If you’ve ever browsed Etsy when searching for a gift for a loved one, you already know a little bit about the world of maker businesses and the handmade crafts scene. What began as a way for arts and crafts enthusiasts to make a little money on the side has quickly become one of the hottest markets in retail, and consumers are clamoring to get their hands on handmade, artisanal goods made by real people, not fresh off a conveyor belt.
My wife and I have been enthusiastic supporters of craft businesses for many years, and some of our friends run small craft businesses, so this is a topic that’s near and dear to me personally. Running a handmade maker business can be tremendously satisfying (and lucrative), but marketing your handmade business presents unique challenges.
In this post, we’ll be covering some of the obstacles that are unique to handmade businesses, as well as tips and techniques on how you can overcome them, organized into sections for:
Before we get to the tips, let’s talk about how Etsy has changed over the years, and whether it’s still viable for makers and those just launching craft businesses.
When Etsy first launched in 2005, it was a completely unique site through which makers could sell handcrafted goods. Unfortunately, Etsy is an entirely different animal today, and one that isn’t nearly as friendly – or welcoming – to small craft businesses as it used to be.
Etsy sparked outrage when it decided to allow large-scale manufacturers to sell goods on the site in October 2013. What used to be an online marketplace dedicated to small craft businesses became just another e-commerce platform where mass-produced manufactured goods could be sold under the pretense of having been made by hand. Etsy deservedly took a lot of heat for this decision, and it drove a wedge into the craft and maker community. Today, many makers refuse to sell through Etsy as a result of this decision.
Only you can decide whether selling on Etsy is worth your time. It’s tough to compete with goods manufactured cheaply overseas, but many makers do maintain a presence on Etsy for no other reason than it’s typically expected of craft businesses. Many of the makers my wife and I know have had more success (and exposure from) selling their goods through platforms like Big Cartel, and there are plenty of other options you can choose.
Whatever you decide, make sure your decision is right for you and your business – and good luck!
The following tips are ideal for craft businesses of all types, so whether you sell your handmade goods through a physical store or craft fairs, or prefer virtual storefronts offered by sites like Etsy, these tips will help you grow your business in a cost-effective way.
Virtually all small businesses have a hard time of it in the beginning, but craft businesses can have it tougher than some. Between the cost of materials, the time required to actually make products, and typically higher prices than consumers used to mass-produced goods are used to, there’s rarely a lot of spare cash lying around. However, advertising on social media is one of the most cost-effective ways of getting your name out there, and can make a huge difference to fledgling craft businesses.
Facebook advertising in particular can be an incredibly cost-effective way to find new customers where they spend a great deal of time. This, combined with the powerfully visual nature of Facebook ads, makes paid social a great investment for craft businesses, even those on minimal marketing budgets, and it works regardless of how you sell/distribute your crafts. Read this detailed blog post for more on how much Facebook advertising costs.
For maker businesses, content marketing can be one of the most effective techniques for growing your business; it also doesn’t take a ton of investment to get started, just your own craftiness and expertise.
Content is a great way to bring people around to the idea of buying handmade goods. In particular, instructional content on how readers can make their own craft projects is a great way to introduce new readers to the concept of the maker movement, and can serve as an excellent source of evergreen reference content that people can link back to. These tutorials from Delia Creates are a great example:
Image via Delia Creates
Another content type that might be worth exploring is content that explains the production process behind how your product is made. Obviously steer clear of giving away your prized trade secrets, but revealing the methods and process behind how something is made can be entertaining and educational, a rare blend that most content should aspire to be. This tutorial on how to ombre dye fabric from Craft Thyme is a great example of a tutorial that people will come back for again and again:
Tutorial from Craft Thyme
If you have the means to do it (and if you have an iPhone, you do), short videos are perfect for this kind of content. Launch a YouTube channel, get making, and start building your audience!
When it comes to the maker community, social media is a very big deal. However, while Facebook and Twitter can be important tools for maker marketers, two social media platforms stand head and shoulders above the rest – Instagram and Pinterest.
Instagram is the perfect place to showcase your beautiful creations and start building a loyal following of enthusiastic fans (and, eventually, customers). Even if you decide against advertising on Instagram, it’s arguably the best image-sharing social media app available, and its integration with Facebook makes it a no-brainer for craft businesses.
Danielle Spurge-Swavely, AKA Merriweather Council, on Instagram. Look at that following!
Pinterest is equally important to makers. With handcrafted goods being such a visual business, it makes sense to not only maintain an active presence on Pinterest, but to enable your images to be pinned by visitors. There are literally thousands of Pinterest boards of handmade crafts, all of which are opportunities to get your name out there.
For maker businesses, social media is invaluable – but it’s not the be-all, end-all, either. For small businesses on a limited budget, email marketing can be amazingly effective.
Email marketing can be a great way to complement your content marketing efforts, and vice versa. Similarly, email newsletters can keep your business fresh in the minds of your customers (don’t overdo it, though), let them know about upcoming craft fairs you’ll be attending, or just let them know how things are going with your business.
