Sunday, 29 December 2013

Promoting your Online Stores - 6 Tips

Those of us who sell our artwork through online stores know all too well that the secret of success is to make sure our work gets seen by the buying public. 

And, given the sheer vastness of the internet and all that it contains, that can seem like an impossible task. I’m no marketing expert but I have picked up a few tips from people who are and, by trial and error, I’ve worked out a few guidelines that I hope will be helpful –

1. Identify your potential customer. This is probably the most important tip of all – and possibly also the most difficult. If you aren't in a position to be in contact with your customers, look at what you are offering and decide what kind of person it would appeal to and find out as much as you can about them. Apart from their age, gender and income bracket, think about what design style they would probably prefer (this will hopefully be YOUR style!). Once you’ve identified your typical customer, use the information you’ve noted down to search the internet for articles and blog posts that will tell you where such people hang out online, which social media they use and when etc.

2. Get organised – write a marketing plan. Once you’ve gathered that information, write yourself a ‘starter’ marketing plan. It may be a good idea to begin with using all the main social media to some extent – facebook, G+, Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedin, Squidoo and of course, a blog - even if you have discovered a clear link between your potential customers and where they are most likely to find you. However, this should only a temporary phase in your marketing plan as so much social networking could start to get overwhelming and seriously crowd out the time you spend on actually creating designs and products!

3. Stay organised. It’s important to update regularly. So set out your plan in writing so that you can keep tabs on what you’ve done and what you still need to do. And set aside specific times of day/week to dedicate to your marketing endeavours.

4. Monitor your progress using stats. Wherever possible make good use of any statistics you can access, such as facebook’s ‘Insights’ and blogger’s ‘Stats’, to monitor the times of day and types of updates that are most successful in terms of ‘engagement’. You may not be able to see a direct link between your updates and your sales - it’s very satisfying when you do! - so use Google Analytics, or a similar service, to gather information about which of the social media are bring more customers to your door – and revise your marketing plan accordingly! 

5. Make use of scheduling services. If this all seems like an awful lot of work, don’t worry, promoting won’t necessarily continue to take up so much of your time and effort forever. For one thing, there are free sites, such as Hootsuite and Buffer, that you can use to schedule some of your updates. While my experience has been that scheduled updates don’t get as much of that magic ‘engagement’ as ‘live’ ones, I’ve found that a good balance is to post ‘live’ once a day and schedule another one or two updates in advance. 

6. Grow your following organically. Finally, another tip that should save you from feeling as if you’re drowning in social media! Whichever marketing channel you decide to invest most of your time and effort in, don’t be tempted to spend so much time increasing your following that you don’t have time or energy left to actually engage with your ‘fans’ or ‘followers’! There are plenty of opportunities to grow your following rapidly through ‘like-ladders’ and so on but my experience has been that it’s far more effective to grow one’s following ‘organically’. For instance, you might like to check whether any of your new twitter followers has a facebook page. If so, visit it and see if you think they are likely to be someone you can happily interact with before deciding whether to ‘like’ their page and leave a message in the hope that they will return the favour.

Of course, no amount of savvy promoting will translate into sales if your products are totally lacking in appeal! But one encouraging thing that I’ve learned since I started selling online is that you never know what someone is going to find so attractive that they 'put their money where their mouth is'!

Please feel free to download and print this high resolution image.
If you pin it to Pinterest, I'd appreciate it if you could add a link to my blog.

So, I hope I’ve helped you in some small way on your journey towards a successful online business – and if you have any tips of your own that you’d like to pass on, please brave the captcha (sorry!) and leave them in the comments.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

2014 - the Year of the Creative Comment?

When I was at school, back in the Dark Ages, nobody talked about ‘creative writing’; back then it was called ‘composition’. And there two words that we were taught to avoid using in our compositions – ‘got’ and ‘nice’. 

Nowadays there are two different words that I think are over-used to such an extent that they've become virtually meaningless. Those words are ‘quirky’ and ‘awesome’ – and I might even add a third - ‘amazing’.

In themselves, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with those words but I think they are suffering from over-use and crowding out other words that would perhaps make our writing more interesting and sometimes more specific in meaning. 

We are lucky that our English language is one of the richest in the world.  So often we have the choice of several words of similar but ever-so-slightly different meaning, probably because we have adopted and adapted so many words from the languages of the various invaders who have occupied our islands throughout our history. 

Of course the ubiquitous ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ buttons mean that we don’t need to think about what we write and sometimes we’re in such a rush that these twenty-first century innovations are invaluable. 

But I would hate to see our language descend into a kind of ‘tick-the-box’ form of communication; it would be such a waste of all those lovely words we have at our disposal!

Take, for instance, ‘galumptious’. I discovered that Roald Dahl uses it - as well as the electrician who was working on my house and used the word to describe one of my friends! 

