*****What follows is the text from a post I made at the WetCanvas.com forum in February, 2004. I have edited the post to add new thoughts and tips. Please do not copy this text or use it on any other website without my permission. If you'd like to link to this article, please email me first. Thank you!
I have been making beads for about 4 years now. I have been a member on ebay for something like 8 years - and before I sold beads on ebay, I sold handmade jewelry. Those of you who sell jewelry on ebay now have a *much tougher* road ahead than when I did. There is so much competition in the Designer/Artisan jewelry section on ebay, that even unique, gorgeous jewelry is hard to sell at decent prices. These tips may work well for *beadmakers* but may not work for anyone else.
I sell only my best beads. I constantly work to improve my technique and designs so that what I put up for sale is my best work. If I have beads that are not my best work ("seconds"), I label them as such, so my customers do not get confused when they see something selling at a much lower price. But for the most part, all my beads are of the highest quality I can possibly make. That means even dot placement, even shapes, smooth, puckered holes, matching sizes (as much as I can, anyway) and all that.
Art is of course subjective, but I find that the better my technique is, the more my beads will sell for, and the happier my customers are. Plus, I feel good and proud of the accomplishment. If you're new or haven't mastered certain techniques, you cannot assume you are going to get high prices. If you're okay with that, then great. However, I have seen some beads posted on ebay that have crooked bumps, pointy holes, lumpy shapes, etc, and then the seller will post complaints about how their beads are not selling. Look at your work. Are the flowers smeared? Is the encasing uneven? Is your raised work melted in enough to keep it from popping off later? Do your bumps have under-cuts? Do your beads have sharp, pointy ends that may cut a designer's stringing material? These are just some things lampwork bead buyers look for when buying beads to go in their designs.
So basically, the very first thing you need to look at when sales are not going well is your own quality and workmanship. Work to improve that while working to improve other aspects such as auction layout. A good way to check quality is to do a search on ebay for the highest priced "annealed lampwork" (make sure the title and description box is checked). Look at these beads in terms of quality and workmanship. I am not talking about design or artistic expression - purely about craftsmanship. There are quite a few sellers whose quality and technique are top notch. Not all of them are getting high prices, but you can see some examples in the high price search.
Lampworkers are getting better and better at technique as time goes by. The competition is almost staggering, and more and more people are making beads these days. Keep that in mind when listing on ebay - you are listing beads with hundreds of other lampworkers, so you need to find something that makes you stand out in the crowd. On any given day there are over 5000 listings in the Handmade Lampwork category. Do something unique - pick unique colors, try a new shape, do anything that will make you stand out when people are looking.
One main thing I think needs to be addressed here is auction photography. First off, I recommend that you do not use ebay's picture uploading as your sole picture host. They compress and resize pictures when you upload them, and this tends to distort your images. Find another photo host and use HTML to reference the pics in your auction description. A number of hosts can be found by searching Google. I use my web host (netfirms.com) - I get 1000MB of space for my website, and that is more than enough, so I use some of the space for auction pics. I pay $10 per month for hosting services, but you can likely find something much cheaper if you're just looking for picture hosting.
Learn to take decent pictures. If you use a scanner and that works for you, great. But by and large, most of the auctions I see that use digital images look much better in my opinion. I use a digital camera (Nikon Coolpix 4100 - I upgraded last year) that I bought for about $300. I know that seems like a lot, but it's so worth it. The pics are clear, crisp and detailed, and show true color. There are tips and tricks on photography everywhere - google.com is a great place to search. There are threads in many forums - go look at them as well. Also, the ebay community web boards have tons of information on photography and other things. Don't take your pics with a regular camera that has no macro - these are not close enough or true enough to see your artwork unless you are a professional.
