Selling online is difficult if you are just starting out and have no experience with marketing. But, as many individuals who have opened their own shops online have found out, it’s difficult to make a sale without it. Advertising is not the same thing as marketing and can cost a great deal of money. Targeted advertising is effective, however, many new online businesses don’t have the funds it takes for a large advertising campaign. Therefore I’d like to share some of my personal tips on marketing that cost you little to nothing or are completely free.
First, however, here are a few other tips for making sure your shop is in tip top shape before putting your time and effort into marketing.
1. Brand your shop. Branding is very important. It shows you are serious about your business and helps to promote familiarity. It also adds cohesiveness to your business and your shop and makes you appear professional.
2. Make sure you have the following for your shop, especially for handmade venues: a shop banner, avatar, logo, and business cards. Related or matching labels and tags, etc. for your items. A description of what you are offering that tells consumers why your products are top notch. Clear policies on shipping and refunds. Also be sure you have clear pictures to give consumers the best perception of your products as you possibly can. Always carefully consider which photo will be displayed in thumbnails for online venues. I’ve seen lots of photos that I often simply skim over because it’s hard to tell what is being sold in the photo due to the size of the thumbnail and a busy background. I’ve found that photos that highlight the item in detail or the most interesting feature of their item as the first thumbnail draw the most attention and encourage click throughs. If you are selling clothing, include a shot of the product on a person or mannequin if possible so the shopper can see how the clothing is going to fit. I’ve seen clothing online and in stores that I thought looked horrid in the photo or on the rack, but when seen on a model looked fabulous. Consider how you shop and how others shop.
3. Create a central location for your shop by purchasing your own domain. There’s no need to pay for hosting. You can have your domain point to a free blog such as blogger. This .com can then be placed on all of your business cards and on product labeling. On your .com be sure to list all venues that you sell on along with dates and locations where you will be selling in person. This makes it easy for your customers to find you even if you change venues and sell at different markets and fairs. They can’t buy from you if they don’t know where to go.
Now, on to marketing:
1. If possible, establish yourself locally or at craft fairs. It really is in your best interest to sell in person if you can. Consumers enjoy touching products and looking them over in person despite how clear your photos are. It gives them a better sense of the quality and it gives you an opportunity to tell them more about your work. Bath and body is especially important to sell in person because people not only like to see and touch, but they really want to smell as well. Buying scented products online is difficult as everyone has different ideas of what things should smell like and describing scents is difficult and subjective.
Put your best foot forward when selling in person. Consider your display and make it as attractive as possible. Use a business sign if possible as well. We have bars above the tables at my city market for hanging signs so I had one painted to match my branding. A local artist was willing to do it for $100 and I thought that was a deal. It was a great investment. It makes finding my booth easier in addition to attracting attention.
Always have business cards with you. If someone walks away without buying, ask if they’d like a business card for future reference and let them know you are available online as well. I also include business cards in the bag with every purchase. Not everyone keeps business cards, but that’s okay. You’re doing this for the few that will keep that card for later when they are looking for a specific gift or want an additional product from you. And if some of your customers are not local to your area – I know we get a lot of out of town visitors to my market – if they love your product, that business card makes it simple and easy to order from you again online.
2. Get your product into the hands of buyers on the internet. You can do this by creating “promo” items. Generally promotional items are samples of your product or a useful item that represents you shop – such as a magnet – and reminds a consumer that you are there and where to find you. Always include your .com on any promotional material as business cards are often lost or thrown out.
So, how do you get your promo items into the hands of buyers? Distribute samples or promos when you sell at craft shows. Pass them out to anyone who stops to look at your work. In the case of samples, sometimes “try before you buy” can make a huge difference! Include samples or promos in bags with buyer purchases. Swap promo items with other sellers online who sell complimentary but different items from yourself. These swapped items can then be included in online purchases or distributed at fairs and markets. This does work, and I have had a fantastic response from good sample and promo items.
Including a coupon code for a discount or free shipping helps to entice buyers even more and can tell you how effective your marketing is when you use different codes for different venues.
That said, I have tried sample boxes on multiple occasions from various sites, but never noticed sales from doing so. However, everyone’s products are different and reach different audiences. I would never discount sample sites without first trying them as others have reported success.
3. The amazing thing about the handmade community is that there are many talented people who love other talented people and are happy to help by offering them a little free exposure. Look for opportunities to get your business published online. Lots of artists have blogs and will ask for people who’d like to be interviewed about their shops. Request an interview and be sure to follow up in a timely manner if possible. You may also be able to “swap” interviews or shop write ups as a form of cross promotion with other sellers. Many artists are very happy to cross promote especially if they like your work. But you don’t know what additional opportunites are out there unless you ask. The worst they can do is say, “no.” And if that happens, it happens. Don’t take it personally.
4. There are a number of high traffic handmade targeted shopping blogs happy to take suggestions about the products they feature on their blogs.Review the guidelines for submission and then send a brief email highlighting your best work. It’s easy to find blogs more specific to your market with a simple google search.
5. Social networking or marketing seems to be something a lot of people don’t understand or give up on too quickly. I’ve seen time and again where people have said they don’t “get” facebook or twitter. The thing is, it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it right away because millions of others do. The key is to build your network. The larger it is the more effective it becomes. The bigger it gets the better the chance your posts and tweets and updates will make rounds not just within your network, but within your follower and fan networks as well. That is where you start to see the effectiveness of social marketing. So take the time to get to understand social networks and pick at least two to get started on. It takes some time to build a good network, but your hard work will be worth it in the end.
6. Social communities can be effective. There are lot of communities for artists and crafters on the internet. There are many general and specific communities with a number of tools to help you market your product and get seen. One such growing community is ning. Ning offers users the ability to create communities around specific topics and offer resources such as blogs, picture uploads, forums, etc. to discuss similar interests with others. Ning recently reached 1M communities created through their software. One of the ning communities you may be familiar with is Indie Public. Artfire has partnered with Indie Public and offers a spot in their market hub for your Indie Public profile.
Not all communities are for everyone and not all communities work for marketing. My advice is to pick the ones you are interested in. Participate as much as possible. Then go back after a month’s time and look at your site statistics to see where your traffic is coming from. You can then start to weed out communities that aren’t working and put more focus into those that are.
I hope you all find these ideas helpful in getting started, and I encourage you to post to this thread sharing marketing techniques that you have found effective. I will also be happy to answer any questions you may have about the marketing techniques I’ve mentioned in this thread.