It happened again.
You woke up this morning and jumped out of bed just knowing things were going to be different today! You grabbed your coffee, stumbled into your office, turned on your laptop, opened your email and… nothing.
Etsy? No sales.
Facebook page? Crickets.
So, there you sat… deflated, depressed and frustrated. You started thinking about all the times you’ve sat in that same chair, feeling the same way. And you thought to yourself, “WHAT am I going to do?” while watching your business spiraling downward. Tears started rolling down your cheeks and this feeling of hopelessness began to suffocate you…. again.
Then the negative committee that meets inside your head started on the usual rant… “Maybe I’m not smart enough. Maybe my work just isn’t good enough. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough. But I’ve tried everything I can think of… sales, auctions, contests, giveaways, social media… and I’m still barely getting any sales. Guess I was crazy to think I could make a living doing what I love. Guess I’m just not cut out for this.”
STOP IT!! Stop it right now!
The internet is a wonderful opportunity for artisans and other creative entrepreneurs. It puts customers worldwide within your reach and allows you to get your work into the hands of adoring fans across the globe… IF you learn how to use it properly. And therein lies the problem because, at least initially, most artisans don’t.
It pains me to hear the struggles and frustrations of such amazingly talented people lost in a sea of shops on marketplace sites; not sure how to get their items seen or grow their business; floundering in their attempts to succeed online no matter what they do. And the worst part is that it’s avoidable if, instead of being thrown into the deep end of the pool, sink or swim, you were given the proper information and tools to succeed.
But time and again I find creative entrepreneurs flying by the seat of their pants and making the same deadly mistakes in their businesses. So today we’re going to look at two of the biggest, and how you can avoid them.
Mistake #1 – You don’t understand or take advantage of the fundamental way the internet works.
I believe this is the largest across the board reason why most creative businesses fail. I didn’t start my business because of a lifelong passion to do so and, because of how it happened, I came at it strictly from a business perspective. The very first thing I did was learn how the internet works, what that would mean for me as a business owner and what I had to do for people to find me online.
Right from the get-go most creatives are set up to fail. You have something you’ve been doing as a hobby and your family and friends encourage you to sell your work. So you hesitantly dip your toe into business by opening an Etsy shop.
In order to succeed online, you need to understand and take advantage of the fundamental way the internet works. You don’t. So you’re frustrated. You don’t understand what you’re doing wrong or why you’re not making sales. And you have no idea how to improve your results.
Let’s Fix It
First of all, you need to understand PEOPLE ARE NOT LOOKING FOR YOU, they’re looking for SOLUTIONS. So you need to know what problems your target market is trying to solve and position yourself as the solution. Then you need to understand how they go about looking for these solutions.
Most of the time people search online for what they need. They go to Google, type something in the search box, and instantly have pages upon pages of results served up to them.
Your goal, ideally, is to be seen on the first page of those results. You accomplish this by applying principles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to make your site rank as high as possible on search engine results pages (SERPs) so your ideal customers can find you. SEO isn’t a “set-it-and-forget-it” thing; it’s an ongoing process.
A large part of it revolves around keywords, those words your potential customers are typing into the aforementioned search box. They may type in words related to the problem they need to solve or the solution. Keywords can be single words, word combos, phrases or even complete questions. To come up with keywords, think like your customer. What would they type into a search engine to find what you have to offer? Keep in mind that they may not refer to things the same way people in your industry do, so be sure to use the words they would use, not the ones you would use. Then optimize your site and pages for these keywords (tags on Etsy and ArtFire) so that, when they enter them into the search box, your site comes up in the results.
There’s a lot to learn about SEO, but the time you spend on it will be one of the best investments you make in your online business because your website lives… or dies… by traffic from search engines. Here are some resources.
We creative types are very visual so I started putting together a Pinterest board of infographics related to SEO.
Search Engine Land has a great, easy to understand, free SEO Guide on their website. It’s split into 10 chapters with articles included for extra reading if you want to learn more.
If you want to go even further, Moz has a terrific ebook called The Beginners Guide to SEO.
