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Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Business?....

I get regular questions via many of my online points of contact about my business (es).  The fact that I run it from a tiny little room from a tiny rural village is what most people find fascinating about it.  Most want to know how they can also get into the internet business from the I thought I would do a post about what I am learning about the experience. 

How did I start?
I actually started selling drawings, paintings and handcrafted items when I moved to California to go to college.  To avoid eating potatoes for weeks on end I had to find a way to generate some extra income.  This is probably where I learned the most about selling handcrafted items, especially when it came to quality and durability.  I found a local Native American shop that sold many different types of Native art, they would buy at wholesale prices.  The buyer was a very formidable woman who knew her stuff, and who probably taught me the most about selling my craft in the very short meetings we had together.  She would pick the item up, examine it closely for a few minutes, ask me very specific questions about the construction and then tell me what she would give me for it or tell me what I needed to change to sell it to her.  It was the 'telling me what to change' that really taught me something.  I learned about using the correct materials, glues, and techniques and everything else from her. The first time she suggested the changes I got incredibly mad at her.  I stomped out of the office in a huff of insulted pride.  I was, after all, 19 ...the age where you pretty much know everything.  A few weeks later I swallowed all that and made the changes, and she bought the item.  I began building the blocks of knowledge that would help me sell my items.  True craftsmen and craftswomen never stop learning their crafts.  I found that over the years those who stopped learning, also stopped selling.

How do I successfully sell online?
In my head I am not quite successful yet, but I do use my generated funds to supplement our lives and since my husband has never told me to get a 'real' job I figure it has to be somewhat successful.  The secret is this:  Spend way too much time online, and get a very comfortable chair to prevent back problems.  I spend on average a minimum of 4 hours a day just promoting and running my online business.  It's usually not fun stuff either, just repetitive and uninteresting stuff, like uploading photos, responding to emails and queries and doing a massive amount of research and reading.  I have tailored my online presence specific to what I am selling.  I tend to my contact spots like a gardener will tend to their plants.  I visit them a couple of times a day to ensure that my customers and future customers are aware and comfortable with me.  Being an online presence can become impersonal and distant which can be detrimental to your business. People always ask me how I promote online and can I tell them where to promote.  And my answer is always the same:  Go to where your customers are.  My customers will almost always be completely different than yours.  I cater to a wide age group, mostly women, almost always educated, and almost always they already have an interest in fine art and cultural art and health alternatives.  There is literally a huge list of attributes that I keep to target specific people, but this list is gleaned from years of research...mostly via google and Alaska state research.  I have a point of contact where they can ALWAYS get ahold of me quickly and can safely purchase my items.  I used to run my own site but found it to be quite expensive.  So now I use Etsy as my main access point.  The other places I have a presence are:

1. Deviant Art - attracts many ages, mostly on the young side, worldwide presence but literally MILLIONS of people on there.  I update my art regulary (or I try to anyways.)  Great place for inspiration and learning also!  My deviant art account:  Eskimoscrybe

2.  Facebook - I made my own page and I hold giveaways and regularly post neat stuff, I also use it to promote other artists that I find amazing.  There are also some awesome groups on facebook to promote selling your items.  For local Native crafts I love a new group called  ALASKA BARTER AND SELLER'S PAGE , but there are many many out there.  My facebook account:  CLICK HERE

3.  This section changes all the time:  Online groups.  I have been a member of many many groups to promote my work over the years, everything from yahoo groups to ebay .  They often change but google is your best friend here.  Just google your types of items and look for online groups and get comfy with using the different types of chat rooms and boards.  I often use keywords like 'Inuit Art' and 'Alaska Native' products and art.  I never make myself a nuisance to these groups, just let them know you exist, you can also find good opportunities to promote if you see where alot of them are going to purchase items.

4.  A blog.  Need I say more?  Here not only can I expose people to my random art and products but I can also let them see where I live and enjoy my experiences in this world.  And my equally random thoughts.  I become a person.  Albeit a person made of a series of words and paragraphs.  Showing up on other blogs is also super awesome!

