a party girl. Buy her bright, bold colours that make a statement. Watch what celebrities are wearing, but don't copy it slavishly.

Linda is a redhead. Buy her denim blue or sage green jewellery.

Gina has been having hard times for a while. She can't afford to dress up or go out. A pretty bracelet will make her day, and she can enjoy it anywhere. Any woman who is short on jewellery will value it, but she may be afraid to wear expensive looking items as it will highlight old/worn/cheap clothing. Stick to casual, fun styles.

Your sister. She's a pain to chose anything for. She's very fussy and seems to change her mind a lot. Buy her the classic "two round gemstone beads on a wire" earrings. They look good on anyone, in any situation, and often become favourites. Make a note of the colours of clothes she wears.

If she likes blue, buy lapis, blue goldstone or turquoise.
If she like pink buy rose quartz.
If she likes purple buy amethyst.
If she likes neutrals buy tiger's eye or jasper.

If in doubt buy black onyx.

Your mother. She already has boxes of jewellery she never wears.

Go with personal. Find something with her initial on it, or something which will trigger happy memories. If you once had a fantastic holiday at the sea together, buy her seashell earrings and remind her of those days.

Your daughter. Impossible. She buys new things and tires of them quickly.

Buy something of medium value (sterling silver, gemstones) and include a sincere note. She'll wear it forever.

Your best friend. You know her tastes, but what would be different? Try chainmail. It comes in all colours and there really is something for anything there.

I mentioned earlier about metals. In my next blog I'm going to go into great detail about this, but meantime I just want to remind everyone to think outside the box. Jewellery can be metal free. Consider leather, hemp, silk, and cotton. They need a bit of care not to get dirty, but these are perfectly acceptable as jewellery.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Difference Between Over-Priced and Expensive

This is a topic that crops up time and time again, and it cropped up twice this morning, so I am going to waffle on a bit about it, because it seems so obvious to me, but maybe it isn't always. Maybe I've just been around so long.............

When you sell anything you have to decide on a price. There are many ways to do this, including "formulas" created by experts that some people like to adhere to. The simplest way to decide on a price is to look at your competitors and see what they are charging. You can then go with a similar price, or undercut them if you are so inclined.

In hand-made goods, there is a school of thought that under-pricing is a big problem, it's sort of "letting the side down" because it makes customers expect everyone else to lower their prices. I've seen a lot of complaints about that, and I have been directly accused of it.

It is certainly possible to undervalue the worth of an item, particularly with regards to your time. I am a very experienced buyer, so I may possibly simply be getting my raw materials for less than my critics, and that really is their problem, and not mine, but charging for your time is a matter of some debate.

Consider, for a moment a person who sells knitted goods. I would never do that. I am a good knitter, and fast, but I like to earn more than minimum wage, and this would require prices for my finished knitted goods that most people could simply not afford. It really doesn't matter how much nicer a hand-knitted item is compared to a store-bought one, if it costs 5 times as much, few people would pay it.

People have budgets. It's as simple as that. If I were rich, sure, then I'd pay 5 times more. But I'm not rich, and I can't.

The jewellery I make is aimed at a demographic of people like me. I know what I would be willing to pay for something. I have a pretty average spending power for my age group and location, and as I make items for a living myself, a feel for the value of such work.

I am therefore able, I feel, to judge a fair price when I see one. If I see a pair of earrings, that I know:

1) Cost under a dollar to buy the components, and
2) Took 5 minutes to make

And I see a price of $10+, then I judge it to be over-priced. My eyebrows go up. Even if I like it, I wouldn't buy it. I see plenty of it too.

If I see a pair of earrings that I know

1) Cost $20 for the components, and
2) Took an hour or more to make

And I see a price of $50, then I judge it to be a fair price, is still expensive.

Expensive does not mean over-priced. It just means I can't easily afford it, and ordinary people like me can't either. We may like it enough to treat ourselves, but it will be a big decision.

If I tell a seller their work is expensive, it's not a criticism, it's a reality check. Normal working people are not going to make impulse buys on items with high prices, NO MATTER HOW GOOD THE VALUE.

For this reason, if you sell high end items, sales will be slower.

You must accept this, and understand that the income on those higher priced items will be wonderful when it does happen. Just be patient.

If you sell 100 $5 items, or 5 $100 items, you have still made $500. It WILL take longer to get the $500 from the higher priced items, but you only have to do 5 transactions, so perhaps there's less work involved.

I decided long ago to stick to lower end items, to aim for many smaller purchases. This is a matter of choice, and only you can decide.

If you are wondering what the magic figure is, below which impulse buys occur, it is about $25, for jewellery. If you keep your prices below that, you will get regular, easy sales. Above that it will take more effort, and will happen less often.

It makes no difference that your $50 item is really worth (in your opinion) $75. It is a simple question of budgets. For this reason, lowering prices on high end items to a point where you are unhappy with them, is no solution. In all honesty there are only two ways forward - sell for a fair price, and be patient, or sell cheaper goods.

I'm going to give you some examples that I have seen recently.

1. A woven bead bracelet. The beads I know to be inexpensive. The work, however, I know to be very complex and time consuming. The price of $25 was an absolute steal. This was neither over-priced nor was it expensive. Not surprisingly this seller is doing very well.

2. A pair of very nice tiger's eye bead earrings. Because tiger's eye is a popular gemstone these are selling quite well, even with the $20 price-tag. However, tiger's eye is one of the cheapest semi-precious stones on the market, and the construction of a simple bead drop design takes just a few minutes. This is a smart seller using the customer's lack of knowledge on value to make a good profit. Everyone's happy.

3. Stunning hand-made glass pendants. The skill and work involved is amazing, and the price tag of $110 is therefore really quite fair. However this seller is becoming demoralized by lack of sales. It's such a shame, but it's wrong to say that customers don't value her work - they have bills to pay.

4. Two alloy charms hung on earwires and sold at $15.00 No sales. No surprise, and she doesn't deserve any. That's greed folks. Just like you get what you pay for, you get what you deserve!