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Valentine’s Day Styling

Love concrete letters

Valentine’s Day is a day when you can really show your loved one how much you care! And what better way than by adding some unique and romantic touches to your home.

Today’s lifestyle is often very fast-paced with little time to sit down with your loved one and just appreciate them for who they are. We rush around, juggling a hundred different things, often with little time just to ‘be’ together.

So this Valentine’s Day, why not take the opportunity to create a beautiful, romantic space for you and your loved one to relax, eat a delicious meal, chat and just be together.

I’ve taken part in a skills swap with the talented Sapna Odlin Photography and she has created some fantastic, romantic photos with my Valentine’s range. Check them out below, or click here to shop the range.

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Diversifying my product range

For quite a few months now, things have been going on in the background at Concrete Gems HQ, which could mean some very big changes coming this way soon. I am diversifying my product range.

When you set up as a small business, there are so many pieces of advice thrown at you, but one of the biggest ones is to find your niche! In other words, don’t try and make everything, but concentrate on one area or one type of product. And I think I’ve done that quite well so far! Concrete home décor is definitely a niche area and one that some people love (yay!) but some people hate (boo!), like marmite!! It is a material that not many people think of for products, and something that can be versatile, beautiful and totally unique. Unfortunately, concrete is also something that you wouldn’t buy repeatedly, unlike food or wax melts for example, and this means that returning customers are less likely.

Having said that, all of the advice suggests that the only way to be a successful business owner is to niche down. If you’d like to find out more about niching down, check out this blog. Maybe I haven’t quite found my product yet!

Another thing that running a small business requires is constant adaptation and change, usually achieved through trail and error. Which products sell, which don’t. Which platforms are best to sell on, etc. etc.

And so I came to my decision! I’m going to go and do the exact opposite of niching down and instead diversify into a new product line! Eek! This is quite a scary prospect and I haven’t quite worked out exactly how everything is going to work. Do I set up a separate business or run everything together as one? Do I use the same name or a separate tagline, or something completely different? Should I set up separate Facebook and Instagram pages? Or combine everything. I don’t want to confuse the customer. But I also don’t want to give myself extra, unnecessary work to do, especially at the beginning.

Please don’t worry though, I’m not giving up on the concrete at all. All of my products are and will still be available over at my shop. I will also still be making more. You will just find some other products also appearing alongside them, which I really hope you will also like.

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on this. After all, you are the customer and I am here to serve your needs and wants. The images below will give you a little hint about what I might be expanding into. 😉

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Xmas or Christmas

The other day Gemma asked whether people liked the abbreviation “Xmas” my natural reaction was that I didn’t, but I have no idea why – so I thought I better find out the back story of Xmas. As a child I don’t remember anyone talking about the abbreviation as good or bad but I do remember seeing it on Christmas cards. So I decided I had better find out a bit more about the history of Xmas.

According to Wikipedia the prefix “X” comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is written as 𝛸 (that looks like a normal X). The suffix “mas” is an abbreviation for mass (a church service).

There are examples of the use of the term Xmas going back to the 16th century, historic authors including Lord Byron and Lewis Carroll used the term. While the BBC reports use in Anglo Saxon Chronicle in 1021, suggesting it would be a parchment saver… Indeed, the use of Chi as part of an abbreviation for Christ goes back to the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 300s.

So Xmas is a well established term, we can each choose whether we like it or now, but now when I see it I will remember it is steeped in history.

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It is not Christmas Time yet

Christmas is several weeks away, and in my opinion it is too early for putting up Christmas decorations. But if you are thinking about making your own decorations/gifts or buying from a crafter now is the time to act.

The tree (on the right – in case you didn’t realise it was a tree) was my first attempt at needle felting, which the help of the lovely Jan of Dye it Yarn Self. The Nordic Gnome is from Gemma’s Concrete Gems. I’ve also baked my Christmas Cake.

I’m planning to do some more Christmas shopping at upcoming Christmas Markets. I am wondering about what else I can make for Christmas…

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Christmas Fairs (Real and Virtual)

Shirley (aka Grandma’s Corner) says:

When I was young one of the highlights of the year was an annual fair held in the local church hall. My parents were involved in organising the event, and for months before we would be making things to sell. Knitting egg cosies and hot water bottle covers; decorating jars for baths salts; padding coat hangers; and nearer the actual day, baking. I remember the joy of seeing someone buying something that I had help make.

