The Guilt of Selling - And How to Work Around It

Illustration by  Deborah Panesar

Illustration by Deborah Panesar

If you run a business, you know how important selling is. We have to sell in order to survive, and of course to pay for all the fun (and not so fun) stuff that comes along with being an adult (or one that is pretending to be). 

After all, only you can keep the proverbial lights on in your small indie empire.

For the vast majority of the year selling and selling tactics don't seem to be an issue - the odd discount code here and there, a sale, a promotion or an offer. They do wonders to bring in new customers and clients and, hopefully, boost sales. But then comes along Christmas and it's foreign cousin, Thanksgiving, who brought their unwanted and shamed twin brother, Black Friday.

It seems Black Friday stirs up some pretty intense feelings in not only customers but also businesses. Black Friday is a mixed review entity. 

Like the typical un-liked cousin who turns up for family dinner, you don't want to acknowledge them but there is this sense of obligation to have to accept them and entertain them for all their unlikeable traits. 

Personally, I've never wrangled with the sense of guilt around this selling period, perhaps because my customers have been only too engaging in the Black Friday sales I've hosted and the savings it's meant for them. But last year I started to notice a lot of designer-makers share through their social media how they wouldn't be taking part because of the mass consumerist aspect of it, and how instead they would donate to charity or host a sale a different time. 

Queue floods of guilt and shame, and also a lot of questions.

If we stand against Black Friday, what does it mean when we do hold promotions and sales during the year? Don't these things entail the same consumerist driving ideals? And what about when we have post Christmas sales? or even, when we're just trying to sell anything? 

And down and down the rabbit hole we go. 

I came to a pretty stark conclusion that in the end, it would mean no selling at all if you didn't want to be a part of that lifestyle. And as much as that would be a wonderful ideal to live with, it's not necessarily possible with crippling outside forces such as a weakened currency or a more spend wary audience who maybe don't have the disposable income they once did. People are far more careful with how they spend their money, and they want to make the best possible financial choices.

So what can we do, as indie businesses or designer makers to keep our businesses afloat without selling our souls to the Black Friday devil? How can we help our customers, and ourselves, to make more from the money we have? 

Firstly, we need to stop feeling guilty for selling, in any shape or form. You are a business, and if you are serious about building your small and perfectly formed indie biz into something bigger & better, or even for the satisfaction of knowing that every penny that pays for your living costs was earned by your hands, then you need to accept that there will be an element of awkward selling. 

Hustling is hard. And if it's making you feel uncomfortable then that's probably a good thing because it means you're stepping out of your comfort zone. So keep doing more of it and see what happens.

Secondly you need to look at your business, no one else's, and ask yourself these questions

  • Can my profit margins handle a Black Friday Sale? 
  • Do I have to mark down all my products, or can it just be a select range? 
  • How have my sales performed in the previous years of Black Friday? 
  • What is my customer response to past Black Friday sales? 

Only you can answer these questions around your business. If you own an Etsy shop you can check your analytics based on days, months and years via the statistics page to see how sales performed at this period of time, and even see what kind of keywords and tags worked for you to bring in those sales.  

Lastly, decide how you'll market the whole thing to stay in line with your brand. A Black Friday super promotion will only feel tacky and salesy if you use the same template as say Amazon or eBay on your own business. So think outside the box and consider some of these ideas:

  • Donating some of your Black Friday sales to charity (if your pricing module can handle that)
  • Promoting it in a humorous or sarcastic way that actually laughs at Black Friday
  • Take discounts off the table and offer free shipping or free gifts instead. 
  • If using discounts, use them sparingly - only apply it to products that have a decent profit margin and where you will earn a wage from them. Follow this super handy article from Etsy to make sure you're not undercharging your items. 

Above all, remember to keep it personal. I can hazard a guess that the main reason people buy from your small business is because you are the face of the brand, and they want to buy something from a human and not some warehouse out in the middle of nowhere. So make sure that every step of your Black Friday journey is unique, individual and personal, just like your brand. 

And should all of this still make you curl up and die inside, then Black Friday selling is not for you. Accept it, and plan a different way to generate sales and interest over the peak selling period with either a blog post, newsletter, or maybe a giveaway. Take advantage of the high numbers of people trawling through the internet that weekend, and make it work for you. 

This year I have decided to take part in a Black Friday and Cyber Monday sale but only on some selected lines. I'll be releasing more information around this exclusively to my mailing list subscribers, so be sure to sign up if you want this information to land in your inbox!