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Articles & Comments Q&A
Response Post to the SewBiz List - Website Marketing Getting Work
  Working with Stores
  Advertizing for Work
  Attracting Clients
  Getting Started with a Store

Attracting Clients

added January 2006

Hi leanna,
I am beginning a studio apartment sewing business specializing in alterations and bridal attire. Can you offer advice on how to attract clients for my business.

Thank you, khalilah

My best advice is: Do an excellent job for every client you get and they will tell their friends and before you know it you will have as much work as you want.

Having a listing in the Yellow pages helps me a lot. I also have my name on a referal list that a local bridal salon gives to it's customers. I get a lot of calls from that list.
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Advertizing for Work

added October 2005

I have my business card to do alterations at a local bridal shop. When I first asked them to hand my cards out at their shop they asked if I would do work for them for free. Such as sew in a loose hook or a couple of beads. I didn't think that would be such a big deal, but since then they have approached me four different times telling me that their advertising is their biggest expense and that they are doing my advertising for me, so I should not be giving them bills for work that I have done for the shop. I have stated that I would not work for nothing. Sewing on a hook, or a simmilar thing that takes less than an hour, I will do, but anything more I want to be paid. I have gotten more than enough work from them giving out my business card, and they are very pleased with my work. I am not working for them. I am self employed. What do you think about this policy?

I would not agree to do anything they ask for free. But their argument about advertising for you has it's merits. The bridal store that I get most of my clients from has a system for the names they give out. I pay them $300 a year and am put on a list. This list is ordered by the area the seamstress service. My area happens to be "Anderson" so I am first on the list. I get a lot of work from this list and figure it a fair deal.
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Getting Started with a Store

added November 2002

I've been in the alterations business for 7 years now. I worked with Nordstrom for 5 years and I've been with Lord & Taylor now for 2 years. Before that I did custom sewing out of my home.

I was wondering how you started working for Talbots??? I have done sewing at home for Bridal Shops and am really considering working out of my home again. Lord & Taylor (I should say the particular store I work at) Just doesn't give the kind of customer service I believe is so important. Did you just walk into Talbots one day offering your service etc.?

Simply walking in on them is real close to what I did.

I was living in North Carolina, about an hour and a half east of Raleigh. In Raleigh is a big Talbots that many ladies from my town would shop at. They would bring their purchases back home and have me do the hemming and such because it was just inconvenient to have the Talbots do them. They may not of had an alteration service either, I never found out.

When I knew I was moving to Cincinnati, I got a local phone book and sent out resumes to various places including Talbots. I enclosed a letter stating that I would be visiting the city to apartment hunt on a certain date and would be available for interviews during that time. Talbots was one of the places that called me back and scheduled an interview. At the time they were using a local Dry Cleaners and not very pleased with their workmanship. My offer of fittings in the store sounded great to them and I've been working for them for 12 years now.

I don't really work "for" them, but with them. I am independent and make my own rules and prices. I do respect their "return for any reason" policy and assure customers that they will be satisfied with my work. I have at times adjusted things a second time, but it's very rare that a customer wants to return something after it's been altered. In those cases I reverse the alteration if I can so Talbots can resell the item. Talbots customers have high standards but they aren't overly picky as a rule. Now and then I get one of those ladies that is not going to be pleased no matter what you do, but they are very rare.

On the technical side, I give each customer an invoice at the time of the fitting with the cost and date of delivery. Also included is my address and phone number so they can know where their things are and call if they have any questions they didn't think of at the fitting session. They often use this later to bring me non-Talbots items they need done. After the items are delivered the customer may pick them up at their convenience. They pay the store the amount I required. Talbots does not add on to my prices nor take a cut from me. A great plus I think.

At the end of each month I add up all the invoices and create a bill for each store (I am now servicing 4 stores). Actually, I simply tell the computer to print out the list I have been logging work on for each store on my letterhead. It makes a nice looking statement. Each store manager checks the statement and sends it off to the home office. I get a check in about 4 weeks.

Now and then they get behind and I have trouble getting paid, but they are usually good about it and keep fairly on schedule. I do think the whole store system works this way. Each store manager has the freedom to decide how to handle it. For many years I couldn't convince one Talbots store in town to use me while the other 3 did. They finally started last year and are glad they did. It is a great selling tool for them to be able to offer someone skilled and willing to come to the store for fittings and drop off of finished work so they can use their Talbots credit to pay for the work.

There are many other stores that don't have the space or budget to have an alteration lady on staff. I have worked for several lady's boutiques in town, but they come and go. Talbots is a stable establishment that I doubt will fold any time soon.

Another neat perk is that Talbots doesn't mind me telling a customer to not buy something if I think she won't be satisfied after the altering. Lots of larger stores have a sell-it-at-any-cost policy and have their alteration department do some pretty unconventional altering to make it fit. I can't handle that kind of pressure. I want to do what is good for the garment and the customer, not simply rank up sales for the store.

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Working with Stores

added May 2001

What a great web page!! So much information. Thank you. I am trying to start a home sewing business with 2 parts actually. It would be bridal/evening wear with a focus on the bridal party but a split with little girl's wedding/party dresses. I would like to start with the girl's wear since I have several designs. My question though is - I would actually like to market my girl's dresses to a retail/specialty store so that I could keep control of the flow of clothing. Is this possible? I would like to take 5 samples for instance. But what if (hopefully) I am called from 2 stores asking for 4 dresses. Is there a way (a plan) in which I could make sure I am always ahead of the game with just myself working and maybe 2 helpers? Does this sound like a feasible business idea? Any thoughts? Thank you for any help you can give.

