A Textile Designer Shares 4 Wholesale Outreach Methods

How a textile designer uses Etsy Wholesale, Etsy Open Call, the NY NOW trade show, and one-on-one outreach to build wholesale relationships with boutiques and large retailers

Have you been thinking that it would be great to get into selling wholesale to boutiques, but not sure how? Getting one or two big orders each season would take a lot of the worry about cash flow out of the picture, and can be a great way to diversify. But how are you supposed to find the perfect stores that will be a great match for your business? I saw that Casey D. Sibley was hard at work on this herself, and asked her to share her experiences with you.

Casey designs colorful textiles and handmade goods to inspire a happy life. She is here today to share with you the four methods she’s been using lately to be in touch with retailers about stocking her products:

  1. Personal research and outreach
  2. Etsy Wholesale
  3. Etsy’s Open Call event
  4. NY NOW trade show

Read on to hear how these investments in her business’ future are working out for her, and to learn more about her wonderful business.

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Fabric buckets by Casey D. Sibley

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Clutch bag by Casey D. Sibley

How long have you been using Etsy Wholesale? What do you like about it?

I’ve been on Etsy Wholesale since 2014 and it’s been an instrumental tool in the growth of my wholesale business. It allowed me to easily set up policies and a platform for stores to easily place orders early on, and the way that Etsy has everything laid out helped wholesale make more sense to me.

I also noticed that my wholesale conversions went up once I had an online place for retailers to place orders (as opposed to having to email me PDF, handwritten orders). They could quickly see what I had for wholesale along with pricing. In a few clicks, they could build their order, see totals, and send it right over. I do a lot of targeted outreach to find new shops, but being on Etsy Wholesale has allowed new shops to find me, as well. I would say that about half of the shops that I work with found me on Etsy.

What other methods do you use to reach out to wholesalers?

Up until about a month ago, I would search online for new shops through Google (thinking of places and types of shops where my ideal customer would be hanging out), Instagram, searching through stockists lists on other websites, and word of mouth. I was always on the hunt, and would set aside time every week to email new shops about my work if I felt that they were a great fit. I’ve built up a pretty large list of shops that I reach out to regularly and try to build trust with by following up a few times a year.

Last month, I exhibited at NY NOW and Etsy Open Call for the first time and came away with several new orders and loads of new, interested contacts. Both shows were such a great experience for me, and I’m planning to make trade shows a bigger part of my wholesale outreach and market research plan moving forward! The investment is, obviously, much bigger. But the time I saved finding all these great new shops is invaluable, and I’m already making back my investment in both events, just days after attending and showing my work.

Did you do anything special to be invited to Etsy Open Call? How did you prepare for the event?

Etsy announced applications for Open Call and I jumped at the opportunity! Last year, I applied and was not accepted. So this year I felt more prepared (mainly because I had also been preparing to attend NY NOW and getting my line more honed in). I’ve tried to keep my relationship with Etsy going strong over the years, even though I have my own website and still do a lot of business off of Etsy. I really appreciate all that Etsy has done to help me grow my business (it’s where I started!) and they provide so many opportunities for sellers.

Every time I see a contest or opportunity arise through Etsy that I think might be a good fit for where I want to take my business, I apply. Because of this, I’ve had opportunities to write for the Etsy blog, been featured on their social media posts, had product featured at the Etsy Pavilion at last year’s NY NOW trade show, been selected for a Mini Open Call with Clementine Store in Virginia, and most recently, selected for the Etsy Open Call held at the Brooklyn office. I’m not afraid to keep applying for opportunities, even when I am not accepted at first!

I’ve also spent a lot of time this year trying to improve my work by developing a more cohesive collection. I thought a lot about which products would do well, and introduced a couple of new products based on customer feedback. This collection represents some of my hardest work yet! And it’s also one that I have been the most satisfied with.

What are a few dream retailers that you would like to be stocked by?

More so than having my products stocked at large dream retailers, I would love the chance to collaborate with them on products that they can handle manufacturing on. Especially after my trip to NY for the trade show and Open Call, I really love working with smaller retailers all over the globe. I love that connection and relationship that can form with another small business owner. And those smaller partnerships have been profitable for me. So that’s hard for me to answer! If I could work with any retailer on a collaborative project, Land of Nod would be a fun one to work with. I love their style–it’s very bright and happy which is something I strive for in my own work!

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Apron by Casey D. Sibley

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Fabric buckets by Casey D. Sibley

What great takeaways or tips did you get from attending the open call?

I think Emily Blistein, who gave a presentation prior to the pitch sessions at Open Call, gave some really great advice. She said that we knew our product better than anyone, and if there was a question we couldn’t answer it would be okay! She also stressed that we should take on partnerships that would work for the retailer and us, and not feel obligated to take on work that didn’t feel right or agree to terms that might not work for us. Obviously, pitching to these larger retailers was such a great opportunity! But it’s important to not let the sparkle of a big opportunity distract us from the realities of fulfillment and profit margins when working on very large orders.

I also loved seeing all the work from the other sellers. That was both humbling and incredibly inspiring. There were a couple of sellers whose work really stood out to me, which had me thinking of ways to get my own work to that same level of execution. It’s important to be able to see the work around you, even in the same market, and not get discouraged by comparing yourself to them, but see how or what someone is doing right and use that information to help refine your own brand. I was really motivated to come home and work on my packaging and the cohesiveness of my line, for example.

What would you do differently if you were invited to do an event like this again?

I would work on my pitch more. There were a couple of brands that I thought might be a good fit, but I got a little caught up in the moment and sort of blubbered through a few things when talking about my work. If I had practiced exactly what I would say, over and over, I might have been able to speak more succinctly about the most important points for my work. I talk about my work enough that I know what I want to say, but in a more nerve racking setting, some of that goes out the window!

Will you be making any changes to your business based on feedback from retailers at this event?

The retailer feedback for the Open Call pitch sessions was not as in depth as I had hoped (the whole thing flew by because they had to get to 36 sellers). But! They did ask a lot of great questions about how often I release new collections, and how my fabrics are made and how well they resist fading. Those are things that I realized I want to outline more clearly in the information I send out with my products. One major thing I have been working on this year is being really transparent and crystal clear about how I operate my business and what practices are important to me as a maker and seller. Open Call solidified that goal for me.

I also have been thinking a lot about if and how I want to work with larger brands moving forward. I can definitely see working with them in the future as I grow and my production methods evolve. But for now, I’m planning to continue to build relationships with smaller retailers.

After the pitch sessions, I felt emotionally and mentally drained! It was pretty intense, and a really long day. I wasn’t sure if I had the energy to be “on” for the buyer party at the end (Etsy invited retailers–many of whom were in town for NY NOW–to come and shop the Etsy Open Call finalists’ work). I’m so glad they had this event at the end! It was so nice to chat with the smaller retailers, and I picked up four new shops at the buyer party. That was a big confidence booster after a long day of pitching :) So while I didn’t receive a “Golden Purchase Order” from any of the larger retailers that we pitched to earlier that day, it was still a very profitable and enjoyable event overall for me. And I was so honored to be invited and get to rub elbows with the Etsy team, the buyers, and the other sellers.


