Thursday, 29 August 2013

Where did yesterday's blog go? (When IT fails...)

Yesterday was Wordless Wednesday, & I uploaded an image taken from my phone - used the Blogger App to post it with an amusing caption about what happens if you let little people make the decisions.

I posted the link to Facebook, Twitter, G+, LinkedIn... all the usual places. But when I logged in this morning, it seems to have disappeared. There's no sign of it anywhere... [those old enough to remember the Twilight Zone music should be making the 'wooo-OOOO wooo-OO' sounds now].

So what happens when your IT world fails you?

We've changed internet service providers twice over the past two years due to poor service, poor customer service & IT failures. For an online company, working IT systems are paramount. It's the

foundation of most of our business - if we're not available online or without email then it's very hard for everyone bar those who are savvy enough to have our telephone numbers to reach us.

I believe that every business today needs an online presence. The way our society is now shaped by the internet & mobile communication being a little IT savvy is a requirement, not a nice to have.

So when it doesn't work, where does that leave us? Well back to the world of landlines, paper flyers & good old face to face communication. Which isn't readily available when your business is online.

When your IT fails you & old fashioned lines of communication aren't a viable option. You're stuck, as an online business -if you're not online then you're not in business.

I'm just pleased that I'm now back in the land of communication and [touch wood] all my IT projects seem to be working just fine. I'll be making sure that our website is backed up & up to date & that all my lines of communications are working before leaving the house ever again.


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Teacup Tuesday....networking

As a small business we try very hard to support those that are in the same boat as us; especially if they share our ethos.

Last Friday I had a good networking day; one of our Twitter followers reached out to me and asked if I could help out on her website (she runs a lovely forum / information site that aims to help people moving). So I popped over there and provided some information; which she kindly thanked me for.

I also discovered a Twitter networking event called #ConnectFriday. This event is for ethical, sustainable, and kind to the environment businesses can all 'meet' and find out what each other does. This means that I can meet and network with people who may run small independent yarn businesses that I could buy my cotton or bamboo off for knitting the softies. We could discover a FSC wooden box maker for Anna's memory boxes, perhaps even a new supplier for our gift wrap cotton or ribbons! I grew up in a country where shopping local, recycling & being aware (kind) of the environment was a way of life not an ethos that people could buy into or brand themselves with. We never saw the word 'eco-' until we moved back to the UK.

Anna & I try to adopt this in our business as well as personal lives - we work with people who use natural materials - sustainable natural materials, or who upcycle materials. Not only do we work with these people but we share their business successes, we let other people know about them, we link to their websites from ours, we retweet their Twitter tweets & share their Facebook status updates. We'll put their flyers out with ours and generally use them as our preferred suppliers.

So today's blog is in honour of all those fellow small businesses that do the same for us - in particular David Earp - Shuktara, Marie Travell - Rainbow Cakes, Joanne McGowen - Act One Adventures, and of course Anna - Godalming Independent Market. These four people are consistently there, networking with us.

Thank you guys, you'll be the first 4 businesses I 'shout out' on the Twitter & Facebook #ConnectFriday event I'll be doing.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Teacup Tuesday- Constructive Criticism


Criticism is a difficult subject. It’s tough, it’s hard and it’s normally quite personal. But I think there are two types.

The Negative & The Positive.

There being only one difference between them.

Is the criticism constructive?

If it is, then it is most certainly positive.
Something you can build on, take on board and learn from. Be open, be transparent and use it to your best advantage.

As a maker & a small business co-owner we use the information we receive constructively. Whether it be a new making we have concocted, a product we have been deliberating over or a successful sale we have made- Feedback on all of these is important.

I am in the process of making a new product. Something I know needs moving on but I was flat and in need of help and encouragement. After falling flatly after asking for some feedback that was simply unhelpful and pretty useless I delved to people I knew would brutally be true. I am now inspired and my head is full of new ways to move it on. If only I had the time

I recently took over running a lovely local little market. Stallholders are inspiring and creative and also wonderfully critical. But in a positive way. Ways to help the market grow thrive and show the perfectly made wares off to their best advantage.

We are lucky at u-ni-k gifts to receive mostly good feedback from Sales. But any that we do receive negative or positive we always work on to make our service better. Recently a lady asked for an alternative to the silk ribbon we use to wrap the gift she was buying as the gift receiver was a Vegan. We always try to aim to please. A this hand made cotton “scrap” ribbon I suggested made from the scraps of the burp cloth from the Memory box made delivered a new ribbon alternative to the silk ribbon.

Recently somebody recommended a great product that I am deliberating over.

