Gift Guide – Plant Lovers

This is the next installment of my gift guide to help with your Christmas shopping incase you are still looking for inspiration. Once again I have featured my pick of small/independent businesses. If you would like the opportunity to be featured in any of our gift guide just contact me through the website.

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Faux Foliage – Petals and Paper

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Cactus Teatowel – Maggiemagoo Designs

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Moon Planter – The Minty Mountain

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Pilea Pin – ONR

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Stitched Flag – Mickle Studio

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Gift Guide – Foodies

This is my first gift guide and I’m highlighting some of my favourite small businesses that sell fabulous food and drink related gifts. I also like to support local businesses too so the majority of these sellers are from the Leeds area and some will be at the Leeds Etsy Made Local fair THIS WEEKEND! Make sure to go and check out your local Etsy fair as they are happening all over the country on 2nd-3rd December.

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I love eating so what better way to start the gift guide than with the cutest food and drink related stocking fillers. I have included links to purchase in the captions. If you fancy the opportunity to be featured on the blog then I will be asking for suggestions over on my Facebook page.

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Avocado Pin by Blush & Blossom

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Chilli Peppers Print by Kate Broughton

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Pineapple Shade by LazySusanMakes

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Organic Spices from Spice Drive

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Tea Cup Earrings by Onetenzeroseven

 

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Ice Cream Print by Old English Co.

Reasons to be Grateful: Part 2

It’s been a week since my first gratitude post so I thought I would add my list for this last week:

  1. Finally managed to find a plasterer to sort out the spare room. Hopefully will have a functional room by next week.
  2. I managed to resist Black Friday/ Cyber Monday temptations. I purchased this beautiful calendar from a fellow small business (link):

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3. My parents come back from a month away this weekend so I get to see them.  I will not be jealous of their tans!

Have a great week everyone!

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Reasons to be Grateful: Part 1

It can be tough at this time of year as the days get super short so this week I’m starting a weekly grateful post about the little things that make me happy. I encourage you to do the same and spread the happiness.

  1. The stunning sunsets of the past week and timing the afternoon dog walk so I get to see them.
  2. My shiny new home office space. I feel more calm and organised now everything has it’s place.
  3. Discovering my aluminium water bottle keeps stuff hot all day. I didn’t believe the hype but now I do.
  4. Getting to see friends last weekend. 3 social engagements in 3 days have left me feeling pretty exhausted but in a good way.

 

Why Black Friday makes me Blue

If you know me, you will know three things:

  1. I am British

This means that Black Friday is the absolute worst for me. Traditionally it is the sale following Thanksgiving in America, which makes absolutely no sense if you don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving. The equivalent for the UK is the Boxing Day sales but I dislike those too. Sales are generally just an opportunity to acquire more stuff usually that you don’t even need. The majority of sales I’ve come across in last few years is just an opportunity to sell off old or hard to shift stock; so are you really getting a bargain?

2. I run a small business

Black Friday puts small/micro businesses like my own under a great deal of pressure as customers now expect deals and offers as it is the norm from the big companies. It’s important to remember that if a small business offers these deals then they are most likely cutting into their usually tight profit margin and putting themselves under extra stress from the increase in orders. Personally, I am not so keen on small businesses offering traditional (eg. percentage off) sales at all as I believe we should be making a living wage from our craft; whatever that may be. I have done them a couple of times in the past but at quiet times when sales were slow. It is worrying if shops are having a sale at the start of peak Christmas shopping season.

My suggestion for small business who want to reward shoppers but can’t afford to offer big deals. Consider a small discount for purchasing multiple items or offering to gift box/ gift wrap over a certain value to encourage higher value orders. It also adds in that human element with a personal touch which is the unique selling point of most small businesses.

