Long ago, before The Sims, there was just Sim City. It was simple, with flat pixelated graphics and the bare bones basic needs for developing a booming metropolis. And monsters… I think there might have been monsters. There were definitely tornadoes. Anyway…
I had heard my father say it more than once about the real world, but playing Sim City drove home the idea that I would have to spend money to make money. This is why, two decades later, I pay for on-line advertising. I try not to pay more than I can afford, but I don’t just rely on free advertising to spread the word about my business.
Don’t get me wrong. I love free advertising. LOVE IT. I also don’t love ALL the advertising I’ve paid for. Just some of it. There has certainly been some trial and error and in this case error means losing cash. Annoying yes, but worth the money for the learning experience. Now I have an idea of what works and what doesn’t and I can save my money for ads that will bring me money.
Calculated risks are a big part of running a business. There are no guarantees. We just have to put ourselves and our products out there for people to find. We have to find cost effective ways to tell potential customers why we’re the only choice for… whatever it is we do. You can start small, but expanding is often very profitable.
So this is my challenge to you: Do something small and risky for your business sometime in the next 7 days. Give yourself a $5 budget. Comment here or on Facebook and let me know how it went!
Does that sound scary? Here are two things you can try for $5. You can skip Starbucks once this week, right?
~ Create an ad on Facebook for your business’ fan page. You can set a sponsored story ad to run for 24 hours and give it a daily budget of $5. Set it up to show your ad to friends of people who already like your page.
~ Create an ad campaign on Project Wonderful. Minimum bids can be as little as 1 cent and the site will automatically suspend you ads when you run out of funds.
~ Check out Fiverr.com for more inspiration.
OK guys, now go forth and dance around in your underwear…err… I mean take some calculated risks.
In the beginning, you have an idea:
I’m gonna make widgets. And sell them! I’m gonna be rich beyond my wildest dreams!
THEN…. logistical questions happen.
This is the point where some people get overwhelmed. Other people dive right in. It depends on their personality. But it’s not a black or white thing. You can take your time. The gray area is in the research and the preparation. Some people might call this a marketing plan or even a business plan, but those terms tend to refer to formal documents. I’m just talking about brainstorming.
I met with a client once that wanted help setting up an Etsy store. I got to her house and asked what she wanted to sell.
She said, “I want to knit.”
Me: “Knit what?”
Her: “Whatever people want. Custom stuff.”
At that point we discussed the how Etsy listings are displayed, and ways she could offer custom knitting using that business model. We also discussed other on-line marketplaces. She eventually decided she wasn’t quite ready to have a shop but it could have gone either way. If she’d been ready we could have hammered out the details of her product line by the end of the session.
Because this is always where you start. When you’re ready you take your vague idea and start hammering out the who, what, where, when, how and sometimes why. Brainstom. Write it all down. Discuss it with friends. Make a plan of attack. Once you’ve done THAT then you can start working on the logistics of actually selling your widgets on-line
WARNING: Be careful, spending too much time preparing eventually becomes procrastination. The money will be made in the “doing” not the “planning.” If you find you need to be pushed out of the nest, let me know. I can give you a gentle push or a boot to the butt – your choice.
We offer in person or virtual training (Webinars) on a variety of topics. Training prices are set “per session” and not at an hourly rate. Sessions generally last 1.5 to 2 hours to prevent brain overload. Prices cover the the cost of a 1.5 hours session and any preparation and driving time on my part.
As of 4/1/2013 all private workshops are $25 per person per session! (Prices for public workshops will be determined by the cost of the venue.)
I also teach workshops that are open to the public. Prices are based on the venue. More details on my event calendar.
Happy customers are a joy. Their orders are a breeze to take, their shipments arrive without damage and they rave to all their friends about how awesome you are.
All it takes is one irrational customer to ruin a day full of great ones. On the flip side, one amazing customer can make up for a day when you’re SURE the full moon is effecting everyone you’ve spoken to all day.
So after nearly a decade of phone customer service I’ve broken unhappy customers into 4 groups. For the most part you’ll be encountering these guys after the order has been placed, but they do occasionally crop up before money has crossed hands.
Level 1: The Disappointed Customer
Something legitimately went wrong with this customer’s order. Sometimes it’s something you can fix, sometimes you can’t. Generally the disappointed customer is reasonable and willing to work with you, even meet you half way to resolve the problem.
