Marketing Tips For The Small Artisan Business Owner
If you are selling – or hope to sell – products that you personally make, then this post is for you.
Artisan businesses, like hand-making baskets, jewelry, clothing, furniture, decorations, etc – are a big part of the “in-person” event economy. Locations such as craft fairs, co-ops, and open artisan markets give those that make products by hand the opportunity to interact with and inspire customers in person.
THE IMPACT OF IN-PERSON EVENTS GOING AWAY
But happens when you’re not at those events? Or, what happens when those events are no longer around?
For context sake, I’m writing this article during the impact of a global pandemic. It’s June 2020 and a Coronavirus labeled Covid-19 has wrecked economies and businesses like nothing I’ve ever witnessed.
Perhaps you’re reading this because you no longer have as many, if any, physical locations to sell your goods. Or perhaps you’re reading this because the job you once had is no longer around and you’re hoping to build a new business with your craftwork.
For either situation, the theme of this post is to remember your business is more than the end product. In and of itself, the end product is just a “thing”.
This article stems from many conversations I’ve had with people making and selling their wares online. I’ve had conversations in Uber rides, in garages, spare bedrooms, email, phone, and text. I’ve spoken with young and older. I’ve had conversations with moms, dads, sons, and daughters.
Though the context and individual situations may vary, the content of those conversations are pretty similar across the board.
I’m hoping to summarize the most valuable stuff from those conversations into the advice that follows.
I hope it helps in some small way to make your journey a positive and profitable one.
BUILDING YOUR AUDIENCE ONLINE
Please know that selling online and building an audience for your business are two independent things.
The power of building an audience can be fantastic for your business. But with the rise of online marketplaces, there’s a growing divide between buying a “thing” and becoming a customer of your business.
While using an online marketplace can be an easy way to get online and create opportunity to sell, make sure you find ways to connect and communicate with the folks that do buy from you.
Try hard to not become an anonymous price option on third party selling platforms. Make sure you find ways to talk with those that buy your product.
Many businesses are finding increased competition, raising fees, and changing rules impacting their sales in online market places. Communicating directly with customers gives you direct access to their future purchasing power outside of the fees and competition of third party marketplaces.
As outlined in this blog post, that’s the power of converting an audience you rent into an audience you can own.
HOW TO EFFECTIVELY TELL YOUR STORY ON YOUR WEBSITE
Your business is far more than your product, so your website needs to be more than a catalog of your products. It has to be personal and have personality.
To effectively create real connection and inspiration and win customers from your website, you’ll need to focus on the uniqueness of the people and the process in addition to the product.
WEBSITE FOCUS 1 – PEOPLE
In many cases, the “people part” is a pretty short list.
It’s either you or it’s you and members of your family. In any case, know that customers want to know about the person that creates the product.
You need to have a dedicated page on your website that is focused solely to you. Customers want to connect to a good story. You can do that by being true to who you are.
Don’t worry about something not being good enough or inspiring enough. What you think is boring, mundane, and ordinary, others find extremely interesting.
On your page, share why you do what you do. Share who inspired you to get started. When did you start? Be sure to include what inspires you, motivates you, and drives you to produce what you do.
The more real, sincere and authentic you make this page, the more customers can learn about the person they are buying from. As you learned by selling in person, that connection is a key to making sales.
WEBSITE FOCUS 2 – PROCESS
Another important page on your website is the process page.
If you’ve sold in person, you’ve no doubt heard someone ask you if you really make these things. There’s extreme value in the eyes of the customer in meeting and connecting with the person that actually makes the product.
Make sure you showcase the process you go through to make what you make.
Use photos and videos to show raw materials, the steps you take to start and the process you follow to finish the products you make. The more detail the better.
Have you learned how to do things better along the way? Have you learned to find and use different materials along the way? Showcase the work you put into making the final product come to life. Share how you’ve tweaked your process to make something stronger, shinier, or better.
Side Note: The Guilt of Pricing
If there is one consistent issue that arises when talking to small business owners, especially those who make products by hand, it’s not charging enough. Or, more specifically, it’s not feeling that they can charge more.
For some reason, many feel that they are not worth charging more and leave much needed profit on the table.
