At the moment crafting is very fashionable and lots of magazines and television programmes are discussing the attractions of selling online. Every week more and more people are opening their shops in competition with yours. So what can you do to keep your head above the crowd and the sales coming in?
Here are ten simple ways you can help ensure your business looks professional. If you can reassure your potential customers that you are organized, legitimate, friendly and attentive to details then this will definitely help convince them that you are the shop that deserves their hard-earned money. Many of your rival sellers are treating their business as ‘just a hobby’. Customers don’t care whether you make your products full time or in snatched moments after coming home from a more conventional day job. What they care about is that a seller will behave just as professionally as any ‘big company’. So if you can do that, you instantly have a huge advantage over all the thousands of craft sellers out there who are not.
1 – Spelling errors and typos
Well, I know that saying this will instantly bring me a flood of emails from readers who have spotted errors in my own product listings, hehe. We all make mistakes, even the biggest companies have the odd typo now and then. But it is definitely best to at least try hard to avoid them. If your browser doesn’t have a built in spell checker (I am using Firefox right now, which has) then copy/paste listings and other text to your word processor so as to use the spell checker there.
If English is not your first language and you are concerned that your listings may not read as well as they could, perhaps you can find a friend or family member who will give them a read over to double check? Don’t worry too much about it, most people can tell when someone is using a second language, they make different sorts of errors to someone who is just being careless. Like many English people I suck at other languages. So I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for those who can communicate in English as well as their mother tongue. I am so jealous of you 🙂
2 – Being legal
Nothing is a bigger turn-off than a shop that is breaking the law.
It is against the law to use copyright images, or trademarked characters, brands or names, without the permission of the owner. So if you are selling things with Disney characters on them then you must be officially licensed to do so by Disney – and it is best to clearly say so (indeed that is usually a condition of the license). The same for any other famous characters. Saying your items are “Harry Potter inspired” is still using the brand name to sell your items.
If a seller is not respecting other people’s intellectual property then potential customers have little reason to trust them to respect their money or custom.
If you are in the European Union then you must comply with the Distance Selling Regulations, which means you have to offer returns (on non-customized items) and you need to give your customers certain information up front before they buy.
Most US sellers are required to collect sales tax for their particular state. Check this out before you start trading to be sure you are complying with the rules. You may also require a license to trade and a DBA (doing business as). Whether you do and how much it will cost varies considerably depending on which state you live in. There is lots of information online to help you.
Most countries require sellers to declare their earnings to the tax man. Make sure you are aware of what you need to do for your business in your country. If you don’t do this you could end up with a very nasty bill and possible legal action – something well worth avoiding.
3 – Your own .com
Buying a domain name from a supplier such as GoDaddy is cheap and a very powerful way to make your little business look far more professional. Try to get the .com for your business name if possible, as these are the most well known domain names and the one people tend to remember.
Once you have your own domain name you can direct traffic from it to your Etsy or eBay shop, or wherever else you sell. My Etsy vintage shop is called Tin Teddy Vintage (cunning name, eh?) and I have the domain name www.TinTeddyVintage.com directing straight to it.
Or you may wish to use it for your own website or blog (as I have here with www.TinTeddy.com).
Another advantage of having your own domain name is the ability to have ‘personalized’ email addresses. I think it looks a lot more professional to have something like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org rather than a rather generic looking freebie email such as a Gmail or Yahoo one.
4 – Avoid controversy
It is important to consider very carefully whether you really should include some information in your shop, profile, About page etc. One subject that comes to mind is religious beliefs. Whilst they may be very important to you.. and they also important to your shop and all your customers?
There will always be some people who do not agree with your beliefs. If you choose to say nothing about religion then you will not alienate any potential customers on that ground. Say something and you always run a small risk of doing so. So just do consider whether you mind this or not.
The same goes for any strong opinions which may court controversy. This is your shop, is this subject something that really belongs in it, or not?
It is totally up to you. Just do give it a little thought.
5 – Careful in forums
Whilst chatting on forums is fun and informative, you must always remember that you are an ambassador for your shop at all times. It is therefore usually wise to avoid saying things that could cause controversy or alienate some of your potential customers. Especially be careful if you are getting involved in a thread that has made you angry or upset. It is very easy to type things that you later regret. An insult or cruel word can reflect very badly on you.. and therefore your shop.
On the plus side… being helpful and positive in forums will reflect well on you and your shop. Whilst forums are not usually a particularly good source for promoting your items (indeed to actively do so is often against the rules), presenting yourself as a friendly, helpful and informative person, and demonstrating your knowledge of your niche, can definitely have a positive effect on your overall image.
