2 Tiny Outreach Tips You May Not Have Tried

Mostly, growing your handmade wholesale business is not a place for cheats or tips or tricks. 

Mostly, growing wholesale is a long-term game where “boring” things like consistency, followup, respect, thoughtfulness, and gradual improvement of your product line are what work.

But! Since we spend all day everyday working with makers who are doing wholesale outreach, sometimes we’ll come across a fun tip that just is so simple and works so well that we think, “Gosh, I wish everyone knew about that.” 

So, with the permission of the aforementioned makers, I’m sharing two of those tips. 

2 handmade wholesale outreach tricks you might not have tried, but probably should:

1. Pitch stores in a city you’re visiting and set an appointment. 

You’ve probably heard us say before that it’s generally a terrible idea to stop into a store and pitch your work, unbidden. Store owners want to be working with their customers when they’re in the shop, not reviewing your work. 

That said, being able to show your work in person, being able to share textures, paper quality, or stitching precision can be such a wonderful advantage. So if you have any travel planned (or even in your home city), consider concentrating your outreach in one city, that you’ll be visiting in the next couple of months. Reach out to stores that are a great fit in that city, share your line sheet, and let them know that you’ll be in their city from X date to Y date, and that you’d be thrilled to stop by and give them a first-hand feel for the line. They can review the line virtually, but also opt into a visit if they want to (on their schedule.) 

We’ve seen this be incredibly effective, leading both to higher response rates as well as a lot of sales for the couple of makers who have done this.

If you’re a Wholesale In a Box maker, you can let us know that you’re visiting a certain city and we’ll focus your outreach there during that timeframe. If you’re not a Wholesale In a Box maker, you’ll have to do the legwork to find the shops and track down contact information, but you can still certainly use this strategy.


2. Engage personally via Instagram before you reach out. 

Another “no no” is to pitch store owners via social media. It’s just not professional (or effective) to leave a comment on a store owner’s Instagram post, pleading for them to review your line. 

But -- one of our makers let us know that she’s making sure to follow store owners on Instagram about a week before she reaches out via email. She also engages in a thoughtful, real, personal way on one or two of their recent posts.

Then, when she does reach out via email, she’s finding that store owners feel like it’s a much “warmer” contact than it would be if she were reaching out totally out of the blue. It’s certainly not a manipulative thing -- just a friendly way to connect before it’s time to really pitch your products.

If you’re a Wholesale In a Box maker, the Instagram link for every store is included in the store’s profile, so you can just click through to engage. If not, usually a quick search within Instagram will do the trick. 


Like I said, these tips aren’t going to change the game for you if you’re struggling with a product that’s not where it needs to be, or if you’re not playing the long game and staying consistent over time. 

But they could be fun -- and super-effective, if these makers’ experience is any indicator -- to try within the context of a broader strategy.


 



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10 Crucial Steps to Grow Wholesale With Etsy Wholesale Closing (Besides Panic)

As one maker friend put it: People were saying for months that a shift was going to happen with Etsy Wholesale. And, well…

Shift happened. 

As you’re probably well aware by now, Etsy Wholesale is closing its doors. June 28th is the last day for new orders and July 31st is the last day of the platform. While few people are surprised -- since Etsy Wholesale had been quietly withdrawing for months -- many makers are understandably frustrated, freaked out, or just… tired.

So I wanted to put together tips and tools for moving forward and continuing to grow your handmade wholesale business, once Etsy Wholesale closes. 

Read on.


The Big Picture

Let’s talk “big picture” for a second. As recently as 10 years ago, trade shows were pretty much the only way to grow wholesale for makers -- period. It was a very unified, monolithic, systematic market. And when we started Wholesale In a Box 3 years ago, Etsy Wholesale was just starting and there were very few other options.

The last year or two has seen a boom in platforms for wholesale, and the speed at which new folks are popping up is only increasing. So the overall trend is that handmade wholesale is becoming increasingly fractured. 

Platforms and marketplaces come and go and their algorithms evolve and change. It’s hard to find solid footing in that landscape -- you’re left not knowing how to grow your business in a sustainable way. But I don’t believe you need to accept this level of volatility and risk -- there are concrete things you can do to make your business strong and resilient, despite the changes.

Ultimately, whatever tool makers use, you need to take the work of marketing and connecting with stores into your own hands. That will be useful to you 50 years from now, regardless of what happens with the platforms, just as it was 50 years ago.

EtsyClosingImageFB.png


What to actually DO

That’s all helpful context, but I know that most importantly, makers are looking for a way forward in these last weeks of Etsy Wholesale. 

First: You know what’s best for your business and there is no one answer about what you should do, now that Etsy Wholesale is closing. The way you’ll move forward is a strategic decision that probably should be pretty strongly guided by your gut and plans. 

