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Archive for November, 2008

29giftsBoutiko is about giving. Giving to friends and family and giving to the wider world as much as possible, like ensuring fair pay and treatment for producers, or reusing and recycling to protect the planet and its wildlife. So I love it when I come across things like 29 Gifts.

Started by Cami Walker after a recommendation by her spiritual teacher that she give away one thing a day for 29 days as a way to cope with a very difficult time, 29gifts.org is a challenge that uses giving as a way to make the world a better place. After the 29 days of giving, she reports:

“By Day 29, I was astounded by the magical and miraculous shifts in my energy for life:

  • I was feeling happier, healthier, and more in awe with life.
  • I found myself smiling and laughing more.
  • My body got stronger and I was able to stop walking with my cane by week two.
  • My business exploded with new, unexpected opportunities amounting to more than $8,000 in unanticipated income for that one month.
  • I began connecting with a community of new friends in Los Angeles after feeling isolated in my new home for several months.
  • My creativity opened up and I began writing stories regularly again for the first time in over two years since my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis.
  • I began experiencing a deeper intimacy in my relationship with my husband.

The list of changes goes on and on. This is only the beginning.”

The gifts don’t have to be tangible. Looking at the website, on which people can post about the gifts they’ve given and the consequences, you can give anything, from a smile to a coffee to a taxi ride. They say that what goes around comes around, and by giving so that someone else may benefit, we can all raise our energies and enjoy the mutual benefits of giving without expecting something in return.

Now that we’re coming up to Christmas this seems particularly appropriate. Have a look at the website and be inspired by the stories of gifts great and small, and the ways they are changing people’s lives. I’m going to do it too.

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Here’s an article I wrote for the Ooffoo Competition (prize £500 and becoming ‘Ooffoo Laureate 2008’). It’s something about which I feel pretty strongly, so I thought, why not?!

Ethical products are fast becoming an everyday sight in shops and on websites. Great! As an owner of a website selling ethically produced gifts, I am all for this sudden explosion of conscience over the past few years.

Mostly, these products come from all around the world, in particular Africa, India and Asia. Purchasing a handwoven basket which was produced by a family business in Vietnam, or a pair of earrings handcrafted in a women’s cooperative in India enables us to help those who live a life so different from ours and so devoid of the daily luxuries we enjoy, that it is hard to imagine unless you go and see for yourself. Buying ethical products means we can ‘do our bit’, however small. There can surely be no argument against trying to redress the balance whenever we get the chance.

It’s probably going to sound like a ‘but’ is coming now! Well yes and no. I would always advocate buying fair trade and eco friendly products when you can – contrary to popular opinion there is not always a huge price difference, but there can be a huge difference in effect. However, I want to stand up for a moment for all the small businesses in the UK, in particular those that produce handmade goods in an ethical way.

In recent years the British craft scene has been growing from something slightly geeky and subterranean, to the coolest thing you can do. Knitting classes and groups like Stitch’n’Bitch have sprung up all over the country, and websites such as Etsy are growing more popular daily, with the recent emergence of the British version, Folksy, and countless others springing up all the time. I think these crafters have always been there, but now it’s much easier to benefit from and enjoy their hard work! It is no longer hard to find beautifully handcrafted wooden pieces, jewellery, ceramics, textiles and countless other practices that abound in our own homeland and with a stamp of Britishness on them.

The best thing about all this is the increasing combination of craft and environmental awareness. Many crafters are using vintage materials, recycling and ‘upcycling’ old into new in imaginative and exciting ways. These small businesses need our support too. Yes, fair trade is a valuable and worthwhile enterprise, and we should continue to buy the products with the little black, green and blue label on whenever possible, but let’s not forget those a bit closer to home who are also running small businesses using their skills and working with small budgets. Now that we are heading into recession, this argument stands up more than ever. It would be a tragedy to see small UK based businesses go under, and we can perhaps help to keep our economy going by spending a bit more a bit closer to home.

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Christmas Bazaar

Last week was nothing if not hectic, partly because of a two day fair I did in Clapham in the most beautiful house near the common. After the recent spate of rather depressing fairs (wrong customers, credit crunch, wrong time of year, pouring rain, that sort of thing) where we sometimes didn’t even cover the cost of the stall, this one was a huge success.

I suspect that’s because it was very specifically targeted; the lady who organised it does this every year and has built up a very specific mailing list of people who know what to expect and keep coming back.

