Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Summer Craft & Gift Fair

Summer Craft & Gift Fair
Slieve Russell Hotel, Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan.
Sunday 10th July
Free admission

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Making our own stamps

Hello again crafters, if you know me at all you'll know that I am slightly addicted to stamps, well ok then very addicted to stamps. I have so many it's ridiculous but I love each and every one of them and couldn't bear to part with a single one.
As you may know Tom is the boss, he does all the driving and deliveries, does the adding up and signs all the necessary paperwork. I get to do all the fun stuff like designing, making, buying stock and chatting to all our lovely customers (a.k.a. Downland Crafters) online.
We both had the same vision for how we wanted Downland Crafts to be when we started, nearly six years ago now, which was to be able to provide affordable card making, paper craft and jewellery making supplies alongside our own handmade cards, wedding stationery and jewellery, which are still a big part of our daily lives and business. As well providing those things my ultimate dream was always to one day have my very own stamp range and to my delight last year I did just that when we launched DC's very first photopolymer sets. I can't tell you how excited I was! 
The artwork for the stamps came together fairly easily, especially as I had in mind the essence of what I wanted them to be like, but it still took quite a while to finalise the designs, organise packaging and get them made. After longer than you might imagine I finally had 8 x A6 stamp sets to unveil. That's when I got really nervous. What if you didn't like them? I needn't have worried, the comments, well wishes and support I got from my fellow crafters was fantastic, so much so that I decided to do it all again this year with brand new designs. I have so many more ideas for everyday and Christmas designs to come.
Practice makes perfect as they say and I learnt what did and didn't work so well with the first set of stamps, whilst they were all fantastic quality I was not entirely happy with the packaging side of things, so this year we've had a bit of a makeover. The stamps are still top quality clear photopolymer which means you can use them with any inks and they will last a lifetime as long as you look after them. Don't put them in sunlight, they don't like that and obviously keep them away from sharp objects which could damage them. Other than that you can pretty much do all the things you can do with rubber stamps with our photopolymer ones, with the added advantage that you can see through them making positioning that much easier.
As well as more A6 stamp sets we have introduced A7 packs this year containing either a single stamp or a couple of stamps, depending on the size. We launched them recently in our Facebook customer group Downland Crafters and the response was fabulous. Especially popular were our puppy stamps, this cute little chap has been named Downie and this particular stamp was described by the lovely Sarah as 'adorabubble'. I love that description! There are 3 different Downie stamps, plus all the bits to go with him, dog bowl, paw prints, bone, ball and more so you can make backgrounds to go with the main image.
Don't worry if you're not a dog person there are lots of other designs to choose from including a princess, monsters and even wedding words. If you want to see the whole range just pop over to our website or check out our Facebook page.
It's been lovely sharing a little bit of the behind the scenes stamp making process that goes on here at DC and I've hope you've enjoyed reading.
Until next time
Happy Crafting
Trish x

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Remember, things don't always go to plan.

Hello again, I hope you are all well. I am in the throws of a nasty cold or flu, never quite sure how to tell which is which. Whichever one it is has had me feeling very unwell at all for the past few days. This started me thinking of some of the pitfalls than you can fall into when you work for yourself. These depend on whether your business is a small part of your life or your main income and obviously the more you rely on your craft business income the bigger things like illness will affect you.
For instance, when you work for yourself, especially as a sole trader, there is no one to take the reigns when life gets in the way of work. Orders will still be coming in and need processing, the phone still rings and the emails still need answering. You may well be lucky like me and have a husband that will take care of the order deliveries for you, or perhaps friends and family members that will lend a hand.

