This post was written by Sharon Fain of Academy of Handmade.
There’s something that happens to every small business that is surprisingly impactful but we often don’t consider– change. Just when we think we’ve figured out the best way to create a product, nailed a social media strategy, or created the most gorgeous line sheet, change pops up and messes with our perfection!
Even worse? When things are already feeling chaotic, change breezes in and can make us feel like we are drowning.
But that’s the thing, we know that that change will appear. You wouldn’t know it from browsing the Etsy forums or by all of the folks who took to the internet to complain about Instagram algorithms (and the ones before them who complained about Facebook’s algorithm on Pages). These are places where every little change (even good ones like Etsy finally updating shop pages to look like they were made this decade!) sends people into a death spiral.
And I get it– change is often not fun. It can be very difficult. We are already stressed and pressed for time. Change rarely helps that.
Since we know it’s going to happen (we usually just don’t know when!), there are things we can do to manage it and even thrive through it.
1. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
It’s very easy to do. We get so riled about how unfair a change is and we are just done! People abandoned or at least threatened to abandon their Facebook and Instagram accounts when algorithms diminished reach. Some have left Etsy over changes they saw as unfair.
While leaving a platform can be smart and strategic, in these instances it’s almost completely reactionary. Which can really hurt your business.
Take time to really evaluate how much effort is going into the platform and how much value you are getting out of it when change happens. Plus, remember that often these platforms will have a blip of very annoying change (like a decline in engagement) followed up by a great change (like Instagram Stories or Etsy’s new page layout).
Monitoring the trajectory of how the platform has been for you (is it getting better all the time? Is it not as good as it used to be, but still over doing well? Or is it constantly getting more difficult to use?) will be key in your strategy.
2. Understand trends
This applies in a couple ways. First, it’s always good to know that what’s en vogue right now won’t be forever. So if you’ve got a business built around a trendy product, you should have a plan and understand how trends work.
Case in point? A friend who worked at Etsy told me of the angry email she received a few years back when a seller who made trendy feathered hair extensions was no longer selling as many as she had a few months ago. Her sales had decreased significantly and was upset at Etsy for this.
The brutal truth was that was a trend. And if you make a product as part of a trend or a product you make suddenly becomes trendy, you have to realize that the trend won’t be around forever.
Second, trends are also happening in photography, colors, textiles, scents and decor. It might seem like chasing trends will be profitable, but often a small business owner will never be as nimble as a Forever 21, CB2 or IKEA. Which means you will often be playing catch up.
It’s up to you to engage in these trends in a smart way. This might mean you create limited edition items off of your mainstay line. Or you completely run away from them.
When Academy of Handmade member MoCoLa started making ear cuffs and crawlers they weren’t trendy. Then suddenly they were… VERY trendy. Overnight, non-handmade and cheaply made ear crawlers popped up on Etsy. Instead of trying to fight it, she realized she’d never win in that saturated market so she dropped them from her line completely.
3. Diversify and adapt
Building your business around one or two social media outlets, ecommerce platforms or even suppliers can seriously wreck you when big changes happen. Even though it’s more profitable to throw your weight behind what’s working now, having other “irons in the fire” can allow you to adapt much more quickly even if they aren’t getting as much attention as your current bread-and-butter activities.
For instance, doing wholesale is the gold standard for indie product sellers. It keeps your small business sustainable. But to neglect investing in having your own direct-to-consumer website and/or even an Etsy shop could leave you leave you in a bad place if a major account suddenly disappeared.
4. Be kind to yourself and play to your strengths
You are just one person– or maybe a few if your business has grown (congrats!). Either way, you aren’t a large corporation with incredible resources at your fingertips. Which means your business won’t look the same when changes hit. But there is a lot your business has going for it– like its relationships, authenticity, loyal customers and your unbound creativity!
When we take a moment to look back at what we did the past year, it’s truly astonishing how much change we’ve endured and how, despite the difficulty, we are still here and better for it. Not only that, these changes can really help us to see patterns for the future and anticipate future changes.
Which is why Academy of Handmade is hosting the first-ever The State of Making: An Online Summit. It’s a multi-day event over three weeks that will look back at the changes in the biggest categories that affect makers, with insight from experts (like Arianne from Aeolidia!) and veteran makers.
This online summit will cover:
- ETSY (Thursday, September 15 10am-11:15am Pacific)
with guests Danielle of The Merriweather Council and Michelle of Four Letter Word Cards
- Online Shop & Ecommerce (Friday, September 16 10am-11:15am Pacific)
with guests Arianne of Aeolidia and Jeff of Denver Business Design Consulting
- Wholesale & Trade Shows (Thursday, September 22, 10am-11:15am Pacific)
with Lela of Lucky Break Consulting and Adrienne Wiley of Adventures in Wholesale
- Craft Shows (Friday, September 23 10am-11:15am Pacific)
with Lib of Indie Craft Parade and Laura of Jackalope Art Fair
- Social Media & Email Lists (Thursday, September 29 10am-11:15am Pacific)
with Meighan of Creative Online Presence and Robin of Scotch & Cream
- The Maker Perspective (Friday, September 30 10am-11:15am Pacific)
Two businesses that dealt with the unique changes in the handmade economy this year with Elizabeth of Forgotten Cotton and Annika of Married & Bright
Pre-registration (FREE!) for the event opens today, August 31, 2016. When you register you can also ask questions ahead of time in each of the sessions, which will help our speakers better prepare!
I really hope that 2017 will be your best year yet and I would love to help you prepare for it through The State of Making!
Sharon Fain is the founder and director of Academy of Handmade (AHAS), a community which supports and celebrates makers through membership, special programming and an awards show. She has also over 15 years of marketing and PR experience, working with small businesses, nonprofits and creative business clients.