Thursday, July 16, 2009

Going Up: Taking Your Craft Business to the Next Level

How to expand piddix is the main question that has been haunting me this past year. In other words, once you've reached a plateau, how can you take your business to the next level? In addition to taking a class for entrepreneurs through MercyCorpsNW and writing up a business plan, there were three main areas where I looked for my answer:

1. I asked just about anyone I could for advice (see my post on it here).

2. I read numerous books, articles, blogs, etc. about the major pitfalls and best practices for expansion. The book Profit from the Core, for example, really hammered home the idea that businesses who spread themselves too thin--who take on too many new ventures outside of their normal focus--most often fail. (Though the book, written in 2001, did question amazon's "new" strategy of selling more than just books. So obviously new ventures can definitely pay off if done well.)

3. And finally, I did a SWOT analysis, which proved to be very helpful in analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of myself and my competitors.

SWOT -- Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats

My simplified version of the standard SWOT analysis essentially compared piddix to my competitors, look at my business assets, and tried to come up with a way to address my weak areas. It went something like this:

Strengths: My images are legal and a very high quality.
Action: When several competitors came on the market a while back with illegal, cheaper, and lower quality images, I wrote a blog post about how I research copyright. I also changed my shop announcement and item listings to reflect my research and restoration process. This seems to have worked well.

Weaknesses: I'm a slow designer. I take a very long time to research copyright and restore images. I'm also darn stubborn.
Action: I took several graphic design classes and learned a new software to be able to make the collage sheets more quickly (and be able to respond to custom requests). That's been mixed. I've learned a ton of great new techniques, but I'm still so much slower than others. For example (and this is where my stubbornness comes in), I know that I probably should just repeat more images in each collage sheet and not worry about lining everything up perfectly, since it's the quick little happy sheets that are selling well for my competitors right now. But I am stubbornly holding onto spending hours and hours making each new sheet--little tiny tweaks sometimes that may not even be noticed. I justify this to myself by saying that my customers appreciate the high quality and that's why they come back. At the same time, though, it's tough to see others' "quick sheets" selling three times as fast. Hmmmm.

Opportunities: Even though I sell mostly smaller images in the one- to two-inch range, I have thousands of larger scans just sitting on my computer. I also have many of the original colored plates that I have removed from books, vintage postcards that I've scanned, and vintage ephemera just sitting on my shelves.
Action: I put some of my original ephemera for sale on etsy with only limited success. And I don't think my assemblage sets have sold once. I have also started an area on my instant site for as-scanned larger images as well as a commercial section. With all of these ventures, I think I would need to put more energy and time into building up these new products, but it may also pull me too far away from my "core." We'll see how these develop.

Threats: This is the scary part. Collage sheets (which are my main product) are relatively easy to create poorly. You can grab a bunch of images off of websites and fill up a store quickly. Even shops that create legal, original designs can bring hundreds of items over from an ebay store or other venue and go from newbie to top seller within a couple of months. The very precarious nature of selling on etsy, and the fact that almost all of piddix's income is based on etsy sales, is worrisome.
Action: I am slowly diversifying where I sell, adding other online venues that may add some cushion. Again, I hope this won't spread piddix too thin. And since most folks who try piddix once become repeat customers, I am working to thank and further support my repeat customers through things like my newsletter and subscription.

Wow, in the end I've put way more personal and business information into this post than I had intended. It's obviously something on my mind quite a bit. Though I sometimes worry that I'm giving too much information away to my competitors, I figure it's what you do with the information that counts. Hopefully you can create your own SWOT and see which ventures may help build up your core.


Sarah said...

I'm relatively new to your world of digital images, and I subscribe to your monthly images. You sound like you are on the right track with classes and new product. Don't let competition bother you too much. I bought some of your competition's images and I won't ever do it again! The quality of your work stands alone.That's what makes me a repeat customer for life!!!Your blogs are insightful and inspiring, keep it up!

Frenchell said...

As always i am such a fan of your work. I definitely agree that it is easy to make collage sheets ..bad. I have ordered collage sheets on etsy from other sellers only to print them out at Kinko's with blurriness or oval circles instead of 1inch round circles. The hard work you put into your collage sheets shows, which is why i am such a frequent buyer in your shop...because i know the quality is unbeatable.
Your blog is very insightful, as was said before. i remember learning about performing the swot analysis in college, looks like i'll rip the band-aid off and perform my is really eye opening.

Susan said...

What an enlightening post!
As I am also self-employed I can relate to all your SWOT analysis (and am going to try it for myself). Not only do you have superior images but you have great customer service! Both are lacking in alot of your (so-called) competitors. Keep plugging away, your integrity and passion will continue to make you successful.

piddix said...

Okay, how amazing are you all? Any time I need a pick-me-up I'm going to come read these comments.

Yep. The SWOT analysis totally something that I learned from a marketing 101 professor. It seems so much more relevant now that I actually have something to apply it to.

Dottie said...

I have to agree with all the positive comments. I have been working today with some of your 1.5" circles and the quality - sharpness, clarity of color, and color saturation - is just unmistakable. Yes, other people sell collage sheets, but I would be curious to see how many of the etsy crafters that buy those sheets sell the items they make using them. I feel confident that I will sell the items I make with piddix images, and that is what will bring me back again and again. You help me to be a success!