Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Holiday Prep Guide 2008

The holidays are coming faster than you think! It's about time we all start getting things in order and I thought I'd make a checklist/guide of what needs to be done in my experiences from the holidays 2007. Paying attention to small details goes a long way.

Remember "No expectations, no disappointments" just because it's the holidays doesn't mean that your sales will pick up. If your shop is getting regular sales now then you are likely to see an increase but don't be surprised if you don't. There are just as many "where are all the sales?" and "it's sooooo slow" threads during the holidays as there are now.

So in no particular order here goes!

It doesn't happen overnight! Start now. Set a goal of 2-3 new items per week and stick to it! If you start doing that now by November you will have 25 -30 new items. I know 25 doesn't seem like a lot but is. It's really important to have new stock in addition to re-listing things you have multiples of because it attracts attention from potential AND more importantly repeat customers.

Keep your shop announcements short and sweet, make sure your shipping policies are informative and jazz up that profile. You never know who is reading! I remember last year that a buyer/seller said that they were going to print the profiles of all the sellers they bought from and include it with their gifts.

Tips for descriptions and titles:
- Describe your items accurately
- Include measurements in metric and imperial especially if you ship internationally (I need to check all my listings for this!)
- Check your spelling and grammar
- Don't try to jam a million words into the title field! (Etsy is not Ebay and that is what tags are for!)
- Make it easy on the eyes to read meaning don't type like this THiS ItEm Is Gr8! or use ALL CAPS.

Use your sections!
Busy shoppers don't have time to weed through all of your of inventory. Make their shopping experience simple by separating your goods into sections. For example jewelry makers: earrings, bracelets, necklaces, pendants, etc... For print makers: sort by size and maybe by collections. There are lots of ways to sort your shop but what you should think about is how your target market shops and set it up so that it appeals to them.

There have been times where I have run out of earring hooks or earring posts or glue and it drives me insane. Write out a list of your absolute necessities and then rank them by how long it takes to get these items. For example, if i run out of shrink plastic I can get it at Michaels which is 10 mins away, I can order ear hooks and ear posts from Rio Grande and have them at my door the next day, if I run out of labels I can pick some up at Staples but if I order some poly baggies from an Etsy seller it will take about a month to get to me via first class. So knowing that I order the poly baggies ahead of time and in bulk to ensure I have enough and to save on shipping. By prioritizing what I need and staying organized I shouldn't have to deal with this issue.

It's also not a bad idea to do an inventory count every couple weeks. I do mine monthly. Okay I don't really count all the little pieces of supplies I have on stock that would take days but I have all of it set up in a way where I can look at it and know what I need more of very quickly. It's a pain sometimes but it's definitely better to order what I know I need rather than dump all my money into supplies that could sit for a long time.

This is a big one. Shipping can get really crazy especially in November & December! Remember to establish a shipping deadline/cut off date (these dates should be posted on your postal office website in October or so). You should have this date posted in your shop announcements along with any other details. It's also a good idea to list your location so that shoppers know where you are shipping from and what to expect with shipping times.

Ship INTERNATIONALLY. Really, there is no good excuse not to. Around October you'll see all these threads popping up about how shoppers can't buy the items they want because sellers don't ship to their countries. No one wants to convo you for a rate! They will just move on and find the next best thing. You're really missing out on a lot of potential sales by not shipping internationally I mean how hard is it to package something and take it to the post office to get some shipping quotes? Do it now while the post office isn't busy and has time to answer your questions. Do it because you want to grab a hold of every sale you can get your hands on. Even if you lose a few dollars in the beginning you gained experience and that is worth way more. Let me tell you something... I live in Canada and over 95% of my sales are international orders. If that doesn't motivate you what will?

Buying shipping supplies. The way I estimate how much supplies to buy is I take my average monthly supply usage and multiply by 3 and then multiply by 2 for Nov & Dec. That way I've got enough supplies to last whether I see an increase in sales or not (right now I have enough shipping supplies to last at least 2 months). Someone also mentioned to me that you should be prepared in case the Post Office runs out of flat rate envelopes, priority boxes, customs labels, etc... I know that my PO always runs out of the customs labels I use so I already have a whole stack of them at home. It's better to be prepared because nothing is worse than running out of envelopes or bubble wrap when you have 10 orders waiting to go out and it's snowing outside or worse.

If you offer gift wrapping or special packaging on specific items like tissue paper, ribbon, tags, labels, poly bags, etc... NOW is a the time to sit down and estimate how much of everything you are going to need and again prioritize what takes you the longest time to get and buy those first.