My name is Casey and I am the designer behind Casey D. Sibley Art + Design, a Reno, NV based studio specializing in hand-drawn and hand-painted surface pattern designs for textiles in a happy modern style. I design colorful and bold fabrics for home goods and personal accessories, meant to be used daily and inspire a happy life. With a background in architecture and a love of pattern, my goal is to bring you products that are not only functional, but also beautiful and well-made.

Thank you for this peek into the four methods you use to pitch your products to wholesale buyers, Casey!

Ultimate trade show packing list

I have a bonus for you today! 14 stationery companies shared their own trade show packing lists with us, and we’ve compiled it into a master list. You can also peek and see each business’ exhaustive list, with things like how many catalogs they bring, etc. The one thing everyone agreed on was to bring at least four different kinds of tape! Want this? Sign up and nab it below:

Ultimate Trade Show Packing List

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How to Sell Digital Invitations on Shopify

Working on the new Sunshine Parties site was a dream. From the very beginning, Louise had a list of specific, tangible objectives that helped us hone in on a proper course of action: Improve visitors' experience with the shop and help sell digital invitations. Showcase the Sunshine Parties products first and foremost, without elements that distract from them. Clarify messaging so people know that the files are digital, editable and printable. Explain "How it Works" so customers know it's quick and simple to use. Have the shop co-exist with the blog to make backend logistics more streamlined Draw visitors from the blog to the site

Chances are, if you’re reading our blog, you’ve been in a situation similar to the one Louise Sanders was in. About a year ago, Louise launched Sunshine Parties with a shop on Etsy. She also set up a corresponding, self-hosted blog, where she shared the beautiful pictures and stories behind her products. Sunshine Parties sells digital invitations and party décor—each an original, modern set designed by Louise—which clients can quickly download, edit, personalize, print, and assemble at home.

One of Louise’s primary differentiators is the instant gratification of being able to quickly and easily customize a Sunshine Parties design at home. Coincidentally, this is also what brought Louise our way—as her business grew, she knew she needed to streamline the shopping experience for her customers. Having them go from her blog to her Etsy shop (or vice-versa) was not only inefficient, it made tracking conversions and cart abandonment very difficult. “I’m at that point now where I know I need to create my own online shop and have more control over my brand,” she said.

Photo © Sunshine Parties

Photo © Sunshine Parties

Photo © Sunshine Parties

Photo © Sunshine Parties

Photo © Sunshine Parties

Photo © Sunshine Parties

Working on the new Sunshine Parties site was a dream. From the very beginning, Louise had a list of specific, tangible objectives that helped us hone in on a proper course of action:

  • Improve visitors’ experience with the shop and make turn them into return customers.
  • Showcase the Sunshine Parties products first and foremost, without elements that distract from them.
  • Clarify messaging so people know that the files are digital, editable and printable.
  • Explain “How it Works” so customers know it’s quick and simple to use.
  • Have the shop co-exist with the blog to make backend logistics more streamlined
  • Draw visitors from the blog to the site

With this in mind, we got to work and created a custom design on Shopify for Sunshine Parties. By integrating a blog and shop, her customers now enjoy a seamless experience when visiting the new site. In addition, we worked on creating new copy for her site in key places—like the home, about, and FAQ pages—where customers could quickly learn how to purchase and customize Louise’s beautiful party printables.

Melanie’s design emphasized giving visitors an immediate overview of Sunshine Parties with a large, dominant image, followed by two photos below that guide shoppers to the different product categories. Scrolling further down, customers begin to get a quick taste of what else is in store. A simple, but engaging step-by-step graphic quickly explains how digital downloads work.

Sunshine Parties website design by Aeolidia

Sunshine Parties website design by Aeolidia

Sunshine Parties website design by Aeolidia

The end result is a great example of how strategic design and messaging can “teach” your customers how to experience your brand. It marries form and function in a bright, happy, interactive way that’s worthy of a celebration or two!

Ready to gain more control of your brand with an online shop tailored especially to your needs? Contact us to get the party started!

Visit Sunshine Parties.

Are you selling on Etsy?

You may be interested in our specific guide to the exact steps to take to set up a Shopify shop with your Etsy products. Head over here to get access to that guide.

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Read our guide to setting up Shopify for Etsy sellers

You Really Need Your Site to be Mobile-Friendly Now, Okay?

If you created your shop on Shopify in the last couple of years, you almost certainly have a site that is mobile-friendly -- though that doesn't mean you can add content to it blindly, without considering mobile shoppers! If your shop was created more than 2-3 years ago, there's a pretty good chance that it's out of date and needs to be redesigned. Here is how to find out, and what to do.

What is a mobile-friendly site? You know when you visit a website from your phone, and the text is tiny? It looks like a full size desktop squished onto a phone-size screen. You need to zoom in to try to read anything, and forget trying to tap a link or a button. Everything is too small and too close together. This is what you see when a website isn’t mobile-friendly, and it tells you that the site is at least a few years old.

A mobile-friendly site, on the other hand, shows all the content comfortably on the screen, has a readable text size, and there is enough space around the links that you can easily follow them. Everything you need to browse and shop on a desktop is present on mobile, and often adjusted to work specifically for mobile browsers.

If you created your shop on Shopify in the last couple of years, you almost certainly have a site that is mobile-friendly — though that doesn’t mean you can add content to it blindly, without considering mobile shoppers! If your shop was created more than 2-3 years ago, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s out of date and needs to be redesigned. Here is how to find out, and what to do.

You’re losing half of your shoppers without a mobile-friendly site

2014 was when making your site mobile-friendly got serious. In 2015 and 2016, you were pretty behind if your site didn’t work well on a phone. Sadly, I’m still expecting to see this problem in 2017. I do hope that if you sell your products online, you’ve taken steps to be sure that your mobile shoppers have a great experience.

Many, if not most, people check their email and their social media accounts on their phones. They also do most of their research on their phones, using Google. This means that if you’re putting time, effort, and money into email or social media marketing, or your SEO, you’re going to be throwing away that money for every potential shopper who can’t use your site easily.

I have a few little tasks that you could try today to make a big difference in increasing the sales you get from social media.

Check your website stats

I have been seeing more and more online shops where mobile visitors account for 70-80% of all visitors to the site. Yet, when I look at these sites from my phone, I see things such as main feature photos on the homepage that don’t work on a phone. If your photos are horizontal (short and wide) or if you put small text on them (or even medium text on them), those photos are nearly pointless for mobile customers.

Go to your stats and see how many of your visitors are browsing on a mobile device. Here’s how:

  • In Shopify, go to Reports, click the “view dashboard” button, then look at the list of “top device types.” To get the big picture, change the date pulldown up top to show the last 90 days.
  • Or In Google Analytics, go to Audience, then Mobile, then Overview.

Are mobile visitors 50% of your traffic? Only a small amount? As high as 80%? Now you know where to focus when optimizing your site.

If your mobile visitors are more than half of your traffic, pay attention to mobile first, not desktop. When adding content, try vertical or square photos on the home page. It would make sense for you to optimize your site for the phone, then check that the desktop view looks okay as a second priority.

View your site at mobile size

If you have any mobile visitors (you do!), you should know what your site looks like on mobile, and remove any difficulties for mobile browsers on the way to checkout.

