I mean it. Consider this a great big permission slip to ease up on yourself.
And maybe have a hazelnut latte.
Look, you read Indie Retail Academy because you want to be a big, shiny wholesale success, right? You’ve looked around and decided you want to be just like that artist, or that one.
Creative people who’ve clearly got it all figured out.
I thought so. Now answer me this.
When things aren’t going so well, when they’re painful, exhausting, frightening or eye-squinchingly frustrating, what’s the first thought that runs through your head?
If you’re like most of my students and clients, it’s:
This is all my fault.
You almost certainly think that you should be working harder, faster and longer. That if you aren’t waving off stacks of orders at the post office every day, it’s all down to you.
And maybe it is.
If we got on the phone for a consulting call right now, we could probably identify a dozen specific things you can do to make it easier for shopkeepers to buy your work.
But that’s not the whole story.
Because when creative people say “This is all my fault” in relation to their business they often mean something else. And it’s not just about fixing their wholesale catalogue or putting in more hours at the studio.
What they’re really saying is “I’m not the shiny, successful type of artist. At a fundamental level, I simply haven’t got it in me to make this work.”
Quick! Slam the glass down! Don’t let it get away!
Oh, excellent. I’ve been trying to capture this particular specimen for quite some time. Now that we’ve caught one, let’s take a closer look.
This species of monster is very common among artists. It often shows up as the haunting idea that you just can’t “do” business. That no matter how hard you try, it’ll never work out for you because your brain simply isn’t wired that way.
It’s not who you are.
And the artists who are successful? Well, they’re the lucky few. Somehow, through fate, circumstance or because they’re special, they made it.
But they’re the exceptions. Because as we saw, at a cellular level, this is all your fault.
Usually I throw these guys out of the nearest window. In this case, however, I’m tempted to buy the pernicious little git a plane ticket to Siberia.
He can drift about the tundra, making rock ptarmigans and rough-legged buzzards feel bad about themselves.
Because here’s the thing.
You know those artists you admire? The ones you see on twitter, announcing their latest partnership with a fancy store? Or on facebook, promoting their prestigious solo show and saying how they just feel incredibly blessed?
They’ve been where you are now, and they don’t want to talk about it.
They don’t want to remember the mornings they woke up feeling afraid or their moments of black despair. They won’t share the painful stuff, or the humiliating mistakes, or the long blank days when they only kept going because they simply didn’t know what else to do.
They won’t tell you that it hurt.
You might therefore imagine that their journey was a smooth, perfumed glide – when it was actually an undignified, bewildered crawl. Some days, at least.
People want to show the best of themselves. When we finally get to where we want to be, we tend to cover up our scrapes and bruises and move on.
If you’re not careful, you can be fooled into thinking the polished, edited version of someone you admire is real, and draw some pretty bleak comparisons with your own situation.
So, not got it all figured out yet?
Congratulations. You’re keeping up a fine tradition.
Blow a foam-hole in your latte and give yourself a break. Don’t beat yourself up if your wholesale business isn’t yet where you want it to be.
Because, believe me, the artists you look up to aren’t some rare breed – they just survived the crappy times and eventually made it work.
Welcome to the first post in our Comfort Camp series!
If you’re just tuning in, we’re talking about how to prepare for the next year of your business in a calm, restorative way.
That is, without shame, shouting or kale.
Unless you like kale, in which case knock yourself out.
Today we’re tackling the feeling that you’ll never succeed.
Here’s how Eryn, an Indie Retail reader, feels as she looks back over her last twelve months:
“I haven’t made enough progress this year. I did get my jewelry into three new stores, I’m taking better product photos and I’ve done more craft fairs than ever before, but it doesn’t seem to add up to much.
I’m still not earning the money from wholesale that I want to. I haven’t gotten into as many stores as I said I would. And now the new year is coming and I’m just not where I thought I’d be. I feel kind of blue about it all.”
Maybe this is how you feel too.
Horribly aware of the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
If all you want to do is curl up under a slanket, watch The Gruffalo and eat a chorizo ring right out of the packet, who could blame you?
But before you reach for the remote, you should know one thing.
You’ve been lied to.