Things you should think about are:
- What can I get done now so I don't have to be bothered with it later? Ex: I use a bristol board tent card to ship my stickers so they don't get bent during transport so I have to pre-cut those instead of cutting one each time I sell a pack of stickers. It saves a lot of time.
- If you print invoices and shipping labels do you have enough paper and ink?
- Do I have enough gift boxes, wrapping paper, tape, gift tags, thank you cards?
- How will I keep track of what is inside each package?
- How can I package my gift wrapped items so that the buyer will know what is in each box if they buy multiple items? (post-it notes are great!)

If you work out a plan for this now it will save a lot of headaches!

Extra shipping tips:
- ALWAYS package one order at a time to avoid confusion.
- If the order is awaiting an address confirmation or pending payment I will write AC - username or PP - username under the flap of the envelope with their order packaged and ready to go when I get the notification to ship. When you seal the flap you can't see the writing. Also, I only seal the packages that are ready to go out. So I never get anything mixed up.
- Notify your customers of what's going on. This should be done without being said but in case you don't know this you should be informing your customers of when you are shipping or if your item has shipped. It's good customer service and no buyer wants to sit there wondering if they are going to get their package or not.
- If you know this it might be a good idea to give an estimated shipping time too.
- Be respectful. Some people don't want feedback left till after the holiday season because of sneaky friends and relatives so you might want to hold off on leaving feedback until after the holiday season or find a notebook and take note of which customers want this.

There are a lot of ways to promote during the holidays. I have a lot of accounts on social networking sites that I am active on. Sites such as flickr, myspace, indiepublic, etc... Some of it will work for you and some won't. It's all trial and error. After all, nothing is guaranteed to bring you sales right? Personally, I think that the best form of advertising is through word of mouth. Get your family to help you pass out business cards, leave them at local restaurants with your bill, give them to your bank teller, etc... but the best word of mouth is from happy customers that tell their friends how much they love your stuff. I always include 2 cards in every order.

If you're planning on doing some advertising this holiday season you better start setting a budget! Ad spots on the big blogs for the holidays sell out really fast. If you are on a tighter budget project wonderful is also a great way to get exposure without breaking the bank!

Things you should consider when purchasing ad space:
- Who is your target market?
- Is the ad space I want to purchase targeted towards my target market?
- What times of the day are people in my target market most likely to be on the computer?
- Is it worth it to spend X amount of dollars if I see a potential increase of X amount of dollars?
- You might also want to factor in how high your holiday Etsy bill will be or how many dollars you spend renewing.

BUT, before you go throwing all your money into advertising you have to ask yourself this "Do I have the time to deal with a sudden increase in sales?" This question is for all of you SAHM's, those who work full time off Etsy, those who are still in school or have other priorities.

The holidays are a great time to start branding your store. Just the little things you do will go a long way. The way you package, the things you include such as buttons, stickers or something unique with your logo and website on it. Something that will make them remember you.

Start a mailing list! I started collecting emails from my customers at the beginning of the month for my new monthly mailing list and I already have 17 people signed up! This will become more useful when you start building a customer base. You can give them special deals or update them on new items and sales you will be having. It's really a great tool and I can't believe it took me so long to get it started!

Forums. I think it's a good idea to post in the forums to maintain visibility. Sellers are buyers too and sometimes they've known about your shop all year long and don't remember that you've actually got that really cool bag or pair of earrings. So if you pop up in front of them they might remember again :)

Umm... regarding the promos section... If you think that the promos section moves insanely fast now when the holidays come your thread will be on the bottom of page 3 faster than you can refresh your page! I don't really think the promos section is really an effective way to promote your store. I mean... It's pretty much a waste of time to sit there for however long trying to bump your own thread but I guess it can't hurt to post in a few threads now and then to get whatever exposure comes from it. You never know who might be lurking and click in to your shop!

Tagging. I cannot stress how important this is. I don't have actual percentages I'm too lazy to open all my convos and count but the majority of the customers who respond to my survey tell me they found me using the search. This is REALLY important to know because when the holiday craziness starts I don't know why but everyone feels the need to renew, renew AND renew and then list, list AND list some more! So your stuff gets buried really fast it will make your head spin but if the buyer can type in keywords that describe your item they can find you a lot easier. So make it easier on your buyers and help them find what they are looking for by tagging properly!

Things to think about when tagging:
- Make sure they are acurate and descriptive
- Think about how people internationally search for things. Do they have different words they use for describing your item? Ex: Blanket, Duvet, Quilt, etc...
- If you have an extra tag use it to tag your shop name. This might be helpful to those of you who have a different shop name and username.
- Ask your family or friends to look at your items and tell you what words come to mind.

You are NOT allowed to tag for "potential uses" meaning you are not allowed to tag your items as "christmas gift", "gift" or the big one "stocking stuffers".

