Before delving in...just a little FYI: This is part one of a five part series and each week I will be posting a new section as well as links to previous published parts. However, so you have an idea of what you can gain from this series, here is the Table of Contents I intend to follow.
Table of Contents
- Location, Location, Location
- Useability & Platform Interface Manipulation
- How Many Shops, Really?
- Platform Support & Online Communities
- Bottom Line, How Are Your Sales?
- Final Thoughts (Weekly in Each Post)
Location, Location, Location
Selling online on a hosted platform is not the same as selling in a store or even selling from your own website. The business licensing is not the same, the tax incentives and hurdles are not the same, but the freedom and latitude you have when using a platform sometimes outweighs the rules and restrictions placed on sellers by platform hosts. You just have to decide if it is something you are willing to do.
With each platform out there, (i.e. Artfire, Madeit, Zibbet, etc.), you will always find a few restrictions when setting up shop. While all their rules, regulations and otherwise general restrictions are in place to protect the platform, there are some sites that offer more bang for your buck for a new seller (or even a seller looking to expand or change shops).
Instead of using actual platforms as examples for what I am about to discuss, I will be talking more generally about what questions to ask yourself and things to look for when searching for a new online platform. I do not want to discriminate against any platform, as each has its own unique offerings, and it will ultimately be up to you to decide what platform works best for your needs and goals as a indie crafter or artist.
You may be wondering why I changed shops and maybe even more specifically, why I left Etsy. I have many reasons, all of which are personal business decisions and I do not want to cloud your judgement with my options. Instead, please read on and take whatever is of value with you. My hope is that you will gain from my experiences and together we can learn more and grow our businesses in support of each other.
How long have you been with your site?
What is your annual or monthly listing costs?
Do you pay a flat rate or do you pay per post and then a percent of each sale?
When you were in business as long as I have been (at the time it was about 6 months), how many sales a month were you averaging?
Have you ever changed platforms? If so, why?
Friendly Note: Be courteous of your network contacts and fellow artists. They are busy working on building their brands and product lines as much as you are.
I received a wonderful response from my network of artists and crafters. However, of all the information that came in, the most important information wasn't an answer to my questions, but a suggested group I should join, specifically a Facebook Group. My professional artist's group is a collective of artists of all types from all around the globe. The wonderful thing about this group was I could pose a question and often get responses that I never thought of.
Processing Feedback & Asking More Questions
After I joined my professional artist's group and sent out short inquiries to my network of artist's and carfters, the water began to clear about what I wanted in a shop. So I started looking; just that simple. I read the fine print, made lots of lists and finally came up with a relatively short list of items that I absolutely wanted in a platform. Here is what I cam up with.
Martiel's desired aspects for a platform to host Sewmantra:
- Annual or monthly flat rate fee
- Easy search ability for customers
- No percentages taken at sale
- PayPal Friendly
- Community (groups, challenges, fun ways to promote your stuff with others)
- Interface manipulation (widgets, unlimited # of sections, easy editing, etc)
- More photos for my customers.
- Link outs to my other sites (specifically my blog and other social media pages)
To find my platform, I conducted searches via google, bing, alexa, etc. and all of them yielded a good variety of options for me to explore. And I'm sorry to tell you, but you are going to have to read the print when it comes to this. The long and short, you need to know what you are getting into. Do it now, while you have the time and energy to get it done.
I also asked around on my professional's forumus for their ideas and thoughts on a platform once I found a few that I really liked. I received many suggestions and visited each site. I finally made a decision when all of my "Shop Needs" were met.
Another FYI here... you may come to a point during your search where you may find yourself faced with giving up one thing to get something else when switching platforms. It happened to me and I'm certain that it will happen to you - as all platforms are managed and structured differently.
All of this being said, be realistic about your expectations and needs in a platform. Do not be too specific; by doing this, you risk not finding anything that will fit. On the contrary, do not go too broadly as all platforms may fit your criteria.
If you find yourself struggling to determine what you want in a platform, start with three things you like in your current platform and pick two things you want that would be different or are not currently available. Or, you may use my list above as a starting point and use some of the items listed there to help guide your search.
When all else fails, ask around and see what people like and dislike about their platform - they are almost always happy to tell you about their experience.
As I know the locating of these marketplaces is the most time consuming of all, I've taken the time to shorten up your search. Here is a list of marketplaces I've visited and/or learned about, though I'm certain it isn't exhaustive and some of them are not exclusively 'handmade' marketplaces, some of them sell other items as well. Given that I'd like to provide a resource for you here, if you see something missing, post a comment and I will update the list.
And if you want some other options to help guide you, check out the Handmade Marketplace Review for 2012
My final thoughts for you today are that there are many platforms out there and it isn't easy to decide what is the best. It takes work and time - that is the truth. Furthermore, if you do this right you will find that you will be in a place that is both satisfying for you as a artists and your customers.
Now my shop is getting greater traffic than I ever had before and my sales continue to grow each month. I can say the trasition was a good idea for me because I went from having less than 400 visitors my first month to over 2000 in less than 60 days. Guess I'm doing something right.
With that being said, it was important that I share this with all of you so you could benefit from my journey. See you next week for Part II!
Don't forget to come back next week for
Part II: Useability & Platform Interface Manipulation