View your site at mobile size. You can do this on a phone, of course, but these tools will give you an in-depth view as well:

  • Am I Responsive? This clever site will show you how your website looks across different devices, and it allows you to scroll and click within each one!
  • Google’s Mobile Friendly Test will let you know if Google classifies your site as mobile-friendly in their search, and show you what the googlebot sees.

Check your site out on a phone. Are you able to find things, shop, get through checkout? Is all the content readable, or do you need to do the “tap tap” or “un-pinch” gesture to expand it?

Is your newsletter mobile-friendly?

Put your own email address on your email list. Then, when you send out a newsletter, check the email on your computer AND on your phone to be sure that it looks the way you intended. I read all my personal email (including newsletters) on my phone, and I often see wonky layouts and shrimpy text when I get newsletters from small businesses.

If you use MailChimp, make sure to always view each newsletter in the mobile preview tool before you send. Even if you have a template set up that “usually works,” occasionally something funny like a photo or long URL will throw what usually works out of whack. Always best to check!

What is the sales funnel like from social media?

Finally, if you’re spending time on social media, you want to be sure that it’s a smooth process from your social media post, to finding products on your website, to making a purchase. This is called your sales funnel, because it’s funnel-shaped: lots of people will see your Instagram post, the widest part of your funnel. Less people will read the caption and interact on the post. The next step in the funnel (and often the trickiest) narrows down to the amount of people who will click over to your website to shop, then make it to the cart, then checkout.

If you’ve never put yourself in your customer’s shoes, try that the next time you post on social media. Can you read the Instagram post, understand where to find the link to shop, then find the product that was discussed on Instagram, add it to your cart, and successfully check out?

Sometimes there is a step in there that is confusing, takes too many clicks, or doesn’t work well on mobile. Discover what that is, and smooth the path for your customers.


Want more info on this? Visit our oldie-but-goodie article, Why & How to Make a Mobile-Friendly Website

If you would like to work with us on a site that will work for all of your visitors, you know where I’m at!

Crafting your customer experience

Watch my video interview with Lela Barker to discover how to build a brand that retailers won’t be able to resist.

The difference between a website or a brand identity that’s executed at 90% and 100%, the difference is not 10%, in my eyes. It’s another 100%.

A lot of brands will go to 90%. They’ll do pretty good photos. But it’s the brands that have knock your socks off photos that really get your attention. It’s the brands that have really taken the time to craft that brand story and build a really welcoming About page that’s a rallying cry to join them in whatever they believe about the world. Those are the ones that get our attention.

— Lela Barker

In the video, Lela and I discuss what you’ll need to build an effective business online. Just sign up below, and I’ll email the video link directly to you:

Crafting Your Customer Experience

Sign up to watch the free video on creating a stellar customer experience online

How to Plan a Free Professional Product Photo Session

Awesome social media photography tip! It can be such a pain getting beautiful, styled photos together for your website, catalogs, and social media. Having a professional product photo session done is a necessary thing, but wouldn't it get great to have a low cost way to have a constant stream of fresh new photos? If you want to have styled photography or use models, the cost goes up. While I would definitely recommend investing in professional photography, if you can find a way to get the same quality for free (and have everyone involved be as happy as a clam), that's a winner!

So you want beautiful, styled photos for your website, catalogs, and social media. Most business owners know the value of investing in professional product photo sessions. But wouldn’t it be great to have a low cost way to have a constant stream of fresh new photos? If you can find a way to get professional product photos for free (and have everyone involved be as happy as a clam), that’s a winner!

Aeolidia newsletter subscribers and I have been chatting about making more sales online, as usual. Recently, the topic of getting more engagement on Instagram came up.

Sarena Udani of PajamaSutra got back to me with this intriguing reply:

Your emails are so helpful and always so timely! I’ve been thinking a lot about Instagram lately and what I really want to say.

I think I’ve found it, and it is really simple – showcase beautiful brides in their getting ready moments, and make the focus entirely on them and their special “moments before Mrs.” (I’ve made #momentsbeforemrs one of our signature hashtags).

It is so great to be able to feature work from professional photographers, whose subjects are brides at their most gorgeous (and who happen to be wearing PajamaSutra robes).

It is a lot easier – and more engaging – than me photographing pajamas on my own and promoting them without much result.

My engagement has definitely gone up and things are looking a lot brighter on Instagram!

Thanks,

Sarena

Well, I could hardly let that go without learning more, could I? I asked Sarena how it was she was getting these beautiful photos. It turns out that the elaborate shoots you see above and below are a result of a super smart arrangement between her and wedding photographers. No money changes hands. She has found a way to provide value to the photographer and the bridal party, while ending up with just the photos she needs to promote her product line.

I never had getting ready photos done for my wedding – my hair and makeup artist ended up ill in the hospital the day before my wedding, and my photographer ended up not making it to the bridal suite on time to see me applying my own makeup. It is such a full-circle moment for me to be able to play a small role in each of these brides’ getting ready moments. They all look amazing and their photos are so stunning, and it means so much more to me than simply a marketing strategy – it truly is an honor and privilege!

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Photo © Nicole Goddard. Robes by PajamaSutra.

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Photo © Nicole Goddard. Robes by PajamaSutra.

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Photo © Nicole Goddard. Robes by PajamaSutra.

I asked Sarena for more detail, and she shared this collaborative strategy:

Last summer when I began marketing to brides with the launch of the PajamaSutra Bridal line, my initial plan was to set up a photo session. That meant I needed to hire a model to pose as a bride, as well as a hair/makeup artist to actually do her bridal look AND be in the photos, then hire a photographer, as well as purchase props like bouquets, champagne, and then of course more models to pose as bridesmaids who ALSO needed their hair and makeup done…and it all started to add up.

I believed in my product and really wanted to see the robes in the photos I envisioned, but I just couldn’t re-create a wedding photo session on the budget I had at the time. I essentially needed to host a styled shoot involving many vendors in the wedding industry.

Then I had an idea – I should approach real brides to see if I could arrange a photo agreement with them and their photographer! Yes, I would lose all control on the actual direction of the photos, but the HUGE benefit is that I would have real brides in my photos. That thought was really exciting for me – to capture the real moments a bride experiences while getting ready to be married – her transformation, glow, excitement, and sheer beauty. I realized that was a feeling I couldn’t re-create with a model.

I put together an agreement and model release based on existing contracts in the entertainment industry for product placement, then reached out to wedding coordinators to see if they had any brides who would be interested in working together. I received so much interest! I was thrilled to put together custom robes for my brides, and added special touches with the packaging to truly make them feel special. Once I received the photos back from the photographers, it was like opening a gift on Christmas morning. Gorgeous images – emotional, stunning, and meaningful… all featuring PajamaSutra and a glowing bride.

From then on, sharing on social media was more like a collaboration; each post was tagged with the photographer, the bride, her bridesmaids, her hair and makeup professionals, and other vendors that made it happen.

Now PajamaSutra Bridal is growing organically, with photographers reaching out to our Instagram profile with images they took of their brides wearing PajamaSutra while getting ready.

We also include a gold scroll with every order that ends with a request to tag and share images of our brides wearing PajamaSutra and how they “Lounge Like A Goddess”

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Sarena began this idea by sending gift cards for the bridal party:

All of the communication was done between myself and the coordinator, to make sure the contract and model release was signed and taken care of (plus I wanted to keep the coordinator in the loop). I did make sure that I would credit the photographer with links back to their website and social media.

