Starting a Handmade Business
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Lesson 3: Running a Successful Shop
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Introduction: Running a Successful Shop

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Now that you've got down the basics of starting your business and the costs of getting it going, let's talk about running a successful shop!


Make Sure Your Customers Can Find You

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One of the most important things you can do to increase your chances of success is to make sure your customers can find you. This relies heavily on two things!


Search Engine Optimization

SEO, also known as Search Engine Optimization, is king when it comes to selling online. Search engines find your shop through keywords and keyword phrases that you use in your shop information, product titles, and product listings.

An easy way to think about SEO is to ask yourself "How would I search for this product?"

Much like when you post something here on Instructables, you need to make sure that people can find what you're making. I've written a more in depth guide about keywords - you can read it here!

To do this properly, you have to concentrate on three things when building a product listing:

  1. Create a great title that explains what the product is and possibly what it does - but keep it short and succinct.
  2. Use your keywords to completely describe the product. For example: Etsy allows you to insert 13 "tags" (up to 20 characters each) to describe the product. Try to think of different ways you'd search for your product on Etsy. Use as many phrases as you can instead of single words. For example: "embroidered art" instead of "art" :)
  3. Repeat keywords in the text of the listing. Try to say what the item is a couple times and even repeat the title text throughout if you can. Hooray buzz words!


Consistent Branding and Naming Across All Platforms

I know I've mentioned this already, but it is SO IMPORTANT. For example: if you have an Etsy shop called "AllThingsSewn" and your Instagram account is called "SewnbyClarice" and your Facebook page is "Clarice Sews Stuff" - no one will be able to connect these accounts to each other. It's confusing and makes your customers work harder to find you.

Instead, use the same name across all your accounts.

In addition to naming, try using the same graphics, profile pictures, etc. on all of your accounts too.


Take Great Photos

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In a sea of online sellers, you want to stand out. Great photos is one of the most important ways to do that!

You want bright, well-lit photos that are consistent in their looks. I like to use my work table as a background - it has marble contact paper on it and makes a nice neutral background for photos.

Great photos also give customers a really good look at the item. Include some up close shots, shots showing size if needed, or even shots with the product being modeled if you're selling clothing, accessories or jewelry.


Customer Service

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As a small business owner, customer service is incredibly important. Here are my rules for customer service:

  1. Always reply promptly and professionally. (Promptly for me means within 24 hours.)
  2. Always let the customer know if there are any issues or delays as soon as a problem crops up.
  3. Always be honest. If a customer asks for something you don't feel comfortable with, let them know and offer other options.

In order to keep the customers you have and get new ones, you need happy customers that give great feedback! Good customer service will do just that.

Many of my customers have shopped with me multiple times, or recommended me to their friends. I have a feeling that wouldn't be the case if I was terrible at responding to messages or giving updates. ;)


Creating Shop Policies

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When selling online, it's very important to have clear shop policies. These are essentially the same as return policies at a retail store, though they often include a little more information.

Things to consider when writing policies:

  • Will you accept returns? Are there certain items that cannot be returned?
  • How quickly do items need to be returned and will the buyer pay return postage?
  • Which payment options do you accept? Are there certain payments you won't accept?

Here's a quick look at my policies on Etsy. As you can see, they're pretty simple!


Making Informative (and Fun!) Listings

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One of the tricky things about selling online is making sure your customers know exactly what they're getting.

Pictures of the items certainly help, but the product description should be thorough and extremely detailed.

Important things to include in your product listings:

  • What the product is made of and/or a little about how it is made
  • Any special care or cleaning instructions
  • The size of the product
  • How long the product takes to make + ship
  • How the product will be shipped

I also recommend adding a little personality to your listings. Back when I sold embroidery hoop art, I would tell little stories about each piece or make jokes in the writing. It's always nice for your customers to feel like you're a real human being behind the scenes. :D


Pricing Your Work for Profit

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Many new sellers tend to price on the lower end for their products, which is totally understandable at first. You're new to this, unsure of what you're doing, and maybe even unsure if your product is really worth that much. Chances are it's worth more than you think!

My favorite way to explain pricing to folks is a formula posted on the Etsy blog:

Materials + Labor + Expenses + Profit = Wholesale x 2 = Retail

Materials: This includes everything. EVERYTHING. Your shipping supplies, your packaging supplies, every raw material you use in producing your product. If you've already got materials on hand, do a best estimate. :)

Labor: This is the time to make the item. If you're doing a custom order for someone, I suggest also paying yourself for design and consult time. This can also include time spent on shipping and packaging, including taking items to the post office.

Expenses: This will include selling fees from Etsy and Paypal, tools and equipment you need to accomplish your job, advertising, studio rent, etc. This will fluctuate a bit, so just try to use your best guess. For your first year, I suggest tracking everything you spend money on and even saving receipts if you're organized - that info will come in handy for the next year and for taxes! (Also, keep in mind that unexpected expenses can and will happen , so it's never a bad idea to estimate a little higher than you think.)

Profit: And this is the most ambiguous part of this equation. How much profit would you like to make on your products? This is entirely up to you. You may not know at first, but as you sell more and more you'll figure it out!

Once you add all those pieces up, you'll have your wholesale price. If you ever get to a point where you can produce enough products to sell wholesale, you'll be doing beyond awesome. :D Multiply your wholesale cost by two and you'll come up with your retail price.


Setting Goals or Making a Business Plan

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In order to keep growing and make your business better and better, it's important to set some goals.

These goals can be short term, long term, detailed or vague. What is most important is that you have an idea of where you want your business to go.

Examples of goals I've set in the past:

  • Shop makeover by the end of the month - new logo, new banners, new about page
  • Add one new listing every week over the course of a summer
  • Add pattern PDFs to my shop
  • Reformatting and editing product listings and keywords for better SEO
  • Rewriting shop policies before the holidays

I try not to set goals in regards to revenue or views - instead I like to set goals that will improve my shop in the long run!


Scaling Up Production

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Once your business gets up and running, you may want to start thinking about ways to get your products out with less work on your part.

Sometimes, this can mean hiring extra help. Or maybe turning artwork you already sell into prints, stickers, cards or pins.

In my case, I started turning my embroidery hoop art into PDF patterns that could be sold and downloaded with no work on my part once the pattern had been made!

Get creative and I'm sure you'll be able to come up with new and less labor intensive products to sell!


Staying Organized

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As your business continues to grow, you'll really need to stay on top of organization.

For me, this means:

  • Saving all receipts for raw materials, packaging or tools I bought for the business - these are tax deductible!
  • Making a special area for all packaging supplies so wrapping and sending out orders is easy.
  • Creating a place to organize incoming and outgoing orders.
  • Checking my store(s) daily to see what has sold and if I need to adjust my product stock in any way.
  • Keeping counts of product supplies and ordering more as needed. For example, I wouldn't want to have loads of 8 inch hoops listed when I have none in stock at my house.

The more organized you are, the less stressful everything will be!

Now that we've covered how to run a successful shop, it's time to learn how to promote your handmade business.

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