Criticism is great and should be used to grow from. So I am delving deeper into researching a little on Survey monkey with a view to suggesting to Sarah we use it to help our little u-ni-k grow.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Monday maker... Selling your wares

So you read Anna's blog last week and you've mastered your craft & have produced something that can be sold to the discerning general public?

So now what? Well you are only 20% of the way there, now you have to do all the preparation that goes into selling your product.

Firstly, you have to think about the channels you are going to sell your product through - B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer). We're B2C (at the moment, we are looking in to providing some of our gifts to local businesses to sell). The nature of our handmade pieces mean that we are usually unable to fulfil the large bulk order nature of B2B.

Once you've decided which channel, or in fact indeed both channels, you are going to concentrate on it's time to do your market research. Find out if anyone else is doing something similar, talk to them (most people are happy to provide you some advice), talk to people you know and have them talk to people about what they need / are looking for in a product like yours.

Firstly - don't always choose people you know! Ask a group of people who already meet at regular times to provide honest feedback on your products - church groups, WI, Mummies coffee meetings / Toddler groups. Make it as simple as possible for them to provide you feedback - a questionnaire (provide pens / pencils with your details on just incase they 'walk away' with them). Make yourself stand away from them so you don't jump in to defend any negative comments - take on board all feedback and use it to fine tune your product.

Secondly - USE the data! Don't think 'well they obviously didn't get it, my friends tell me it's great...'. Analyse the data and put it into practice. This will help you fine tune your product to sell.

Thirdly - Don't forget to use online resources, it's a global market these days and people on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other networks are all sat out there waiting to give you their opinion!

Use your market research data to guide you towards your next step, preparing to sell.

Before you even start to think about your website, market stall, shop(?) you need selling materials - images, text (sometimes called 'copy'), costs (so that you can work out prices), and a basic start on logistics: a budget, an idea of postage costs - including any wrapping, insurance, a company identity (your 'brand' should reflect your values as well as your product), a company number, all in all the basics of starting any company.

We've already covered taking decent product photographs, decent copy and insurance in our Teacup Tuesday blogs - for more information just browse through the links on the right!

Like Anna's blog last week - if you're not starting your project in a 'clean kitchen' then you are going to struggle later on. Have all your images, copy, prices, logos and selling thoughts clearly laid out before starting up your selling medium.

Market / craft stalls - Invest in a table (they're not always provided and you don't want to be caught short), lay it out with your products before the event. Play with different layouts - ask your friends / neighbours / focus group what they think of your display. Make sure you have marketing materials to hand for the event, we usually run out of business cards / bookmarks / flyers - sometimes people don't buy on the day but they take away our marketing materials to share with others and to have to hand when they are next at a computer.

Websites - You don't have to create a website from scratch (OK we did but I'm a nerd). There are plenty of websites out there that cater for crafters. If you don't want your own .com or .co.uk web address then consider www.folksy.com or www.etsy.com - these online market places cater for the small maker market. They are also well known so some of the hard task of drawing people to your website is done for you. The downside being that there are probably 100 people doing something similar and it's your job to make your product stand out! Otherwise, take the plunge and make your own website. Again, do your market research first and choose the right template / service provider for you. It's hard to purchase the correct template and then find out that they don't provide you the flexibility for your brand's colour scheme or the ability to add a shopping cart!

So once you've done your research, built your selling platform & prepared yourself for launch - it's crunch time. You launch but you need to let everyone know all about your company & it's fantastic new product. We use social & national media for this, we post up flyers around the county, we hand out business cards when we are out and about, we talk about what we do when we're out, we live, eat and breathe our company.

Start a Facebook page, get a Twitter account & follow people, use Instagram, contact your local newspaper / radio station and tell them YOUR story, sign up for the free trials of PR & media agencies. WORK IT! Start a email list & build it - use LinkedIn, Pinterest, and craft forums. Interact with people, let them know who you are and what you do.

The wider you cast your net the more people will know about you & potentially you may see more sales because of your hard work.








Friday, 16 August 2013

Friday Funny...

It's never easy being a first time Mum with access to the internet. 



Have a lovely weekend, see you on the other side!

Sarah & Anna

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Seasons...

I love the seasons, I'm not sure if Autumn or Winter is my favourite; probably Autumn for it's colours and the joy that a cold breeze in your face & crunchy leaves at your feet. There's something about a big pile of orange, yellow & brown leaves that brings out the last of the joy of Summer - they just have to be jumped in!

