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June 2012

Often times the best way to learn what you'll need to know about taking on a project, such as starting a small business, is by asking someone that's already been there. For this month's article, we asked Trisha of MarySew to tell us some of the things she learned as an indie crafter selling her goods on the internet.

Have you listed your items online? Check out other FNO Marketplace sellers' shops for inspiration, and remember, it's free to list your products with FNO!

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FNO Newsletter Editor

10 Things I Learned My First Year as a Small Business Owner
by Trisha of MarySew

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When I started my business, I had no idea what it meant to run a small business. I mean, okay, I had worked in bigger businesses before! I know my way around an office, tax forms, advertising and I can handle a high tech coffee machine but this is different. You're being your own boss.. you are responsible for EVERYTHING! EEK! And no matter how small your business is, you have a lot of work ahead of you! So, after one year I gathered some.. ah hell, let's call it "wisdom" in this area. And I thought I might share my top 10 things I learned in that year with you.

1. Get neat, tidy and organized! We all have to report to the IRS sooner or later. What's that saying about death and taxes? Well international laws may differ but where I live I have to report to my tax office once a year. And they want to know a lot! So you better have your receipts, bills and paperwork organized and neat. Nothing is worse than having a taxes deadline, and angry IRS guy breathing down your neck, and only a huge box with bits of paper to save you. You don't need to be OCD about it either, but you should know your organizational system. And remember, it is your freaking office so go and buy the pink paper or the Hello Kitty filing folder. Decorate your boring files with scrapbook paper, stickers, and sparkle-y lettering. I think there is no need to tell you that you should get organized with storing your products, that should be a given. Maybe just one more tip regarding that matter: Don't smoke where you work or keep your supplies. So many times I opened a package from a seller and it reeked of smoke. Disgusting! I wouldn't buy from these sellers again.

2. Get legal! Don't hesitate to ask questions! Before you start your business, get to know your country's laws regarding that matter. It is super important to have a business that is legit and registered by the official authorities. Otherwise you might get in trouble with said authorities and you don't want that! Don't be afraid to ask people who already run a business. Some of them are more than willing to help you, you just need to ask. And don't be afraid of the authorities. I, for instance, was always super intimidated by the IRS people. At one point they asked me to send in my first bills to check if I'm doing everything right. I was super scared and thought "OMG I AM DOOMED!" But guess what, they just wanted to help me so I won't get into trouble later on. They called me the next day to tell me that I'm doing everything right and they were so very nice! Okay you can't say everyone will love you at the IRS and some people just aren't nice but hey, no one is out to get you!

3. Take some time to do your product pictures! And make a million at once, it is great when you can choose from many great pictures. I have made quick shots of my products and always regretted it afterwards. When I was feeling sick, stressed or had only little time to take photos I was always disappointed with the outcome and I often ended up with taking them again, re-listing everything. I also think little props and a nice background make a picture so much more interesting. Scrapbook paper make great backgrounds. Take a look around the marketplace and get inspired by what other sellers use as a background props. Then look around your house, your craft table, the garden, etc for things you can use.

4. Get ready for Christmas! I was totally overwhelmed by Christmas shoppers. I never spent so much money on Christmas presents myself, I rather make them myself or buy small things only for my closest friends and family. So the whole Christmas capitalismpalooza came as a little surprise to me. I made a big deal of my year's income on Christmas. It was a very busy time and I wasn't ready for it.. That is not going to happen to me again. So you better stock up, work on wrapping in advance, order more business cards etc so it's less stress and more fun. Other holidays like Valentines Day and Easter are also quite busy.

5. Craft fairs are amazing! If you only sell your things online because you can't afford your own local shop (who can? *sigh*) or selling in a boutique or something, craft fairs are an amazing opportunity for you. They have them nearly everywhere now. It is great to see your customers react to your goods, to get complimented on your work and see happy faces buying your product. Some people may ask questions about your products that you have never thought about before and you can later use it for making it better or writing more detailed product information in your online store. Others might tell you what they don't like about an item and you can learn from that, too. It is also a good way to network more, to give out your business cards, to meet new people and other sellers. I always love getting to know new crafty people. In my experience, I have never met a seller on a craft fair who wasn't nice and polite. And you're all in the same boat (or fair ;) ) so finding topics to talk about is easy.

6. Find your community! I am a proud member of the Etsy Steam Team. I follow many many steampunk and sewing blogs. I communicate with people who like and make the same crafts as I do through so many networks. It's fun! You should try it. Whatever item you make there is a community for it. There are message boards and flickr groups and twitter chats and online classes and communities to the bazzoo! You should find your niche and its community. It is very helpful to exchange opinions, tips and tricks with like-minded people. It gives you also the great feeling of being part of a team rather than working alone everyday at your craft table.

7. Wrapping is super important! I have gotten so many compliments about my wrappings. I really put a lot of effort in how my products look when they arrive in their new home. It takes me about 20-30 minutes to wrap one item. That's not very good on time management but I don't mind. I like doing what I do and I like sewing or paper crafting each item its own little bag/box, put a nice bow on it and write a thank you note etc. I think it is also a nice way to wrap your things in a green way. A fabric pouch is so much better than a plastic bag!

8. Don't share too many secrets! You know how to make something rad that is a bestselling item on etsy and no one else does it? Don't write a tutorial about it in your blog! Come on, you have to stay a little mysterious. People will copy you sooner or later anyways, no way around it. And you don't want to make it too easy for them, right? Speaking of copycats, don't be insulted or mad when you see an item that looks suspiciously like yours. It might be unintentional, it might be just inspired by yours. Don't get into a fight with these people. All we can do is being flattered, swallow the anger, call your best friend, say mean stuff about your copycat to get it out of your system and move on.

9. People love extras and German Gummibarchen. Little extras are always appreciated. Each one of my order comes with mini gummibear bags. I think it is not only nice to send some local sweets (especially when you sell mostly overseas) it also works great as additional bubble wrap! I get so many nice comments and "thanks for the sweets" remarks from my customers. You can also send little extra items with your order, like a pin, a brooch or a hair bow. It is also a nice way to say thank you to your customer and make sure they'll remember you. That way they often come back. I mean, be honest, who doesn't like free stuff.

10. A thank you goes a long way! Be nice. Try to always be there for your customers and always answer emails/ marketplace convos, etc. Always be polite and say thank you! Say thank you when someone orders something, when someone leaves you a nice comment, when someone retweets your shop tweets. And when someone is being a sweetheart and helps you with whatever it is (tips, tricks, link) say thank you! Sometimes I want to scream at people for taking such things for granted. Once a girl who was new in Germany asked me where she could buy fabric here via etsy. So I went on the net and sent her a million links and, guess what? I never heard from her again. See, people remember you when you're being rude. And that is not the impression you want to leave!

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