Marketing Strategy for Your Etsy or Online Business

In the post, So You Wanna Start an Etsy Shop, I discussed the basics behind setting up a small online shop. That was basically a list of a bunch of things you need to think about/prepare before you start selling. This time I'm going to discuss marketing strategy. I will start by saying that before I had my shop I worked a stint in PR and then worked in the editorial side of marketing for a few years before pursuing other things. My specialties in marketing were content creation, copywriting for ads, social media and blog management, and newsletters. My skills are a couple years out (I left in 2010) but I learned enough to be more than competitive for a small shop. So what is marketing? Is it the same as advertising? What about PR?

Companies sometimes define these differently and in my experience many people within companies thought all of these were the same, but they're not. For our purposes we are going to define marketing as your overall plan or strategy for getting your company's name / message out there to your audience. Your marketing strategy can encompass advertising, PR, social media etc. Advertising are paid announcements (whether done online, on TV, radio, or print) - you pay for a spot and generally write your own material. Public relations in the context of a business is to manage your public image (hopefully so it's positive as often as possible) but in terms of a small business like an Etsy shop, I'll define PR as the free press you get. When I worked in PR my job was to let news, magazine, tv, radio editors all know about technology companies I represented. My goal was to get them interested in the companies and/or their products so they would write about them (so we would NOT pay for these stories). In the grand scheme of marketing, free stories about your company are seriously the best. You get your name out there and hopefully more business, and you didn't have to pay for anything - awesome! That's not to say that publicity you drum up through stories featuring you are without work. Sometimes you get lucky and someone finds you and you find out after the fact (happened to me, was amazing but stressful because I was successful overnight), and sometimes you have to reach out to people who you think would be interested in what you have to offer.

So how should I market my company?

How you start marketing an Etsy shop or small online business is up to your time constraints and comfort level - confidence in yourself as a seller and confidence in yourself as a marketer. If you have experience in either sales or marketing then do what you can before you launch your business to get your name out there. Start announcing on your company FB & Twitter, hold a grand opening party or sale, advertise on a blog or magazine that targets your audience etc. If you're a newb to all of this, you might not want to draw too much attention to yourself all at once and take a more gradual approach. If you're a newb you might be more comfortable waiting to really market until you have a few sales or a few feedback under your belt - you've worked out your business kinks and are ready to get to the next level.

When you are ready to devote time to your marketing strategy, start off with a plan. First you should write down what your goals are - do you need to drum up sales? are you trying to bring in wholesale orders? what is your end goal here? Once you have that figured out, figure out a budget for how much you're willing to spend on ads, and also make a budget of your time. You can seriously get sucked into this stuff (social media especially) so make sure you stick to your desired time allotment. Once you have goals and a budget, now is the time to get creative with the different ways you can get your message out there. I recently launched 5 new perfumes. Here is what my plan included:

1. Start teasing new perfumes via social media and blog several weeks before launch.

2. Post pictures of the new perfumes (close ups of labels). I did this on Twitter, FB, and Instagram

3. A few days before launch, posted a FB message telling people to sign up for my newsletter to receive a special discount code for the new perfumes (I got 50 sign ups from this).

4. Blog posts on the history behind the new perfumes posted on my shop website, and this blog.

5. Designed and sent out a newsletter email to my subscribers. It contained links to the blog posts I had written about the perfumes and a discount code for being newsletter subscribers. (I had a 60% open rate and a 30% click rate which is unheard of. The industry avgs are 15.2% and 2.1% respectively. Part of the reason for this is 1. people were expecting it since I talked about it on social media 2. I don't send out emails often so when people who hadn't heard about the new perfumes saw an email from me they were intrigued 3. I make it easy for people to opt in or out of newsletters, no pressure, I only want people who want to hear from me!).

6. After the newsletter subscribers all had their turn, I told all my social networks that the new perfumes were up for purchase. I also decided to spent $5 on FB ads to reach more people that had not previously heard of me or liked my page. This made it so my post was viewed by an extra 2k people and resulted in 15 new likes on my page (a good amount considering it was a post about a perfume launch). Update: See below about my new thoughts on FB ads.