Squirrels are already digging holes in my lawn (burying the hazel nuts as the chestnuts aren't out yet), all my flowers have gone over or already in seed (much collecting in envelopes has already been done), the pumpkins are all bigger than a tennis ball & the sunflower seeds are hanging to dry... and the leaves of my Rowan tree have started to turn (the lower ones).

My garden tells me it's nearly Autumn.

So time to prepare for all those rainy days where DangerMouse is intent on jumping from the sofa to the chair (she loves volcanoes & lava... so I imagine the floor is hot hot lava and hence the jumping).

Here are some of our favourite gifts to keep the rainy day blues away

MIBO - Forrest Friends

Not only is it fun making these (Mummy cuts out & DangerMouse sticks), but they are robust enough to play with afterwards. We make backgrounds from old cereal boxes & paint them. Our merry forrest quartet then goes on an adventure!

Hopping Bunny

Hop little bunny, hop hop hop. This is great for skipping about the kitchen with, sometimes we try to give bunny rides to our other little friends, but they always fall off! Perhaps we need to make some reins for them to hold on to...

Dens - Shuktara blankets make great dens

Our Shuktara blanket makes a great den, we drape it over two facing chair backs & use a sheet for the side walls. The dappled light created by the patched patterned fabrics is quite magical!

Teddy Bears Picnic -

All our favourite knitted friends come for a picnic, we sit on the Shuktara in the lounge. It's always nice to sip tea and chat over a piece of cake!
















Of course all of these are available at www.unikgifts.co.uk

Don't forget we gift wrap for free & will deliver for free of charge if you are local!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Teacup Tuesday- So very helpful!

It's the Summer holidays and I am having lots of fun with the naughties, 
Dancing with Butterflies, Making Cakes, Sticking, Gluing, Painting, Riding our bikes, learning and investigating about Bumble bee's, and lots lots more.

If like me you have a want to be Artist come Banksy at home, this ever so helpful and knowledgeable reference guide is great. It was recently shown to me and I thought as a Mum I should share.

It includes the following, 

Removes crayon from walls
Removes crayon from wallpaper
Removes permanent ink from most items
Removes crayon from shoes
Removes crayon from toys
Removes crayon from chalk boards
Removes crayon from carpet (be sure to test WD-40 on low visibility area of carpet before using)
Frees stuck LEGO® blocks




Happy Summer! Let them get a bit messy....with the knowledge it all comes out in the end.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Monday Making -Make create, go on dive in!

Inspired by Sarahs blog from Thursday of last week called 
for August only, replacing our Monday makers blogs,
we have decided to blog about diving in and making.
Just diving in doing it. With our helpful hints and guide.
Remember there is no rules, no bible. Making is personal. But we can add a few of out helpful hints to help you along the way.

Our 4 weeks of make blogs will concentrate on helping to inspire those wanting to create something new but are too afraid to take the leap.

Week one
Making and Inspiration. Good idea to finished product etc
Week two
Selling sites, Photographing the piece,  etc
Week three
Marketing and Promotion
Week four
Packaging and frilly finishing touches