6 – Kids and stuff
Of course your kids are the most important elements of your life. But are they also the most important elements of your shop? Do you want potential customers to see you firstly as a mom.. or an artist/designer/creator etc?
Sometimes I see a shop that really seems to be in the wrong place. The About Page is all about.. their kids. The Profile page is all about.. how they home school and are proud to be a mom. The Shop Announcement begins saying how the shop name is made of their kids’ names. But they are not selling their kids, or their parenting skills.
If you sell jewelry.. concentrate on your life as a jewelry maker. If you paint pictures.. your focus should be on your art and you as an artist.
Be proud about your kids on parenting sites or your personal Facebook page. But things to do with your craft and products….. should be about your craft and products! If your children are relevant to your shop in some way then it is great to mention this! So things like this are positive: “I made a few wooly hats for my very discerning daughter. She adored them and showed her friends, and soon I was busy knitting hats.. and my Etsy shop soon followed!” or “When I began home-schooling my son I discovered that there were very few small educational posters available, and so my Etsy business was born.” or “I found it very hard to find quality socks to fit my three children when they were babies, so began making my own. I offer a range of my original children’s sock patterns here in my Etsy shop.”
7 – Reply to messages
Of course you are not at your computer 24/7 and cannot reply instantly to an email or message. Big companies rarely reply instantly either! Many send an automated “We got your message and will reply with 24 hours”.
If you really can not check your messages once a day then perhaps you should reconsider whether you have time for a shop. This would be the bare minimum on a long term basis for customer service. Even better is checking them twice a day or more. If you have the sort of business that requires a lot of customer contact, such as creating custom items, then being able to reply quickly is essential.
I will be writing a more detailed post on replying to messages very soon, as it is an important subject and one that many new sellers worry about.
8 – Customer service details
Make sure your customers know how to contact you.. and feel that you will be available to help them if they should require it. Ideally you will have very few issues, but a potential customer will be reassured if they believe that you have good customer service procedures in place and and professional, friendly and helpful.
Tell your potential customers what you would do to make things right if a parcel does not arrive or is damaged, reassure them that you package things safely and post promptly. Tell them that all parcels are insured and tracked so they know that if something does go wrong then you will refund them and they will not be out of pocket.
Remember that things like offering a no quibble returns policy can make you look confident about the quality of your products (plus that is a legal requirement for sellers to the EU). If a customer sees “No returns” they may think this is because you get a lot of unhappy customers who want to do so! Someone selling good products does not need to worry about lots of customers changing their minds, do they?
9 – Got the links?
There are certain things that people expect to see a modern company using online. Most businesses have a Facebook page, for example. It is free and easy to set one up for your business and even if you never post anything, it will still serve as one more way for potential customers to find you. Make sure you have a business page, it is against Facebook rules to use your personal page to promote things on. Ensure your contact details are clearly available. Now you can choose whether to add new items when you list them (many sites such as Etsy make that very easy and pretty much automatic), or whether you will post regularly and build up a following. I will add some blog posts on this very soon.
There are lots of other networking and display sites that you can join equally easily. These include Twitter, LinkdIn, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ and Squidoo. You certainly don’t have to have a presence on all of them! But many sellers find that it is definitely worth utilizing at least one or two. I will work on some blog posts about the various social networking and similar sites as soon as possible.
Once you have a few set up, don’t forget to link them to each other. Shops such as Etsy have an easy link option to Facebook and Twitter. Just having the links on display can help show your visitors that you are an active, progressive and connected business.
10 – The little extras
There are many little things that can add up to make a business look more professional.
Firstly is your Etsy or similar shop fully set up? Do you have a banner, an avatar and categories? Have you filled in any profiles or About pages? A half-finished looking shop may make a visitor think you are not really ready to trade yet.
Does your branding have any continuity? Do you have a brand colour scheme? Are you consistent with your use of fonts? Do your various web sites, social networking pages, business cards etc all have a sense of belonging together? I will write more posts on branding soon – it is a big and important subject!
Don’t forget that if you are selling handmade products then whilst it is important to appear professional to reassure your customers, you also should be maintaining a feeling of being a human, an individual, a creative sort. Don’t be afraid to add some personality to your shop and branding. People are buying from YOU rather than a big company because of the fact that you are you! So let your character shine through a little. Make sure your customers know they are dealing with a real, friendly person. That is why they are shopping handmade, after all 🙂
If you would like 40 free listings when opening a new Etsy shop, you can use my affiliate link.. I get some free listings too – 40 Free Listings on Etsy New Shop
You may want to check out my post on 7 Pro Tips when Selling Crafts Online.