News, if you like stationery: I’m closing my shops on 1st September!

Hello! Big news today, if you are interested in very cool stationery and accessories: I am closing my shops on 1st September. I may reopen in December or January, depending on my workload. I’m juggling one too many plates, so I thought I’d put this one down before it smashes, aka something goes wrong in the Christmas season and I cry in the post office. So get your shopping in while you can, in case I don’t reopen!

I don’t currently have anything for sale in any local shops (although if anyone who runs a shop, especially in the Southend area, wants to stock some pieces, give me a shout!). It’s all available on Folksy or, if you prefer, Etsy (item prices are the same in both shops; international postage is a little cheaper on Folksy because of how fees work). There’s 20% off a lot of items at the moment, so grab those pieces while you can! My last mailing day will be 31st August.

Give me a shout if you have any questions! Here is a selection of what’s available:

Here’s the link to my Folksy, hint hint, and to my Etsy, hint hint…

Look after yourselves,

Francesca


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Let’s talk about stamps, baby

Let’s chat about the post. The mail. Shipping. Stamps! Here is a pretty example of postage:

stamps from Finland on neat postmarked envelopes
By Anne Nygard on Unsplash

Here is a realistic example of postage:

I started my stationery business back in 2014 or so, and in summer 2017 when I was looking to increase orders, I asked my friends whether they prefer to pay postage on online items or not. They were unequivocal: postage is annoying, especially when your budget is £20 and your basket is £19.50 and then you hit the check out and you’re actually paying £26.72. So I decided to experiment and offer free UK postage. The same day I changed the postage settings, I had my biggest order to date, which felt like a good sign. Back then I used very thin paper envelopes and most of my items were the size of a regular letter, so free domestic postage wasn’t going to bankrupt me.

Royal Mail always put their prices up in March, sometimes by quite a bit, and over the years I began to invest in thicker envelopes and larger items requiring more postage. But my margins were still okay-ish. In 2020, Royal Mail upped their prices in March, July, September and then again from 1st January. Mostly it was international postage changes but in January UK stamp prices went up by 2-12% (biggest increase since 2012. Small parcels have gone up too. Going to blame Covid for that. And Brexit, because it makes me feel better). I realised that if I kept offering free postage, I would be paying my customers to buy my products. So at the end of December I introduced a 50p postage charge on UK items, with 10p on items thereafter. Large letter second class stamps are 96p now, so the customer is still getting a deal; I’m just making sure I don’t lose money.

On the first order I had after changing the postage price, the customer used a browser plugin to use a free postage coupon I’d forgotten about. I love my customers, I am grateful for my customers and I understand that times are tough. I get that we all resent paying for postage. I’m not frustrated at the customer, I’m frustrated at past Francesca for not remembering to cancel those long ago coupons. But still.

Frank Iero fuck off gif
from Tumblr

Orders have been quiet since. That’s a bit because it’s January, of course, and a bit because Covid is getting to everyone. But is it also a bit because of postage charge? Over on the Big E, they prioritise showing items that offer free shipping over those that don’t (great idea for those creators who have to send their expensive hand crafted items tracked and insured, or those who can’t afford to absorb the cost of postage, or anyone who isn’t a drop shipping shitbag reselling crap they found on Urban Outfitters).

I don’t know. I can either continue offering pencils at £3.95 plus 50p postage, or I can start offering pencils at £4.45. Either way people are going to be thinking ‘well that’s a bit pricy.’ It isn’t, of course. My margins are almost too low to be practical; the majority of my products are purchased from small UK suppliers, so they’re more expensive than the standard fare you find on Amazon or eBay. My suppliers are VAT registered and I’m not, so I can’t claim back that 20%. I’m not busy enough to apply the old economy of scale, either, and purchase a thousand pencils at a lower price than I pay for 250. I’m thinking of changing up my packaging, because those higher quality envelopes are eating my profits. Any savings might be negated by free replacements of items that have been crushed in the post, though. Or maybe I should only offer bundled items, because two or three products per order is a much better margin.

Or perhaps we could as consumers could start understanding that when we buy an item on the internet, the product and the postage are two different things? When I had free shipping on my shop, Royal Mail wasn’t being paid in smiles and small talk; the postage cost was coming out of the product cost alongside packaging materials, the item itself and, you know, my time. Now I’m just asking people to see the two costs in two separate columns. Are we really so used to Amazon Prime’s free-postage-24-hour-delivery-free-returns that we’ve lost our understanding that indie sellers on Folksy or Etsy aren’t using the same business model that Jeff Bezos is?

