Most full-time makers sell online, even if only to supplement other sales channels. But are you tapping in to all of the sales opportunities available to you through online commerce?
Whether you’re just starting up your digital presence or building on it, the key to online sales growth is understanding how to operate in a virtual marketplace and fully committing to the tools that will help you succeed. Here are four tips to get started.
Identify social selling tools
Online marketing isn’t as simple as creating an e-commerce page and waiting for people to click “buy.” You must first generate interest to build your customer base.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can help you find and develop relationships. When you finish a new piece, mention or display it on one or all of these platforms to drive prospects to your e-commerce site.
Most makers and customers are familiar with the online crafts marketplace Etsy. Virginia Lindsay, founder of Gingercake Patterns and author of “Sewing to Sell: The Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Craft Business,” has been on Etsy since 2009. The first item she displayed was handmade owl pillows.
“I made my first sale in hours,” says Lindsay, who was immediately hooked. “Etsy was just a great platform.” She has since used a variety of e-commerce sites and created her own website and blog at Gingercake.org, driving customer traffic via Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
Hannah Judkins, who sells jewelry on Etsy, uses Facebook to build excitement. She suggests creating a Facebook page for your business that’s separate from your personal page, and mentioning products on both pages to maximize exposure.
To determine which social media sites you should use, consider where you go to learn about new products and where you hang out on social media. Ask your customers where they shop online, exchange ideas with other makers and surf the web to see which sites attract your attention.
Prepare to invest time
Many e-commerce sites offer merchant accounts that are free to activate and maintain. Consider Etsy, eBay and Amazon for starters and — once again — see where else your customers and competitors are.
There’s a lot to do, from selecting a site and displaying items to writing product descriptions, shooting and loading photos, marketing on social media, conducting sales and maintaining customer relations. And that doesn’t include the time it takes to make your goods.
For every piece of jewelry she sells, Judkins estimates she spends 20 to 30 minutes uploading photos, writing descriptions, and tagging and categorizing items.
“It’s about 50-50, or even weighted more toward time spent online,” says Lindsay. “I didn’t realize what a big time commitment it would be. But if you go into it knowing it will take time, it will be easier.”
Present products in the best light
When you walk into a store, you expect a clean environment with inviting product displays, and your online presence should be no different.
Judkins uses her iPhone and takes well-lit photos from several angles, then writes clear product descriptions that inspire customers to buy. Lindsay uses a higher-end digital camera to take product photos and has invested in professional lighting.
“It’s really important to show your piece at its best, but don’t hide its flaws,” she says. When writing appealing product copy, look online for expert advice, but also consider emulating any engaging copy you read when buying. Have you ever been so captivated by the way a product was described that you just had to have it? If so, model your descriptions on that.
Etsy is an excellent resource for e-commerce, but its popularity with makers and consumers creates stiff competition. “Your work will probably sit for a longer time because there’s so much competition from other sellers,” Lindsay says.
The good news is that Etsy is not your only option – ArtFire, Supermarket, eCrater and Folksy are just a few others to check out. Widen your digital marketplace circle to find the best places to draw customers.
Selling your products on multiple platforms gives you more ways to reach out — pay attention to the ones that drive the most sales and focus there. Lindsay has started selling from her own site and has explored Big Cartel, Amazon and eBay, with varying amounts of success. Judkins sells products on eBay, as well.
Diversifying can also help you uncover new sales opportunities by exposing more potential customers to your work. While Lindsay began by only marketing and selling her finished work, she later found success selling the sewing patterns to customers interested in making their own.
There’s little cost in tackling a new digital approach, so don’t be afraid to take a trial and error approach. If it doesn’t work, try something else. They key is to express as much creativity in your online sales and marketing as you do in your craft.
Key tips and takeaways
- Use social media outlets to create excitement and keep customers informed.
- Prepare to spend half an hour or so per product shooting photos, writing copy and uploading information.
- Take professional-quality photographs and write professional descriptions, as these are very important to your success.
- Advertise on multiple platforms – you’ll reach more customers for little additional cost, time or effort.