Getting back on track


When things aren’t going well enough and Failure is waving its bony hand

Man Sinking in Quicksand in Movie Scene

Not Waving but Drowning

This bit is to help park the emotional side.

The struggling craftsperson  is undergoing a sort of bereavement. 

They face the  loss  of  self belief.

You are doing something weird, you are grieving for something that you fear is going to happen and by reacting like that you are helping to make it inevitable

Faltering craftspeople   display  classic grieving behaviours. Here’s the list:

Denial and Isolation

You stop talking openly to other crafts people about how things are going so you cut yourself off from  help and moral support.

You no longer record statistics properly: neither your meagre income nor your fat expenditure

You hide away in creating “stock”


You secretly  resent your fellow craftspeople  finding all sorts of reasons to disapprove of their products and them. You feel this most acutely at shows where they are selling and you are not

Your special loathing is for the hobbyists who undersell you

You are cross with the public for not being prepared to pay properly for handmade things, also for having no discernment: they don’t want good stuff.


You become a sucker for all sorts of instant cures you plunge about wildly starting up and abandoning different projects.

You spend on equipment, materials, shows without proper consideration. You become a risk taker .


You lose all self-confidence.

You are more a supplicant than a sales person.

Your body language keeps the customers from even looking at your stall.

Even when you do make sales you are selling at a loss


There is nothing you can do.You decide the whole sad state of affairs is beyond your control.

You block all positive moves.

You decide you were deluded that you had any ability as a craftsman. You are universally useless.

O Dear


 How to haul yourself out of trouble

Sinking businesses know something immensely valuable. They know what doesn’t work.

That is a very, very useful starting point for rethinking.

It is a lot further ahead than the bright-eyed startup position.

Collect Evidence

You need to trawl over what has happened in your business so far.  Don’t get hung up on the evidence. Drop the despair fest. Look at it like this: if you had a damp box of matches and every single one of them failed to light you could conclude that matches simply don’t work Or you could notice that they were damp…

The sort of evidence you need is

How much money did you make last year?

How much did you spend on your business last year?

Name all the types of products you tried to sell. Selling price of each, how many you sold and stock left.

How  many hours do you work at your business per week ?

What do you spend most of your working time on?

List all your unsuccessful face to face selling venues

List any successful face to face venues

List all your online selling places and your costs and turnover on each for the last year

List all your social media and how many likes/followers on each

The evidence collecting is the worst bit but it has to be done

Analyse the Evidence

Work out what went best, note down where you think you got it wrong. You have the benefit of hindsight: so apply it .

Decide what you need to achieve

It is crucial that you crunch your finances.

What is your timeframe to make this work ?

When does the money run out?

Should you seek some part-time work to buy the chance of survival?

How much money do you need to make a year for your crafts business to be sustainable?



Put closing down entirely as a real option. Putting it up there takes the pressure off, it cleans the decision to continue

Don’t continue for pride’s sake, continue because it is what you most want to do and only if you have a clear course of action that addresses the problems.

You should be able to get yourself to this position on your own but it is at this point that you would really benefit from help. The sort of help you want is someone listening to all you have realised and talking through your options and decisions for the future. They might bring new ideas and directions to the table and unearth any weaknesses in your own proposals.

If you have no one to that with ask me it will cost £30 for an hour’s discussion

2014-04-25 17.01.56

No Magic Bullet

Pissed off with me? Read this far and no solution  just a lot of instructions ?

Yup that’s right. You got yourself into this mess so you have to dig yourself out. No mentor can haul you out, all  they can do is  help you consider your conclusions based on proper analysis .

If you are seriously off track its going to take a lot of effort and research to turn things round.

You have to stop, look back, evaluate, conclude, discuss, plan and put the plan to work evaluating as you go.

A huge task to undertake when you are at a low point emotionally and financially. Starting the business was fueled by glorious (but misplaced) self belief.  Now the batteries must run on determination. If you can find that determination you  probably have a 70% chance of running a decent little business in 5 years.