Probably.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to keep the postage charge or just raise my prices. I suppose I could go back to those cheap as eff packaging materials and say a small prayer every time I ship something. I could experiment with other postage providers, like Hermes, but I’ve heard so many bad things about their service. I could make another attempt at Click and Drop, although last time I tried printing my own shipping labels I almost threw my printer out of the window. You still have to buy those mailing stickers, anyway, so I don’t know if it’s worth it for my little cards and prints. Maybe it’s time to offer digital items with no postage cost, or much heavier, larger items with a big enough price point that I can include postage within the item price without the customer blinking. Maybe my entire business model needs rethinking.

WHO KNOWS. It’s 2021. We’re living in a world where I can’t hug my nan but white supremacists can attempt a coup d’tat in the United States legislature at the behest of the president. Anything is possible! I’m going to pop off to make a cup of tea – or maybe a gin and tonic, because 2021.

Here’s my shop, by the way, if any of my moaning has whetted your appetite. Are any of you in the online sales business? Are any of you customers with really strong feelings about online sales? Let me know your thoughts on this! I think to-charge-postage-or-to-not-charge-postage is one of those weirdly large issues that will be hanging around for the foreseeable future, and I do not have the answers so I’d love to hear some other perspectives.

Look after yourselves!


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In which I am grateful to be kind of snotty

Evening! (It’s not five as I start this but it’ll be waaaay past five by the time I publish.) How is everyone doing with the new-ish social distancing/lockdown rules? I’m assuming they’ll have changed by the time you read this. At time of writing, I’m 90% sure that I can’t socialise with more than 6 people, and probably shouldn’t hug my nan, but I can go to my local, badly-ventilated Spoons with 100 other people as long as we all get up and leave by 10pm?

I’ve got a cold at the moment – standard autumn snottage, nothing corona-y – and I can’t lie, it’s nice to have a different type of illness to think about. I might be a brain foggy sneeze machine but my toes look all right and I don’t need to lock myself in my bedroom for two weeks… ugh, the luxury of a common cold.

I feel like I have loads to update you guys with, assuming you’re here for hot gossip about my life. Over the last few weeks, I’ve discovered that 25 is the birthday at which people start gifting you candles, and that Microsoft Teams is infinitely superior to Zoom (remember Skype? Awww, Skype. I don’t know why I’m saying that, I still use Skype). WHAT AN ADULT SENTENCE. What a 2020 sentence.

Why are you using Microsoft Teams, I hear you wonder, are you conducting online tarot readings?

Ha, no. I was supposed to start a degree this week, but the college cancelled it back in August; I deferred my place and I’m doing a diploma for a year instead. Then the diploma went online-only because you need so many metres between so many people and the upshot is Microsoft Teams. I bought a folding screen to block the sunlight and create a ~ dedicated workspace ~ so now I have to do my homework, because folding screens are weirdly expensive given how little they weigh.

I’m only a week into lessons and have so far learnt that a) my note-taking technique is hellish, and the Cornell method is something secondary school teachers should have a legal requirement to suggest and b) I’ve very slightly improved my attitude to homework and time management since I left school, but like I said, it’s only been a week.

Speaking of time management, I’m going to be closing my Folksy and Etsy shops for a few weeks of October, November and December (and realistically January, etc.) so I can meet my college deadlines and my story deadlines. Also so I don’t, you know, drown under pencils come Christmas. Or drown a little less than I did last year? Maybe?

I secretly love drowning beneath pencils. Ugh. Please buy some. Oh! I almost forgot: I have an offer-y thing going on the No. 1 Readers’ Club until Wednesday 30th. Anyone who joins until the end of Wednesday will get a cute little story, by me. Well. It might not be cute, it might be ghost-y or magic-y since Halloween is coming up. Also since ghosts and magic are two of my favourite things to write about.

Right. Pitch over. I’m going to go nurse the cold and check my homework’s done for tomorrow – no call to 111 required! Just an early night and lots of liquids! I’m almost enjoying thinking about it! – so I will leave this here.

How is your autumn going? Has anyone else started school/college/work? This time of year always feels like a mini-new year and a fresh start. I’ve been watching YouTube videos by people who vlog entirely about studying. I feel like I might have turned over an academic new leaf… I am realistically going to continue watching Schitt’s Creek, as soon as I’ve checked my planner, though. Maybe I’ve turned over a baby leaf. A little petal. Ha.

Look after yourselves!