If you made a mistake, fix the problem. If THEY made a mistake, you should do what you can, within reason, to resolve the issue. They’ll appreciate your efforts and will be more likely to leave positive feedback and shop with you again.
Level 2: The Emotional Customer
Something went wrong with this customer’s order and they’re very upset with you, whether it is your fault or not. There is an emotional component creating their frustration. It might be that your shipment didn’t make it in time to be given as a Christmas gift, or it arrived on time and was broken OR it wasn’t quite what they expected and now they can’t give it to their sick relative who was so looking forward to it.
You may need to let the customer vent before you can get anywhere near resolving the problem. Mostly because this will help you determine exactly what the REAL problem is.
IF there is actually anything you can do to resolve the problem. When there isn’t anything you can do, try some appeasement techniques. Sometimes a “one time only” partial refund out of sympathy is in order. Or a coupon for a future order if you think they’re not so mad they’ll never come back. Or a small complimentary gift as an apology for their trouble. Don’t break the bank, but a little extra effort will go a long way towards making this customer a return customer. Or at least to prevent awful feedback.
Level 3: The Entitled Customer
These customers believe that they deserve what they want handed to them on a silver platter. These customers simply don’t want to pay for your product or service, and they are going to try and scam free stuff or a refund out of you. You’ll recognize them when they ask you to give them things for free simply because “everyone does it that way” and “don’t you want to keep their business?” They will be the first to remind you that “the customer is always right”. You might hear similar things from Disappointed or Emotional Customers, but once THEY are calm they will often compromise with you. The Entitled Customer is going to keep trying to weasel that refund out of you.
Don’t assume anyone is an entitled customer right off the bat BUT keep any eye out for them. Once you’ve seen the signs put your foot down and back away as fast as possible. Resist the urge to reward these guys for bad behavior. They know they’re wrong and are going to try anyway. You’ll know you’ve won when they say “Hey, it never hurts to ask, right?”
Level 4: The Irrational Customer
Irate, angry, and unreasonable, these customers are going to be mean until they get what they want. They will say nasty things, swear at you, and threaten you to get what they want. They don’t listen to anything you have to say and nothing you do will be good enough. There is only ONE way to handle this customer. Issue them a full refund and refuse to do business with them again. Don’t require a return. If they harass you, report them. You may lose money over this, and it will be painful, but these customers are not worth the trouble. Consider the refund the cost of making that person go away.
If you’re just starting out selling your stuff it’s a good idea to have a plan in place when things go wrong. Have clear and concise policies on your site regarding payments, shipping, returns or repairs on your site. Keep them short and simple and keep any contingency plans to yourself.The bad news is that I guarantee that many customers won’t will read them before ordering. Nor will they read them before contacting you about a problem with an order. You want to have these policies in place for YOUR sake as a reference to point to when the time comes. Having to come up with a return policy on the fly is no fun.
A: Damn near every ad you see on the Internet!
The first time I mentioned pay-per-click (PPC) ads to my husband, he heard “paper click” and was REALLY confused. This was my first inkling that only people in marketing had any idea what these ads are or how they work. A Pay-Per-Click Ad is exactly that. I, the advertiser, pays each time someone clicks on my ad. The are also some ads that are Pay-Per-Impression (PPI), which usually means I would pay for every 1000 times the ad is displayed. (Some of the ads you see on-line might be affiliate ads, and they work differently. In that case the company displaying my ad only gets money if someone buys something from me.)
Money, Money, Money..
The first word in PPC is pay because, duh, these ads are not free. I’m one of thousands of people trying to get my ads shown and only a few of us can show up at a time. So the websites and advertising programs let us compete by bidding on ads. When I create a PPC ad I decide the maximum I can afford to spend on each click and I assign that as the bid for my ad. The company with the highest bid wins. The good news is we don’t always get charged the maximum bid. We get charged more than the next highest bid instead. The bad news is when companies discover they’ve been outbid, the raise their bids to compete with me.
Why you see the ads you see…
Creating PPC ads is a lot like hanging fliers around town. (PPI ads are more like billboards.) They’re going to be more effective (and cheaper) if you only put them in front of the people who are the most likely to respond to them. Sure you can put the flier for your Satanic Flea Market on a Catholic Church’s message board, but wouldn’t that flier be better off inside the local goth club?
