Sunday, 22 February 2015

Quentin Update

Regular readers will know that guide dog puppy Quentin has been a regular visitor to the vet for a whole lot of x-rays and CT scans and has spent much time both limping and resting.  After several months, we now have a firm diagnosis...

This week he visited an orthopaedic surgeon, who has diagnosed Quentin with a grade 2 luxating patella in both back legs.  Basically, his kneecaps are dislocating themselves, which is causing him to raise one of his legs until the kneecap slips back into position when he extends his leg again.  He ends up walking on three legs for anything from a few seconds to a couple of minutes, sometimes several times a day.

So, what this means is:

  • Quentin will need two operations, about six weeks or so apart - one on each of his back legs.  The surgeon will create a deeper groove in the bone which will hold the kneecap in position for him.
  • He will - sadly - be withdrawn from the Guide Dogs training programme, mainly because of the time it will take for the operations and recovery, but also because he will be more prone to arthritis in his later years and guide dogs are required to walk mostly on hard surfaces.
  • His parents will be withdrawn as breeding stock, because luxating patella is a hereditary condition.
  • Guide Dogs will be paying for the operations and helping support his recovery within their training centre.  I'm really impressed with and touched by their level of commitment to the welfare of a pup who won't ever be a guide dog.
  • And - this part is the silver lining in the cloud - we have decided to keep him as a pet.  I'm very happy about that part!

I'm really quite sad that he won't be a guide dog, because he is showing signs of being a fabulous guide!  He knows exactly when the road is safe to cross - he often starts to make a move before I tell him to.  He has safely guided me around parked cars, too.  Having a mind of his own means he does sometimes try and make a decision based on where he wants to go (grassy areas are definitely desirable!) rather than where I want to go!

But my sadness at him not being a guide dog is balanced with the knowledge that I can continue to enjoy his company and watch him develop into a happy pet dog.

His first operation is on 5th March.  He'll go in the day before, and Guide Dogs will pick him up afterwards so he can benefit from recuperating where (among other things) they'll walk him on an underwater treadmill to help rebuild his muscles and joints!  I'm guessing he might have to wear one of these again for a while...

Fortunately, he didn't mind it at all last time, although he took chunks out of it from walking (and running) into walls with it on!

I'm linking up to Handmade Monday in its new home today.  I apologise to all the Handmade Mondayers for the distinct lack of handmade in this post!  I know there are some of you who have been waiting to hear about Quentin, so hopefully you will forgive me!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Where is Handmade Monday?

If you missed last week's Handmade Monday, you'll also have missed the announcement about it being the last one on this blog.

However, all is not lost!  Vicky from Lucy Blossom has kindly offered to take over the hosting of Handmade Monday - so please do pop over and join in over there.

There's a second option, too.  I discovered the lovely Happy Friday on Planet Penny recently.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Handmade Monday 200

Hello and welcome to the 200th Handmade Monday!

I've spent quite a long time (months!) thinking how I want to go forward with my various different creative endeavours.  I've been aware for such a long time that I'm doing far too much - spreading myself too thinly - and because of that I know I'm not doing any of it justice.

I've been needing to take a step back for some time now.

And I've decided to concentrate more on illustration and less on handmade, which leaves me in a slightly tricky position with Handmade Mondays!!  In fact, Handmade Harbour itself may turn out to be altogether the wrong name for the direction I'm going in.  Still, one decision at a time!

So I've decided that the 200th Handmade Monday is (rather sadly) going to be the last one.  I'm sorry - I know this might come as a bit of a shock to some of you. 

200 is a nice round number, a good place as any to end what has truly been a wonderful journey (which is all down to the fabulous Handmade Mondayers and that really amazing sense of community).  It feels like it's the right time.

I was worried about where all that wonderful creativity, sharing and friendly community feeling was going to go, but I have found what I think is a lovely solution...

Planet Penny has recently started a Happy Fridays linky party.  If you haven't visited Penny's blog before, please do pop over and check it out - it's full of colour, fun, knitting and crochet (and an incredibly cute dog).  And I've chatted via email with Penny, who agrees that Happy Friday could be just the place to accommodate handmade projects that have made you happy in one way or another!  Of course, it could be something else altogether that's made you happy, in which case that's going to be perfectly fine too.

I may even meet you over there myself quite soon.  It looks like just the sort of linky party I'd be happy to join in with.  

And speaking of happy...

Quentin the guide dog puppy is now one year old!  There wasn't any celebration, to be fair, but Dave came home from work and sang happy birthday to him, which made me smile!

Quentin will be seeing the Guide Dogs vet again later this week - I'm sure they have the scan results by now.  He's still hopping around on three legs from time to time, so nothing has changed.  But he's happy enough the rest of the time.  

So, for the last Handmade Monday...

Friday, 16 January 2015

How to Promote a Small Online Business

Do you sell your handmade items?  Have you opened an online shop?  If so, are you getting enough customers to keep you busy?  This post is aimed at helping you identify ways you can increase sales.

For craft makers, moving your small business online is a really positive thing to do.  It means your shop can be "open all hours" - even when you are asleep.  It means that anyone, anywhere in the world, could spend money there.  It means you can sell without setting foot out of your front door (how welcome is that idea on a grey, wet and windy January morning?).

