Friday, September 20, 2013

An Untapped Opportunity Comes Through Pinterest

I opened up my email this morning and found this letter from Pinterest.

Just over a year ago, my wife and I welcomed our son into the world. Since his first day, I've been pinning fun things we can do together, right now while he’s still little and later when he gets older. I know many of you do the same. Pinterest is where you keep your wishlists, vacation plans, dream home ideas, and other things you want to do soon and in the future. 

That's why for us, it's so important that Pinterest is a service that will be here to stay. To help make sure it does, we're going to start experimenting with promoting certain pins from a select group of businesses. 

I know some of you may be thinking, "Oh come the banner ads.” But we’re determined to not let that happen. While we haven't figured out all the details, I can say that promoted pins will be: 

* Tasteful—No flashy banners or pop-up ads. 
* Transparent—We’ll always let you know if someone paid for what you see, or where you see it. 
* Relevant—These pins should be about stuff you're actually interested in, like a delicious recipe, or a jacket that's your style. 
* Improved based on your feedback—Keep letting us know what you think, and we'll keep working to make things better. 

For our first test, we'll promote a few pins in search results and category feeds. For example, a pin for a Darth Vader outfit from a costume shop might be promoted in a search for “halloween.” Nobody's paying for anything yet—we want to see how things go and, more than anything, hear what you think. 

Thanks so much for all your support these first few years, and we hope you'll keep pinning with us for many years to come! 

All the best, 

It occurred to me that this could be a wonderful opportunity to give businesses that create handmade items a fighting chance to compete with the big box stores, if implemented so that these promotions favor such businesses. Those who hold the cards in social media sites can make a difference if they believe in handmade and in giving artists and crafters a leg up, and keeping handmade alive and thriving in the larger pond of entrepreneurship. Since many handmade businesses utilize various forms of social media as guerilla marketing on a daily basis, they/we provide a constant stream of material to keep these systems pumping. I figured I'd put my advocacy background to good use and write in to ask that Pinterest consider my proposition. Below is my letter;

Hi Ben,
I like this idea but have one request. Could you prioritize small businesses like mine who are sole proprietorships making handcrafted items? As the economy has gotten tougher those of us in this category have really had to be up around the clock many nights to compete with the big box stores, yet we don’t have near the advertising budget that the big box stores have. I see a lot of commercial mass produced brands also being pinned and often it feels as if I am John Henry competing against the machine.
If you would do this it would go a long way towards leveling the playing field for us “little guys” who make things one by one with our own two hands.
Please write and let me know what you think and if you can make these small handmade businesses a priority in this effort.
Hope to hear from you soon.
Pippit Carlington

If you have a small business producing handmade items, if you have an Etsy or similar online shop, you spend long hours promoting your brand, or you feel that this would help your business and/or that of someone you care about I encourage you to write Ben at Pinterest too and let him know you'd like such businesses to be the focus in this new marketing experiment. At least for the time being it's free and could have great potential to put many artists and crafters struggling to get a solid foothold on the map!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Let's Put A Stop To Gun Violence Now!

The recent events in Washington DC's naval base have brought into clear focus that the problem of gun violence has not gotten any better over time. One by one as each of the massacres in recent years took place and grabbed the media spotlight they each fizzled when it came down to Congress adjusting laws which would better protect American citizens from such events.

I have not personally experienced gun violence but increasingly find myself feeling uneasy and a little more unsafe as each of these shootings happens.

As I watch the news over the past few days the overall sense of defeatism makes it impossible for me to remain silent any longer. The burning question that comes to mind is "Where is the outrage surrounding this issue? Where are the protests in the Streets?" We have recently seen people get up and organize around the country after the death of Trayvon Martin, a growing presence of activism to increase the minimum wage and to allow unions into large companies like McDonald's and Walmart, but why is it that despite the fact that polls have shown that the majority of citizens agree that new protections need to be instituted surrounding guns, that we are not seeing the kind of energy in the streets to insist that happens?