That said, we’ve helped over 400 makers grow their wholesale business, so I do have some opinions about what Etsy Wholesale sellers should be thinking about in coming weeks, to make this a time of growth in your business, rather than a time of crisis.


10 Crucial Things to Do Now That Etsy Wholesale Is Closing:

1. Pause and reflect.

I know this change feels urgent, and there are aspects of it that are. But I honestly think that the first step you should take is to pause and reflect. Not post on Instagram. Not email every stockist you have. But reflect and make a plan. You have 4-8 weeks to put your plan into action, and a good plan, executed more slowly, is better than a poor plan executed quickly. 


2. Divide your plan into immediate action and strategic changes. 

Don’t confuse your immediate actions with your strategic plan around this. There are a couple of things that you’ll want to do in the next week or so -- but all the rest will benefit from a thoughtful plan, carried out over the next 4-8 weeks. If you mush the two categories together, you’ll be more stressed and end up with worse results. 

The main thing that you’ll want to do immediately is…


3. Get all of the information on your Etsy Wholesale stockists.

As soon as possible, you’ll want to capture all of the information (particularly names, websites, and emails) of your Etsy Wholesale stockists and keep it somewhere that you can access after the platform closes. 

There isn’t a way to download all of that directly, so Natalie Jacob from Etymology suggests taking screenshots of each purchase order. Try to save them in an organized way or even turn that data into a spreadsheet or similar list so that it’s easy to access later. 


4. Forge new connections with your Etsy Wholesale Stockists.

If you have current stockists who buy through Etsy Wholesale, communicate with them, and actively support them in transitioning to a new method of ordering, paying, and staying up to date on your line. This might take several touchpoints, so be persistent. 

A few specific tips here: 

  • Touch base with each store individually. 
    This is a big transition and it’s very much worth contacting each store personally. That way, you can use the opportunity to let them know about new products they might be interested in, check in with them on how things are going, give them your new ordering information, and answer any questions. So although I’ve been seeing makers use Instagram posts for this purpose, I think that misses the opportunity to connect more personally. 
  • Don’t just reach out once. 
    Store owners are busy and are handling this transition with all of their Etsy Wholesale vendors. So certainly don’t harass them, but plan to contact them a few times over the next few months, to make sure they have your info and know you’re there for them. 
  • Make the new system very simple. 
    We’ll talk about how to devise a new ordering system (#8) and a new system for sharing your products (#6). But whatever systems you choose, be sure that when you share the specifics of the new approach, you make it as simple, straightforward, and clear as possible. 
  • Try to send them to the “final” ordering system, even if it’s not perfect yet. 
    One maker we work with is creating a new website but it won’t be done until late August. She does have a website that stockists could order from now, but she’s not thrilled with it, so is considering sending store owners to an intermediate solution for the next couple of months. My recommendation? Send stockists to that website now, anyway. It’s better than having the stockists change systems twice.
“I honestly think that Etsy Wholesale closing down is a great thing for small businesses. I hope it allows for makers to find wholesale relationships with companies that they can build a deeper and longer relationship with. This is yet another sign of the potential disadvantages of depending on a platform for your business's success and sustainability.” - Joey Vitale, Indie Law


5. Don’t necessarily just swap Etsy Wholesale with something else.

I’ve been hearing makers ask, “Any suggestions for what to replace Etsy Wholesale with, now that they’re closing?” But in all honesty, I think that is the wrong question. 

Etsy Wholesale combined a few different functions into one platform, but you don’t necessarily need to replace all of them with the same tool. The functions are: 

  • Presenting your products online
  • Finding new stockists
  • Payment / invoicing

Depending on the stage and unique characteristics of your business, you might want a different system for each of these functions, even though Etsy Wholesale used to do them all for you. In fact, you might consider brainstorming options for each before ultimately deciding what you’ll choose. In #6, #7, and #8, below, we’ll talk about options for each.
 

6. Create a new system for presenting your products online. 

This transition away from Etsy Wholesale is a huge hassle for many makers. But it may actually end up having a positive effect on your business in the end: 

“If Etsy's announcement was a big shakeup for you, now is a great time to begin planning to build a stronger foundation for your business. When you own your own website, wholesale ordering solution, and mailing list, you don't rely entirely on third parties, and it's easier to bounce back when they make big changes to their services.” - Arianne Foulks, Aeolidia


One of the key things that Etsy Wholesale did was make an easy, attractive method for makers to share their wholesale product offerings with stockists. Some makers even used their Etsy Wholesale line sheet as a way to show retailers not on Etsy Wholesale their product set. So the first thing you’re going to want to do is figure out how to share your products with retailers moving forward...