Since the photographer already had a contract with the bride, it was another way for the photographer to make their bride happy… essentially the robes were a gift from the photographer to the bride!

I also had put together a list of suggested photos and sent it over to the coordinator and photographer. I think it really helped! I included tips like making sure all the ladies had matching footwear (or no footwear), removing clutter from the background, and a reminder to allow enough time for photos outside as well. Sometimes the ladies are so busy indoors getting ready and forget to get the gorgeous outdoor shots in their robes!

Offering a gift card in exchange for the photos was a great way to get started in the wedding industry. I no longer offer gift cards, but I do reach out to a bride’s wedding photographer after she places an order for robes; I mention that I would love to feature the getting ready photos from her wedding. I found that just asking takes you really far!

Several of the bridesmaids who received a PajamaSutra robe from the photo exchange weddings ended up placing orders for their own weddings, which was lovely, very satisfying bonus!

Visit PajamaSutra on Instagram, see her tag #momentsbeforemrs, & online shop

Visit Nicole Goddard, photographer, on Instagram & website

Thank you so much for sharing, Sarena!

Isn’t that so smart? Sarena told me that, “if the cost were the same to set up a styled shoot, I would actually still prefer to feature the photos from my real brides!”

Would this work for your products? If your product doesn’t make sense for a wedding, how about baby, family, or pet photography? Birthday parties? Anniversaries? Who is your dream customer, when is she or he using your product, and does that spark any collaboration ideas of your own?

Ready to figure out who YOUR dream customer is?

If you’re not sure who you’re marketing to, or who you would want to plan photos with, download our dream customer exercise below! Print out & fill out, to create your own customer profile of your dream girl or guy. The more specific you get, the more helpful it will be in the long run. Have fun, and dream big!

Who is your dream customer?

Go get the dream customer exercise

Successful With Wholesale? 7 Reasons to Focus on Online Sales

If you're successful with wholesale or licensing deals you: have a brand that people relate to and there is a proven demand for your products. What should you know when going from wholesale to retail - how can you combine the two and make them both work? Here's how you can capitalize on the success you see at the National Stationery Show or NY NOW trade shows.

Sam and I walked both the NY NOW gift show and National Stationery Show this year. Both of these are trade shows, where brands sell direct to retailers. We talked to many of these businesses, and realized that there is so much potential for them online.

Why? Because if you’re successful with wholesale or licensing deals you:

  1. have a brand that people relate to and
  2. there is a proven demand for your products.

What should you know when going from wholesale to retail – how can you combine the two and make them both work?

You have a head start with ecommerce if you’re doing well with wholesale accounts

If Paper*Source or Anthropologie or The Land of Nod or other large retailers buy from you, that’s a clue. That tells you that these experts are confident that your product can sell. And if they can sell your product, so can you!

So many businesses start with online retail first and have to grow slowly. But with the wholesale brand you’ve built up, you can skip that slow growth period. It could be straightforward for you to quickly ramp up a busy, profitable ecommerce site. There is a learning curve for driving traffic to your own site, and we are able to assist with that.

Your retail website shouldn’t be “good enough”

One thing surprised me when I did some research on the businesses that exhibit at the big trade shows. For some of them, their website was obviously an afterthought. Or it had been many years since it had been relevant or effective.

I would see such a mismatch. On the one hand, they had put a ton of time, effort, and money into building a stunning show booth. Then you would look at their website, and see that the same thought and care hand’t gone into its creation.

This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course – there were many well thought out websites. But I was surprised by how many of the bigger and more established brands had a sorely out of date website.

Now, some businesses have decided to be wholesale-only. Others have a retail website, but sales on their website are kind of a “bonus.” It’s not the heart of their business, and they haven’t put a lot of care into the customer experience . This is such a shame.

Your wholesale customers and retail customers both use your site to learn more about your brand, stay in touch, and make purchases. People do all their research online these days. Your online home should look its best, so people will find your business relevant and compelling.

7 ways your online shop can help your business

Do you have a thriving wholesale business and know your website isn’t as good as it could be? Here are some things that investing in a custom website (that’s as amazing as your trade show booth!) could do for you:

  1. Establish and reinforce your brand. You want your retailers to get the same feeling from your website that they get in your booth. The professional booth can look like a “false front” to an amateur business if your website doesn’t align with the high standards you set for your brand.
  2. Demonstrate the value and selling points of your product. Your website can actually help your retailers sell your work themselves. It can help them truly “get it,” and know how to talk about your brand, or how to display it, or what to pair it with.
  3. Build a following. Today’s retailers know that most designers will be selling their products online themselves, and you don’t have to worry about competing with most retailers (aside from not underpricing them). In fact, if a retailer sees that you’ve built a loyal following, that can give them confidence that your brand is worth investing in.
  4. Keep you in touch with your customers. When you’re running your own online shop, you’ll be able to learn from your customers’ questions, see what sells and when, learn which things often sell together, see what gets returned and why. The wholesale relationship distances you from your customer. With a retail presence, you have access to the information you can only get directly from customers.
  5. Test out new products. It can be slow and expensive to test out new product ideas with your retailers. On your own website, you can create a limited run of a new product and find out if it’s something your customers want. Having a real-time relationship with your customers can be a great way to add to and adjust your product line based on their feedback.
  6. Make more money! Though there will be costs associated with an online shop, you immediately can sell at that higher price that your wholesale customers sell your products at. That additional profit can be a wonderful income stream, and a great way to grow your business.
  7. Smooth out cash flow. If you rely on wholesale orders, it can be nerve-wracking waiting for a big order, or finding out that a retailer is dropping your line from their stores. Is income for your business uneven, based on retailers’ buying cycles? Having your own shop can be a great way to smooth out cash flow, and rely less on the whims of other businesses.

The big difference between wholesale and retail

It can be mystifying to a business that hasn’t dabbled in online retail – how do you get customers? A trade show is an investment, but you just need to show up, and the customers will begin walking by your booth. You then can do your best to get them to pause and take a look around and get interested.

When you set up your own online shop, it can be hard to figure out how to get people to swing by your site and take a look. With your own website, no one is going to show up unless you go out there and get them.

It can be confusing figuring out how to do this consistently, particularly if you haven’t built a following. A large mailing list, or engaged social media following are worth their weight in gold here. Without that, it can be hard to know how to begin.

If you are used to selling your work to wholesale buyers, know that getting traffic to your website is a different thing.

How to get started with online sales

If you haven’t been seeing strong sales on your own website, but you do sell a lot of your products in other peoples’ stores, let’s talk! We can work together on how to get your retail side as busy (if not busier than) the wholesale side of your business.

To do this, you want to start with an effective website that converts a good number of your visitors into customers.

From there, I am guessing that you have enough going on with your business that it’s not the time to learn the complicated skill of getting traffic to your site. Instead, I’d suggest working with our marketing team to come up with a strategic plan to build a following and drive traffic.

Your business is outstanding and you know it. Why not leverage the desire for your products by running a busy online shop as well?

Please get in touch if we can help with anything to do with your online sales right now. I’m glad to give a bit of advice, or answer a question. And of course we’d love to create your custom site and help you keep it busy. Pairing our website work with smart SEO and marketing strategies will get you rolling.

