The Entrepreneur Journal #1: What I Learned as a Handmade Business Owner about Digital Marketing
Only 3 weeks into the new year and I already found something to celebrate. In 2017, my handmade business Circul Magic turns 9. 9 beautiful, creative and amazing years. It all started when I was a student, at a time when I couldn’t even dare to imagine I would actually make money with it.
Although it was a way to pass time creatively, this hobby soon evolved into a business with potential to generate constant revenue. At my first order, I had to do the math for the first time and put in the cost of supplies, my time and then the client’s budget to come up with a price that would reflect all of those. It wasn’t easy to figure it all out. I was so happy about my first order, that I could have easily given it away for free. It was that first experience that gave me the glimpse of what a handmade business meant and I was hooked on the spot. Not only could my handmade passion actually support my shopping addiction for all stuff DIY and crafts, but it could also become a significant second revenue source.
When I first started this DIY venture, I had no experience with business management or even marketing for that matter. I had no idea where to start and was completely unexperienced in making sales. I was doing almost nothing to get new clients, except for a couple of poorly taken photos and uninspiring blog articles.
It took me a while to figure out what kind of marketing campaigns would work for my brand. it wasn't until my third year putting in practice a product marketing campaign that I saw it generate significant revenue. For the first time, I was actually getting results worth the trouble. Almost 3 to 4x the sales I got one just one year before. And it wasn’t just sales, it was first Google page ranking on several important keywords that brought constant website traffic, even though my active months on the blog are December through March since the big part of my business is centered around one specific holiday.
In my 9 years of running my own handmade business, I learned a lot. Looking back, investing time in researching and experimenting with all kinds of marketing tools and strategies for my own business, is how I got to love marketing. After all this time, now drawing the line, I find I learned a few very important marketing lessons.
Lesson 1 - Set objectives
When I first started Circul Magic, I was fresh out of the university and so young I couldn’t even imagine my life at 28 years, just 5-6 years into the future. Setting priorities short term and long term and trying to figure out how I wanted my future to look like seemed almost impossible to achieve.
As I kept experimenting, researching and learning, I got an in-depth grasp of my brand and business, becoming more and more aware of my own potential. What once had seemed impossible, is has now become a starting point in all my endeavors.
What to do:
- Ask yourself: Where do you see yourself in 2 years? What about 4? Will you still be doing this 6 years from now?
- List your goals and available or potential resources.
- Identify which objectives are realistic and which are unattainable. Be honest.
- Consider which objectives are attainable short term and which long term.
- Find time to think of your future… strategically.
The above are just to start you off. To not get overwhelmed take your time to work towards achieving one main objective. My first big objective was a sales one. I wanted to make enough money to invest in other supplies and cool DIY stuff. So I decided on a specific amount I would work to achieve within a year. To do so, I had to set marketing goals and start updating content on my blog, I gave myself 3 months to do it. Then I started designing a new line of products, then expanded to a new sales channel, though these didn’t prove particularly performant.
After one year, I draw the line and reassessed my strategy. I had achieved half of what I wanted but without being fully committed to it. I had a full-time job where I was invested 150%, putting in 12 to 14 hours a day. With that in mind, for the next year, I decided to focus on one campaign a year and concentrate all my efforts on that. The initial sales objective was achieved in only 2 weeks out of the 4 my marketing campaign was active. Second year, I learned how to improve my campaign, production time and costs to make that one holiday even more profitable for the brand.
Bottom line: Things usually don’t take off overnight and planning ahead is always a good strategy to achieve your goals.
Lesson 2 - Never start a new year without a content calendar
I’ve been using content calendars for my clients’ campaigns for years now. This is a great way to avoid getting stuck in a rut. A content calendar is even more important when it comes to handmade artists. Inspiration is never at our command and it comes and goes as it pleases. There are those frustrating times when everything you start ends up in failure. And then there are the creativity outbursts, when you spend nights on coffee and tea crafting until the sun comes out. For those of us who run their handmade business part-time, content calendars are super useful. Combined with some well timed Google Calendar alerts you can easily stay ahead of sales opportunities and have the time to prepare your next marketing campaign.
The calendar I designed this year for Circul Magic includes important holidays and cultural events in my main market, popular e-commerce sales events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, content ideas for the blog, Pinterest board ideas and a monthly timeline with dedicated tasks to prepare for my next big season.
If you don’t know how to start, you can try Hubspot’s content marketing layout.
Lesson 3 - Invest time in your brand’s visual identity
This is one of the first lessons I learned running a small handmade business. From logo to the theme of my blog, to the photos I took and the fonts I wrote with, it took me some time before I figured out what worked and what I was able to implement. I started with a free blogger account, which I still use, but I used customized themes that would better represent my brand without having me to invest in a branded platform. That’s how I started to learn code. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a noobie when it comes to programming, but now I know how to add or modify elements in my theme’s code.
Finding my logo was a hard one and it continues to be even after 9 years. My problem was that I waited 3 years before I even considered having a logo. I had no idea where to start or how to do it. Then I found some logo generating websites that gave me some ideas, but nothing that would stick. Eventually, I decided to put it on hold and use only text in my logo. The idea was to make sure it was visible and easy to read. I made my logo visible on the blog, social media networks, email address and product labels.