There is no sick pay when you are ill and you work for yourself either, unless of course you have taken out a specific insurance policy for this. If you have young children you may need to make provision for when they are on school holidays or indeed sick themselves. You might have other commitments that take up some of your time and need to be factored into your working week. On the plus side you don't need to stick to the usual 9 to 5 and can often fit your work duties around your home life. Perhaps that's one of the reasons you decided to strike out on your own in the first place.
If you sell online it is also worth taking into account these possibilities when setting your delivery details on your website, Etsy shop, Facebook page etc. It is great if you can say 'despatched the same day' as long as you can fulfil that promise. Yes your regular customers will most likely forgive you if you take a little longer than planned once in a while but if you repeatedly fail to deliver then it could potentially affect your reputation. I am sure I have mentioned before that your reputation is one of the most important things in business, if not the most important. It is much better to over-estimate delivery times and get things out to customers quicker than they are expecting than it is to keep them waiting even a day longer than stated. We always say that 'we aim to deliver within 2 working days' when it comes to supplies and this allows us time for anything unexpected. For instance we live in rural Ireland and don't have the best broadband so the internet connection could go down, and often does, meaning we might not have access to the details unless we have already printed off the order. This could mean that we miss the post office that day and have to wait until the next working day, but by allowing the extra day on our delivery details page we are still keeping our word.

It might be that you only sell handmade goods in which case your lead time could be anything from a hour to a few weeks depending on your product and how long it takes to make. Just make sure your customer is always aware how long they will have to wait, making sure to allow for life's mishaps in your calculations.

I hope you have found this useful and I look forward to chatting to you again soon.

Until next time....happy crafting

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Monday, 4 April 2016

Using Social Media For Your Business - Twitter

Last time we were discussing using Facebook to help promote your business and this time we're going to talk about Twitter. As I mentioned, Facebook is definitely my preferred social media platform, however, Twitter definitely has it good points too.
Twitter is an excellent platform for instant interaction between your customers, colleagues, friends and of course yourself. The one downside is that your tweets are limited to 140 characters which I often find a challenge. There are no groups as such to join as with Facebook but it does have hashtag threads which are extremely useful when you want to focus in on a particular topic and you can search for the hashtag you're interested in for instance #crafts, #cardmaking, #jewellerymaking or even #downlandcrafter. I always remember the hashtag after I've tweeted which is less than ideal and I really must try to include them all the time as it can make a huge difference to your post reach.
If you haven't already set up a Twitter account for your business then I would definitely do so, it is equally as important to have a Twitter presence as well as a Facebook page. Many people prefer one or the other and you don't want to only reach half of your potential customers. Setting up your account is extremely easy just visit and enter your details. Twitter profiles have an @ at the beginning you can follow us @DownlandCrafts and we'll follow you back.
Using Twitter itself is an easy enough process however you will need to flick between screens to see your notifications, messages and your timeline. Personally I use on my laptop. This a free service and enables me to see everything at once, which is especially useful when you are taking part in a specific hashtag hour. You can customise your columns set up to show you exactly what you want at any given time such as your timeline, messages, notifications, favourite hashtags etc.
There is also Hootsuite which enables you to manage all your social media profiles in one place, not just your Twitter ones. Hootsuite is free to use for up to 3 social networks and you can choose to upgrade if you wish to add more but there will be a charge for this. I have recently set up an account with Hootsuite but as yet have not used it to publish posts, so perhaps we'll come back to it at a later date when I have more information to share with you.
As well as general hashtag threads there are also hashtag hours. Try looking for your local area for instance #leitrimhour which takes place every Tuesday 9-10pm. Most will also have an account in the same name such as @leitrimhour which you can follow for information, the account profile will also show what day and time the hour takes place. There are 2 hours that I want to recommend to you. The first one is #irishcrafthour which takes place each Monday night 8-9pm and is a great way to interact with your fellow crafters and pick up a few hints and tips along the way. I take part when I can but unfortunately I often have other commitments and am not free at 8pm. The second one I want to mention is #irishbizparty and this one takes place on Wednesday nights 9-11pm which I am nearly always free for. The #irishbizparty is not craft specific but is an excellent networking tool and I have made many useful connections and friends by taking part. If you want to join in with either of these hours or indeed any other then simply use the # provided and your tweets will be seen by the others using it too. This is where the Tweetdeck columns come in very handy as you can see at a glance all the tweets using the same hashtag as you.
Twitter can be a little daunting at first, at least it was for me as I never knew what to say, but joining in with a specific hour is sort of like being at an event. Just say hello and mention it's your first time and someone will soon tweet you back. Be sure to include the hashtag and ideally follow the account as well. If you like you can tag me in your post @DownlandCrafts to get the ball rolling. You'll soon pick it up and people are very willing to help if you ask. Find a few people to follow and before you know it you'll be tweeting like a pro.
The important thing to remember about social media is that it is meant to be social. This may sound like an obvious thing to say but so many people, including myself before I knew better, simply post from a business perspective. The truth is that these days a lot of sales are made by people who buy from people not just businesses. I'm not suggesting that you necessary post lots of personal information but simply posting products for sale is not ideal either. Try to mix it up a bit with selling posts, information on your business, some behind the scenes info, work in progress, that kind of thing. I am guilty myself of knowing what to do but not necessarily doing it.
If you do feel you need help with Twitter or any other social media platform for instance then there are lots of people out there who run courses and can go into much more detail than I can. For instance @tweetinggoddess who is the founder of the #irishbizparty. There are many different social media platforms out there and you may wish to choose a few to focus on depending on your customer base. I have heard it said many times that it is better to be good at one or two social media platforms than bad at lots of them.
Until next time....happy crafting

