Thursday, 4 August 2011

Selling online - is it turning you into a workaholic?

Are you comfortable with how much time you spend online?

I find myself in a confusing position; most of my ‘offline’ friends, some of whom don’t use a computer at all and others who don’t work, repeatedly tell me that I work too hard. And there is probably some truth in this. But, on the other hand, as soon as I turn on my computer I feel bombarded by exhortations to work even harder!

Forums and newsletters are full of suggestions for getting more sales. A recent Zazzle newsletter was actually titled, ‘Seller To-do list’! And Twitter will lead you to vast choice of blogs and articles, often contradictory, about things to do to increase your income.

But I don’t even need to visit a forum or log on to Twitter to feel pressured. Ever since I submitted my sites to a list of search engines – a suggestion from a forum! – I’ve had several emails daily with Subject lines that suggest there is more I should be doing if I’m serious about my business!

And of course,
The Internet never sleeps!

A partial solution for me has been to set myself ‘working hours’, as if I were going out to a job, to avoid allowing work to take over my life. I say ‘partial’ solution because it hasn’t solved the fact that I still feel pressured by all these 'suggestions', especially when sales are slow and I start to wonder whether I’m really doing enough ‘promotion’.

When I started offering my artwork in its various forms on the internet, I was warned that I would probably spend 20% of my time creating, and 80% promoting. Recently I was asked by the Inland Revenue to give a breakdown of how I spend my working time, as part of a review of my benefits. Luckily I had my ‘work schedule’ to refer to but when I typed it out to send it to them, I looked at it in more detail.

This is what became apparent - and it astonished me:

·    I work a minimum of 52 hours a week, often more.
·    I spend roughly 4 hours a week painting/designing.
·    I spend a further 4 hours a week scanning and editing my designs and adding the texts.
·    The remaining 44 hours are more or less equally divided between the uploading and ‘processing’ of my creative work and promoting it.

So, according to my calculator, I’m spending less than 16% of my time on ‘creative’ activities, half of that if you restrict that term to the actual painting!

I think what’s at the heart of this difficulty is that it’s almost impossible to say what really works when it comes to promoting. So we go on trying this, that and the other, in the hope that something will make a noticeable difference. And it all takes up time.

At one time I thought that keeping track of statistics would provide some clarity so I tried various forms of analytics for a while – another job to do! But the statistics bore no relation whatsoever to my sales – eg when I had a UK sale on Zazzle, there was no trace of any visits from the UK on the day concerned. So I gave that up as a bad job.

So, what’s the answer? Well, given that we have no control over how the internet works, I don’t think we can look for a solution from outside of ourselves.

That leaves us with individual choices to make about how we spend our time. The results of analysing my working time came as a bit of a shock to me and I think being aware of how we’re living is a good starting place. For me that means steering my own course between what my offline friends would have me do and the pressure that comes with being online!

Also bear in mind that at least some of the suggestions about how we can get to the top of pile stem from someone else’s self-interest; there are plenty of people out there trying to sell us something which they claim will increase our chances of success. and our strong desire to succeed in the face of overwhelming competition, can sway our judgement.

But I always remember a thread on the Zazzle forum where a ‘newbie’ asked ProSellers for tips. All the usual advice was wheeled out – get your keywords right, promote on facebook, etc etc etc. Then another ‘Pro’ came on and admitted that he didn’t do any promotion at all!

It made me wonder!


Ulla Hennig said...

Interesting post, Judy. It reminds me what I hear from people with "normal" brick and stone businesses. They do not sell online, they sell offline, and they have to work really hard to make a living. Their working hours are about the same like yours, even more. Whenever I hear such a story, I am glad that I am an employee - getting the same money or even more by working less!
And I know many artists here in Germany who left the university and earn their livings by driving a taxi during the night or day and doing art in their spare time.
So I think it is not the question of selling things online - it is the question of being a small business owner.
Just my two cents,

Itaya Art said...

Love your illustration for this post! She looks about like I feel sometimes. :)

I too get frustrated with the amount of time it takes to promote one's artwork to stay up with the times versus actually creating it. But then, there is a part of me that enjoys the promotional work. I know...I'm an odd ball. :) I would however like to have a more balanced life between creating and promoting.

Lately, I've been very busy painting on the house so neither creating or promoting is getting as much attention as usual!

Jean said...

When I started my blog I was on unemployment and had more time to promote it.I now work full-time and am often too tired to do more than check my emails.

One day I would like to sell my photographs online so I appreciate you addressing this topic.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Ulla - I too have, in the past, run an offline business, working a lot of hours. But I think the difference is that the hours I gave in this blog post are the minimum and because the internet is 'open all hours', unless I'm very strict with myself and turn off the computer at a certain time, I can feel constantly (ie 24/7)bombarded by suggestions of more things I could be doing in a way that I wasn't when I ran an offline business.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Itaya - glad you like my illustration! I must emphasise that it was an imaginary figure and I hope I don't look quite like that!