From now on keep tight hold of the facts, never look the other way because they may be telling you something you don’t want to know.

Creativity runs on emotions, business runs on facts. 


More Help

Try this Low income Diagnostic chart 

Check you are pricing properly

Are you aiming for the most lucrative  customers

Been there got the t shirt Perfectly natural to fail first My story

Can I help?


Established craftspeople share your early miss-directions in the comments. You might save younger businesses who are about to go through the windscreen




Craft Show Low-Down: Face to Face


Craft Show Survival

You & the Organisers

You & other Stall holders

You & the Visitors

You & Disappointment

You & the Organisers

It is  worth befriending the organisers, especially on set-up day.


Never have a go at them, however stressed or let down you feel, as only they can put it right.

When the stall furniture is not there, your sign is misspelt, and you are not in the catalogue; remember its normal. It’s not personal. Sort out the problems in sensible order and go for it patiently, politely and persistently.

 In this disaster list, sort the tables first, because you can’t set up without them. On a big show  everyone sends you on to someone else. Organisers are nabbed every second to trouble-shoot. You have to keep following up.

If you have a major issue, deal with it after the first day. They don’t care at the end of the show but at the beginning they don’t want  the stall holders to get restive, so they will listen.

The organisers  can find you a trolley, give you an extra chair, offer you a discount, allocate you a corner stall, keep in with them.

You & other stall holders

Early summer 005

Getting on with your fellow stall holders is obviously a good thing, especially when you are doing a show alone and need the back up for loo and drink forays.

But remember  you are going to hear them pitching the same stuff all day long, you are witness to their deep insincerity and they are witness to yours. They are not your new best friend. Chatting away can be exhausting; go gently.

You & the visitors

In a busy show your visitors are buffeted, bemused, hungry & hot; or hungry & cold. The show is a struggle.

In an empty show your visitors are self-conscious  ( all the stall holders are watching them) and unenthusiastic. Just as at an empty restaurant: you expect the food to be no good.

A smile is all the greeting they need.

Once they begin to look in earnest, say a little more. Just a snippet of information  about your work. So a potter might say its all wood fired It doesn’t matter what you say, it’s just telling the visitor I am here to help, its my work

Let the visitor look peacefully, don’t chat at them.

They will let you know when they are ready to talk; but if they talk a great deal, do not expect them to buy. The talkers usually don’t.


Intense silence, a distracted look and work handling are buying signs. The distracted look is them thinking how they would use your work.


They are looking, better still they are looking in competition, they are selling to themselves, leave them alone.

Sometimes you see people doing all this and then they are gone and nothing purchased.

Don’t worry, many buyers will do a first round, see what they want, then come back later and make their purchases.

When they come back, they go through the looking again to be certain. If you know it’s a  revisit say something like “I thought you would be back, you were looking earlier” That helps to lock them in


Once it comes to helping or paying, then social chat is all good. They will naturally go off and show other people their purchases and the more they feel you like them as people, the more they will market you.

Some buyers need support in making their choices, you are the expert so help them to choose. It is very important that they leave your stall feeling confident and happy that they have made a wise purchase. Don’t  just support their choice actually contribute to the deciding.

Family groups and friends Visitors-to-the-fair-1-565x376

This is a huge problem. One is interested the other wants to move on. The uninterested one distracts and puts off the interested one and the sale is  lost. Do your best to engage the less interested one, not with your work but just in chit-chat. Your chit-chat is buying time for the other one to look at your work properly. Sundays are always the worst days for this when the family comes and no one is happy. Sundays are for ticket sales, not yours.

 Don’t sit, Don’t eat and drink and Don’t read on your stand.

Don’t be so bloody silly you can do all of those. You have to survive a long hard day, do what you need to do.

ren3Working on something when you are not busy encourages visitors to talk to you about your work and shows you are the maker and wastes a bit less of your time.

You & Disappointment

Manage your expectations.