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Sunday, 20 March 2016

Using Social Media For Your Business - Facebook

Hello again. if you've been following this business tips course from the beginning then by now you have learnt how to register your business name, register for tax, price your handmade goods and set up your accounts records, so now let's talk about social media.
These days social media is a big part of running a business and if you don't have a presence with the most popular ones then you are definitely missing a trick. There are lots of technical things to do with algorithms and post reach and many professional people that can help and explain all that, but for now we are going to concentrate on the simpler side of things. The truth is that I understand how some of it works but frankly much of it is beyond me. I do however try to keep up as much as possible with the latest news and views of the professionals. The internet is full of useful information so spending some time every now and again doing a bit of research can often mean gaining a lot of free knowledge that will help you progress and improve both your business and your efficiency. Perhaps doing just that is how you found this blog in the first place.

Facebook is by far my preferred social media platform, one reason is that I can do so much all in the one place. The down side is that it can become addictive and before you know it you've spent the whole day chatting, or is that just me? Firstly you need to set up a page for your business, you will need to have a personal profile to do that but I would imagine that you probably have one already. If not don't worry just sign up, its free. When you are logged on just click the little downwards facing triangle on the right of the top blue bar and you will see the option to create a page. Choose local business and follow the instructions, it's very straight forward but as always if you need any help just give me a shout. You can leave a comment below or find me on Facebook just look for Downland Crafts in the search bar top left.

That brings me an important point, be sure to keep your name and your branding consistent throughout all your online accounts, that way it makes it much easier for your customers to find you, interact with you and ultimately buy from you. A common mistake I see often on Facebook is people setting up personal profiles in their business name. This is not a good idea. For one it is against Facebook rules to run a business from a profile and they will shut you down when they find you, it may take some time but I have seen it happen many times to crafting friends. Another reason is because unless you make all your posts public your customers would have to 'friend' you to see what you have to say and if they decide not to send you friend request then your posts will not appear in their timeline. Now you may be thinking 'well that sounds ok, I am happy to friend my customers', but the question should be are your customers happy to become friends with you? After all they don't know you and by having to send you a friend request means they are giving you access to all their posts and personal information. Would you do that with a shop you are thinking of buying from? I think the answer is probably no. It looks much more professional to create a business page that your customers can 'like'. This gives them access to your posts without having to share any of their private information with you except their name and anything else they have made public.

On your page you can also set opening hours, add a link to your website or other selling platform such as an Etsy shop, add your contact details and other information on your business including displaying your logo and photos of your products. Facebook are constantly updating and adding features and we will go into these tools in more detail in a later post. When used correctly I believe this is a valuable extension to your business and provides an excellent online platform for your customers to engage with you.

I could talk about Facebook for ages, I have many pages and groups that I admin myself and a couple of groups that I co-admin. Groups are a great source of information too, they help me keep up with the latest trends, what the customers like and don't like, plus there are lots of selling groups as well. I hope this has helped get you started and in the next instalment we'll talk about Twitter.
Until next time....happy crafting

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Friday, 18 March 2016

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Keeping Records For Your Business

Firstly I want to apologise for the delay in bringing you the next phase of our business course, unfortunately I was suffering from that really bad dose of flu that has been doing the rounds so was out of action for a while. Then something much nicer occupied my time as I went over to the UK for the CHSI Stitches Trade Show, after that I had lots to catch up on from when I was away, then it was time for our monthly Facebook sale. So as you can see it has been a very busy time lately but I am pleased to say I think I've finally caught up. Well sort of! After this blog post the website needs a desperate update so there's always something to do, but I absolutely love my life so am not complaining in the slightest. If you too are passionate about your craft business you will be happiest when you are busy. For me it's partly work and mostly fun.

