29 November 2007

Spreading the word.

I had intended to post a blog on building websites and website packages, but something more pressing is on my mind and so it will wait for another day. The topic constantly popping up in my head is that of marketing.

Now, I said from the start that this would be an honest blog about the ups and downs, ins and outs of starting up and running a small business, and so honest I shall be. Money is an issue. There, I've said it. We all mostly feel the need to play down problems and never more so than when writing a blog that may be read by the world at large, but there are not many of us who do not have an issue with money at some time or another. Mine is that there is little of it due to the fact that we are on a single income while I am home with Isabella. It's fine. It could be worse. BUT there is not a whole lot to go putting into the advertising and marketing that ensures a business's future success.

My business started officially on September 4th 2007, yet despite only running for under three months it has done amazingly well. Orders are frequent, both locally and via my website and feedback has been fantastic which is very encouraging. All feels exactly as it should be and as I hoped it would be at this stage, so where do I go from here? I know that for a business to progress it needs to widen its market; the question is 'How'? There seem to be a number of options:

1. Fairs and trade exhibitions
2. Newspaper and magazine space
3. The internet

Obviously, there are many more ways to increase visibility, but these are among the more high profile versions, and therein lies the rub...none of them are cheap.

Recently I was working on updating my website and took a break to surf the net hoping to get some idea of what was out there. A name kept cropping up, one I already was aware of from endless references in magazines - notonthehighstreet.com This is an online marketplace for small businesses many of which sell hand-crafted goods and therefore seemed to be a perfect place for a business such as mine. I visited the site, not for the first time, and decided to find out more, clicking on the 'join us' link. A form appeared which asked me to describe my business and stated that businesses without a company name and good images should not apply as 95% of applicants are turned away. I have always felt the products sold through this site to be of a very high standard and somehow this felt reassuring. A message returned promptly thanking me for my request for information and I waited for what I thought would be info on pricing, etc. A further mail came requesting images of a range of my products and was duly despatched. yesterday a highly efficient and effective brochure arrived in the post informing me that I had been accepted - and I admit to feeling on something of a high; I was not one of the 95%! More to the point, I WAS one of the 5% accepted!!!! Call me shallow, but it felt good.

I had only actually expected information on how to apply in full, yet the offer to join was here...and so were the costs. Not cheap, but around what I had thought: £450 per year. Yes, I can hear the sharp intakes. I did it too, but I knew that a company with such high media coverage would be costly. Comparing this option with fairs, etc is difficult as they vary so much. A high quality fair can cost upwards of £300 for a stall unless you trade at one of the more frequent markets; feedback received from friends with craft-based businesses is that such markets rarely bring much business as people don't expect to pay much for the goods. I do not want to work for peanuts. I know my products and finishing are of a high standard, and I am in this to earn a living; it is not a hobby but a business and I want to be paid a price that reflects that. The offer from notonthehighstreet.com came with the relevant charges - commission on items sold and transaction fee - both of which were similarly high. On the upside, there was the chance to join for 5 years at the price of one; i.e. £450 for 5 years. This seems an excellent offer and has made me wobble over what I should do. Is it too good an offer to miss? Is it better to invest money in other areas (fairs, etc) and not pay the commission and transaction fees, or is this money down the drain (my gut feeling)? It's a tricky one and I need to find out more before I decide, but it feels hard to 'use' that large sum of money and risk little short-term return, yet how can I expand the business profile without?

all answers on a postcard please!!!

Pipany x


Elizabethd said...

Go for it Pipany..not that I know anything about running a business. Would it be worth contacting someone who is already with the company to ask for some feedback?

toady said...

I've read this with great interest. I had a free couple of months on Allcrafts.net and now they have asked me to start subscribing but I didn't get a sniff of an order via them. I know a couple of people with very successful internet businesses but they don't sell crafts and they spend a small fortune on getting their websites to the top of the google list. I don't want to dishearten you as it does me but people are very happy to buy all this cheap stuff flooding in from China and don't seem to value hand crafted stuff, but I think the tide is slowly turning. I'll have a look at this site you mention. If you break it down £450 over 3 years breaks down to £3 per week which isn't bad but the initial outlay is a bit steep. I haven't looked in to small ads in glossy magazines. I'm leaving any next steps till after Christmas now. Of course I'm a bit tied as going out is such a problem for me so I don't think what I do will ever be anything more than a glorified hobby. Have you got an Ebay shop? They are very easy to set up and now is the time to do it ready for Christmas. Craft Angel may have some good tips.
Crikey this has turned into a blog.