3. I don’t like ‘stuff’

I like a clear, tidy house which in turn helps me have a clear, tidy mind. The best way I have found is to keep my surroundings clutter free, clearing out useless bits and bobs weekly. I’m not a huge fan of trinkets and prefer to only surround myself with useful or beautiful items. I have a favourite quote by William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

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There is likely to be a tendency to buy more ‘stuff’ if it is deemed to be going cheap or is a flash sale, it is hardwired in us to acquire and stockpile stuff for a ‘rainy day’ but in reality this doesn’t really apply to modern life anymore. I now shop more consciously; asking myself will this item be useful, will it bring me (or the recipient) joy. I respect the small businesses who cannot afford to offer big discounts but will create something with much care. I urge others to buy unique Christmas gifts from a friend’s Etsy shop or a Facebook group, supporting a neighbour in their homemade cakes venture. It is likely those gifts will be much more appreciated and it will mean the world to those small business owners too.

I sell small, affordable but most importantly useful products that make the perfect present to yourself or someone else and for that I am proud. Every item I make is designed, manufactured, quality checked, wrapped and dispatched by me and no one else. You can visit my website www.clarise-crafts.co.uk, I’m sorry but I am a scrooge and won’t be having a Christmas sale but I do have a rewards scheme for loyal customers so make sure you sign up to that. I also offer a gift wrapping service and I even can send direct to the recipient, just ask!

Look out for upcoming blog posts where I will be sharing some of my favourite small businesses and their fantastic products so you can start sorting that Christmas list. In the meantime I’d love to hear your thoughts on Black Friday, whether you are a shopper or a small business owner.

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Homemade Protein Balls

I love cooking and baking, especially when I can experiment and create my own delicious treats. Recently I’ve seen a few recipes for protein balls but every attempt had been a little unsuccessful either in texture or flavour but I didn’t give in.

This is my take on protein snack balls that are refined sugar free, wheat free and also dairy free. I can confirm they are also really tasty and enough to satisfy a sweet craving.

My ingredient quantities are a bit vague as I wasn’t really measuring as I went along, I just did it until it was right. The ratio is 2 parts oats to 1 part dates and 1 part fat/liquid (2:1:1). I also made two flavour variations.

Cocoa Balls

 

Oats, raw cacao powder (or cocoa), pitted dates, dairy free spread, dairy free chocolate spread (or Nutella), chopped hazelnuts.

Soak the dates in boiling water for 10 minutes until soft, remove stones if they have them. Blitz in a food processor.

Melt the spread and dairy-free chocolate spread in a small pan until runny.

Put the oats in a bowl and mix in a generous amount of chopped hazelnuts. Then stir in the chocolate mixture and the dates until it binds.

As it cools you will be able to take a small amount and roll it into a ball amount the size of a £2 coin. You can powder your hands with cocoa to stop it sticking.

Place on a tray to cool then transfer to a container to store in the fridge.

Peanut Butter Balls

Oats, smooth peanut butter, pitted dates, dairy free spread, vanilla extract.

 

The method is the same as the cocoa balls, except you melt the peanut butter with the dairy free spread. Then add a couple drops of vanilla extract. This mixture will be less sticky so you shouldn’t need to powder your hands.

I can’t wait to make up more batches of these to keep in the fridge for when I’m feeling peckish. If you need any more help with the recipe or ingredient quantities just drop me a line.

 

Preparing your Etsy Business for Christmas

It is the 1st of November and this morning I switched the music channel on to a countdown of Christmas songs! If you have an Etsy business or any micro/small business you will probably already have been thinking and preparing for Christmas. If you are like me you will have had a plan in place since the start of Summer but if you are a little more laid back then don’t worry there is still just enough time before the festive rush begins. I’ve put together a few tips to help you prepare but I’m happy for you to suggest your own too so please get in touch.

