Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Selling Handmade Products Online - How to Stand Out From the Crowd

Over the last few weeks there has been a growing focus on a new breed of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who run their businesses around full time employment earning them the title of the 5-9'ers.
Through technology development and the increasing ease of creating online ecommerce websites, setting up a business to generate a supplementary income has never been so popular. Especially in these turbulent economic times and with wide spread uncertainty in the jobs market.
Emma Jones founder of Enterprise Nation (an online resource for home workers in the UK), states that over 5 million people are now generating some sort of income from home run businesses, and this figure is likely to grow over the next few years.
One particular area that has been popular amongst 5-9'ers is the handmade market, where people are using forgotten hobbies and skills to make money. The handmade market has grown due to customers' increasing demand for value for money, alternatives to mass-produced goods, concerns over environmental issues and people's desire to support local British businesses. Handmade jewellery, homeware, and the handmade gift market has certainly seen an increase in demand, but as demand rises so does the competition to supply these items.
So if you're a 5-9'er in the handmade industry, what should you do to make your products stand out?
Image Is Everything!
To sell your products successfully on line you need to ensure that every product image is of a very high standard. Do they say 'buy me' to the customer? If not it's likely that you will lose that potential sale. Images need to be crisp, clear and in focus, with the use of good lighting limiting shadows. Remember the customer can't see or feel the quality of the product so they really need to get a feel for the item from the image.
Also think of the background you use, if your hoping to get your products in quality press they will often require your items to be photographed on a plain white background. Getting your products professionally photographed is the ideal option, but for many small businesses this is a luxury they just can't afford. There are some great on-line guides available, and with a little hard work and patience you can get some great product shots from an ordinary digital camera. Image editing software is also recommended to get that professional finish.
Know Your Market
It's a good idea to get a feel for who your target audience is likely to be, once your clear on this you can then tailor your communications, image, website etc accordingly. Think about the channels you sell through, do they reflect your business values and target the right customers for your product offering? There are many great websites out there that help small business promote and sell their products, however you need to pick the right site(s) for you.
For example: - Ebay provides a great marketplace to sell pretty much anything, whether you're a skilled designer selling quality items, or someone who has created something just for fun or as a hobby. Alternatively you have sites such as Ugly Be Gone whose ethos is more handmade than homemade. Sellers have to apply to sell through the site so the product offering is much more targeted. Think about what's right for your products and concentrate on the sites that you think are a good fit.
Market Trends
Keep an eye on changing trends, fashion and interests and use this to your advantage. Smaller businesses can be much more flexible in adapting products to reflect emerging trends compared to large companies who usually have to plan months or even years ahead.
Accurate Product Descriptions 
In addition to clear product images you should always provide a customer with accurate product descriptions e.g. colour, size, material, special features and anything else that is relevant to the item.
Added Value
Clearly communicate the added value of a handmade item. Tell the customer about the background of the products, any distinguishing features, where the product is made, the materials used etc. When a customer is buying handmade they are also buying the products story, your story!
Many people like to purchase from small businesses as they feel they receive a more personalised service. Ensure that you maintain and exceed this expectation by adding personal touches such as a thank you note, free gift wrap, professional and prompt customer service etc.
I think it's safe to assume that most customers who purchase handmade items expect to pay a premium, compared to the mass-produced goods you can find on the high street. However customers are still looking for value for money and getting the price right can be the difference between your business becoming profitable or not quite making it. Mary Portas (Queen of Shops) highlighted this point in her recent response to UK Handmades 'Mary Portas Handmade needs you' campaign. You need to strike a balance, you don't want to undervalue your products (you need to factor in the costs of supplies, materials and your time), on the other hand you don't want to price yourself out of the market either. Is your item realistically priced compared to others in the market? If a customer feels that your price is over inflated, or doesn't recognise the 'added value', then you will find it difficult to sell your item no matter how well it's presented.
Do a little research into how much the item would cost to purchase on the high street? How much are other handmade suppliers charging? Attend exhibitions and fairs and use them as a good opportunity to ask for real and honest feedback. Use this feedback to position your product appropriately, and as mentioned above ensure that you clearly communicate the product's 'story'.
Use social networking sites to promote yourself and your products. Whether your selling through your own website, through other websites or both, make sure you create awareness of your products and the places they are available. Update your networks when you add new products, are offering discounts, or to simply remind people that your are still there. Participate in community discussions/blogs and where possible include links to your shop(s).
Although there is a lot of competition in the handmade market, it is also a lucrative market for those who get their offering right!

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