I don't want to talk specific numbers, but this was an extraordinarily successful campaign. It cost me $5 and a total of maybe 2 hours(writing). I had not anticipated it would go so well. But when I say marketing plan, this is what you need to do. Write out all the things you can / will commit to doing and then do them. This was for a product launch, here are some ideas on how to start marketing a brand new store (I'm writing as things come to me so these aren't necessarily in order):

Facebook ads (to start out maybe budget under $50, have a really nice photo and a snappy description. Make sure you're using keywords that will hit your demographic and you can get lots of likes. This is an important start to what will hopefully become a robust network of people who care about your stuff.) So after I posted this, a friend of mine sent me a video with some really troubling info about Facebook ads. The gist of it is that Facebook has a click farm problem and paying for ads there are not worth it in terms of engagement. As such I'm no longer going to recommend purchasing ads on there. I have had some success with post boosts but I only use them when I have sales and spend about $5. I target those to people who already like my page however. So if you do decide to purchase ads on FB first, watch the video, and second make sure that you only spend small amounts. Be cautious. Watch the video on Youtube.

Etsy ads (as I said in the other blog post, these aren't moneymakers so only spend a little. These are good solely for getting your shop at the top of the page and into people's consciousness.)

Google Adwords - I haven't really used these but other people swear by them. Look into it, and also set up Google Analytics while you're at it. Great tool for tracking your traffic and referrals.

Tutorials on your blog (blogs are really important! They give people a chance to know you better and you can talk about other subjects of interest so you can relate to people on more than one level than just your products). Never underestimate the value of free content. I recommend wordpress - easy to use, lots of widgets to download, and like Etsy, it's a community of blogs so you have some built in traffic.

Social Media Buttons - this is simple and free. Etsy integrates with Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest (not sure about instagram yet but I imagine they will if they don't already). You can put these on your blog or on your website. Make it easy for people to find you and follow you

Discount Codes / Grand Opening sale - self explanatory, helps encourage people to try you out

Newsletters - This is more for when you are established and have a list of people who have purchased or are otherwise interested in your shop. Etsy and other ecommerce sites like Shopify integrate with Mail Chimp which is seriously SO EASY to use and free! It's a great tool. Just make sure not to spam people by emailing every time you have a thought. Emails are great ways to let people know about discounts or promotions, or any other important news about your store.

Giveaways - Before I had a real service for giveaways I'd just list on FB or my blog what I had to give away and whoever was first to email got the perfume. It was really inefficient however and not fun to write back to all the people who didn't win. I started using Punchtab which integrates with my Shopify store and what I like about that is it rewards people who share your store. So they get more entries to the giveaway by signing up for your newsletter, and posting on twitter or fb etc. Lots of visibility the more shares you get.

Sample Boxes - You've heard of things like BirchBox, well there are loads of boxes that feature handmade makers. A lot of them go through Etsy and will convo you about appearing in their box. This is a great way to get your name out but make sure you research the box first. There are lots of bloggers (more on that below) and box curators who are just in it for free stuff. If you choose to do a box and they are not paying you for your samples (you should be paid for your work! don't undervalue yourself!), at least make sure they have a good following on social media and a nice looking blog. Check that people comment on their blog too. If no one ever comments and they have less than 100 followers on different social media platforms, that's not a whole lot of promotion for you to be giving things away. I like IndieGiftBox, which as I've mentioned, featured me last year and then my sister in law recently took over when it went up for sale. Check them out.

Etsy Teams (Especially BNR/BNS when you're just starting out) - There are whole teams dedicated to just promotion, just to blogs, just to buying from each other (BNR/BNS). This is absolutely something you should do when you're starting a new Etsy shop. These people will give you feedback, heart your items (which in turn makes it so that everyone in their network can see it too), and give you a place to link to your new items/talk about your shop. To read more about BNR/BNS and how they work, check out the previous post. (I definitely recommend doing those as part of your initial advertising budget).

