A Tiny Extravagance: Merchandising in a Down Marketcomments (3) March 9th, 2009
Nick Graham, the self-titled "Chief Underpants Officer" of Joe Boxer, has said, "The brand is the amusement park, the product is the souvenir." For a self-employed crafter like me, this means my brand is tied very closely to the experience people have working with me. That experience—assuming it is a positive and rewarding one—is what is likely to bring clients and customers back, again and again, to avail themselves of my skills.
In theory, this makes perfect sense, but in practice it quickly gets a little hazy. I mean, what, in fact, do I sell? I don't have a line of products, I don't have an Etsy page, I don't offer refills or replacement parts. When I look at the clients I've had and the jobs they've given me, I find that mostly I'm hired to make quirky or unexpected things out of paper; what a friend calls "high-concept solutions to abstract design challenges manifested in paper."
Whatever it is you do, the fact remains that a business isn't a business without clients (or customers). So, as part of my merchandising strategy, I periodically sit down and create design souvenirs; tiny extravagances that I send to clients to remind them who I am, what I do, and that my services are available to them (read: please hire me) should a project arise for which I might be well suited.
My goal in creating such trifles is two-fold: high impact for low cost (I am, after all, footing the bill for these bagatelles and until I win the lottery, frugality rules). I have no way of knowing whether my results are representative of other crafters in the field who are engaged in soliciting work, finding new clients, or maintaining current clients but, in short, a liberal distribution of souvenirs seems to work wonders. In the past I have spent a great deal of money building (and maintaining) a website, designing and printing a mini-portfolio of my work, and networking (via LinkedIn, MySpace, Friendster, Tribe, and countless cocktail parties), and none of these endeavors has begun to approach the success (measured in terms of jobs gotten, income earned, and client relationships solidified) I've had as a result of these simple, inexpensive, and often diminutive gifts that I occasionally send out by mail to those people I've worked for or hope to work for.
This past holiday season, I created etuis out of walnut shells, filled them with miniature accordian books, and wrapped them in pink tissue and tiny white boxes. I mailed them in early December and the first job rolled in four days later. It is now March and I'm still getting calls from editors eager to "do something together." Proof positive (in my book, at least) that in a very real way, creativity sells itself.