People often write to me for advice about how to start or improve their indie businesses. When I get asked a certain question multiple times, I write a blog post for it so others can see, too. This blog post originally appeared here.
Recently on Tumblr, someone asked me about how to get their Etsy shop noticed. I get this question every now and again, so I thought I would write a blog post about how to start spreading the word about your shop/brand/business. I don’t know of any special magic, and my shop is certainly not the most popular or anywhere near there, but here are some initial ideas if you’re just starting out. I’ve never done anything super fancy, so all my advice is kinda basic, but it has worked for me so far!
The first thing that comes to my mind is how I’d often get asked a similar question wheh working in publishing. “What’s the secret to making a bestseller?” Well, if there were a secret, and if we (or anybody, even the publishers) knew that secret, then all the books would be bestsellers. Let’s face it. There are duds. You could be the dud.
1. Be a trend-setter not a trend-follower – I say this a lot in blog and magazine interviews, but I believe it super strongly. Be unique. Don’t just see something popular and think, “Hey, I can do that,” and just put MORE of the same thing into the universe. Add something new! Add something YOU! That’s how you will become memorable. Not everyone will love your work; some people will even hate it (years and years ago, someone in an online crochet group said my old-school rocket pop scarf was stupid and looked like a penis). But you will be memorable if you make the effort to be creative (who’s laughing now, penis-hater?!). If you are the only person making a certain thing at a certain time, people will HAVE to go to you for that special product.
When I first started, I googled and searched all over eBay (Etsy wasn’t really a thing yet and totally not on my radar in 2005) to see if I could find anyone else who was making what I wanted to make. My mom was like, “Maybe you should focus more on colors that remind people of food, rather than actually crocheting scarves that look like food.” Moral: it’s ok to be weird. It’s probably good to be weird, even if everyone hates your peas-n-carrots scarf, and you never make one ever again in the history of ever.
2. Have a voice – Sometimes I’ll browse Etsy shops and feel like their products are all over the place. I’m not saying you have to pigeon hole yourself, but … I sort of am. In the early stages of your business, I think it’s important for people to be able to easily associate your brand with a particular style, philosophy, aesthetic, and/or product.
“Crocheted, food-themed scarves” is pretty specific as a focus, but I think it really helped people to remember my work and who I was. When I worked in an office, I used to DIY random and weird gifts for my boss. She was always hounding me to open a store. But my crafting was really unfocused, and I didn’t feel like I had a THING to offer the world yet. It took a while to find my THING, but I think it was worth the wait.
3. Don’t hate the internet – I know people who are like, “Ugh, I hate the internet. Twitter is dumb. I have no use for blogging.” While blogging and social media aren’t natural funtimes for everyone, I think it’s foolish to completely ignore the powerful tool that the Internet can be. Get into it. Use it to market yourself and your brand. Use it to find others like you. Find your people. Form a posse. You might like it. A lot of the opportunities I’ve encountered have come from befriending other bloggers and crafters. There’s a real community out there, and it’s waiting for you!
Blogging and social media are 2-way streets, unless you are already famous. While creating content for your own blog, also take the time to read other people’s blogs, comment on them, leave your website URL everywhere. If there’s a spot for a company name or website while I’m ordering stuff online, even just personal clothing items, I always stick my business URL in there. When I was on the Sharpei Forums, trying to figure out all of Bibi’s health issues, I stuck my url in my profile, and some people from the forum purchased stuff from my shop. You never know who is watching. You don’t have to be obnoxious about it. It’s just a little hint. That’s how I got friendly with the gals of the former All-Mighty clothing brand. And that’s also how I got a nice note from a yarn site I ordered yarn from. They were like, “We checked out your site, and we love your work!” But then in different handwriting there was another note that said, “Your photo gallery gave us a virus.” Ooops. (Don’t worry. We fixed it.)
5. Be a real person – I think that people like getting to know the person behind the brand, especially for a small/indie business. We all have certain boundaries as far as what we want to share on the internet, but your customers are likely to connect to you more if there is a YOU to connect to. Being a little personal also creates a sense of a lifestyle – be it cute, or colorful, or elegant, or weird – and not just an item, that people will want or admire.
I started blogging before I had a business. I’ve always loved stories and learning from other people and became enchanted with the whole idea of hunkering down with some stranger’s blog and getting a glimpse into someone’s life. If all your posts and Tweets are business-related and boring, people might not want to follow you anymore. Show your personality. Share a picture of your cat. There are people who like cats. There are actually a kabillion people who like cats. I have dogs, but I still do okay.
The other reason why I like blogging is that it is a way for me to feel connected to my customers and provide new content or stories on a more regular basis than I can churn out crochet product. My chosen craft is pretty time-consuming, and I can’t list a new item everyday on Etsy, but I -can- make the effort to tell you guys a funny story!
6. Think about how YOU discovered your new favorite indie brand – A solid way to approach your business is from your customers’ perspective. How do you, as a customer, discover a new brand, fall in love with a new company, become a repeat-buyer/visitor, etc? DO THOSE THINGS. Did you find a new brand through a Twitter giveaway? Or by clicking on a cute little ad on your favorite blogger’s side bar? Or at a local craft fair? Or from a pin on Pinterest? Or in a small ad at the back of BUST Magazine? Or from a fun video on YouTube? Or from some kind of contest? DO THAT. What is it about your favorite indie brand/company that you love so much? Can you incorporate some of those elements in your own company? For instance, cool photography, cute packaging, fun social media, detailed and unique item descriptions, promotional videos, etc etc. This is sort of related to and bleeds into the next point:
7. Diversify your portfolio – If you’ve tried one way to promote yourself, and it doesn’t work, don’t give up! Try something else. For some businesses, making cool YouTube vidoes or vlogging is a successful tool. For others, it’s posting photos on Tumblr. And others, attending craft fairs and art walks. There’s all sorts of different stuff out there, so research it, and try it! You just might not have found your -thing- yet.
You really have to be active about promoting your work, unless you are super duper lucky and awesome and people just come to you. We can’t all be super duper lucky and awesome, so some of us have to try out a lot of different things to see what works for us. Like, Tumblr isn’t really working for me, and I think I’ve been really trying. I’m a Twitter-girl (edit: an Instagram-girl). For a while, I hated Facebook for my business, but I’ve changed my attitude about it and make an effort to post regularly – and not just copy/paste my blog entry URLs – to see if I can connect to more people, and just changing my attitude really made a material difference. My Tumblr is still pretty much a ghost-town, though. Tumblrweeds. But it can work for other people.
There are a million other tips, like posting on Etsy everyday, maintaining a mailing list, making all your branding cohesive, taking good photos, hiring a street team, etc etc, but I just threw out some general, broad strokes to get you going.
Also remember that there isn’t just one answer to all of this, and many of us may arrive at a similar place from very different paths. You know they say you gotta pay your dues. I still feel like I am paying mine. BIG TIME! Keep at it, though! If you don’t try, you’ll never know.
I sort of feel like I ought to bang out 3 more tips so I can have 10 altogether, but now I’m just sitting here staring at my monitor.
8. Get yourself on a reality show.
9. Have a snack. Keep your energy up.
10. Be nice.