Not just once or twice, but over and over again.
You’ve been lead to believe that you know what the path to success looks (and feels) like.
But you don’t. Not really.
Hardly any of us do.
Let me give you a quick illustration. Take yourself back, for a few moments, to your time in high school.
Remember what the maths corridor smelled like.
Remember how it felt when you had a passionate crush on that person, and then you saw them snogging someone else at the school disco.
Remember the sound in the exam hall as everyone turned over their papers.
Do a mental survey of that whole period in your life.
Now picture yourself on the very first day of high school. None of that stuff has happened to you yet. It’s all still to come.
When you think back to that first day, did you have the faintest idea of what lay ahead?
Seriously, did you?
I’ll take your hollow laughter as a great big “no.”
And when you think about it, were you in any way properly prepared?
Maybe you visited the school once or twice before you started there, or perhaps a well-meaning aunt gave you a book called “How To Survive And Thrive At High School.”
Maybe you had an older sibling or cousin who told you a little about the teachers.
Maybe you’d watched films or TV shows which were set in a high school, so when you got out of bed on that first morning, you thought you knew what it’d be like.
But did you really?
I didn’t think so.
From your current vantage point, it’s clear that you didn’t have the slightest inkling of the painful challenges, obstacles, humiliations, loneliness and unrequited longing you were about to experience – even if you had a generally happy time.
In a way, that’s a good thing. If any of us had known what lay in store for us at high school, we’d have probably tossed our Judy Blume books into a knapsack and gone to live with the bears.
But the point is that, even if you thought you knew what to expect, you didn’t – or at least, not in any meaningful way. You were navigating without an accurate map.
The same thing is happening with your business.
One of the biggest sources of despair I see among artists is the feeling that things which should be easy, aren’t.
Creative people often have a picture in their heads about how the process should unfold – an idea shaped by feel-good movies, entrepreneurial success stories and their own optimism.
Then, when building a business turns to be much harder than they thought, they blame themselves instead of the task.
They think stuff like “I’m just not cut out for this.”
Or “I’m not talented or smart enough to make this work.”
Or “I should be further along by now.”
After all, if you’re struggling at something everyone else finds laughably easy, the fault must lie with you.
Your struggle is surely a flashing sign, warning you to turn back before it’s too late.
But that’s not true at all.
The fact is that starting and growing a successful creative business is eye-squinchingly difficult.
It’s like carving a cathedral out of a rock-face with your bare hands in the middle of a hurricane.
What you’re doing is very, very hard indeed. You just don’t have an accurate sense of that, because it isn’t a story we like to tell (or hear.)
Plus, other peoples’ triumphs are everywhere. Books, blog posts, tweets showing mounds of neatly packaged orders waiting to be collected by the courier.
What you don’t see is that successful person crying in the car outside her parents’ house because she has to ask them for money.
Or that successful person missing her kid’s starring role as an onion in the school play because she’s at trade show.
Or all the times when she simply doesn’t know what to do, and thinks that maybe she made a big mistake in her life.
Why is this a comforting thought to take into the new year?
Well, perhaps it’s time to re-draw your map.
Until now, you might have had a secret expectation that your journey towards a thriving business would be an enjoyable romp.
Sure, there might be the odd glitch or setback, but on the whole it’d be a pretty smooth ride, right?
If you want to feel better about your progress so far, sketch some fire-breathing dragons onto that map.
And a lagoon filled with spiteful water nixies. And terrifying cliffs and endless moors. And fog that turns you inside out.
Then have another look at what you’ve achieved this year against that backdrop.
You got new stockists! You learned how to photograph your products! You’ve done a ton of craft fairs!
Now that you know what you’re really facing at the beginning of each day, those accomplishments might start to look a whole lot more impressive.
Rather than evidence of failure, maybe they indicate remarkable courage, strength and resourcefulness.
Maybe you do have a knack for business after all.
Disappointment, frustration, rejection and mistakes are unavoidable, especially when you work in a creative industry. But knowing the true scale of what you’re up against can be oddly confidence-boosting.
When things go wrong, or when they simply don’t go quite as right, quite as quickly as you want them to, there’s no need to leap to painful conclusions.