Your plan sounds great! As with any business endeavor, there is risk and it's usually all yours. The risk can be that you won't get any orders and it can also be that you will get more than you can handle. It's hard to make plans for either possibility. Your idea to have 2 helpers ready is good, but you will be responsible for their quality of work. Having employees is a whole other problem.

In short the only way you can control the flow of orders is to advertise in as many stores as you can to hopefully create the situation where you have too many orders. Then set a limit of how many orders in a given period you will take and say "NO" to all others. I limit the number of bridal customers I take per month. Saying no is hard but it keeps me from going bonkers with too much work.

Hope this helps

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Website Marketing

added September 2000

Original Post:

Here is a question to all of you business people out there who have websites. Do you feel that having a website for your business is worth the cost?

This depends on what you define as "cost". There's money, time and your personal frustration level.

The basic monetary cost of setting up the site is little. The fee for the domain name and what ever fees the ISP you choose sets. I do not recommend setting up a site at Geocities or any other "free" type ISP. First is the problem everyone's been discussing - you can't directly sell from them. But some now do let you have some modest e-commerse.

I also don't recommend that you do a mall type site where you are in with other business and an administrator controls your site. This is nice to start off with , but I would not like the control. I'm just enough of a bitch to want certain things my way for my business and it just would cost me too much in frustration.

The reason I do not recommend it is that it does nothing for your business image and can even hurt it. If you want a business site you should do a domain name site and that you have to pay a monthly fee for. (Unless you are a computer geek with a server in your bedroom with an ISDN line and can have your site on your own system)

My site costs me $50 a month. It's not a secure site (that means when folks order things their credit card numbers aren't scrambled by the server for security). I don't have a shopping cart program because I'm not selling a wide variety of products so I don't think the cost of $100 is worth it to me. I have found an easy way to take orders that is secure, but a great majority of the customers still choose to send their card numbers right in with the order form.

I do all the work for my site so my time spent is much, but once you get the hang of it it's not hard. I have even been doing friend's sites. It's a nice break from sewing and helps me learn more to use on my site.

Now, as for frustration . . . I've had a lot lately. Folks have been writing to complain about the changes I've made on the site. These people get nasty and it's really not my idea of fun reading these letters, but I respond to every one and try to give clear answers. It's hard knowing that there are people that can be mean out there and it seems that the animinity of e-mail makes it easy for them to be just as nasty as possible. I've had 2 people threaten me with violence because they wanted my domain name.

Other things can be frustrating too, like having your site not work for 2 weeks for something beyond your control. If you are depending on the income from the site this could be very frustrating. Some of you know this happened to me a last month and it was so very frustrating because I was getting e-mails from all over the world saying they could not access my site but I checked everything out and it was fine from here. People on the lists were saying, "Hay, any one know where went?" What I didn't know is that I could get to my site because I use the same ISP for my dial up service. Everyone else in the world could not. I finally was able to contact the right people to fix things but I was out of business for over 2 weeks.

These things happen on the Internet and you have to learn to go with the flow. Also, what every one has been saying about backing up your site is very important. You just have no idea what could happen to the computers at your ISP, or the phone lines, or electrical service, or . . . .

>Do you feel that you generate enough business from your websites to cover your cost of having one?

Up to a few month's ago, I would have said, "no." I have had to make some changes in my business and the website is now consistently paying for itself and hopefully will start making me a profit down the road.

If you are just starting out I would first contact the company you are now using for your dial-up service and e-mail. You might already have a small space for what is called a "HomePage" site. This is how I started out. My ISP, netcom, did provide a 5MB space and even helped you write the pages with templets and some simple HTML. These sites are included in what you are already paying in access fees, so you might as well use it for a trial. You probably won't be able to sell anything but you can usually advertise your business.

You also don't need any fancy program either. If you are using Netscape check out the Composer. It's a great little freebie that lets you make really nice pages as easy as you do e-mail. They even have templates set up for you to put your information into.

So, is it worth it for me? Yes. It doesn't cost a lot monetarily and I like spending the time and learning new skills. The frustrations you can keep, but that's all part of doing business.

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added September 2000

Do you market yourself at all?

Not really. I don't really want more sewing work than I have. I am working on a new project on the site that I am thinking about how to market it best. I am seriously thinking about buying sponsor adds on the several e-mail sewing lists I subscribe to, but I don't read the adds there myself, so I wonder if it's a good idea/way to spend my money.

I won't have to make any decisions for awhile because I'm still working on writing the thing. Right now, I'm actually looking for people who would be interested in trying it out for free and in return proofreading etc.

For sewn stuff, I think you can't beat word-of-mouth as the best marketing. Pleasing as many customers as you can is your best bet. Especially with the dancing outfits. These people really talk to each other and will pass your name around. It takes time, but if you are good, you will have all the work you want.

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Getting Work

added September 2000

I have a small sewing business in my home also, but nothing on the scale of yours. How do you get your work? Do you advertise or is it mostly word of mouth?

I get most of my work from the Talbot stores here in Cincinnati. I do fittings in the stores and bring the work home to do, then return it when done the next fitting trip I make. I have been doing alterations for them for 9 years. It makes for a good base of work, but it doesn't give me enough to keep me busy full time.

I am also on several lists at stores where they do not want a formal relationship like I have with Talbots. Their customers call me and come to me for fittings and pick up of done work. I get most of my bridal customers this way. I like doing brides this way. I have just investigated a manager position at t big bridal store here in town. I decided to not take it because I think I can do a better job one on one than following a store's rules. Bride's need individual attention.

Other work I get is from store customers I have done things for or their friends and who ever they have told about me.

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