Mistake #2 – You rely on 3rd parties like Etsy and Facebook for your traffic instead of owning your own.
As you just learned, you work hard to drive traffic to wherever you sell online. Wouldn’t you rather put that work into a site that you own? When you put all that effort into another site, you’re building their business and their future. I think it’s time you start building yours.
I’m NOT suggesting that you stop using 3rd party sites like Etsy and Facebook. They’re legitimately useful tools and absolutely have a place in your business… as tools, not the whole toolbox.
What I DO want is for you to not put all your eggs in the Etsy and/or Facebook basket because it creates a volatile situation for your business. In fact, I’d argue that if you’re only using 3rd party sites, you don’t really have a business at all because you have no control.
The Problems With 3rd Party Venues
Though each site has their quirks, the overall issues with using any 3rd party site as your sole source of income are the same.
- You’re at their mercy and have no control over changes.
- They could shut down your shop or shut down completely.
- You don’t own your traffic, so there’s no equity in your shop; it’s not a website you could sell.
- Some venues won’t even let you link to your website.
- You get lost in a sea of sameness; to what degree depends on the venue.
- Maintaining multiple venues takes time, so there’s a dilution of effort and traffic.
Another huge problem with these venues is that your branding can become secondary at best and, at worst, non-existent. If a customer buys something from your Etsy shop and someone asks her where she bought it, her most likely answer will be “on Etsy.” This presents a two-fold problem. First, it takes an average of 7 “touches” with your brand before someone will be comfortable enough to buy from you. In order for them to count, your brand (not Etsy’s!) needs to be recognized. Second, you’ll often lose out on referral sales, the second easiest and cheapest to make, because the odds of that person getting on Etsy and finding you are slim.
Let’s Fix It
You can have the benefits of a hosted e-commerce site for a very reasonable monthly fee and by doing that,
- You don’t need to pay to renew items
- You don’t pay a percentage of each sale to a venue
- You make the rules
- You build it up over time adding value and creating an asset
- All your work to drive traffic goes to a site YOU own and control
- Your SEO efforts benefit YOU
- Your traffic increases
- You eliminate many of the problems faced at 3rd party venues
Are there downsides to owning your site? Of course. There are downsides to everything.
- You need to take control of your business
- You need to drive traffic to your site
- You need to learn SEO
- You need to build back-links
Oh yeah, that’s right… you need to do that yourself NO MATTER WHERE YOU SELL!
Whether you have your own website or an Etsy Shop, you still need to promote and market your business and drive traffic to it YOURSELF. There are many successful shops on Etsy, but every single one of them drives their own traffic. They bring people to their shop. Anyone with a shop who doesn’t do anything to promote their business and drive people to it is not going to be successful on Etsy or anywhere else.
If you’re serious about having an online business, the most important thing you need to do is own your traffic. If you don’t, you’re risking your entire “business” on another company’s every change and whim. That is not someplace I want you to be. So let’s look at some possibilities to get you out of that precarious situation.
Many creatives think it’s not possible to have a website. I’m going to prove you wrong. I’m going to show you that it’s really just all about choices.
Owning your own website should be your goal, but I understand you may not be ready or able to do it right now so I have options for you. They may not be ideal, but I want you to have a way to at least mitigate risk to yourself and your business. You can grow into better solutions over time.
Either way, it does take time to build up your traffic so you’re going to want to keep a presence on sites like Etsy and ArtFire in addition to your website at least for a while, maybe even permanently. If you have your own website, you can keep your 3rd part venues minimally stocked with a reasonable representative sampling of your work so you maintain a presence there.
Options for Owning Your Business
Option #1 – Your Domain Pointed to a 3rd Party Venue
You can do this with any online venue. You buy your domain (www.YOURSHOPNAME.com) and have it re-directed to your shop on Etsy, ArtFire, Storenvy or whatever platform it’s on. This doesn’t help your SEO. It just keeps your customers going to the same URL no matter where you decide to have your online shop. This may be helpful while you’re finding your way around online and making decisions, but it’s the least beneficial option we’re going to look at. I included it because it’s something quick and easy you can do right away today.