With this in mind I love buying from a small maker because I know that my purchase will make them happy.

If you are looking to buy gifts try to find time to go to a Christmas Fair and buy something from a local crafts person. If you aren’t able to physically go to a Fair there are virtual fairs you can join in. Now I have to admit, I don’t understand how these work – so I am hoping Gemma is going to add a bit below to explain to us how they work!

Remember when you buy from a small business you make somebody really happy!

Gemma (Concrete Gems) says:

There are lots of online craft events happening this year. The ones I am involved in are on Facebook and Instagram, but I imagine other social media channels also run them.

On Facebook, an event or group is created and images of products are uploaded with details of prices, sizes etc. On the day of the event, often a password is provided and you would use that password to comment on the item you would like to buy. The seller then contacts you to arrange payment and delivery, which can be through their website, PayPal, etc.

Instagram works in a similar way, except the items are just added as images to the business feed.

Online markets that are coming up as as follows:

Facebook Snowflakes and Keepsakes Christmas Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/516451422527464/

UK Crafters Online market: https://www.facebook.com/groups/459309824617879/ on Facebook, or https://www.instagram.com/ukcrafters_marketplace on Instagram

Facebook Stocking filler frenzy: https://www.facebook.com/events/336409273668553/

Concrete Gems will also be at the following actual Christmas markets:

Norden Farm Night Market, Maidenhead, Fri 15th November 5-10pm.

Willowbank Junior School Christmas shopping event, Woodley, Reading, Fri 29th November 6pm-9pm.

Etsy Made Local, ST Laurence’s Church, Reading, Sat 30th November 11am-6pm.

Reading University Christmas craft fair, Thurs 5th December 5-7pm.

craft fair virtual or actual set up at maidenhead

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Getting the balance right – running a business from your phone

I’ve recently had a painful, but insightful experience. I fell down the stairs and my phone bore the brunt of it (luckily I wasn’t hurt). But this meant, I had to send it off to be mended (for a lot of money) and I was left for four whole days with no phone. No instant access to email, no access to my Etsy or Amazon seller apps, or my website. No instant access to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest. And no camera to snap product pics and life pics. Each time I wanted to check anything, I had to log into the laptop, and if you’ve ever used Instagram on a laptop, you will know, it just isn’t worth bothering. Not to mention the annoyance of no one being able to call me either.

Balance

Anyhow, this experience got me thinking about my phone usage. Getting the balance right is a tricky business. If you are running a business from your phone, modern life dictate that customers want instant responses, and an active presence on social media is essential. And so, I do use my phone quite a lot. But sitting there with your nose stuck in your phone 24/7 is also no good. Firstly, for actually producing your products; and secondly for the rest of life –  family, hobbies, partners, friends etc. They are not going to be impressed if you are constantly on your phone.

Phone-free time

I realised from my four days phone-free that I love my phone and everything it provides me in terms of speed and ease of running my business, as well as camera quality, keeping in touch with people, looking things up on google, tracking my fitness, etc. Conversely though, I did partially enjoy being without it. I had more time for other things and gave me a feeling of freedom. I enjoyed just watching tv and not scrolling through my phone at the same time. However, I just couldn’t quite shake the feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) on orders, conversations, news etc. etc.

Getting it right

So is it really possible to get the balance right? I think that it is. In reality, the length of time it takes to reply isn’t going to make or break a sale, I don’t think. People will wait a few hours for a response. Actually it may also be quicker to do all your emails in one go, rather than constantly checking them throughout the day. The same probably applies to social media too. Less of the mindless scrolling and more intentional interactions.

A few hours a day phone free is definitely recommended anyway and I plan on trying harder to organise my time on my phone better. Less procrastinating, and more productivity. Saying all that, though, it’s so easy to fall back into the same old routine…

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Seasonal Home Decor

Do you redecorate/rearrange your house to match each season? I don’t and didn’t really know that it was a thing until recently. But it seems that seasonal home decor is a thing and that maybe I should be making more effort!