I agree that there are parts of the promotional work that I too enjoy - but the danger is that it can suck up far too much time! Hours can pass while following 'useful' links and reading potentially useful articles! It can be hard to find the right balance and even harder to explain what we do to people who rarely use the internet.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Jean - I'm glad you found this post useful. I had absolutely no idea when I started out that I would need to spend so much time doing 'promotional' work so I think it's just as well to be aware what you're letting yourself in for, though as I said, there are people who do no promoting at all and yet they get the sales.

Country Mouse Studio said...

Hi Judy, I'm one of the ones overwhelmed by too many things to do online but I did miss reading you blog, then if I read I have to comment and so it goes on and on.
I love your drawing it's so perfectly me too.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Carole - thank you for commenting and I'm glad you like my little sketch :)

I think 'overwhelmed' is a good word to use because it often seems as if there's no end to the things we 'could/should' be doing to promote our wares!

montyandrosie said...

Heh - I do love your drawings!

There is always more to do on the Internet - it is its drawback, but also it's major benefit. The difficulty is working out what is best for you, which isn't always going to be the same as what's best for someone else. I'm still trying to work it out, which means I'm constantly overwhelmed trying to do too much to cover as much as possible. So sometimes I'm in a panic over it, and sometimes I'm exhilarated by it. The internet seems forever optimistic though - it gives me the feeling that if only I find the way for me, then anything is possible.

Once again, a fab post, Judy. Thank you.

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, Susan. I do enjoy letting my naughty pencil loose on some paper. (It's the painting part I'm not so keen on!)

I can indentify with your 'trying to do too much...' and I think part of the trouble is that there's a lot of advice 'out there' about how to succeed but it doesn't take into account different personalities. So you're right, we need to find our own individual way to a large exent. I don't mean that we shouldn't move out of our comfort zones at all but that we are risking health problems if we drive ourselves too hard - and that's very easy to do on the Internet!

Michele said...

I am in the process of re-defining my working hours and trying to make everything more streamlined, ie do all my photography once a week, all my uploading at certain times, etc. Most of my income comes from 'real world' sales so it is just not worth it for me to do too much online promotion.

For organising my housework I have been using a 'card file' system as promoted by 'fly lady' and other online sites. It is working really well, and that seems to be the key, small bursts of focussed activity, not getting distracted (so easy on the internet). I am hopeful of using a similar method for my work soon.


Myshelle said...

Hello Judy,
Wonderful blog so true about working and selling online. I have never worked out my hours and now you have given me food for thought.
Michelle (Myshelle01)

Judy Adamson said...

Thanks, Michelle - it's all too easy to let time run away with you on the internet. In a way I was lucky to have friends who don't even have a computer to point out how long I was spending online. But it's really difficult to see just what can be 'pruned' without affecting sales.

Kevin Beamer said...

Hi Judy! Selling online doesn’t have to use up much of your time. Like you said, “the internet never sleeps.” This means that there is continuous advertising happening, even if you are offline. The links you did, the social bookmarks you put into other websites, and the press releases are all working while you are busy doing other activities. It is just a matter of where you put your advertisements and how good the design is. Place your ads where your target market usually is.

Kevin Beamer

Tasha Goddard said...

This is why I think it can be helpful to pay someone else to do the promotion for you. If you can invest a little bit, it could free up more time for creating. I just concentrate on creating, because I do it mostly for my own satisfaction and relaxation at the moment. If I were needing to make money out of it, I'd have to look at differently. But I'd always make sure I spent the bulk of my time creating and it wouldn't be worth it to me otherwise (that's for me, personally - I know it's different for different people).

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Tasha and thank you for your comments. It sounds as if you've got your priorities straighter than I have! The trouble is that paying an agent can take up so much of your income and also can take up time too, as, apparently, they get lonely and need you to support and encourage them! Or perhaps you had some other way in mind?

Janet Palaggi said...

So true, sometimes I think 1/4 of my time is designing and 3/4 is promoting. And if you have 7 stores like myself, you ARE a work-a-holic, (wink). Great Blog!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Janet - thank you for stopping by. Seven stores! That must keep you very busy but as long as you enjoy it, I don't think it really matters whether or not you are a workaholic :)

Inkflo Chez Inkflo said...

Hard work never hurt anyone, but we all need some down time I suppose. My problem is, that once I get on the internet to do some promoting or sharing, I get a bit carried away. Instead of setting myself a stop time and then doing some designing, I find myself in the dark, with eye strain, finger ache and an easel on the desk next to me that hasn't been touched!
I do need to get some structure into my day, adn then maybe I'll get something of everything done.
Great blog post by the way.

Judy Adamson said...

Oh Inkflo, even with my pretty strictly structured schedule, I still find the internet/promoting time invariably over-runs! :D