If you are still thinking about dipping your toes into online selling, let me tell you it's really easy to get started: online market places like Etsy, Folksy or even good old eBay make it really easy to open a shop and connect with customers.  Even having your own website and using PayPal as a payment gateway is quick and easy to do - it's accessible to anyone.

But - and this is a very big but - you then need to get people in the (virtual) door!  Your web shop, without promotion, is like having a shop in a long-forgotten back street, far from anywhere.  How do you get people to visit it?  It's a question that comes up on a regular basis on all the craft forums.  There is no magic formula to floods of customers, but there is quite a bit you can do.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Write a blog.  This is a great option for anyone who likes writing, taking photos and/or connecting with other people.  While your online shop is the place people will go to buy things, your blog is where you can show off your new products, your personality, your methods of working and build your brand.  Blogger is easy and free to use.  It can also provide a doorway to your shop via links.  The more entrances to your shop, the better!  You'll find, if you use key words, that your blog will get listed in search engines long before your website will.  Use it for promoting your goods, but not in a salesy way - many of the people who will come across it in internet searches are actively looking for what you are selling.  

  • It's often said that people buy from people and not from businesses, so get social on social media. Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest are great tools for linking with people.  There's no doubt that folk do buy from other people they meet on these places (I have bought and sold on Twitter).  It's important to note that filling your Twitter feed with links to your shop is very off-putting - social media isn't about spamming people with links, it's about being social.  So - what can you chat about?  What can you offer your followers?

  • Get your products featured in a magazine.  How?  A great start would be to sign up for Press Loft - this is a really easy-to-use service which gets your products in front of the journalists who write the product pages in magazines.  There's a 60-day free trial for any brands new to Press Loft, with no pressure to continue if it's not for you, so you can't really go wrong.  Magazine features should not be confused with advertising - editorial features are always better than ads (and free!) and Press Loft is all about getting those editorial slots for you. 
  • If you have a stall at a craft fair or any other event, make sure your customers know they can shop online too.  Hand out business cards like sweets!  I discovered that the busier events can send online customers your way for well over a year afterwards.  You can easily check if this is working by adding a "where did you find us?" question in your PayPal checkout.
  • Read up on search engine optimisation (SEO).  Basically, SEO is about making sure your site (and your blog!) gets found and listed in search engines.  The basics include key words, good customer feedback (on an independent site) and relevant links from reputable sources.  Don't worry too much about SEO, just get to grips with the basics - if you write primarily for your audience/customers you may find you already have a lot of it covered.  

  • Speaking of SEO, as well as making sure you have key words in place on your website and blog, don't forget the importance of naming images! Give them all titles which make sense (your camera might label an image SAM_1553, which means nothing to a search engine.  Rename it using a key word for that product). Lots of people use Google images to search for products they want to buy and labelling images means they are much more likely to find you.
  • Get the basics in place - payment buttons, good clear photographs, contact details. People are likely to click away if they can't see an easy way to buy - or can't work out what your product is!  There's no excuse not to have a "buy now" or "add to cart" button, because PayPal makes it so easy.  Make sure people know how to buy, when to expect their product, and that they can contact you easily in case of problems (a land line number is preferable, but your physical address should be on there too - it's a legal requirement in the the UK.  Please check the regulations in your own country).  Social media is used by many for contacting businesses with questions - be as available as possible!

I hope that helps!  Please feel free to add your own tips by leaving a comment.

Disclosure: the link to Press Loft is an affiliate link.  I have used their services (more about that in another post) and wholeheartedly recommend them for getting national magazine and newspaper exposure with minimal effort.

Images: Please do not use the images within this post without written permission, unless it is for the purpose of linking to this page.  My images are available for licensing via IBD Licensing.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Handmade Monday 199

Hello and welcome back to Handmade Monday!

My daughter and granddaughter returned home to London yesterday, so the house is now much quieter and much tidier!  But I'm missing the toddler chatter and watching mini masterpieces emerge...

My fridge is nowhere near big enough for all the paintings!

On a more serious note, the new VAT laws are now in place and have (as suspected) meant many small digital businesses have already closed their doors.  I haven't closed Handmade Harbour yet, but I probably will do.  I don't sell much within the EU, but I now need to consider how I will handle a £1.25 download sale to avoid breaking the law!

With this in mind, please do read this and follow the link to sign the new EU petition (even if you signed the previous UK one).  Even if you don't sell (or buy) digital goods, the plan is that a similar law will apply to physical goods from next year - so it's important to support this.  I won't go into all the reasons tiny businesses can't comply (suffice to say: could you keep up to date with 72 taxes in 28 different countries?) but please do read the link if you have a small business!

You can also join this Facebook group to keep updated, ask questions and join in the discussion.

I know some of you may be awaiting a Quentin update... he did indeed need to go for a CT scan - we are still waiting for the results from that.  He's still doing the walking on three legs thing - not all the time, just intermittently.  It's usually his right hind leg but not always.

He is starting to calm his puppy excitement down a little but it's very gradual!  One of the things we are trying to encourage is calm evenings - so if we are watching TV he will lie down next to us.  It takes quite a while, but most evenings he does eventually manage it!

It's over to you now for Handmade Monday...

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Normal service will be resumed...

Handmade Monday will be back next week!

This week, Christmas festivities are being extended a little in our household because my middle daughter and my youngest granddaughter are visiting from London.

I hope you've all had a great time over Christmas and New Year and are now starting to get back to some kind of normality - hope to join you there sometime soon!

Thursday, 1 January 2015