Get your Targeted Traffic workbook

Want to get started figuring out how to do this yourself? Grab our workbook to research and pin down what you know about where your best customers are hanging out. It explains traffic-generating concepts in more detail, and you can use the included tips to make a plan to get high-quality, high-converting traffic to your website.

How to Get Targeted Traffic

Download your Targeted Traffic workbook

How to Start a New Stationery Shop Online: Fresh Out of Ink

Thinking of rebranding your business? This stationery business owner saw that her products weren't unique or original, and she started over: new products, new business name, new logo, new packaging, new website. Learn how she took steps to differentiate her business for wholesale trade shows and, ultimately, success with online retail.

This is an interview with one of our clients, Katy Sensenig Schilthuis, who runs Fresh Out of Ink, a paper and home goods shop. Katy came to us as she was beginning to refresh her line of goods, ready for a professional and fun logo which would better represent her brand. She told us:

I want those who see my new branding to feel joy – my ultimate goal in creating my work is to make people smile and laugh, and have fun. It’s supposed to brighten up someone’s day – and brighten up their walls/home. I want my logo to “pop” and be memorably fun.

Katy began her stationery business as Sushi & Queso (the names of her cats) and began developing her style. Her product line was based on existing trends, which she soon discovered wouldn’t lead to lasting success. When she started considering going to trade shows, she saw the need to differentiate and bring her unique voice to the marketplace. She smartly pivoted and made plans to start over from a stronger foundation, with a real focus on making something that hadn’t been seen before. Read on to learn about how to brand a new stationery shop and how having a professional logo and brand identity will help with everything else.

Fresh Out of Ink - Greeting Cards

Katy’s new cards are packed with her personality

What made you decide to transform your business?

My original business, Sushi & Queso Designs, didn’t have a clear voice or unique sense of style. Everything was cute, but was “typical” and “ordinary.” It was time to move on to something more specific, more unique, and more like me!

What changes have you made to your business over the last few months?

Everything – from the ground up. A complete facelift! New name, new branding, & brand spankin’ new product.

What surprised you during the branding work we did with you?

The challenge behind finding a business name! I had no idea I’d be so attached to, or struck by, names, but since Fresh Out of Ink is “my baby,” I guess it really makes sense that I cared so passionately! The process felt endless when I went at it alone, but adding Aeolidia into the mix made it so easy and fun. We found the perfect name in no time!

fresh-out-of-ink-logo

Natalia on our team came up with the new business name and told Katy, “There’s a quirky element of surprise to this name. Because, of course you’re not literally fresh out of ink, but the suggestion is an ironic one, and so right away it suggests your witty, playful nature, and it makes it clear that you work with ink.”

fresh out of ink packaging

Adorable Fresh Out of Ink boxes for Katy’s mugs!

fresh-out-of-ink-qbig

fun tidbit: To convey the sunny quality of her work, we went with the bright yellow and her brand mark sunshine icon is made up of the letter “I” in “INK.”

Did you learn anything new about your business from our questions or during our work?

Yes – I really was able to dive into exactly who my target customer was. What a huge help this has been!

What was it like working with a designer, as a graphic designer yourself? How did you feel about the process and results, versus tackling the logo design on your own?

I, admittedly, was wary at first about hiring a graphic designer – since I design so much on my own. But, being so attached to my business, I knew my design would be a bit biased toward my specific tastes, and I wanted a fresh set of eyes on the new product – so we could be sure we captured the essence of the brand and the target customer, without just doing what I thought “looked pretty.”

The process was clean, clear, and fabulous! Christine was so creative and fun to work with – and saw things in my brand like color and patterns that I hadn’t seen myself. Everything happened quickly and efficiently. Organization through Basecamp was key – the logo definitely would not have been as organized and well-thought-out, had I designed it myself.

How did you announce the transition to your current customers and on social media? What kind of reaction have you been getting?

I started hinting at upcoming changes a few months in advance, and built up the hype throughout the creative process, with Instagram and Facebook photos that hinted at new colors, products, the process I was going through, etc. I officially announced the rebranding/change to a new company about a month in advance – and announced the date my shop would officially open online. Then, I had fun counting down with all of my followers until the big reveal!

Instagram website launch campaign

Here’s the great way Katy got people excited about her re-launch!

This must have been a lot of work! What has been going on on your end behind the scenes to put your new look together?

Yes, totally re-doing/re-shaping a business can be an endless process! There was so much going on on my end: sketching and designing new product, building the new website, printing and manufacturing all of my goods, building new wholesale relationships, planning a local launch event, and SO much more. Thank God for Basecamp – I organized ALL of my to-do’s this way, after I was introduced to the software by Aeolidia – and couldn’t have done it all without my very organized set of tasks and deadlines.

What do you feel is achievable now as Fresh Out of Ink that didn’t feel so achievable as Sushi & Queso?

I now have a voice that is completely my own. It’s fresh, fun, and unique – and I feel like I can offer the industry something they haven’t necessarily seen before. People say reading my greeting cards is just like talking to a best friend: casual and laugh-out-loud funny – and I’m so excited to be able to be the one providing the laughter.

Thanks so much Katy – we’re excited for you, too!

See this project in our portfolio.

Visit Fresh Out of Ink on Instagram.

Prepare yourself for success

We’ve put together a PDF checklist for you to make sure that you’ve covered the bases you can and are planning for the next step. It will help you figure out what you’ll need and is an indicator of where you’re at creating a brand that will resonate with your customers. Grab it below!

Building Your Brand

Download the Building Your Brand checklist

5 Signs You Need a Social Media Team

Need some tips and help for your social media strategy? One of the places where I see the most confusion from creative business owners is around social media marketing. It seems almost everyone needs some social media help! I know I do.

I see confusion from creative business owners around social media marketing. It seems almost everyone needs some social media help! I know I do. Social media is an area that I’ve been working on for years, and never feel satisfied. It’s easy to get frustrated and feel like you should be getting a better response.

The work we do in creating custom Shopify sites does well for our clients – when they get the traffic they need. When you put time, energy, love, (and let’s face it, money) into building an effective stunner of a website, you want it to be used. A well crafted tool is of no use if it’s just going to gather dust on a shelf.

Should you pay for social media help?

One thing I’ve noticed (and I am as guilty as heck of this myself!) is that creative business owners have a hard time investing in work that they feel they can do themselves.

Social media posts should be leading to sales. Advertising should pay for itself when done right. If you’ve tried social media advertising and felt like your money was going into a black hole (I sure have), you’ll be interested – read on!

We are now partnering with a standout marketing agency, and I had a chat with them about this. I told them that many of our readers are skeptical that hiring someone to post each day for them on Instagram and Facebook will pay off. After all, they’re out there posting every day, and they’re not seeing exciting results.

The thing to know is that a professional social media team isn’t just posting for you. Anyone can do that. They’re posting in a way that increases engagement and sales, and lowers advertising engagement prices.

Our marketing team agreed to put together a list of five signs that you could use a social media team. Their info is quoted, and my thoughts are below each quote. Let’s go through them together!