Today I’m answering another question from the Indie Retail facebook group (join here), about setting one of your essential terms and conditions.
This is from Lucy:
“This group is awesome! I’ve read back on some of the past posts and got so much information already, but I’m still in kind of a pickle.
I’m having a terrible time determining what my carriage paid level should be. I sell fair-trade tote bags and did some research with different carriers but, ultimately, I still don’t have the faintest idea of what would be a decent amount (I always think whatever amount I have in my head will be too high and scare buyers away.) Any thoughts?”
That was me slamming on the breaks.
I’m sure that mochaccino stain will come right out.
I’ve brought us to a shuddering standstill because, before we go any further, we need to talk about carriage paid.
Starting with what, by the twelve moons of Grabthar, it actually is.
Thankfully, there’s a very simple answer.
“Carriage paid” may sound like a Dickensian euphemism, but it simply means free shipping.
You see, when a retailer buys your work they usually have to pay for the shipping costs too.
We do not like to do this.
In the pantheon of things retailers hate, paying for shipping is right up there with some pillock barrelling into the shop with a sloshing cup of coffee, a sticky toddler and a huge dog on a tiny leash, three minutes before closing time on Christmas Eve.
In other words, paying for shipping is a total drag for shopkeepers. It feels like we’re throwing money away.
Suppliers know this, so they invented a solution.
Your carriage paid level is the amount a retailer has to spend for you to cover the shipping costs instead of them.
It’s basically a way of saying, “Look, if you spend X on my stuff, I’ll take care of the delivery charges.”
Because we hate paying for shipping so much, your carriage paid level is of great interest to shopkeepers.
Along with your minimum order (which is the smallest amount a store has to spend if they want to do business with you,) it’s the first thing any potential stockist wants to know.
And as you’ll see, if you set it in the right place, your carriage paid level can mean you receive bigger wholesale orders.
So, carriage paid = free shipping to retailers within your country. International orders are a whole other kettle of ferrets.
Now that’s settled, let’s talk about actually setting your carriage paid level.
There are four rules of thumb.
1. Your carriage paid level should be significantly higher than your minimum order.
Well, to retailers, your carriage paid level is a huge, juicy, permanently available carrot. It encourages us to spend more money on your work.
It’s basically a built-in special offer that we can always take advantage of.
Generally speaking, though, you shouldn’t make that too easy for us.
As we talked about above, your carriage paid level is way of smoothing the path for your retailers – you’re making an annoying-but-necessary cost disappear.
The cost is still there, though – it’s just that you’re paying for it instead of them.
In return, therefore, it’s perfectly reasonable for you to ask for a bigger commitment from the store.
If you’re shouldering the burden of delivery costs, then they have to order enough stuff to make it worth your while.
So if your minimum order is £100, you might be looking to set your carriage paid level in the region of £200 or £300.
It depends on what you make, as we’ll see in a moment, but if they want free shipping, you should be expecting retailers to make a significant investment in your work.
2. It should reflect the average wholesale price of your items.
If your range of strawberry-scented back-scratchers has an average wholesale price of, say, £5, setting your carriage paid level at £1000 is unlikely to win you many admirers.
If I spent that much, I’d tie up a crazy amount of money in stock that won’t fit on my shelves, and I’d have to fill my house, garage and garden shed with back-scratchers just to get free shipping.
Indie retailers, who are often buying for only one or two outlets, may not be dizzy with excitement at that prospect.
The opposite also applies. If your ceramic vases have a wholesale price of £100, you probably don’t want to set your carriage paid level at £200
That would allow stores to get free shipping even if they only buy two items. A collection that small may not be enough to make an impact on the shop floor, and you’re stuck with the cost of shipping something valuable and fragile for not much of a return.
So consider how much a retailer would have to spend to get a comprehensive selection of your work, in reasonable but not overwhelming quantities, and use that figure as a guide.
3. It should reflect your profit margin.
Your carriage paid level should allow you to absorb the cost of delivery without it cancelling out all your profit.
To work this out, pretend you’re a shopkeeper and make up some imaginary orders. Calculate the size, weight and number of boxes you’d require to ship that size of order, including the cost of any special packing materials that might be necessary.
