Marketing Advice for Internet Artisan Businesses

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Hello friends,

I am often asked how I managed to create a successful internet business selling my handmade soap on my website, ArtFire and Etsy without on line marketing experience. While I don't use Etsy much due to the higher fees, my tips will apply to any selling venue.

I had never sold on line. I was a total newbie - I didn't even know what an avatar or banner was and I had never taken a single product photograph. I opened my ArtFire studio in 2009. I have amassed well over three million views and shipped over 60,000 items from my on line venues. Here is my advice to create a web presence for for a successful artisan business on line.

The best strategy is a multi faceted approach.  Not everything works for every seller, you need to experiment to see what works for you and what you enjoy doing. Personally, I only do a bare minimum of social media. I don't do ads and I never offer discounts or sales. I work to determine consumer demand and adjust my product line to meet that demand.

 I concentrate on building strong relevant Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for Google, Yahoo, Bing types of search engines.  To do this you need to offer superb content filled product pages, good product photos that entice buyers to click, and most important building long term quality back links.  I did this by creating a positive professional reputation as an expert in my field with my blogging, getting featured on related magazines, web sites, other blogs and offering presentations at soap making/artisan symposiums and conventions.

Here are some marketing things that I do:

1. Post in selling site forums to become an integral part of the community. On Artfire, your products show up and people click the photos. They will get to know you and possibly become customers or feature you on their blogs or social media sites. Promote other sellers, it is the epitome of community involvement. It will raise the awareness of your product line and many will repay the favor.

2. Create favorite lists, collections or treasuries. Other sellers are often happy to cross promote with you.  Some post it to Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook which garners more views and exposure. Each treasury, list or collection usually results in many views. When the collection gets featured on the front page or daily email the views are in the hundreds. I have had a number of sales attributed to items being in collections that were in the daily email or front page.

3. Participate in offsite forums. While I am a member of soap maker forums, those are not my target customer base but I do offer my tutorials as a way to pay it forward to my fellow soapers. I never promote there but I offer advice and help. I always have my studio link in my signature. Establish yourself as an expert on your craft. It takes time to build a trusted reputation but that pays off as well.

 Find forums that do have your customer base - such as new Mommy forum if you knit children's clothing, beauty sites if you make bath and body etc. You don't want to promote on forums just become an active member of the community. But include your shop or contact information in your signature so others can find you if they want. You should not directly promote on or spam sites, the only exception would be places that clearly identify promotional areas - it is acceptable to occasionally promote in those areas only.

4. The blog is an amazing tool to drive traffic for months and years. I use blogger and the ArtFire blog. It is my first attempt at blogging. I post everything there - tutorials, product information, gardening, recipes, Polish holiday traditions etc.

I do maintain a level of professionalism even in the personal posts, I find great traffic is created for my studio from my blog posts. I track my incoming urls and get a lot of hits from my blog posts, and sales, too!

Create content that people want to read. Submit the blog posts to crafting libraries and sites looking for relevant content to feature. Some of my tutorial posts have been picked up by dozens of on line magazines, forums and other bloggers which has resulted in newspaper features and radio talk show invites. I have blog posts that are over 5 years old and still get daily incoming urls by the hundreds. That is the great advantage of blog posts over social media type posts, the blog posts are long term quality back links to your studio whereas social media sites usually move fast so it doesn't generate traffic that literally lasts for years.  The most beneficial thing that has come from my blog being featured elsewhere is corporate buyers from major retailers like Free People, Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods and TV home shopping networks have found me by means of my web presence and contacted me to partner with them as a vendor.

5. Find free publicity. Submit your news to local papers, radio stations, TV stations, give demonstrations of your craft, speak about internet selling to gatherings of artisans, offer classes. Capitalize on your expert reputation by agreeing to be a speaker/presenter. I attend symposiums, conventions, workshops and serve as a guest speaker for local organizations. Press releases provide free advertising. I make our newspaper at least 4 times a year. Make sure your web address is on your business cards.

6. I have the link to my studio in all my email signatures, personal, office, ministry and soap related. My family and friends have the link to my studio in their email signatures, too. Their friends click through to see Jeanne's sister's soap some send it along to their families. Word of mouth advertising is priceless.

7. For after the sale marketing, I have a one page brochure. The front is color photos of my favorite product shots, my full contact information - name, addresses, business name, website, phone, email, and list of general product categories. The back is the story of my bio and detailed information about my product line. I print them myself on a color copier. Every package gets a brochure, a business card and one of my Bonnie Bucks coupon for one dollar off their next purchase as well as samples. Those samples are fantastic business builders and account for many return customers. They try it and love it so much they order more.