5 signs that you could use some help with social media

1) Your engagement rate is less than 10%

Engagement Rate is a calculation for measuring a brand’s effectiveness on social media. It is the number of people who engaged (like, comment, share, pin, favorite, etc.) divided by the number of people reached. As teams post on social, the goal is to have high engagement. High engagement allows the algorithms to rank a piece of content as more relevant than others which then reaches a larger audience.

You can figure out your engagement rate on Instagram if you have Insights via a business account. Iconosquare is another good way to see your engagement rate on Instagram. My Instagram engagement over the last 30 days has been 1.88%. Boo! My best posts over the last three months have only made it to 3.49%.

10% would be a dream! Instead of having 50 people like each post, I could have 330 people doing so. Instagram would then think I was a hotshot, and start ranking me higher in their new algorithm. Win-win.

To figure out your engagement rate on Facebook, you can go to your business page, and head to Insights. From the Insights page, you can divide your engagements by your reach. This gives me an engagement rate of 4.3%.

Well, it looks like there is a lot of room for improvement for Aeolidia – how about you?

2) Your average cost per click on ads is greater than 10 cents

Social media advertising is one of the most popular tools for growing an audience, building brand awareness and increasing sales, but too often business owners are paying too much and budget is being spent too quickly. On Facebook, your cost per content engagement should average less than 10 cents per engagement, less than 4 cents per video view and 50 cents for new fans.

I’ve never seriously paid for advertising on social media. I did a little experiment a few years ago when Facebook dropped all business page engagement rates. That flopped, and I didn’t bother again.

Recently, I experimented with a couple of Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram ads. My Instagram ad test was so ridiculously awful (low engagement, expensive, and the people that did engage were clearly not my target clients) that I canceled the ad before it was done. Pinterest and Facebook were a bit better, but seemed expensive.

My two Facebook ads cost 50 cents and 65 cents per engagement. At a ten cent rate, I could have gotten 6 times the engagement for the same dollar value. On Pinterest, I spent 33 cents per click on one campaign and $1.18 per click on another. GASP! On the one “awareness” campaign, it looks like I only spent 18 cents per engagement.

Have you tried paid social media advertising? Can you tell that you’ve targeted your correct audience and are getting a good value for the price? Or, like me, are you scared that you’re throwing your money away? If you haven’t tried ads yet, wouldn’t it be great to have experts set it all up, instead of blundering around like I did?

3) You have customers but are not using that information for retention and acquisition

As social platforms moved from purely social networking to a marketing platform there has been a significant focus on creating powerful tools for small business owners. Custom lists allow you to target people who already know and love your brand. Lookalike audiences allow you to reach a targeted population that is extremely similar to your current customer based off of lifestyle choices and brand interests.

I have experimented with setting up lookalike lists. I did this using my MailChimp subscribers on Pinterest, and using fans of Aeolidia on Facebook. I do get stuck wondering if I’ve done it right or there is a way to refine it even more.

4) You are a company leader

Company leaders can most certainly have a presence in their social media strategy, but generally speaking there are other roles and duties that the leader could focus on to move the business forward without decreasing social media success.

You guys. I mean. This one hits close to home, doesn’t it? On the one hand, I know that tapping around on Instagram all day and cheering people on on Facebook is super distracting from the real work I need to be doing. And I know that spending time here means time not spent on other business-building pursuits.

But! I have never stopped being fascinated by the creative businesses we serve, and their trials and successes. I love being out there “in the field” and getting to know people. Also, I’ll admit to having a bit of a control freak nature (let’s just call it setting high standards for ourselves). It seems crazy to let someone else get in there and do this somewhat personal outreach for me.

Maybe you just plain hate social media, and would jump at the chance to give the task to someone else. I know that social media is usually at the top of my list when I’m dreaming about what I would most like to delegate. But my relationship with social media is more of a love/hate relationship. If yours is, too, let’s remember that hiring help with social media doesn’t mean we’re going to be cut off from using it. It means that instead of feeling forced to engage each day, we can focus on our business, and engage when it’s a good time to.

5) You are not tracking how activity impacts overarching business goals (ie: sales)

If you’ve invested in social media activity and left feeling like it didn’t work, it may be less about the platform and more about tracking and alignment. Successful social media campaigns begin with a plan that aligns with business goals, continue with tracking progress on those goals and go through a refining process and the campaign progresses. Simply put, companies who track goal progress have most success on social.

This is one task that I just can’t keep up with. Just showing up on social media takes up a huge chunk of time, but then setting aside time to also analyze how it’s doing, tweak, and try again… I’m exhausted just thinking about it. The few ads I did this summer had such a learning curve for even figuring out how to run an ad. Then I spent more time trying to determine if it was worth it, and figuring out what to do differently. It started to feel like a whole new role in my job.

Want some more information?

If you feel that social media marketing could be huge for your business, but you either don’t have the time or the knowhow to get the results you are looking for, let’s talk! We now offer social media management (where the strategy and the posting is taken care of for you), and social media strategy (where you get to carry out the plan) with our custom website projects.

If now is not the time for design work for your brand, we are also able to introduce you to our marketing team, so you can work with them directly.

Email me today to let me know where you’re at, and where you could use some help. Let’s make some real change for your business online. This marketing help is especially good for businesses that have seen success offline, but are having a hard time making an online shop work out.

As for me? Our marketing team is hard at work streamlining my Facebook ads situation as a science experiment for us. I am going to report back to you about how well it works! Jump on my mailing list to be sure not to miss that update.

 

Hi Tree: a Look at Designing Products For the Land of Nod

Ever wanted to get your products in shops like Land of Nod, Anthropologie, or Uncommon Goods? Here's the story of one handcrafter who did.

It’s very encouraging to see some of the larger chain stores collaborating with handcrafters to design products for them – especially when you commonly see news of chains infringing on the copyright of independent designers.

The Land of Nod is one of those shining examples of a company that searches out creative talent, and works directly with them. Really a cool company, and it’s fun to see designers that I know when I browse their shop.

I’ve admired Hi Tree, Tina Rodas’ handmade children’s decor and accessories brand, for years. Tina’s stuffed creations are sold at the Land of Nod, and I recently asked Tina about how that came about, and how it has worked out for her.

Interview below!

Hi Tree Log Pencil Pouch, photo © Tina Roda. Purchase it here.

Hi Tree Log Pencil Pouch, photo © Tina Roda. Purchase it here.

Hi Tree Stump Plush. Photo © Tina Rodas. Purchase it here.

Hi Tree Stump Plush. Photo © Tina Rodas. Purchase it here.

What do you create and what makes it so darn special?

I design and make woodland themed children’s toys and textiles. I think they’re special because they are different, made in my own unique style with only the best materials.

Is your product entirely handmade? Could you describe who makes your product and how? How has that changed over the life of your business?

My products are entirely handmade by me. At busy times of the year I have my wonderful assistant Jenny who comes in and helps me with everything from printing tags to sewing and stuffing. I don’t know what I would do without her. Over the years I’ve mostly hired seasonal help as most of the time I can handle the work load myself.

You have designed some products for the Land of Nod. How did that collaboration come about?

It happened like most fairy tales begin, you know…through Instagram. I found the managing director Michelle through a mutual friend also named Michelle, followed her (at the time I think she had about 200 followers.) About 20 minutes after I followed her, I got a Instagram notification that she had followed me back and commented on one of my photos asking if I wanted to work together. The rest is history!

