Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some great advice from HautTotes on Niche Marketing

HautTotes - Who has been around a short 6 months, is already a pretty successful seller here on Etsy with 200 sales in 6 months (great job)! She took some time to write a really good forum post about the benefits of niche marketing. I have re-posted it here for you to read and the full forum post can be read here.

HautTotes says:

"You can’t be everything to everyone, nor can you sell everything to everyone… Why I think cutting down on potential customers can increase your sales.

Though the desire to have “something for everyone” in your shop may be strong, the truth is that while niche marketing may in fact decrease your pool of potential customers, if done well it can INCREASE your sales! The key is to find (if you are a supply seller) or create a product that your accessible customers want but is unavailable or under-available from other shops.

Niche shops have the potential to be very profitable despite their small size. Most large sellers will ignore small demands leaving you with the monopoly on that product. A smaller customer base and much smaller competition base can make a lot of $ense!

Now, I’m not a marketing professional, and with only 6 months under my belt am a bit of a newbie. I have however been moderately successful here on Etsy. This morning, almost 6 months to the day from my first sale I had my 200th.

There are about 40,000 bags on Etsy tagged with “Tote” a mere 75 of those are mine. That makes me 0.001875 percent of the Etsy tote bag market. My totes average $37 and I don’t advertise. Yet I average a sale a day. How? I have a great niche! Many of the other 39,925 totes are less expensive, fancier, more complicated even prettier. What most of them also are is far more mainstream.

Not into totes? Lets take a hypothetical newbie soap maker. This soap maker when asked, “Who are you marketing to?” may answer “Anyone who is dirty.” Your fellow soapers (competition) are all looking for those same dirty people! Now what if this soap maker decided that instead of looking for ALL dirty people, they were going to spend their energy just looking for dirty babies, or dirty pets or dirty vegans… They’d have far fewer customers, but also far fewer competitors.

An added advantage is the better idea you have of who you are marketing to, the easier it will be to maximize your promotional energy and your advertising dollars (if you spend them). Developing new product ideas is also easier because you are working with a good knowledge of your target customer’s likes and dislikes.

Niche customers tend to be very loyal as well, as you are the one who has provided them with their desired item when others ignored their needs.

*** Some tips on finding your niche. ***
Etsy is (I believe) the worlds largest group of exceedingly talented artisans, no matter how talented you are; you can’t compete with them all…

Ask yourself the following questions. Answer honestly!
What do I enjoy making? What do I make REALLY well? What types of things do my current customers have in common? How do I want set myself apart from the competition? What can I offer that is better and more compelling than what my competition offers? Can I tailor my product to specific customers better?

Two last notes, don’t be afraid to venture out of your niche (especially if it isn’t working for you) and a niche can be too small. I wouldn’t invest too much energy in starting up a shop specializing in costumes for pet flies. :)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

10 guidelines for offering a great customer experience

Due to a long career in customer service, mainly in retail, there are a few rules I have come to recognize as cornerstones for good customer service. I would like to share those with you now and hear what you have to say as well. Be warned - This post is a little long, but I think very helpful.

1) Don't sell crap
Seriously! Make a product to be proud of. No matter how nice you are, if you don't make something good, no one will buy it.

2) Set clear policies
This is very important, especially for online shoppers. Vague policies can often make customers leery of buying from you since they won't know what to expect. Be as specific as possible regarding returns, refunds, exchanges, repairs, and shipping policies. Another good tactic is to put the links to your shop announcement and policies section at the bottom of each listing. Since many customers, especially people that are new to ETSY, won't think to look there. Doing this will save you and your customers a lot of headache later. Generally it will protect you should something go wrong or you get a strange request. Just make sure that none of your policies contradict ETSY's since theirs will trump yours should there ever be any question.

3) Listen and Communicate
First and foremost, listen to your customer. Do they need it in a specific size? Do they need a certain color? Do they need priority shipping? Can you gift wrap that for them? There could be any number of things that your customer may need from you. Make sure that you are listening to their needs to make sure that you offer them the best experience possible. Most requests will be reasonable and they will be grateful for anything that you can do to help them out.

