Posted by Mongo Wednesday, October 6, 2010
So, you’ve started up your own Print On Demand or other type of online business and you’ve made a few sales. Things are going along smoothly and, for the most part, you are exactly where you want to be at this stage of the game. You have your publishing schedule optimized and can easily create content on the fly. What’s your next move? How about, gain awareness?
Assuming you already have a plan of attack for designing and publishing your content, you need to get people interested in your brand. In t-shirt designing, you can be proactive or passive about your brand awareness as a designer. You can sit around and let customers find your work through search engines like Google or Bing or even let the search tools provided by sites like CafePress or Zazzle or Skreened drive people to your products. This will get you sales based on the quality of your design and the effectiveness of how you have tagged your images. But once that sale is completed, awareness of your work can simply vanish.
If you’re fortunate, a buyer will walk down the street and a person will say to them, “Excuse me, good sir, I like the cut of your jib. Where did you acquire such threads.” Apart from being stuck in the 19th century, the buyer might say, “Why, thank you. I procured it from a witty shopkeeper named Mongo. He has an apparel store which can be found on that new technical gizmo called The Internet.”
Silliness aside, the point being is that it’s hard to expect a customer to remember the name of your store when they wander in from the Internet through search engines. When someone buys something from the mall, they never say, “Oh, I bought it at Eden Prairie Mall or Lone Pine Mall.” They say they bought it from such and such store in the mall. Brick and Mortar stores are easily differentiated because of that who sensory, three dimensional memory thingy, and yes that’s a technical term. However, e-retailers, especially Print On Demand apparel shops have a relationship that is more about the overall name of the site than the smaller pieces, like the individual designers shop. So, more than likely the scenario will be,
“Where did you get that shirt?”
“What’s the website.”
“Zazzle” or “Cafepress” (depending on your POD of choice)
The inquiring person will then just search a keyword and may end up at your shop, or they will find a different design to buy, instead of yours. In the age of the Internet and short attention spans, you are always one click away from losing a sale.
I don’t want to deter you, though. You can still make a decent living by just designing and letting the websites do all the work. However, here’s a small sampling of tips that can help you build more awareness for your brand and your stores. (I’ll have a later post about what kind of POD user are you.)
Host your own designs
Looking back at our scenario, we can now change how the interaction takes place. I’ll spare you the goofy dialogue.
“Hey, I like your shirt. Where did you get it?”
“What’s the website?”
“Thanks, I’ll have to check that out.”
Now, the potential buyer is going right to your site with all of your work. In case you’re worried about overhead and inventory and having to do a lot of extra work, fear not. You can still use websites like Zazzle and CaféPress to host your products. All you need to do is get a domain and you can build your store online using tools provided by Zazzle and CaféPress. The checkout and actual buying is handled on their end. You’re just providing a portal. It adds a little to your bottom line, in terms of service provider and hosting costs, but you might be able to translate it into more sales.
Use Social Media Tools Like Facebook, Blogs and Twitter
Wordpress is a pretty powerful tool but unless you use the web hosting end of it at Wordpress.com, you will need to set up some sort of hosting of your blog and other pages using WordPress. If you are like me and would rather keep your costs low, you don’t want to pay for website hosting services. Free is nice, but you get what you pay for. If you go the free route, you’ll need to be more creative. There are blogs that can offer you a platform for showcasing your work without having to pay for a domain. Blogger is free and rather easy to use. What you are reading right now is an example. I use this blog to promote designs, share tips, and just connect with an audience. The creative part is how you go about presenting the information. Anyone can start a blog and post links to shirts in their Print On Demand stores but that doesn’t mean people will go there. You need to be able to write quality content and craft a message that draws people into your site. Learn about SEO, back linking, research HTML and CSS, and just read other people’s blogs.
Once you can create a good user experience and interactive environment, potential customers can click into your stores and possibly buy something. The best part is that you still have a website address that directs people to your work with your branding somewhere in the URL. There’s a saying that people remember the first thing you tell them and the last thing you tell them and everything in between gets lost. If the first thing they see is your brand and the last thing they see is your shirt at their door, hopefully, they’ll remember you more than the mailing address on the packaging. Do understand that with the “free” route of promotion you still have a lot of the POD’s name and labeling on the finished product in the form of packaging, but hopefully your brand can stick out in their mind.
