Why the Internet has not imploded on 25th May 2018

Unless you have been living under a rock you will now probably be sick of hearing about those 4 little letters ‘GDRP’, especially if you run a small business yourself!

I’ll admit that when I first heard about the new General Data Protection Regulation which is replacing the incredibly outdated Data Protection Directive, I was a bit nervous that it was going to be this huge thing that would implode the Internet. When the last legislation was written up Google wasn’t even a thing so it was well overdue and now when I look at the big picture, the new legislation will make the world (well the EU at least) a better place.

I can’t say I now know everything there is to know about GDPR because I’m not a legal professional but I probably know a lot more than I really need to for the purpose of my own micro business. Once I get the bit between my teeth I can’t help but read every article and watch every video no matter how dull the content is! I purchased The GDPR compliance pack from Suzanne Dibble (GDPR expert) and spent many evenings watching her very informative video chats even about topics that weren’t even relevant to me.

My main takeaway from my research concluded that there wasn’t too much work I needed to do to make sure my business was legal and above board and I think I actually spent about 2 days in total spilt over a couple of weeks getting my privacy policy updated, filling in the relevant documents in the compliancy pack and Googling stuff (what did we do back in 1998?). This might sound like a lot of time to some people but when you know how obsessive I get about these things I have probably gone further than I really needed.

Privacy seems to be a bit of a luxury in the modern world where everything is connected and tracked.  I sometimes think that life without mobiles and internet would be easier, then I remember how many times I’ve checked when the next bus is due on my phone or pulled over to look at a traffic map when I’ve spotted a jam up ahead. However, it is important to know what companies have information on us and what they are doing with it. Transparency seems to be the predominant feature of the new legislation. I also like the right to be forgotten clause, I have this crazy idea that one day I might want to go off the grid and live on a farm with 27 cats.

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Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/@samburriss

There has been a great deal of panicking about the new laws especially in the small craft business community, rumours spread like wildfire and they can be hard to extinguish. The important thing to remember is that the ICO (the ones who are regulating all of this) are not trying to ‘catch us out’ and sending out fines of millions of pounds. They are just trying to make it safer for our personal data and if it stops the endless emails from dodgy companies that have bought my email address from a list then I’m definitely in favour.

If we as small businesses are collecting any data such as from customers or potential clients, then we need to make sure we are dong it legally and it is being stored securely. Reporting security breaches sounds like a really dramatic thing but the chances of actually needing to do it are slim to non but it is worth finding out how and why in advance to be prepared for any situation. GDPR should be treated the same as any other aspect of our businesses.

So, there you have it. The internet has not imploded on the 25th May 2018, even if my personal mailbox has been hit hard over the last few days. It has been a good opportunity to unsubscribe from the companies that I no longer felt connected to and didn’t realise still had my information. I did hold onto the rescue cats newsletter though incase that dream about living on a farm with 27 cats comes to fruition!

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Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/@frsphoto

But…

please, please don’t bury your head in the sand though. If you are yet to get things in place then make sure you sort it as soon as possible, it really isn’t as bad as you think! This blog post is not designed to be any kind of substitute for legal help, you should check out the ICO website (if you are UK based) or the Suzanne Dibble Facebook Group for starters. If you have an Etsy shop, they have a privacy policy template ready for you to personalise.

Download Your Freebie Weekly Expenses Planner

New year’s resolutions don’t always have to start on January 1st! The start of the new tax year (6th April in the UK!) is also a good time for putting new practises into place and getting organised with the numbers

If you dread the thought of doing your small business accounts and the tax return then why not make it easier and prettier with our free weekly expenses planner. All you have to do to download it is to sign up to our mailing list HERE.

There are loads of benefits of being part of the mailing list. We only send out the best content such as practical freebie downloads, fun wallpaper designs as well as special offers and discounts for our online shop: www.clarise-crafts.co.uk

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This stylish expenses planner has been designed by us in a minimalist monochrome design with calligraphy typography so it will look beautiful adorning your desk if you choose to print it or it will be sure to raise a smile if you use it as a digital file only.

Sign up now to get your free expenses planner and look out for an email coming soon with a daily sales planner too so you can have the matching set!