Consider creating or improving your own website.

Probably the ideal option for sharing your products with retailers is via your own website. If you already have a retail website, that can certainly serve as the place that store owners go to look at your products. They can even shop your website with a 50% off coupon code if your markup and shipping will allow for that. Alternatively, they can view your products on the retail site and just place their order via email or phone. 

If you don’t have a personal website yet, you can get something simple and effective going fairly quickly with services like Shopify and Squarespace. You can always plan to improve it or make more complicated later, but even a few days invested in setting something like this up could get you pretty far.

Your other option is to create a true wholesale website. We teamed up with our friends at Aeolidia on the things to keep in mind if you’re going this direction -- and also discussed how to decide if you need a wholesale website. You can find that article here: Whether You Need a Wholesale Website (And How to Do It Right)

Or, create a simple line sheet.

A more low-tech way of presenting your products is through a PDF line sheet. We recommend making this document a bit of a hybrid between a lookbook and a traditional line sheet -- including an “about” page, gorgeous photos of the line, all the specifics (including price) on each product, and Wholesale Terms. You can have this on hand for stores to peruse your products as well as order from. 


7. Create a new system for finding new stockists.

If you were on Etsy Wholesale, that may have been a primary way that stockists were finding your line. (Or, perhaps more accurately, a way you were hoping stockists would find your line.) 

That means that it’s a good time to consider creating a system for yourself to start proactively connecting with stores that you think will be a great fit for you. 

Of course, we’re really passionate about direct, thoughtful, individual outreach to shops that you think could be a great fit for what you sell. That’s what we support makers in doing at Wholesale In a Box. But you can also start a practice like this on your own -- and we have some good training resources in our Training Center and in our beloved free email course, Grow Your Wholesale.

There are also platforms like Indigo Fair, Hubba, Stockabl, IndieMe, or even new models like Handheld Handmade so those could be good to check out as one piece of your strategy. 


8. Create a new system for payment and invoicing. 

Depending on what you choose for the way that stockists will review your products, you may have already covered a payment/invoicing system. 

But, many approaches will still need a separate payment and invoicing system. For instance, if you create a PDF line sheet, you’ll still need a way for store owners to place orders. 

A simple Paypal or Square invoice will work just fine -- and of course, store owners don’t need these services to pay these invoices. They can pay with a regular credit or debit card -- you just need to get set up on your end. 


9. Be sure that you have Wholesale Terms. 

Although technically you should have already thought through your wholesale terms if you were operating in Etsy Wholesale, it’s possible that you didn’t think them through in much detail. 

If that is the case, now is the time to make sure that you have established Wholesale Terms and that you’re sharing them with store owners in a consistent place (whether that’s a page on your website or a page in your line sheet.) It’s really important to make sure you have clear terms on at least the following: 

  • Payment and ordering. How will you accept orders? What forms of payment do you accept. 
  • When do you need payment (on ordering, on shipping, or some combo)?
  • Minimums. Your minimum for your first order and for subsequent orders.
  • Shipping and insurance. Who pays for shipping, how are things shipped, who pays for insurance if any, etc.
  • Turnaround time. 
  • Sizing, materials, etc.
  • Anything else. If you have other things they should know before they order, now is the time.


10. Use your resources.

There are a lot of great resources that can support you during this transition. Here are a few of our favorites…

Other resources to check out: 

 

Your wholesale strategy is going to evolve and change -- so don't panic and do something expensive (like signing up for a trade show that you can't afford) just because Etsy Wholesale is changing. Take some time to experiment, explore alternatives, and reflect on what you really envision a sustainable wholesale strategy being for you.

And, never hesitate to reach out to us (team@wholesaleinabox.com) if you have any questions along the way!



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7 Lessons Learned From a Maker on Her Wholesale Journey

  Photo: Reba Jenson

Photo: Reba Jenson

2 years ago, we did our first Wholesale In a Box giveaway. Makers entered by commenting on our blog, and then we picked a winner from the bunch.

When we announced that Skyler of SugarSky had won the free 90 days of Wholesale In a Box, she was thrilled in the sweetest, most endearing way. Still one of our makers 2 years later, working to grow her wholesale business, we got the most wonderful message from Sky when we announced this year’s giveaway: “I SO VIVIDLY remember when I won the WIAB free trial via Dear Handmade Life! I never win anything and I was AMAZED. It’s proven to be such an incredible thing to win :)”

So we decided to hop on the phone to hear how her business has evolved since then. What she shared was really inspiring, very actionable, and sometimes surprising. Sky has managed to grow her business by leaps and bounds, and to a size that few makers know is possible. She’s stuck to her mission and values, finding thoughtful ways to bring in production help as she grows, but never compromising on what is most important to her.