If Red State Legislators don't want to provide the necessary votes we have to make them with our voices and wear them down until they have no other choice. Those of us who believe something needs to be done about this problem must "be bold" as former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords would say, and just refuse to give up until we get this accomplished!

So today I went to Gabby Giffords' Americans for Responsible Solutions organization and signed onto her pledge and sent my message to Congress to ask that they take the bull by the horns this time and get it done, come hell or high water! This is just one of many small things you as an individual can do. After all you live here too! Why should your voice not be counted?

I thought as an example I'd post the letter here that I sent to Congress through the site;

Dear Congressmen/Congresswomen,

I need you to do the right thing now and pass reasonable safety protections to prevent gun violence as much as is possible.

After yet another rash of recent shootings, this time in DC, there is no reason to hold this up or put it off any longer. Too many people have been irreversibly injured and killed because a minority of people selfishly want to have no restrictions or regulations on their guns.  Although I have not directly experienced such atrocities (yet),  I pray that we can get this fixed so that  neither myself nor people I love ever become a victim of such violence, allowed to spiral out of control.

Sometimes as a member of Congress you have to do what's right even if it's not what's fun, just like you may not  let your 8 year old have a motorcycle and drive it on the expressway even though he might want one.

This problem has been allowed to go too far.

We need background checks now! Not in a few years, not in a few decades! Now!

We need a way to keep track of where legal guns go when they are transferred from one owner to another. We needed this yesterday!

We need to set some limits on what types/quantities of guns and ammo are allowed for civilian use. Even though it might take time to hash out it should have been started a long time ago and that should be well on its way to a viable solution now!

Our country can no longer afford to divert attention away from this central matter concerning these deadly weapons with side-chatter about "video games", "mental health", "evil", or "nanny-state government".

No gun owner who is honest and law abiding has anything to fear of these protections being put into place.

It is a problem that any American is willing to tolerate these violent incidents and become desensitized to them.

It's very simple; safety first! There are wants (guns), and there are needs (life and self-preservation). As adults we have to do the responsible thing and put the needs of members of our society before its wants.

Gabrielle Giffords, one of your own made the ultimate sacrifice when she became a victim of gun violence, and will be sacrificing probably for the rest of her life. This issue chose her, insisting that she address it whether she wanted to or not. If she can do it, so can each of you.

Please start this process now.


Pippit Carlington

If you're wondering what this has to do with you as an artist or entrepreneur; it's that the old adage is so true that "The Personal is Political, and the Political is Personal". Often we don't realize the effect we have on those around us and others' effects on us.

As artists we are in a special position to make the world better than we found it and we can be an active participant in shaping our lives and improving the lives of others. Even if you don't have money to contribute to various causes and can't get out that often each one of us can make a difference in this world we live in through letter-writing, phone calls, through social media, through blogging, and via other avenues we already use in the function of our daily lives and routines.

I found this video that features a beautiful song Overcomer  with a beautiful message.With all the heavy issues facing our nation today, and whatever you're going through as an individual, just keep your eyes on the prize. Once you realize that 9/10ths of the way things are was man-made you come to know that almost anything is possible.

You can keep up with Gabby Giffords in these places as well;
Imstagram: @GabbyGiffords
Twitter: @GabbyGiffords and @ShuttleCDRKelly

You can also contact the organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns comprised of over 1,000 mayors around the country from 46 states who support common sense gun legislation. They had a demonstration here in Atlanta not too long ago. I was not able to get there on that day but I hope to be able to attend another one if they do it again.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Branding Your Art Based Business By Giftbearer; Contemporary Tribal Style Jewelry

Somebody recently asked me for some tips on branding and it got me thinking about just how to put into words how I've gone about branding my jewelry business. It is something that comes naturally to me so I thought it would be helpful to others to elaborate on what exactly it entails.

You Are Your Business;
For those of us who are sole proprietors and especially true of artists, we are our business. What this means is that your business reflects who you are; your colors, your values, interests, and most of all your style. In order to sell your products you need to attract like-minded customers who appreciate what you have to offer enough to pay you for it.