We completely respect your privacy and are are working through the new GDPR regulations so we will keep your name and email information safe and secure and you have the choice to opt out at any time quickly and easily.

If there is any freebie content you would like to see, then get in touch as we love working with small businesses in a practical way! If you are already a subscriber, you don’t not have to sign up again just send me an email and I will forward the expenses planner to you!

How I Dealt With It When I Had A Wobble With My Business

If you follow me on social media you will probably have already seen this post but I wanted to give a little more context and have a more permanent record of my experience.

About a month ago I had a major wobble with my business. After an unexpectedly slow start to the year I was starting to doubt myself and what I was doing. Clarise Crafts has grown very consistently since I started in 2013 and I’ve been fortunate enough to not have any major setbacks. So when I was geared up for a crazy busy January; usually one of my busiest months of the year and the sales just fizzled out I started to panic.

Etsy is my primary income source, when I set it up I considered it just a bonus but when Facebook made some changes to their algorithm, my direct sales rapidly decreased as my Etsy sales rapidly increased. I’m fully aware that having all my eggs in one basket is not a good business structure so I am still building up my website traffic, mailing list and everything else that goes with it.

I have no idea why my Etsy sales experienced such a massive slump, I spent hours scouring forums and groups to see if there was anything going on. I came to the conclusion that there was not one reason but it was possibly a whole host of reasons.

  1. A large chunk of my orders are now wedding and baby related from individuals so I am at the mercy of the retail calendar which naturally slumps post Christmas.
  2. There was a drop in the exchange rates for USD and as nearly half my customers are outside of the UK, my products did not seem as good a value.
  3. Etsy have been working on lots of updates to the interface and the search functions. Products have started clumping again so this is a sign that things are going on behind the scenes we don’t fully understand.
  4. Probably lots of other things I haven’t considered yet.

I had a few days of comfort eating and Netflix binging (I watched all 10 seasons of Friends in 2 weeks, seriously!) and then I decided to do something about it. My head was still in such a negative space and I didn’t feel like staring a computer screen with my sparse order list so I went back to basics and took out my pens, notebooks and sketchbooks and just started doing. ⠀

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In those quiet times over the past few weeks I’ve amazed myself with what I have achieved, I’ve created so many new designs, in fact I have redesigned and updated most of my major product ranges. I also had time to work and practise with my DSLR and feel I’ve made massive strides with my photography. I even honed my workflow for better productivity when hopefully the busier times return.

Being completely honest, at the time it felt like it had just dropped off a cliff when in reality I went from crazy busy to just steady and things have already started to pick back up. I’d like to think it was down to my persistence but in reality it is likely just down to the natural ebb and flow of business. I’m now longer as scared of having a quiet time because it means I get to work on those things on the more fun things on the to do list and get to have a bit more creativity.

I would like to thank each and every person who supports my small business as it really does make a huge impact on me. When I initially posted this on Instagram, it attracted over 300 likes and so many encouraging comments which means the world to me as I have feel so disconnected on social media recently. My hopes are to stay connected, be honest and authentic and keep on trucking.

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Why I Don’t Support Black Friday

If you know me, you will know three things:

1. I am British

This means that Black Friday is the absolute worst for me. Traditionally it is the sale following Thanksgiving in America, which makes absolutely no sense if you don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving. The equivalent for the UK is the Boxing Day sales but I dislike those too. Sales are generally just an opportunity to acquire more stuff usually that you don’t even need. The majority of sales I’ve come across in last few years is just an opportunity to sell off old or hard to shift stock; so are you really getting a bargain?

2. I run a small business

Black Friday puts small/micro businesses like my own under a great deal of pressure as customers now expect deals and offers as it is the norm from the big companies. It’s important to remember that if a small business offers these deals then they are most likely cutting into their usually tight profit margin and putting themselves under extra stress from the increase in orders. Personally, I am not so keen on small businesses offering traditional (eg. percentage off) sales at all as I believe we should be making a living wage from our craft; whatever that may be. I have done them a couple of times in the past but at quiet times when sales were slow. It is worrying if shops are having a sale at the start of peak Christmas shopping season.

My suggestion for small business who want to reward shoppers but can’t afford to offer big deals. Consider a small discount for purchasing multiple items or offering to gift box/ gift wrap over a certain value to encourage higher value orders. It also adds in that human element with a personal touch which is the unique selling point of most small businesses.

3. I’m a minimalist

I like a clear, tidy house which in turn helps me have a clear, tidy mind. The best way I have found is to keep my surroundings clutter free, clearing out useless bits and bobs weekly. I’m not a huge fan of trinkets and prefer to only surround myself with useful or beautiful items. I have a favourite quote by William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” You can download a printable version of this quote to hang in your home or share on social media below.

William Morris Quote - Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

There is likely to be a tendency to buy more ‘stuff’ if it is deemed to be going cheap or is a flash sale, it is hardwired in us to acquire and stockpile stuff for a ‘rainy day’ but in reality this doesn’t really apply to modern life anymore. I now shop more consciously; asking myself will this item be useful, will it bring me (or the recipient) joy. I respect the small businesses who cannot afford to offer big discounts but will create something with much care. I urge others to buy unique Christmas gifts from a friend’s Etsy shop or a Facebook group, supporting a neighbour in their homemade cakes venture. It is likely those gifts will be much more appreciated and it will mean the world to those small business owners too.

I sell small, affordable but most importantly useful products that make the perfect present to yourself or someone else and for that I am proud. Every item I make is designed, manufactured, quality checked, wrapped and dispatched by me and no one else. You can visit my website www.clarise-crafts.co.uk, I won’t be having a Boxing Day sale but I do have a rewards scheme for loyal customers so make sure you sign up to that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Black Friday, whether you are a shopper or a small business owner.

If you would like to download this quote to display in your home then I have created this FREE A4 PRINTABLE, you could even print it smaller to fit your frame or feel free to pin the quote to your Pinterest board or share via Instgram, Twitter or Facebook.

Free Printable Quote Print For Your Home - William Morris Quote - Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful - Clarise Crafts

Preparing your Etsy Business for Christmas

It is the 1st of November and this morning I switched the music channel on to a countdown of Christmas songs! If you have an Etsy business or any micro/small business you will probably already have been thinking and preparing for Christmas. If you are like me you will have had a plan in place since the start of Summer but if you are a little more laid back then don’t worry there is still just enough time before the festive rush begins. I’ve put together a few tips to help you prepare but I’m happy for you to suggest your own too so please get in touch.

Order in your packaging supplies now

These could be your usual supplies but make sure you order extra; more than enough to take you through to the New Year and beyond in fact. It may be harder to get hold of last minute supplies especially as other businesses often shut down for the festive period or wind down their stock supplies and you may get a last minute rush and you don’t want to be stressing about the fact you don’t have any envelopes, tissue paper, stickers etc. You might also consider switching up your packaging, maybe adding a sparkly twist perhaps?

Organise your raw materials

If you make handmade products especially ones that require more than one component then you need to make sure you will not run out of one thing that is crucial to your design. The best way to do this is keep everything organised (maybe invest in some storage boxes) and do a quick stock take of your raw materials, then keep this stock take up to date by checking every few days. As you get busier it might be harder to remember how many you have of something causing a last minute panic when you realise you don’t have any necklace clasps/ varnish/ thread or whatever it might be.

Christmas-ify your photos

I’m not suggesting you reshoot every item in your Etsy shop with a bough of holly in the background but doing a festive photoshoot of a small range of products with ensure you have lots of content to share in the run up to Christmas and give shoppers inspiration. Maybe you could show how your products might be used around this time of year. If you sell specific Christmas products then of course go crazy glittering up your photography but have a think about other products that might make wonderful gifts and style them with that in mind. Don’t forget to include a photo of your festive wrapping if you are offering that.

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Christmas stamps from Clarise Crafts

Update your banners and announcements

It can be incredibly frustrating to get last minute shoppers when you are already snowed under messaging to ask why they haven’t received their orders etc. This will always happen not matter how obvious you make it but adding a banner message with your last order dates/ turnaround times will help. Make sure you are clear about how long you need to process an order and how long it will take to ship. Consider offering shipping upgrades if available as customers are more likely to pay at this time of year. Also leave more than the recommended shipping time especially for international orders as the systems get so busy. Last year some parcels were taking 4-6 weeks to reach USA customers despite it saying 5-7 days. You might also consider adding a note to all buyers giving them an estimate when they will receive their items, this can be done automatically so you don’t have to remember each time.

Keep your customer service top-notch

It may be really easy to let your usual high standards of customer service slip as more and more enquiries come through but this is the fastest way to getting bad feedback and reputation. Make sure you respond to all enquiries, even if it is to apologise that your order books are closed, they might still order at another time if you have taken time to reply. Always address the customer and sign off personally and professionally. If you don’t have time to sit checking messages, you could add an auto response explaining that you are busy right now but will respond as soon as you can to buy a bit of time. Treat every customer/order/enquiry exactly the same as you would the rest of the year.

Don’t forget the office Christmas party!

If you run your Etsy business from home and it’s just you, it can be very lonely. You need to have some downtime and enjoy the festive madness. In the past I have attended Christmas parties organised by Etsy Team Leeds (there may be a local Etsy team near you) and I have also organised a small party for a group of local designer-makers (beer, buffet and crackers in a pub!). Having some time off and having something to look forward will hopefully stop you burning out and ensure you don’t just sleep for the whole of Christmas day! (Napping during the queen’s speech is acceptable though).

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If you enjoyed these tips please leave me a lovely comment. Always love to hear from you! Like I said, it can get very lonely working from home all the time…

DIY – Create Your Own Photo Boards

All views expressed here are my own personal recommendations and this post contains no affiliate links.

In late 2017 I was hit with the photography bug so I invested in a DSLR camera and took a few online photography courses. Up until that point I had been solely using my iPhone camera for my product photos which is Ok for quick snapshots but I realised my photos were just lacking spark and I couldn’t get the depth of field that I wanted. Anything business related is worth the investment of both time and money and this is one thing I can’t believe I didn’t do earlier!

Through taking the courses and researching other photographers I discovered how much I favour natural light photography over studio photography and have decided to use natural light exclusively. It does have its limitations especially in Winter or rainy days but knowing how to work the camera means I can easily make the most of the good light days.

My dining room is being used as my pop up photo studio as it is painted white and contains a large table. The large window (almost full length, I know I’m lucky!) is North facing which offers the most consistent light and early afternoon seems to be the ‘magic hour’ for photography. However, I still find that I can still get harsh shadows on the opposite side of the product I’m photographing so reflector boards are a must!

You can buy fancy reflector boards but all you need is something white and reflective so I purchased some large A1 Foamex boards from Hobbycraft (4 for £10!) and can prop these up around my shoot and even use them as a base.

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Whilst doing my research into product photography techniques I discovered PhotoBoards by Lindsey James. These are solid boards with high resolutions backgrounds printed directly onto them and they are so good for ensuring consistent product photos. I’ll admit I have invested in a few so far and I will be ordering a few more as I love them.

However, I think it is Ok to have a few DIY ones in my collection too as sometimes you want to test out a different colour or texture before committing or you might just need a one off design.

How I created my own photo boards.

Remember those white reflector boards I mentioned earlier? I found a way to make them multi-purpose. I paid a visit to a large DIY store and took some samples of wallpaper (I was shopping for other items too!). I carefully picked ones that were quite realistic looking and weren’t too contrasting in texture. You can pick up some amazing textured vinyl style papers including brick effect, tiles and slate etc.

After lots of umming and ahhing I settled on a rustic painted brick, a whitewashed wooden plank and a black stitched leather. Then I simply trimmed them to length using a craft knife and used permanent spray mount (also Hobbycraft) and stuck one onto each of A1 Foamex board.

TOP TIP: Make sure the two edges are lined it up so you can use it as a wall without a gap showing

It’s easy peasy to just switch the boards round when I need either white or background or use two together. The benefit is the boards are white on one side so they still function as reflector boards too when used that way.

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This is a really cost effective and quick DIY that means you can switch up your photography backgrounds very quickly. These DIY boards can get tatty quite quickly so if you are intending to do a lot of photo shoots then I would still recommend purchasing the official PhotoBoards as they are so sturdy and hardwearing, Lindsey James also runs PhotoCraft, a photography discussion and education group for creative business which is worth joining for amazing tips for helping you on your photography journey.

What do you think to this DIY? Do you have any ideas of your own for shooting with natural light? Let me know in the comments or drop me an email!

Is it time for a rest?

Last month I did something I’ve not done before. I closed my Etsy shop for a whole week! It was terrifying but also necessary.

Being self employed is tough especially when it comes to evenings, weekends and especially holidays; how do you switch off? I know that I find it impossible to completely ignore my emails etc. out of office hours but it is vital for your mental health.

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I’ll be the first to admit that I am a workaholic and I’m also not ashamed to say I enjoy my work (most of the time anyway!) I don’t have any major commitments and don’t really have any hobbies except enjoying a bit of cooking, reading, walking. This year I’ve been persuaded to go away more than usual and if you know me you will understand how anxious I am in the weeks leading up to the trips. I try and get through the stress by reminding myself that I will enjoy it once I am there.

Earlier this year we visited Iceland, which was certainly one ticked off the bucket list but I decided we needed to go somewhere warm to make up for how cold we got back in March. I’m very impatient when it comes to holiday hunting so we just booked on the first one I found online, turned out I was very lucky as we booked a very luxurious villa in Fuerteventura; the perfect place for switching off.

Fuerteventura is the second largest island in the Canaries but it is not as highly populated as most of the others. The weather is fairly consistently mid 20’s with a breeze so warm enough to enjoy outdoor activities without getting too hot and bothered.

As I mentioned earlier, the accommodation we had was quite spectacular, it was a few kilometres out of the most popular town Corralejo but as we had a hire car included we knew that wasn’t an issue. It was beautifully peaceful; we had our own private hot tub, swimming pool and terrace. Breakfast was included and it was very impressive, doughnuts for breakfast anyone?

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It was really easy to get about on the Island as there are not many roads and traffic is minimal. Public transport is notoriously bad so a hire care is really recommended! One day we took a trip down to the South to visit the Zoo and Botanical Gardens, it was a real highlight as love animals and I really love giant cactus.

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We also took a dune buggy tour one afternoon, 3 hours of whizzing about in the sand getting very dusty but also getting to visit some little places on the West coast. We loved the fishing village of El Cotillo so much that we went back for our last day. Our best meal of the holiday was there too in a fish restaurant overlooking the sea.

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So that is what I did whist I had full week of my shop in ‘Holiday mode’. I’ll be honest and say I did check my messages a couple of times but knowing that nobody could actually purchase anything gave me the few days off headspace that I needed to be able to come back full throttle. I really do recommend it, even if you are a self confessed workaholic or worried about the loss of earnings, your brain will thank you. I hope you liked my little snippet of my trip and if you have any questions about visiting Fuerteventura feel free to ask me in the comments but I’ll leave you with my tips for having an Etsy shop break.

5 TOP TIPS FOR TAKING A BREAK FROM YOUR ETSY SHOP

  1. Time your holiday for a relatively quiet time. A couple of years ago I went away in September; generally my busiest month of the year and it was so stressful. I will not make that mistake again. Everyone’s business will be different; if you sell wedding stuff then you will want to be around for late Spring, early Summer, if you sell woolly hats, you can probably spare a week or two in high summer.
  2. Give your customer’s plenty of warning that you will be unavailable between certain dates and by unavailable that means you wont be able to respond to queries etc. either. You could mention it on your social media channels, put up a banner on your shop and alter your announcement. Just remember to switch it back when you return.
  3. Use the automation features provided by Etsy. This might include the ‘Holiday Mode’ but also the automatic convo response. You can set it to magically send a reply to anyone who contacts you.
  4. Stick to your cut off deadlines. As I sell mainly custom items which require a couple of days to prepare I close my shop a few days in advance so that I have plenty of time to clear them before I go away. In the few days before that I message any customers to explain about the cut off point. You also don’t want to be working right up to the line as that leaves no time for packing that suitcase or for any urgent last minute jobs that you might have forgotten.
  5. If you really have to check your messages whilst away, be strict with yourself and set a time limit. For example only look once every other day. I found that deleting the apps from my phone and switching off notifications helped as I was less inclined to have a quick peek if I had to login through the browser every time.

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