Second, communicate! Do this quickly and politely. If your customers didn't want to hear from you, they wouldn't purchase from you. No, this does not mean that you can bombard them with SPAM, unwanted offers, and solicit for feedback. But it does mean that you can let them know that you have received their order, it has been shipped, they can expect it such and such a date, and here's the tracking number. If you use paypal shipping this happens automatically when you print a label and you can enter a personal message. You can also contact them to say that you see they have received their order and to thank them for their business.
Always treat conversations as if they were sales. If someone contacts you with questions, answer them. You never know why they might be contacting you or how much they will spend. They may not spend any, but they could be contacting you for information in order to feature you somewhere or recommend you to someone else. But it is guaranteed that if you don't answer, and answer promptly, that you will loose sales.
Also, include thank you notes. It doesn't have to be anything long and drawn out. Even a colorful post-it note with a "Thank you!" and a smiley face on it will do. Personal communication never fails to go a long way.

The way you communicate says a lot about who you are as a seller. If you don't communicate quickly and pleasantly, and listen to what you customer has to say, then what does that say about how prompt you are with shipping? Will the order come in as asked? How will you react if something goes wrong with the order? Over the internet you don't have much change to make a good impression. So a first is all you may get. People are very guarded buying from individuals because they never really know who their dealing with. It isn't like a giant corporation with headquarters to contact and reputation to uphold. Yes, ETSY has admin to contact and a reputation, but they leave much up to the individual seller, so there is a lot that can go wrong. Communicating with your customer eagerly and amicably will help gain you a lot of trust and earn you repeat sales.

4) Exceed expectations
Imagine this, you place an order for a gift for a friend of yours. You contact the seller to let them know that you need it by X date. You receive the product two days earlier than expected, it is already gift wrapped with a pretty tag on it, there is a thank you note inside, and there is a little thank you gift for you in there as well. How do you feel?
It never hurts to go the extra mile, ever! Your customer will be blown away if you just provide the teeniest bit extra than they expected. Maybe that means gift wrapping something. Or, getting a custom order done a shipped a day early. It could also mean refunding shipping cost that you didn't use, or offering them a little extra gift. The power of going out of your way to get an extra smile out of purchase should never be underestimated. Your customers will appreciate all the extra work you put into their purchase and will be sure to come back in the future.

5) Admit when your wrong
We are human and mistakes happen. You know this, and your customer knows this. That being said, if you are honest about you mistakes and offer to go above and beyond to fix the problem, 99.9% of the time your customers will be accommodating and understanding. Case in point, I had a customer purchase something and upon trying to package up their order, I realized it had been misplaced. I contacted them IMMEDIATELY letting them know that their was a problem. I needed to know if the item was a gift, would they mind waiting a couple days to see if I could locate the item, and if not, I would PROMPTLY offer them a refund or a chance to exchange the item. The person was very accomodating. In the end I wasn't able to locate the item they had asked for, but offered them two other items for the price that they paid originally and they were very happy to accept the compromise.
Life happens. If is inevitable. The point is that if you don't communicate with your customer about problems, then you will end up with more headaches then you would have had you taken care of the problem in the beginning. There have been plenty of horror stories about sellers not getting back to people. and the anger and frustration that it creates. And this not only hurts your business, but everyone's. Because now that person is always going to wonder when they are going to get screwed next.
Now, if mistakes happen often, then you should take a hard look at whether or not owning a business and offering a product or service is really for you. It is not for everyone, and if you just don't have the time or patience to honor your responsibilities then maybe this isn't for you. And that's ok. It may be disappointing, but it is also an opportunity to try something else.
And a last note on this, never deprive your customer the opportunity to leave feedback. If you made the mistake, then you deserve whatever feedback you get. There is always this Kiss and Make Up feature. But when you own your own business, unhappy customers is a risk that you take.

6) If it's broke, fix it
9 times out of 10 you should follow this rule. Make it clear in your shop policies what you will do for repairs. If you make fragile products, either make insurance in your shipping mandatory, or state clearly that this product is buy at your own risk. If you don't sell something fragile, that is still breakable, if it breaks fix it. My policies state clearly that if something breaks within 6 months, I will fix it. And even if something breaks after that, I will probably still fix it, because that's good business practice. There are exceptions to every rule and that's up to you to decide what the exceptions for your business might be, but generally your customers will be pleased when you fix something that has been broken in either shipping, or during wear.

