Tuesday, June 16, 2009

interview for handmadenews.org

I just did an interview for handmadenews.org on my marketing strategies. Check out handmadenews.org for all kinds of helpful information for at-home and handmade business owners.

What “online” marketing strategies are you currently using?

My online marketing strategies are always changing. What’s useful today will virtually drop out of style tomorrow so I’m always jumping around. Right now my listings on etsy are serving as my biggest advertising outlet. Since I’ve been posting on etsy more heavily I’ve picked up quite a few boutiques as clients. This is sort of an indirect advertising campaign in that, of course, my main objective is to gain sales, however, one of the benefits of keeping a full etsy shop is that people find out about you.

In addition to etsy I also try to post a lot on Twitter. By “a lot” I mean two or three times a day, not 50 posts with nothing to say. This has been helpful because many casual browsers have found me through tertiary interests. For instance, I organized a photo shoot in front of Jack Kerouac’s house and did a Twitter post about it. Within a few hours I picked up a couple of followers on Twitter who are Kerouac fans. This post wasn’t a direct advertisement, but it got some new peoples’ attention who now know the name Evilneedles, and that, in essence, is what advertising is all about.

Before Twitter I relied heavily on Myspace bulletins. I’m still using these, but with less success. Myspace seems to be on the way out. We’ll have to see what happens.

My blog, Evilneedles.blogspot.com seems to be working a little. I always start these random blog projects, but they quickly fade away because I’m so busy. I’ve been forcing myself to post on this one and have gotten a few hits, but with all the crazy stuff online it’s really hard to hold peoples’ interest with posts about sewing.

What “offline” marketing strategies are you currently using?

Offline marketing is a total mystery to me. I don’t know what goes through peoples’ heads as they read magazines. It seems like every time I take out a magazine ad or get featured in a magazine my site hits and sales go into the toilet. It’s almost like people see the ad or feature and say, “to hell with her, I’m gonna avoid that site like the plague.”

What does seem to work for me is writing for magazines. I do monthly music reviews and write articles for Prick (the World’s first free tattoo magazine) and it’s really helped bring people to my site. I get comments on my reviews and people ask what I think of “this band” or “that band.” I try to pick up random gigs writing for other magazines and each time I publish an article I get a jump in hits or a rush of “adds” on Myspace.

In the real world it seems to me that nothing beats word of mouth. All of my friends wear my clothing, bands carry my recycled tees on their merch tables, and I do fairs and conventions. All of these things help in their own way; and while no single outlet produces overwhelming results, combined I’d say a lot of people find me this way.

What do you find (on or offline) to be the most effective?

My most effective means of advertising has got to be word of mouth. On my last count I figure I’ve sold over twenty thousand pieces with Evilneedles tags in them. I have customers who have been with me since they were fourteen years old and now have their own money and still order from me. I’m very proud of my clothing and I like to think my customers are proud of my work too. They’re proud to tell their friends about me and post pictures of themselves wearing what they buy. There’s an old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” well, I think a thousand words are worth a lot more than that. Nothing beats first hand testimonials from satisfied customers, storeowners, and friends.

Are there strategies that you have found didn’t work well for your business?

As I mentioned earlier, magazine ads don’t seem to work for me. I honestly don’t know what it is, but I swear they do the exact opposite of what they’re supposed to do. I’ve tried using my photography, I’ve hired outside photographers. I’ve even let friends create ads for me, and it never helps.

Funny thing, years ago I used to post all over Live Journal. I’d go crazy hitting every possible community with pictures of my work trying to get the word out. Then one day I just didn’t post and my site hits and my sales stayed the same. That one-day of not posting turned into a month and I saw no decline in business. It turned out that Live Journal wasn’t working for me at all, and I’d been wasting my time all along.

How do you figure out what’s working and what’s not?

I’d never claim to be a marketing wiz – actually I’m quite the opposite. Like anyone else trying to get by, trial and error is my best practice. I keep close watch on my site statistics and use them as a guide. But it’s hard to find reliable stats. My server will show one set of numbers and then I’ll use another analytic service and get a whole different set of numbers. There are so many variables in the equation that it’s difficult to gauge the effectiveness of a particular strategy based on statistics alone.

Sales are always a good indicator if something is working. However, measuring what works through online sales is quickly becoming less relevant now that I’m selling to other stores as opposed to individual online shoppers.

How do you decide what marketing strategies to try and when to try them?

I’d really love to spout off some scientific formula that I have for building a strategic marketing campaign, but truthfully, most of the time I don’t know what I’m doing. Back in the 70’s there was this game show where contestants were placed in a clear booth (similar to a phone booth), they then turned on a big fan and money started flying around the booth like flies about a corpse. It was up to the contestant to snatch and grab whatever they could – which usually ended up only being a few bucks. I often feel like I’m in that booth clamoring about, snatching at the air just trying to grab a hold of something that’s nearly intangible.

Do you have a few marketing initiatives in mind that you would like to implement in the future?

I don’t know if I would call it a marketing initiative, but I do hope to bring in more hits and sales and raise awareness of my brand by making more clothing – lots more, and keeping my self-expectations high. It’s been a rough couple of years for everyone, and I feel like making attractive clothing that holds up over time is the best thing I can do right now to market myself. By that I mean to say it’s easier to get a repeat customer than to get a stranger to become a new one. I hope that when someone buys one of my pieces it lasts them a long time, and they come back to buy more long before the first piece wears out.

For someone who is just starting their “at-home craft business”, where would you recommend they start in terms of marketing?

I’d tell all the newbies out there to take a hint from Walt Whitman. The guy promoted himself shamelessly. I think he even misappropriated a quote from Emerson and used it to sell his first few copies of Leaves of Grass. We all know how that turned out. There’s nothing wrong with blowing your own horn, as long as it’s not all talk. Spending all day on Myspace and all the forums is kind of worthless if you don’t spend any time creating. So the first thing you need to focus on is creating the best “stuff” you can. After that, when your hands are too tired to work and your brain wants to kick back and watch Family Guy reruns, go sit in front of the computer and hit the forums and promote. While you’re sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for them to call you in that little room, use your iPhone and promote, in between classes, don’t just sit around sipping coffee discussing Nietzsche, get on Myspace and post a bulletin. If you work hard and make a good product it will be easy to talk about. And when people buy it they’ll talk about it.

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