Share Denver Wild Mae Craft Fair

Here we are first show, how did it go ?

 I had no idea what to expect. I was simultaneously so nervous that I wouldn’t sell a thing and so nervous that I didn’t have enough inventory. It turns out, I sold lots, I didn’t sell out, I about broke even, I got great feedback, I met amazing people, and I left the fair brimming with new ideas and feeling incredibly inspired and motivated.

To be pleased to break even is a low goal but look how happy it left her. Lets hope she works out that her prices have to go up as to sell lots and break even is not a very business like place to be.

Redo your display mid show

When a show is going badly talk to your neighbours they may see where you are going wrong. Advice on rearranging your stall can find you some sales.

Also after the first day you know the visitor flow direction so you can redo your display to max that sight line.

Consider taking out of the display anything that is not earning its place.

At the very least, re doing your stand will give you an injection of hope which will help your state of mind and ability to sell.

Do not, absolutely do not, drop your prices. That will not be the problem. It will simply mean that the sales you do make will do less to help your parlous situation. A bad show could even be an argument for putting them up. People tend to respect big prices more than bargain basement ones. You only need half the buyers if you double your prices.

When the show is a disaster for you but the other stalls are making fortunes

This is such a dispiriting situation but stay logical:

I am doing a new show

It is a gamble

It has not  worked

But I knew it was a risk

It reflects on the show, not my work .

It means the show is wrong for me, but the only way I could find that out was by trying.

When the show is a disaster for everyone


They happen, those Where the hell were the customers? shows, they are annoying, boring  and expensive. Get drunk.


This is part three of three posts on shows

Part One was on Picking the right show

Part Two was on Preparations for your show

If you struggle with feeling Confident then acquire  The Coat of Arrogance

If you want  one to one help with your business then this is current  deal.

Talk to me in The Comments and if I helped please share the post.

Craft Show Low-down : Preparations

DC Craft Show, 16, break down

What you have to get sorted before the show.

Words of remarkable wisdom on:

How much stock to take
 Getting  your display right
Checklist of what  to pack
Handling money
What to wear
 Pre show marketing


The rule here is less is more. Do not overwhelm the customer with choice. Faced with endless decisions the customer becomes confused; loses confidence; cannot decide and ends up not buying 

When customers ask do you have it in green? That is not a sale lost. You could show them a green and then they may want it smaller etc or a different green. If they like it enough they will buy it in blue.

The more stock that pounds its way too and from fairs, the more elderly it’s going to look.

If your stall is easy to set-up and easy to take-down, shows will be easier. You might not have to hire a van.

Push what you have with confidence, you don’t want to be endlessly head down searching  the under the table stock for one customer while that little crowd of customers you had before  evaporates .


The less you display the more expensive and special it seems

Severely edit what you take 


Display is not about pretty, display is about communication Your audience has to understand at a glance what you want them too. What you need to communicate depends where you are selling. Can you take it for granted that your visitors know what you are selling is handmade by you? If not, that has to be message one.

Message two might be the material you work in, for example if you make silver jewellery you have to get across the silver bit. Having gathered those two facts the visitors will hopefully close in for a better look.

Beware of branding If you were selling washing up liquid then branding is all important, but hopefully you are not. If someone buys  you want to be sure they go away with something that tells them  who you are and how to buy from you again. But before they buy, it has little relevance. It can even be a sales killer.

Toft Knitting &Stitching

Over branded to the distraction of the product

Handmade is one-off, by you. You are the brand. Talking about yourself is the way you brand.  Your name is the name for your craft business.


Look no overt branding  at this very successful open studio event but the presence of the maker


At shows the organisers provide you with a stand sign but it’s usually over the top of your stall so when people are looking at your work they can’t see that sign, so put another sign inside your stall. (At the end of the show nick the organiser’s overhead sign, cut off the stand number and you’ve got  a  sign for your next show) 

Its important  your visitors understand your offer, sometimes it’s not completely straight forward


Having criticised this stand for branding, I think they got the explanation bit bang on.