Then, as Lucy has done, shop around for a deal. Visit lots of carriers’ websites, and find out how much delivery would be using a next day service, or a three day service, or whatever other options are appropriate.
Also look for solutions that might be hiding in plain sight. If you share a studio with another artist, for example, maybe you can snag a good shipping package together and split the cost?
Once you’ve done your homework, go back to your sums and find the sweet spot that allows you to make a healthy profit from the order, while still being able to cover the shipping.
4. Your carriage paid level shouldn’t make retailers faint or flee.
The final rule of thumb is to do with accessibility.
Let me throw some figures at you.
Among the big suppliers we work with at my store, £350 is a common carriage paid level for homeware.
£150 is a common carriage paid level for greetings cards.
£300 is a common carriage paid level for jewellery.
£500 is a common carriage paid level for clothing.
When setting carriage paid levels, I find artists tend to go either eye-wateringly high or uncomfortably low.
If you set your carriage paid level way too high, indie retailers simply won’t go for it, and you might lose out on sales.
And if you set it too low, we might start to wonder whether you really know what you’re doing, and you might also lose out on sales.
As with so much in wholesale, setting your carriage paid level is a balancing act.
You need to protect yourself while simultaneously keeping an eye on what works for your stockists.
One last thing to think about.
Your carriage paid level isn’t something to set and forget.
If you join me for Sell More, Stress Less (my class in getting regular, repeat wholesale orders, opening for registration next week,) you’ll learn how tweaking your carriage paid level and minimum order can boost your income and encourage retailers to buy again and again.
For today, though, I hope you’ve enjoyed our tour around the sometimes-bumpy-but-always-thrilling world of carriage paid.
“How do I get a stockist back on board? I make greetings cards and have a stockist who placed a fairly big order at Christmas (just for Christmas cards).
We were quite chatty and friendly in emails over that busy period and I sent her my wholesale catalogue in January, but nothing. I sent a follow up email a few weeks later and she never responded. I don’t want to hassle her, but I’d love to work with her again!”
Give me a sec to warm up my typing fingers.
You can’t see but I’m doing a very realistic tarantula impression right now.
Okay, that should do it.
First off, it’s SO GOOD to hear you’re thinking this way.
Encouraging your stockists to come back, time after time, is one of the very best things you can do for you wholesale business.
You invested a huge amount of time, money and effort into tracking down the right retailers and persuading them to buy your stuff, after all.
If you allow those stockists to just wander off once they’ve placed their first order, all that hard work goes up in smoke.
Plus, it’s cheaper, quicker and easier to sell to your existing stores.
They already know, like and trust you, to some degree at least, which means you’re not starting from scratch.
So you get a blackberry mimosa for thinking like a pro, Emma.
Setting things up so retailers buy from you again and again is how successful wholesale businesses are built.
Now let’s talk about why, despite such a promising start, you haven’t received another order from this store.
There are three possibilities.
Umm…you might want to knock that mimosa back before you hear the first one.
1. The retailer isn’t willing to buy from you again.
Even if you did everything right.
Even if your cards sold well in their store.
The awful truth is that sometimes retailers drop suppliers without warning.
We get distracted, one of your competitors turns our heads, we decide to go in a different direction, or maybe we just forget about you.
It sucks, but every wholesale business in existence has stockists who drift away.
There are things you can do to make it much less likely (if you join me for Sell More, Stress Less in a couple of weeks you’ll learn how to set them up for your specific business) but you can’t prevent it happening altogether.
2. The retailer is willing to buy from you again, but not right now.
The next possibility is that this retailer does intend to buy from you at some point, but not today.
After the profitable hubbub of Christmas, the early months of the year can come as a nasty shock to indie retailers.
Footfall drops off a cliff, the till stops ringing so often and we aren’t burning through stock like we did in the heady days of December.
So maybe this shopkeeper doesn’t need more cards right now, but she is planning to order from you again in the future.
Maybe she’s just waiting for better weather or more customers.
