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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Do you want to start an online craft business? Here's some suggestions.

Image representing ArtFire as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

Making the Internet and Ecommerce Work for Your Craft Business

By Maire Loughran, About.com
If you’ve ever gotten together with a group of crafters discussing ecommerce, you probably found that the verdict was evenly split on the topic of its worth. In my experience, about half will think it’s the best thing since sliced bread while the other half find it too much of a hassle to coordinate the ordering, payment and shipping procedures. Even if you don’t want to sell your crafts online, a website is a fantastic way to market your crafts by providing potential customers with more information about your company.

1. Is Your Craft Suitable for Ecommerce?

I really don’t see this as being too much of a problem. Live plants, furniture, cut flowers, expensive jewelry, firearms, frozen groceries are all available for purchase via the Internet. From tiny to huge, there seems to be a shipping option for just about any product.
The only way I could anticipate ecommerce being a problem for your craft business is if you have some sort of health or safety issue involved. How likely is this with a craft type business? Well, I can’t think of an example.
Not interested in ecommerce? You still should have an informational website listing dates and locations for craft shows or retail shops that carry your product so your customers can find you.

2. Set up an Internet Presence1

It’s very easy to get your company up and running on the internet. Some possibilites I recommend are using What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG) software such as Microsoft FrontPage or Adobe Dreamweaver, hire a website designer for a truly custom look or signing up for third party marketing through sites such as eBay or Yahoo stores.

3. Etsy2

If you’re involved in arts or crafts, you’ve more than likely heard of Etsy.com, an online venue for buying and selling handcrafted products. Like any online presence, maintaining an Etsy shop takes work. Curious about Etsy? Thinking it may be a good compliment to the way you’re marketing your craft business at present? Check out my brief Etsy tutorials.

4. ArtFire.com3

Find out about ArtFire.com, a inexpensive way to market your arts / crafts online. ArtFire offers both a free Basic plan and a Verified plan costing $12 per month with no listing fees or commissions.Thinking ArtFire.com may be a good compliment to the way you’re marketing your craft business at present? Check out my brief ArtFire tutorials.

5. Tailor Pages to Your Website

Depending if you have an ecommerce website or an informational only website there are standard pages that you should include. I wasn’t quite sure what pages to include as part of a well-written site and what was fluff when I started out, so I used various websites that I liked as guides.
If you have an ecommerce site don't skip having a Policy page. This page gives your customer the full scoop on your return, shipping and other company policies so there’s no confusion about the terms of the sale. An informed customer is a happy customer, give them a lot of info so there are no surprises regarding the order.

6. Web Images Have to be Perfect4

I just can’t emphasize this enough. Your images must look flawless. I mean, really, do you order from a website if the product image doesn’t look good? Well, you may if you’re buying groceries or computer parts. But you’re selling crafts, which is reaching a totally different audience. Your customer is going to need a killer image to give them that final push to click on the ‘Add to Cart’ button.
A stellar product image goes a long way toward reinforcing customer confidence in your product. This translates into sales. If your site is for informational purposes only, you still need great images to attract customers to your craft shows. Good images can save you money too since the website can replace a costly print catalog.

7. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)5

You can have a fantastic website, with stellar images and killer product descriptions, but it will do you no good unless people can find it. It’s kind of like a needle in a haystack out there in cyberspace. Increase your chances of potential customers finding you through search engine optimization.

8. Selling Online? You Might Need Shopping Cart Software6

If you’re only accepting payment through a service like PayPal, you can relax. You won’t need shopping cart software – PayPal takes care of this for you. However, I have a merchant account in addition to PayPal (it comes in handy for my customers at craft shows).
Have the same situation as me? Check with your merchant account provider to see which shopping cart software works with their system. Also, protect your customers by only using shopping cart software that has Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protection.

9. Shipping Your Customer Orders

Congratulations, you’ve made your first sale online! Now, how are you going to get that order from your business to their house? Investigate the various possibilities (USPS, Federal Express, UPS etc) and see which works best for you. Another shipping issue to consider is if you are going to incorporate the cost of shipping into the cost of the product and offer ‘free’ shipping or if the shipping will be an add-on to the cost of the sale.

10. Should You Monetize Your Craft Web Site?7

If you’re not sure what this means, an excellent example are websites that use Google Ad Sense. I don’t recommend monetizing a craft business website. Once you've gotten that elusive potential customer to visit your site, you don't want to distract them with ads for other businesses. Keep your website on its main topic – that of promoting your product.
 
 
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Here is some information for starting your own online craft business.  I know that there are many people out there who craft but don't know how to go about starting an online store or how to showcase their wares.  There is a good market for homemade items, but since most are not advertised, it seems that no one want to buy them.  Not so. 

Even other countries are great buyers of hand crafted items, so put your crafty hat on and get busy.  It never hurts to make a little extra money and having a home-business has tax advantages.  The soon you start one the better.
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