Do you want to sell online, but find that creating a website takes too much time and money?!
Instead of creating your own website, it is far easier to sell your crafts online by joining one of the many established online shops or market places.
Promoting or selling online with an established handmade website, online market place or online directory is one of the best and cheapest ways to increase your profile and to generate sales all year round. They have overtaken galleries and other sales opportunities like consumer and trade fairs. Many galleries now research for new products on line too, so don’t be surprised if a gallery in the US approaches you through your Etsy shop!
As they promote themselves heavily with often big marketing and advertising budgets, and have an established traffic stream already, it is far easier to increase your profile and get sales through these sites, than when you create your own website.
They have established admin practices and do most of the marketing for you, so that you can concentrate much more on the making and selling, then when you have your own private website. Many designers and crafts people actually use their individual shop or profile as their main website, as it saves so much time and money.
If you want to get a great overview of ALL online selling opportunities (from your own website to the best e-commerce sites, the best market places and much more!) in a useful directory then check out Claire Hughes book From Passion to Profit – Start Your Business in 6 Weeks or Less!: A step-by-step guide to making money from your hobby by selling online out. You can read our extensive book review here.
So, where do you start to sell your crafts online?
Online selling tip 1: Do your research
Before you start applying to all the different websites that are out there (and there are 100’s!) make sure that you have done some market research.
- Does the site fit in with your target market, brand and price level?
- Do they actually sell the products that you have got?
- What are their selection criteria, terms and conditions?
- What are the charges?
- What happens when consumers return your products?
- Who keeps the stock and sends your products to the consumer?
- When do you get paid?
Some of the sites are online shops, where they do most of the work on marketing and administration on your behalf. Your name might not even be attached to your products, and obviously the commission or fees they take are higher than with the DIY sites.
Other sites are like a market place or a directory where you include the images and tags, where you do all the promotion and most of the admin, and where you actually run your own online shop or portfolio.
Here are some of the questions that you might like to ask to determine which site(s) are the best for you:
- What are the charges? Is there a one off joining fee or annual subscription? Is there a listing fee, regardless of you selling the item? How much commission do they take? Do they prescribe how much your postage & insurance will be?
- What kind of payment options do they accept?
- How popular is this site (with your audience!), and what marketing do they do? There seem to be a lot of sites out there that look good, but actually do not get any traffic. Make sure that you don’t spend a lot on fees, without thoroughly looking at their traffic and sales figures.
- How does the website look like? How user friendly is the site? Both for you, but also your potential clients.
- What are the price points for similar products like yours?
- If a site is really popular, would you actually be able to handle large orders?
- How many international consumers or trade buyers attract the site, for example would you be able to ship your work confidently tomorrow to the US or Australia?
- Who else is promoting or selling their work on this site, and is this the kind of work you want to be related to?
- Are you looking to network with other designers or crafts people? Some websites (like Etsy) create a seller community spirit with joint online and offline events and lots of training support.
- How easy is it to leave? Are their binding contracts? And what happens if you are off on holiday for two weeks, can you temporarily close?
For a full list of questions that you might like to ask potential online retailers and market places see our Design Doctor post on What are the best online sites to sell my work?
Much of this research you can do online (seller forums are often a good place to get some gossip!), but also make sure that you talk to other designer makers, as they often have information about which sites work well and which ones don’t.
It might be a good idea to have more than one online shop, just research what works best for you! And the popular sites can be a great launch pad to set up your own private website, and to link to your own website to drive more traffic to your own site.
Online selling tip 2: Create the best images possible
One of the most important things to do is to provide fabulous images of your work. This will ensure that you get through the selection if it is a curated site.
Often potential clients will only spend a couple of seconds looking at your site to decide if they like what they see. You must make a good first impression, and obviously great images will be the first thing they see.
Images need to fit in with the overall feeling of the site and your brand.
Some websites prefer clean shots against a white background, others prefer highly stylised images. Often a combination of overall shot plus a detail shot are the best. Really show your products to their best ability e.g. texture, colour, softness.
Most sites allow you to have max. 4 images per product, really use this to your advantage.
Make sure that your images and products fit with the website’s feel, brand, target market and price level.
To improve your credibility and positioning, it really helps if you are able to group your products into a certain collection or theme, for example baby & mum gifts, ceramic kitchen & home ware. That way your products will be displayed together in the same category, and will look far stronger than if you have lots of different single products across different categories or tags.
Be focused and present a strong core collection of 5 – 7 related products. Even with only a couple of complimentary products at different price levels you can create a strong and professional collection.
