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Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Facebook Business Page will Increase your Customer Base but First it Might Drive you Crazy!

It is time to add something else to your To Do List.  I know, I know...you are already on overload and one more thing will push you over the edge....but you still have to do it!  Facebook has revolutionized low cost marketing for the small business owner.  Although a Facebook Business page is one of the most important tools in the marketing arsenal, many Crafty Retailers are reluctant to jump on the bandwagon.  Ignoring Facebook is not going to make it go away.  Nope, ignoring it may just help your business go away!  Don't be hatin' on the messenger...it is what it is...so you might as well deal with it.

845 million users are spending an average of 55 minutes PER DAY on Facebook.  57% of Facebook users are female.  Most of YOUR customers are female.  Ergo, most of your customers are probably on Facebook.  Here are some other things to consider:

1.  Facebook provides a FREE opportunity to engage your customers on a personal level.  You are working with a very targeted audience that already likes you so give them a reason to remember that you are there.  You can  learn a great deal about your customers by paying attention to which posts grab their interest, what they are commenting on, etc.

2.  Every time that somebody "likes" your business page, a notification appears as a post on that person's personal page.  Each of her friends will read that she "likes" your business.  They will automatically tend to Know, Like, and Trust you even if they have never done business with you before.  They will be curious as to why their friend "likes" you and with humans being the funny creatures that humans are, they will want in on the action and check you out.  ....and so on and so on.  This is what is meant by "going viral" and it really works.

3.  Search Engines like activity.  They pay attention to the traffic that you are getting on your links and posts. Accordingly, your search engine rankings will improve as you become more adept at social media marketing.

Even though you know you should get on the bandwagon, I can hear many of you groaning.  Resistance is futile, earthling.  Here are some common objections and the logic that destroys them:


 "I already have a personal Facebook page, so I don't need a business Facebook page."
Sometimes, silence is the best option!
WRONG!  You definitely need to separate your personal life from your business life.  My personal page is for people who really have an interest in what is going on in my life, and my business page is for people who have an interest in Swarovski Crystal, Fibers, and booking me for Fun and Exciting Felting Workshops.  Of course, any Crafty Retailer worth her salt will engage her clientele so effectively that they will become "friends" in life and on Facebook.  Since there is opportunity for crossover,  I have become fairly careful not to post anything on my personal page that could come back to bite me in the ass  unduly offend anyone.  The times being what they are, and my politics being what they are, this has been a bit of a challenge for me.  Frankly,  it has taken great self control to keep my itchy fingers away from the keyboard when faced with some particularly offensive something or other, but it is important to exercise restraint. Do not assume that people share your views.    I have fallen off the Publicly Politically Neutral Wagon before, and have lost a customer or two along the way.  Sometimes the words must be spoken, but the speech comes with a consequence.  

On another note, I  try not to upload the same post on both pages as the news will be repetitive ---and therefore BORING--- to anyone who is a fan of my business page AND a friend on my personal page. I want people to be willing to engage in both pages so I try to be the perfect hostess on each.

"My life is boring!  No one needs to hear about what I ate for lunch!"

Every life is interesting, it just depends upon where you look. The food you ate for lunch would not be the place to look for an inspiring business post, unless you happen to be dining with the Travel Channel's Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Food.  A photo of you eating a worm would make for a good post, while a photo of you eating a baloney sandwich....not so much.  Of course, if you want to post a picture of a beautiful meal that you were just served at a new  restaurant in your area, rave on.  It is always nice to give another small business a boost.

The posts that get the most feedback for me are those that feature pictures of my work,free  tutorials, or my pets.  One of my most "commented on" posts was nothing more than a photo of my hand next to a HUGE lemon from my yard.  It was so bizarre that it evoked interest.


This silly picture of my dog, Beamer, was on my personal page, but garnered responses from just as many of my business acquaintance buddies who have "friended" me as from my  "real life" friends.  Pets are always a safe bet for a post, provided the photos are funny or heavy on the "Awwwww" factor.

This photo of a ginormous Ponderosa Lemon from a tree in my yard was a very popular post on my business Facebook page.  It was just odd/unusual enough to garner attention. (The lemon weighed over 2 pounds!  Yowza!)    

 Life is bizarre.  Life is glorious.  Life is poignant.  Draw on those moments and your posts will be interesting!


"I don't have the time!"   
You are preaching to the choir on this one, sister!  Time is ALWAYS the challenge, but the payoff  is big enough that you should absolutely, positively, no matter what...MAKE the time.   It is like everything else, you must make it a priority for it to happen.  Don't assume that you will "get to it."  There is always a squeaky wheel that will steal your time.  It is kind of like cleaning the baseboards.  I swear that I am gonna do it....but I don't.  Fortunately, I can still function at a high level with dirty baseboards.  Your business WILL NOT function at a high level without social media.  Set aside an hour twice a week that will be devoted to Facebook.

"I cannot  build my fan base so I am not seeing any results."
This was a tough one for me until I finally cracked the code.  Mind you, it was not a difficult code to crack once I tried to figure it out.  Facebook is like anything else....there is a learning curve.  What seems impossible at first will soon be second nature.  Here are some relatively painless ways to increase your "Likes":

1.  Invite your friends.  There is an Admin Section at the top of the page.  Click it and you will see your administrative dashboard.  There is a Tab at the top right of the page called "Build Audience."  The drop down bar offers a number of ways to increase your fan base.  

I periodically "invite friends" which results in sending a message to those friends who have not yet "Liked" my business page.  There is an option to Share your Page and an option to Invite Email Contacts, which I have not yet explored.    The new baby goats have been taking up a whole lot of my spare moments.    I will need to schedule some learning curve time in between bottle feedings!

2.  Create an Ad.  Facebook Ads are WONDERFUL!  My business page is part of a new branding program as I promote my workshops and pursue teaching opportunities.  The page was created in July 2011 and by mid January 2012, had only 123 fans, most of whom were Pity Likes from those who love me....very frustrating!  Accordingly,   I was delighted to have a chance to pick the brain of Paula Rosenberg, a Crafty Retail Rock Star and Marketing Genius while in Columbus, Georgia for a family visit.  Paula told me that it was all about Facebook Ads and she was absolutely correct.  I spent a pittance and immediately saw results.  In two short months I went from 123 to 749 fans....not as many as I hope to get, but better than a poke in the eye!  In addition to the increased fan base, I am filling more workshops, which is gratifying.  The cool thing about the ads is that you are able to drill down to define your ideal customer so that you have a highly targeted ad campaign.  
 
Business Facebook pages are effective and easy, once you master the mechanics.  Here are a few other things to consider:

1.  The new Facebook Timeline will become mandatory at the end of the month.   Thank you to Crafty Retail Rock Star Carol Garfield for giving me the push I needed to get on the Timeline bandwagon.  I was just understanding the whole Facebook thing and was none to pleased to see that I would have to learn the new system.  Fortunately, I read a post Carol  had written about attending a Timeline Webinar so that she could learn the ins and outs.  BINGO!  I did a quick Google search and found lots of online tutorials to cut my learning curve in half.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel...you can watch it yourself HERE.  

2.  Beware of which pages YOU choose to "Like."   One of the ways that Facebook Ads are effective is that when an ad appears on a page, it will list the names of YOUR friends who have "Liked" the page in an effort to get you on the Liking Bandwagon.  This is all well and good if the page is relatively innocuous.  However, you might want to think twice about Liking a Vendor's Facebook page unless you want that Vendor's name to be visible on the Facebook pages of your customers.   Moreover, there are some Likes that just don't need to be all that public....after all, Preparation H has a Facebook page but that doesn't mean you have to Like it! 

3.Go through your Customer List and search for them on Facebook.  If you don't know them well enough to outright "Friend" them, you can send them a message asking them to Like you site.  Offer an incentive such as a free gift or a coupon for a percentage off the next sale.  Ideally, you will establish enough of a connection to "Friend"them at some point, providing a wonderful opportunity to engage them on a more personal level.  You can congratulate a customer on the birth of a new grandchild that you might never have heard about otherwise, simply because you saw pictures of the baby on her Facebook page.  It is a quick and painless way to learn about your customer base.

4.  Use your Facebook page to announce last minute sales and special events.  One post I saw recently touted a "Rainy Day Discount" in an effort to get customers to brave the bad weather.  You want your posts to have value so that your audience will come back for more.  If you find a great free tutorial on another site, post the link.  If you cooked a delicious meal last night, share the recipe.  Write the stuff that you would like to read.

5.  Join some of  the Facebook Crafting Groups that have sprung up.  These groups are a valuable resource for you!  You will learn what the craft world is excited about and what your customers will likely want to find on the sales floor.  A great wool group can be found here, a fiber group here and a nice group of beaders can be found over here.  Craft magazine pages are another goldmine of inspiration...one of my favorites is the Bead Design Studio page.

6.  Facebook provides the ability for you to assign your friends to different lists, which makes Facebook Life much more manageable.  I press the link for my Beady Friends and I catch up on all that sparkles.  I press the link for my Tampa Friends and I get the local news.  Easy Peasy.

7.  Spread the love.  Spend some time commenting on the posts of others.  Visit relevant pages and engage in dialogue where possible.  You will increase the Facebook presence --and SEO ranking---of that user's page.  She will likely return the favor by posting on your page.  Moreover, when you post something interesting on another page, you will attract attention from that user's group of friends.  They will click onto your page, become captivated by your wit, and decide to be a Fan....BINGO!  Yup, Facebook Business Pages are a boon to the small business owner.   The juice is definitely worth the squeeze. Now go and Like my page....and I will be sure to Like yours, too!



Friday, February 17, 2012

You Better "Get Social" if you want your Crafty Business to Thrive!

True confessions....
I built my business by spamming.  I know, I know!  It wasn't nice and I ain't real proud, but it was what it was.... There was a time when I was that person.  In fairness, my spamming occurred early in the internet explosion and people weren't quite as repulsed by it as they are today.  There was no money in the budget for a salary, let alone a marketing plan, so I had to figure out a way to get the word out.  I spent hours and hours surfing the web trying to find bead store websites, copied down  store email addresses from the advertising section of the bead magazines, collected business cards from every store I visited, and carefully added all of the information to a primitive Excel database.  I prepared a weekly email newsletter and held my breath before I hit "send," praying that no one would hate me or report me to the Internet Police.

It worked!


Although my initial email was definitely Spam,  it turned out that the folks I had targeted were generally amenable to receiving my emails.  My unsubscribe rate was very low because I offered a product that bead store owners were having a hard time finding, I sold it at an "easy to swallow" price point in "easy to buy" quantities, and always included beautiful color photos.   My marketing emails solved a problem for retailers because they took the thinking out of the ordering and busy bead shop owners appreciated it.  I was amazed by how well the formula worked---it seemed like magic.  Mind you, although I got the marketing part down, I was sorely remiss when it came to the process oriented side of the business.  You know...the stuff like accounting and recording keeping.

I learned a valuable lesson in those early years....one does NOT need big money to get big marketing results!  Nope, discipline and elbow grease will get the job done.  It was true in 2002 and it is even more accurate in 2012.  Social media is an amazing resource for today's Crafty Retailer.  I recently changed my business model in an effort to beat my life into submission.  It is an exciting, rewarding change that makes me much happier personally.  However, the change came with a need to totally update my branding, my marketing, and my website. 

Sigh.

I am not a computer geek.  I am not a graphics person.  I do not have a clue about how to work with layers in photo editing software.  I am a middle aged woman with a small business to run.  Like you, I have a family, pets, outside interests and the drama and minutia that go along with all of it.   It is just me, by my lonesome.  Yep, I am the one juggling it all...the website, the social media, the creating, the selling.   I bet you recognize yourself!  I do not have a marketing budget but I have passion and I  have gumption.  If I can do it, you can do it.

Your customer shares your passion for creating...leverage that interest through the use of emails, your website, your blog, TwitterFacebook Business Pages and Pinterest, just to name a few.  Of course, it takes some time but it is worth it!  A successful business owner can no longer rely on a website alone.  The new reality is that social media works best when it works together.  It is not enough to have a beautiful website if you fail to reach out via several of the other mediums as well.  They all work together to get the word out about you and your business. 

I resisted creating a Business Facebook Page, but when my business model changed late last year, I committed to a low cost marketing regimen that incorporated a website, a blog, Facebook, and --on a much more limited level---Twitter.   Admittedly, I spend a whole lot of time on Social Media.  A blog can take me anywhere from 2 to 6 hours to write and I maintain two of them.  Additionally, I spend about an hour each day focused on the other aspects of Social Media.  Although I try to blog weekly, I fell off the wagon over the holidays and only recently climbed back in the saddle.  It will take me a month or two to build up my audience to the point where it was before my absence, but it will happen if I continue to blog regularly.  I have Pinterest on my radar...my teenage daughter is a fan and my customers are all over it, so I am behind the curve on that one.  80% of the users are female...it is like an Internet Scrapbook and I see all sorts of marketing potential.  So much to do, so little time...but I will get there....

Many Crafty Retailers are overwhelmed by the thought of an integrated social media campaign.  Don't be!  Over the next few weeks I am going to be sharing how I market my crafty endeavors.  I will tell you about how I am managing...slowly and in between everything else I have going on in my life...to get the job done.
 
I recently taught a marketing seminar for Swarovski and  I checked out the web presence of all of the participants prior to the workshop.  The ladies in attendance were incredible...a very talented group energized by the possibility of turning a passion for jewelry into a business.  It was exciting to see!  One of the attendees has a killer website.    No faint praise here...her graphics are crisp, the verbiage is pithy, the photos are artful and professional.  She takes care of the site herself , from the photos to the product updates.  There is absolutely nothing about the website that I would change---it is perfect.  Gulp. I was the one at the podium talking about marketing so I was a bit embarrassed to share my own  homemade, kind of dorky, Urban Stitch Studio site.  Interestingly, my Plain Jane site has a much higher Alexa ranking than the beautifully appointed one.  It didn't make sense to me until I realized that the owner of that site did not yet participate in Social Media. 


Helpful Tip!
Not familiar with Alexa?   It is a wonderful site that computes traffic rankings on all of the websites floating throughout cyber space.  The lower the Alexa Ranking, the more popular and visible the website.   Once you install the toolbar, you will be able to see the ranking of every single site that you visit.  Google is #1 and Facebook is #2.  It is a fun and informative tool for your marketing toolbox.  Take a minute to install the Alexa Toolbar


Take a look at my Urban Stitch Studio home page. I told you it was simple!  It is an average site with no bells and whistles, but it works for me. I can maintain it without killing myself.  Some pages are still under construction, but I try to work on it  for an hour or so several times a week.  It has a shopping cart and runs me about $35 per month.  Quite a contrast from my first website, which cost $26,000!   I had to pay the developer hundreds of dollars every single time I wanted to add a five cent bead to the page!  Never again will I give away that sort of control.  Simple works for me.

My Alexa Rank is circled in red on the Alexa Tool Bar at the top of the page. I will notice a change in my ranking if I fail to make frequent changes to my website.  Google and other search engines like to see that there is activity on your site, so it should not remain stagnant.  I also notice a decrease in my Alexa ranking if I have slacked off on my social media marketing efforts. You can't fool Google. 

Notice that my Urban Stitch Studio Blog is linked on the front page.  I will soon be adding a link for this blog, as well.  My goal is to enable people to find me everywhere I am in cyberspace, as easily as possible.  The more people that click on my links, the more visible I become to Mama Google.

I also include a Link for  Tutorials.  In fact, I will soon be adding the word "Free" to the link because I find that  the phrase "free tutorials" is a popular Google search term.  I want to take advantage of likely search terms to help folks find me.  The tutorials drive traffic to my site and sometimes the "traffic" morphs into a customer, which is all part of my evil plan. 

Finally, I recently added a "Google +" button to the top of the page.  The idea is that if crafters come to the site and like it, they will click Google +  and the site will, through the magic of Google, be recommended to their friends.  I have not done much research into this, but a tech savvy friend told me to do it, so I did.  I have yet to see a direct benefit, but I am watching.  If you happen to be perusing my site, do a gal a favor and press the link!


My next Post will focus on using Facebook Business Pages to connect with your customers...Business Pages ROCK!!!!! 

In the Studio:
I finally finished a pillow that I had hoped to have completed by Christmas 2011.  It didn't happen, but I was determined to get it done so that I could cross it off my To Do list at last!  I used up all of the random poinsettias I had felted for various workshops last Fall, re-purposed an old sweater for the pot, and used Tahki Stacy Charles Cotton Classic for the trim. I enjoyed it for an hour before tucking it away until next December!
 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Encourage Crafty Community to Build a Loyal Retail Following

Every Tuesday I host an Open Studio from 10 - 2.  The second Wednesday night of the month is reserved for a specific fiber project that never costs more than $15.   Fiber minded women settle in to chat and craft together.  The youngest is 28 and the oldest is well into her sixties.  We eat and we crochet...or knit...or embroider...or even felt.  I do not sell product.  I do not talk about selling product.  We laugh.  We have show and tell.  We exchange recipes.  My four dogs are petted and fussed over, even when the puppy grabs a ball of yarn and heads out the door.  One wonderful lady drives almost two hours to get here!   No doubt about it....we have created a real community and Tuesdays have become one of my favorite days of the week.

A side benefit of my little group is that I get to hear the women talk about their projects and their plans for future projects.  I get to see what ignites their creativity and what they want to learn next. We inspire and encourage one another.  They even put my upcoming Swarovski workshop project through an intensive beta test that resulted in some important changes.     I get a whole lot of benefit from these soirees and so do the participants.  .

So....what is the problem?


The problem is that they are not hanging out at their local yarn stores!  Most of the women are members of several other fibery groups and each of those groups meet at restaurants or libraries.  They are connecting with other crafters several times a week-- through MeetUp.com and through Ravelry--while totally sidestepping the  brick and mortar retailers in the community!    These gals are clearly seeking a connection that they are not finding at their LYS.  I have been to both local stores and they are lovely.  They are well stocked and are staffed by capable, personable women.  Where was the disconnect?  Not being one to keep a thought bubble a thought bubble, I had to ask....

.....so........"Why aren't you meeting at the yarn shop?"

The answer surprised me.   It seems that the area shopkeepers have a rule....no sitting and sharing if the yarn in your hand was not purchased from this shop, period.  The rule stands even if you are a regular customer and the yarn is not carried by the shop.   WTF?  Seriously?

 NO SOUP FOR YOU!

 
Uh Oh...  I hear huffing and puffing from those of you out there in Retailer land....I think I might have touched a nerve. You can't pay the rent if customers are buying everything on-line.  You are burnt out from customers who want something for nothing.  Free doesn't get the bills paid.  When customers get together all they do is trade online sources and talk about your competitor.  I get it, really, I do!

But......

....the one advantage a Brick and Mortar store has over the lower priced internet store is the ability to offer kick ass, real, live, honest-to-goodness customer service, to be more than a place that simply warehouses skeins of yarns or buckets of beads.  Rather, you have the opportunity to build a FANATICAL FAN BASE. Store owners are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to connect with potential customers and build a stronger database by not encouraging this sort of crafty community.   Frankly, when consumers are able to bypass your store in the quest for creativity, your business is on the road to irrelevance.

Use the opportunity to glean information. Check your ego and ASK QUESTIONS! Your customers are a goldmine of information and will save hours of research if you take the time to inquire.

Where else do you shop?
What are your favorite online stores?
Why do you like them?
What blogs do you  read?
What other crafts do you enjoy?
What do you want to learn next?
What sort of events would you  like to see?
What would you like me to carry that I do not currently carry?
and so on and so on!


Today's consumer is savvy.  She absolutely, positively knows where to find the yarn/bead/rubber stamp at a better price.  Ever check out the Google Shopping Search?  It will give you sweaty palms, but give it a try.  Go now.  Seriously.  Google "Berroco Pure Pima cotton yarn" and you will find page after page featuring internet stores selling first quality Berroco yarn for a few dollars less than the local yarn store.

Mind you, I owned a brick and mortar shop.  I understand that the overhead of a brick and mortar store greatly exceeds that of a web store, where the yarn/beads/rubber stamps might be warehoused in a guest bedroom.  My clear understanding of the burdens facing brick and mortar retail notwithstanding, the economy sucks and money is tight.   The harsh reality is that there could be a serious price difference for the Money Challenged Crafter contemplating a 10 skein project.  An online purchase could mean a $20 savings  in yarn as well as another 7-10% in sales tax.     Many web stores offer free shipping, as well.  Why should a working gal spend her hard earned money in a brick and mortar retail store?

The answer lies with the retailer.  I am generally willing to pay more --with smile-- if I feel invested in the success of the store.  I get that feeling when I am part of the store's community.  So welcome me, make me feel at home. Better yet, teach me something new and invite me to your "Sit and Stitch."  I may want to use a skein from my stash this week, but I promise you that I will be back to purchase another skein from you next week!  I will probably even bring a friend....


In other news:
The product has shipped and I am packing my bags....I am heading to Tucson!  I skipped last year due to family/dog related stuff and I am tickled to be a part of  Swarovski's Create-Your-Style event this year!

My Design It/Sell It workshop with Nick Regine has sold out, but I still have a few more spaces in the Felted Flower/Crochet Necklace workshop on February 1st.  I will be in the Swarovski Ambassador room when I am not teaching, so  please stop by and say hello if you are going to be in town for the show!





In the Studio:
This last month has been all about show preparations...fine tuning tutorials, dyeing fibers, putting together kits and the like.  However, I have been noodling around an idea for a project that has me VERY excited.  In fact, this might be the perfect vehicle for stores to build that crafty community we have been talking about.  Swarovski is sponsoring an Art Quilt Contest.   You can find the details at Create-Your-Style.com.  The deadline isn't until June, so there is time....like I said, I am only  "noodling" the concept in my head at this point.  The idea won't actually become a gleam in my eye until at least late February.  But I digress.....

There theme is broad...the contestants simply need to use Swaovski elements to to design an original quilt using music as an inspiration. Perfect!   See, for several years I have had this weird obsession with  Bette Midler's rendition of Rosemary Clooney's "This Ole House."    I tend to play it during the holidays.  If you are middle aged and feeling old, with children who have flown the coop, this is THE PERFECT song to make you weep copiously as you prepare the holiday meal in preparation of the arrival of the young 'uns.  Or so I have been told.
I am also playing around with the idea of a quilt based upon "Big Rock Candy Mountain."  The imagery is just  too perfect and I can see a Rock Candy Mountain felted with Swarovski stones embedded in the fibers.  Happy sigh.  I think I know which way to go....