A friend, Ann Walker, messaged me, saying....quote: "You've been making soap a long time, I remember when I met you at a street fair almost 20 years ago! How can you still possibly LIKE doing this? Any words of hope for a new crafter like me? What would be your 10 Commandments of having a successful craft business?"
With her permission.....I'll post answer here, and if any other biz owners want to chime in...please do! I in no way consider myself an expert...I only know my own experiences.
OK...10 Commandments....errr......mine stretched to 14 Commandments......(sorry, but for me, they are all valid!) ;)
#1 - Love what you do. I can't imagine working this hard and NOT liking what I do. There will still be days you might fall out of love with it temporarily or from exhaustion...but recognize that that's when you most need to either take a break get re-acquainted with your craft or art, or pursue some new angle to it. As Frederico Fellini said "Never lose your childish enthusiasm." Keep your curiosity. If you have fallen out of love with it longterm...maybe it isn't really the craft/job for you and you're still on a journey to find one. Chalk it up to "live and learn". It's not a failure. No lesson is invaluable! A lot of people aren't cut out to be self-employers...sometimes they don't know this till they try, and either fail or succeed at it.
# 2 - Goes without saying, but treat your customers the same as you'd like to be treated. Try to see your business through their eyes, what's the first, middle, and last impression you leave with them? And don't get lax just because you know a customer well for many years. Always be willing to help them as much as you can. What is good for them, is good for you in the long run. So going the extra mile to be helpful, often pays you back in multiples.
#3 - Beware the old addage of "fake it till you make it". (Why do I hate hearing that so much?) If a customer asks you something you don't know the answer to, or how to do it.....be honest. They'd much rather hear you say "I don't know the answer to that, but I'll research it/try it and get back to you."...rather than a flubbed attempt that ends up in ineptness or disaster. You'll both learn the truth if you handle it this way, and what better answer? Another phrase I oft hear tossed around in business that I personally despise is: "Don't take it personally , it's just business". Well, personally, I can't think of anything MORE personal THAN my business. If it doesn't reflect me and my personal convictions...then WTH? Why am I DOING THIS? If you're the sort who adopts the credo of "Don't take it personally, it's just business"....be prepared to answer for who are YOU, really??? People can't really make the separation....get used to it. And for heaven's sake, never insult anyone else by using that awful phrase!
#4 - Source out the best suppliers of everything you use in your product-making--THE BEST! Don't purchase based on just cost-effectiveness for *your* bottom line. If you want to build repeat-buyer clientele, this will only happen if you have a product that is of quality and speaks for itself. Some people have business models where they are constantly seeking and trying to find new clients. If you make an excellent product, your repeat-buyer clientele will establish itself and you won't need to be constantly looking for new customers, original clients and referrals become your mainstay...unless you want to build a rapidly growing empire....with all the inherent growth issues of employees, more venues, insurances, salaries, etc.
#5 - Be absolutely honest in your labeling, marketing, & website verbage. Avoid vague generalized statements that lies or half-truths can be hidden or genericized beneath. The public is smarter than you may think and can smell a quasi-truth-teller a mile away. One lie can scare a very good customer away for.ev.er....as well as all the people THEY tell. If you don't know honest answers or honest marketing info to disperse...then you have no business being in business till you do.
#6 - Know how to run a business...all the down and dirty, boring, technical, legal and administrative stuff. Even if you hire someone else to do these duties, always know what is going on with them, oversee. Observe your bank accounts. Drag out all your receipts, know what it costs to make your product, the labor involved, source out usual and customary costs other peers are selling at, what your market will bear, and don't sell yourself short or you will be out of business in no time. Are you in business to make money, or in the business of giving your product and labor away? Nothing will make someone quit a business faster than realizing your profits are well below your losses. And all that work, for what? Beware of being too absorbed with what everyone else in you field is doing...set your own reasonable and fair bar. People WILL pay for quality and expertise!
#7 - Establish policies you run your business by, either through experience, what you see others in the same biz doing, and common sense. Often new business owners don't have any policies until they've suffered some awful experience with a client or customer that forces them to *then* make a policy on it. Check out others' policies and ask why they have them if you can't guess why.
#8 - Some customers live and shop by telling you that "the customer is always right". And some get far with this credo/scam. It's up to you how far you want to allow this motto to rule your own business life. Some customers are out to use, abuse and lose you....as far as you'll let them take you. Having set policies you adhere to can help avoid those who seek to abuse the opportunity to buy from you. And keep even the playing field and lines of communication for reasonable customers with an issue you need to help resolve.
#9 - You are in the business of selling X product, you are not in the business of financing...or are you??? If a client approaches you about financing a product/project for them on your dime, that they can't or won't afford to pay you for upfront, chances are very likely that they are in some kind of financial, credit, or legal trouble and want YOU to go out on a limb to fund their project for them. This is very dicey turf to tread on. Think about it...how much are you willing to "loan" or "give" a customer...because that in essence, is exactly what you are doing, and stand to lose. I learned this lesson initially and early in my business the very painful way to the tune of $22,000 out of my own pocket. I don't wish it on anyone. Stick to your policies. Do not yield. A customer lost may very well be a huge problem lost.
#10 - Trust your gut. Most customers/clients are awesome, can even develop into valued lifetime friendships. But when your gut is telling you *something jus' ain't right" with someone...BELIEVE IT! No sale is worth the heachache, heartache, and migraine misery some people can cause you...just because they are less than desirable folk! Cut 'em loose and don't think twice about it. Truly! Good customers far outweigh the bad...just move on.
#11 - I always consider my customer relationships a sort of *holy thing*. Like a doctor/patient priviledged relationship. Often they tell you things about themselves, or experiences with other vendors in the same industry, and it can sometimes be a very personal, non-flattering thing; you need to keep this confidential. Revealing it to anyone else makes you look the non-discreet, unprofessional fool! Know how to keep your mouth shut and out of other people's issues. Kindly be an ear, if they really press the issue of needing to be heard, perhaps offer a diplomatic "maybe this is why"....but let them hash out their problems amongst themselves....it's not your place to get involved. Only suggest that there may be a resolution awaiting arrival. Take the high road.
#12 - Having customers truly is a gift. Especially when you're online, global. You get to meet people all over the world, different backgrounds and points of view. Enjoy this opportunity. Learn from it. When customers give you feedback, absorb it, apply it! It can help you define your company, your views, and how to serve better!
#13 - Stay current in your industry. Network, know others, share, give back to honest accolytes. Know when to stay out of industry-related in-fighting and pettiness...it's never worth it to waste your time on perceived power struggles that some only pursue to try to make an ego-based name for themselves. If one's name isn't attached solely and most significantly to good product & service, they're not going to go far. While knowing current trends, don't feel necessarily obligated to follow and replicate "every new thing". Know yourself and your true business identity...live it.
#14 - Your business can begin to become your life, but know how to keep it separate or it truly will become your life. You're a business owner, but you are also an individual who is no doubt also a partner or spouse. mother, father, sister, brother, child, friend, and neighbor. Don't get so involved with your business that you forget about the rest of life. It's so sweet and in-need of enjoying. And will no doubt enhance your business when you find that sacred balance between both!