Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Preparing for the Holidays - Segment 1

A couple of weeks ago I hosted an Etsy virtual lab on the topic of getting ready for the impending holiday season as a small business owner. I know I'm a little late in getting this up, but as we still have a few more weeks to prepare ourselves for the fabled "Black Friday" and even more mystical "Cyber Monday", I think this post will be timely just the same.

I've been selling on Etsy under the name sagittariusgallery since January 2007 and I've been selling online fulltime since April, 2003, so I'm going into my 7th holiday season. But, I gotta mention I actually have more holiday retail experience than that – when I was 10 my mom managed a Christmas store in the mall, she did so for a few seasons, and my sister and I were faithfully by her side every chance we could get (we even found inventory to be fun!)

I've worked black Fridays at the mall and I've seen Cyber Mondays online, so, I know a little about the holiday season in retail :)

Today I'm going to talk to you about the holiday season and what to expect. This is geared more towards new sellers who are entirely unfamiliar with the online holiday shopping season, but of course, there might be nuggets more seasoned sellers may find useful :)

The first thing I want to stress about the holiday shopping season is that it is not the busy season for everyone. Truth be told, my busiest months are traditionally January, April, and June. So my number one bit of wisdom? Be ready for anything and assume nothing!!

I see it in the Etsy forums a lot where there is a prevailing myth that for all shops during one magical time of the year sales rain down like gum drops from the heavens and paypal accounts overfloweth with extra income. Not so. December is traditionally one of my slowest months. Usually, for me as an artist, commissions stop by the end of November (I do have a deadline for commissions to ensure I don't over extend myself - will talk more on commissions later) and December ends up being a trickle of orders here and there. I have found my art is more of a personal purchase so orders pick back up in January when people are spending Christmas money on themselves.

Everyones business is different. It's important, especially during your first season selling within any venue, be it here, another online site, or offline, to pay attention to your traffic. Learn your customer. And again, it is super important to have no expectations but to be prepared for the unexpected.

It is smart to be over prepared if you can, rather than under prepared. This starts with inventory and accessibility. Here are some tips to maximize your customer base -

• Offer products are varying price points. One upon a time I only offered larger work from 100.00 and above to potential customers. Needless to say I was cutting out a wide demographic. Once I opened my product line up with more economical options such as smaller work at a lower cost as well as inexpensive prints of my originals, I tapped into a whole new audience who previously hadn't considered my work because of the cost.

Do not compromise the quality of your products to lower the price. Quality is paramount. Be creative when considering new product lines that open you up to a wider customer base.

• If you don't already, do consider opening yourself up to accepting commissions from patrons. Quite a bit of my business is from custom work. People want that personal connection. Sometimes they want something you offer only tweaked to suit their individual needs. Make it known you are open to discussion custom pieces with prospective patrons and make sure either your website or (if on Etsy) your alchemy page includes all of your terms. The less questions a customer needs to ask the better. And outlining everything before hand ensures anyone pursuing a commissioned project is on roughly the same page as you. It's all about making the process flow easily for both you and your patron.

And remember, if there is a request you don't feel comfortable with, be up front and open with your client.

•If you don't already, consider offering international shipping. Really folks, customs forms are not difficult and there is a whole wide world out there - a significant market you aren't tapping into if you are only offering your work domestically. Remember, ecommerce is global. There are certain restrictions with certain areas. Like, I know I can't send anything larger than a 22x28 inch painting on the stretcher bars to countries such as Australia because of size limitations. The postal service website has all of these limitations outlined on their website. Dip your toes in. If you're on Etsy you should at least be shipping to Canada, Australia, and the UK as well as the US, *bare minimum*, as those countries have the most customers shopping on Etsy. Acclimate yourself with those countries first and then begin to explore offering shipments to other regions. Once you get a few international sales (and customs forms!) under your belt it will be a piece of cake, trust me!

Because there is a lot of information I am going to split this up into different segments. Easier to chew on and swallow, me thinks. Next segment? Marketing do's and don'ts! Until next time :)


by Patricia Wood said...

Thanks for sharing!!

Blue Forest Jewellery said...

Really useful for a newbie like me. Thanks!

JPGallery said...

Thanks! Looking forward to the next segment.