3. The retailer is willing to buy from you now, if you show her it makes sense to do so.
The final possibility is that this retailer is more than happy to place a new order – if you persuade her that she’d be better off giving you money than not giving you money.
Don’t forget that she has a kajillion other card suppliers at her fingertips.
Five submissions from companies like yours probably landed in her inbox this morning.
So, are you giving her a compelling reason to say yes to you, instead of the other guy?
Have a think about that while we talk through the next bit.
Now, it’s a fairly safe bet that the reason you haven’t received another order from this store fits into one of the categories above.
The tricky thing is working out which one. You just don’t have enough information to be sure of what’s going on.
So I’m going to lay out two routes for getting out of this situation – direct and indirect.
Both involve making contact with the store. If you’re not up for that, the only other option is to cross your fingers and hope another order comes your way, one day.
When you befriend a leprechaun, for example.
You’d be surprised at how many artists hitch their wagon to that star.
Let’s look at the direct route first.
Your Scary-But-Direct Action Plan:
You’ve contacted this retailer by post and email with no response, so maybe it’s time to up the intimacy and approach her on a more personal level.
Unless you live nearby and know for sure that she won’t mind you dropping in, that probably means giving her a ring to see how things are going and ask if she’d like to place another order. (More on this in a sec.)
Some things to keep in mind when you call:
Make certain you know the buyer’s name and how to pronounce it.
Try to speak to the person you’ve been dealing with, not someone else.
Check it’s a good time for them – if not, ring back.
The upsides of this plan: You have better odds of getting a straight answer (and possibly an immediate order) than more indirect methods like email, you can answer any questions right away, you’re building a personal relationship with the retailer.
The downsides of this plan: it’s, well, scary, you might get fobbed off, it may be inconvenient for the retailer, you’re putting the retailer on the spot, you might not be comfortable talking on the phone, you might find out that they don’t want to order again.
Okay. Now let’s look at the more indirect route.
Your Softly-Softly Action Plan:
You know this retailer likes you, or at least, they liked your Christmas cards. So let’s build on that.
How about treating them like the treasured stockist you hope they’ll become?
Did you ever welcome them into your business? If not, it’s not too late. Send an email letting them know how pleased you are to be working with them.
Ask questions and listen to the answers. Send them helpful information about your work. Ask if you can interview the retailer on your blog.
Upsides to this plan: it’s gentle for you and the retailer, you can impress the retailer with your customer service, you can glean valuable information about your stockist.
Downsides to this plan: it’s slow, you can’t be certain your emails aren’t going to junk or being read by the right person, it’s time-consuming.
The route you choose is up to you. Scary-But-Direct is high risk, high reward, Softly-Softly is slow but sustainable.
Now you know your options, here’s a little trick to increase your chances of getting back on a stockist’s radar, whichever route you select.
Offer them something they want, for a limited time.
Here’s a list of things retailers want from their suppliers – they’re carrots you can dangle to get our attention:
A lowered (or no) minimum order.
A percentage off our order.
A quick turnaround time from ordering to delivery.
This isn’t exhaustive, but you get the idea.
Remember we talked about giving your stockist a good reason to choose you?
Assuming they like you in the first place, and we know this store does, a limited-time offer from the list above frequently fits the bill.
Whether you go for Scary-But-Direct or Softly-Softly, it’s easier to offer something to a store (“Free shipping till Friday!”) than it is to ask for something (“So when are you going to spend another £500 on my work?”)
Does this mean you have to jeopardise your business by offering discounts and promotions all the time?
Retailers are used to working with their suppliers’ terms and conditions and don’t expect special treatment on a daily basis.
But it doesn’t hurt every once in a while, especially when it might prevent a hard-won stockist disappearing into the bushes.
So if you want to give yourself the best chance of getting another order, pick your plan of action, then pick a carrot.
Make it a big, delicious carrot this particular retailer will want to nibble on.
Then get back in touch using the route that feels right to you.
One of three things will happen.
1. You won’t hear anything from the retailer, ever again.
2. You’ll eventually get another order from the retailer.
3. You’ll get another order from the retailer today.
At the moment, we don’t know which one it’ll be.
But we do know that you’re smart, and that you have good instincts, and that you make something retailers want to buy.