Photo Hacks Too: Lighting & Instagram Live

I have gotten a lot of messages since my knit date with my gal Megan from Peppermint Pine shop about the table top tripod set in my crochet bag that we used for her Instagram Live video. So I thought this would be a great time do an update on my Photo Hacks post. Yup this post has affiliate links. I get credit if you buy these items. Let's dive in!

Checking the light meter setting up for pics

First let's talk lighting. Natural light is your friend. It is correct, easy to edit and gives you accurate coloring. Oh.. and it is FREE! But let's be honest, it is not always available. For me, I have one perfect area in my house that has amazing light. But for only 2 hours a day. When the sun shifts or if there is cloud cover then my photo plans are tanked. And while you can do a lot in post with apps and edit, it is extremely helpful to have some options.

I have an advantage having been a Production Manager & concert lighting technician and my husband still working in the field. So I get some cool toys I admit. But still, you don't need insider trading for badass lighting hacks. Here are a few I am fond of and use myself. Just remember this one thing: simulating natural light is not actual natural light. When you can, use natural light. Always. ALWAYS.

I bought this light kit on amazon because it has a great storage case and lots of options. There are LOTS of light kits so buy what is best for you but one thing is that no matter what light kit you get... BUY NATURAL BULBS.

The next thing is a bounce card. This will help you get more length of time out of that perfectly lit area of your home or studio. Basically, a bounce card is going to reflect light into a shadowy area. You don't need to be a photography pro to use one and in fact, this will illuminate your products in ways beyond imagination.

Next up: that table top kit from my knit date. It is what I call my secret weapon because no matter where I am I can always get the right angle. The right perspective and even the right distance. These will be your secret weapon too.

And for the products themselves, these are my MUST HAVES that live in my little crochet on the go kit and I use them for almost anything. Just not website product shots lol. Perfect for on the floor when I need that right angle. On the table. For Facetime so I can knit and converse at once. Yup... these are the ones you saw in the IG Stories with Megan and for less than $20 I got all I needed.

First up is my Jellyfish Mount. I love this thing. It holds my phone, my husband's phone (he has an iPhone +) and is so versatile and small and portable.

Now for my table top tripod. There are tons on the market. But let's be honest - this has a specific function. It is not for primary product shoots. I want something that is portable, lightweight and frankly can fit in my needle and hook case to go where I go. I also don't want to break the bank. I also didn't want something so flimsy that I would spend even more money replacing it. I did some solid research and this was where I landed and I love it!

There are lots of products on the market and everyone will always have their preferences. I can only tell you that I have in fact spent some money and time and found these to be the best, and for less than $20 it is worth a shot!

So get out there, get in the light and get your pics.

The Business of Handmade - Part 1: A Primer To Start Your Business

I have been very fortunate to find my creative journey and do what I love every day. I am truly living my dream. It is always magical but isn't always easy. It is TONS of hard work, even MORE mistakes than you can imagine, and some days I would rather play with a pile of yarn than be a business owner and do paperwork (I really loathe paperwork). And the truth is, by my own standard, I am not really that successful. I have SO MUCH I want to do and eventually land with my very own yarn shop with a classroom in the front for people to learn and share fiber love and an after school yarn program for neighborhood kids. Ah... I have so far to go. But I will get there.

And, while I am by no means a business guru or authority, I love sharing my journey and what I learn because it feeds my own success as much as it helps others. I get a LOT of emails, messages, tweets and posts asking for help on how to start a crochet, knit or creative business or open an Etsy shop. It is incredibly humbling. But... The truth is that this is a very difficult question to answer. There is no easy, "hey do this and you will be a success" formula. Every creative business is different.

You have to determine your own goals and road map. Hopefully, with this series: The Business Of Handmade, I can help you do that. Over this series we will talk about:

A Primer To Start Your Business (this post)
What Kind Of Etsy Shop Is Right For YOU
Do You Want A Business or A Side Hustle
If You Don't Love It Don't Do It

So let's get started!

Like I said above, there is no quick cookie cutter formula that I can give you to say do this and you will be a success. Having said that, here are 5 steps I took that may work for you and help you get your path started.

1. Open an Etsy Shop
Though the bulk of my business has moved off of the platform, joining Etsy was the best decision I ever made. Truly. Etsy gave me a place to get started, test the waters, learn about internet marketing and online sales without the burden of developing a full eCommerce site. It is SO EASY to use and setting up my shop took a matter of hours. When you join Etsy, it is not a magic wand and poof you will have sales. It takes work. You can use this link to get started with an Etsy shop and get 40 free listings!  (disclaimer: if you use this link, I will also get free listings as part of the easy affiliate program)

The next post in this series will dive into WHAT kind of Etsy shop is right for you.  Here are my general Etsy Starter Tips:

Join the Etsy Success Team. This is a team headed up by Etsy Admin for the community to discuss, exchange and explore ways to succeed

Read the Etsy Seller Handbook & Etsy Blogs. They are a wealth of information. Take the info and apply it to your shop. Not everything will apply. Go in baby steps. Do what you can so you are not overwhelmed.