Greenwich Market 007

Sometimes your product itself might not be obvious and that needs addressing head on.

Heavily displaying  your website on your stand can lose you sales, as visitors feel they needn’t spend their cash at the show as they can do it online anytime. Tell them about your online shop once they have purchased.

Handling the Wares

The way you display tells the audience whether they can handle your work.


this one says don’t touch


This one says pick me up

If you put a sign telling people not to touch, you won’t sell. Picking something up is the first move of ownership. You are pretty stupid if you block the first move.

How to display pricing

There are two ways to price, price at a glance or by the visitor handling the product to find the price. A mixture is probably the best route.

Always price in round figures as it makes transactions easier and it values your piece as an art work

Handwrite your prices ( it emphasises the handmade) and write them unapologetically big.

Make it obvious what you are selling 

If you have a book to sell about your work pile it high up in the front (in uneven piles so it looks as if the piles are depleting) Then have a huge notice Signed copies and the price.  Displays of your work featured in the book go behind that.  The visitor then understands I am here to sell my book.

Display materials

Don’t sink a fortune into  buying purpose made display materials, they are expensive:  be creative.


A brilliant display solution on a  juice seller’s stall

rhinestone display

Pinch other people’s good ideas


Think laterally, here cardboard hat boxes from a millinery supplier are used as plinths to bring the display up to different levels

Display rules

Give your display height, but  make sure you  can serve through your display

Show tables are too low for the standing customer you need to bring your surfaces up so they can handle and see your work easily.

Most shows are under lit so consider taking extra lighting .

Try to help visitors to see themselves owning your work


Showing pots on a  dresser helps  visitors imagine them at home

If possible block out the sides and back of your stall otherwise people look straight through to your rivals and whiz off there

Try to take a small table of your own  to act as a secure location for your cash/phone/ iPad and as a packing surface.

Table coverings  need go all the way to the ground so  you can hide stuff away.


Make  sure your work and not your display is the star

Packing for the show

Do a trial  run for  the display at home and for packing up your car if   its is going to be tight


Pre show checklists reduce stress. I would do two, one for your needs and one for your stand. This list is to help you put together a comprehensive list of what you are taking, but be more specific


Stand tool box (you make this up once and keep from show to show) suggested contents:

  • Scissors
  • Packing tape /gorilla tape ( taping down flexes )
  • repositionable tape (resealing packets )
  • Velcro stickers 
  • Blu tack
  • Price stickers
  • Pens including marker pen
  • rubber bands
  • Paracetamol
  • Tissues
  • Electrical screwdriver

Product Toolbox only relevant to some products eg  jewellery to make alterations for customer

Packaging materials for sold products

Marketing materials

  • business cards
  • leaflets

Display materials

  • Posters/ show cards
  • stand covers including night sheet
  • stand display pieces

Stand Furniture


  • Lights
  • extension leads


  • computer/iPad and leads
  • camera and leads
  • phone and re-charger
  • card reader and leads


  • cash boxes and float
  • Reserve money purse
  • Signs


Yeah, after all that, don’t forget to take something to sell

Handling Money

Try and keep all money and packing off the display.

Consider not using an obvious cash box as locked or not it tells the opportunist here be the money and they take the whole thing.  I use two boxes one for change and one for notes and cheques. Neither look like cash boxes. use a money belt for street markets


Very tempting

How much float and in which denominations depends on your prices it should be change for those prices. My change box has only £1 and £2 coins as all my prices are in whole pounds My note box is stocked with £5 and £10 notes. £20 are no use to me. I take around £60 float for a big show.

If you are doing well, cream off  the money from your notes box to a non money looking container which is hidden away.

If you want to take credit cards check the signals at the show and any costs for internet access or electricity.


Lots of shows in top venues have lousy mobile signals

What to Wear

Your clothes are all part of your marketing. You are marketing yourself as the maker.