Listen in as we talk to Skyler and she gets honest about wholesale, growth, hiring, what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what she wants newer makers to know...

 

FINDING YOUR MOTIVATION.

“My motivation to do this daily is that our whole operation is based in the US.  We get to support the people in our community, as those are the people who design and sew our products.  That is very motivating for me because it means we are helping people here in our country continue to feel empowered and appreciated.  

I could manufacture our products at a 16th of the cost if we outsourced some to offshore but, for me, keeping jobs here in the US and helping people on our soil to be employed is top of my list and always will be with SugarSky.

Of course, you have to keep your margins working,  but I know that so long as SugarSky exists, jobs for people here in America will exist.”

 

KNOW YOUR OWN SKILLS.

“Before launching the business, I started brainstorming and thought; What talents or skills do I have in my wheelhouse that I can turn into a business?  I tossed some ideas back and forth and thought, well, I know how to sew and I am always wearing headbands.

The idea was born after a couple glasses of wine in our tiny little apartment in Atlanta.  My husband was like, ‘OK why not?.’ I also knew how to build a website so that wasn't a barrier to entry for me so decided to give it a go from there.”  

 

NOTHING IS PERFECT.

“My original goal was to sell 10 headbands.  I thought: If I sell 10 headbands this is a success.  I had left my full-time job in Corporate America so my aim was to sell 10 the first month so that could go towards helping pay our bills that month.  The next month, we planned to reassess.

There were lots of trips to fabric stores to find a good material and sewed prototype after prototype, finding the right material that was comfortable and a good fit.  After that, I just pressed the launch button, with only 5 patterns. The business was me sewing everything and trying to work out the kinks as I went along.

Not everything has to be great when you start and focusing on progress over perfection is always my aim.  You just need to pull the trigger and work from there.”

Photos: Reba Jenson

 

SCALING: FROM MAKER TO BUSINESS OWNER.

“My business is very different now than when it first launched.  In the beginning, I was sewing everything. Still being in my corporate job at first meant things were taxing.  You can almost get burnt out because, after a day at work you don't want to spend so much time on your business even though you love it, but you have to.

It then went from me sewing everything to having a team of highly skilled seamstresses. That transition was a huge learning curve and I am so thankful we did that.  We received our first wholesale order of 6000 which was huge for us at the time so this forced us to reassess. I knew I couldn’t sew everything myself forever.

We hired the seamstresses as contract workers -- paid by the piece..  This means you cannot designate hours or manage them as employees but they produce the volume of product required to meet your demand and they are paid on how many pieces they produce. This worked really well for us because they could do the work while their kids were napping or on weekends… and we didn’t have to worry about filling the time every single month of a full-time employee”  

 

INVEST IN THE BEST.

“Inevitably, starting a business is risky. So it's important to invest in people or processes that do things better than you. As an entrepreneur, the biggest mistake you can make is trying to do everything on your own.  

I believe if you are investing in the right things at the right price for your business, you will see a return.  This was the case when we signed up with Wholesale in A Box. I remember getting WIAB’s 5-part email course after signing up and I thought. ‘Oh my gosh, this is all such good information.’  Then with your help, I started drafting my emails to potential customers. I went for it with the help you provided. Ever since then we have seen some great successes with wholesale.

One way to test your approach to investing in something for your business and give it three months; if you don’t start seeing an uptick in revenue after this time, then you can cut it off.”

 

NO SUCH THING AS FAILURE.

“We’ve had our fair share of failures. In one instance, my fabric supplier completely ran out of fabric. I realized I had put all my eggs in one basket with only one supplier and there was a real risk I would have to shut down the whole business.  The supplier then provided an alternative solution but their replacement simply wouldn't work for our designs. A year into the business, that was a scary moment. Thankfully we sourced an alternative supplier, who we still use today, and things are working great.

I talked to my Dad, who is an entrepreneur, and he said ‘You have to keep moving.  You don’t have to get back to where you were, just get to a different place that works for your business.’  I then came up with a totally different way to sew the headbands. It uses less fabric and it’s less labor intensive. So the outcome had such a positive impact on the business in the end.

With challenges, you have to take the energy of the problem and let it throw you into the next phase.”

Photos: Gretchen Powers

 

A BALANCING ACT.

“The biggest thing that I have learned through this business is to strike a balance between patience and tenacity. There are some things you have to slow play and others that you have to push really hard. Anything in excess or lack isn’t good.

If you’re constantly pushing, you're going to get burnt out, but if you’re always sitting back, you’re not going to get anywhere.

Owning your own business, you need to find a balance between these while not letting your business define you.”