Set a Mood; Create an Ambiance Around Your Business;
When I started my business I knew that I wanted it to reflect a tribal feel yet not primitive and not too traditional. I created several taglines which a use interchangeably to get customers to remember my unique brand.  "Contemporary Tribal", "Anything but Primitive", Tribal is Beautiful...And it Just Keeps Getting Better, and "High-end Indigenous Jewelry", are all short phrases that describe in a nutshell what customers are buying when they purchase my work.

Use Fonts, Shapes and Colors in Your Work and in Your Pictures Reflecting Your Target Market;
Since I had decided to go with the tribal theme which reflects my roots I kept that in mind when choosing the font for my Etsy banner, business cards, and other promotional material.

I use traditional tribal symbols in my work such as the triangle/arrow shaped earrings you see above "Sacred Spearheads" , but give my pieces a posh look that will appeal to people who like fine jewelry.

When people think of the concept "Tribal" they usually think of opaque materials such as Turquoise, Coral, bone, horn, and in some cases, Spiny Oyster and Abalone shell, and I do use those in my jewelry, but I also use like colors in other materials such as the Apatite in the earrings shown above. Using Turquoise would have been too predictable, and it wouldn't have achieved such a pristine look as it has with Apatite.

The rich reddish brown, cream, and Turquoise in this stuffed necklace and the patterns on it are distinctly tribal as is the shape. The first pictures I took didn't quite hit the mark, so I re-photographed it on this deer hide with the fur still on.
In keeping with my tribal theme I take most of my photos outside in natural light whenever possible, often with a natural backdrop, although I take a number of my product photos on a white foamcore board such as this necklace.

Depending on the piece, some look better on white and other on a natural background such as this one;

I often photograph my jewelry to make it look like a living thing in its natural habitat. The Peridot cabochon in this ring seems to be camouflaged tucked in the crook of this plant's branch. I believe that everything has a soul, and jewelry is no exception.

Imagine what habitat your products would live in . If your style is steampunk you could photograph your items among some pipes, tools, nails, or even in a construction site or on some corrugated metal sheet.

If your style is Zen then use a very minimalist background. You may want to use props that mimic your design. I have often photographed leaf or vine jewelry among leaves, logs, sticks or branches.

I've seen some artists photograph or display their items at shows on a bed of dried rice, lentils, or peas.

Videos and Slideshows;
If you have a video camera or even just a still picture camera you can bolster your branding by creating videos or slideshows about your items. This provides a wonderful opportunity to get your brand out there and to reach people in a much more emotional and visceral way than words alone ever could. There are sites where you can find music that is offered for free use. In some cases you may have to pay to use it for commercial purposes, but many of the musicians let you use it for free just as long as you give them credit. Your video provides both you and the music artist promotion and can be beneficial to both of you.

Here is one I recently made with Windows Movie Maker, a free program that came with my computer. I decided to group my jewelry into several different slideshow videos. This one features some of my Sterling and Fine Silver jewelry. I chose some drum music to add dramatic effect. I was unable to add it to my blog from Youtube because there was a strange still photo of some other necklace that is not mine in its place but later found that I also had the option to upload it directly from my computer and that worked. When I had uploaded this video to Youtube there was a problem sending out notifications to my subscribers or sharing on social media via the buttons they provide, but I've reported it and have been just copying and pasting the URL when I want to share it on social media sites or using the other share buttons in my browser.

Youtube is great when it works, but you should be sure to always keep copies of your videos just in case you run into some of these problems.

Once you've set the scene for your products so that everything is targeted to the market you want to attract, then all you have to do is get out there and promote, promote, promote! You'll know your reaching your target customer when sales start to increase. This isn't always linear. There may be stops and starts, but you will find that gradually things will become steadier over time. When you promote, also try to think about places where your customer would frequent. Post links if those sites will let you, talk about what you do in forums, and in those places that won't let you promote directly choose an avatar that reflects what you do, and if possible put a link to your shop in your signature line.

It has really only been the past year or so that I've been finding the search term Giftbearer in my Etsy stats. That tells me that my branding is working!

