How Do I Find My People (Who Buy Stuff)?
September 24, 2015 7:44 PM   Subscribe

A spiritual follow-up to this question - I have a hobby that is producing stuff that people occasionally buy from my Etsy shop. After an initial flurry in the spring, sales have dried up over the summer. I feel like My People are out there - how do I find them without spending more time shilling than actually making stuff?

Steps Attempted:
1) Localish convention of My People with art show!
------ A polite "Thanks but no thanks" for my stuff (I could pay for table, tho....)
2) Joined local Arts Association!
------ Showed up for my first volunteer session to find half of my stuff had been stuck in a random drawer somewhere for reasons? The other half was still in the "pending display" area. I've repacked some stuff to prevent random drawer stuffing, but still have little faith.
3) Looked into local Craft Fair!
------ Tables start at like 200 bucks and there are a lot of requirements regarding tents and weights and other stuff I can't borrow from friends that would raise my outlay to $500 for the day. That's 20 sales to break even before actually paying for materials/time. While I live in Halloween Town USA and we get a lot of tourists, I don't do the witches/black cat stuff that sells well here.
4) Reddit?
------ Reddit has rightly cracked down on Etsy links spamming up the joint.
5) Tumblr?
------ I began to try to shill on Twitter and Tumblr, but a recent instance when a Thing I Made was shared/liked by 400 folks on Tumblr resulted in 1% of them actually clicking on the included link to the shop, I am at a loss. It's not that the kids have no money, it's that they don't even look at the store. Based on prior attempts, I feel like direct shills get reblogged/liked less, so I dunno.

I do HP Lovecraft/Alien Abduction/Dinosaur Knight based art. There is a niche here somewhere. I'm not looking to retire on my wealth, but a sale a week average would be nice. Where and how can I market to My People without continuing to tilt the cash/time balance away from the part I enjoy - making stuff?
posted by robocop is bleeding to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I do HP Lovecraft/Alien Abduction/Dinosaur Knight based art.

NO idea how sales work there, but this genre/style sounds like it would fit in well at DeviantArt - at least from a lot of what I've seen there when I stumble on a link to something while meandering around the web.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:24 PM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I do HP Lovecraft/Alien Abduction/Dinosaur Knight based art.

This does not sound like the stuff typically sold at local craft fairs and galleries. I'd bet your customers are various flavors of science fiction and horror enthusiasts, Trekkies, cosplayers, comic collectors, etc. Instead of aiming to sell at an even pace through the year, maybe plan on traveling to the occasional convention where there will be many, many people who'll get a kick out of your type of work.
posted by jon1270 at 8:25 PM on September 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

Display or sell to comic shops?
posted by irisclara at 8:33 PM on September 24, 2015

Start a pinboard showcasing your work. People will repin if the like it and it self-propagates without you having to do anything beyond catalog the pieces on Pinterest as you do them. have them link back to you site and to available for sale items.

Comic shops are good. Museum shops maybe. Donate some to local big-deal charity auctions, it gets your work scene and lends it legitimacy.

I always really like it when artists have cheap postcard sized reproduction s of their work ... Even if I can't afford a cthulu 8 foot painting and my husband would disapprove, I can buy a $3 postcard size to frame and smile whenever I see, and tell people about you when they wonder where I got it. I know a lot of artists don't, for good reason, but I personally eventually com back to buy a real piece.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:05 PM on September 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

Have you considered art shows at a science fiction convention?

Pro Tip: what you probably want is a fandom con. If the guests are primarily authors, you're on the right track. (See this comment here.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:21 PM on September 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think the ratio of "looks" to "sales" is typically high in retail. So, it's not only connecting with your "tribe" but figuring out what's your best return on time investment. And unfortunately there's no crystal ball for this. Fortunately, trying things and giving it enough time to observe results is pretty straightforward.

Pinterest was a good suggestion. How about a facebook page?

Do you do the stuff you do because of an interest in the field? Find some community cyber spaces (such as forums) and contribute. Be useful to the community rather than just shill. Have a link or mention of your work in your signature line.
posted by dancing leaves at 4:46 AM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Make sure your stuff is in Pinterest and you use relevant keywords in the description.
posted by radioamy at 7:58 AM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing sci fi/fandom cons. I see this type of stuff all the time (at least, when we lived in Dallas and went to the cons there). And we buy a lot of art.
posted by getawaysticks at 10:25 AM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

For years I've made a (respectable) living solely off etsy, FWIW:

In my experience the most important promotional tool you can use is etsy itself. They have changed their layout and algorithms so much that I don't even know what the current voodoo is, but it seems to still be true that posting any new listing sends up "flags" throughout the site that attract attention.

This used to include brief visibility on the homepage as well as "new listings" feeds - that isn't so much the case anymore, but "newness" does still give a listing an advantage in terms of showing up in search results and the "favorites" list of people who have noticed your shop in the past.

For this reason, it is wise to post as many damn listings as you can muster. For THAT reason, it is wise to get into selling supplies, because making things takes time. Is there anything you buy in bulk for your own use, that you could break into smaller lots and sell as craft supplies? (I'd be glad to help you brainstorm this if you could tell us your basic materials.)

If you look at the etsy forums (DON'T though, they're the worst) you will see a lot of hand-wringing about whether supplies and handmade items should be sold in the same shop. Doesn't mater; personal decision. Keeping them separate or together has, in my experience, no effect on viewer attention or sales.

Another smart thing is to sell items at a variety of price points. The postcard suggestion above is super smart. Stickers too. Or just miniature/less complex versions of what you normally do. The broader you can make your shop, in terms of price point and varied items, the better. This will let you show up in many more search results.