I am obsessed with home decor blogs and it’s not really about the furniture or decorations, but more about the mood of these photos. Photography tells your story in a much more convincing way than a piece of text could. It’s what makes your product memorable and desirable to your potential customers. Add a proper photo name and ALT Text to make sure your photos are indexed by search engines. If convincing and pertaining to their search query, images will drive traffic to your website.
Not all of us are art directors or know how to use Photoshop, but cool imagery for a handmade blog is quite important. Badges, fonts, colors and small nifty decorations help visitors to wrap their mind around what your handmade business is all about. If you’re into embroidery, your badge could feature scissors, threads and spools. One of my favorite resources to create banners, social covers and labels is www.canva.com.
Lesson 4 - Product marketing is essential
When I first started my DIY blog, I had no plan to sell. When I realized to sell meant I had to think of my items as products, things got serious. The first 2 years, I couldn’t price my creations. I was so happy receiving the feedback that I would consider it actual payment. But, with bigger orders came bigger costs and more serious time investments and that’s not hassle free with a full-time job. I had to get strategic about my time and think of a long term strategy that would at least support financially my (expensive) DIY shopping addiction.
The first thing I did that made a big difference was taking the time to promote my products. Until that point, I was focused solely on creating content marketing. I had the same mindset for my creations, completely overlooking the commercial potential of a product post. My then marketing approach was all about connecting with prospects and leads, rather than focusing on talking to the customer. As I started to invest time in implementing my product marketing strategies, I noticed not only an increase in blog traffic, but also in sales.
Personally, my biggest challenge was to understand the commercial value and marketing appeal of my products. I started asking myself these questions:
- Why and when would a consumer buy my product
- What makes it stand out
- Is it an easy shopping decision
- How affordable is it
- How much time and money have I put into making it
- How expensive is packaging
- How about delivery fees
When I was able to answer the questions above, I dived deep in website metrics. I started teaching myself how to use Google Analytics to identify important data like popular posts and country origin and I was surprised to see how much organic traffic I was receiving from Google queries. Seeing what people were looking for and later on what they liked (social sharing) helped me make a product marketing plan.
I experimented with as many platforms as I could to promote my products. But I found communicating over numerous platforms to be time-consuming and often didn’t yield the desired results, particularly with not that much time on my hands. Over the years, as I collected data on my success rate and was able to compare it, I found there were a few marketing approaches that work to grow my sales. The following have become essential in my product marketing strategy:
- Accurate timing
- Beautiful photography
- Individual blog posts for each product
- Accurate product descriptions
- Information on how to order (I don’t have an online shop)
- Social media covers
- Social media posts & albums
- Behind-the-scenes and teasers
- Digital catalogues
- Paid advertising
Lesson 5 - Being aware of and discerning with paid advertising
The first times I used paid advertising for my blog, was not to drive sales. It was to drive website traffic. That’s because at that point I didn’t have a sales strategy at all. I was only concentrating on creating content and getting kicks out of seeing my website analytics dashboard. When I started working on my product marketing, I became a lot more discerning with my ad budget.
Instead of paying for a thousand of impressions from a general audience, I would try to get as close to my potential customer as I could. Niche became the rule. So I started thinking seriously about who my customer was. Since my business is both B2C and B2B, I drew the line and considered which market I should promote too to make paid advertising worth my while.
Over the years I experimented with several platforms. In earlier years, I tried Google AdWords campaigns, but I didn’t get sales, only website traffic. One time I also tried paid placements on national buying and selling websites. Those too generated only website traffic and no sales. To be fair, my website wasn’t all ready to make a convincing sales pitch, so I was basically paying for website traffic, not conversions.
Now, I usually run two paid advertising campaigns in a season. For me, that’s January through late February. For B2B clients (stores, online shops, companies) I run a Facebook paid campaign in January, targeting for managers and company owners and one in middle February for consumers.
Today, after 9 years, I can barely remember the hurdles and the failures, the challenges and the numerous projects I started and failed to finish. Looking back, these 9 years were all about defining my identity as a handmade artist, shaping up my entrepreneurial endeavors and consolidating my marketing know-how. I am not even remotely close to being THERE. I’ve yet to master and learn everything there is to running a handmade business that makes enough revenue to allow me to do it full time. Two things I know for sure: I’m getting there, step by step & investing time in a marketing strategy is really worth the effort.
It wasn’t easy to write this post. It’s been a challenge and I’m so happy I decided to sit down and write it. I hope it helped you answer some of your own questions and potentially inspire you to be strategic about your handmade business too.
MARKETING COURSE FOR handmade businesses
Since DIY is such a big part of my life I decided to dedicated my first marketing course to help those of you with handmade businesses looking to learn how to actively grow your sales.
What You Will Learn
This course is designed to help you understand your brand and get strategic about your marketing. You will learn how to leverage online tools to raise brand awareness, how to market your products to grow sales and how to optimize your web properties to get higher rankings in search engines results.
Who is it for
Small handmade business owners, entrepreneurs in the DIY market, handmade jewelry, accessories and clothing brands.
More info on this marketing course is coming soon. Make sure you subscribe below to get the news when the course becomes available.
I would love to learn what are some of the lessons you learned running your business and what marketing strategies you experimented with. If you have questions or would like to learn more tips on how to grow sales for your handmade business, contact me here.