Facebook is a great tool with better “real time” results as you can see who likes your page, so you know who your audience is at that moment. You also have insights built right into the page where you can see how things are working. Here’s a great look at how insights on Facebook work from Tees In a Pod, complete with video.
For MAMS, I use a Facebook page to show off new designs, interact with people who might be interested in buying my designs and just generally try to have fun. It’s also a great communication tool because when people like your work, they can share it and that can lead to new fans and new buyers. Word of mouth, whether orally or electronically, is still a free and powerful tool for advertising. Better yet, with Facebook, the message doesn’t degrade like our original scenario. The link follows the conversation. There’s no “What’s the website called?” and then the potential buyer has to sift through results to find you. Here, they just share the link.
Twitter is another instant tool for getting your brand out there. Once again, if your followers like what they see, they’ll retweet it to their followers and that link to your work stays attached to the message. It can also get picked up by search engines like Google.
You can set up outside applications to tweet, as you publish from any tool you already use, to your twitter account. A really crafty way is to tie all three of those social media tools together and streamline the process to make more yourself more efficient. This blog updates my Facebook page which in turn updates my Twitter feed. I write the content once and three social media tools pass it along. Granted, I use the other tools as standalone communication methods, but it’s nice to not have to do triple the work when you aren’t a full time designer and shopkeeper. This is all done using Twitterfeed to create feeds draw from various tools and post them to twitter.
Be a part of the community
You can’t live in a bubble. There is a huge community of t-shirt designers and t-shirt lovers out there and they are more than willing to help you grow as a business owner and will help promote your brand. The old adage of treating people how you wish to be treated is very applicable here. Join groups on Facebook, follow other bloggers and twitter accounts for designers and reach out into the community. Comment on posts and interact with others. This does two things. One, it allows you to interact with other people and it adds the link to your website or brand. It’s not spamming because usually, in form posting, you have the option of adding your website link which anchors your name to your website. This helps in backlinking to your site for search engines.
Secondly, reach out to these subject matter experts for help. There are some awesome people out there to get involved with in the business. Tees In A Pod and The Tee Gazette are great ways to get brand awareness and build relationships. Manz, from Tees In A Pod and GritFx tees also has a page for the supporting of shopkeepers. These three places are great places to start.
When I first started my shops I was pretty much out in the woods, all alone, with a hatchet and a dream of a log home. That might be a poor analogy, but the point is that I had a hell of a lot of work to do to achieve my goals with no help and the most basic of tools. But as I became more involved with the community of online designers I found myself being promoted by them and in turn I promote their sites. I retweet giveaways and contests and designs from peers and they in turn spotlight my work or even offer to help out with promotions I’m running. For instance, I held a giveaway for Halloween and as soon as I mentioned the topic on Facebook, I got emails and messages, from some of my t-shirt brethren, offering to help get the word out. That’s pretty awesome and I finally gave something away.
Why are people, who are in somewhat direct competition with myself, helping me out? That’s just the community nature of this business. It’s a really great atmosphere and environment in which to work. I’ve talked back and forth with Manz at GritFx and Tees In a Pod about the Halloween giveaway and she has been a great resource. She’s had experience with the business and gave me a lot of pointers on how to engage people and get the most out of my message. She even alerted Kelly at TeeGazette about the giveaway. That’s class. After talking with Kelly at TeeGazette she threw a post up on her site promoting the giveaway on mine.
Of course, I am getting all of this help for a campaign that is offering to give away something. There’s no sale occurring. However, all of the drummed up awareness of my store and “brand” could go a long way on the backend to bring people to my galleries which could result in future sales. I’m treating the customer how I want to be treated. It’s all connected.
Here’s another example of being a part of the online community reaping benefits. Back in July I received an email from Skreened asking to do an interview for their newsletter. It was part of their Comedy Summer promotion and they felt I was funny. So, I answered a few questions and they added a picture of my big ole melon to the top of the page and people screamed in horror, parents pulled their children off the Internet and there was general chaos. I kid, but it really was a big picture. LOL. Anyway, immediately after it went online I saw a huge spike in sales on my Skreened site. Were the two related? Metrics will only tell me so much, but I firmly believe that at least some of the people who read the newsletter went on over to my site and purchased something.
Well, that’s all I have this time. So, in closing, remember that you are part of a larger machine and you can easily get yourself into the mix without having to be an expert or spend a lot of money. All it takes is having a little awareness and a lot of openness. Take care and get noticed!
Stay tuned for more posts on branding and business models.