Land of Nod's Boulder Buddy Poufs. Photo © The Land of Nod. Purchase them here.

Land of Nod’s Boulder Buddy Poufs. Photo © The Land of Nod. Purchase them here.

Land of Nod's Woodsy Playhouse Canopy. Photo © The Land of Nod. Purchase it here.

Land of Nod’s Woodsy Playhouse Canopy. Photo © The Land of Nod. Purchase it here.

Have you designed products for any other stores or brands?

I’ve never designed for any other brands but I have sold my designs wholesale to a few larger retailers.

What surprised you the most about designing toys for a large chain store?

How easy it was! Seriously, they are wonderful to work with. They told me what type of product they had in mind and I worked with one of their in-house designers to design the final product for production in their factories in India. Which was very helpful, I don’t have a lot of experience designing for large scale production.

What has been the best thing about having your designs in the Land of Nod stores and catalog?

That I don’t have to make any of it myself! The exposure has been great too. They do a nice job of promoting their designers.

Where do you promote your work most? How do you sell it? How much time do you put into marketing or promotional work?

Mostly through social media and a lot of word of mouth. Having my designs in a wide variety of retail stores helps a lot. I sell online through Etsy and I do 4-6 retail shows per year.

Is your business financially sustainable?

In its current state it is but if I want to grow at all I’ll need to restructure. I’m working on planning phase two of hi tree growth now.

How do you see your business growing in the next few years? Do you intentionally keep it small? Would you like to expand? If so, how?

For the last few years I have intentionally kept my business small with the intention of growing it when I’m ready, there are still a few things I need to in order to jump to the next level.

What advice or encouragement would you give to other handmakers?

Don’t be afraid to change your business! It’s easy to get stuck doing the same thing day in and day out. Sometimes it’s good to step back and re-evaluate.

Prepare your business to impress your dream shops

Watch my video interview with Lela Barker to discover how to build a brand that retailers won’t be able to resist.

The difference between a website or a brand identity that’s executed at 90% and 100%, the difference is not 10%, in my eyes. It’s another 100%.

A lot of brands will go to 90%. They’ll do pretty good photos. But it’s the brands that have knock your socks off photos that really get your attention. It’s the brands that have really taken the time to craft that brand story and build a really welcoming About page that’s a rallying cry to join them in whatever they believe about the world. Those are the ones that get our attention.

— Lela Barker

In the video, Lela and I discuss what you’ll need to build an effective business online. Just sign up below, and I’ll email the video link directly to you:

Crafting Your Customer Experience

Sign up to watch the free video on creating a stellar customer experience online

The Only Constant is Change: 4 Tips for Managing the Inevitable

Sharon Fain from Academy of Handmade shares 4 great tips on how your creative business can best deal with all the changes that come along with selling online. We're talking Etsy, Instagram, Facebook. Here's how to keep your cool and continue to grow your business without getting the rug yanked out from under your feet.

This post was written by Sharon Fain of Academy of Handmade.

There’s something that happens to every small business that is surprisingly impactful but we often don’t consider– change. Just when we think we’ve figured out the best way to create a product, nailed a social media strategy, or created the most gorgeous line sheet, change pops up and messes with our perfection!

Even worse? When things are already feeling chaotic, change breezes in and can make us feel like we are drowning.

But that’s the thing, we know that that change will appear. You wouldn’t know it from browsing the Etsy forums or by all of the folks who took to the internet to complain about Instagram algorithms (and the ones before them who complained about Facebook’s algorithm on Pages). These are places where every little change (even good ones like Etsy finally updating shop pages to look like they were made this decade!) sends people into a death spiral.

And I get it– change is often not fun. It can be very difficult. We are already stressed and pressed for time. Change rarely helps that.

Since we know it’s going to happen (we usually just don’t know when!), there are things we can do to manage it and even thrive through it.

1. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

It’s very easy to do. We get so riled about how unfair a change is and we are just done! People abandoned or at least threatened to abandon their Facebook and Instagram accounts when algorithms diminished reach. Some have left Etsy over changes they saw as unfair.

While leaving a platform can be smart and strategic, in these instances it’s almost completely reactionary. Which can really hurt your business.

Take time to really evaluate how much effort is going into the platform and how much value you are getting out of it when change happens. Plus, remember that often these platforms will have a blip of very annoying change (like a decline in engagement) followed up by a great change (like Instagram Stories or Etsy’s new page layout).

Monitoring the trajectory of how the platform has been for you (is it getting better all the time? Is it not as good as it used to be, but still over doing well? Or is it constantly getting more difficult to use?) will be key in your strategy.

state of making - stock photo of woman sewing

2. Understand trends

This applies in a couple ways. First, it’s always good to know that what’s en vogue right now won’t be forever. So if you’ve got a business built around a trendy product, you should have a plan and understand how trends work.

Case in point? A friend who worked at Etsy told me of the angry email she received a few years back when a seller who made trendy feathered hair extensions was no longer selling as many as she had a few months ago. Her sales had decreased significantly and was upset at Etsy for this.

The brutal truth was that was a trend. And if you make a product as part of a trend or a product you make suddenly becomes trendy, you have to realize that the trend won’t be around forever.

Second, trends are also happening in photography, colors, textiles, scents and decor. It might seem like chasing trends will be profitable, but often a small business owner will never be as nimble as a Forever 21, CB2 or IKEA. Which means you will often be playing catch up.

It’s up to you to engage in these trends in a smart way. This might mean you create limited edition items off of your mainstay line. Or you completely run away from them.

When Academy of Handmade member MoCoLa started making ear cuffs and crawlers they weren’t trendy. Then suddenly they were… VERY trendy. Overnight, non-handmade and cheaply made ear crawlers popped up on Etsy. Instead of trying to fight it, she realized she’d never win in that saturated market so she dropped them from her line completely.

3. Diversify and adapt

Building your business around one or two social media outlets, ecommerce platforms or even suppliers can seriously wreck you when big changes happen. Even though it’s more profitable to throw your weight behind what’s working now, having other “irons in the fire” can allow you to adapt much more quickly even if they aren’t getting as much attention as your current bread-and-butter activities.

For instance, doing wholesale is the gold standard for indie product sellers. It keeps your small business sustainable. But to neglect investing in having your own direct-to-consumer website and/or even an Etsy shop could leave you leave you in a bad place if a major account suddenly disappeared.

4. Be kind to yourself and play to your strengths

You are just one person– or maybe a few if your business has grown (congrats!). Either way, you aren’t a large corporation with incredible resources at your fingertips. Which means your business won’t look the same when changes hit. But there is a lot your business has going for it– like its relationships, authenticity, loyal customers and your unbound creativity!

When we take a moment to look back at what we did the past year, it’s truly astonishing how much change we’ve endured and how, despite the difficulty, we are still here and better for it. Not only that, these changes can really help us to see patterns for the future and anticipate future changes.

Which is why Academy of Handmade is hosting the first-ever The State of Making: An Online Summit. It’s a multi-day event over three weeks that will look back at the changes in the biggest categories that affect makers, with insight from experts (like Arianne from Aeolidia!) and veteran makers.