You never know what people will end up buying, once they've been drawn to your shop. A person looking for postcards or sorting by cheapest items first, may end up looking through your whole shop and buying your most complex, expensive item. Or might forward a link to a friend with deep pockets.

If you're not filling up every single photo and keyword slot on 100% of your listings, you are wasting free opportunities.

I would be glad to take a look at your shop if you'd like.

Oh, and summer just sucks. I don't know why (vacation?) but everybody's sales dry up. This is when it starts to turn around now, so it's a great time to improve your shop. Honestly your efforts will be far, far better spent on your shop itself, than any of this tumblr/reddit/etc stuff. At least in my experience.

Good luck!
posted by jessicapierce at 11:38 AM on September 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

Not an expert, just in the same boat as you. I noodle around and reinvent the wheel, but:
I don't want to spend time shilling either, so I generally prefer to put my time into building permanent rather than momentary exposure. Eg. I'm less interested in a table or booth that lasts a weekend (networking isn't my forte), and more interested getting a status quo where my picture will come up in google-image-search results from the kind of search terms that might reasonably be used by someone who has no idea my work exists, but is "my people".

Your tumblr one-percent click-through is ok. The world is awash in art and culture, people have infinite options, but there's also a lot of people, so just keep placing it in front of eyeballs, and keep taking notes like you just did.

Give yourself a slender budget (the price of one sale?) to experiment with cheap paid advertising online too. Facebook, google, etc.

Have stuff on Etsy, google, facebook, pinterest, etc so that the tumblr's of the ecosystem etc can always find material. Your particular people are probably on google rather than bing, but keep an eye out for the bings of the world - alternative services that might be smaller, but where your advertising dollar might go further within that smaller pool. etc.

I'm planning on making a website. I don't know the SEO tricks to make it rank highly and aren't interesting in studying that, but I'm interested to find out if having control over keywords , page contents, image descriptions etc, will allow me to make the site rank higher when "my people" do more specialized searches, and more importantly for me, in my brain, making a website registers as "creating" rather than "shilling" :)
posted by anonymisc at 3:11 PM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: First, thank you to all who answered. I've done a hands-off thing for this thread because I don't want to shill where I eat. Hopefully enough time has passed that I can say this is my shop.

I cannot attend conventions. Between a 5 year old kid and a sometimes involves weekends work schedule, I just don't have that time to give (let alone the table fees, ramped up production costs, possible hotels, etc) to do that.

I've signed up and been accepted for Amazon Homemade, also offsite manufacturing on Etsy for t-shirts. I also have a small Promoted Listings budget that does... stuff...?

Pinterest is a great idea. I've started an Instagram, but it is slow going there due to my dumbness regarding hashtags.

Any additional ideas or experiences are super welcome.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:17 PM on September 25, 2015

Check your stats within Etsy to see if this is true for you, but that Promoted Listings thing is a famously useless money-drainer in nearly all cases.
posted by jessicapierce at 5:24 PM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Speaking as a shopper, this is the sort of interestingly thought-out, visually pleasing stuff I struggle to find on Etsy. So Düreresque! And at my price point!

I do HP Lovecraft/Alien Abduction/Dinosaur Knight based art. There is a niche here somewhere.

Are you expecting people to find you via search terms? Because speaking as a shopper, I have had crap luck using search terms, and it would not have occurred to me to use those you mention above. Whatever term I use brings up a whole lot of crap and I have not figured out how to tell Etsy to just show me stuff that is NOT BORING OR CRAPPY by my doubtless socioculturally particular standards.

In other words, as a shopper, I am likewise looking to Find My People. What seems to work best so far is to find stuff via Favorites. Like, looking at who else has favorited a shop, or who follows me, or whatever, and checking out the stuff they have favorited.

Can you work on that sort of social networking WITHIN Etsy itself, so that you are shilling where you are selling?
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:32 PM on September 25, 2015

So this is my local con's art show info. Note the "mail in" information. So you don't actually have to go the con (with all the additional expense that entails). Yes, it's still more expensive than Etsy, but it's 2000 people who are going to be herded past your art hung on a wall rather than if they put in the proper search term because they know they want what you're selling.

Not sure if that makes it worth it to you or not, but It doesn't have to be as expensive as I think you're thinking it's going to be.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:33 PM on September 28, 2015

Keep an ear to the ground for local, one-day indoor shows, which don't require the outlay for a popup tent, usually have a much more affordable booth fee, and often even provide you with a table and chair(s). I always forget to poke around Etsy's "local" feature, where shops can post info about upcoming events which can be searched geographically; you may find a small market that could provide a niche for your stuff. They're out there!

It's also worth checking a few such shows out as a to get a feel for what other people are selling, and (depending on the vendors and your rapport with them) getting a sense of whether a given show might be worth your time. Mrs usonian and I have been doing occasional weekend shows for a few years now and it definitely took some trial and error to figure out what kind of shows are worth the time and/or money.

I know you're somewhat time restricted (and we're getting to the end of the season here in New England) but one thing that also helped us fine tune some things was selling at our local farmer's market; it was a few hours each week and although we learned that there just isn't much of a local market for our stuff, but it was a good laboratory for trying different things in terms of displays, and getting a sense of how different ages and "tribes" reacted to our stuff. A lot of markets encourage vendors to sign up for an entire season, but do allow people to pay at and set up for individual days too. (Not sure how expensive or picky farmer's markets are further east in Massachusetts; out by us they're pretty cheap both for the season and the "one day pass" option.)
posted by usonian at 1:17 PM on September 28, 2015

Many of your West Coast people shop at Crafty Wonderland. Perhaps you could ask the organizers if they have any cousins, so to speak, around Boston.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:06 PM on September 28, 2015

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