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Secrets to Marketing on the Internet (So Far)

routerAs woodworkers in the age of the Internet, we are very fortunate. Twenty years ago, the only way we could make ourselves known to possible markets is through magazines, with costly ads. You wouldn’t place a radio or TV ad; though maybe an ad in a local paper. Making yourself known was expensive and limited. Not only that, if the big guys came in with heavy pockets, they could crush you.

Today it’s a different story; you can have the same footing as any other woodworker no matter how good they are, thanks to cheap – even free – websites.  You can reach anyone anywhere, opening you up beyond the very narrow vertical market of a magazine; people are much more likely to accidentally come across your website, or store, on places like Etsy or CustomMade.com.

Additionally, you can also avail yourself to much more helpful information instantly. I’ve been able to learn a tremendous amount from places like FindWoodworking.com or YouTube. Forums, as the ones your find on sites like Lumberjocks,  or wherever Google might take me. I can be inspired by viewing what other woodworkers are doing, as I view their pieces. I can get help very quickly when I need it, bottom line.

So, I think I’ve made he case that if you want to sell more of your work – or even if you just want to learn more to improve your skill set – you need to engage the Internet.

I’m no expert on Internet marketing, let me just say that. I’m sure I still have a lot more to learn – but I would like to share with you what I have learned so far, what’s worked for me, so hopefully you might be able to sell more as well.

Your Website. In my opinion, a website is not a great way to sell your product; it’s more of a brochure, a business card, a way for people to reach you. The big problem is that search engines – Google – hold the key to your success here. If you make, for instance, guitars – if you aren’t on that first page (if not the top three) of search results Google delivers when someone searches on “custom acoustic guitars”, or whatever narrow search term, then you might as well forget it, people aren’t going to find you. I’ve tried Google’s ad program, and found it expensive and ineffective. However, if you have ads in a magazine, then yes, you drive them to your website.

About your website – if you’re going to have one, please, have a good one. Make it professional looking. If your website looks like crap, people are going to think your stuff is too. That maybe unfair, but in my opinion, that’s what will happen. I don’t know about you, but if I’m looking for a restaurant, and I go by a place that looks like crap – I’m not stopping in – even though the food might be great. My site uses WordPress, which is platform you can use for free! Very user friendly, you can use free templates for a good look, or purchase even better ones, and search engines are very friendly to it. For a free website, your domain would be something like workshop.wordpress.com, or woodshop.wordpress.com. I would encourage you to get your own domain name though, which would look more professional – workshop.com, woodshop.com, whatever you name is. I use GoDaddy.com. Again, all this is very affordable. If you want to pay a professional to hook you up with a nice site, you can do that too.

What to put on your website – people have a shorten attention span on the Internet – if they can’t find what they want in several seconds, they are going to move on. Your website needs to be succinet and things easy to find – if I’m looking for mantel clocks on your website, and I’m having trouble finding it – I’m moving on. I really don’t want a huge description of the piece either, but I do want a price, and if possible, if I can buy it right away, that’s great too. Your shop? Nobody cares about it. Woman are going to be the majority of your customers, and they don’t care, neither do most guys. A blog – your customer probably isn’t going to read it – mine is mostly for other woodworkers, as a sharing and learning experience. A Contact page – yes; people want to know how they can get a hold of you. They want your phone number and physical address, so they can feel comfortable about sending $1,000 for an unseen product to someone they’ve never met.

Great photography. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen what appears to be a decent piece, but photographed so badly, it makes it look bad. You’ve put all this time into this piece, don’t you think it’s a good idea to put, say, 1/2 hour, into photographing it nicely? Problem is, guys think that you have to take the piece to an expensive photographer for that – not true. You can do it with an iPhone, for pete’s sake, if you have the piece properly lit and in the right setting; and no, that doesn’t require all kinds of pro photography equipment, either I’m sorry, but throwing a white bed sheet over a chair and setting your burl bowl there isn’t professional.  If you belong to FineWoodworking.com (and if you don’t, you should), they have great piece here. On my blog bucket list, I want to make an article on how to photograph your stuff – stay tuned.

Search engine optimization. This is black magic. Basically, it’s getting Google to make your website one of the top few search results when someone searches for your type of work. It’s the holy grail. Don’t waste your time doing it. Go with WordPress, keep your site updated, and that will take care of itself.

Where to sell. Yes, you should sell on your website, and you should take any and every means of payment known to mankind; why would you want to impede a sale because of your fear of Paypal? Some guys complain that they will only take paper checks, or they are afraid of Paypal getting their personal info, or other reasons. I’ve used Paypal for years, and had no problems. Their business is security – getting money from person A to person B – quickly, easily and safely. If they don’t, they won’t get their 2.9% commission. It’s easy to set up an account, and people buying don’t need to go thru the hassle of creating a Paypal account either – they just hit a button on your website to buy the the product, enter their credit card number, and they pay you. I can even take payments in person, on my iPhone. Why would you not want to use them? Don’t put up barriers for people to pay you! Yes, accept checks, money orders, etc, but online transactions is the way to go. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather get paid right now, have money to use towards the project and move on to the next project, rather then waiting three days for the check to arrive, hiking it over to the bank, and sweating 5 days waiting for it to clear.

Until you get established, you won’t sell anything from your website, because no one knows about you. The way around that is to wander into marketplaces where you’ll find your customers. The top sites I know of are Etsy and CustomMade. Etsy is more for craft showy type stuff; whereas CustomMade is perfect for woodworkers. If you sell items up to the $500 range, and those items would appeal to women and are home decorating pieces, you would try Etsy. Their fees are very low. CustomMade’s fees are around 15% as I recall – not terrible, but enough. However, they bring buyers that are looking for some custom piece together with makers like you and I; it’s not some aimless, mall-wandering experience. Potential customers put up a job, looking for, say, an oak medicine cabinet, and you can get in touch with them and start a dialogue, and hopefully, win the commission. You can also put up your portfolio so people can get a good feel for what you do. I’ve received a lot of work from both these sites – smaller stuff from Etsy, bigger from CustomMade. Forget eBay – people are looking for deals.