5.  Other businesses.  I do sell to other businesses, mostly business that are in the Alaska tourist industry.  Sometimes they contact me, sometimes I contact them.  I have sold artwork and health products both, though it is sometimes time consuming and sometimes stressful I found that this is a great opportunity to reach customers in other locations.  I regularly send free samples or artwork samples out and work to build a continuous relationship with that business.

Other advice
~Be ready to embarrass yourself.  80% of the people I approach say no, I never see this as an insult just that they are not looking for my type of art or  product.  Rejection is education.

~Don't just build repeat customers.  They will in turn promote your product and service.  There are many many ways to do this the main ones being awesome service and awesome products.

~Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.  I probably could spend 8 hours a day on the computer if I wanted but I know after a certain amount of time my focus drifts off.  I also am aware of my I can produce in various amounts of time, I am still human.

~Educate yourself.  Find things that inspire you to learn different things.  Expand your horizons and knowledge base.  This also keeps you from getting bored.  I am an avid buyer of 'how to' books and I will eat up magazines.  I also find other artists and business people and stalk them and mimic what I like so much about their business and art.

~Educate your customer.  80% of my customers are not from my culture, so they will need to know basic things that you might think everyone would know (in Alaska).  It also promotes the uniqueness and amazing of your item.   I have made it a goal to use my business to bring money into the villages, rather than selling to my village alone.  This means that I will use less Inupiaq words and terminology when I write the descriptions of my product.  Keep your customer in mind always.  Imagine if you went to a different country...what would you want to know?

~Take good pictures.  There are many many sources online for taking good pictures of your product and art.  Use it.....your photos will be the ONLY connection to what you have to offer which can be a barrier.

~ Expect the ups and downs.  For me I expect to take a hit in the tourist off season and get a surplus in the tourist season.   As a consequence I tend to stash money and supplies like a ground squirrel. 

~ Be a real business.  Keep real records and learn what that means for you.  I absolutely throw a fit every time the tax season rolls around.  I  stomp around the house and moan and complain.  But I always do what I supposed to do to run a business, you don't want to get in trouble later.  This also includes knowing the rules about buying and selling Native crafts.  For way too much information you can visit the Alaska state site, and look up CITES.

Well that's the quick and dirty Business post! I hope it helped some and I would be happy to answer any questions I can. You can also post your info and contributions in the comments as I know all input is always valuable! 

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Q Q & A ..... #2

I am l a very small percentage of this blog.  The rest is made up of incredibly kind people that are willing to sometimes read my rambles.  So I thought I would start doing a 'Q and A' thing.  Post your Question as comments to this post and I will do my best to answer them in the next post!  It can be about anything!

And just to make this post less plain I'll add some photos of recent work!

polar bear fur and felt brooch

a new skin balm for people with skin issues. made with stinkweed

a scrimshaw baleen and stone necklace

Friday, March 2, 2012

Meat Eating Enviromentalist ....

I am a rabid user of a service called 'Stumble Upon.'  If you don't know what it is then it is worth seeing if you might enjoy it.  It can steal several hours of your day though if you are not careful.  Basically you sign up for it, check on the subjects you find interesting, and then it works to find the best websites/articles/news/etc. on the internet that you might like to view.  One afternoon I found myself reading two separate articles on vegetarianism/vegan-ism.  I find it as fascinating as I imagine people find my diet fascinating so I tend to always read these articles.  One of the articles began by saying; "You cannot be a meat eating environmentalist." 


It then went on to state that changing a people or culture to vegan-ism would create a more 'compassionate culture', and that vegan-ism is the 'natural order of human evolution.'  I wish I had had the forethought to actually bookmark the article but I'm sure if you wanted to you can find many articles that say the same things online.  I wrote a few notes to ponder over and moved on to other articles.  but I found myself mulling over these sentiments in the last few days, and since a blog is perfect for public mulling......

The arguments for encouraging vegan-ism are valid.  Living in California I often found myself driving by the 'Happy Cows' section of the state.  Thousands (millions?) of animals are stuffed into small spaces and fed re-processed dead animal parts and pumped with hormones to make them mega milk producing and to make their fat marble. (As you can tell some of my best friends are vegans or vegetarians).  I timed my trip once and it took me 30 minutes of driving 65 mph to escape the stench that these animals endured and created.  The methane could be literally explosive.  Forests all around the world are demolished to raise cattle.  An ex-boyfriends mom used to work at a modern slaughter plant, and she said she still had horrible nightmares of the place.  So yeah.