If people remember the name of your business then that means your branding is having the desired effect!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Building Virtual Artist Communities That Work

If you have a shop on Etsy you probably know that one of the features available to artists is a plethora of teams of individuals aligned for a variety of common goals. I've had the opportunity to be a part of a number of teams on Etsy over the past several years. Each has its own particular operations and focus, but all act as a sort of watering hole to artists; a central hub around which to focus group effort and mutual support.

What do teams do and what is the demographic make-up of them?
Some of these teams are based on a particular medium, and others focus on a common interest apart from Etsy, yet still act as a means through which to facilitate one's art-based business, while still others focus on a broader grouping of people and their handmade items. Still others are defined by a particular type of marketing, be that advertising on Facebook, other websites, or in magazines, or on social media sites. Some have even excommunicated themselves from Etsy and have opened up independent forums and e-commerce sites.

Teams as trend;
I was amazed recently to find how many more Native American Etsy teams and teams made up of artists who love and care for animals have sprung up since the first one or two began, and now that teams are given a space to create their own forums on Etsy's website it seems the number of total teams has grown exponentially!

What Works, What Doesn't;
Having been on several teams and having run one a few years ago I have learned a little more each time about what works and what doesn't, and that is always a work in progress. Initially I think many teams took the approach that more hours spent on promotion equaled better visibility thus more sales to each shop participating. That isn't necessarily true. For instance; posting more links of your work on social media sites will get shops seen by a larger number of people, but that in and of itself doesn't guarantee sales because it's like shooting bullets blindly into the night versus aiming and shooting at a target. You may hit a few targets by chance, but the momentum and energy expended is often lost in the noise. While you are promoting your team members many other teams are doing the same with their members. With all those links flying around in cyberspace and at top speed alot of it will be missed by many of your followers and ignored by others. Viewers become desensitized after awhile and stop reading what comes across their screen because there's so much of it that it's overwhelming. You only have a short window with which to grab the attention of serious buyers who really want what you have for sale.

Speak Directly To Your Market;
In the sea of links listed on social media sites I've found by trial and error that it isn't enough to be seen; you have to also be heard, not by just anybody, but by those who believe your work is exactly what they want and need.

While posting on Twitter I found that sometimes what works best is to ask your target buyer a direct question. Doing this separates those who aren't interested in what you're selling from those who are. 

For instance; instead of simply saying "Blue, Silk Scarf" you might want to say "Brides; Need Something blue? Wear this Blue Silk Scarf and be elegant".  If brides are one of the demographics you seek to attract their ears will suddenly perk up. In just a few words you have sent an effective message to someone looking for your product; someone who wants to be elegant on their wedding day and has been looking for something blue.

Spread the Word Through Treasuries;
For those reading this who do not have an Etsy store treasuries are online gallery pages; a grid of 16 items that can be created around a theme. Creating a treasury has the dual effect of promoting the shops from which you draw items, and promoting your own shop. There are a number of ways you can speak to your target customer through treasuries.

1) If you have a supply shop add items from shops who are likely to use the supplies you offer. Sometimes this results in sales when those featured get curious and look at your shop.

2) Include shops in your treasury that sell the same type of product as you do. This can have its pros and cons. On one hand those featured are in a sense competitors, but on the other hand each of these 16 sellers and you bring with you a following, and since you have the same market this multiplies the chances for all 16 plus you to have a serious buyer find what they're looking for in your shops.

3) Choose your treasury items by style, taste, and even color that matches yours. Some buyers may go on a search for these features. 

4) Make the title of your treasury a question to your target customer. I've seen instances in which the title shows up on Google and several people in the treasury make sales from it (especially if the treasury comes up in the first few pages).

5) If you have more than one shop add the treasury to all shops' activity streams. Although this may gain exposure from some who are not your target customers it will also draw those who are your target customer and those will zero in on it.

Ask for Sales;
Creating a BNS (Buy and Stay) treasury is one of the quickest and most direct ways to bring in sales. These have a fairly large following on Etsy and not only are they fun and exciting, but often attract lots more buyers than a normal treasury will. Although the buyers are other sellers these special treasuries can grease the wheels and get stalled sales moving again, and increase your visibility in Etsy search.