Get picture enhancing software and use it. I know people who use Photoshop and various other programs to touch up photos. I use Paint Shop Pro 7. I have no idea what a lot of the features do, but what I do know works really well. I can get completely true color when I enhance a pic with PSP. No, I don't make the beads look more colorful or better than they look in person. I make the pics look more realistic. For instance, Moretti/Effetre Ink Blue photographs much bluer than it really is under normal lighting even with a digital camera. PSP can make it look much more like it does in person by using the Hue Map, Color Balance, and Levels features on the Color Menu.
There are quite a few tutorials for photo software on the web. Make use of Google and you'll find them easily. I also have a few resources for photography help on my Links List. Also, WetCanvas and other forums have tons of threads devoted to photography.
If you'd like a more professional approach to photography, I would recommend looking at some of the new photo set-ups on ebay that are made specifically for taking pictures of small items, including beads and jewelry. This particular ebay store has a nice selection, and the prices look good.
Tabletop Studio LLC
I have not bought from them, but I am considering it, because I have seen recommendations from other beadmakers.
When you list your beads for sale anywhere, including ebay, there are a few things you should always have in the description. Buyers often won't buy from you if you're missing some of these things, so it's important to be thorough in your descriptions. Here's a list:
Bead Size - this is a biggie. In the bead world, people utilize both inches and millimeters. I personally use millimeters in my description, because most of the components my customers use with the beads they buy are listed in millimeters by the manufacturers. (for example - crystal bicones, sterling silver beads, jump rings, etc.) Some buyers also like a size reference picture - a penny, a ruler, a hand, etc. There's much debate over what people like for size reference, so you can use what's most convenient for you, as long as you have some reference to size in your description. For many, size in millimeters (mm) is enough, so that's what I use.
Hole Size - Also important enough for its own place on this list is the size of the hole in your bead. Since most beadmakers (at least here in the US) are making beads on mandrels which are sized by the inch, it makes sense to put that in your description for people who need to know. Buyers will often need this so can determine what size of stringing material or findings to use. Again, measurements for findings do vary, so use whatever measurement unit is more convenient for you. I use inches, because my beads are most often made on 1/16" mandrels, a 1/16" mandrel is somewhere between 1mm and 2mm - not very exact. If you're in a country that uses the metric system for mandrels, it's no problem to use mm in your description. Whew - long winded, aren't I?
Number of Beads/Extras - This may seem like a no brainer, but if you have more than one photo of your beads, some people might be confused as to what's actually included in the auction. Be clear about the number of beads included, and whether the buyer also gets what's shown in the picture - are the beads strung with crystals, silver spacers or other beads? Are they included in the auction? Does the buyer get that quarter? (LOL It may seem silly, but some people do ask).
Type/Brand of Glass - Many buyers don't care, but some do, so it's nice to list what kind of glass you're using in your beads. Whether it's German made Lauscha, Italian Effetre or some kind of borosilicate made here in the US - a lot of buyers do like to know. And if you're using premium hand-pulled colors that are scarce or more expensive, saying so can attract customers. I also like to list the colors I use, because monitors don't always show true colors, and the buyers who are familiar with certain glass will know what they're getting and can plan ahead.
Annealed or Not? - This is perhaps your most important descriptive term. If your beads are kiln annealed, say so. People who buy handmade lampwork really want beads which are annealed properly, because they won't break nearly as easily as beads which are cooled in vermiculite or a fiber blanket. If you're not annealing your beads in a kiln, you should definitely say so. Not saying so is misleading to your customers. Many people do search the terms "annealed", "kiln annealed" or "kiln-annealed" when looking on ebay for lampwork beads.
Shipping and Payment Terms - Be clear about your terms. Always state what payments you accept, what the shipping costs are, and how long it will take for you to ship out beads. State clearly any return policies and any time restrictions on payment (payment due within 7 days or whatever). Also state whether you ship worldwide, what the restrictions are on that, or whether you ship to your own country only.
The next issue at hand is using ebay's features to your advantage. Always, always use the gallery pic option. It's only 25 cents, and most people in the Handmade Lampwork category use it, so if you don't you may be skipped over. Many customers have posted everywhere that they only look at the gallery view on auctions. If you don't use this option, you are missing out on a lot of customer traffic, and that means fewer bids and lower sales.