Review Items / Forging Relationships with Bloggers - This is something I've only done for myself a little bit (because I'm lazy and haven't really needed to yet) but I had to do this a lot in my old jobs. If you don't follow already, you should make a list of 10-20 top blogs, or publications, or youtube channels, or social media networks (etc) that cover what you make. So for me, I make perfume based on historical and literary figures, my list would include perfume blogs, youtube channels in which the host is interested in makeup/perfume, websites for booklovers, and websites for history lovers. After you make the list, start checking out their social media pages, Facebook and Twitter, and join the conversation. The more you interact with them the more likely that the person running the page will acknowledge you back. If they don't ask you specifically for your product to review (and they might or might not) after you've been commenting and interacting for a while (and hopefully you've researched how they like to be approached whether via email or contact form) you can write them a quick message introducing yourself and explaining why they and their audience might be interested in your wares. Be sure to tell them you understand that they may choose not to cover you but you are willing to send your product anyway. If they're into it, score! Hopefully they do write about you. Anyway, that's the simplified version of PR in a nutshell. Once you've made a friend/connection in one of those places you can go back to them if you have new products etc, but again DON'T SPAM, DON'T BE PUSHY, JUST DON'T BE THAT PERSON. Conversely, if bloggers approach you asking for products so they will review, be selective and research the person. Just like with the boxes, if they have a blog that doesn't have a theme, they just review random stuff and don't have a big audience on social media, they might just be a person who gets free stuff in exchange for a review. If you want the review so you can point people there, go for it. But random reviews on random blogs do not have the same power as something on a major blog or website. Unless the person is really good at SEO, it won't even show up in Google search. In that case, pass. If however it's from a major blog, JUMP FOR JOY. But also keep in mind they may end up not reviewing you because it doesn't work out in their editorial schedule (cough cough Barnes and Noble). The tl;dr of this section is: interact with others, always check followers and demographics, and go into these partnerships without solid expectations (you're not paying for advertising in these cases so nothing is set in stone).

SEO and Keywords - SEO means search engine optimazation which is a fancy way of saying "Way for Google to find you." I am not an expert in SEO so I won't go into too much technical detail but basically what you want to do is write your product descriptions and all your web pages, blogs, tags, and links (notice how when you hover over links it has text that pops up?) with strong keywords so that people find you. The more specific you can be the better. For me keywords like "book perfume," "handmade perfume," "perfume on Etsy" etc work well, as do my specific ingredients e.g. "tea perfume," "jasmine perfume." That's not to say that you should just write those words 5000 times on every page - it's really annoying when people do that because it doesnt make sense and you can tell they're trying to game the system. But for example, my post How to Make Your Own Perfume Oil (which is essentially a long keyword itself) has so many search terms in it that it's on one of the first pages on Google for people looking for DIY perfume (it's not just the quantity of the search terms, it also has to do with the fact that I have good traffic already. The more people view, the higher you go in search results. This can take time, but that's why you want to start off right!)

Branding - I should have put this near the top because you want to start by having good branding, but branding is essentially cultivating a cohesive look/image for your shop and products. Here's an example: Think of Anthropologie vs. Hot Topic. What do you think of? For Anthro you probably thought bohemian, indie, or expensive. For Hot Topic, you probably thought about emo kids, dark colors, band t-shirts etc. Each company has an image. It's what you automatically think of. When setting up your shop and then conducting all your marketing, you want to make sure that your color palette, your fonts, your photos, your writing voice are all cohesive. It's how people know who you are and how you present yourself should be a mirror to the kind of clientele you want. I try to cultivate an image of vintage, historical, literary for my perfumes. If you look at the photos, fonts, and colors, you might see a trend of lace, art deco, and general old-timey-ness (especially in the writing. PS. Please read the Madame Moustache description, it's seriously my best work, so proud of it. I find it hilarious.)

Ok this was a massive brain dump so I'm going to stop here for now. I'm sure I'm forgetting things so I'll update as I think of them and as always feel free to ask questions!

So You Wanna Start an Etsy Shop?

I have several friends who have been interested in starting their own Etsy shop or just an online business in general. I'm the only one of my friends, that I know about at least, who has gone this route so they generally come to me. I also on occasion will get an Etsy convo from someone interested in starting up shop. I'm always happy to give business advice because it's fun and interesting. I don't generally respond to competitor inquiries (from people I don't know) of where I get my wholesale perfume materials because 1. Come on really? Trade secrets yo. And 2. LMGTFY (check out the post on Making Your Own Perfume Oil if you need materials recommendations for diy perfume).