Work Smarter, Not Harder;
It's easy to wear yourself out by spending too many hours without enough reach. Anytime you can make your efforts do double-duty you should. Look for ways to divide work between a larger number of people.

Here are some suggestions;

1) Collaborate with other teams in ways you already do with your own team such as dividing up the treasuries, 8 members from your team and 8 members from another team, then have both teams promote them. 

2) Create mutually beneficial arrangements to re-tweet either with other teams and/or individuals, or provide incentives like a giveaway drawing which requires entrants to re-tweet, post on their blogs, or re-pin items being promoted.

Follow these suggestions and your Etsy team experience is bound to be a beneficial one!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Letter To Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin

If you are a nature lover you must see this video, and write a letter of your own!

Here is mine;

Dear Governor Fallin,

Please enforce the law already on the books; Title 21, Part 5, Chapter 67 of statute 1685 prohibiting injuries, abuse, and neglect to animals in the State of Oklahoma, in the barbaric festival called the "Rattlesnake Round-up."

"§ 1685. Cruelty to animals
Any person who shall willfully or maliciously torture, destroy or kill, or cruelly beat or injure, maim or mutilate any animal in subjugation or captivity, whether wild or tame, and whether belonging to the person or to another, or deprive any such animal of necessary food, drink, shelter, or veterinary care to prevent suffering; or who shall cause, procure or permit any such animal to be so tortured, destroyed or killed, or cruelly beaten or injured, maimed or mutilated, or deprived of necessary food, drink, shelter, or veterinary care to prevent suffering; or who shall willfully set on foot, instigate, engage in, or in any way further any act of cruelty to any animal, or any act tending to produce such cruelty, shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the State Penitentiary not exceeding five (5) years, or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one (1) year, or by a fine not exceeding Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00). Any animal so maltreated or abused shall be considered an abused or neglected animal.
R.L.1910, § 2746; Laws 1997, c. 133, § 384, eff. July 1, 1999; Laws 1999, 1st Ex.Sess., c. 5, § 276, eff. July 1, 1999; Laws 2003, c. 363, § 1, eff. July 1, 2003; Laws 2006, c. 188, § 3, eff. Nov. 1, 2006."

(Source: Animal Legal and Historical Center; )

Here is how the law pertains to the practices of this festival;

These animals are routinely and intentionally injured and mutilated by sewing their mouths shut and removing their fangs, which in effect deprives them of food and water as well as subjecting them to pain and disfigurement merely for the perverse entertainment of onlookers. They are placed in a freezer, and often killed as well. As far as I'm aware they are rendered no veterinary care for these injuries.

The organizers and participants in this abuse as far as I know have not been jailed nor assessed the above referenced fine this law compels.

Rattlesnakes are wild animals, not exempt from the protections laid out in this statute, and they fulfill an important function in nature's ecosystem; to rid the environment of excessive rodents which may carry disease transmissible to humans and other domestic animals and livestock.

In addition, their venom is currently being used to develop medications that show promise for curing a number of human diseases. For these reasons it's in all our best interests to keep them safe and sound for years to come.

Fear on the part of humans regarding venomous snakes, entertainment, or revenue should not be considered valid reasons to look the other way and allow them to be hurt or killed.

Such public functions as the Rattlesnake Round-up should not be treated as exempt for the purposes of this statute.

Please write and let me know what you will do to enforce this law both retroactively and in the future should more of these festivals be held.


Pippit Carlington

Contact Governor Fallin here;

(Fastest) E-mail:  
(Correction: Tried this and it was rejected. Will be sending it via snail mail).

Governor Mary Fallin
Oklahoma State Capitol
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Room 212
Oklahoma City, OK 73105

Local: (405) 521-2342

Fax: (405) 521-3353
Office Hours & Additional Information

Tulsa Office of Governor Mary Fallin
440 S. Houston Ave, Suite 304
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74127

Phone: (918) 581-2801
Fax:  (918) 2835