A huge thanks to Skyler for sharing her journey and insights! As always, she shows a remarkable mix of humility, confidence, and generosity, and we’re so glad SugarSky is thriving. You can follow SugarSky at sugarskyshop.com and at @SugarSky.



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Makers Summit is Magical and Amazing and You Should Go

This year, I was invited to speak about growing your handmade wholesale business at Makers Summit (by Makers Collective, in Greenville, South Carolina.) It was exciting, since I really admire the Makers Collective folks and the authentic, thoughtful way they do things. But I had some reservations, because it's hard to take time away from work and life to do something that may be awesome or may be meh.

But now that my bags are unpacked (and by "unpacked" I mean: open and spilling their contents on my bedroom floor), I feel pretty much in awe of how great the conference turned out to be. 

Whether you were there with me and want to relive the greatest hits or whether you're thinking of attending next year, I wanted to share some of the moments and insights that made this a magical couple of days. Of course, this is just a sampling, and there were a lot of speakers I wasn't able to attend or take notes on because I was preparing for (or giving) my workshops, so suffice to say: thank you to each and every person who shared their heart and energy and wisdom at Makers Summit this year! 

10 magical & Amazing INsights from Makers summit:

 

SoutherN hospitality is definitely a thing

First, I I had never been to Greenville, South Carolina but it's a beautiful place. Thoughtfully designed, and nestled next to a beautiful river -- it's an easy and gorgeous place to spend a weekend. Check out Methodical Coffee and Falls Park, two of my favorites.

Then I noticed how kind and friendly everyone was. Makers Summit attendees were incredibly open and welcoming and I never felt that out-of-place "I'm at a conference and know no one and this is lonely" feeling. 

But most of all, I was floored by how thoughtfully the Makers Summit organizers had woven a spirit of hospitality, respect, kindness, beauty, and welcome into EVERY element of the event. The weekend ran in the flawless way that only comes about through sheer hustle and determination. They made every interaction and every detail a chance to make attendees feel cared for, inspired, and welcome. 

 The beautiful organizers!  @eringodbey ,  @libramos ,  @jenmoreau

The beautiful organizers! @eringodbey, @libramos, @jenmoreau

 

It takes a family to raise a business (And family comes first) 

At some conferences, there is a sense that no one has a spouse, a kid, or a life outside of work. At this conference, many people were there with their spouse, or their mom, or their best friend, or their baby. And many, many people I spoke to told me stories of starting their business with a sleeping baby on their lap... or the smart ways they've structured their life to "live the dream" of creative life and work that isn't compartmentalized.

I left feeling inspired that you don't necessarily have to compromise your family for your business, or sacrifice your business for family -- but rather that both things can work in a creative, messy, challenging, satisfying, rich whole.

"In American culture, we think more is more, but sometimes, you don’t need more. Work less and preserve your energy.” - Phil Sanders
  @annasanders  is an inspiring photographer and designer, as well as  @philsanders'  partner in crime. She was a thoughtful presence at the conference alongside her hubby.

@annasanders is an inspiring photographer and designer, as well as @philsanders' partner in crime. She was a thoughtful presence at the conference alongside her hubby.

  @letteredlife  and  @austin.bristow  shared enthusiasm and passion for making a life and managing time, both in Austin's workshop and in chats throughout the weekend.

@letteredlife and @austin.bristow shared enthusiasm and passion for making a life and managing time, both in Austin's workshop and in chats throughout the weekend.

  @rbprintery  volunteered at the conference, hosted a letterpress station, and run a beautiful husband-and-wife letterpress biz.

@rbprintery volunteered at the conference, hosted a letterpress station, and run a beautiful husband-and-wife letterpress biz.

 

Running a creative business can be hard And it can be amazing

Jen Gotch from Ban.Do gave a very personal talk about the deep challenges she finds in running her business. She said she wanted to "destigmatize mental illness and deglamorize success," and spoke courageously on behalf of both goals. Her experience has been that business is hard, gets harder, and is 100x harder than it ever looks from the outside. Her experience may not be everyone's experience, but it's a valuable voice in the conversation. Many people also spoke to how deeply satisfying running your own business can be and how it's only gotten better over time.

“Taking this leap of faith [of running a business] is in itself an act of self care. Because it’s all YOURS. It’s you deciding to take hold of your life and spend it doing something you truly care about.” - Jeni Britton Bauer
“Go your own way and shoot for the moon. Because if you build something massive you get to choose what to do with all that money / influence / freedom / whatever.” - JBB
“Most of being an entrepreneur is just dragging shit around.” - JBB

 

 Love this illustration by  @avamariedoodles  who also runs  @aviatepress . Super-loved Jeni's followup comment on Ava's post: "It’s not going to be easy ..... but that’s what makes you: an Olympian, Frodo, Annie Oakley, Luke Skywalker... you’ve gotta challenge your inner champion. And also, that illustration is my favorite likeness of me ever. Thank you.