State of Making summit

This online summit will cover:

Pre-registration (FREE!) for the event opens today, August 31, 2016. When you register you can also ask questions ahead of time in each of the sessions, which will help our speakers better prepare!

I really hope that 2017 will be your best year yet and I would love to help you prepare for it through The State of Making!

Sharon Fain is the founder and director of Academy of Handmade (AHAS), a community which supports and celebrates makers through membership, special programming and an awards show. She has also over 15 years of marketing and PR experience, working with small businesses, nonprofits and creative business clients.

How to Boost Your Instagram Following Beyond 10k

Esther has generously offered to share some the key principles she's put in place since taking over their Instagram account about a year and a half ago. At that point they had about 400 followers and they've been able to grow it to 10.3K as of August 2016. If you're wondering how to grow your Instagram followers from the hundreds to the thousands, read on!

Esther Holden, founder of The Bakers Party Shop, is sharing her tips on how she’s grown her Instagram following and keeps them engaged. Here’s more about the business, in Esther & Shauna’s words:

With the introduction of our blog, you can find amazing recipes and party ideas all while shopping for fabulous baking and party supplies, some are even made by us. Our mission is to help you Bake Life Sweet™ through sharing our knowledge of baking and entertaining along with providing great products to help you bring your sweet recipes to life.

It began in the historic Old Port in Portland, Maine when we met while working at LeRoux Kitchen, a local specialty kitchen store. We had each started our own dessert catering business so it was only natural to join forces. While we no longer bake professionally, our many years of experience helps us source the best baking and party supplies to offer you and we love to share our recipes and baking tips on our blog.

Esther has generously offered to share some the key principles she’s put in place since taking over their Instagram account about a year and a half ago. At that point they had about 400 followers and they’ve been able to grow it to 10.3K as of August 2016. If you’re wondering how to grow your Instagram followers from the hundreds to the thousands, read on!

Ice cream cups designed by Esther. Get the ice cream recipe. Buy the adorable cups.

Ice cream cups designed by Esther. Get the ice cream recipe. Buy the adorable cups.

Heart cookies from The Bakers Party Shop. See tutorial. Buy pink box.

Heart cookies from The Bakers Party Shop. Get recipe. Buy pink box.

Key principles to grow your Instagram followers – for a product-based business

1. CREATE:

Focus on creating and sharing appealing content (I’m pretty sure most business owners have heard this before). Just like you hear people say you “buy” with your eyes, people do that too when they are scrolling through Instagram. Your photo has to grab them, make them stop to notice and then hopefully give a {heart} or comment.

Not everything has to be picture perfect, but many do like that and there should be some consistency to what you are posting or else you may have a hard time getting engagement.

2. EDUCATE:

Are you teaching your followers something, providing a tip they can apply to their life? Ask yourself “why” would someone stop to notice your feed and posts. Adding value through teaching can help others learn more about you and your business and create an emotional connection that could lead to them becoming a customer.

Not all posts have to be done this way but we’ve found that sharing tips and teaching people how to do something helps with engagement.

3. COLLABORATE:

Work with other creatives – businesses that are similar to yours. Collaborate on a themed post or giveaway. This helps everyone involved by sharing their followers within a similar target market. We’ve done this a few times over the last year and a half and not only is it fun for everyone’s followers, it also gives the business owners content to share. It’s a great way to expand your follower base authentically.

4. TARGET:

Think of your ideal follower and post things that will draw them in. Target your posts to attract them. Just as they say you should know your ideal customer for your businesses, it is important to know your ideal follower so you can adjust the content you share to nurture them. Don’t get me wrong, not every post has to be perfectly targeted. We still post some random things – but we try to keep them related to our business somehow, and if there’s no relation, those posts get shared to our personal Instagram accounts.

Also, people will get sick of your posts if all you post is basically an ad for your business. Share posts from other Instagram feeds that relate to your business. We love to share other beautiful confections people make. Be sure to tag the creator in the photo and comment to give credit – so people know it is not your photo. We find that the re-shares of others are some of our highest traffic posts.

5. VALUE:

There should be value in what you post or something your followers should take away. Step outside your business and look at your Instagram feed and think about why someone would – should – follow you. Do you provide value in the content you share? Are you helping them in some way? What are some of the strengths you can share that relate to your brand?

Take our business for example. We sell baking and party supplies. Yes, we have an online shop and would we love you to shop with us? Of course! Supporting our business provides our income. However, we are much more than just a shop. I’ve always kind of thought of our shop as a means to earning a living through the goods we sell but that is just a small piece.

Shauna and I have both been baking since we were knee high to our Moms in the kitchen. We have a love for baking and a passion for sharing it. We hope through our blog (that is right in our online shop) and some of the posts we share on Instagram that we can teach people how to bake, decorate, or put together a party display.

Share the reasons of why you do what you do with your followers. We all have our strengths and gifts and letting your followers know your “why” may also help them connect to your business and brand better.

6. CELEBRATE:

When someone engages with you on your posts and takes the time to comment, acknowledge them back! Just like you are posting… let’s be honest, to get noticed, your followers might enjoy getting a response back. It lets them know you noticed them.

We love connecting with people. We are still working on trying to get more engagement through comments, so when we catch a comment we do our best to say thanks or respond to someone’s question. Now, if you have a very active or large account it can be hard to see people’s comments and sometimes they get missed, but if you catch them giving a “Thanks!” could really make someone’s day and make them feel more connected to your business or brand.

TIP: CONTESTS

Another great way to get engagement is to run contests. For example, when I come up with new sprinkle mixes I often post on Instagram and ask our followers to help name the new mix. In return, the person who helps name it gets sent a free jar of the new sprinkles. We get ideas on what a consumer would think of naming a product, get engagement by asking them to leave a comment on our post, get to introduce people to a new product in a fun way + get the product in the hands of a potential customer or customer! It’s a win, win for everyone!

Many who have won something from one of our giveaways have turned into repeat customers. Thinking of a way you can do something like that with your business might help create more engagement in a fun way.

Cranberry cheesecake from the Bakers Party Shop. See tutorial. Buy adorable tart pans.

Cranberry cheesecake from the Bakers Party Shop. Get recipe. Buy adorable tart pans.

Ice cream chocolates by Bakers Party Shop. See tutorial. Buy chocolate molds.

Ice cream chocolates by Bakers Party Shop. See tutorial. Buy chocolate molds.

The Instagram game is still a work in progress, just like any social media and just when you think you’ve figured it out, they change something! Being intentional about the content you share and figuring out who your target follower is and then nurturing them will help your account grow, and hopefully your business, too.

Those are the top principles I’ve tried to put in place to help grow an authentic following who generally seem interested in our business or what we have to share. We’d rather have a small following that cares than a huge following for just the sake of the number.

I’ve enjoyed the launch of the Instagram “stories,” as the last thing we needed as a busy small business is one more social media platform to build. We look at this as a new fun way to share the spontaneous behind the scenes, not so picture perfect things (that still relate to our business) with our followers to create a new kind of engagement. Having a new way to connect with our followers throughout the days we have time is great, as we are not on Snapchat.

Thanks for inspiring me to put this in writing, Aeolidia!


Thank you so much, Esther! You can follow @bakerspartyshop on Instagram to see how this is all done (and drool over the desserts). And visit The Bakers Party Shop site to read the blog and get the goodies!

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