You can take images yourself, but often it is worthwhile to work with a professional photographer who has got experience photographing hand-made products. Great images can get you onto selling websites, but also into trade shows, exhibitions and into the press. Definitely worth the investment!
The best way to sell your work is by using models – but unfortunately it is also the most tricky and off putting bit if you don’t get it right! Ideally you would use a professional photographer, with a model, stylist and make up artist. That way your work will be presented in the most professional way.
Do some photographic research in how other people present their work.
Especially if you are in highly competitive category like precious jewellery, it is really important that your photography and work stands out. Doing research can also really help you to describe better to a professional photographer how you want your work to be shot.
Our Business Club members can watch here a 90min webinar with photographer Yeshen Venema on how to work with a professional photographer.
Online selling tip 3: Tagging with keywords so you can be found
The second most important thing is to ensure that you tag your images well.
Tagging are the words that you add to your images, and are the key words that people put in to search for products. Just tweaking these words a little bit, can really help potential clients find your work.
As people can’t see, touch or try your products you need to give them as much info as possible – in writing and with your images. Your tags should include materials, colours, size, type of product, and anything else a potential customer would like to know.
Be as descriptive as you possibly can. For example: instead of ‘blue notebook’, talk about ‘cobalt blue notebook, vintage decoration, 1950s, recycled paper, gift for mums’.
It often really helps to get somebody else to read your description to make sure that you have included everything.
Do check with the website owner, very often they can give you more detailed advice on what works well. The Etsy Sellers Handbook (available to all online for free) is a great resource on helping with tags or how to be found online.
Online selling tip 4: Is it a gift?
The vast majority of what is sold online is a gift! So make sure that you fit in with key seasonal festivities such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Christmas. This will ensure that you get more sales throughout the year.
Think about jewellery, glassware, ceramics, fashion accessories, but also think about some more interesting products that sell well for example cupcake platters, vintage bakeware, family games, Christmas stocking fillers, …
Many of the online retailers like to have products that can be personalised in a certain way e.g. with names or dates.
Gifts for men and boys and wedding gifts are also a categories that are popular.
Make your products more ‘giftable’ through nice presentation or boxes, and show your packaging in your images as well.
Online selling tip 5: Build trust online
It is essential that you communicate clearly with your customers, even before they have bought from you. Being on a well known site will make potential customers feel more secure.
Your professional images, profile and feedback will all contribute to your credibility.
A good starting point to draft your own online shipping and return policies is by checking the website’s policies, or the policies of the courier you are using, as they actually will do most of the work and set the parameters.
Be clear and upfront about your postage and insurance charges.
Use the FAQ to address any potential questions or objections your clients might have. You can use this part (which many people visit!) as a great way to promote yourself as a professional online seller, who really understands his or her clients.
Keep in regular contact with the online shop owners, ask and follow their advice about what works and doesn’t – they should be the experts!
One of the main reasons that people buy design or crafts products online instead of major retailers is the personal connection with you. So make sure that your communication with them is personal and friendly.
Wrapping it as a present, or hand-writing a thank you card to your customer included in their package will be very well received!
If somebody asks you a question online, answer them asap.
When people order from you ensure that you promptly send a friendly email to thank them and let them know that you received their order. Give them details when they can expect the products. When you ship the product send them another email with tracking information.
Be honest and straight forward in your communication with your potential clients, they will appreciate it! If you only ship on Mondays, or if you are on holiday for two weeks, then let them know. If a product is currently sold out, then let them know. People don’t like to wait.
Make sure that you package your products really well, to avoid any damage in transition. It will avoid a lot of heart ache, on your side but also the buyer’s!
Consider carefully how you will deal with returns. Only you can decide on your return policy, and as long as it is clear you should be covered in the event of a dispute. However, even though you might be in the right, be careful how you deal with an unsatisfied customer. Try to see how you can work out a solution that works for both of you. As a small online business you depend on positive feedback, and it really isn’t worth your energy to have a fight with one customer about money.
No matter what happens, try to remember that you are a professional.
Want to learn more about selling online successfully?
Social media expert and crafter Claire Hughes has written a very practical book about starting to sell your crafts online. In this book she gives step-by-step advice on how to start selling online quickly (in 6 weeks in fact!).
This book is full of worksheets, to do lists and handy directories to select the best way for you to sell your crafts online: from your own website or e-commerce software, to online market places or places to sell your surface pattern designs.
If you have been procrastinating about selling your crafts online, or you need a practical ‘can-do’ book then check out this book!