I think the most important thing I learned (because there is always something to learn, like with anything in life), was that my table is possibly not focused enough. Looking around at the other stalls, they all sold ‘one thing’ – Indian shawls and kaftans, or wire sculptures, or embroidered children’s clothes. Although my ‘one thing’ is gifts, that is a very diverse area, and I do feel it looks a bit overwhelming and uncohesive (is that a word?). I will of course keep the diversity on the website, but it’s something to think about for future fairs.

All the stall holders donated 11% of their takings to the Changarawe Project in Tanzania, so there was added feel good factor!

I hadn’t realised though what an absolute sloppy student tramp I looked until this delightful picture was taken. And those boots? Those are not just boots. They’re M&S slippers. But don’t tell anyone.

 

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Just a quick little thank you, actually really quite a big one, to everyone who has deemed Boutiko worthy of voting for so far. Obviously there is a little way to go yet, the result being announced on December 6th, but even if we don’t win, it is so touching to have had the support of so many people, even those I don’t know!

In particular, big thanks to My Eco Self, for giving us a little mention! In case you haven’t come across it, My Eco Self is a blog about ‘an ordinary girl’s quest for an eco existence’, and I love it because it’s dry and funny and makes you feel better about that fact that sometimes you do let the water run too long or you don’t compost your vegetable leftovers. It reminds us that we can do our best without taking ourselves TOO seriously. Works for me.

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TOO exciting. Green England is running awards this year, and we have managed to get into the top five nominations for best Fair Trade business! Click on the logo to the left to get through to the voting page, and please vote for us!

In the Best Green Company category are our good friends How On Earth, so please vote for them at the same time!

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People often ask me how I advertise and market Boutiko, so I thought I’d share the different things I do.

1. Online Directories: There are literally hundreds out there, some you have to pay for and some you don’t. Some will contact you as they are relatively new, some you can hunt out on the web or through the links pages of sites similar to yours. Sometimes they ask for a link swap, which seems a fair exchange to me. Mostly I have joined ‘eco’ directories, for obvious reasons, and I have also joined a couple which require payment, although it tends not to be too much, and Google Analytics tells me which ones are worth sticking with.

2. Forums: Business forums are not only helpful in terms of advice and support, they also provide an opportunity to leave a ‘signature’ every time you post, which can include your business details, website url etc. Plus if you post regularly, you can gain access to areas for posting press releases for example. Different forums offer different benefits, so shop around and see what you can find.

3. Google Adwords: While I try to keep advertising/marketing costs to an absolute minimum, I find that Adwords can be helpful if you do the research required to find suitable keywords, and you can at least control your spending with this method. It’s a bit of slog, and I think I still have a lot to learn, but it can be very effective! Plus the beauty of it is you can change keywords or ad wording whenever you like, and switch campaigns on and off according to time of year or general suitability.

4. Fairs: Admittedly this can be a bit hit and miss in terms of successful selling, but I find fairs not only extremely enjoyable but a fantastic opportunity to get the name out there and meet interesting, like minded people. I always end up making new contacts, which can lead to other fairs or any number of useful things. It is also a great opportunity to get people to sign up to your mailing list.

5. Business Cards: Cards are fab – you can carry them with you as there’ll always be people who ask what you do, you can stick them in with every order, you can give them out at fairs, leave them in shops and cafes, the possibilities are endless! I have A6 cards with images of my products as well as the usual info – if you’re in retail this is a good draw.

6. Blog: I really started this blog mainly because I wanted to track the progress of my business through starting it and growing it, with all the ups and downs along the way. I didn’t necessarily imagine I’d end up with a huge following of readers, although the stats suggest that there are people out there who do read it! (Thank you so much!) But I have also learned (don’t underestimate the usefulness of stats) that people who read my blog also go on to look at my site. Also, I don’t pressurize myself to write every day or even every week. I write if I have something to say.

7. PR: PR is one of those things that takes a while to kick in. I have been extremely lucky to find a PR service which not only focuses solely on ethical businesses, but also provides excellent value and things I don’t have access to myself, such as a massive journalist database. Of course this is not free, but I do believe it’s an area worth spending on as it tends to have a snowball effect, and is a very effective way of sticking yourself in lots of people’s faces in a way that would otherwise be extremely expensive.

8. Competitions: A fabulous way to get those all important names on the database! People love free stuff, and there are sites which will host a competition for you, or you can do it yourself through the press. I did one which gained me over 1000 new names, for the price of a single product.

This is by no means an exhaustive list – marketing your business, especially on a budget, is really only limited by your imagination.

The most important thing is to take advantage of any and all opportunities to promote your business. You never know where it might lead.

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