8. I distribute free samples to anyone who shows an interest. I have a Soapsmith license plate. When I am checking out with gallons of olive oil someone makes a comment, I go into my story of making soap. Grocery stores, craft stores , the people in line behind me always get offered a sample, a Bonnie Bucks coupon and business card as well as the cashier. Word of mouth has built my business for over 4 decades. I give out hundreds of Bonnie Bucks every year.

9. Find something like my Bonnie Bucks coupon to brand yourself. My coupon is memorable. People remember getting something that looks like money. They are 2 X 4 inches and I print them 10 to a page on green paper with a black copier. Donate your products to locate events - charities, reunions, new business openings, schools, chamber of commerce events. I always send along a stack of brochures, business cards and Bonnie Bucks with every basket. I ask that they be placed next to my basket on the display table so attendees can take them home for future reference.

10. Even though I have strong traffic and high sales volumes, I challenge myself to find room for improvement. I don't like posting to social media, but I do a little because it is an important part of maintaining a strong internet presence. My latest efforts are to learn how to do a few product videos for you tube to see if it positively impacts my on line business. Have you done any videos? They are brand new to me, a casual computer user at best, but I found them pretty easy to make. The ones I make now are leaps and bounds better than the ones I made earlier. If my data shows that they had little impact, then I won't spend much more time on them but will leave with an increased knowledge base. 

11. Always conduct yourself in a professional manner. Your reputation depends on it. Even on off site forums, I always behave in a manner that reflects my business philosophy.

12. Make yourself accessible to potential customers. I offer my contact information including phone contact, email, web site, address on everything - business cards, coupons, brochures, bios, about me pages. I sell dozens of items every month via the phone, some people don't like shopping on line and greatly appreciate the ability to speak to me in person - great relationships are developed with personal contact. I now have a family that has used my soap exclusively for four generations - amazing! 

13. I suggest getting your own domain name and using that everywhere you can. It is smart business sense to create a presence on multiple venues. There are a myriad of selling sites. Everything from ArtFire, Etsy, Ebay, Amazon to stand alone websites to free sites that you can set up and easily link to the venue of your choice. With your own domain name, you control where your buyers make their purchases no matter where they find you as you direct all traffic to the site of your choice.

I recently set up a stand alone Wix site. No matter where you sell, it is a great idea to have options. At any time, venues can change, raise rates, close down, enter into partnerships that no longer support your product line and so on. By having your own domain name, you can simply point your customer base anywhere without losing your precious back links. Mine is

14. The key is to KNOW what works for you. Compile data on your site visitors, views and sales figures. Analyze the information and act on it. If you are marketing, how is that working for you? If it isn't, then cut back on the time you spend on that particular activity that isn't producing good results and focus that time on something different to find out if you have better results elsewhere.

What works for me might not work for you. Other artisans find success with the things that I choose not to do. Some have amazing results with social media like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram or with paid ads. If you are willing to try paid ads, take advantage of programs offered by your selling venue. ArtFire and Etsy have programs that work well for sponsored ads in Google Shopping. There is no right or wrong answer - you have to discover your path to profitability.

15. Building a vibrant presence on Google, Yahoo, Bing types of search engines is vital for success.  Find out their rules and follow them.  Avoid things that will get your listings downgraded.  Major search engines want to offer content that answers searches so capitalize on content filled pages that features great images and offers varied key words that are relevant to your products.  When Google offers your link to someone and they click on that link, you want them to stay on the page.  Google rewards that so the next time someone uses that same keyword Google will rank your item higher.  As long as you are providing content that people want you will be elevated in search results.  Quality, content filled, rich language with applicable keywords without keyword stuffing is nectar for the google gods - feed them! 

 Long term back links are highly valued so build them as much as you can with blog posts, articles, urls offered on other sites that are relevant to your products, product videos, social media links can help, too.  You want to demonstrate your value on many different areas of the internet. 75% of my sales come via Google types of search engines.

I am now at the point of having to turn away business due to high demand.  I have been picked up by major retailers like Free People, Urban Outfitters, TV shopping networks and dozens of small shops.  All of the major retailers purchase private label at my full retails so no more wholesale pricing which makes it very lucrative.  The corporate buyers all found me on line, I have never approached any store.  That strong presence on the internet has certainly paid off - they found me, purchased an item anonymously and called me to become their vendors.  

They order thousands of items at a time and sell out in just three days - 700 pound orders that have to ship by tractor trailer are amazing!

