Is your business hiding in a (virtual) back alley?

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Chatting with artists and crafts people at a large juried show recently,  I heard the same complaint repeatedly. Many of the exhibiting artists said they would love to sell more  but they found it difficult to get their work seen by qualified buyers both on and offline. . They almost all had a website or a page on Etsy, Artfire or another handmade site. The problem was, in a sea of hundreds of thousands of artists with listings on these sites, they weren’t getting noticed or seeing enough traffic to make significant sales.

This complaint is not unique to the craft industry. Many new entrepreneurs seem to have the idea that all they have to do is put up a website (or list their wares on Ebay or Esty)  and people will find them and buy their products. Then the surprise comes when they’ve spent money and time to launch the page and no one finds it.

Would you lease a retail space down a back alley accessible only by another back alley that no one uses unless directed by someone on the main street?  And set up a gallery there to show your best work? Of course you wouldn’t. But that’s what you’re doing if you put up a webpage and sit around waiting for sales to happen. No one can buy from you if they don’t even know you’re there.

So, how do you get the merchants on the main street to recommend you and direct your ideal customer back to your gallery? That’s how you have to think about getting the buyers to your site or page.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is my ideal customer and where are they hanging out?
  • What shops (or sites or forums) do they already spend time in?
  • How can I reach them and get them back to see my work?
  • Is there a way to get the main street “shop-keepers” to direct my ideal customer to my shop (site or page)?

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in the advertising world 35 years ago is that whatever business you are in, you are really in the business of marketing your business. Unless you are already generating enough revenue to hire a marketing team, you don’t have the luxury of spending all day every day making your art. A good chunk of your time in the beginning has to be allocated to getting your work in front of the person who will pay you for it. And the most efficient way to do that is to identify and align yourself with those who already have the attention of your ideal customer.

So, how do you do that? Here are a few tips to get you started:

What kinds of items are complimentary to what you make? For example, if you sell handmade bridal jewelry what other types of businesses would your ideal customer be patronizing? Likely someone selling handcrafted invitations,  veils or headpieces, custom bridal shoes, caterers, photographers, wedding planners, make-up artists, florists, bands and DJs, etc. You might contact them and work out a mutually beneficial set up where you may do a guest post on their blog site with a link back to your site or an arrangement to feature each other’s products and services on your sites. Another free and easy way to get your name in front of those who will buy your product is to find these complimentary businesses on Twitter or Facebook and follow or “friend” them, build a relationship and then once you get to know each other, you can recommend the other’s businesses and link to their sites.

Consider organizing local, complimentary businesses as above for a  trunk show and everyone can send invitations their own list. This means that you each have access to get your products or services in front of the combined clients of the vendors involved. This will benefit each of you and can be a fun, profitable event.

Be creative in the way you think about what business are complimentary to your own. And don’t overlook some that are not necessarily in the same industry. For example, still using the bridal jewelry example, a great resource would be the sales manager at venues such as hotel banquet rooms. Often the first thing a bride does is visit locations to hold the wedding so the sales and catering manager will have access to  brides and their families before they’ve even begun the planning process.

What kinds of businesses are complimentary to yours? Who can you align yourself with to help you get customers to know you are out there?  If you’re ready to take your craft from hobby to making a living, check out the “Beyond Etsy” e-course, HERE 

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