Although the Merriam Webster dictionary doesn’t list it, I found a definition:

adj. - tiptop; first-rate; superlatively good

Merriam Webster does, however, have a definition for another of my favourites, splendiferous – 

:  extraordinarily or showily impressive
— splen·dif·er·ous·ly adverb
— splen·dif·er·ous·ness noun

But we don’t need to use an esoteric dictionary like this one to make our comments more meaningful. Here are some alternatives from an online thesaurus that could be useful, most of them fairly common words:

And here's an interesting one that I came across on twitter - 'bodacious'!
A blend of 'bold' and 'audacious', here's a definition.

So next year I’m going to resolve to restore some of the colour to my comments by broadening my vocabulary - even if it occasionally means resurrecting some of our wonderfully expressive words that have fallen into neglect. It’s all part of being creative!

Who's going to join me?

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Who has time to read these days?

Teaching reading to those who struggle with it is one of my passions. I cannot imagine a life in which I was unable to read and I firmly believe that no child should be denied either the pleasure or the practical uses of reading because of inadequate teaching.

But I’m beginning to wonder whether, at some point, the ability to read will cease to play such an important part of our lives. Will future generations look back at our times and wonder why we made such a big deal of it?

Experts on using the social media for business suggest that we monitor the response to our social media updates to see which kind of posts are most ‘engaging’. Facebook provides us with ‘Insights’ to measure just that and, as predicted, it’s updates with images, the bigger the better, that get the most response.

Great! As an artist/designer, I’m happy to provide images for my updates, accompanied by just a few lines of text, a link and maybe a hashtag or two. Excellent! Easy! 

But wait – is anyone actually reading the text? Some of the hilariously inappropriate comments I’ve had suggest that the answer is 'no'! And is anyone clicking on the link? Analytics suggest that clicks on the links are few and far between.

Which all leads me to ask the questions, how often are we bothering to read? 
Have Infographics made it too easy for us to get by without reading whole sentences, never mind paragraphs? 

I say ‘we’ because I know I am as guilty as anyone of absorbing the immediate impact of an image and clicking on the ‘like’ button, maybe adding a brief comment and even on some occasions, hitting the ‘share’ button; though when it comes to facebook’s exhortation to ‘write something about this’, I usually pass.

I think it’s all about time and its habit of disappearing so fast,  especially when we’re on the internet! 

The problem is that there’s a finite amount of time
 available to us to glance at, mentally classify, discard or actually absorb
an infinite amount of ‘content’. 

No wonder we are picky about what we actually spend our precious time reading!

Advice on writing for blogs invariable points out that most people ‘skim’ rather than read carefully and thoughtfully, word for word. I know it's true; I do it myself! So we must use bullet points, ‘headlines’ and the blogging equivalent of ‘sound-bites’ in our writing to make skimming easier.

I wonder whether the days of the blog are numbered. Not that I think they are going to disappear tomorrow; but the way things are moving, with almost purely visual sites like Pinterest growing like the proverbial mushrooms, who will bother to actually read a 500-word dissertation – unless it’s either so rich in meaning or uproariously amusing that it draws us in.

Is this a bad thing? 

Not necessarily. I’m all in favour of Infographics – I think they’re a brilliant way of communicating and, by the way, teachers have used them for years. They just called them Wall Charts or possibly Visual Aids.

But I do think it would be regrettable if the ability to read became devalued over time. There are so many books that I love to read over and over and I doubt whether a film or a video clip could ever replace them! 

What do you think?

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Looking Forward to Retirement?

Just over three years ago, I wrote this blog post on the subject of retirement. 

At the time, I vaguely thought that by the time I reached seventy I might feel differently about it and at least decide to cut down my working hours.

But here I am, past my three score years and ten -  and still being told that I work too hard!

While there are aspects of my work that I’m less than enthusiastic about and would happily delegate to someone else if I could afford to, that would have been the case whatever my age. 

And I really see no good reason to retire! My eye-sight is fine, I think that my artistic abilities are, if anything, improving with practice; and while I’ve noticed that I’m not quite as good at multi-tasking as I used to be, that certainly isn’t enough of an issue to make me give up, or even slow down.

If for some reason, I was forced to retire, I wonder what I would do with myself. 

Oh yes, there would be more time for visiting friends or chatting with them on the phone. I could spend more time on things I enjoy like cooking, gardening, reading novels, quilting, dressmaking, exploring the countryside, taking photos. . .

But I’m pretty sure that at least once a day, I would pick up a pencil and doodle something. And then the doodle would become a drawing. That in turn would become a greeting card design or a repeating pattern. And the photos would become the basis of pastel paintings - and then I’d end up wondering what to do with them!

It’s my view that art and design are not primarily for one’s own amusement. For me at least they are forms of communication. In which case, there needs to be someone to communicate with . . . and before long, I’d end up posting my art or design work online and hoping that someone would like what they see, enough to make them want to buy it!

Yes, I still get the puzzled looks and meaningful hints from friends who retired years ago. But as far as I’m concerned, Henry Moore was spot on!

"There’s no retirement for an artist. It’s your way of living so there’s no end to it." – Henry Moore

How about you?

(I've made all of these images A4-size at 300 dpi - so please feel free to download and print them if they would help you stay motivated - and of course you're welcome to 'pin' them!)