So how does a company go about doing this on a national or global scale? Well it depends on which site we’re advertising on. Sometimes it depends on the kind of data you’re supplied to the site displaying the advertising. Other times it depends on what service the website is using. The most rare these days seems to be the ads that are hand picked by the site owner and coded right into the side bar.
I’ve broken this discussion into different parts because the more I think about it, the more I want to write. Part II is going to focus on Google Advertising and the different ways ads are chosen to appear in search results.
Search Engine Optimization for People Who Have No Idea What That Means
Marketing / Advertising on the Web 101
Please Note: This is a very simplified discussion designed for beginners. I’m going to include some of my favorite resources at the end of the article for people who are looking for something a little more advanced.
Keywords: The search terms people are most likely to use when searching for things online.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Making sure your web presence (personal site, Etsy shop, Deviations..etc) has the best and most effective keywords so that they show up in organic search results.
Organic Search Results: Normal everyday search results that weren’t paid for. No pay-per-click ads. No “sponsored”links. (Google Shopping / Product Search will NOT be organic after August 2012.)
Marketing: Everything you do to make people want to buy your products. Almost every decision you make when trying to sell something is a marketing decision. It also includes design & material choices.
Advertising: A marketing technique where you look for ways to put your product in front of to potential customers.
Where to Start:
Search Engine Optimization is the simplest, most cost effective way to get customers. This is because you create content that makes it possible for your customers to find you, and the search engines provide the links to those customers for free. Pulling this off isn’t always easy and it may require some research and then some patience. I’ve been working on SEO for my day job for years, and I’ve boiled it down to 3 steps.
Step 1: Figure out who your customers are.
Who wants what you have to sell? How much can they afford? And most importantly: What terms do they use to describe products like yours?
There are a couple of different ways to figure this out, but there is no reason not to ask the people who have bought from you already. And if you haven’t made a sale yet, talk to friends and family (preferably people who fit in your customer base) and get them to describe your items for you. If you’re already using Google Analytics or something similar*, you can see what keywords are already working in those results.
Step 2: Figure out what people are actually searching for.
Google has a Keyword Research Tool that will give you an idea how often people search for certain terms every month. It will also suggest similar terms. This will help you determine which words and phrases are going to help you the most.
People who are ready to buy often search for very specific things. Searches usually start generic and then get more specific.
For instance they may start with “dragon sculpture”, see that none of the first 1,790,000 results are anything like what they’re looking for. So the next search might be for “purple green dragon sculpture with silly face”. That only knocks the # of results down a teeny bit, but the results are more relevant.
Step 3. Create detailed and informative descriptions of your product.
Less is NOT more in the world of SEO. The more you say about your product the more chances you have of being found. Tell potential customers anything they could ever want to know about your product. Talk about the color, talk about the size, talk about your technique. You want to include the words and phrases your customers are most likely to use.
And remember you don’t have to write a flowery novel; a bulleted list is better than nothing. But you want to sound like a person when you write about your products. Imagine if a car salesman just came up to you and started barking statistics at you. If you’re not sure where to start, have someone write down what you say as you describe each item.
My Favorite SEO Resources:
HighRankings.com – They have a great newsletter and a forum on SEO that focuses on using rich content on your site.
SearchEngineNews.com – This newsletter / webzine will let you know what’s changing in the world of SEO.
* Google Analytics provides you with site metrics. In normal person speak this means it tells you how people are using your website. What pages are popular, the order they look at them, who is linking to you.
So here is the deal, I know you guys are each the 600 pound gorillas of your respective fields. I respect that I need to work WITH you in order to reach the general population that loves and trusts you. And I know, in the grand scheme of things, I will always be second best. And I can live with that.
But there is a tiny little fact that I wanted to bring to your attention. You see if you charge for a service, then the person or company you just took money from is YOUR CUSTOMER. Sure I’m not purely a customer because I’m a retailer not a consumer. But I feel that giving you money so you can provide me with a service makes me JUST as important to you as that guy over there. You know, the one in his living room benefiting from the fact that I paid you to show him the item he just bought. Yeah, the guy who can continue to use your service for free because we gave you money. THAT GUY.
So having established that I am a customer as well as a retailer, let me say that I feel I deserve decent customer service. I know you love “the guy in his living room” best. That’s why you give him stuff for free. That’s totally cool. I get it. But could you stop avoiding me and pretending you don’t need my help? Can you at least pretend every now and then that you give a damn about the quality of the service I pay for?