Pip I have pm'd you re this.

toady said...

Big Gob here again. I just looked at the site and it just seems to be lists of businesses. My gut feeling is that if I was looking for something this would NOT be my first port of call. I notice on ebay that when you look up say for instance, fabric, after all the ebay listings on the bottom of each page there are links to businesses. I've no idea how you go about setting this up but it may be an option.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Gosh, Pipany! I have read your very interesting post today but I don't feel qualified to comment at all, having never entered into this kind of business. I am a partner in the farm business but we don't market it due to it's nature. I think if I was starting up a business and was working to a tight budget on advertising, I would scour the internet and such like to find the right place to do my marketing. I also think that you have done the right thing in asking for advice before spending the money on a company you know little about. I want to wish you luck and I look forward to hearing more about your marketing ventures.

Best wishes, Crystal xx

Pipany said...

Thank you all for the gratefully received comments.
Toady, it does look like a list of companies but each has their own shop a bit like ebay; actually, now i think of it it is a bit like a department store. The company market you as part of their package and have huge links with many other companies. Magazines regularly contact them re: styling for photo shoots and articles to showcase, etc. They also run marketing and PR campaigns, as well as providing their own catologue which is relatively new and will go out via many of the top homes magazines. It is a very tempting package and would certainly ensure a wider catchment than I could get locally (I think). I am very undecided though - my business head tells me yes, but my pursestrings are very scared!!! Thanks for your very sound advice. will let you know what I decide (gawd, why didn't I PM you?!! xx

Milla said...

goodness,Pip, this was fascinating reading but I have no advice to offer. £450 over 5 years is certainly tempting, but is there any way of getting out of THEM some facts. I mean if they are raking off commission (and are those rates keen?) then they'll have a good idea of what the return is in hiking your profile. If you get inundated with orders can you fulfil them all since your items are so labour-intensive? Scary stuff. Good luck and sorry I can't say anything useful. the eBay shop idea sounds good, too.

annakarenin said...

As a consumer I think Toady may have a point as I have never heard of it whereas I regularly shop on ebay, granted I am a cheapskate. My friend looked into ebay though and felt people wanted something for nothing. She runs a Saturday market stall for her stuff. Time consuming though and also has to fork out for childcare.

Goodluck it seems to be coming along nicely and great photos.

Pipany said...

Again Thanks all for the comments. I received a lovely email from someone who is with this company and who is someone I admire greatly. She has run her business in many ways and has given me some sound advice on notonthehighstreet which suggests it has been more than worth her while. The fact and figures are obviously not something I would advertise as they were relayed in confidence, but she has certainly made me think. I am not after, nor do I expect a quick killing - this is more about progressing the business profile for the future.
Ebay worries me - my own experience is that it is where people go when they want to pay less for things. Maybe that is just me. The costs of running are not that low either. Such a difficult one to work out, but Cornwall is not the place to dpo markets, that's for sure!

Suffolkmum said...

It's a tricky one Pipany and I don't really know your market but on the face of it it sounds like a good offer and you have a personal recommendation which counts for a lot. My background is in marketing - admittedly not consumer products - but my advice, for what it's worth, would be don't forget PR - try getting a mention in a feature (or better still a whole feature) in one of the local papers about a local business start up - or send a sample to someone involved in a craft magazine (I'm sure they get inundated but you never know) - get a press release sent out about a busy Mum setting up a Cornish craft business - good luck!!!

Twice said...

Hi Pipany - thanks for comments on my blog. I can help you here, because I was in exactly the same position in August, umming and aahing about NOTHS. I took the plunge. It then took a while to get going but I am now getting an order every couple of day - obviously this is Christmas, so it is busier than it would otherwise be. I have nearly covered my costs and I paid the £450 for only one year. Infact, I was rather peeved to hear that they were offering the five year deal. Anyway, they seem to be doing alot of business -the order numbers when I started were somewhere about 28500 and today it was 58000ish. They obviously need alot of small businesses to satisfy that level of ordering. On balance I think it is probably good news - they have asked me to send three products off to national newspapers although none have featured yet. The only problem I have is managing the stock because all my Twice products are limited editions and I am terrified of selling something I don't have and can't repeat and there is no stock management function on their site.