Please know that when you pour your heart and soul into making a product or even providing a service, you are creating value. That value is not measured by the cost of the materials. The value is measured by the consumer.
Its value is created through the inspiration and understanding of what it means to you and what it means to them.
Demonstrating the skill, expertise and experience you have through describing the process is a fantastic way to increase the understanding of how special your creations really are.
The more detail you can communicate about the decisions, tasks and effort you put into making the final product, the more respect you’ll earn in the eyes of the customer. And with respect and understanding comes the ability to charge accordingly.
WEBSITE FOCUS 3 – PRODUCT
If there’s a theme in my advice it’s go beyond the basics. The same is true of your products. Be sure to consider three key areas that will help you inspire and sell more.
- Meaningful descriptions: When it comes to describing the product, go beyond what it’s made of and how you use it. Think about the inspiration behind how the product came to be, how it’s been used by others, and comments you’ve received from other customers.
- Show in use: Photography can be a challenge for many folks that make things with their hands. However, photography and video are the most important elements in creating a compelling and inspiring product website,. Find ways to go beyond the single shot on a white background. Show the product in use. If its jewelry, clothing, or accessories, show people wearing and enjoying the products. If it’s a tool or functional product, show that product in everyday use. A simple video of you explaining the features and benefits of what you’ve created is also an extremely powerful way to add depth to your website.
- Show in scale: One of the hardest things to judge from online product shots is the actual size of a product. By itself, a photo of a product offers little information as to how big or small a product may be. It’s extremely helpful to show products in context along with other items that are easily recognized and understood. This helps eliminate a common concern of having something be “the right size” for the intended use or person.
TIGHT BUDGET PROMOTION
One of the most common questions I receive from folks making a product and starting to build their business is “Where do I spend money?” The question is usually more like “I only have $500, what should I do?”
My answer is to wait to spend any money promoting your business until you are best prepared to capitalize on the awareness any money you spend creates.
In our firm, we say that an effective marketing plan needs to be both “persuasive and prepared”. In short, these are defined as:
- Persuasive: Tactics you use to get your company noticed by the right people.
- Prepared: The resources and materials necessary to be responsive and valuable once you’ve been noticed or found.
Given a choice between only one of the two, I would always choose to invest in being prepared.
As outlined in the “rent vs own” audience post referenced earlier, advertising exposure exists in a 1 to 1 trade with money. As long as you’re paying, the advertising will continue. When you stop paying, the advertising stops.
When you invest in the prepared side of your business, the return is far greater in the long run. Pay for it once and, done properly, that investment of time or money will continue to pay you back.
So where would I advise you to spend the $500?
If you’re not a good photographer, invest it there. Either spend some money to learn how to take great photos or pay someone to do it for you. Get videos produced of your process and speaking directly to the customer.
I can’t overemphasize the importance of the visual side of your marketing plan. A great photo library will help you in print, on your website, and make your social media posts more powerful and profitable.
If that is taken care of, and you’ve checked off the times outlined earlier in this article, then the next recommendation is to get in front of folks seeking what you’re selling.
Targeted Google Ads and highly optimized social media advertising are two ways to do this effectively and economically.
Other promotional issues to consider as you develop your initial promotional plan for your business:
- Use social to bring folks to the website
- Use discounts to build your email list
- Use email to stay in touch and share promotions and new products
- Build your reviews from friends and customers
- Use contests to spark discussion and visibility
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) – answer with personality, thoroughness, and detail.
CLOSING THOUGHT: WHOLESALE
If your business is working with wholesale partners or looking to do so, be sure to have a wholesale page on your website. This is an audience that you need to speak to differently than your retail customer.
Setting up a wholesale page on your website gives potential wholesale partners a dedicated page they know is for them. Fill it with more than just a contact form.
Use this as a sales effort to build trust and confidence in potential wholesale partners that visit your website that they should be doing business with you.
Remember, these folks are helping to sell your products and will need some assurances that you’re a partner they want to do business with.
Answering questions on capacity to produce, ability to deliver, consistency in your quality and pricing are all areas to be proactively addressing on this page. Doing so will show potential partners that you understand their side of the business and respect their concerns, questions, and needs.