7) ALWAYS be respectful
Remember you are dealing with PEOPLE, not dollar signs. Behind every bill that goes into your Paypal account there is a person who worked for that dollar and spent it on you, or may spend it on you. Yes, there are rude people, and yes they will somehow invariably search you out and contact you will the sole purpose of being rude. But, what does that say about you as a seller and as a person if you are rude back? There are also people who just plain don't know about your product, the time you spend on it, and the quality that matches the price tag. Be polite all the time, NO MATTER WHAT.
Working in retail, I was constantly yelled at, complained to, and sometimes called names. But never ever was I rude back. Simply state what you policy is, what the product entails, and why it is the way it is. And politely tell them that if they are unhappy with your policy that there are plenty of other shops on ETSY that may be able to accommodate them and you wish them luck with their future purchase.
If it is someone who already purchased a kind attitude is even more important. Listen to them, respond to them, and no matter how unhappy with you they are, always be personable. If the person is completely out of line, report them to ETSY abuse. If you were the one that was polite then ETSY is more likely to side with your side and the issue more easily resolved.

8) Don't Whine
I am constantly in the forums reading what's going on. And nothing turns me off more than whiny sellers. And sellers aren't the only ones in the forums. Buyers are in there all the time as well. As a buyer and a seller, I would not buy from a seller that constantly complained about low views, no sales, blah blah blah.... You own a business, part of that is sometimes having a down time. If that's the case I would rather hear about what can be done to promote, what goals do you have, what kind of plans people are making to improve things. Not a bunch of crab-a^^ing about ETSY not putting you on the front page, or not being in the gift guides or blaming other people for your bad sales. Successful sellers will add more items. create a new line, reach out for help, create a blog, anything that will improve their customer base and get them seen by more people. They will WORK HARDER to move their shop forward, not spend valuable time complaining.

9) DON'T SPAM!!!!!
I hate buying from a company and as soon as my purchase goes through my inbox is full of "This on sale" or "You must buy this" or any other number of offers. If you would like to keep in touch with your customers, start a newsletter that they can subscribe to. You can include this option when you confirm an order and let that be the only time you offer it to them. If they don't accept then, they know how to contact you at a later time. I don't personally do this, but I know of many sellers that do and it works out pretty well for them.
WARNING - if you do SPAM and it is reported, ETSY can suspend your account.

10) Don't make promises you can't keep
If you can only make it to the post office to ship twice a week, don't say you offer next day shipping.
If you only offer something in one color, don't say the item can be modified.
If you promise that an item that requires customization will be ready in three days, make sure it's ready in three days.
Your customers will hate you if you continually break promises to them. Know yourself and your limits and work with-in them. If you offer honest service, even if it may take little longer and you communicate that, your customers will be happy because they will buy knowledgeably.

In the end, all of these come down to one golden rule - HONESTY. If you offer a good honest product at a good honest price with honest customer service, your customers will never be let down and your business will thrive. If you are a dishonest seller, your business will eventually tank faster than the Titanic.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An awesome tool I bought on etsy...

And if you own an etsy shop I totally recommend it.

While hanging out on craftcult looking at my new views (a new feature that I totally love) I saw and ad that caught my eye. It was an add for spreadsheets to help me keep track of my etsy business. Now, I have seen plenty of these before I hadn't been impressed yet. But, I clicked on the add to check it out and I am so glad that I did!

A browse through the seller's page told me that I had finally found something that might actually work that I didn't have to make myself. There were a whole bunch of tools that I could use, in and out of etsy. Some were a little pricey, but after using them, they are worth every penny. I deliberated for a week to make sure that it was something I would really use, constantly clicking on the could items I was considering purchasing. I finally bit the bullet, bought, and couldn't be happier.

The seller was awesome to work with, accommodating and friendly, and helped me personalize it to better fit what I needed. Below are some screen shots from some of the products from the shop. You can view the whole shop here.

These are from the jewelry double pack, which is a business management program and a raw materials program. There are tons of others which will work for craft fairs, non jewelry sellers, helping with taxes, profit and loss, and even a gift card tracker. I highly recommend everything this seller has to offer! MissSideburns - you have totally made my day!

Wow, I have really neglected by blog....

Sorry about the hyadis (if that's spelled right) folks! I'm not sure what happened there. From now on I'm going to try to keep up with this whole blogging thing much better. Thanks for sticking around and waiting for me to those who follow!