This post is for you if you're a maker who is serious about being successful at Etsy or an online business in general. Which is to say that you are ready to put in a lot of work. I say that because not everyone I know who has tried has really stuck with it. Everything on Etsy, that you see on Pinterest or blogs anyway, is just so pretty and it's easy as putting your stuff up and then shoppers just come by right? WRONG. It takes A LOT of work and a longish amount of time (but that's dependent on time put in, quality of product/photos, word of mouth, and LUCK).

So here's my personal story of how I made it work. This was in 2012 however so keep in mind that social networks change in terms of popularity and usefulness (Instagram, Pinterest, Wanelo, and I'm sure there's more I don't even know about) so make sure you do research on what the technology trends are.

First things first: I'm assuming you have a product you are good at making and you're ready to start selling. You have to get a business license to sell your products. Some sellers don't do this. It's illegal. Don't play that game. Generally you have to register your business with your state and city. Cities have various processes so make sure you research that. Washington state and Seattle are awwwesooommmme because everything is online and it's really easy. When I had to do this in California it was a pain because I had to visit various offices to get things signed and it just seemed pointless and not suited to an internet business. Hopefully that has changed. Anyway, get that license. How tax works with online shops: you charge sales tax only to the residents in your state (for now). You have to make sure that each city is accounted for separately. Example, Seattle is 9.5%, Spokane is 8.7%. Etsy and other commerce sites make it easy to put that information in and the really good ones populate it for you, but at the end of the year you have to make sure that you're submitting the right amounts to your state. So long as you make under 20k through Etsy Checkout or through 20k through Paypal you don't have to file any separate tax paperwork, just your regular tax forms.

(The rest of this post is copy and pasted from two emails I sent to a friend)

1. Look up your competition. Read all of their policies, see how much they charge, check the keywords they use in their listings, look at their pictures, check out their websites/fb pages/twitter etc. This is a good way to figure out what your shop policies are/what you need to do in your shop to be competitive.

2. Branding - Shop name, logo, about story, packaging, photos. You want to create a consistent look. To start your shop you absolutely need the name (decide before you put it in Etsy because you only get to change it once without them being jerks about it) and a nice looking shop banner. I also recommend snagging your domain name. It's really cheap maybe $8 for a year. You don't need to start a personal website right away, just make sure you have it squared away for when you are ready. Think about the presentation of sold items. I have muslin bags that I stamp my logo on and tie with a matching ribbon. I include a business card and when I was starting, a coupon for 10% off future orders. Think about how people you've bought from on Etsy package their stuff and figure out what you'd like to do.
3. Start sourcing all of your materials - yarn, packaging, mailing envelopes, cards etc. This is important because you want to make sure that you're getting a good price (you'll find over time that there are certain vendors you always go back to). Evolving process.
4. Figure out pricing. You need to think about the cost of materials, the time it takes you to make things, shipping costs, packaging costs, and how much you want to pay yourself for your work. Right now, my prices are what I found to be the mid-range for perfume on Etsy but I'm probably going to increase soon (already happened) because of demand. Figure out what you'll use for mailing. I like USPS because its the cheapest for lightweight packages or even if you use the flat rate boxes. You can also buy them straight through Etsy which gives you free delivery confirmation/tracking thru Etsy...this is super important. A person who had never used Etsy before put her wrong address in and instead of telling me that she didnt get her package opened up a case against me. Etsy immediately dismissed it because the tracking and shipping info was already in their system.
5. Marketing plan. Etsy is REALLY saturated by sellers. You need to make sure that not only does your branding look set you apart, but you have to be good at SEO (search engine optimization) cross linking etc. You need to have a Facebook, Twitter, and personal blog at bare minimum. When I started shop, I was only tutoring so I had a lot of time to devote to all this stuff. I had a routine of posting my listings on FB/Twitter everyday. I joined Etsy teams and wrote all over them with links to my shop. I posted on my blog everyday - tutorials are big and get you lots of traffic. Pinterest and Wanelo were kind of a waste of time. I use FB to get messages out to people but I'd say Twitter and my blog are best for driving traffic (this is no longer the case. Facebook has grown substantially and is amazing for building fan networks). Eventually you want to start getting your stuff reviewed on other blogs as well. Now, I dont spend anywhere near as much time doing that stuff because I have enough traffic, but my next step is getting out to other blogs and starting a personal website with ecommerce options so I can move off Etsy (more on that later, Etsy is the best starting point but you outgrow it). (I've done this, this email is old)
So that's what you need to plan/research for. Here's what you should have input into Etsy before you open:
Make all your listings. Make sure you have good photos (this is my biggest problem I'm terrible at photography and can't afford a photographer yet), a very detailed description with measurements etc. Keywords (steal keywords from competition or start typing stuff in the search bar for ideas).
All of your policies. How much time you need, do you accept custom requests, what forms of payment do you accept, who you use for shipping, return/refund policy. People are notoriously bad about reading policies but its a CYA situation.
Find teams to join on Etsy. Usually new person teams, teams for liking Facebook/twitter/blog pages, new listing teams. I joined a bunch and posted in their forums everyday for a few months which got me some momentum. The only thing is that its sellers not buyers bumping you...but every favorite means it goes out to their circle so other people end up seeing it too. That said, click on the people who favorite your competition and add as many of them as you can to your circle. This makes them wonder who you are so they look at your stuff. I got a lot of my initial sales that way.
Sales and frequency of re-listing gets you to the top of searches/pages so the more sales you get the better you do. The more feedback you have, the easier you get sales. Re-listing is super annoying but in the first few months you want to relist at least 1 item per day. They charge you 20 cents per listing which is not bad when you're starting out but when you start to make lots of sales it starts to become a burden. Once you're making sales you naturally re-list when things sell instead of just doing it to game the system.
I think that's good for now. It's a lot of trial and error and finding what works for you.
Part II