Why not? If you type "gift wrapping paper" and "stocking" into the search to look for HANDMADE gift wrap or stockings the search will pull up all the listings with the word "stockings" and "gift" in it including all stocking stuffers and gift wrapping options that people have listed as well as items that come with gift wrapping. Imagine being a buyer and having to flip through 200+ pages of items to find what you are looking for. Major turn off! And since you can't tag for potential uses you can't tag your items as "stuffer" either. Think that this is unfair? Try typing in "gift wrapping" and see for yourself how bad it is.

The solution? In the drop down list people have the option of searching by description so if you include the words stocking stuffer in your item descriptions your stuff will come up.

Oh we must not forget about our photos! The first impression matters! So take the time to re-do those half assed photos! I'm serious! If your photos are blurry, dark, fuzzy it might turn a buyer away. I had pretty crappy photos when I first started and once I spent a little more time on them my sales increased. So, invest in a lightbox, hire someone, do whatever it takes! This month alone I re-photographed over half the items in my shop because I know that with more eye catching photos I'd get more views which would lead to more hearts or sales. (July has been my 2nd best month on Etsy so far in 11 months). Shopping online is very different from shopping at a real store and those photos are the only thing that a buyer can use to determine if your item is worth purchasing. Try to use all five photo slots and if you have extra space photograph your packaging. Sometimes the packaging is that little push that will get you a sale. I know it's time consuming to re-do photos but do it for the sake of your shop! I promise it will be worth it. Besides, it might get you into a few more treasuries!

With all this said, BRING ON THE CRAZINESS! I am so ready! I hope this helps someone! I'm sure I forgot a bunch of stuff so feel free to add to it in my comments so there is a collective place for people to read it.



east4thstreet said...

Wow! Great post. Thanks!

timothy said...

Great tips for the holidays!
so true about the photography....

Timothy Adam Designs

ErinT Fashion Accessories said...

This is so informative! Thank you!

LoveMeKnot Creations said...

great tip on the writing on the envelope flap!!

QuirkynBerkeley said...

Thanks, tinyfig!

hippyofdoom said...

This was really informative and very logical! Thank you for sharing sooo many tips and for taking the time to write them!

Omg Lia said...

Great tips! Thanks!!

jeweledrabbit said...

Good post. A lot of this stuff is common sense, but it still bears repeating.

Elena said...

I'm bookmarking this for later, this is a great post!!

Beyond the Rockz said...

Fantastic! Thank you!
Al and Caroline
Beyond the RockZ

Steph said...

Wonderful reminders!
Thank you!

Majenta Designs said...

wow thanks for sharing all that info with us! I love your shop btw!

Karen said...

That's what I don't like about selling stuff, thinking ahead to the holidays, when I want summer to last forever! But you are absolutely right, and I plan to utilize all your wonderful ideas!! I gotta go read so more LOL. Karen

Ashley said...

Oh thank you! I will have to reread this over and over again! I really need to get motivated to make more pieces.

Tizzalicious said...

Thanks for all the great tips!

crochetgal said...

A very well written piece. Everyone who is in business should have this on their 'must read' list.

Brandi said...

These are great tips! Thanks for sharing!

Diffraction said...

Thanks so much for this! I'm getting ready for my first holiday season and this certainly answered a ton of questions!

Elaine said...

This should be a primer for people entering the holiday season on Etsy.

Mel said...

Fabulous post! Bookmarked for more in depth reading! Thank you!!


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much! It is really wonderful how you put so much work into helping other indie crafters with your experience.


Rocki's Rock 'n Beads said...

Ditto apartmentcat! I'm printing this out and will use this info. Thank you for posting this!

Sherryl said...

Great tips. I've truly been thinking about the up coming season. I've all ready bought a few gifts and have other's marked. Seeing that it's Xmas, last year I photoed my items using a small evergreen and a few scattered ornaments, on tables and in gift boxes. It was fun. You can find these items cheaply at the Dollar stores and use them year after year.
I also printed this info and placed it in my Etsy binder.

Corri Taylor said...

my goodness i read the whole thing and now my eyes hurt maybe that has something to do with it being 12:30 am

anyway thanks for that huge list that must have taken tons of time!

I love the tipes about getting stocked up on supplies and making things now! Great great!!

bridget said...

wow, fantastic tips!! i'm making my lists now, thanks!

elizabethjayne said...

I found you through the Etsy forums - just wanted to let you know I'll be adding you to my favorite bloggers list! Keep up the good work :)

Kahoonica said...

This is amazing!
You thought it out from all angles, thank you. :)

StephanieK said...

Thanks for the link! This is very helpful. Thank you for writing it!

AMIdesigns said...

Thanks so much for this really useful piece

Shauneil said...

Great advice.....thanks for taking the time to type it all up!

I'm really looking forward to the holiday season and I'm hoping it brings lots of craziness my way!

Grace said...

I printed this for future reference! Thanks for taking the time to help us all out! :)

Maribel said...

This is great! I was just starting to think about the holiday. This will come in very very handy :)