What I’ve Learned about Marketing after 2 Years of Business and Thousands of Sales

It’s the Energy Shop‘s second anniversary, and I love to write a big post every year to celebrate how far it’s come and what I’ve learned. Here’s what I know about marketing after 2 years of business and thousands of sales.

To organize the information, I have decided to break the post up into 3 stages. This seemed fitting, as new shops tend to go through varied stages of growth. Stage 1 was about the foundation: the attitude you bring to your handmade business. Stage 2 is about the building: the marketing of your products. Stage 3 will be about the details: those daily highs and lows and long-term goals.

So, without further ado, here’s what I know for sure about marketing after 2 years of business and thousands of sales.

Stage 2: Market wisely and make buying a pleasure for your valued customers.

Before we begin, I want to cover a few common mistakes that many handmade sellers are making. If you recognize yourself here, you might want to reconsider your approach.

First, many shops are making the biggest mistake in this marketplace: passively selling a product with little to no advertising. They believe that if they build listings on an e-commerce site, people will come. It takes so much more than that! You must take an active approach to marketing if you want customers to find you.

The second common mistake sellers often make is trying to gain exposure among the handmade community by chatting in community forums and being socially active with other sellers. However, unless you sell supplies, customers from within the handmade marketplace should be an afterthought. It would be the same as you advertising the vegetables you have for sale to the other vegetable stands at the farmer’s market. You’re missing the real opportunity; you need to shift your focus to the crowd streaming through the market looking for vegetables like yours!

The final common mistake is counting each sale as just that sale, rather than as a relationship of repeat business between you and the customer. One of the most important things I’ve learned in the past year is that not everything that can be counted counts. I used to love to count sales (and fans), but as soon as I realized that those numbers were irrelevant, sales and fans grew by default. What does count?

Collect email addresses. This is the number that counts as this is your single most valuable marketing tool, and it’s completely free to utilize. If you don’t have a system to capture emails, create one this minute! I use Mail Chimp (free service) to design emails for my mailing list, and this site also provides me with a landing page where interested customers can sign up for exclusive offers. Click here for my Energy Shop example.

Your email list contains people who have signed up to hear what you have to say, and who are hanging on for your next promotion or product release. The number of people on this list truly adds to your bottom line!

Create a financial plan. Before you begin advertising, you need to have money that you feel comfortable spending. You must invest in your marketing plan, and you must realize that customers may need to see your shop up to 20 times before they trust you as a seller.

The first three years of business are part plan, part flying by the seat of your pants. It’s hard to predict an income, so I’ve chosen not to–and I would suggest you do the same. You’re lucky if you’re funding your own growth in the beginning stages of your handmade shop.

Therefore, feeling comfortable with investing money into your handmade business is one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in start-up.

Identify what you’re really selling. Example: I’m not just selling bracelets or jewelry at the Energy Shop, and this is something I have deeply understood from the start of the business. At the Energy Shop, I’m selling affirmations, expectations, and good vibrations. I’m selling dreams and ideas. I’m selling positive reminders of best life intentions. I’m selling the customer a promise to themselves to feel better and make the most of this life.

Once you’ve identified what you’re really selling, send the message to the customer that you understand their needs. The potter could write that their coffee mugs will enhance the warmth and excitement of the new day. The knitter could ask the reader to imagine what their gorgeous afghan would look like on the couch next to a cozy fire on a snowy night. By identifying the feeling your products will deliver, you help the customer understand why they should want it.

Speak your customer’s language. Make sure 100% of your website’s visitors can understand your advertisements, your listings, and your promotional articles. If you sell on Etsy, don’t assume all of your shoppers are familiar with that platform.

I only speak Etsian to you, dear reader. I never speak it outside of our circle. My next door neighbor doesn’t understand what “convo” means, and they don’t understand 2,500 sales from 25. That’s our language. Simplify your language like you’re explaining your product to your elderly aunt.

A perfect example of this is the acronym used all over handmade sites, “OOAK.” For months, I thought this was a special club, until somebody finally spelled it out in their listing (“one of a kind”). If you’re using acronyms and similar insider speak, you’re coming off as elitist whether that’s your intention or not. When people can’t understand what you’re selling, you are telling them that your product is not for them.

Identify a niche market. The saying goes: if your product is for everybody, it’s for nobody because nothing is for everybody.

Marketing is a series of hits and misses. You have to learn who your buyer is and what works for them. I explained one of my marketing successes in an article titled, How to Ride a Trend. It explains how I targeted a niche market and used a television show that market would be watching to help sell my products.

