01 October 2016
The Reality of Selling Craft Online
Whether you’re new to selling your own creations, or you’re a seasoned market stall holder, a move to start selling your art online is a big step. It may seem like a no-brainer;
You’ll reach a larger (global) audience of consumers.
You won’t have to spend your weekends selling at markets, which means more time creating.
However, the notion that you can pop a few photos up on a website and your items will sell themselves while you sit back and watch the money roll in, is (sadly) not the reality. Business, no matter what kind, will always involve effort.
And while I’m in the process of bursting bubbles, I’ll add that you’re going to like some bits of your online business less than others, but if you do your research and have a realistic idea of what is involved from the outset, and build the necessary skills, you’re going to save yourself a lot of time, money, and disappointment, and set yourself up for success.
Everything you need to consider to effectively sell online is more than I can cover in one blog post – (and far more than I claim to know), so following are just a few aspects to think about.
Choosing an Online Selling Platform
The online world offers an array of different selling platforms. You can secure a domain name and create your own website, you can sell on a marketplace like Made It or Ebay or Etsy, or you can employ a combination of these options simultaneously. Each has benefits and drawbacks, which I’ll cover only briefly here.
YOUR OWN WEBSITE
Having your own website is a great way to present a more cohesive brand story and a more professional identity. It also allows you to create a blog to attract a loyal audience and build trust with buyers, and there are now loads of platforms out there that will allow you to build professional looking websites for free.
Once you add a shop checkout, you will generally start to incur costs on most platforms (plus domain name registration fees when you want your own domain name) but if you are serious about building your brand and your business, then some investment is inevitable.
The main challenge of having your own website is that it takes significant time (and sometimes money) to manage your own site, and grow a substantial amount of traffic to your site.
You’ll need to learn about search engine optimisation (SEO), you’ll need to invest money in effective advertising, you’ll need to generate engaging content, and above all you’ll need to be patient. You’re unlikely to see thousands of visitors overnight.
Online marketplaces are a simple and low-cost way to get access to large numbers of traffic without the wait.
Many marketplaces allow your own store branding so you can still build your brand name, they provide tools like checkout, invoicing, and inventory management to help you process and manage orders, plus varying degrees of free and paid marketing opportunities.
You have to work extra hard on your branding when selling on marketplaces so that
your brand name is what people remember
rather than just the name of the marketplace, and although you generally reach more traffic, you can get lost in a sea of your competitors, so your research, branding, photography etc. is all the more important to ensure you stand out.
CONSIDER A COMBINATION
As there are drawbacks and benefits to each type of platform, I recommend taking a multifaceted approach and using more than one.
For example, you might set up a free Wordpress website for your blog, to build an email subscriber list, display some of your artwork, and present a professional brand image, and include a link to your storefront on one or multiple online marketplaces to manage transactions.
Of course, the more selling platforms you use, the more work is involved to manage them, but in exchange, you reach more potential buyers. Just keep your branding consistent.
No matter what selling platforms you choose, social media marketing is something you’re going to need to familiarise yourself with.
Social Media is essentially a toolkit of free marketing and brand development opportunities and omitting this toolkit from your business activities is like cooking a BBQ without a pair of tongs – it’s possible, but you’re making life hard for yourself and you’re likely going to get burned.
So, assuming you like to BBQ with the appropriate tools, you’re going to want to be active on social media to help direct traffic to your store, establish a brand identity, and build a loyal following.
Don’t try to be on every social media platform there is. You’re better off to choose a couple that suit your business goals and your products, and where you are likely to find your target audience and do those well.
For handmade and design products, the more visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest tend to be particularly well suited.
Be sure to create brand-specific pages on each social media platform you use; create a business page or profile rather than just plugging your products using your personal social media profile.
The idea is to extend your network beyond your family and friends and your followers are interested in your creative brand rather than your personal life.
Even if you are your brand, you need to carefully manage the persona you put forward to the public with your social media strategy
so it is best to keep this separate from the profiles you use to espouse political ideals or share pictures of your kids and your last vacation.
Pricing Your Products
So many creators make the mistake of under-pricing their products in order to be more competitive. If your product is selling because it is the cheapest, but you’re not making any profit, or worse – you’re making a loss – then those sales really aren’t helping your creative business succeed.
Under-pricing also devalues artisan crafts as a whole. Price wars are for factories and retail chains, not for boutique crafters and independent designers.
So, while research into the price range of similar products is useful in understanding your competition, it is more important to be honest with yourself about your true overheads and determine the value of your time.
When calculating the production cost of your items, be sure to include not only raw material costs, but also the cost of packaging, consumables, utilities, tools, web design, hosting fees, sales commissions and anything else that contributes to the cost of making an item.
For example, if you’re a potter, true production cost is not just the cost of your clay and glaze, but the cost of your kiln and other tools, the cost of electricity to run said kiln, plus the rent and/or insurance on your creative space should all be included.
You should also then calculate an hourly rate to charge for your time, and this should be reflective of the skills that you bring to the work you are doing, just as if you were working for someone else. Don’t forget to include all time invested to source supplies, create, photograph, list and market your product, and run your business, as part of your total cost price.
After all this calculation you’ll probably be surprised how much each of your items really costs to produce, and you’ll need to add a profit margin to that if your business is to make a profit, although hobbyists may stop at just charging for their time.
There are plenty of people out there who are willing to pay more than K-Mart prices for handmade, locally crafted, ethical and unique products – you just have to be willing to do your research to identify who and where they are, and then brand and market your products accordingly.
Finding Your Niche
Unique and special as you are, you are probably not the first person to have this idea of selling your handmade jewellery / soap / candles / toys etc. online. While the world wide web gives you access to a much larger audience than your local craft market, you’re also going to be competing with a lot more vendors, so researching your niche and finding your point of difference, (what makes you, your brand, and your product stand out from the crowd), becomes even more important.
This is an area that lets down so many creatives when they first try selling online. You’re excited about the prospect of selling your wares online because you know you’ve got a great product, so you take a quick snap on your phone and upload the image and voila – the sales should start any minute.
But they don’t.
When you’re at the markets, have you ever noticed that people rarely make a purchase without either picking up or at least touching one of your items first? If you sell candles, most people will pick them up and smell a few before buying.
The need to see, touch and experience your product in as many ways as possible is a vital part of the process to convert a browser to a customer, and when shopping online, customers can’t touch or smell your items so it is absolutely vital that your photographs clearly show your product in as much detail, and from as many angles as possible.
Your product photos are also an opportunity to evoke a mood or an image for your product and your whole brand, so it getting right is worth-while. It can be daunting at first if you’re not a photographer but you can start simple, with a plain background and just focus on getting the lighting, and build your way up to styling your shots and experimenting with different looks.
You don’t need a heap of expensive equipment to get great photos and a smart phone and some free online editing tools are generally all it takes to get started.
Unfortunately the cost of postage in Australia is quite high due to the vast distances goods have to travel, and parcel postage in particular, is getting more expensive.
High postage costs can be a real deterrent to online shoppers so it is important to do your research and ensure that you select the most efficient packaging and postage options for your products.
There are some emerging low-cost parcel carriers like Sendle that offer much cheaper rates than regular mail services, although their services are not yet available everywhere.
You’ll also want to ensure that your items are well packaged to reduce the cost of replacing damaged items and of course, to keep your customers happy. And if you don’t include insurance in your standard level of postage, it is a good idea to include this as an optional extra for customers who want the extra reassurance.
If you’re still with me, then that’s a good indication that you’re willing to put in the hard yards to make your online handmade venture a success, and that’s great.
The above is far from an exhaustive list and you should use it as a starting point for further research, however, don’t research yourself into a corner either. There’s loads of information out there, and you don’t have to know it all and perfect everything before you get started.
Get a handle on these basics, do some planning, then jump in and give it a try – experimentation is a great way to learn!
Louise (a.k.a. “Mrs Made It”)
Wordsmith, art & craft enthusiast, and grand-visionary.