The personal approach we talked about earlier is especially important here. A business that my wife and I have bought from many times even used its email newsletter to let us know that the proprietor were expecting their first child, a level of personal connection you just can’t get with larger companies.
An example email from the (sadly) now-defunct bag company, Pansy Maiden
Whether you run your own store or rely on craft fairs to sell your goods, these techniques will help you reach new customers and make more sales.
If you’ve got a permanent physical storefront, even as part of a shared space, it makes sense to focus on improving your visibility in your local markets. If you haven’t already, focus on making sure your Google My Business listing is up to date.
Image via Google
Google My Business is a free service provided by Google that allows businesses to take control of their online presence and make themselves more visible to local searchers – both of which are invaluable to maker businesses hoping to increase sales. Google My Business lets you:
For more information on how to set up and maintain your Google My Business profile, check out this blog post.
When advertising online, you should always optimize your ad scheduling to focus your budget on the times when your store is open. This technique, also known as dayparting, ensures that your putting all the force of your marketing budget into the times of the day and days of the week where it’s going to have the most impact.
For example, you might not want your ads to be shown to prospective customers after your physical location is closed, in which case you’d use dayparting to specify that your ads should only be shown during business hours. For many craft businesses, you’ll also want to take seasonality into account – you might find that you sell the most product during the winter holidays, in which case you should increase your advertising budget during those months.
Image via ipyxel.com
A combination of dayparting and geolocation gives you an incredible degree of control over where and when your ads are displayed to prospective customers. To learn more about dayparting settings (and common mistakes to avoid), check out this definitive guide to ad scheduling.
I’ve lost count of all the business cards my wife and I have kept after visiting a craft fair simply because the cards themselves were so attractive or fun. Sure, you could go to one of those kiosks at the mall for your business cards and other business collateral, but putting some imagination into your cards and informational brochures can go a long way toward raising brand recognition for your business.
Again, this is more work (and most likely more money) than taking the easy way out, but a little effort goes a long way. If you want to get people talking about your craft business, why wait for them to speak to you?
If you’re selling handmade goods online, either on Etsy or through your own website, these tips will help you get your products in front of the right audiences while keeping your marketing ROI high.
Many small businesses find PPC to be an invaluable part of their overall digital marketing strategy, but for tiny businesses with very low advertising budgets, it can seem a little intimidating. To maximize the impact of your PPC campaigns as a craft business, be sure to retain tight control over your geolocation settings.
Refining your geolocation settings can be an incredibly powerful way to capitalize on local searches. It can make your budget go farther, ensure you’re only appearing in a geographic area that focuses on local consumers, and helps you reduce wasted clicks from people who are outside your shipping area. Don’t make the mistake of paying for clicks in locations you don’t even ship to! Check out this blog post to learn more about how geolocation settings can help your business.
Who doesn’t love getting stuff for free? Well, you can use this basic fact about human nature to create buzz about your business, get your name out there, and attract potential new customers by running contests and giveaways.
Image via allthingswhite.etsy.com
Online contests and giveaways can be a highly effective way of letting people know about your products. By offering a giveaway of some of your handmade goods to anyone who comments on a blog post and shares the post on social media, you can greatly increase the reach of your site, raise awareness of your crafts, and gain enough attention and new fans to more than make up for the cost of the prize.
Think about the last time you performed a search online. Chances are you used a keyword to find whatever you were looking for, right? It stands to reason that this will also be the case with people who are looking for your products, so incorporating the results of keyword research into your product names and descriptions can make your handmade goods easier for people to find.
You can use Google’s Keyword Planner to conduct keyword research (you’ll have to sign up for a free Google Ads (formerly known as AdWords) account to use it, but you don’t need to set anything up) or one of the many free keyword tools available online, including WordStream’s Free Keyword Tool. Once you’ve identified relevant keywords that match what you sell, use them them in the product names and product descriptions on your website or Etsy storefront. This will make it much easier for people who want the types of crafts you sell to actually find them and buy them.
The screenshot below shows some data from the Keyword Planner for the keyword “crochet scarves”:
Here, you can see the estimated monthly search volume (not surprisingly there’s more interest during the winter months), and if you scroll down, you can see related keyword ideas that you could incorporate into your product descriptions to make it easier for prospective customers to find your products.
As a bonus, You may also discover keywords you can target with your content. In the screenshot below, notice how the keyword “how to crochet a scarf” has an average monthly search volume of almost 10,000 and low competition? This would be an ideal target for a how-to guide or explainer video that you could post on your blog:
Running and marketing a craft business can be tougher than some businesses, but with tenacity and the tips above, hopefully you’ll be selling out of inventory in no time. Now go get ready for the holiday rush!
Originally from the U.K., Dan Shewan is a journalist and web content specialist who now lives and writes in New England. Dan’s work has appeared in a wide range of publications in print and online, including The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Pacific Standard magazine, The Independent, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other outlets.
See other posts by Dan Shewan
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