Three things for any profitable enterprise:

Sell a product that consumers want to purchase. Tailor your product line to consumer demand. I sell what people want to buy, not what I want to sell. Using your data research will guide you in market direction. Use those facts!

Sell those products at a price that is justified by your skill level and quality while affording a reasonable profit for you.  Price to be fair to you and your customer. You are in business to make a profit, don't undermine that with poor pricing practices. Always provide positively outrageous customer service, build that repeat customer base - they are priceless.  It is easier to keep a customer than find new ones.

Get your items seen by the customers that are searching for them. Follow the professional advice for search engine optimization (SEO) to get found - 75% of my sales come from search engines. Marketing & SEO is the way to accomplish the third piece of the puzzle of internet selling.

Wishing you success!


Reader's Comments

By Guest on 02/03/2015 @ 09:19pmA great bit of info i will be bookmarking this page and joining artfire.. I need to change the way i look at my marketing and be more focused.. thank you X Sarah

By zoeJane on 11/18/2014 @ 07:54pmThank you for posting this advice. It is very informative and useful.

By Guest on 09/21/2014 @ 02:52pmGreat advice! Now to build a site on Artfire.

By made4You-Gifts on 07/28/2014 @ 07:52pmThank you for the valuable advise. As a newbie here on Art fire I really appreciate you sharing you how you have gained your sales success. I have taken notes and will definitely use your suggestions.

By WeddingDynasty on 05/28/2014 @ 12:00pmGreat advice- Thanks so much. I am taking notes and will use these valuable advice you provided. To all, best wishes for lots of $ales!!

By PebblesatmyFeet on 05/21/2014 @ 01:01pmThank you for posting this, you have been an inspiration here on Artfire. I am implementing as many of these great suggestions as I can.

By normasbathandbody on 05/16/2014 @ 03:27pmVery good info bonnie.

By RobinsonsHandyCrafts on 05/07/2014 @ 08:13pmGreat post Bonnie, Thanks for generously sharing your pathway to having a successful online business. Very valuable information.

By DoubleSJewelry on 05/07/2014 @ 02:45pmGreat post! Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise with all of us. Happy sales!

By Soapsmith on 02/15/2014 @ 01:57pmThanks for your kind remarks. I don't have any videos of making soap. I just started experimenting with slide show type of product videos but nothing that shows actual making of soap. I don't have a video camera so I have no way of making a video. Maybe some day. Here is my you tube channel, if I every try an "action" video, I will post it there. I hope you enjoy your soapmaking journey! Have fun.

By Guest on 02/15/2014 @ 01:10pmthank you soooo very much. I am new to all of marketing venues. Computer ignorant not only to marketing ideas but have been teaching myself to soap design for less than 2years (no classes, workshops or speakers available in my area). just thought I would try some as a hobby. Now I am hooked. I have learned more from your blog than all the searches on line. Books and kits are woefully inadequate. Please tell me where I can watch a live video by you.---jboracle

By JennyBeanCreations on 11/25/2013 @ 02:00amFantastic information to share Bonnie! You have inspired me. Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge. Now I have some work to do. ~ Jenny/JennyBeanCreations

By MelodyODesigns on 11/19/2013 @ 06:22pmExcellent information. Thanks so much for sharing it. Your success is a real inspiration!

By RefinedVintage on 10/25/2013 @ 04:44amThat is a great informative post. I applaud all the hard work and details you put into your business Thank you for sharing all your insight. I would love to increase my presence online and get my sales up.Now I just have to figure out out to translate all this into selling vintage. Thanks Bonnie.

By vdrFamily on 10/17/2013 @ 04:18pmFantastic blog post! Got me at the right time, as I'm trying (again) to get my brand buzzing. Thanks for sharing!

By vdrFamily on 10/17/2013 @ 04:15pmFantastic blog post! Got me at the right time, as I'm trying (again) to get my brand buzzing. Thanks for sharing!

By Metal_Artistry on 10/17/2013 @ 12:57pmThanks. I can take some of this info for my jewelry shop and am trying (now) to figure out how to give samples or coupons or ...? You got me thinking and for that I am thankful. Lynn

By TwoSilverMoons on 10/16/2013 @ 04:18pmGreat post. Thanks so much for writing this, Bonnie.

By Dreamcatcherman on 10/16/2013 @ 05:32amVery informative information and very useful. I have read this advice more than once. You really know what your doing. What devotion! Thanks so much for all of your help,Bonnie. William/dreamcatcherman

By KanweieneaKreations on 09/18/2013 @ 12:15amvery valuable and helpful advice. Thank you for this post! :)

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