Love this illustration by @avamariedoodles who also runs @aviatepress. Super-loved Jeni's followup comment on Ava's post: "It’s not going to be easy ..... but that’s what makes you: an Olympian, Frodo, Annie Oakley, Luke Skywalker... you’ve gotta challenge your inner champion. And also, that illustration is my favorite likeness of me ever. Thank you.

 

You're not alone in having a lumpy, challenging, weird journey

Phil Sanders from Citizen Supply and Matt Moreau (from @thelandmarkproject and Dapper Ink) gave funny, interesting, and inspiring talks about their journeys and insights. Neither started with a master plan... and there were a lot of false starts, setbacks, and victories along the way.

“Everyone was looking at me for answers. And I just didn’t know. I realized that all I'm in control of was how I react.” - Phil Sanders
"Once you change your mindset to business being about the journey, not the goal, you’ll realize that you’re exactly where you want to be.” - PS
 Matt Moreau ( @thelandmarkproject ) in his awesome talk, which took the form of a Netflix Binge. Photo by  @makersco_

Matt Moreau (@thelandmarkproject) in his awesome talk, which took the form of a Netflix Binge. Photo by @makersco_

  @philsanders  snapped by  @jelrod

 

You might be sick of your story but your customers probably aren't

In my workshop, I emphasized that one of our 5 Rules of Growing Wholesale is crafting (and sharing) your story. So it resonated with me that both Jen and Phil spoke to the importance of simple, consistent storytelling throughout their talks.

“Focus on simple, repetitive messages until you feel like you want to die because that’s the point at which your audience is actually hearing it.” - Jen Gotch
"Don’t consider your product done and ready to ship until it is accompanied by your story in one way or another.” - Phil Sanders

 

you can't do it all yourself

Most makers start as a one-woman operation, but many of the speakers emphasized that building your team, your community, and your group of mentors is crucial.

“All companies are communities” - Jenni Britton Bauer
“You need to be able to distance yourself from doing every function in the company so you can do what you do well.” - JBB
“Meet up with mentors as much as you can. Get around people that have a high standard for themselves -- because your staff is not going to call you out and help you be better.” - Phil Sanders
  @amyfoggart 's great snap of the beautiful art on the venue walls

@amyfoggart's great snap of the beautiful art on the venue walls

 

Focus and get professional

Matt Moreau and Phil Sanders spoke to the need for metrics, accountability, systems, and structure in creating a thriving business. At one point, years into running Citizen Supply, Phil read textbooks on buying to fill in the gaps he had in his business. Matt, a self-described "art school kid" when he started, has developed intentional rhythms and structures throughout Dapper Ink to keep things growing and on track.

“You can’t be who your company needs you to be unless you go through the process and work through the answers.” - Phil Sanders
"Good vibes alone do not a good company make." - Matt Moreau
“Ask yourself: What is the one thing I can do, that will affect the company the most, that only I can do? For creatives, there is value in finding the one thing that matters in your company right now and trying to improve it, rather than constantly finding something new.” - PS
"When you’re investing in things without knowing what’s working - you’re giving away your profit." - PS

 

Failing and taking risks is foundational to success
 

“We didn’t know how to get where were trying to go but we just became pros and taking a lot of shots and almost scoring most of the time and sometimes scoring.”  - Phil Sanders
"Part of growth means you’re innovating - and with that much ‘new’ you’re going to miss something. Cut yourself a little slack and move on.” - Jenni Britton Bauer
“Make your failures less risky. Mostly, I’m talking about debt - don’t keep putting good money after bad.” - JBB

 

Move towards having a clear vision, even if you're not there yet

Many of the speakers said it took them many years before they were able to articulate their vision clearly. But they all emphasized that it's important to develop and communicate a clear vision, when you're able to.

"Ask 'How cool would it be if __________.' Give everyone some room to dream together."
“When you get ideas, those are special moments in your life. But the vision is when you bring your idea out into the future. It’s when you see how your world will be changes when your idea is fully realized.” - Jeni Britton Bauer
"Pay attention to what you’re naturally doing in the early days of your business because that’s what you can put words to as the vision for the future of the company." - Jen Gotch
“If you have a habit to keep your vision on track, you’re already winning.” - Matt Moreau
 Pic from  @shirldart  and letterpress from  @rbprintery

Pic from @shirldart and letterpress from @rbprintery

 

The internet is good but real life is so much better

(Obviously.) But I found it incredibly fun and meaningful to meet people in real life who I had connected with through Wholesale In a Box online.