Hope that helps!


Faith said...

Well that reply from 'Twice' sounds positive. I've no idea but any of it Pipany, but good luck. Its very interesting to read about. There is a saying that if you do what you love the money comes in - i hope thats true for you.

elizabethm said...

I was going to say go for it anyway and now having read the comments here I am doubly sure. I am sure that internet bookings are the way forward more than trade shows etc. It is a huge commitment isn't it? fingers crossed for you!

French Knots said...

I'm at the same stage with my business too, not sure how best to move forward. I've looked at Tuggle and NOTHS which both seem to offer a similar service.
As I felt scared to invest such a lot of money I decided to leave it a while, instead I contacted all the local mother and toddler groups and have been doing stalls with them. It has worked out really well, takings have been fab and they don't charge for the stall. My products are, mainly, aimed at children so it was a good market to go for.
Good luck with whatever you decide.

Frances said...

Pipany, not only are you creative and full of energy, you are brave.

Maybe twenty years ago, while I toiled without any real spirit, at a very intense and well paid office career, I made up a bunch of sample children's sweaters, all one offs. I took my samples round to all the best posh shops in NYC and got many, many compliments. But in each case, the sweet rejection sentence came bearing the words that the shop did not think that they could charge enough money for my very fine designs.

(This is the seed of my earlier question about your hand embroidery.)

Since I am not as brave as you, what I did with my lovely samples was use them as very luxurious gifts to each friend on the arrival of her child. Even now in the large clothing company that employs me, we love the tale of how it all began with five samples.
But now the production requirements and the overseas considerations are so complicated, both economically and social awareness-wise.

I really do salute you.


PG said...

Hi Pipany, I'm in the same spot as you! I also considered NOTHS and got accepted etc etc. Not sure how flattered I felt, as they are charging for their services after all, and although I am sure they do turn away some of the worst kind of hobby craft stuff I have also seen work in my area (cards) which to me are a bit dodgy in quality and you have to plough through pages and pages of the things. I thought the business woman who called was very nice and knew her job (to persuade me to buy a site with them) but in the end I reckoned that I am doing quite well so far with my extremely cheap Etsy shop, and all the other free networking sites where I keep in direct contact with customers and have my Etsy site and blog advertised. (Ebay is a waste of time for small crafters, it has turned into a pound market, and the fees get silly; I know a lot of small art/craft people and they all prefer Etsy for the same reasons).

I could not sell enough cards through NOTHS at the moment to justify the cost. Even though I sell in hundreds and through some shops, it is a lot of dosh, for no guaranteed return. And they didn't offer me the 450 over five years, which made it even more expensive. (maybe they realise that they have costed themselves a bit high, I told them that Etsy was far cheaper...)Not to mention, they do take a cut of any sales as well as the fee.

I give them credit for having a nice enough website, for getting publicity in the main papers, but at the end of the day I have personally got a profile (which is growing) through my own hard work and putting in the time making contacts, through blogs, forums, etc, making my own publicity. I do know someone who is with them, and I keep meaning to ask her how she is doing with them.
The thing with NOTHS is that you are mainly getting private sales. If you have a stand at a Trade fair like Top Drawer where the smaller craft and art businesses tend to be, you will get the 'interesting shop' owners looking at your goods and hopefully ordering. Or there is another I have been told about called Select, where the square footage is 150 pounds each, so if/when sales get to that point, I will be considering going for a small stand there, as I have been given the nod that a lot of small retailers go there because they hate the Spring Fair at the NEC.

I'd recommend at least starting with an Etsy shop - it is free to set up and only 10p to list an item and a small fraction of a sale to them if you sell something. Listings last for months not weeks, it is far better value that awful eBay. All these sites have one thing in common, whichever one you go for you still have to put in the grunt work self promoting, which is why I personally would object to paying a few hundred pounds for a pretty site which would get lost in all the other ones (unless you pay them even more for special space). I am sure if you have a really high turnover it would be a nice option and I am sure people make money from it. But if you are like me and carefully spending every businesss penny wisely because there aren't huge amounts of it, then I would really think about this. If you want to email me, contact me through my profile, I'm quite happy to chat on the phone about anything to do with this, my fingers are falling off now and I have probably used up all the commentting paper!