Those of you who are following this online course have already learnt how to register your business name and register for tax, plus the all important how to price your handmade items. So now it's time to talk about keeping records for your business, including the paperwork you need to have and how to set up spreadsheets for the figures you'll need for your tax return.

As before I am writing these posts from the perspective of a small craft business being run on a sole trader basis. Whilst I do have experience working as an accounts clerk in 3 different accountants offices, meaning I have picked up a few helpful hints over the years, I am in no way a qualified accountant so you may wish to consult a professional for more information.
Basically your accounts need to show what comes in and what goes out of your business as in your sales and your expenses. The bigger the business becomes the more paperwork you may need to file but for now a simple profit and loss account will suffice and provide you the information you need to put into your tax return when the time comes.

You will need to have a Sales Book, a Purchases and Expenses Book plus a Cash Book. My advice would be to make up spreadsheets for these as it is by far the easiest way to keep your books. You may well want to keep a paper version too but that is up to you. If you do decide to do them via spreadsheets only, then make sure that you back up regularly and keep them on a memory stick or other storage device just in case your computer dies on you.

Your sales book is fairly self explanatory and shows the money coming into your business from sales to your customers. This is a sample of the type of columns you may find useful to have on your spreadsheet... you can see you want to list the date, the source of the sale for instance you may have your own website, a physical shop, Etsy shop and do craft fairs. It's nice to keep a record of where your sales come from for your own research if not necessarily for your accounts. You will also find it useful to know how the payment was made for reconciling your PayPal and bank accounts. The type 1, type 2 etc. is something we use because we have different facets to our online shop such as paper craft supplies, jewellery making supplies, handmade greeting cards and handmade jewellery, plus we host craft & gift fairs so again it is useful to us to know which parts of our business are working better than others and which sections our customers fall into most. Our columns are therefore named accordingly so as to identify which is which. For us it has so far been a good mix, so having the different facets works for us. You on the other hand may only sell one type of product so may not need as many columns. The postage column is very useful as you can easily see then whether you are charging enough postage, too much postage, or have it just right. Sometimes, especially when you are selling from a website, you have a fixed price per order rather than if you're using a platform type shop such as Etsy where you charge per item, so keeping track of your postage takings and expenditure can be really advantageous.
Next is your Purchases and Expenses Book, again fairly self explanatory and shows the money going out of your business such as purchases for stock and materials, postage and packaging costs, bank charges, PayPal fees, etc. and may look something like this...

...again you want to list the date and the name of the person or company you are paying. The next few columns are determining which part of the business the money is paying for. This could include re-sale stock or materials for your makes, marketing materials such as business cards, flyers etc. Your own columns may look different from ours depending on your business and can even change from year to year depending on what your spending habits are. Sundries is basically anything that doesn't fit into it's own category and is generally for small amounts. It's not enough to just keep a record of your expenses you must keep the invoices themselves as well. The best way I find is to keep a file or folder with all the invoices, bank statements and other paperwork in for each business year.
The final one is your Cash Book and will look something like this...
...the purpose of this is to keep track of all the cash and cheque transactions that take place within your business. Use it to show what money has come in that needs banking and also what cash or cheque payments you have made, as well as what monies have been lodged and how much cash you have on hand.
Those are the Books that you need to keep to comply with your tax requirements, however, I also do a Profit and Loss page which gives me a summary of the Sales and Expenses at a quick glance and looks something like this...

All you need to do is bring the total figures from the previous sheets to show your total profit or loss for the year.
These days it is common to use PayPal and other similar payment providers to make sales without the need for cash to change hands and you should be able print out reports for these from your account. I certainly can from our Business PayPal Account and always print a copy annually to keep in our accounts file. These transactions will be included in the Sales Book along with all the cash sales but not included in the Cash Book.

So hopefully that all makes sense and you can work away on your own files and spreadsheets. As always if you have any questions you are very welcome to comment below and I'll do my best to answer them, if I can.
Until next time....happy crafting

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