Learn SEO. You do not need to become an SEO behind the scenes wiz. But it would be in your best interest to take time and learn the basics. Etsy has wonderful blogs and teams about SEO and how to make it work for you.

Take great photos. You don't need an expensive camera or to hire a photographer to get started. I still use my iPhone and some great photo apps sometimes. Show all the angles (front, side view, back view, etc.) and remember: Most shoppers are visual. Make your photos appealing.

Give all the information that you can without too much fluff in your item descriptions. That's not really the place to show off your creative writing skills. Give the facts: size, measurements, materials, use or functionality, etc. Check out my photo hacks here.

Use ALL the Etsy features. Etsy offers some really great shop features (About, Profile, online presence links). Use them ALL. Take some time to really think about telling your shop story in the About section but then maybe a little more about you as a person in your profile. Use the links to social media. I cannot say it again, Etsy makes it so easy why not use these areas?

2. Build customer relationships.
Social Media is an amazing overwhelming thing. I get it. But it is essential to grow your business in modern times because it IS your storefront. There are lots of different approaches to social media. You will have to work to find what's best for you and your business. Personally, I have more than one social media account. Some I use specifically for business, some I use to engage with other crocheters and others in the fitness community and other areas of interest.

I also started a blog as a way to take customers behind the scenes in both my design and creation process. It is a fun way to interact and share the backstory. I also offer free patterns and special coupons and articles like this that may be of help to my blog readers. We will be launching an in depth Social Media Series in two weeks.

3. Find your market.
In addition to my Etsy pattern shop, I also sell my patterns and designs on Ravelry and Craftsy. That is where my audience is. So if you know where your target market is, go there and sell to them. And look for new places to find them.
 

4. Build your own online presence.
In addition to my Etsy shop, I have my own stand alone website. This allows me freedom of design, content and inventory variation and control. It took some time to find the right platform. For me, I have a shop with supadupa and one with squarespace. BOTH are fabulous and offer incredible customer support. I have nothing but good things to say about them. I have been with each since they launched. Read Toni of TL Yarn Crafts talk about why this is important here.

5. Try new things.
My biggest tip is that you have to try new things. Some will work. Some will fail in epic proportions. But that is the best way to learn what works for your business. I cannot tell you how many things didn't work. But finding out that something doesn't work is not always bad. It often leads to something brilliant that does work.

Track things you try. Don't just haphazardly throw things at the wall hoping something sticks. Be deliberate and consider what will get you where you want to go. If something doesn't work, take a beat. Look at WHY it didn't work. Maybe it was an ad that just needs some tweaking. Maybe it was an ad that needs art and photos. Maybe it was the wrong demographic. There is ALWAYS something to learn from failure.

Finding those lessons and takeaways is how you will also find success. This is number 5 on the list but probably the single most important tip I can impart to you. Failures and mistakes are ESSENTIAL for success.

So there it is. My five tips to get you and your road map to a successful handmade business off the ground. The one thing I didn't mention (because I assume if you are here you know this) is you have to do the work. You can't be lazy. It takes lots of work and long hours but the joy and fulfillment I have found and continue to find is immeasurable. I work weekends. I work late at night. I work early mornings. I work! But I would not trade a minute of it and could not imagine it any other way.

Customer Service & Handmade Business: 5 Things Every Small Business Owner Should Know and Do

CustomerPatternReview

The idea of taking our talents and passions to the next level and turning it into a business is incredibly exciting. The thought that people will want to actually PAY for what I / we create is one heck of a piece of awesome.  And the truth of it all is that happy customers spreading the word is what truly grows a small artisan business. Customer reviews matter!

But when we take that leap and find ourselves running a business it is essential that we take a beat and are prepared for some of the changes that will come. Sometimes talent isn't enough. Once we make the leap into a business it is essential to shift our mindset to be successful. Our art then becomes only part of the package. We must now center our focus on the customer experience.

This was a review from a customer who received the wrong item. The solution turned this customer experience into a win.

I recently had a horrible customer service experience with a small artisan business. Part of me was so frustrated as a customer I wanted to scream. It was in actuality one of the most horrible customer experiences I have ever had. But more importantly than that, part of me was sad & frustrated as a fellow artisan small business owner that this person and her business simply do not have the basics for a successful customer service program. And the worst part was that in the whole exchange she wasn't even open to feedback to see this.

In the case of my recent experience, this artisan was simply unprepared to handle an influx of business, meet delivery dates and couldn't deliver on promises she made. She lacked customer communication skills to solve problems. All of which are essential in customer service. Especially the communication.

This experience is what inspired me to want to do a Customer Service series and why I've invited a few of my favorite small business owners who I also think have exceptional customer service to share their perspective on winning customer service.

Over the series we will cover:
The Basics: 5 Things Every Small Business Owner Needs To Know
It's OK To Say No
Custom Orders & The Collaborative Experience
Turning Mistakes Into Rave Reviews

First up: Krista Cagle from the Yarn Mamas and the basics of what every small business needs to know and do.