Sometimes, it may bring more traffic if you use the Featured Plus on one auction and then have several other auctions going at the same time. Using the subtitle feature on a couple of auctions, or the bold feature can also help. Use sparingly, though, because those get pricey if you do them all the time.
If you haven't created your own auction layout, use one of ebay's. They aren't bad, and having some sort of visual layout is a huge plus. Or, learn HTML to create your own layout. However, *don't go overboard*. The customer is there to see your beads, not all the bells and whistles of your auction layout. Go easy on the images, and stay away from java-scripts as much as possible. Some of that stuff can actually crash a customer's system, and then you can be sure they will never come back. Commonly used unnecessary features to *stay away from* are:
Huge, bright text
Blinking or animated images and text
Marquee lines (text moving on the screen)
Screen fading scripts (they make the screen change in odd ways when someone leaves the auction)
Slideshows (auction lister programs like Andale and Vendio provide these)
Keep any images that are not your beads small and fast loading. If you have a logo, make it small or short so that the customer does not have to scroll a huge long way to get to your bead pics. This is what works for me, and what I am drawn to when looking at auctions.
When you first start at ebay, you're starting at the very bottom. You'll have low or no feedback - no one will know you. You have to build a positive reputation to attract buyers, and that's no small task on ebay these days. Your feedback rating is really very important to potential buyers. Start by making some small purchases to get a few positive feedbacks and to get your feet wet on ebay. Buying is the best way to get to know the climate. Leave feedback for the transactions you take part in, and hopefully you will get some good feedback in return. Then, start listing a few smaller things here and there, and follow the rest of the advice here to get a good start. At first, keep your expectations low. You will sell things at a lower price at first - almost everyone goes through this at the beginning. It takes time to build a good feedback rating, and even more time to build up a good customer base. Be patient and keep trying.
The next issue is a touchy subject for many of us. But one that really needs to be addressed, IMO. Market Research and understanding your target audience. In this case, you are looking for people to buy your beads on ebay. So you need to listen to what people want. There's a happy medium between total artistic individuality and giving the customer what they want. Here's a trade secret for you. I make what I like. But I also pay a lot of attention to what the customer likes. If pink is in, I incorporate the color into my work. I pair it with colors I think look great with pink. I experiment with colors I might not normally put with pink just to see what's cookin'.
Research, all the time!! If your market is the jewelry artist/designer, check and see what people are wearing on TV. Check to see what your friends and family like to wear. Look at bead - craft - art magazines, fashion ads, awards shows. If your main market is the bead collector, check to see what shapes and colors are hot right now for the collector. Then, incorporate that knowledge into your own artistic expression. For instance, I don't like making lentils. But they are hot hot hot right now (still!). But I only make them every so often. So I check to see what other shapes might be hot, and go with those. Shapes in general are doing well right now. I love to make cubes and square tabs, so I stick with those!
Hang out where your customers hang out. Get to know them. You'll gain knowledge and friendship at the same time.
Here are a couple of examples:
The ebay community jewelry category board. I read there from time to time, to check the current "pulse". Most lampworkers don't post there, so I post on occasion just to let them know I am around. We post auctions in the Jewelry category - doesn't it make sense to see what people are up to there? There are a surprising number of potential customers who read and post to that board. It's main discussions are about gemstones, but a lot of them seem to really like pretty sparkly things, and when they notice what I do, they comment about it!
The ebay community bead groups. These are new, and right now there are three that I know of: BeadHive, Beads, Beads and More Beads, and Lampworked Beads. There are a lot of members on each board, and each has its own culture. I don't have time for all three, so I stick with one of them. I have gotten to know the people in BeadHive, and they've gotten to know me and my work. They are a fun group of people!