Tim Minchin at the Cliffs ft. Indie Friday

Afternoon! I am fed up with organising envelopes and mythology-inspired greetings cards, so I thought I’d pop in. Happy Black Friday! Wait, that’s not what I mean. I mean, please buy from independent retailers this Christmassy season (and especially today, which many smart people are calling Indie Friday in a bid to cut through the Black Friday shite). I don’t want people to feel like they can only buy from independent retailers (yes, hello, Aldi’s gift and alcohol sections, I have been pillaging you since October), but I guarantee that the bosses in Aldi don’t feel a sense of personal achievement and glow both internally and externally when you buy a tote bag. Have I ever mentioned you can purchase reasonably priced tote bags, along with reasonably priced prints, pencils and the aforementioned cards from my Folksy shop?

I am still on Etsy, but I promote my Folksy shop more because a) it’s based in Sheffield and run by about three people, b) it’s a very friendly site with seriously high quality arts and crafts, and c) as it is a British company, the fees I pay actually go back into the British economy. So everyone wins when you buy something on Folksy!

I really ought to get to the post box while it’s still light so, as I cannot remember if there was supposed to be a point to this post alongside the SHOP SMAAALLLLL messaging, I’d better go and find my scarf.

Oh, wait, yes there is: I got to see Tim Minchin perform last night – in my actual town, nonetheless – and am pleased to report that, like a good cheese, Tim has improved with age. So has the Cheese song. Honestly can’t remember the last time I could feel my face from smiling. If the world needs anything at the moment – other than you lot buying from indie retailers hint hint – it is a good laugh and a rant on algorithms and confirmation bias. Like all good shows, I have a singular, shitty picture:

empty stage Tim Minchin Cliffs Pavilion

Side note: this man sold out the Cliffs Pavilion three nights running. Southend-on-Sea’s Cliffs Pavilion. Southend-on-Sea, where residents enjoyed Brexit campaign leaflets about how pro-leave they all were. Southend-on-Sea, where I did not really think LGBT people were allowed to live until I finally saw some when I was in my teens. Southend-on-Sea, that hub of lefty liberalism. Maybe the times are changing, or maybe people are more willing than I thought to travel to places that aren’t London for their south east-based atheism-tinged-fuck-Trump-sciencey-sprinkling of West-End-hit-Matlida-musical comedy.

Either way, I have a lovely post-show hangover. Right, post box!

The Three Types of New Year’s Resolution

The Three Types of New Year’s Resolution

I got a pitch email earlier from an SEO company saying ‘your Instagram is great and deserves to be seen by more than 186 people!’ I nearly replied with ‘actually that’s 185 people, get with the programme – some new bookstagram account followed me yesterday and has since disappeared back to the Instasphere. Thanks for the encouragement though!’

It’s funny that should happen today though, as I was already going to talk about goals and growth. 2017 is drawing to a close, thank god, and although 2018 will probably be another tyre fire of bullshit, I would like to start it off with good intentions. Case in point: new year’s resolutions. I didn’t have any last year, because I had already resolved to get the hell out of England and did so in the first week of January, but twelve months on I have the itch to resolve… something. I also know that I’m more likely to keep to the resolution if I talk about it publicly, so I thought I would talk about different types of resolutions and the things I’d like to do in 2018.

Resolution 1: The Vague Gesture

My resolution: learn to do my hair? A bit?

I think I may have mentioned my hair is sometimes-often-frequently partially purple. It’s also getting really long, because I enjoy the illusion that I’m a princess in a kingdom with favourable tax laws, but I do nothing to it. Literally nothing. I wash it twice a week, comb out the knots with a tangle teezer and tie it in a bun or ponytail if I’m working. Then I ignore it until it needs another wash. I read somewhere that the longer your hair is, the less you do with it and I want to call bullshit on that. I also want to channel Daenerys Targaryen wherever possible, so in 2018 I resolve to learn how to, like, braid my hair or something. That’s not a huge commitment, and if someone says ‘hey Francesca nice fishtail plait’ I’m going to know it’s working. It’s also not the end of the world if life gets in the way and I don’t learn a fishtail plait, because my hair looks great they way I wear it already (there’s a reason I never brush it dry and that reason is frizz).

So in theory, the Vague Gesture is a good resolution to have. There’s no pressure and I won’t feel bad if I get to June and realise I’ve forgotten it. I suppose a similar one would be something like ‘eat less processed sugar’, because instead of saying ‘eat no processed sugar’, there’s no line to cross, no crushing disappointment of one’s self esteem. It’s  something that would be nice to do in the long run but no one cares if you don’t do it, including you.