Guibert Didier

This look says I am not making any money and I never have

Ingrid Wagner

This look says I am wacky and my product is wacky

dutch seller K&S

This says I am a the craftsperson


This extends the packaging of the product


This indicates the work is expensive


This says only for the stylish


This says only for the fully committed

Think about what you are going to wear, match it to your stand, then you look confident. Nondescript just doesn’t cut it.

Your show marketing

You don’t have to if it’s a big well established fair. You take a stand at these to extend your customer base. Getting your existing customers to come along is not necessarily the way to play it. Invite them to a studio event. You don’t want to lose their spend elsewhere at a big show.

If you have a website, list the fair links in your diary bit because you have visitors there who are not yet customers. Do the same on Twitter and on your Facebook page. But no big effort is necessary.

Do not miss any deadlines for the show’s own publicity and take trouble with any exhibitor listing as that can really boost your website visitors.


This is second of three posts on shows

The first part was on picking a show, which you can read here 

The final part is about the show itself. If you want that  emailed  scroll up the  left side column and click on Follow.

If you want to pick up display ideas do a search on Pinterest

If you want  one to one help with your business then this is current  deal.

Talk to me in The Comments and if I helped please share the post.

Craft Show Low-Down : Picking


If I knew how to pick a winning show, I’d tell you.  But I don’t.
  But this should help you place your bet

Why you have to do shows

However magnificent your online empire, you have to sell your product  face to face to get  feedback to modify, ditch and develop your work. If you isolate yourself you will fail.

People are more ready to buy  expensive pieces online if they have encountered the work before in the flesh.

Don’t do too many

The after show recovery period is a week. They are truly exhausting and you need that week to unpack,  follow-up and catch up.

Sometimes booking a particular show every other year can be better,  as then your  existing customers see your presence  as an opportunity rather than the “same old”.

Dont book the year’s shows if you are inexperienced. Shows are expensive and they are a risk . Young businesses need to book and try to use the  lessons from that show to inform their next pick.



Never book a show unless you can survive  losing your costs. It is a gamble. How ever great previous takings might have been you cannot rely on that happening again. If you do a show and you get your costs back they must go back into your show fund they are NOT profit.

Start small and work up

Evaluating the Audience

It is not just about numbers. You need to work out what the visitors are seeking at this show and what their price range is. Most organisers insist their show is ideal every inquirer You need to drill down deeper.

For example if there is wall to wall craft making workshops that might be where the majority of the visitor spend is going  and retail  is just an add-on. If there are great children’s activities then is it more of a family day out?  If there are lots of displays and the entry ticket is high, then  visitors will be there to see rather than buy.

If it’s an established show look at pictures of last year’s online, do the visitors look right?

Gt Northeren contemporary craft fair

Pictures can tell you a lot.  In this image the  visitors are not laden with purchases, the girl in red has not got any interest on her stand, she is bored and watching the world go by . You know she is a seller as she has an exhibitor’s badge.

exhib research

See if you can find the exhibitor list for that show, what’s the mix ? Click through to some websites and see what their price range is,   phone a couple  and ask if they would recommend the fair.  A show like this is a big spend so take time researching it.

Selection Procedures 


If you are approached and offered a special deal don’t be flattered, it means they can’t fill their show. If you are given a brief time frame in which to sign up to secure the “deal” don’t be rushed.

Always, Google a show and look for upset stallholders’ comments. There are outright scams out there and shows hot on promise and cold on delivery. Got that? Always.

If there is a craft show in your discipline that you aspire to, be sure you make a note in your diary for the application timings and don’t apply if its beyond you financially Don’t go for the most prestigious, but for the next step up for you.  You don’t want to be the worst in the show as then you have no chance of recouping your costs.



