Hello again, all you small biz betties out there. This week we will start getting in to the nuts and bolts of how to start your business online, with something I call the “Small Business Triple Crown.”
The Small Biz Triple Crown consists of three web presences that all baby businesses should create – a blog, a social page, and a storefront. With these three entities, you cover three very important bases:
- A place where you can show your personality and share your projects and products.
- A high-traffic place where you and your customers can interact, and they can easily promote your brand.
- The place where you actually sell your goods.
Just starting out, you don’t need to have all three in place right away. You can take time to build one, then another. So which do you start with?
A blog –
Your blog is your most powerful tool online, and allows you to publish information about yourself and what you do. Bazillions of people read blogs about all kinds of stuff, so this is an excellent place to start to build you brand.
You can easily create a blog for free using Google Blogger, as well as WordPress. I personally like Blogger because it is very easy to use and customize, and also comes with “the blogosphere,” a ready-made community of blog followers ready to subscribe to your “followers” list.
Your blog is the first place to “make your own,” like decorating your room. Websites like Shabby Blogs and Hot Bliggity Blog have oodles of cool backgrounds to help customize your blog, or you can create your own background image if you have crafty paint program skills. Whatever you do, make sure your blog is easy to read, and easy to navigate. Here are a few blog do’s and don’ts:
- Put pictures, nice big ones, in every post – at least one picture every time, but more is always better.
- Post often about relevant subjects – if yours is a dressmaking blog, readers want to see photos of your dress projects, your inspiration images, and especially pictures of you *in* your finished dresses.
- Let your personality shine through
- Use labels/tags to organize your posts. Try to keep it to as few labels as possible.
- Link to other bloggers in your posts (if applicable) and on your sidebar
- Be helpful – write your blog as a “guide” for others.
- Use white text on a black background – odd, I know, but it strains the eyes.
- Get too personal, political, or religious – remember that the blog is supporting your future/current business, and you don’t want to alienate readers and potential customers.
- Post too many pet, baby, or child photos unless they are specifically to do with your craft.
- Post an unbroken, all-text entry – break it up with headers, bullet points, and most importantly – PICTURES.
So now that you have your blog set up, and are posting away, it’s time for…
This is the social presence of the moment, although it may change in the future. Right now, it’s a grand idea to have a Facebook page dedicated solely to your business and blog. The Facebook page supports the blog, and also allows you to more directly connect with your readership, fans, and customer base.
To create a page, click the “Pages and Ads” header on the left side of your Facebook sidebar, then click “Create a Page” and go through all the steps. Be sure to add a profile picture, and put some of your past and current projects in photo albums. Remember – pictures are attractive and easily shared!
The first people you will ask to “Like” your page are your friends, but you can also post on your blog about your new Facebook page, and put a link in the sidebar. You will start to collect followers, and don’t be discouraged if it is not a lot at first – it does take some time.
Use your Facebook page to post photos of your projects, links to cool, relevant stuff you find on the web, to ask questions to your followers, start conversations, etc. When the time comes, you can pitch your product to your followers, or even better, ask their opinions about it.
- Post regularly about relevant topics – links to other blogs, articles, images, etc., as well as your own blog
- Post lots of pictures
- Add a Facebook social media plugin to the sidebar of your blog
- …Post irrelevant, inflammatory, or too-personal stuff – save that for your private Facebook page.
- …Flood people’s newsfeeds with posts in rapid succession
- …Pitch only your products all the time – remember it’s social, not meant to be a broadcasting platform.
Lastly, you need a storefront from which to sell your swag. This can be your own webpage, or a supported shopping site like Etsy, Storenvy, or eBay. For those of you just starting out, I highly recommend one of the supported store platforms, particularly Etsy (but only if you are making your own stuff, or selling vintage).
Why choose a supported shop platform? For one, setting up shopping cart systems on a webpage can be a real hassle, whereas these existing platforms all have integrated cart systems that are already built, and flawless. Also, all of these store sites already have huge traffic ready to come and buy your product, whereas a stand-alone site is “out in the wilderness,” and needs traffic driven to it by you.
Whichever platform you choose, here are some things to keep in mind…
- Take clear, sharp, detailed photos of your product, and provide as many photos as you are allowed.
- Write clear descriptions and include pertinent information such as sizing and material content – or if you are selling vintage, be sure to accurately list any damage or age the pieces have.
- Keep on top of your stock – if you have multiples of one item, make sure you don’t accidentally sell something that you don’t have in stock. (I’ve done this, it sucks)
- Make sure your store is easy to navigate, and easy to buy products from.
- Link back to your blog and facebook page!
- …Tamper with photos – you need to represent the product honestly and accurately.
- …Be shady with descriptions – like the photos, be honest about the condition of a vintage item, otherwise the person who receives it will feel ripped off and will never buy from you again.
- …Get too wordy – keep things concise, but descriptive. Don’t write a novel about your product!
If you have questions you’d like answered, or are a small business owner and would like to guest post for SBB, drop me a line – [email protected] .
AnonymousJune 29, 2012 at 5:26 PM
I'd love to hear your tips for taking good product photographs. That's the one portion of this equation that continues to elude me.
KittyKattJune 30, 2012 at 6:14 PM
If you go over to Etsy and sign up for their newsletters as an artisan, they have an archive available that has a lot of good information available on that subject.