Order in your packaging supplies now

These could be your usual supplies but make sure you order extra; more than enough to take you through to the New Year and beyond in fact. It may be harder to get hold of last minute supplies especially as other businesses often shut down for the festive period or wind down their stock supplies and you may get a last minute rush and you don’t want to be stressing about the fact you don’t have any envelopes, tissue paper, stickers etc. You might also consider switching up your packaging, maybe adding a sparkly twist perhaps?

Organise your raw materials

If you make handmade products especially ones that require more than one component then you need to make sure you will not run out of one thing that is crucial to your design. The best way to do this is keep everything organised (maybe invest in some storage boxes) and do a quick stock take of your raw materials, then keep this stock take up to date by checking every few days. As you get busier it might be harder to remember how many you have of something causing a last minute panic when you realise you don’t have any necklace clasps/ varnish/ thread or whatever it might be.

Christmas-ify your photos

I’m not suggesting you reshoot every item in your Etsy shop with a bough of holly in the background but doing a festive photoshoot of a small range of products with ensure you have lots of content to share in the run up to Christmas and give shoppers inspiration. Maybe you could show how your products might be used around this time of year. If you sell specific Christmas products then of course go crazy glittering up your photography but have a think about other products that might make wonderful gifts and style them with that in mind. Don’t forget to include a photo of your festive wrapping if you are offering that.

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Christmas stamps from Clarise Crafts

Update your banners and announcements

It can be incredibly frustrating to get last minute shoppers when you are already snowed under messaging to ask why they haven’t received their orders etc. This will always happen not matter how obvious you make it but adding a banner message with your last order dates/ turnaround times will help. Make sure you are clear about how long you need to process an order and how long it will take to ship. Consider offering shipping upgrades if available as customers are more likely to pay at this time of year. Also leave more than the recommended shipping time especially for international orders as the systems get so busy. Last year some parcels were taking 4-6 weeks to reach USA customers despite it saying 5-7 days. You might also consider adding a note to all buyers giving them an estimate when they will receive their items, this can be done automatically so you don’t have to remember each time.

Keep your customer service top-notch

It may be really easy to let your usual high standards of customer service slip as more and more enquiries come through but this is the fastest way to getting bad feedback and reputation. Make sure you respond to all enquiries, even if it is to apologise that your order books are closed, they might still order at another time if you have taken time to reply. Always address the customer and sign off personally and professionally. If you don’t have time to sit checking messages, you could add an auto response explaining that you are busy right now but will respond as soon as you can to buy a bit of time. Treat every customer/order/enquiry exactly the same as you would the rest of the year.

Don’t forget the office Christmas party!

If you run your Etsy business from home and it’s just you, it can be very lonely. You need to have some downtime and enjoy the festive madness. In the past I have attended Christmas parties organised by Etsy Team Leeds (there may be a local Etsy team near you) and I have also organised a small party for a group of local designer-makers (beer, buffet and crackers in a pub!). Having some time off and having something to look forward will hopefully stop you burning out and ensure you don’t just sleep for the whole of Christmas day! (Napping during the queen’s speech is acceptable though).

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If you enjoyed these tips please leave me a lovely comment. Always love to hear from you! Like I said, it can get very lonely working from home all the time…

VG, GF Autumn Crumble Recipe

Autumn is the season of abundance for fruit, in particular apples, pears and berries so it’s always good to have a few recipes on hand to make the most of it. One of my favourites is crumble because it is so quick and can be made using store-cupboard ingredients.

The traditional crumble is made using flour and sugar and butter but I have experimented with various fillings and this is by far my best creation yet so I wanted to share with you. The ratio you need is 2:1:1 for crumble so it is so simple to swap out ingredients. This version is also vegan friendly and GF if you use GF approved oats.