The reason I don’t change my home decor is purely time. In between working the day job, running Concrete Gems and looking after my boys, there isn’t much time left. What time remains is spent enjoying family time and trying to redecorate the house to bring it up to date from the 80’s to 2019, which has taken 2 years so far. So redoing the decor for each season isn’t really achievable.

There are, however, plenty of easy and quick things that you can do to make your house reflect the season, without spending loads of time and effort.

Nature

Bring natural elements into your home that reflect the season. Daffodils and succulents in spring, for example, bright coloured flowers in summer, herbs and colourful fallen leaves for autumn, and of course pine cones for winter.

Colour

Again there are different colours which emulate the seasons. In spring I like yellows and greens. For summer, I like bright blues and pinks. Autumn is about reds, oranges and browns. And winter is white, gold and silver.

Learn more about seasonal colour palettes here.

Decor

In winter, I like to have lots of pretty lights and candles around the house. In spring it’s more about fresh, clean, minimalism. For summer I like fresh flowers and bold prints. And for autumn, why not try some of my concrete pumpkins and some dried autumn leaves to set off your seasonal home decor.

Concrete pumpkins https://www.concretegems.co.uk/shop/mini-concrete-pumpkin-grey/
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MR & MRS

I love Gemma’s concrete letters. I think the “MR & MRS” combo would be great for a wedding table or as a wedding gift.

Mr and Mrs Concrete Letters combo

But I was thinking there are other combinations some couples would like. I submitted my PhD after we got married, so the “MR & MRS” combo worked. But if it was the other way round we might have needed “MR & DR”. Some of my academic colleagues might well have needed “PROF & PROF”, and other friends would have wanted “MR & MR”.

The wonderful thing about the concrete letters is you can buy the letters you need individually, and Gemma can do bespoke colours if you want (letters are already available in Grey, black and white, pink and green. Just send her a message with your specification or browse her shop for other ideas.

Or why not sign up to her mailing list, where you will receive special offers and new product updates.

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@: At Sign or Ampersat?

@ symbol, ampersat, ampersand, concrete gems

The other day I was talking to a friend about Gemma’s development of a concrete “&” and “@”. I pronounced these as “ampersand” and “at sign”. My friend said that “@” should be called “ampersat”. This was a new word to me and so when I got home I did a bit of research.

My dad had taught me about ampersand and so I knew it was not a new word. The symbol dates back to Roman times. The word ampersand (according to Wikipedia) is a mix of English and Latin and according to the Guardian

  • Until as recently as the early 1900s, “&” was considered a letter of the alphabet and was listed after Z in 27th position. To avoid confusion with the word “and”, anyone reciting the alphabet would add “per se” (“by itself”) to its name. Therefore the alphabet ended “X, Y, Z and per se &”. This final “and per se and” eventually ran together, and the “ampersand” was born.

The @ used to be used when talking about things like prices, such as 6 tickets @ £1 each, and dates back to the Middle Ages. In the 1970’s as the World Wide Web was developing it was introduced as a way of presenting email addresses username@domain. It is now in universal use. Now I remember that happening and how much easier it came to access my email box. At the time I was studying Computer Science and went on to work in the area, and I never heard anyone use the word ampersat. Wikipedia suggests that ampersat is a modern suggestion from the 1990s. So I guess i will continue to pronounce @ as “at” or “at sign”.

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Too early for Christmas?

There’s a lot of debate in the crafting world around when the best time is to start advertising and selling Christmas products, and I don’t think there’s a right answer.

Concrete Christmas star

I had a sale of a Christmas decoration in February, and that couldn’t be much further from the next one.

Generally though, I don’t think people start buying Christmas stuff until after a specific date, such as Halloween or a birthday. For me, is after my birthday in October. However there are, increasingly more it seems, people who like to get organised and start stocking up throughout the year.

So what’s the best way to capture these sales but equally not annoying the people who don’t want to think about Christmas until at least the autumn.

From my limited experience, I think the products should be available from July/August time but posting about them should come slowly. Maybe test the waters in August, but don’t go full on Christmas in every social media post until October.

That said I know of some who have already been making Christmas orders, so who knows really. Let me know what you think!