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Artisans Online: Crafts Sold Virtually Everywhere

The Etsy office's community workspace area.
The Etsy office's community workspace area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
February 2, 2015 Deadline
March 2015 Issue

Artisans often spend as much time trying to sell their works as creating them. Traveling throughout the Valley, and beyond, the artists I know set up booths at county fairs, craft shows, farmer’s markets and other events, trying to entice buyers interested in handmade items. A few local galleries and stores offer space to artists, and a handful of artists have spaces of their own. But, many of our creative artists need greater opportunity.

For arts and crafts, the leading online marketplace remains Etsy. In less than a decade, Etsy has established itself as the place online shoppers go first, which means artisans should have a presence in the Etsy community. A few competing online marketplaces exist, such as ArtFire and Zibbet, but none rival the popularity of Etsy.

Craft fairs have overhead, from booth rental feels to the cost of travel. Online marketplaces are virtual craft fairs, with their own set of costs. Trying to reduce those expenses can affect sales. The reason for using Etsy is similar to paying for a booth at a major festival: that’s where the customers are.

Setting up shop on Etsy begins with selecting a name. The name should be as close to an artist’s existing business name as possible. People don’t mind a longer name, if it is easy to remember. Limit the name to letters and numbers, something easy to type on a phone or a computer.

After an artist has a shop name, creating listings takes only a few minutes. Good images are key to generating sales on Etsy. Take quality photographs of the arts and crafts being offered. Each listing can include five images per item, so mix some full images with close-ups of detail work. Since people can’t inspect a piece online, the images should be captured through the eyes of potential customers.

Etsy currently charges 20 cents for a listing, and a 3.5 percent transaction fee. As with any business, setting prices requires calculating more than the cost of materials. If the relatively small fees of Etsy or another online market eliminate any profit, then the price for an item is too low.

Some artists I know have tried to sell jewelry, glassware and ceramic items on their own websites. Though they avoided the listing and transaction fees of Etsy, they also experienced a precipitous drop in sales. Instead of hosting their own online shops, I suggest artists create a simple site that links to their Etsy shops and social media feeds. The value of a website has declined somewhat with the rise of social media and mobile content, but artists want to be found when potential customers use search engines.

The most cost-effective approach might be registering a domain through an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that offers WordPress support. WordPress, a blogging platform, is ideal for artists and many small businesses. Using WordPress to create pages and blog posts is as simple as using a word processor, especially if the ISP automatically maintains the WordPress installation. Search engines now track the “freshness” of sites, so updating the site is essential to being ranked highly on Google, Bing and Yahoo.

When my wife and I attend craft shows and festivals, we collect business cards from the artists we like. Business cards with a website address still matter, especially for small businesses. Unfortunately, many of the websites we visit are out-of-date or poorly designed.

Art is a business, and artisans are their brands. We recognize the styles of our favorite artisans, something that connects to works to their creators. Online, we expect to find that same connection. An effective online presence matches the background, avatars and other images to the arts and crafts being sold.

Even an attractive site is useless if it features a year-old calendar and items no longer available for purchase. Cultivating an online brand requires establishing a social media presence and engaging with current and future customers. It takes some work, because branding requires updating websites and using the various social media on a regular basis. It’s not enough to create accounts and let them collect virtual dust.

Artisans should use Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, at a minimum. Tumblr, Instagram and Imgur are also popular among some arts communities and might be worth considering after gathering a following on the larger networks. On each of these, business social media accounts should be separate from personal accounts.

Pinterest is the dominant online community for arts and crafts hobbyists. Anyone selling crafts should have a Pinterest account and follow the best boards featuring similar crafts. Esty has a half-million followers on Pinterest, guiding people to Etsy shops.

Facebook now appeals to an older audience, which actually benefits artists. Creating a business page allows people to follow an artist, without being a “friend” of the artist. As with a website, the images on Facebook should reflect current craft and projects. Facebook can be integrated with other social media, so the latest Pinterest finds are shared with Facebook followers, and Tweets appear in newsfeeds.

Twitter has become the preferred way to send out announcements, such as upcoming show appearances or online promotions. The right “hashtag” (such as #jewelrysale) can drive traffic to an online market. Maintaining Twitter followers requires posting frequent and interesting tweets. It also helps to follow interesting accounts and occasionally “re-tweet” the best posts.

Tumblr is something of an expanded Twitter, with better support for images. There are many art and fashion Tumblr feeds, and the network is popular among trendsetters. For an artisan, following Tumblr can help identify what younger customers might desire.

For Valley artists, virtual marketplaces like Etsy offer an opportunity to reach national and global markets. An active Etsy shop, combined with an effective social media campaign, complements traditional gallery, retail, craft show and festival sales. For most artisans, online won’t replace tables at craft shows. Instead, the online presence enables ongoing sales to loyal customers and an introduction to new customers.

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