I got to meet Lou from Garner Blue who we had been emailing back and forth with and is such a sweet presence in the maker community with her line and with her new shop. (And then to crown it all off, I spotted her carrying a Native Bear bag, one of our beloved Wholesale In a Box makers!) I met to meet the wonderful @positivelycreativepodcast, who sparkles with intelligence and warmth. And there was maker after wonderful maker in my workshops who I had been in contact with and could finally strategize with face to face.

 Me, happy and tired after three great  @wholesaleinabox  workshops!

Me, happy and tired after three great @wholesaleinabox workshops!

 

Thank you to each and every person -- sponsors, speakers, volunteers, attendees, organizers, service providers -- for creating such a great weekend! See you next year : ) 

 



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Cupcakes, Spreadsheets, and Turning Pro

Last year, I got really into The Great British Baking Show.

Is that something that I should admit? Probably not, no. But after a stressful day, there is something bizarrely relaxing about watching people frantically bake Cardamom-Vanilla Cupcakes With Raspberry Coulis Filling.

If you're not familiar with the premise of the show, it's pretty simple: a group of amateur bakers compete each week on both their technical and creative baking skills. At the end of each episode, one baker is the "star" and one goes home. It culminates, of course, in the episode that picks the final winner.

It’s fascinating to watch the evolution of the bakers over the course of the episodes. At first, everything is a bit of a hot mess.

And, honestly, that's why it's so fun to watch the first several episodes of the season. It's a hilarious mix of potential and chaos and joy and epic failure. Cakes fall on the floor, bakers laugh and cry, things freeze and shatter, and flavors are sometimes so creative they are completely inedible.

Many of the bakers are frantic, but they're also, in some way, still not taking the competition seriously. They're certainly not taking themselves seriously -- showing both a sense of ego as well as a lack of confidence. What they bake is really inconsistent, sometimes marvelous and other times a complete mess. Oddly, many of the bakers also don't practice or plan, although there is time to do so between episodes. Many of them are winging it, perhaps because they don't really believe they can win the competition and aren't sure they want to invest in it. They're definitely not "all in." And they don't seem to be using all the tools or techniques or planning structures that they could.
 

“The sure sign of an amateur is he has a million plans and they all start tomorrow.” 
― Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro
 

Later in the season, the bakers start to get serious. As the number of remaining bakers dwindles, they sense that there is a real possibility they could win the competition. And as they see the impact of their hard work, they start to realize that a lot more of their success is in their hands than they thought. 

They start to practice more during the course of the week (between episodes.) The look both more relaxed and more serious. They are more calculated with their plans and flavor combinations. They have a better sense for timing, using timers to keep them on track and balance complexity. 

It's a shift that the author Steven Pressfield calls "turning pro." The bakers have an internal transformation that bumps them to a completely different level with their work. 

“What we get when we turn pro is, we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and to live out.” 
― Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro

One of the bakers exemplifies this "turning pro" moment so beautifully. An engineer by trade, Andrew is a bit anxious throughout the season. Despite his training and perfectionism, he's haphazard and there is a randomness to how he seems to be approaching things. But by the last episode, he becomes so organized that he creates an intricate spreadsheet to keep track of the bakes and their timing.

It's the ultimate example of something all of the bakers are doing -- becoming so serious about what they are doing, that they don't allow themselves to risk their passion to a lack of planning.

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I've seen this with both my own work and the work of our makers. At first, as creative business owners, we're kind of winging it. We can't quite believe we're really running a business or doing our art, so some days are marked by brilliance and others are frantic failures. We don't use all of the structures or supports or systems that would help us be successful. And we don't plan in the ways we should. 

Eventually though, either in a swift change or over the course of years, many of us turn pro. We, indeed, stop fearing spreadsheets. We get better photographs. We finally learn to really understand our business finances. We hire help. We hire professionals. We become professionals, both taking ourselves less seriously but taking our work and potential more seriously. 

So, as silly as the parallel to a baking reality show seems, I really encourage you to consider this dynamic in your business. Where do you need to turn pro? Where are you letting yourself off the hook, and in doing so, holding yourself back from your fullest potential creatively and financially? Where are you playing small and letting yourself be disorganized and letting things be haphazard? 

We don't need to turn pro all at once. But each day, we can take a small step towards that pro version of ourselves. The important thing is to keep moving toward it.

And for further investigation on this topic, check out: 



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4 Reminders for Days When It All Seems Pointless

In December, I’m sitting at the kitchen table, working on my laptop, and Etan springs in the doorway with a cardboard box, crusted with packing tape. He hands it to me, and I immediately notice the return address: Gopi Shah Ceramics. When I see this, I’m thrilled -- I’ve wanted a Gopi Shah mug for years but haven’t gotten one, partly because of the tyranny of a small business owner’s budget and partly because we didn’t have a steady home base.