Now, if you follow me on Social media then you know I am practically a walking billboard of advertisement for the Yarn Mamas gear. Yes, Krista curates and serves up top quality and fabulous offerings. Comfy cozy wear and coffee mugs that keep my creative vibes flowing. But way more than that, her customer service is beyond reproach if you ask me. Aside from products I love, it is the thing that keeps me coming back again and again. In an era where we have choices of where to spend our dollars, I prefer to spend mine with small businesses who put the customer experience first. Krista embodies that concept. I thought she would be the perfect person to kick this series off with the basics:

 
5 Things every Small Business Owner Should Know and Do

Customer service is an important part of every small business. Here are five of the top things that I have done to create a positive experience for my business and brand.

1. Ask for Help

My business YarnMamas is built under my franchise Rescued Paw Designs. When I first started I quickly realized how incredibly hard, time consuming and stressful it can be to run two small businesses simultaneously. I felt like I was being pulled in many directions and I knew that if I wanted to continue to bring the same quality product to my customers, something had to change. I learned an important lesson: Don’t try to run a small business all on your own, ask for help. Once I hired a Virtual Assistant I was able to focus more on the quality of my product, customer feedback and building designs, which improved my overall customer service satisfaction.

2. Engage Customers on Social Media

I make it a top priority to engage my customers on social media. It shows consumers that you care, that you’re listening, and that you want to be involved. When sharing others projects and posts you are creating a community around your brand.

 3. Respond Quickly to Questions

I make sure to respond quickly and promptly to customer questions and to always keep them informed of their orders. My customers are notified, via messenger & email, when their order is placed, shipped and delivered. This has helped tremendously with customer satisfaction. I also send a follow up email after the customer’s order has been delivered, asking for feedback. It is important to keep communication open between you and the customer. If there ever is a concern, I always make sure to rectify the issue so my customers will want to come back again.

4. Listen to Customers Ideas

I occasionally receive messages from my customers who are looking for a particular design or look. I always keep the feedback of my customers in mind when I’m designing my clothes. I want my customers to feel heard and also, I want to make my customers happy and coming back for more. So when running your small business, always brainstorm new ideas and listen to your customer ideas (they know what they want!).

5. Updated Email List

An easy, but important aspect to customer service is to keep up an updated email list of your customers. It’s as simple as putting an email signup form on your website (I use hello bar) or an opt in button on your checkout page asking if they would like to receive marketing. I use this email list to send important updates, new designs alerts and as a way to keep past/potential customers engaged in my business. People lead very busy lives and it’s important to keep customers interested and informed about your business so they keep coming back.

I LOVE Krista's approach to the basics. It is those fundamentals that have set her new business on track to soar. What is your Customer Service approach? Share in the comments below.

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Five Product Photography Hacks For A Homemade Studio

Whether it is for your website, promotional materials or to post on social media, product photography is crucial for success.

But what if you are not a pro photographer with full light kit and studio? Here are five tips, tricks and hacks to help you DIY yourself into better product shots.



Tip 1: Change Your Scene
You can order very inexpensive backdrops from Amazon. I got the Elle Bella Paper Backdrops shown here for $10 each! Then just tape it to the wall that gets the best light and boom: you have a studio.

Or, if you are so inclined you can go the extra mile and order a set of stands to hang the backdrop from. I got this Limo Studio set shown here for $35 on Amazon.

Tip 2: Clean Light Box DIY
If you have smaller products and want that clean white lightbox look, hit up your local craft shop and get 2 pieces of poster board. I got the pieces here for a total of $3 at my local Hobby Lobby.

 

Tip 3: Steady As You Go
Even if you are using your phone, as I personally do about 50% of the time, invest in a tripod. I got the one here for $25 from Amazon and spent another $10 on the Jelly Fish Spring Mount for when I use my iPhone.

Tip 4:  DIY Floor & Backdrop Board
The truth is, sometimes it is just better to go with the classics and drop your product on the floor in a well lit room and shoot overhead. But what if your home rocks a 1970's avocado shag carpet? No prob!

Get yourself one of the $10 paper backdrops I mentioned in tip #1, grab a $2 piece of foam board and glue the paper to the foam board. Instant flat board backdrop. Ideal for almost any product and portable to go wherever you have the light!

If the light hits that one impossible sweet spot - no worries! Just get creative. I often use drawers to prop up my backdrop board in the bedroom that has the best afternoon light.  

 

Tip 5: Use Props
I realize it may sound counter intuitive because you want to keep focus and showcase your product, but the truth is that your image tells a story about your product. So use props to help tell that story and maintain your brand message. I love this mini chalk board I got on clearance for $2.50 but you can also use whatever props are in your home and fit your  brand message and vibe.
 

Hope these tips help you get started to better product photography. Feel free to also share your own tips and hacks below in comments. Happy shooting :-)