SELL OUT! Tips for hand-selling stuff, tip 5

SELL OUT is a blog series including weekly tips (every Thursday) for the next 4 weeks on hand-selling homemade work without losing your soul or compromising your integrity. It’s mostly for crafty business sorts who are gearing up for craft show season. But it may apply to authors who do book-signings and are sometimes put in that slightly awkward place where they feel like a sales-person but aren’t sure how to deal. See the original introductory post here, and the following posts in the series here, here and here.

Tip #5: When no one is in your booth, or when you are not directly engaging with a customer, make yourself busy by rearranging product or dusting. If you look bored or like you have nothing to do you send a signal that you (and possibly by extension) your product are boring. Act lively, and you’ll bring out the best in your product (and yourself).

You’ll become a magnet and draw people in. (This is key if you aren’t selling at a craft show too. If you are an author at a lonely book signing, you obviously won’t take this advice literally, but think about how you can apply the idea behind the advice, perhaps the visuals at the end of this post are something to consider.)

How many times can you dust and rearrange the same stuff, you may ask? Lots of times. Lots and lots of times. If the show is fairly busy, you should never be slinking off to a corner to find something else to do. You should dust and rearrange when there’s a break. Stay available, without looking bored.

If you simply cannot bear to dust and rearrange any more, try doing something active that still allows you to be available. I often choose to sew bindings on my books. This is a bit of tricky advice though, because it shouldn’t be seen as an invitation to disengage in the corner to “demonstrate” your craft (too often an excuse for not actively selling stuff). Instead it should be seen as a way of keeping yourself busy and active, but still available (that’s key). I never think of sewing bindings at craft shows as production time, I think of it as a strategy to not get or look bored. Sometimes a book I could usually sew in 10 minutes takes 2 hours. That’s fine. It’s because I set the book down when I need to. I subtly stand and start rearranging product so I’m more available to chat with customers.

Perhaps if your craft is something like painting or photography, something that you can’t do at all in your booth, also something you can’t really rearrange too much, you could consider taking up a hobby like knitting while you are sitting there (hopefully on a tall stool as opposed to a low bench– but I’ll get to that next week). Something that keeps your hands active if they need to be, but keeps you available. It’s not the best solution, but it’s WAY better than hiding in the corner with a book or your iphone (completely disengaging).

The long and the short of this tip is this: brainstorm ways you can keep yourself active, but available. This is how you avoid the polar opposites of bad salesmanship: disengaging or hovering. You don’t want to do either. So think about how you can be available, but not in some one’s face, not only when you are engaging with a customer, but also when you aren’t actively engaging with them.

Not to belabor my point, but picture the following artists in their booths, visually. All have one thing in common, no one is currently in their booth shopping: 

  • The artist looks bored, whiny or angry, she has a scowl on her face or is commiserating with another artist in the neighboring booth about what a lame show this is.
  • The artist is hiding in a corner, head deeply engaged in a book or something that looks potentially like accounting or homework from the way she’s concentrating, she looks like she could be at the library, for what she’s doing.
  • The artist is standing on the outside of her booth eagerly smiling, hands behind her back in a tight bun (or is she wringing her hands behind her back nervously?). Her eyes look like a puppy’s eyes in a pet store, she seems desperate for someone to acknowledge her work or like she hasn’t had human interaction in months. 
  • The artist is just sitting, face expressionless, eyes staring off into the void. Perhaps her arms are folded.  
  • The artist is quietly rearranging product, she smiles when she sees you, but goes back to rearranging product or dusting. Her shoulders are straight and she stands up tall. Her eyes look confident.

Okay, obviously I’m exaggerating somewhat, but only to make my point more clear. Who seems most interesting to you? Who seems most the most available but the least intimidating? Who do you think you’d most likely be able to have an interesting conversation with in the moment? And consider how the body language of each of these artists might rub off onto their work, who’s work do you suspect might be most interesting?

Now, who do you think will be the most likely to sell something?

I’ve been at many craft shows where it seemed dead. Really, hardly anyone was around. But there were 8 people in my booth. I am not a charmer by nature. I am a painfully shy chronic book-worm. But I believe in my work. I felt like it was worth learning how to sell it. And that effort matters.