For instance, if you’re going to lock me out of my account for security reasons, to protect my best interests, could you send me an e-mail? It can be an automated form letter, it doesn’t have to be personalized. But don’t let me spend a week or more thinking everything is cool only to discover my account is frozen and then make me wait 3 to 5 days for billing to call me back just to tell me our credit card expired. I could have fixed that in 5 minutes if you had let me log into my account.
And if you’re going to change the information I submit to you, for the sake of the end user, could you please have someone proofread it? Or even just ask someone to become familiar with the product before making the change, rather than allow a database and a algorithm choose the “optimal information for display”? Or could you just send me another one of those automated messages telling me our content was modified – I’d happily check it over for mistakes. Because when we don’t know that information is wrong we ship it out to a customer who is expecting X, but we only carry Y. And it’s not YOU they call angrily, it’s us. It’s not you they leave nasty feedback for either.
Lastly, if you are going to live and die by the motto “The customer is always right” can you please have that apply to us sometimes? Sometimes that guy in his living room is a cheap jerk, just trying to get something for free. He could also be a nice guy, with a ton on his mind who didn’t read all the information before placing his order. I promise we don’t add information to our listings after the fact just to mess with people. Nor do we purposefully send people the wrong item just to save money. If we make a mistake we’ll fix it, but let us explain our side of the story before issuing a refund. Giving into the cheap jerks of the world just teaches them that it’s easy to get away with it.
There’s more to this, but those are my big beefs with you guys right now. I am going to continue providing the very best customer service I can, even if I never expect it from any of you in return.
- One really annoyed webmaster
So in my opinion, if you search the internet or an online marketplace like Etsy, you are bound to find three levels of hand-crafted-ness. This has nothing to do with artistic talent or quality. That is a completely different discussion and is mostly related to someone’s personal taste. It also has nothing to do with originality. Something made from someone else’s instructions / pattern is still hand crafted.
No, these levels are all based on effort and skill.
Level 1: Hand Made
To me, something is made by hand, or hand crafted if many of the materials have been manipulated by the crafter to the point that they no longer resemble their original form. Paper has been cut and folded. Clay has been thrown, painted and fired. Metal has been beaten into shape or melted and pored into a mold.
Level 2: Hand Assembled
Hand assembled is where you buy or take found objects so you can combine them in a way to create something new. The original objects were not made by you, but you glued them or strung them in such a way as to create something that didn’t exist before. Beading is the perfect example of hand assembled and can require just as much effort and time as making something from scratch. If you’re going to call your product hand assembled the component parts should result in creating some new thing. For example: Several individual beads become a necklace. Watch parts attached to ear wires become earrings.
Now, both Level 1 and Level 2 can be done poorly or sloppily and result in something the doesn’t appeal to you. You may even feel the crafter is charging way too much. But again these are matters of opinion, and if you don’t like it just move along.
Level 3: Reselling or Things that don’t fit into Level 1 or Level 2.
As I said above, crafting is all about effort and skill. And if you buy a cute little pendant and put it on a chain you bought, it does not count as hand made OR assembled. Sure technically you assembled it, but if the pendant was made specifically for hanging on something and the chain was made specifically for hanging a pendant did you really create something new? In my opinion, no. You didn’t.
A beader sits down and thinks about which beads they want to use when creating a piece. Different levels of effort and skill come into play depending on the complexity of the piece. Even the simplest string of beads is more “hand assembled” than a pre-made pendant put on a pre-made cord. Buying something and then turning around and selling it without changing it is called reselling. There is nothing wrong with reselling IF you are honest about it.
Those pre-made items may be incredibly cool looking. I own many mass produced pieces that may not have been touched by hands until they came off the assembly line. But I would be incredibly frustrated if I paid for something I thought was hand crafted, only to stumble across it on the discount rack of a mall accessory store. Or worse yet, if I bought it thinking it was a hand made original only to discover that hundreds of sellers carry it and I could have comparison shopped to get a better price.
So I’ve been looking for new eateries in the Pioneer Valley (Western MA) area*. Primarily because new, interesting places have opened near my house, but also to break up the monotony. As a creature of habit I tend to fall back on safe comfortable establishments when I’m so hungry I might eat the dog. Trying new things when I’m at my best is awesome. If I don’t like it, I can trade with a friend, order something new or pick something else up on the way home. But when I’m ravenous… well, I don’t deal with a disappointing meal very maturely.