Option #2 – Hybrid
CraftLaunch would be an example of this. You create a website with them, then link your CraftLaunch account and your Etsy account. When buyers click the buy button, they’re taken to the Etsy cart to checkout.
Option #3 – Self-Made Hybrid
You can make your own hybrid solution if you don’t want to deal with shopping carts to start off. There are a number of ways to do it and it works with any combination of web host and 3rd party venue. You purchase your domain, build a website and make a “Shop” link in your navigation that brings customers to your Etsy (or other) shop to do their shopping using that site’s shopping cart.
Option #4 – Hosted eCommerce with a Free Site URL Option
This is probably the fastest and easiest way to start with your own website. These are hosted e-commerce solutions that give you the option to use either their free site URL (YOURSHOPNAME.theirsitename.com) or your own domain name. They offer storefront templates, a content management system, hosting, a shopping cart and possibly a variety of other options like a blog, gallery, calendar, guest book, reporting, analytics, etc. Some examples of this are Shopify, Big Cartel, IndieMade and Artisan’s Accomplice.
Another one of these is SupaDupa. It’s a ready-made, SAAS (software as a service), boutique e-commerce platform. In addition to being able to use their free site URL (YOURSHOPNAME.mysupadupa.com) or point your own domain name, there are 2 important benefits to SupaDupa. First, in your cart, you’re able to give customers the option to sign up to your mailing list. Second, if you have your own (non-commerce) website and you want to add a shop component, you can make your SupaDupa Boutique a sub-domain of your site (Ex: shop.YOURDOMAINNAME.com) which then helps your site’s traffic, SEO, etc.
Storenvy; also offers the sub-domain option and inclusion in their social marketplace. When you list something in your store it’s automatically added to the marketplace where shoppers can find and buy without visiting your store.
Option #5 – Hosted eCommerce
This is a hosting platform and content management system where you set up a shop at your domain that’s hosted by them. They normally have shop templates you can buy and a shopping cart option built-in, among other things. There are tons of these services available. Some of these include Pappashop, Create A Shoppe Plus, Shoppe Pro, 3dcart (one of few that can be used with ProPay without the great additional expense of programming their API), Marketecture (another option to consider if you use ProPay), and Volusion.
Option #6 – Your Own Site with PayPal Buy Buttons OR Shopping Cart Added Onto a Website
If you have a website that doesn’t have e-commerce hosting built in and you want to sell from your site, you can do this by either using buy buttons or add a shopping cart to add e-commerce functionality if you don’t want to use any of the other options mentioned.
PayPal and ProPay both offer the ability to create Buy buttons for your site.
Mal’s eCommerce; is a very popular shopping cart with both a free and a very inexpensive paid version. As a matter of fact, many of the hosted e-commerce platforms like Pappashop use it for your stores. And ProPay CartLite is one of very few that can be used with ProPay without the great additional expense of programming their API.
Option #7 – WordPress Site with eCommerce Plug-In
This would be the same scenario as we just discussed, except that the website itself is a WordPress site. Just so you understand, WordPress is a platform in itself and I’m talking about the self-hosted WordPress.org software (not WordPress.com). WordPress uses themes (not templates) and plug-ins, which are essentially modules that add some kind of functionality.
So to create the same effect we discussed above for a WordPress site, you would need a hosting account, the WordPress.org software and an e-commerce Plug-In. Some options include a combination of a WooThemes theme and WooCommerce plug-in, StoreFront Themes and WPOnlineStore, a free open source plug-in for WordPress based on the osCommerce shopping cart that’s been around for years and supposedly works with most themes.
Another huge benefit to owning your own domain, even if it’s pointed somewhere else for now, is that you can have a professional email address. Having an @YOURSHOPNAME.com email will increase the trust factor with your customers. It’s much more professional than using a Gmail, Hotmail or other generic address and makes a big difference in your customer’s perception of your business.
Over To You
What do you think of this business advice? What’s your solution going to be? How are you going to ensure that you maintain ownership of your business and build an asset for yourself?