Ingredients:

2-3 Cooking apples

2 Pears

75g Pure (Dairy-free Vegan Spread)

75g Sugar (I use brown sugar for extra crunch)

150g Mix of Oats and Almond Flour

Powdered Cinnamon

100ml Orange Juice

Drizzle Agave Syrup (can swap out for sugar)

Handful Sliced Almonds (for topping)

Method:

Peel the fruit and slice into thin chunks and place into an open top ceramic dish.Add a glug of Orange juice (not too much but enough to keep it juicy). Drizzle on agave syrup (or some sugar) and add about a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Add the dry ingredients (sugar, oats, almond flour) to a mixing bowl and mix. Then add small chunks of Pure Spread and start ‘rubbing’ in with your hands until the mixture is crumbly. It will be more crumbly than traditional versions using wheat flour.

Pour the crumble mixture over the fruit. Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the top and place in a pre-heated oven.

Bake for around 30-40 minutes at about 180 degrees. I prefer to cook at lower temperature for longer to stop the almonds burning. You know it is done when the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden.

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I hope you enjoy your Autumn treat, let me know in the comments if you gave it a go or if you have your own crumble variation!

 

 

How To Create Your Own Photo Boards

Recently I started experimenting with photography, investing in a DSLR camera and paying for online photography courses. One of the major things that came out of my research is how much I favour natural light photography over studio photography so have decided to use natural light exclusively.

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Reflector boards are really important to ensure you get less harsh shadows and can get enough light into the shoot. I have been using a North facing window mainly in early afternoon as that is when it seems to be best and I purchased some large A1 Foamex boards from Hobbycraft (4 for £10!) and can prop these up around my shoot and even use as a base.

The next step was to work on backgrounds so I visited a large DIY store and took some samples of wallpaper (don’t worry I was shopping for other items too!). I carefully picked ones that were quite realistic looking and weren’t too contrasting. There are some amazing textured vinyl style papers now including brick effect, tiles and slate etc.

These made the final cut; a rustic painted brick, a whitewashed wooden plank and a black stitched leather. All I did was trim them to length using a craft knife and used repsitionable spray mount (also Hobbycraft) and stuck it onto the backs of the A1 Foamex board. I made sure to line it up with two edges so I can use it as a wall without a gap. It’s easy peasy to just switch the boards round when I need either white or background or use two together.

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This is a really cost effective and quick DIY that means you can switch up your photography backgrounds very quickly without investing in photo boards that you might only use a couple of times.

What do you think to this DIY? Do you have any ideas of your own for shooting with natural light? Let me know in the comments or drop me an email!

 

Brand Challenge – The Results

A few weeks ago I had the idea of organising a social media challenge in an attempt to help clarify my own brand and hear from the community about their own businesses. I’ll be honest and say that it wasn’t the riproaring success that I had hoped for and it was mainly down to being hit by an Instagram ‘Shadowban’ on day 2 of the challenge.

If you don’t know what a Shadowban is then it is when any posts that use hashtags do not show up in searches and therefore it kills engagement. The way I knew it had happened was my engagement dropped to 10% overnight so to confirm I created a new account  to spy on myself (essentially looking for unique hashtags that I have used and seeing if I appear in the results). There doesn’t seem to be any real reason behind it but some people suggest it is overusing hashtags or using hashtags that are ‘banned’. Whatever the reason it is frustrating and demoralising. I ploughed on with the challenge regardless, I just opted to not use any hashtags until the ban was lifted; which was nearly 2 weeks later.

One of the positives that came out of the challenge was the content that I managed to create for my social media and I will show you some of the posts. Another positive was seeing the people who were joining in and I’ll shout out a few at the end.

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The challenge covered topics including Logo, Ethos, Mood, Collateral, Colour Palette & Typography. You can see the posts searching #CCBrandChallenge

Thank you to those that took part via Instagram and Facebook, here are a few of my highlights. I’m hoping to redo the challenge in the future and hopefully get more of the community involved as I think branding is such an important topic that every business needs to build on.

From left to right:

@zetaemmedesign
@hanmadeincornwall
@sallyflorencedesigns

Has anyone else been hit by an Instagram Shadow ban, can you shed anymore light on it? I’d love to hear your experiences.