But then I think of those tiny stickers I find on my vegetables and fruit at the grocery store.  You know the ones that say another countries name? How else would I be able to buy 3/4 of my veggies in the winter, if they did not come from warmer countries across the globe?  And I have to wonder exactly under what humane conditions these farms have.  Do they pay their workers well?  Did they destroy acres of forest to plant these plants? What impact did this one banana I bought at Fred Meyers have on the natural world?  Unfortunately none of that information is on that tiny round sticker.

The argument that vegans are more compassionate as a whole is probably just a selling line, like something that would be dreamed up on the show Mad Men.  But it really bothers me that people automatically assume that if you kill animals then you must be less compassionate.  To me it is the complete opposite.  Compassion is almost always defined as being able to identify with another beings pain, and the need to alleviate or lessen it.  To be a good Inupiaq hunter you must always be in the mind of compassion, you must always work towards creating a situation that maxes out on the compassion level.  You must be aware of what pain you cause.  Your guns must be cleaned and sighted in.  You must have the ingrained physical memory to adjust your aim for wind, weather, distance, and circumstances, which demands hours and days of practice and training.  You must know every single behavior, trend, and instinct of the animal you are hunting.  Your gear and vehicle must be in shape, as well as your body to go where the animals are.  Every single thing we do all year long is to ensure that the animals we harvest are taken quickly and efficiently, without waste of our resources, without allowing an animal to be in unneeded suffering.  I once watched my husband run after a caribou for 5 hours straight to put done a bull that was wounded, but we thought nothing of it, besides making sure that it would never happen again.  To me that is compassion, knowing what impact you are having and ensuring that it involves as little pain as possible, and feeling that bit of guilt and changing your behavior accordingly.  Compassion is an act.

Of course this doesn't mean that I encourage everyone to grab a gun and go out hunting. But if you have the opportunity to use meat from a hunter or small local farm, or eggs from that neighbor down the street, or even just ask around and see if you have options for a once a week fish dinner, it can lead you to a more compassionate life.  In my opinion.  

I consider myself to be an environmentalist type (not Lucy Lawless environmentalist though). Simply because my own health and well being depend on what is going on in the environment.  Most of my family, including my mother, died of cancer.  And it is generally believed it is because of what exists in our environment today, the chemicals and imbalances.  The arctic tundra does not forget or process toxins the same way most places do, it tends to become more concentrated as it goes up the food chain...into our stomachs.  A lake here has always been a source of winter ice for drinking for generations, but a couple years ago it was declared as 'toxic' and hazardous.  Apparently the military stored some not very well protected liquids like gasoline near the lake and it leached into the ground.   The military had a weird thing about dumping massive amounts of gas in barrels all across the tundra, like a toxic pepper.  Me and my husband joke around and say we should start a line of camo clothing that makes you look like a rusted out metal barrel, because they are so incredibly numerous. A good book to read if you are a history buff is The Firecracker Boys by Dan O'neill, which talks about the beginnings of the Inupiaq Environmentalist movement here in Alaska....

What I always advocate to people is this: Know where your food came from and how, and reduce your burden on the food type exchange as much as possible.  Living in the rural village makes it possible for me to get meat and food that is almost as pure as you can get it, but it also makes us dependent on other foods that we don't really know where they come from and that even contribute to the unhealthy environment here.  Like a can of ravioli.  A gallon of milk.  Or a microwave pizza.  Alaska imports most of it's food, and so it's almost impossible to purchase anything at the store in the winter that has come through knowledgeable means. 

I think this is why I am moving towards growing a garden, to maybe ease some of that imaginary guilt.  We are also discussing getting some chickens, both for meat and eggs.  We hopefully can produce enough for us and a little for family here in AKP.  But I figure that anything we do will help.

So can you be a Meat Eating Environmentalist?  Absolutely..... After all we are all on a diet of souls, whether they be fauna or flora. 

For those that would like to try some gardening (even just a container or two in your kitchen) you can find Alaska approved seeds here at Denali Seed Company.

a picture of my mother and my uncle as teenagers

my husband and me took a ride into the valley