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!