Before you sign up use this checklist  of costs

  • Cost of stand
  • VAT on stand
  • Insurance
  • Lighting  larger shows you  pay for any electrical connection even if you provide your own lighting.
  • Stand furniture even if you have your own can you transport it as well as your stock and display?
  • Internet connection (I recently did a show at Alexandra Palace where they charged £200 for a connection,so watch out)
  • Travel
  • Parking
  • Overnight stays
  • Food away from home
  • Help on stand
  • Hours spent at show

When you have your total cost consider how much of your product you would have to sell at the show before you made any money. If you just cover costs  you have worked for the show organisers which was extraordinarily kind of you.

Beware the halo effect. We all dream of  finding the perfect show where our work sells like lottery tickets  and your kids can be privately educated. Sad, but the fair you are considering probably isn’t actually THAT one.

The days of doing one big show a year are long gone

Trimming costs


Sharing Don’t do half a stall each, that makes you both look losers. Choose your partner wisely: so a potter might share with a furniture maker, displaying their pots on the furniture, so  the display is mutually enhancing.

If it is a multi day show you can  timeshare. But be sure you get the right days.

Stall Size think hard about this. Getting the smallest possible stall can be a false economy as most of  your other costs are set and do not relate to stall size. If it is a big show a very small   footprint means people can miss you entirely.

Negotiating You are the customer. There is a huge proliferation of craft shows competing for your business,  you have a bit of  room to negotiate.

Ask for concessions. Play the long game. A hesitant no from you can open up a better deal. This is the response I got “  if there’s anything I could do to tempt you back (short of giving you a free stand!) just let me know.”

They  may not be able to cut the per sq metre cost but they can often throw in stall furniture, lighting, insurance, internet connection and bump up your location. Ask for a corner stand and you double your sales frontage.

Accommodation Book your accommodation early so you can find a cheaper room or a twin bedded room that you can share with another maker

1959 Cartier-Bresson

Set Up Try to set up on the morning of the first day as that will save you overnight stay costs and working time the day before.


Folksy blog runs a series of craft fair reviews by sellers

You can try Stallholder which is an event listing site to find shows

If you are new to fairs read through some of the craft fair help threads on craftsforum

For the bit of the public you should aim for, read  Juicy Customer Segment

This is first of three posts on shows

the next part is about Preparation and the last  At the Show itself. If you want those emailed  scroll up the  left side column and click on Follow.

Use The Comments to add your advice on picking shows or if you have specific questions
If you want  one to one help with your business then this is the deal.

The crate is here

The crate from Marrakech  has arrived. It came in the afternoon in a very unromantic  OCS white van. The crate was damaged and opened. In the top was a mysterious animal skin bag and I feared some of my shipment had been nicked.

2013-10-16 21.21.37

I gingerly unpacked to find everything there but when I came to unwrap the very last piece it was shattered. It was the bol sur pied.


But I had all the sets of plates

on stove

And the tagine pot, a proper one which sits on the fire on top of the stove and ought not go in the oven. So with trepidation, now or never, I cooked a beef tagine hoping that I had properly understood how to use it.

on stove open

By the end of the cooking the tagine pot and I had made friends, we understood each other and worked together

2013-12-10 21.13.53

With the aid of cheap red wine and my Fes bowls from two decades ago we had supper. That little candlestick to the left of the bottle, that is the gift that warms the deal and makes the connection between the seller and the customer.


This is where I bought them and that is Mourad who fell for this green Tamgroute pottery and has filled his shop in the souk in Marrakech with it. He is adding up how much money he wants.


Tamgroute is on the edge of the Sahara, the glaze is an ancient Berber recipe known to seven families of potters  Tamgroute pots are crudely made, full of lumps and bumps, it wobbles atrociously, the glazes come out differently from plate to plate, there is little control of the process


The sun dries the clay ready to work


There are plenty of kiln deaths

Not to mention the transport deaths

But the result, the difference it makes to use things made by hand, things with another life embedded in them, somehow that elevates the mundane task of cooking and eating.  It has a  feel good factor which pushes out the mean bits of living which makes the  indulgence of time and money to acquire it really worthwhile.

Their perfection lies in their imperfection, if you understand that you understand what handmade is about.