Saturday, October 6

Out of the Cubicle

It's been awhile since I did a little update about the business.  I thought of instead of writing about the ups and downs of how it's going, that instead I'd give a few tips of things that have worked well for me.  I know there are lots of you out there hoping to start your own creative business from home.  When starting mine, other successful sellers were a great source of information and support. 

So here are the things that I feel have not only made my business successful, but that I believe would help others in their creative at home business. Most of this will be based on the charm shop as it's been my most successful endeavor, but the other shops also play a role.

Stand Out: When I first wanted to transform my hobby into a successful creative business, I knew I'd be selling jewelry, but I honestly didn't know what type.  My regular Etsy shop has been open on and off for years as a way to sell items I had made just for fun. When I decided to open something more professionally I took months to research, test, and design items that would work. I tried a lot of things before I landed on the charms.  Although their are so many customizable jewelry options for mother's out there, most of them are the stamped version.  Mine offer a lot more options, colors, and printing styles, plus they are very competitively priced. 

Take it Seriously: This mindset is so important.  This might be the number one thing that makes or breaks creative home businesses. This will affect things from making sure you get the proper business license and are keeping good records to making the proper time for your business and treating your customers fairly.

When your  mindset is that you want your business to be successful you make more sacrifices for it.  Maybe make more time to work on it instead of going out with friends or even cleaning the bathroom. Maybe you set aside more start up funds for it or even decide to take out a loan. 

On top of it all, no one is going to believe that you can make it unless you do. I remember feeling so silly in the beginning thinking I could create a successful business out of a little desk in my living room, but I knew in order to make it successful I had to give it my all, and for me that meant believing that I couldn't fail. 

If you've ever interacted with me for more than a few emails you'll notice that I call the space I work in my "studio." It's not really, more just like a few spots around my house that I've stashed my jewelry items, but by calling it my studio I not only appear more professional, but I also feel more professional.  I don't do it to be untrue, but rather to make sure that the jewelry business and it's customers are getting top priority in my life.

Slow Growth: This might not be true for every business, but for me it's been the best business model.  I put in very little start up money for the business and continued to slowly move forward, buying tools and more supplies with whatever proceeds I had from the previous month.  Maybe taking out a large loan is the right choice for you and you just start big right out the gait, but I can't speak to this. Looking back, this method would NOT have worked for me, as I had a lot of learning to do out of the gate. If I had a large sum of money to spend on things, I would have wasted it in all the wrong places.  By having a smaller budget I had to take the time to first learn what was working and then spend a little at a time in those areas. I still have some products that I purchased thinking they would work out and never did, but the amount of wasted money was much smaller than if I had a large start up fund.

With that said, I haven't really been able to use any of the proceeds as income until recently.  Which has meant that I've been doing all of this hard work in my "spare time" while continuing to work a full time job.  This can be so hard for many people to stay motivated through.  For me I could easily see the direct correlation between how much effort I was putting in and the number of sales I had.  I knew I just had to keep pushing through.

Marketing: Oh marketing. I've had such a hard time picking where and when to market.  I've had places that I think I'd for sure get lots of business that just tanked!  For example, I did a "featured seller" piece on a local blog.  The blog is focused on just moms!  I thought for sure it would be the perfect place.  Sad to say, I saw ZERO return on it.  In fact, for me blogs just don't work! 

In  my experience the best marketing is one you can't buy. WORD OF MOUTH IS PRICELESS!  Remember your customer is part of a group of friends and family that most likely fall within the same target audience. By offering an amazing product, good customer service, and an easy way to share the item with their friends you've done all the marketing  you really need to do.  Remember bad word of mouth spreads twice as fast as good, so make sure you're providing the best you possibly can.

For me Facebook has been the best place for marketing. By posting photographs of each order when they ship customers get to preview their item and share it with their friends and family before they ever even get it!  Who doesn't love to show off such a sentimental piece. And realistically I've done all the hard work for them by posting the picture. All they have to do is like it, comment on it, or share it and it appears on their timeline for all of their Facebook friends to see.  It's a win, win for all.

Stay in Touch: This goes back to not only Facebook, but also my blog, and my email list.  By offering free shipping for Facebook fans, and posting pictures of their orders on Facebook, I automatically draw them to the site. By regularly posting new items, ideas, and giveaways there, I keep them excited and involved.  Then when I come out with a new product or sale, I have a large audience that I know will see it immediately.  Maybe they don't all take advantage of the sale, but the more people I have in this customer base, the better chance I have that a few do.

Celebrate: I try and make sure that each of my customers remembers that I'm a growing one person business and that they have the power to help me be successful.  Maybe by sharing my Facebook page, or leaving positive feedback after a purchase.  Each and every one of those acts may seem small to them, but they are very significant to me and my business.  This makes each and every one of my customers personally involved in my success and makes them desire to help where and when they can when I'm down and help me celebrate when I'm up.  So post about or even do a sale when you hit a major goal.  This emotional involvement keeps those fans going strong.

Primary Source: I adapted this idea from the credit union I worked at years ago.  They were constantly telling us that we wanted each and every member to use us as their "Primary Financial Institution." Meaning we didn't just want their checking account, or their auto loan, but rather we wanted to be the first place they came to when shopping for any and every financial product.

There are millions of people that make jewelry. It's the truth. I can't offer every product, but I work hard at making sure that my products are top notch, my packaging is great, my turnaround time is quick, and my customer service is unmatched.  By doing that I know that a good portion of my customers come to me first when shopping for jewelry.  Maybe I don't offer it, and maybe they go somewhere else, but by coming to mind I have a better chance of landing another sale after the first.  I love getting new customers and meeting new people, but I am always striving for the second and third sale. I think this is something my customers really appreciate, that they are appreciated long term, and aren't just one sale. I'm not pushy, but rather speak through my kindness, understanding, and ability to adapt.

Customer Service: I think of all the places that I regularly shop at, and the all offer great customer service.  They take items back no questions asked, they answer questions, and take the time to treat me like a person and not just a sale. 

Good customer service can just make your business that much stronger. People can love your products, but if you come across rude or even that you just have mediocre customer service, there is a good chance they won't come back. 

Look I'm not perfect, I make mistakes, but I own up to them.  If someone says a piece broke or it didn't turn out quite as they imagined. I try and fix it. I offer to take it back, make something new, or give them a discount.  This can be really hard in the beginning when each a sale means so much, but in the long run it's worth it.  Usually losing a little profit on this one sale is much better than having any sort of bad word of mouth that might be passed around by not working something out.  Don't let customers take advantage of you, but be honest about why you're offering what you're offering in a particular situation.

I also try and think about what I would want if I were in their shoes. For example, if I have a sale going on and the customer forgets to put in the coupon code, I automatically return the difference immediately to them.  Something like this speaks volumes about your honesty and integrity.  This is also one of the elements that can help you stand out as a hand made source of business rather than a huge corporation.

Lastly, I try and answer emails immediately.  I read somewhere back that email can bog you down and take all your time  up and that you should only check it 2 - 3 times a day.  I've tried this method.... sales went down.  I think of it as if someone walked into a physical location and asked a question. Would they have to wait 4 hours for an answer? Online sales can be tricky and people  have lots of questions.  Be helpful, honest, and get back to them as soon as possible. The longer you wait to respond, the more they have the chance to move on to something else or change their mind about the purchase. For me it's worth the extra time it takes to be continuously checking emails throughout the day.

Hope these tips help you become successful too!  I'm always willing to help others in their adventure, so feel free to email me with questions!

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