Creative Business Goals: Boost your online sales

Meet the makers who can help you get your listings perfect, your tags in order and stop you making mistakes when it comes to growing your online shop…

Putting your first products online is an exciting time, but getting them noticed takes hard work and a little bit of luck. We caught up with successful online sellers on a variety of platforms to get their top tips and tricks to make your products stand out from the crowd…

Be prepared

Before you load your first listing, make sure you’re as prepared as possible. Erik Buikema of We Are Extinct insists that while you’ll learn a lot along the way, there is plenty you can get in order before you start. “Though it is difficult to be prepared for every single thing that comes along with running an online shop, you can still already figure out a lot of things before you start your first sales,” says Erik.

“Running a thorough cost/benefit analysis to figure out the right pricing, thinking about how you will package your products, having everything you need in stock and researching all shipping options beforehand can save you a lot of stress.”

Emma Gray who runs Menagerie agrees that the devil is in the details. “Preparation might involve trialling wash cycles for clothing and knitted items or, in my case, wearing one of my own brooches and making sure that it was robust,” explains Emma.

“I’ve heard of sellers who have sent their own product to themselves to check that it will arrive safe and sound in its packaging. My treasured first Menagerie customer and I learnt the hard way that varnish and bubblewrap are not the best of friends!”

Choose the platform that’s right for you

With so many different selling sites out there, finding the one that suits your style the best is crucial and different platforms such as Etsy and Folksy will work better for different sellers. Emma says she settled on Folksy because of their hands-on approach. “I briefly tried selling on Etsy, but I felt like a tiny fish in a big sea, so I gave Folksy a try,” she says. “I’ve really appreciated my work being championed by the Folksy team and they do a great job of promoting their sellers’ work across multiple platforms. I’m not a natural at self promotion, so to have Folksy helping is invaluable.”

Erik meanwhile prefers the global reach of Etsy. He explains, “I think the international visibility my shop gets thanks to Etsy outweighs the small fees they charge per sale. I plan to start selling my products through my own website too, but it’s perfect to get you off the ground.”

Claire lp who runs Red Bear Design also picked Etsy because it suited her style of business. “I choose Etsy because because they have a large audience for cross stitch patterns,” says Claire. “The best thing is customers can download the pattern directly after they pay, which encourages sales.”

Rebecca Crouch who runs Raspberry Blossom chose Not On The High Street for their professional approach. “NOTHS has such a great ethos about enabling start-ups and small businesses, it made complete sense to apply for a shop on their site when I set up my business just over two and a half years ago. They invest in promoting their partners and have lots of helpful tips and emails for everyone that sells,” says Rebecca.

Don’t assume people will just discover you – work at it!

Once you have your shop, you need to promote it and social media is the best way to get the word out. “The biggest mistake I made when setting up Menagerie, was having an unrealistic hope that by just existing under a larger website umbrella it would get views and sales straightaway,” reveals Emma.

“It takes a little while for a new shop to be noticed and unless a seller has a well established social media audience already, there’s a degree of luck, patience and faith involved. Instagram has also helped to advertise Menagerie, as well as being a lovely place to enjoy other artists’ works and find animal muses!”

Start small

Don’t panic if you only have a few items in your shop front to begin with. It gives you space to grow. Liz Stiglets who runs Cozy Blue says you need to make sure your first products are perfect before building your stock. “Start small, with a few items that you genuinely feel good about. Do your research, be original, and be prepared to work very, very hard!” she says

Claire agrees that once you have your shop up and running you can start growing your items. “Once you’re established build the amount of products you have so that customers stay in your shop longer,” she says. “However, too many products can confuse. Keep them to your own personal style and curate what you have. You can always add and take away depending on sales.”

Give all the information you can

Unlike in a shop your potential customers can’t pick up your items, so give them as much information as possible from measurements to materials. “I always make sure my partner reads through my copy, getting a second opinion on the wording is a great way to double check everything makes sense and is easy for the consumer to understand,” explains Rebecca.

Tell a story

Once you’ve got the details down, keep the customers attention by telling them more personal details about how you came to make the item they are (hopefully!) going to buy. “Most of the characters I paint have their own names and some even have detailed back stories! I think names can help people to engage and might pique their curiosity to click through to the listing’s description,” explains Emma.

“I like to get a sense of the maker’s personality and influences and be encouraged to feel a personal connection. Descriptions need their boring, practical bits too, but a customer is unlikely to warm towards something that reads like a legal document. If your product is quirky and original, then why not use language that reflects this?”

