Everybody said you “had to” have a website. Now you do. (Thanks, COVID.) Get a handle on the most important points of your online business, so it will work for you – which will allow you to get back to the work you want to do.
Basic Website Care & Feeding (Not your first foray into the wilds of the world-wide-web? You can skip to the next section; you’ve got this. If the whole website thing feels like a new pain in the - you know what - then this is worth a read.)
- Get your storefront listed immediately with Google Pages, Google Places (if you have a physical storefront) and claim a social presence with a name that closely matches your website address, or URL. Also, find out how to get listed on local Name, Address, Phone (NAP) directories, which are usually free listings. It’s worth your time, because these listings help your business and website pop up in the top results for Internet searches. These are short listings, primarily highlighting your top products, so use words like ‘handbags’ and ‘saddles’ instead of (or in addition to) broader descriptions like ‘handcrafted leather goods.
- Keep it accurate, Your website is more than a billboard; it’s your own personal, 24-hour sales and customer service team. Make sure that whenever your hours, location, offerings, sales policies or prices change, your site reflects the most recent, completely accurate information immediately upon the change taking effect. (Then, double-back to those NAP listings to update them, too.)
- Keep it fresh. You may find it faster and easier to push out product information, updates, and pictures on your social media channels than to update your website, but updating your site is important for both human eyes that belong to your customers and prospects as well as for search engine rankings.
- Keep it secure! No matter what site hosting or publishing platform your website is built on, the “bones” will need to be updated from time to time. Just like the operating system on your phone, most of those updates will be quick and painless (you’ll be prompted to update or schedule the update for a later time). The most important thing is to DO THE UPDATES. They usually enhance security, protecting you and your customers’ transactions, credit card numbers, and other personal identifiers. After doing an update, always perform a quick check of your site’s pages to make sure everything’s functional, as sometimes a display issue or other small problem occurs. What if it does? You can usually “undo” an update, and wait a few days until a new release is available, or call your platform or web services provider to troubleshoot the issue. Remember, secure is good – and an unsecured site can make customers run in the other direction.
Shine for the Camera! Not a photography bug? That’s ok, just practice snapping super shots with your smart phone. We’ll cover product photography basics in a future post, but in a nutshell, the most important points are getting close (closer than close!) to your subject so it fills up the entire frame, and showing your product (or other subject) in the very best light. Shadows can make the most beautiful products look dingy and unattractive. Your smartphone has dozens of filters and enhancements to improve your photo quality. Get familiar with them! Why photography is so important: a picture is/was worth a thousand words before the internet came along. Online, images are everything! Share pictures to connect with your prospects and customers. Share an image of a shipment of supplies to let them know you’re going to be working on a new design. On the road? Show ‘em a pic from your travels. Do you do repairs? Before and after pictures tell the story better than any words.
Got Pricing Strategies? – Most independent shops selling to both retail and wholesale customers advertise their retail prices online, highlighting potential discounts such as free shipping offers or BOGO pricing for certain items or at certain times of the year. Wholesale customers should be able to easily contact you, by phone or online form, to inquire about bulk and wholesale pricing – and retail customers should NOT be able to see your wholesale prices. When you’re comfortable with your site’s e-commerce capabilities, you might want to create a special discount for new customers who sign up for your newsletter, those who refer a friend, or a “club” offering for frequent shoppers or newsletter subscribers. These are great sales tools, but require a little extra administration on your end.
Know your customers – and let them know you! Once your website is launched and working the way you want it to, review the site’s content to be sure it properly “introduces” you and your product to your clientele. Remember elementary school show and tell? Forget that. You want to sell your story the way Vanna White sells a new car on Wheel of Fortune! Engage the emotions when you talk about how your grandfather started the business in his barn…how you fall in love with the way a truly quality hand-crafted messenger pouch feels, smells, and lasts…and how you take tremendous pride in the work you do and the individual components of your products, from the clasps to the most detailed stitching. Make connections. Appeal to your customers, using what you know about them and their values. Let your personality shine through! Whether you’re into historical re-enactments, camping, or cosplay, it’s OK to share that with your customers, especially when you can relate it to your products.
Make sure your site is mobile-friendly, for your customers AND YOU. Most shoppers will want to access your website on their phones, so make sure it looks good from mobile devices for their sake. For your sake, especially if you travel part of the year, consider getting a mobile hotspot so you can update your site (and social channels) easily and securely when you’re on the road.
Do you need a blog? Not right away, but…blogging is a great way to build relationships with customers when they can’t meet you at shows, festivals, and other events the COVID pandemic ruined. Not sure you have content to support a blog? You’d be surprised. If you’re passionate about history, a particular technique or material, a blog is the place to talk about it. You don’t need to be a great writer to captivate your audience; write your blog the way you talk to your favorite customers. They’ll get it.
Manage social media so it doesn’t manage you. Social media is vitally important to connecting with customers, sharing and showing off your products, handling pre-sales and customer service questions, and keeping your fan base interested, shopping, and referring their friends. Late-night social media visitors are notorious impulse buyers, too…so yeah, Facebook and Instagram really are worth your time. But not ALL of your time. Consider posting to social media once or twice a day, at the same time you check your messages and engage with the people who visit your social accounts. That way, you’ll have a habit of staying in touch, but you won’t lose hours of every day somewhere down that swirling social media vortex.
You didn’t get into this business to run a website, but now that you’re online, you have new ways to connect with customers and to introduce your designs to people who might not have found you otherwise. Give yourself a pat on the back! Then get back to the work you love.