Also, the rec.crafts.beads newsgroup. This is a public group and is **hugely** populated with people who adore beads. And they will let you know what they like in a heartbeat (and what they don't like!). If ever you needed opinions from a customer's point of view, that's the place to get them. Don't have a newsgroup reader? Go to Google Groups and enter rec.crafts.beads into the search. Who knows - you may make a few more friends while you're at it. But please, please get to know what newsgroups are about before posting. Read for a day or two to get a feel for the group. It's fast paced and has its own etiquette and culture.
I know a lot of people frown on making beads that other people want you to make, and instead wish to make only what you like. This is fine. But please don't complain about sales if you aren't willing to consider your customers' desires. There is a happy medium. You can do what you want *and* do what they want. You can take risks and still have high sales.
Once you know who your audience is, it's time to get in touch with them when you have beads available for sale! The best way to do this is to start a mailing list. (But please, be sure that people give you permission before adding them to any list or you can get kicked off ebay.) You can do this by putting a link on your About Me page on ebay or on your website. Link to a Yahoo group or other kind of email list that you control. There are lots of places to create a mailing list - perhaps the easiest is just to start one in your emailing program. Do some research on Google if you are unfamiliar with how mailing lists work. Then, when you have items available, you'll have a pool of people to email. You can create weekly or monthly newsletters, specials, promotions, whatever you like.
Another great way to get people to look at your items is to create business cards with your ebay ID and email address (as well as any other info you wish) printed on them. Pass them out to friends, and mail them out with your beads to customers. I get mine from Vista Print - they have very good prices and high quality cards. They will even let you upload your own artwork - if you can figure out the little card creating program on their website. It's a bit klunky, but does the job.
Having a website is another way to get in touch with your buyers. Do lots of research, learn HTML and create your own, or if you have the means, pay for someone to create one for you. (My friend and mentor Paulette does fabulous web design for artists.) As an alternative, look to ebay's About Me page creation for a small simple place to promote your ebay auctions.
Basically, marketing is very time consuming and can be difficult to do. However, the more you market, the more buyers you will have - period. So it's in your best interest to try a few of these things. It's a pain - it's my least favorite part of selling beads! But it's worth the time and effort, I promise. Ebay may bring some traffic to your auctions, but your own marketing activities will create the all important "word of mouth" that you need to succeed.
Another touchy subject is that of talent and design. These cannot be taught, in my opinion. They have to already be there. You can bring them out by observing your surroundings and finding beauty. But if you have no eye for color or design, you may not be able to make a whole lot of money in this business. Of course, this art is not always about business or making money. You have to really love what you're doing. If you're totally in love with glass, fire and color, it will show in your work and you will have higher sales. If you are just doing it for money, I don't believe you will really succeed. Move on to something you love. Life is too short!
Be prepared to pay money for some of the things I have mentioned above. I pay for premium glass colors, tools, equipment, web hosting, a decent digital camera, lighting, photo software, gallery pics in the auctions, etc. You don't have to spend a fortune, but spending a little can be really worth it in the end. If you aren't willing or cannot spend a little money on your business, you will probably not do as well. If you can't afford the necessary tools to do this art safely and properly, I don't think you should really be doing it.
One last and very important point - Ebay is not impossible. But *be prepared* to work very, very hard, and for long hours - especially at first. Don't expect immediate success - it will take some time. And try to keep a positive attitude! You cannot go into this with the attitude that you can make quick and easy money, and then when you don't succeed, get down on yourself for it. It doesn't work that way, and if you look at ebay often, you will see tons of evidence of that. As a matter of fact, you *should* look at ebay often if you are trying to sell there. Look at your competition. Of course, don't copy their beads, but look at what sells and more importantly, look at what does *not* sell. Think about why some sellers continuously have a hard time. Think about why some sellers seem to have unlimited success.
Does any of this make any sense? I hope so. Am I giving you trade secrets? Well, no. This is all common sense, and came from reading everything I possibly could on the subject, and from my own experiences. My auctions do well. Almost every time. The above is why. I hope some of these things will work for you.
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