Get tagging

All selling sites give you the opportunity to add tags to your listings – keywords, which describe your products – and can attract people to your shop. Using these wisely is important to driving traffic to you. “Etsy provides the option to add tags to each listing, but I think the wording in the description box of your listing adds possibilities for customers to find your shop when searching from outside the Etsy platform,” explains Erik

“With the wording of my listings I try not to be too repetitive and add possible synonyms to spread my chances of being found through search engines. You need to mix generic words with more unique, specific words for your product. It’s always helpful to look at the more popular listings and see what these shops do.

“It also helps if people favourite your shop and listings because that determines how quickly you appear in the search results, so ask people to favourite you!”

Pick your props

You already know that pictures are important, but how you style them matters too. “Always make sure the main focus of your photograph is your product, you can get distracted by making the image look so pretty that it becomes over cluttered and your product gets lost,” says Rebecca.

“I’m a prop hoarder and will often buy a cute vase or dish with the excuse that it will look great in a photograph! Purchase a few complimentary items that tone well with your merchandise, picking out colours that will match the palette in your product.”

Choose inspiring backgrounds

“I can find it hard to get good lighting in my flat so have made little cycle trips to make use of outdoor light and inspiring background finds like pavement mosaics and ivy-clad stone walls,” reveals Emma.

“Being given space for several photos per listing is a good opportunity to include images that show your work in various ways that might include close-up, lifestyle and cut-out shots. When I first started on Folksy I kept my photos simple, but I’ve enjoyed being more playful as my business has grown.”

Stock up

If the sales start flooding in, you need to be ready and not lose sales because of lack of stock. “The mistake I have made (and still make sometimes) is getting my stock levels wrong,” says Sally. “Also give yourself a realistic time between an order being placed and dispatched, if you are making to order then factor this in to reduce stress!”

Erik agrees, “With enamel pins the production time can be quite long and having an empty shop isn’t attractive for new customers who are enthusiastic to buy. When I just started with my Etsy store I ordered very low quantities, as I didn’t want to take a too big investment risk. However, it can be smart to raise the quantity of your products for potential wholesalers who might be interested.”

Keep it up to date

You may love the way your shop looks, but like a window display it needs to change to keep customers interested. “Updating brings existing customers back and keeps everything looking fresh – it also looks like you are proactive and busy – not standing still waiting for something to happen,” says Knitwear and toy designer Sally Nencini. “If you feel that something isn’t selling well it might be time to let it go and try something new.”

Theme your shop throughout the year

One way of always making your shop look relevant is to change it’s theme along with special occasions (and strong selling periods) such as Valentines Day and, of course, Christmas. Rebecca says, “When I’m focusing on Christmas I change my storefront photograph to a festive focused image and update the five main shots to Christmas products.”

Be ready to make changes

“To someone starting the adventure of their own online shop, I’d say embrace the learning curve!” laughs Emma.

“It’s likely that along the way you will adjust your prices, modify your packaging, better identify your market and allow your creations to evolve. However, your customers shouldn’t be guinea pigs. Excitement and impatience to list new items can lead to mistakes.”

Erik agrees that while his shop may be successful there are always ways to grow. “My shop is still changing day by day,” he says. “Initially I was thinking rather small and just hoped I would be able to sell some of my pins, but thanks to a lot of supportive people I’m now trying to think in bigger and more consistent product collections. I’ve laid out a business plan to help me keep better track of what I would like to do next which helps me to stay focused.”

Liz also thinks it’s essential to keep creating to maintain your interest as well as sales. “My shop has grown pretty organically since I first opened in 2007 as it’s changed along with my creative interests,” she says. “For me it feels important to keep creating new designs to keep things fresh and interesting.

Added extras

We all love getting something extra, so consider that you can offer to attract customers, which won’t hurt your bottom line. “I offer free postage and this is a big incentive, but you must factor this into your final costs so you are still making a profit,” insists Sally.

“We have an email club call Redbear Club which gives away free cross stitch pattern. It’s a good way to keep in touch with your customers and keep them coming back to your shop,” says Claire.

Share in real life

Just because your shop is online doesn’t mean you can’t drum up business in the real world too. While Erik says having his work hanging in a coffee shop – with a link to his website – drew people to him, craft fairs are a tried and tested route of finding new fans. “I quite often hand out a discount code flyer when I am doing craft fairs which point customers in the direction of my website,” says Sally. “It’s also very helpful to do craft markets to find out what your customers like and why.”

Celebrate your successes

“Take your time and don’t forget to celebrate even the smallest successes,” insists Erik. “I can be very critical and comparative with my own work and tend to focus on all the things that can be improved. However, it’s just as important to realise all the steps you already took towards your goals. Every now and then it is good to step back and be proud of all the things you already accomplished, instead of only focusing on all the things you still need or want to do.”


Illustration by Niki Pilkington