I rip open the package and both Etan and I read the card Gopi included. In it, she thanks us for inspiring her to grow her wholesale business and giving her the confidence to do it. And she tells us to enjoy our TWO! CUSTOM! Mugs.

Etan raises his eyebrows -- he only ordered one mug. Nestled in the newspaper are, indeed, two mugs with a sweet “E+E” stamped under the handles. They’re gorgeous. And bigger than we expected. And feel just right in your hand. I immediately start crying. They’re just mugs, of course. But the combination of Etan’s thoughtful gift and Gopi’s creative, lavish generosity and the loveliness of the mugs themselves -- plus the affirmation of the value of what we do in our business -- it just all meant so much. And, in the months following, every time we use our mugs we feel that same gratitude, groundedness, and joy, just in using them.

Screenshot-2018-2-21 Gopi Shah on Instagram.png

Opening that box of mugs was a moment when I really felt the value of what we do in this handmade world. It showed me so viscerally that these products can be deeply meaningful, in themselves, and in how they connect and bring meaning to people.

But the truth is, there are times when I don’t feel that way.

I get discouraged and tired, sometimes. I ask myself: does all this churning out, and selling of, and taking Instagram photos of products add up to anything? There are refugees making journeys on wooden boats and there are people suffering and we are thinking about colorways for knit cowls or what to put on yet another greeting card?

I know there are times that many of you feel similarly. I know there is a vibrant heart to your work, but that it can be hard to keep the faith. It can be hard to stay grounded in the value of what you do.

So today I wanted to share a few reminders, for the days when it all seems pointless.

 

 

Reminder 1: The work matters, for itself.

 

The work -- whether you are a maker, an artist, or a creative business person like me -- matters because it gives us a place to stretch our wings, raise our voice, and learn about ourselves. It gives us a way to grow.

“You must do something heartfelt and you must do it soon. Let yourself down, however awkwardly, into the waters of the work you want. Finding good work… means coming out of hiding.” 

― David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

 

“Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess.”

― Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

 

 

Reminder 2: We connect through this work.

 

My experience of those Gopi Shah mugs is emblematic of so many experiences that people have in this handmade world. I’ve never even met Gopi in person, and yet she’s a sweet little humming part of my life, through her work, through social media, through our emails, and through these ceramics she makes. In showing up with our art (whether that’s a painting, a product, or a business), we connect with others -- store owners, makers, customers, suppliers --  in ways that are valuable, tangible, and inspiring.

When one of our makers got an order with a shop across the country, she was more thrilled with the relationship than even the order: “This store has taken me on and I am so touched by the connection. The store owner even re-emailed me after her order [with the most meaningful note.] I mean, I'm stoked on the order, but being on the same page as another maker who is on the other side of the US totally made my stressful-anxious just ok-day to a wonderful one. I love making, but I love the relationship side of business too.”

 

 

Reminder 3: We can employ and inspire and contribute and make money.

 

You can and you do. You inspire, you contribute, you make money, which you can use to invest in your life and the lives of people around you. You employ. You purchase goods and services from other business owners. You feed your family from the work you do with your hands and heart.

 

 

Reminder 4: Sometimes, the things you are making matter for themselves.

 

I do certainly value the people and experiences in my life more than I value the things in my life. And yet...

As Megan Auman shares in her great project Stuff Does Matter: “Objects play an incredible role in shaping who we are as individuals and cultures. Stuff communicates meaning and identity. Stuff connects us to others, past and present, and to ourselves. Stuff provides aesthetic and sensory experiences. Stuff has the power to nourish us physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Not all stuff, of course. But the good stuff does all of this.”

And Heather Ross reminds us: “I have taken part in many discussions about why making things by hand feels so good. Is it such a mystery? If consumerism has become about our physical dependence on others to make things for us, then making things for ourselves is one of the most empowering -- if not downright rebellious --  things that we can do.”

 

 

Overall, remember:

 

I do think that sometimes a little healthy skepticism about our work is a good thing. We must stop to consider whether what we are creating is, quite literally, worth our time. We owe it to ourselves to not create, as Demetria Provatas says, “empty merchandise and shallow work.”

But if you know you are in the dance, the struggle, the practice of creating things that are meaningful, and meaningfully made, then trust that. (Even if you don’t always succeed.) And if you are building a business, relationship by relationship, stand strong in the joy and honor of that. Let yourself see all the value that you create through your work every day -- even as you endeavor to deepen it.

 

 



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