Print media. I’ve haven’t tried it yet, but you can also put in ads into target magazines. I make a lot of Craftsman stuff, so I would put an ad in a magazine like American Bungalow. People interested in Craftsman products would pick up this magazine, and I’d have a focused audience. But they are expensive. Last time I checked, about $500 for a space about the size of a business card, as I recall, and I understand that just doing it once is not that effective, but doing several issues is, because people are more likely to see it, and save a particular magazine copy out of several. I checked into newspapers, here in Rochester NY – a good size market, and they were about the same price! And that is for a one time shot in a newspaper! Granted, you are reaching tens of thousands of people locally, but wow.

So, that’s about all I have to offer on this subject – for now. I’d be interested in hearing from you on your Internet marketing experiences, so comment below!

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2013 in BlogNotes

 

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CustomMade.com

About a year and a half ago, I entertained the idea of joining custommade.com, a website in which craftspeople like myself are connected to prospective customers looking for custom made crafted products; not just objects of wood, but metal work, apparel, glasswork, and more. Not only do craftspeople submit their items for sale – a portfolio – but there is a jobs board in which potential clients submit “want ads” that craftspeople can bid on. In theory, it was a great way to bring these two parties together (where else would you go if you wanted a custom pet bed or stained glass window?).

Problem was, from my perspective, that they wanted in excess of $500 to buy an account. That was a lot of money for essentially a cooperative website, so I didn’t buy into it. I don’t recall if they also wanted a percentage of your sales. So, I begged off.

It’s tough selling woodworking online. Problem is, people want a great table, but refuse to spend (for instance) $2,000 for it, when they can but one at Ashley furniture for $600 – and hey, it looks great! Never mind the finish will wipe off in about 2 weeks, and the legs will start getting wobbly just in time for dinner. Another disadvantage is that people can’t see the piece in person – they can’t feel how solid it is, touch the smooth finish, admire the beauty of the wood, from a small picture on their computer. You also have the problem of search engine results – if you aren’t on the first page (if not the top three results) on Google, you might as well not bother; people aren’t going to find you. So not only do you have to be an expert at mortise and tenon joints, but in search engine placement; and then, hopefully you will be considered for the job (if you have a great looking website, by the way). I won’t sugar coat it – I wasn’t doing squat for sales – and I was trying very hard. I designed web sites, briefly, so I can put together a decent presentation.

Obviously, people have to know you exist for them to buy from you. You can pay for advertising in an appropriate magazine – figure about $500 an issue – or trying putting up your own website, paying someone to do that and experimenting with pay-per-click ads on Google – which never worked for me either. Look, we are woodworkers, not marketing geniuses; we just want to sell our stuff. We don’t have thousands to throw at websites, search engine optimization, hosting fees, advertisements and so on. What’s a good solution for us?

Turns out, it IS CustomMade.com. I revisited them a few months ago – I was always interested in their model – and discovered that they have changed their pricing structure; they only charge one dollar a year now, and take 10% of your sales – a fair amount. The website is also vastly improved (expect for their confusing messaging system between client and maker), and they obviously have interest from prospective clients, as evidenced by the over 1,000 job requests on their client board. So, I bit the bullet and joined. You’re on my website, and I’m sure you’ve seen I sell off of here (as well as Etsy), but having another venue is not a bad idea. Turns out, it was a great idea. I’ve gotten more business there than I ever have anywhere else – and I’ve only been on about 3 months. I wished I’d had joined a year ago (or whenever they changed to this new model). Also, you can dictate terms for payment – typically, that’s 50% up front, 50% on delivery, but that can modified to suit your arrangement.

So let me give you some tips on CustomMade. First, you need to be pretty darn good as a woodworker (or jeweler, stained glass artist, etc), because the guys already on there are VERY good, and you’ll have competition. If you have pictures of your work, they have to be very good – not some crap of a clock against a wrinkled laundry sheet, or such ( I should put up a blog post about how to take good photos). You should have at least 10 items in your portfolio, and your profile filled out. Your profile photo can be your logo, a decent head shot of you, or of your in your shop – but nobody really cares what your shop looks like, honestly. You IN the shop? That’s better. When you go looking for a job posted by a potential client, don’t just reply, “Yes, I’ll do that for $500” Make it a pitch, sell yourself. If possible, show them a concept drawing, either freehand, in Sketchup, or an image from the Internet. The tenor of your pitch should be “business friendly” – that is, businesslike, but not a rigid robot. Instead of “I can do that sewing cabinet – $500”, say something like “Hi Jane, that’s a very interesting project you’re looking to have done. I did something similar with my medicine cabinet – which you can see in my portfolio. I took the opportunity to re-sketch that project to hopefully fit into your vision for this project – hope to hear from you.” Something like that. People want to be wooed a little bit here.

Let me stress too, that you need to exceed expectations for customers, not just meet them. I’m not saying put gold leaf on the project, but things like keeping the customer up to date with pictures and messages (which increases excitement), shipping it earlier than expected, packing the piece professionally, including a nice little thank you note inside the cabinet, things like this. Give them what the big-box stores won’t. If you wow your customers, they are going to come back, and they are going to tell their friends about you, and that’s exactly what you need to depend on for future sales.

So that’s been my experience; I haven’t had much success with Etsy, my own website, or even advertising; but I have had great experience with CustomMade, and I would recommend them.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2012 in BlogNotes

 

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