Lauren RJune 30, 2012 at 11:06 PM
I will cover this in a future post – it is SO important, but luckily easier than you think, and you don't need any special equipment 🙂
G.L.June 29, 2012 at 5:50 PM
I have a question: if you want to develop a product that will be made overseas (like your shoes are), how do you find suppliers?
American DuchessJune 29, 2012 at 8:30 PM
Hi G.L. – without going to in-depth here in the comments (there will be future SBB posts about this), I will use either Global Sourcing or Alibaba to find suppliers in other countries. China is the most dominant on these sites, but there are also suppliers from Europe, Mexico, Canada, other Asian countries. I typically find a factory that makes something similar, then I will send them a note, through the host website, with what I'd like to do. Global Sourcing also allows you to send the same inquiry on to all factories in your given area – for instance, if you are looking for a hardware factory to produce jewelry, you can send out your inquiry to, like, a hundred different hardware factories. Filtering them out when you start to get the replies takes patience, but it all comes down to quality and price point.
KittyKattJune 30, 2012 at 5:59 PM
Hello Lauren and Everyone!
I am really interested in this column. I had a brick and mortar business in the mid-2000s that I cut my teeth on and made a lot of mistakes. How I wish that the online communities and retail cooperatives were available then – I would have been much more successful. I am however interested in starting up again, and though my primary focus is/was not handmade goods, I was/am interested in custom manufactured and wholesale goods. I do have a bit of advice for you all, though: When you provide your email to any website or community associated with your enterprise, make sure that it is one that you don't mind getting a lot of spam on. The international websites are particularly notorious for this – once they understand that you have money to spend, they will make sure that your inbox is never empty. 🙂
Lauren RJune 30, 2012 at 11:05 PM
That is true, about the spam – well, it's factories trying to win your business, so it can be annoying or helpful, depending on if you're looking for those services. It's a good idea to separate your business e-mail from your personal.
UnknownJune 29, 2012 at 6:41 PM
MaggieJune 29, 2012 at 8:24 PM
I'm curious to hear your viewpoint on Facebook as it is now. Apparently typically you only reach a fraction of your followers, not all of them, due to edgeranking. And now, it's even worse, in that you may only be able to reach a finite percent of them unless you pay Facebook to promote your posts. (Which isn't inexpensive.) I know it's FB's prerogative to make money, but what's the point of being on there if the best you can do without paying is to reach 20% of your hard-won followers? I find it very frustrating.
American DuchessJune 29, 2012 at 8:26 PM
Maggie – that makes me SO mad. I typically only reach about 20-40% of my followers, and when I experimented with a promoted post, paying the minimum, it was only about 55%! GRRRR! I'm not totally sure what we as users can do about that at this point, but there will always be evolving ways of socially connecting with your community/customer base/fandom…something new will come along.
AnonymousJuly 3, 2012 at 12:09 AM
Here's my 2 cents from the point of view of a fb follower: usually, if I bother to "like" a business or a brand on fb, I specifically go and check out the page from time to time, because I KNOW that I'm missing out on their updates due to the suckiness of fb. The decisive thing is what gets posted there. If all that ends up on the fb page also ends up on the blog, I'll probably stop checking the fb page and only check the blog.
LauraJune 29, 2012 at 10:33 PM
I have a small business and I started exactly like you suggested – at first I started to write a blog, then made a page in Facebook and now am creating my own website. Etsy is an option too, but I don´t have ready made items, so I have to figure out how to make something to sell through Etsy, otherwise it would be shame not to use that great opportunity.
Love your Small Biz Betties series!
KittyKattJune 30, 2012 at 6:09 PM
You will find that Etsy has an abundance of mass produced goods that people are trying to pass off as handmade. There used to be an option for brokering custom orders on the site, but they got rid of that option for some reason. There have been a lot of complaints to Etsy about these and other issues, but apparently it doesn't matter to them. While I don't suggest flying in the face of their official policies and using them for these purposes, there are other retail communities that are a little more artist friendly, such as Artfire.
I know a couple of artisans that maintain a presence on multiple artisan retail sites, in addition to all of their blogs and Facebook. My question is, with all of this blogging and site maintenance, how does anyone find any time to make anything? 🙂
Lauren RJune 30, 2012 at 11:02 PM
All the online stuff can be overwhelming, true. I spend WAY too much time on Facebook, and I set myself a New Years resolution to blog every single day about *something* – sometimes it's a hassle! However, if you're trying to sell stuff online, keeping up to date on blog and FB can be an awesome selling tool, so it is worth the time, in my opinion.
AnonymousJune 30, 2012 at 2:11 PM
Cool. I've accidently come up with a similar plan for a Victorian Costume club a friend and I want to start. There are such clubs in the states but none here that I can find. There is one that likes midieval times and one that likes the early 1800s but not a Victorian one. I talk about trying to get this club going in my blog. My friend and I have decided that the next two steps to getting new members are 1) cards we can hand out when we are out in costume that states the name of the club and how to contact us. 2)Set up a facebook account for the club which provides an easy and relatively safe way for near strangers to contact us. Today we are going out with little flyers as we haven't had time to get the cards made up yet!
Lauren RJune 30, 2012 at 11:00 PM
Handing out cards or fliers works great, especially for a local club, as well as a facebook page to support the members you gain, both through meeting people out in the real world, and online. The two costume clubs here (Great Basin Costume Society and High Desert Steam) both have FB pages that events are posted on, and people can comment, post, and interact. It works great!
Jenn-TheFadedDiary.comJuly 1, 2012 at 8:17 PM
Great post! And I love love the photos!!!