BELOW AVERAGE from The Perks of Being a Wallflower from taylorbtw.tumblr.com
from taylorbtw.tumblr.com (if I don’t use this gif once a year assume I’ve died)

Resolution 2: The SMART Goal

My resolution: Look after myself  better? Look after myself more? Practise self care a day a week until I achieve nirvana?

I looked at a bad website today – not bad as in broken links but bad as in the two thirds of the page was bright pink and white diagonal stripes. My eyes hurt. I’m not even going to link it, it was so hard to look at. Good for marketing, bad for retinas. Especially bad for retinas that already require glasses. And since I am heading into my 23rd year of life and already have to run a bath to get my bones to stop aching when it rains, it’s about time I sopped complaining about my ailments and found a form of exercise that wasn’t physiotherapy. It’s about time I got some sort of blue light blocker on my computer. It’s about time I stopped overriding the Freedom app to check Twitter at 10pm. My 185 followers clearly do not care if I am tweeting at 10pm, so I probably shouldn’t either.

The problem with the resolution to ‘look after myself better’ is that there’s no qualifier. How do I know if I’m looking after myself? I will never not need glasses and I’ll never not ache when it rains. Realistically I will need stronger glasses and more baths year on year. So maybe I should take a leaf out of every business blog’s book and set specific goals I can measure in an achievable, realistic time frame. Something like ‘I will download a blue light blocker to my PC by January and I will sign up to a running club that requires payment in advance because the only thing I hate more than running is wasting money.’ (I actually don’t hate running. I hate that feeling that I’m about to puke up my lungs while I run. Aren’t lungs supposed to keep calm and carry on in those situations?)

I’m going to sleep on the running club, but this type of resolution sounds like one of those you should set if you want to get to December and think ‘fuck yeah I want to high five myself for SMASHING IT’. I kind of think everyone deserves that ‘fuck yeah’ thought.

Gerard Way fist pump I'm Not Okay I Promise video by My Chemical Romance
look this came from Google all credit to G Way and Warner Bros

Resolution 3: The This Has to Work and I’m Going to Make it Work Come Hell or High Water

My resolution: earn more money from my work? Earn increased amounts of money? Don’t sell a kidney to support a hobby?

This is the hardest type of resolution, because it’s a mix of the other two. Saying ‘I want to earn more money’ could just be another way of saying ‘I earned some money this year and would like to continue earning next year’. Realistically I will; my stationery and accessories will still be for sale and I will still crowdfund my writing. There will be money! But I don’t just want to continue, I want to expand. I need to expand if I’m going to continue to justify putting time into both those things. I know the numbers I have to hit if I’m to continue publishing writing with no upfront fees (about $10 a month would cover my website expenses, and $30+ would cover some writing time contribute to my bills). I know I need to double my stationery sales – and grow those follower counts, damn it – to justify using prime space in my bedroom to store stock and to justify spending my evenings and weekends thinking up jokes about Greek gods.

I also can’t ask people for anything other than moral support, because most of the people I know – in real life and online – are as broke as I am. A short story or a funny print is a luxury and if people won’t buy or pledge, there’s nothing I can really do about it except plug away until they go up a wage packet or change their priorities. So going into 2018 I know that, if I don’t get more sales or pledges, I will be shutting up shop eventually – and that’s shutting my Etsy shop, my stories blog and possibly even this place because my spare time will only ever decrease and my bills will only ever increase. I’m not 14 anymore and I have to be pragmatic about where I put my energy – especially if I want to look after my health, because running a shop is eighty per cent adrenaline and twenty per cent pure relief when something goes right. There’s a reason most successful entrepreneurs retire early. They want to spend as much time as they can with their remaining nerves… There’s also reason most novelists have day jobs and eke out books on the weekend – statistically I am not playing a winning game.

So although my resolution is to make my work fucking work, I also know that ‘hell or high water’ will come in the form of a bill I can’t pay in my current status as an intern/freelancer/stationery designer/storyteller. Or in a final argument with one of my parents. Or when I finally decide to trade following what teenage me wanted for adult me and start following what other adults want for adult me.

