I'm almost done with my Christmas crafting -- I've done most of what's going to get done, and I've officially given up on the rest. (Maybe everybody'll get handmade Christmas cards next year!)
After the busy-ness of the Christmas season, I always enjoy New Year's. It's a great opportunity to reflect on the past year and look forward to the next one. So I was especially interested when Darren Rowse announced his latest group writing topic was year-end "Reviews and Previews." Since this past year was a real growing time for me -- largely because of Julia Cameron's excellent The Artist's Way, I welcome the opportunity to share some of the lessons I've learned this year:
1. It's okay to move on. A coworker once complained to me that his wife never could stay focused on one craft for any length of time -- that she had "Craft Attention Deficit Disorder." That was the first time I'd heard the phrase, but it's used fairly widely -- and often negatively. People feel guilty that they can't pick one craft and settle down. But crafting is a creative outlet, and our creative spirits aren't always interested in doing more of the same. Trying new craft genres is a great way to get new ideas and make new creative connections
This year, I took classes on several new crafts -- including mosaics, bottle cap jewelry, basket weaving, and earthenware pottery. I had a lot of fun learning about these new things -- and they gave me ideas for things to try in my normal craft mediums too.
But I didn't just try new ways of doing things... I also got up the courage to let go of some old things. Since much of my craft business is driven by search engine traffic, I used to think it was advantageous to have as many products available as possible. So even if I no longer liked a product -- even if I no longer felt like it represented my best work -- I still left it out there just in case that product was the one thing Customer X was searching for. I was afraid that getting rid of items would hurt my traffic and my sales.
I realized that having those products was discouraging to me as an artist, though. I hated making those old products. I was embarrassed to have them on my site. So this year I got rid of well over half of my products -- anything that I didn't enjoy making anymore. And while my sales will be down slightly this year, I feel like my overall attitude about my art -- and the overall value of my web site -- has improved.
2. Gifting's more fun than manufacturing. I like the process of making gifts for people. First you figure out just the perfect thing -- the perfect style, the perfect color. You think about that person as you make the gift -- the expression they'll have when you give it to them, whether they'll like it or not. It's really a love-filled process, and it's one of the things that hooked me on crafting.
But crafting as a business is different. You often design things without a particular recipient in mind. If you sell online, you may not even see the person's expression when they get the product. If you're not careful, crafting can lose some of its joy when it's done as a business. You can start to feel like you're manufacturing products instead of creating gifts.
When I realized I was starting to feel this way, I looked for ways to make it more enjoyable for me. My goal in making a gift is to delight the recipient -- to give them something they think is really wonderful. How do you translate that to a great customer experience? You give them more than they expect. You make each transaction an exchange of treasures.
I got some great ideas for gifties from this Etsy thread -- along with a quote from ChickenBilly that really sums it up well: "Selling just for profit benefits no one. Selling to create smiles and warm fuzzy feelings creates something special."
Now I'm including a few extra special touches in each order -- little things that I hope make people's eyes light up just a little when they get their package. And it has the added benefit of making my eyes light up when I send the package out. I'm happier and my customers are happier.
3. The more, the merrier. Crafting can be a pretty solitary activity -- staying up all hours of the night making this or that. But I've really been struck over the past year by the wonderful crafting community that's out there -- both online and in real life.
I'd been using polymer clay for years, and knew about the basic sites like Glass Attic and Polymer Clay Central... but it seemed like a lot of the questions I had weren't answered out there. That is, til I came across the Polymer Clay People and Clay Polymer Yahoo! groups. What a wealth of information! People are so generous with their information, and it can be gratifying to see others bring up some of the same little nagging questions I'd always wondered about. I felt like I'd finally found people who speak my language! And when I can answer a question for someone else... well, that's a great feeling too.
Online communities are great, but I've also found out how much fun real live crafting communities can be. This year was the beginning of Central Oklahoma's Polymer Clay Guild. I'd always wished someone would start one... then it dawned on me that maybe others were wishing the same thing. There's been a great response, and we've already had two meetings that were filled with positive energy. And that feeling is really hard to beat: sitting in a room with like-minded people, creating wonderful things together. I can't wait to see what the next year brings for the group!
So what about you -- what lessons has this year taught you? What are you looking forward to in the next year?