To find your niche market, first identify your ideal customer. How old are they? Are they predominantly male or female? Do they have a family or are they single? Are they conventional or quirky? What do they read? What movies or TV do they watch? Where do they take vacations? Are they laid-back or adventurous? What are their hobbies? What are they afraid of? What do they dream of? How do they want to feel when they shop with you? Create the vision of your ideal customer to figure out how to find real-world versions of them.

This person and all of her friends are your niche market. Look at the shop, Tribal Style on the list at Craft Count: They target the goth market with their jewelry, and they had more than 26,000 sales in two years. Find your niche and celebrate it! It’s a golden opportunity.

Use the tools readily available to you. For example, learn how to use and enjoy Pinterest, and have a Facebook fan page and a Twitter profile on your shop banner. These accounts only take a few minutes to set up, they are free, and they are incredibly valuable. You’re building relationships with your customers, customers are people, and people want to connect.

Furthermore, I’ve been reading the Etsy forums about the website’s search ads. Sellers are complaining about not seeing results, but these ads are a valuable marketing tool! If you’re on Etsy, search ads are easy to set up and should be your first practice at paid advertising.

If you’re not getting sales from being featured in search ads, you want to question the key words you’re using, pictures you’re posting, and items you’re selling–not the advertising system!

In May 2012, I spent $103.69 on search ads, resulting in 15 orders and $569.00 in sales. If you are not seeing results, shift your focus off what’s wrong with the search ads and reinvent your approach to advertising.

Customer service is, by far, the most important part of marketing.

“A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.”–Henry Ford

Give 2,000% of your best effort to production, customer service, and order fulfillment. Make your customers proud to receive your item; exceed their handmade expectations with professional service.

Please take a moment to read How to Satisfy a Customer Complaint. At the Energy Shop, I have a satisfaction guarantee based on my secret policy to customer service: if one of my products fails you, I am going to serve you so well that you’ll hope I screw up again in the future. Customer service is not about a sale or a complaint; it’s about honoring the precious relationship between you and the customer.

Help them help you. If your customers are giving you great feedback, share it and make sure they’re able to share it too. A reader commented on my last post, “I know [my customers] really enjoy talking about [their experience with me].” That’s awesome, and true for many of us. Quote their feedback, share screen clips of your customer’s kind words on your Facebook fan page, and even make “tweetable” comments –you know, for those people like me who still aren’t sure what to say on Twitter. For example, after reading this article, you can:

Tweet me and I’ll tweet you back 😉

Ready for more? Next up is the final installment: What I’ve Learned about Perspective after 2 Years of Business. In the grand finale of this series, I cover some details about building your brand and taking your handmade business to the next level.

P.S. If you loved this post, you’ll love my monthly newsletter. It’s filled to the brim with inspirational articles like this one! Plus, you’ll receive 3 FREE reports: How to Convert Item Views to Items Sold, How I Tripled My Income in 2 Weeks, and The Success Series (How to Build the Life You’ve Always Dreamed of!). What are you waiting for?

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  • Thank you for confirming what I’ve suspected about chatting in handmade community forums. If everyone is there to sell, no one is there to buy.

  • Hey Lisa, Thanks for this article, it’s great! I liked the quote “If your product is for everybody, it’s for nobody because nothing is for everybody.” That’s why I try to market my handmade (sewn) book bags to book lovers (like I am).

    I only have one problem: Obviously nobody on Etsy searches for my “book bags”, because there is not really a word for it. In German we say “Buchtasche”, but a “book pouch” is not really what I sell, isn’t it? And a “book bag” in most cases is a big rucksack for books. Do you have any suggestions how to name my bags/pouches for books? (At the moment I experiment with different product titles.)


    • I started To make dresses for girls and baby items. I have health problems and I can’t work. I thought this would keep me busy and would bring some money to help my husband.
      I started with Etsy almost 4 years ago, and my sales are very low. Only views and favorites, but not sales.
      Do to the lack of sales in this field, I decided to make some jewelry , about few weeks ago and the results are the same, views and no sales.
      I do not know that I am doing wrong, but certainly I am frustrated .
      Every time I post my items I share them in Twitter and Pinterest , but the results are the same.
      Please if you have a little time, check my store and tell me know what is wrong, I will really appreciate it.
      Thanks a lot.

  • i enjoyed the article. I have a shop on etsy where I sell handmade jewelry. I’ve done ok in the past year. I can’t live off of my earrings but I enjoy making jewelry. For something that started out as a hobby for me has grown. I’ve done a few craft shows and made some money that way as well. I collect sea glass from our local beaches and make jewelry out of that as well.

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