You have decided to turn your passion for collecting or jewelry making into a money making venture. Great! Your thoughts are, "If I open up a small shop online in a well-known and respected online mall, and I fill it with the things I love to collect or create myself, the visitors will magically come knocking on my virtual door, the money will flow and life will be good." Nothing to it, right? Well, there may be more to selling successfully online than simply having a product to sell and a place to sell from. The reality is turning your passion into profits will take work, resources, and knowledge.
Myth #1 - "If I hang out my shingle, the visitors will rush in."
Reality: Even is you are part of a community of shop owners within a online mall type setting where your shop URL is automatically submitted to several search engines you will need to do some of your own marketing to attract visitors to your site. Keep in mind the number of visitors is not what is important, it is the quality of the visitor, meaning you want to attract customers who are interested in the product you are selling. Marketing your site doesn't have to cost you big bucks, two methods of advertising that will cost you nothing but your time is registering your site with the Open Directory Project and exchanging reciprocal links with other websites. If money is not an issue, you can subscribe to a pay-for-click advertising program or pay for advertising in printed publications. Other ways to advertise include sending out a newsletter, dropping off business cards or flyers at local businesses, or doing a postcard mailing to your friends, relatives and past customers. Advertising is a trial and error proposition, you won't know until you do it what works and what doesn't, but do it you must.
Myth #2 - "Customers don't care "who" they are buying from."
Reality: Now I ask you, whom would you rather buy from, someone you knew something about or a ghost? Some shop owners go to great lengths to disguise themselves. No phone number, no address, no ‘about me' information of any kind and they wonder why they don't have more buyers. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part people like to know something about the shop or the shop owner they are buying from, and that they really exist on this planet. Including information about your ‘business' self, a photo of your shop (if you have one) or yourself at work in your studio, will go a long way to reassuring a potential customer you are ‘for real". This is really about creating a professional image and establishing your credibility. Just because you work from home does not mean you should be any less professional. Purchase business cards, install a second phone line (or second number on your original line) for business calls, and if you are concerned about listing your home address, you can rent a post office box for a small sum of money.
Myth #3 - "I don't need to know anything about what I am selling"
Reality: "Not so Grasshopper." As they say, knowledge is power. If you don't know anything about what you are selling then it is time to learn. Customers have questions and they need to be answered with educated responses. Descriptions sell items, so words matter. Every product has two important elements: features and benefits. Marketing gurus will tell you "People buy benefits". It is imperative that you not only describe ALL the features of an item, the tangible aspects of an item or your work; but you must also describe the benefits of the item or craft, what it will do for them or their environment. Educate the customer by providing a little history about the item or describing the steps you took to create your handcrafts if offering artisan items. What you want to do is make a ‘psychological' connection between the customer and the product. Give them a "feel good" reason to buy.
Myth #4 - "Any old picture will do."
Reality: If words matter, photos matter more. Online customers are at a disadvantage when it comes to buying, they cannot touch the item, they cannot turn it around and look at it at all angles, they instead must rely on the photos (and descriptions) to tell them what they want to know. They can't inspect the item up close and personal to find little nicks and scratches or to see the fine details of handcrafted jewelry items. Taking great pictures is an art unto itself but it is possible to learn the basics well enough to produce photos that sell. Remember to take a variety of shots at different angles and distance, make sure you have the proper lighting, and that the item is in focus!
Myth #5 - "I sell online, no one expects me to be here answering questions 24/7."
Reality: The fastest way to lose a customer is by providing substandard customer service. No one likes to be kept waiting. Responding promptly to emails is a success must and the same is true for shipping the item after the sale. Excellent customer service requires planning, hard work and organization. To build your business you must entice your customers and keep bringing them back for more. No matter what the circumstances are, whether it is an item a customer wants to return or a repeat customer back for more, always do your very best to provide the type of service that you would expect to receive if you were the customer.
Selling online can be fun and profitable. It will require an investment of your time, resources and commitment. It is a learning process, exciting at times and frustrating at other times, but if you can stick with it, the rewards are well worth it.