That took a dark turn there, I didn’t actually mean for it to. I want to know about your resolutions! Tell me the ones you’ve succeeded in keeping, the ones you stopped caring about, the ones that didn’t make it past 1st January. Tell me what you want for 2018, what you don’t want for 2018. Tell me what you did in 2017. Other than swear at the news and drink a lot, presumably…

How Not To Run An Etsy Shop (Or Your Life) | Part One of Many, Probably

How Not To Run An Etsy Shop (Or Your Life) | Part One of Many, Probably

Embarrassing story time, people. Almost too embarrassing for the Internet, actually, but I don’t have anything else as remotely entertaining to talk about, so make a cup of tea and bask in my idiocy…

A bit of back story: I’ve been working on my Etsy every day for the last few weeks, including evenings and weekends, because I’ve had some headaches with bugs on the site and I’ve been ordering stock in for people and planning for an Etsy Made Local Christmas market in Chelmsford in a couple of weeks. Oh, and I’m planning for that Black Friday-Cyber Monday migraine-inducing online shopping behemoth. I also went down to Brighton last week to see my brother and I knew I had to place an order for a variety of Christmas cards (a totally new item for me, from a new supplier) before I went, so I ended up placing the order on the Saturday before I travelled down. I got the invoice while I was in Brighton and paid straight away – very entrepreneurial, ten points to Francesca for remembering her iPad and bank info – and voila they arrived today!

Today’s quality was already hanging in the balance because I was taking endless Christmas product photos, on not a lot of sleep, and had one of those to-do list that doesn’t end, like one of those snakes that eats its own tail. I had also had absolutely no contact from the supplier, except for a delivery time, since I placed the order – despite phoning them up and leaving a message like it’s 2003 – so there was an element of ‘did I pay this invoice or have I wired my money into thin air?’ Anyway. The cards arrived. The delivery man was nice.

Back story to the back story: I’ve had really bad luck with suppliers in the past. Items have arrived damaged or not at all, usually when I’ve needed them for an event. So before I opened the parcel I ran through the worst case scenario: that my designs had come out badly and the cards themselves were damaged.

I opened the parcel.

The cards were fine. Correct quality, correct quantity. Except the Saturnalia design was wrong. I’d ordered the design in landscape, not portrait. My sample was in landscape. I photographed and listed it as landscape. These cards were… definitely portrait.

Saturnalia/Roman mythology-inspired Christmas card, green and grey on white card. Landscape.
The sample

Saturnalia/Roman mythology-inspired Christmas card, green and grey on white card. Portrait design.
The reality

That phrase ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ should really be ‘the minor inconvenience that gave the sole trader a nervous breakdown’ because I was bitterly disappointed. There’s no time to return them before Etsy Made Local! People are waiting on these cards! Okay technically no one had pre-ordered them, but what if they had? Am I doomed to select awkward suppliers until I bankrupt myself? Luckily I am obstinate determined so I took new photos and updated my listings, had a hot chocolate and waited until I’d calmed down to compose an email to the supplier expressing my disappointment in their service. Before I wrote it I did a quick check to confirm I hadn’t sent the design in portrait by accident.

I could not find the landscape version of the design on my computer.

I decided the pre-Black Friday stress was getting to me. I definitely designed a landscape version of the card. I had the identical design as a postcard last year. The sample I ordered was landscape. I designed it landscape.

Didn’t I?

It turns out, dear reader, that I did make a landscape version for the card company. It’s tucked away in my Etsy folder, no where near my other mythology design files. I also made a portrait version, ages ago, when I first played around with folded card designs.

I sent the wrong file. I spent at least fifteen minutes of my life mentally writing a strongly-worded complaint to a company that, lack of communication notwithstanding, has done its job. I was so exhausted and fed up that I ran through the scenario of retiring stationery lines entirely, and wondered what would happen if I didn’t do anything for Black Friday at all. I contemplated taking a holiday that weekend to somewhere with no computers.

Oops.

I’ve recovered from the ignominy of it all enough to tell you guys, because clearly I have potential to run a side blog called How Not To Run An Etsy Shop (Or Your Life), and I’m going to have a bath and chill out with my dogs and assume that the entire world will keep turning regardless of the orientation of some atheist Christmas cards. Oh and I’m going to remind you all to go to the Mythology Mayhem and Grumpy Greetings sections of my shop, where you will find several listings for quality, 100%-recycled-cardstock Christmas cards at very reasonable prices. UK postage is free, by the way, and orders over £10 internationally will ship free until 30th November.

And yeah, I’ve left the original landscape photos on the listing thumbnails for now. I like the added use of stamps and it was too dark to play around with the portrait ones this afternoon. I updated the listing info and called the mishap a ‘printing error’. ‘Human error’ is more accurate, but I’m going to cut myself some slack and stop working Saturdays as soon as Christmas is over. Only 41 sleeps til Santa you guys!

Pour me a gin and tonic.