Let's see, for advertising I'd say a mix of the following:

1. Try the Etsy ads for a month or so. I didn't see a lot of orders from the ads but it's good to be at the top of a category for a few weeks so people start to see your shop. I wouldn't do it long term, just a good way to start. And only ever spend $5-10 on a campaign. Update on Facebook ads: So after I posted this, a friend of mine sent me a video with some really troubling info about Facebook ads. The gist of it is that Facebook has a click farm problem and paying for ads there are not worth it in terms of engagement. As such I'm no longer going to recommend purchasing ads on there. I have had some success with post boosts but I only use them when I have sales and spend about $5. I target those to people who already like my page however. So if you do decide to purchase ads on FB first, watch the video, and second make sure that you only spend small amounts. Be cautious. Watch the video on Youtube.

2. The biggest thing that helped me was joining teams and writing/linking in the forums. I did that every day for about two months and it got me lots of views/hearts.

3. Join a BNR/BNS group!! This also helped. I did this a few times over the course of a month and it really jumpstarted sales for me. BNR means buy and replace and BNS means buy and stay. Basically, a team will set up a treasury board with items from different stores who "buy in." So you buy something from another shop (they usually have a $3 minimum) and that gets you on the board. If it's a buy and replace you are taken off the board once you've made a sale. If its a buy and stay you get to stay on the board and make more sales. This really helps in the initial stages because it's giving you a higher sales number which helps people trust you more and also since its all Etsy sellers, they'll leave you good/constructive feedback. Once you have a few feedbacks, the sales become more regular. This works well if you have some lower priced items. I found this to be more effective than advertising so used my advertising budget on this as opposed to ads. I think this method is also great because even though you're gaming the system, you're learning how to be a seller in a safe space - meaning people will give you helpful feedback about your packaging/policies/timeliness etc. on the group page, great learning method.

4. Blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Do free tutorials on your blog - that gets me big amounts of traffic because I have ones on how to make perfume, eau de parfum, solid perfume and floral water. That gets lots of people to my shop. Twitter is great for new items and for sales if you mark #etsy. Facebook is so so until you get a good audience which takes time. I think it's good to have to put pics up and such but it's harder to get followers. Twitter has been better for me anyway. (Instagram is starting to be important for me)

My situation was a little different just because we moved to Seattle and I didn't have a job yet so I had a lot of time to dedicate to starting. It took me about 2-3 months to start seeing regular sales. Since it's been steady and I'm pregnant anyway I just work on that and do freelance stuff now.

But if you make time to do all of those things that should help! Some smaller, lower priced items also gets people into your shop to make the first initial sales.

Ok folks! Those are the basics for starting your shop. Coming soon: blog posts about marketing strategy and e-commerce sites once you're ready to move off Etsy. Feel free to ask questions, I enjoy this topic and it is constantly evolving.