This is for those of you who are thinking about setting up an online business selling the things that you make. I'm a graphic designer/illustrator/artist and I sell my prints via my online shop here and through Etsy. I started selling online in 2014 and below are some thoughts that will hopefully help you along the way. Some may resonate more than others depending on your trade so pick and choose what you pay attention to. In no particular order and as concisely as my meandering mind will allow, here goes:
Don’t wait until everything is perfect before starting. In every small business there is a time where you have one idea, one product, one customer - it’s the natural step to getting two customers and so on. Take an agile approach, it worked for me. If my husband hadn’t given me this piece of advice I would still be faffing around with the shadows on the very first piece of work I did.
2. Don’t aim for perfection
Perfection doesn’t exist. Know when your make is finished and move on. Use that momentum and energy and put it into your next make. None of my work is perfect; it is simply a product of me and my skills on that day/week/month.
3. Make stuff that people want
it's true that people don’t owe you a living. You need to make things that others want or need, so you may need to adapt. I started off drawing in pen and ink. These were detailed and intricate hand drawn images but sadly they didn’t connect with people. It doesn’t matter how much I liked drawing them, simply not enough people wanted them on their wall. Therefore I changed tack and have found myself a little corner of the market where I draw the places/hobbies/things that people care about. Try to take time to get to know your audience and really listen to what they are telling you (even if that's through their silence).
4. Seek feedback
If you have someone in your life that will give you honest feedback on your work then keep them close. Having others cast a critical eye over your business will be priceless. Make sure it is someones opinion you trust and be thankful for their willingness to share their thoughts with you especially when they know it’s not what you’d hoped to hear. On the flip side, know when to stick to your guns. Over time your confidence will grow and you will trust your own instincts more but until then be grateful to anyone willing to be ‘the bad guy’ to help you improve. And when you have some success no matter how small, make sure to include them in the celebrations.
5. Don’t expect too much from your customers
Just because they bought one thing from you six months ago doesn’t mean they need to support your business for the rest of their lives. Try not to guilt your customers into buying more; leave them alone. If you exceeded expectations the first time then they will be sure to remember you and come back on their terms.
6. Product photography
This is crucial. You won’t sell anything online if you have bad photos of your products. There are hundreds of articles on this out there covering all aspects - from taking pictures on your phone to hiring a product photographer. There’s no one size fits all here so do some research and find the approach that works for you. (Tip - if you are photographing frames at home, take the glass out to avoid glare).
7. Social media
Full disclosure - I’m rubbish on social media. I mainly moan about politics on Twitter, post boring pics on Instagram and only check in with Facebook once in a blue moon to promote irregular and overly long blog posts (like this one). Don’t do what I do. However, I do know what I like. The people I enjoy following on social media are those who allow me a little peek behind the curtains. I love seeing messy studios, paintings going wrong, homely traybake on chipped formica worktops, kids' toys in the background, people doing yoga in pyjamas. Just regular people having a good go at stuff; it’s fascinating. And one last tip - get your face in the post and it will connect with people so much more. People want to see the essence of the person doing the making. No amount of carefully cropped pack shots will make that connection.
You are your unique selling point. Shoehorn as much of you into your work as you can. People buy from people.
Even in times where money is tight, people still often want to buy gifts for others. I take a lot of care to wrap my prints in a way that they can easily be given as a gift. I sense I get a good proportion of repeat custom because of this. Try to think of things that you can do to help a potential customer choose you. Everyone wants reassurance that they've made a good decision, so presenting and posting out your work with care and attention is a good move.
10. Play nicely
Being nice is underrated. Being a decent person can be one of your best weapons in business. Support your peers. Shop independent. Champion other small businesses and spread the love - there’s room for all of us.