And last night I decided to swing into one of those new places on my way home. I was a gaming widow** last night and my friends all had plans. So it was going to be an evening with my dog and my Netflix queue. Captain Jack’s Roadside Shack in Easthampton, MA is only slightly out of my way so my plan was to swing in, grab something fried and tasty and bad for me, and then head home to torture the dog by not giving him any.
Except that I got there at 7:07 pm. Jack’s closes at 7pm. ON A FRIDAY. I could almost understand closing early on a Wednesday.. but Friday? Really? Turns out Captain Jack’s is only open 11 am to 7 pm Tuesday through Saturday. I’m sure this is convenient for someone, just not me. When you work 10am to 6 pm and have a 40 minute commute, 7 pm is dinner time.
So I guess there are two lessons to be learned here.
1. I was reminded never to assume anything, including that a restaurant’s open hours will make sense to me. Therefore I should always check before heading to a new place.
2. The more opportunities people have to work with you, the more likely it is that they’ll tell their friends. Who will tell their friends… Who will tell their friends… and so on. Doing business with you should be simple and convenient and accessible. If you have an Etsy shop, make an effort to keep items listed. Custom and made to order items are better than none at all. If you have an office or a store front, try to stay open late occasionally for people with odd hours and long commutes.
Word of mouth is the most cost effective advertising there is. And you want that word to be “AMAZING!” and not “disappointed”…
* I’m planning to write reviews of these places as I try them.
** A gaming widow is a spouse who may as well be single when their significant other’s game is happening. I am a gamer that is occasionally a gaming widow, and my husband and I have different tastes in games.
Amazon allows other companies to sell through the Amazon site, which is great for small businesses because it allows them to reach people who normally aren’t comfortable buying from small internet retailers or eBay. But I digress.
The problem was once they did this Amazon got cluttered. Extremely cluttered. If lots of people were all selling the same item a customer could get overwhelmed with the choices. They may not buy at all, or they may buy from a company with horrible ratings for customer service and get treated horribly when there was a problem. Amazon didn’t want this. SO Amazon decided to launch their “One Search One Result” program. The program was intended to combine all the listings for the same thing, and basically provide customers with a quick and easy comparison page for deciding who to buy it from.
Conceptually, I LOVE this idea. However there is just one teeny tiny problem. In order for this to WORK, sellers need to provide all the same details for the product and they actually have to be *gasp* correct. And to make the matters worse, the merging of listings is an automated system and as Amazon isn’t run by an extremely powerful AI*, this doesn’t always happen properly. I’ve seen listings for can openers merged with perfume. No joke. As I work for an seller, who has to deal with error messages caused by submitting accurate information, I can tell you this is a big pain in the butt.
And now, Google Product Search is requiring the same sort of information. And I foresee it going the exact same way. Because there is a human element and because different resellers have different philosophies about writing product copy. You see, in a perfect world, everyone would provide detailed, accurate information all the time. People would confirm information with manufacturers, manufacturers would provide thorough information..etc. Instead we live in a world where the same exact product can be listed with 6 different brand names, and none of them are the actual brand name. (Some companies list their business name as the brand name, others list the reseller they bought it from, others might make up something just to fill the required field and get the product searchable…)
So what does this all mean to you?
If you’re a customer, I recommend you check and double check important product details before buying something on any website. Then check the company’s return policy and their customer service reviews. You may find yourself spending more money occasionally but you’ll be a satisfied customer more often than not.
If you’re a seller of anything, I say it’s always safer to err on the side of too much information. It may take you longer to get your inventory listed, but check and double check your details before putting them up. List everything anyone might ever want to know about the product. Think about what someone might ask you if they were standing in front of you in a store or at a craft fair. Then make sure those answers are in your product description somewhere. The absolute, all time #1 reason to do this is that it will reduce your return rate. In addition, if there is a dispute you’re more likely to win if the customer just didn’t read your details. Don’t provide the information, and it’s more than likely you’ll be found at fault.
In short? Take your time, do your research and don’t be sloppy. You’ll make more money.
* AI thoughts for geeks: I thought about saying Gladys or Wintermute here, but I decided to leave it a generic reference. In part to make the idea easier to understand to people who aren’t geeks, but also because both references would actually make Amazon’s automated merging worse. Gladys would certainly use this to perform experiments on customers and kill all of humaity. Wintermute would slowly manipulate customers into demanding that amazon and eBay merge, creating one gigantic super store. I don’t think it’d be pretty either way.