About a year and a half ago, I entertained the idea of joining custommade.com, a website in which craftspeople like myself are connected to prospective customers looking for custom made crafted products; not just objects of wood, but metal work, apparel, glasswork, and more. Not only do craftspeople submit their items for sale – a portfolio – but there is a jobs board in which potential clients submit “want ads” that craftspeople can bid on. In theory, it was a great way to bring these two parties together (where else would you go if you wanted a custom pet bed or stained glass window?).
Problem was, from my perspective, that they wanted in excess of $500 to buy an account. That was a lot of money for essentially a cooperative website, so I didn’t buy into it. I don’t recall if they also wanted a percentage of your sales. So, I begged off.
It’s tough selling woodworking online. Problem is, people want a great table, but refuse to spend (for instance) $2,000 for it, when they can but one at Ashley furniture for $600 – and hey, it looks great! Never mind the finish will wipe off in about 2 weeks, and the legs will start getting wobbly just in time for dinner. Another disadvantage is that people can’t see the piece in person – they can’t feel how solid it is, touch the smooth finish, admire the beauty of the wood, from a small picture on their computer. You also have the problem of search engine results – if you aren’t on the first page (if not the top three results) on Google, you might as well not bother; people aren’t going to find you. So not only do you have to be an expert at mortise and tenon joints, but in search engine placement; and then, hopefully you will be considered for the job (if you have a great looking website, by the way). I won’t sugar coat it – I wasn’t doing squat for sales – and I was trying very hard. I designed web sites, briefly, so I can put together a decent presentation.
Obviously, people have to know you exist for them to buy from you. You can pay for advertising in an appropriate magazine – figure about $500 an issue – or trying putting up your own website, paying someone to do that and experimenting with pay-per-click ads on Google – which never worked for me either. Look, we are woodworkers, not marketing geniuses; we just want to sell our stuff. We don’t have thousands to throw at websites, search engine optimization, hosting fees, advertisements and so on. What’s a good solution for us?
Turns out, it IS CustomMade.com. I revisited them a few months ago – I was always interested in their model – and discovered that they have changed their pricing structure; they only charge one dollar a year now, and take 10% of your sales – a fair amount. The website is also vastly improved (expect for their confusing messaging system between client and maker), and they obviously have interest from prospective clients, as evidenced by the over 1,000 job requests on their client board. So, I bit the bullet and joined. You’re on my website, and I’m sure you’ve seen I sell off of here (as well as Etsy), but having another venue is not a bad idea. Turns out, it was a great idea. I’ve gotten more business there than I ever have anywhere else – and I’ve only been on about 3 months. I wished I’d had joined a year ago (or whenever they changed to this new model). Also, you can dictate terms for payment – typically, that’s 50% up front, 50% on delivery, but that can modified to suit your arrangement.
So let me give you some tips on CustomMade. First, you need to be pretty darn good as a woodworker (or jeweler, stained glass artist, etc), because the guys already on there are VERY good, and you’ll have competition. If you have pictures of your work, they have to be very good – not some crap of a clock against a wrinkled laundry sheet, or such ( I should put up a blog post about how to take good photos). You should have at least 10 items in your portfolio, and your profile filled out. Your profile photo can be your logo, a decent head shot of you, or of your in your shop – but nobody really cares what your shop looks like, honestly. You IN the shop? That’s better. When you go looking for a job posted by a potential client, don’t just reply, “Yes, I’ll do that for $500” Make it a pitch, sell yourself. If possible, show them a concept drawing, either freehand, in Sketchup, or an image from the Internet. The tenor of your pitch should be “business friendly” – that is, businesslike, but not a rigid robot. Instead of “I can do that sewing cabinet – $500”, say something like “Hi Jane, that’s a very interesting project you’re looking to have done. I did something similar with my medicine cabinet – which you can see in my portfolio. I took the opportunity to re-sketch that project to hopefully fit into your vision for this project – hope to hear from you.” Something like that. People want to be wooed a little bit here.
Let me stress too, that you need to exceed expectations for customers, not just meet them. I’m not saying put gold leaf on the project, but things like keeping the customer up to date with pictures and messages (which increases excitement), shipping it earlier than expected, packing the piece professionally, including a nice little thank you note inside the cabinet, things like this. Give them what the big-box stores won’t. If you wow your customers, they are going to come back, and they are going to tell their friends about you, and that’s exactly what you need to depend on for future sales.
So that’s been my experience; I haven’t had much success with Etsy, my own website, or even advertising; but I have had great experience with CustomMade, and I would recommend them.