So if you, like Sarah, are too afraid to jump and delve forward....read the following points we felt were important to think about when starting something new.
Always start with a clean kitchen
Something that all my work colleagues will all smile to themselves about as it has been literally DRUMMED into us. But actually it's true. Starting something new with dirty equipment and unorganised surroundings can be the recipe for disaster. Cleaning, editing and organising can give your head space to absorb and ponder over the next step. Plus it's great Feng Shui!
It also means you know exactly what is in your fridge. No.....I am not just talking about baking and cooking. It applies to all making. 
If you tidy and cleanse you know what stocks you have. 
You re-visit papers, pens and fabrics and get excited all over again by them.
It's like Christmas!
Plus the added bonus that you won't damage a making with a broken or dirty tool.
Start clean and in order......it helps I promise.
Be inspired
If you are having trouble knowing where to start, get up, get outside and do something completely opposite. Go to an Art gallery, gardens, or library. Something that you know you enjoy. 
Feeling happy and surrounding yourself with things that make you smile,  will make your mind happy.
Sitting at a desk drumming your fingers is not a way to start!
Play... & make for you
In my opinion if you make a product hoping a shop will be interested in it (for example) it will
never sit happily in your hands. It will always be a little stale and you will not completely be happy with it. 
From experience of people making for the storeI used to work in I know.
I believe a product/making truly shines when it has be made to make the maker happy.
Then it truly satisfies everyone.
So play, have fun with it, enjoy the making process. It it doesn't work first time play a bit more. I can tell if something has been made with happiness as it has come easily.
Remember the only restrictions are the ones you set!
Use only the best Ingredients
In my opinion there is no point cutting corners and using cheap ingredients. Again this applies to more than cooking and baking! The best cakes come from the best cream, best biggest eggs, most refined flour, best butter, gentle hands and perfect measures.
A badly measured cake with cheap ingredients never ends in success.
Follow this rule. Remember you cannot compete with high street prices.
The high street is mass produced, with materials bought in massive quantities, made in factories where big outlets can haggle over prices as they are buying in 1000's. Don't compete.
What you are making is totally opposite. What you are making is unique, made by one pair of hands, made with individuality, a little wabi sabi and much love. 
Never try to compete with the high street in price. 
You'll end up bruised and will always loose. In pocket and production.
Function & aesthetic
Does your product tick both boxes? Does it need to?
Ask yourself does it do the task you wanted it to.
Step away, put it away and look at it with fresh eyes the next day and ask the same question.
 Safety & fixing
-Check H&S guidance's for the product you make. Especially for infant products?
-Have you taken all pins out?
-Have all loose threads been secured and cut
-Do your colours run? Can they be fixed?
-Have you copyrighted your product?
-Do you have public and product liability for your name/product?
*see helpful notes at the bottom for more on these points
 Constructive criticism
The maker is always the best critic. BUT...you have seen  and touched this product a lot. 
Ask people who you know will give you constructive criticism to test the product.
Ask for explanations on their opinions. The more you know the better. 
However brutal it is. Then, Take on board what has been said and,
-Try and better the product with the knowledge you have gained.
-Know that not everything that has been suggested needs to be changed if you disagree.
Variations
Once you are happy with the product, can you add alternatives?
-A variety of colours?
-A variety of fabrics?
-A personalisation to make it even more special
-And as a alternative a repeated version that a replica of the first. Runs of the same product.
Take a Peek at these as a inspiration.









Beetroot Presses illustrations
Sarah from Beetroot Press uses a variety of colours for each illustration she creates. 




Our decoupage memory boxes
Anna's original Teddy memory box has now developed into a Rabbits & Birds.
Pattern and recipe
Once you are happy, take the pattern, write instructions and 
measurements so you can make again to the same recipe.
That way any differences are ones that are intentional.
You don't want to have an order for a product you made 6 months ago without knowing how to make it again!
Be resourceful in your cutting of fabric/paper, save scraps (they may be the start of a new project) and and be wise with your buying of materials.
Price
Before you start this part decide is this a hobby or a business?
A hobby means you don't need to make a profit.
You simply need to cover costs and be happy.
To make a business from your product you need to be more wise in your spending.
Ask your suppliers if you can have a discount on your shopping.
Ask for a wholesale price or a discount if one isn't possible.
Chat to the supplier, can you get a discount if you name them in a blog?
You can only ask.
Joanne Dewberry has some helpful tips on pricing your handmade products.
*
Now go and Dive in
Most importantly, be true to yourself and have fun!!!
Enjoy and be happy making.
If it's going badly put it away and come back to it another day!
*
Helpful sources

Friday, 9 August 2013

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Old fashioned proverbs...


Squirrel by Beetroot Press
Anna recently asked my opinion on her new project (I'd been aware she was squirrelling away on something but had no idea what it was). While I gave her my honest feedback (I always give honest feedback - probably the reason why I don't have many female friends as sometimes honesty isn't the best policy), I also wanted to add 'practice makes perfect'.

Which made me think about some of the old proverbs that could be used in crafting!





Practice makes perfect

Well until you try something you don't know if you can do it, and it's nearly always impossible to do something perfectly first time... so you need to practice!

This is especially true for crafting, don't worry about it being perfect. Get stuck in and give it a go (until you do get it right)






What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve over

This is especially true of those that love and work with fabric! I'm in no way a seamstress (Anna is), but I love and appreciate fabric - especially old fabric (it's so soft because it's already been loved and the love kind of seeps into the seams of the fabric). So I collect pieces I find, and treasure them thinking I can 'do something' with them at a later date. Hmmm. My fabric hoarding is starting to overfill into a fabric mess.

If I didn't see the pieces of fabric, I'd not miss them. Keep me away from the latest batch of Shuktara blankets.






Necessity is the mother of invention

So very true for everything we make! I couldn't find a suitable, small, black and white toy for my newborn baby. So I turned to my knitting needles and made her one. Anna couldn't find a neutral memory box to collect the Naughties treasures; so she went out and made her own.

We couldn't find a website or shop that sold lovely, unique, handmade treasures...




so we went out and created our own to share with everyone else who'd been looking for alternatives to the mass produced pieces readily available: