Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rejection Story #2: A Marketing Lesson

I am not an Etsy rock star and my shop is not one of those that rocketed out of the gate when I started. In the past few months, however, I have been getting orders and sales consistently in my online shop. Apparently, slow and steady can at times, win the race. I found out that my natural inclination of burying myself in my art and avoiding self promotion is not a good way to sell successfully online. Who would have known?

Rejection Story #2: How being rejected found me the courage to self-promote (Part 1).

Self promotion is as a natural to most artist types as it is for Hollywood celebrities to have the propensity to stay married. Of course, as generalities go, there are always exceptions: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson come to mind. Unfortunately, I am not an exception in the self promotion arena. I am one of those artist types who think self promotion is a four letter word.

The great irony is I began selling my handmade jewelry at local festivals. By virtue of showing up, it is a non stop buffet of self promotion. There, I had to set up a tent, lay out my lovingly made jewelry, and basically try to self promote. It was a lot like trying to sell my soul and watching it getting rejected over and over again. Not very pretty.

Fortunately, I am married to a natural self or otherwise promoter: he is a professional business marketing guru. So at the local festivals, we found a great system - he would promote and sell my handmade jewelry whilst I pretended I was anywhere else but there. Quite literally, I would sit at the back of the tent and wire wrap and do consults for custom work; he would greet everyone who walked by and hand out my business cards. For me, it was perfect. My husband was in his element doing what he did well and I could ignore that whole self promotion - selling part of the business. Best of all, my soul was not being rejected.

The Change
Last year was the fifth year that my husband and I had been selling at festivals. By which time of course, he now wanted a different weekend than what I had in store for him. So, for several reasons, we decided it was time. Time for me to be brave and attend some smaller local festivals on my own and sell my stuff by myself.

Unhappy about the new development but realistic about my marriage, I decided to put my big girl panties on and venture out on my own.

On a scale of 1 to 10 of life experiences, it was not bad at all. I definitely learned to talk to strangers, and got a great feel of who my clientele were, what they were like and what they wanted. But then again, I am from the school of thought that what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger. So, of course given the choice between being out at a festival selling my soul, or staying home and making jewelry, I would still rather stay home.

After almost a year of selling in person, I decided that I preferred to increase my online sales and try to decrease my presence at festivals. This sounded like a great plan until I realized that no one was busting down my virtual shop door to buy my handmade jewelry online.

The New Hope
Then, I heard about a promotion company that promised to market and promote online handmade shops to their own clients. These clients had credit card in hand and ready to shop. I heard that shops featured boasted views in the high hundreds and some even in the thousands for a one day feature. Their sales were phenomenal, I heard through the grapevine.

It sounded like an anti-self promoter’s dream come true. A promotion company who would promote for me and all I had to do was pay in jewelry goods. This was an inexpensive “soul buffer” plan.

I did more research on this company called Heartsy. Heartsy is a Groupon-esque site but their specialty was promoting handmade shops. Similar to Groupon, a client would go to the Heartsy website, purchase a discount voucher for their selected shop. Then the client would use the voucher at that shop and receive goods which were essentially discounted at 50% - 55% off. The promise was Heartsy would bring tremendous traffic to the shops featured. In exchange, the shop owner would sell their wares for similar to wholesale prices to Heartsy’s large clientele. A fifty percent discount (50%) was a steep fee for me. But, if I counted that loss as part of my marketing budget, it was money well spent.

The Audition
I went to the Heartsy website and found out that I had missed the boat on them courting Etsy shops. Now, I had to basically “audition” to get in. They had a voting system to sort through the hundreds of shops asking for a Heartsy feature. Undeterred, I turned in my item pictures and waited for the votes to come in. I received the minimum number of votes quite quickly and exceeded the required number when the final voting hour came. Delighted that I was not rejected immediately, I waited patiently for my “Congratulations, you are going to be featured on Heartsy” letter.

But like the guy who called five days too late after a fabulous date, even though he clearly said “I’ll call you tomorrow,” Heartsy didn’t call back right away.

They didn’t get in touch with me until almost three weeks after my votes were tallied. To pour lemon juice on my paper cut bruised ego, the long awaited response from them was an automated e-mail which said something like, “Thanks for submitting, we got your votes. We’re really busy, so please don’t call us, we‘ll call you.”

At which point, I had plenty of time to wonder if this soul buffer plan was - A) too good to be true, B) going to have a huge catch, or C) even worth worrying about.

The Rejection
After two more weeks of patiently waiting, I finally got an e-mail from a Heartsy human. The e-mail essentially said, “Thanks for applying. We LOVE your shop, but, it looks like our voters are not so in love with your stuff. So, in order for you to play with us, we need you to offer a minimum of a 73% discount on your gorgeous painstakingly handmade jewelry. Let us know what you think.”

To say the least, I was insulted. Not only did they take their sweet time responding to me. They obviously didn’t even read my online application which stated I was only willing to offer a 52% discount at the most. And yeah no, I didn’t let them know what I thought. I am not one to burn bridges, but I had a match in my hand that day.

Insulted, livid and having a huge urge to scream, I went to the one place I knew I could vent - the Etsy Forums (of course). I didn’t even need to start my own thread as there was one started for me. Someone else had an almost identical scenario to mine. They didn’t like Heartsy’s pay to play offer either. So, after discussing the pros and cons of being featured in Heartsy, I heard a softly whispered voice of encouragement which said simply “you’re better off, fineheart” from one of my favorite shop owners on Etsy. I decided, she was right.

The Epiphany
I was better off!

I was better off learning to self promote and do it myself. Why was I so quickly willing to give up all my profit just so I can protect my feelings from being hurt? I decided right then that I was no longer willing to pay to play. No soul buffer was worth a 50%, 60% and definitely not a 73% discount for my lovingly handmade jewelry. It was just not worth it.

I realized that step number one had to be: how to get over the emotional hurdle of self promotion. In order for me to sell my wares effectively online, I had to learn how to do it, how to love it and how to be good at it. It was a must do. It was not optional. And yes, it was up to me.

My new mantra would be “self promotion” is not a four letter word.

I researched every article I can find about online marketing. I finally studied what “target marketing” really meant. I observed what other successful shops did. I learned from professional advertisers. I became a student of marketing techniques. It was like learning about another job. It was time consuming, but I knew would be an invaluable tool to selling online. And finally, after all that learning and studying, I followed the advice of a very famous ad’s tag line - “just do it”.

I unabashedly applied all my new marketing knowledge to my handmade jewelry shop on Etsy. I used what worked and threw out what did not. I learned to self promote effectively.

The Result
Within a month of diligently and actively self promoting my online shop, I started to see my sales become more consistent. I have never before achieved consistent sales online and it was finally happening. The very cool part was that I knew the sales were coming in because of the effort I put forth. I finally became a shop that had consistent weekly sales. The best part was? One amazing week, I achieved Heartsy-esque sales numbers without the coveted Front Page feature, being found in the Etsy Finds, or a Heartsy feature with large discounts. I did it with just some old fashioned elbow grease and effective self promotion.

Moral of the Story which is Lesson #1
If you own a business and want to sell your wares, you will have to find a way to actively market your shop. This will inevitably lead to self promotion. Self promotion is not a four letter word. Learn about promoting and marketing. Learn to live it and love it. Eventually, you will be more comfortable with it and then you will become an effective promoter. And just like Tom and Rita, whose Hollywood celebrity marriage may just find a way to make it, you may become a promotional and marketing guru yourself.

Next post: The 5 Basic Steps I Took to Self Promote Effectively

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends, fellow shop owners, or your virtual audience by tweeting, on facebook, or e-mail.


  1. Cool post. I hate self promotion too.

    I have tried various things though but no matter I do it seems as though art is a tough sell online. I've found that I'm having better luck having my work on consigment at Earthworks in Leesburg. :0)

  2. Entertaining and informative post. I am looking forward to the next installment.

  3. Self promotion - ugh - I know it seems to be a common 'problem' with artists :).

    I do think selling fine art online is one of the more challenging things to do. There are 2 main issues, I think.

    1 - People want to 'see' the work for details which even with the best photography is very difficult to do (like your work - which you know I adore - is so textural it is really difficult to communicate it via a very flat medium - the computer screen).

    2 - People want to 'feel' the art. What I mean is art is largely experiencial. You see a painting, the whole of it evokes a feeling for you. Where you saw it, how you are feeling, the size of the art work, how it is hung, the way you experience the scale of it has a lot to do with the experience and emotional response. Of course unless someone is surfing and shopping on the web on their 50 inch flat tv screen, you can never convey the 'life size' version of your art work.

    With that said, I believe the shops that sell art online also have some kind of presence in person - a gallery, or they attend fine art shows and sell in person. Then they can use their online venue as another way to engage their clients or future clients. So once a person sees their work live, the person can hopefully translate it to what they see on their computer screen at home.

    Congratulations on your work being featured at Earthworks! I think having your art there brightens the whole place up! And, it is definitely a step in the right direction to get people to view your beautiful paintings.

  4. Ugh, I'm sorry the people at Heartsy played you like that. 73% off is just ridiculous. Heartsy *can* be beneficial, but it's definitely not for every shop.

    I can't wait to hear about the things that have worked for you instead! :-)

  5. thanks much for the great post! can't wait to read the next one..I have done quite a few fairs in the last couple years and get better at it every year...I think i am pretty good at it now and I really believe in my product too. I ,ve done well on etsy too without promoting however i have been trying hard to learn more too..its overwhelming but its gotta be done! Online sales have been slow for me lately so it gives me more incentive to push harder!
    hope u will check out my FB fan gage and Like it!
    Still trying to figure out how to make this more engaging!

  6. I am another who has a hard time with self promotion.... Your post was inspiring.
    And 73% off - that is totally nuts! : )

  7. An absolutely amazing and helpful post! I've tried to get into Hearty a couple of times when the site started. I never did get past the voting stage. Now I'm glad I never did, but I think if you crunch the numbers, the amount you lose for promotion on Heartsy could easily pay for some high exposure advertising that may actually benefit your shop more in the long run.

  8. I'm glad your "rejection" turned out to be a learning experience :)
    I've heard many similar stories about Heartsy and I can't see using them either.
    Can't wait to read about your tips!

  9. What a great and informative post. I'll have to keep following!

  10. I love your frank and blunt writing style, and completely identify with your introverted natural style. But I equally love that you don't just accept that, and move out of your comfort zone for the sake of your goals.

    Great series, can't wait for the next.

  11. What a great story! I really identify with the feeling of "selling your soul" and that moment of painful rejection. I love how you drew strength from adversity. I'm looking forward to your next post!

  12. Oh my gosh, thank you for this blog post, it's great to find out that i'm not the only one out there that is averse to self-promotion! coming from a chinese family , where humility is a virtue, self promotion seems a tad too obnoxious for my liking, but i guess i need to start doing it. thank you again, i'll be looking forward to your next installment!

  13. Hey there, Found you through Handmadeology. Thank you for this post. I, too struggle with self-promotion. Kudos to you for stepping up and promoting. P.S. Your jewelry is absolutely gorgeous.

  14. I really enjoy your blog content and its so well designed too! I am trying to learn more about improving my blog. Did you do yours yourself? I'd love to know how you made the tabs on your page and the sign up for newsletters..anything you can share about this would be great!

  15. Thank you for all the replies! It IS a great thing to know I am not alone either! It's a continuous struggle with learning how to market and promote. But, I really do believe slow and steady can get you your prize!

  16. I just wanted to echo all the "thanks" I see above! I'd say I'm "in the womb" as far as selling handmade things goes; I have a fledgling blog and no shop (due to the terms of my AmeriCorps service year, ending soon- eek!). Posts like yours are a huge inspiration and also a healthy reality check. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences with the rest of us. I'm looking forward to perusing your archives!


  17. Thanks you so much for sharing this information. I really don't understand self promotion and I think it is time to start doing it. I have for the past year tried making all kinds of differnt things to put in my shops with the hopes that it would start attracting customers, but to no avail. I have been discouraged to say the least. But you have encouraged me and even though I need to get my shop filled up a bit more, I will follow your advice and study self promotion. God bless you for sharing. Love your jewelry just beautiful. When I have a couple of nickles I'm coming back for something of yours. Prim hugs, Cathy