You may have noticed that I released a new pattern collection yesterday! Even though I’ve been doing this for seven years, pattern release day is still exciting. (Especially when the new pattern is listed for $600 for a few minutes because some extra zeroes got thrown in at some point…) I can’t wait to see what the initial reactions to a new design will be. But I can’t get reactions if nobody sees my new design, right? So that’s today’s “shop talk” topic: marketing and social media!
Terms like “marketing” and “social media” can sound like bad words if you’re thinking about the worst examples of both, like spammy emails and obnoxious Twitter accounts. But they’re necessary skills for anyone running their own business, and, done right, they can be fun and not annoying. I’ve actually always felt a little drawn to marketing—when we were assigned to come up with ad campaigns for toothpaste in 5th grade, I couldn’t have felt more in my element. (A job where I come up with jingles for toothpaste all day would totally be my second choice for a career.) That was toothpaste, but finding ways to let the world know about my designs, which I’ve poured so much of my own passion and work into, is even more fun and exciting (and also a little scary.)
For any small business, your marketing style should fit the personality of your business and yourself, and should speak to your potential audience. Myself, I want to reach knitters of all ages (not only moms and grandmothers, but college-aged knitters and men too) who might be open to knitting silly, impractical creatures for themselves and for kids. So I strive to make my messages humorous and fun, with a tiny bit of an edge to keep things from being overly sweet. This style affects not just the newsletters and ads that I put out, but also all the photos that I shoot and the descriptions that I write for my designs.
Let’s take my new Tiny People 2 pattern collection as an example. After I had designed the tiny people and had written the pattern, I thought about what my main visual for the pattern should be. For my first Tiny People collection, their different little outfits had reminded me of The Village People, and thus, a disco party.
For my second Tiny People set, I pictured them again standing in a row… police lineup!
That turned out to be the simple concept that formed my slogan for the patterns: “So cute, it’s criminal.” Do I really need to come up with slogans for my patterns? Of course not. Do I just like the idea of a silly slogan that might make someone groan or giggle (or both)? Yes indeed, and my dumb slogans fit with the fun and silliness that I aim for in my marketing and also give me a marketing focus and a specific “message” to project.
My image and slogan were a starting point to base my outreach about the patterns on, and I tweaked the delivery a bit for each venue. Once I had added the pattern to my shop and I was ready to let the world know, here’s how the marketing blitz yesterday went down:
• Email Newsletter This is by far my most effective marketing tool. Everyone who is signed up to receive my newsletter did so voluntarily (either on my website or at an event), so they are already interested in my designs, and this email will reach them directly, in their inbox. If you have a small business, having a newsletter for people to sign up for is a must. I use Mailchimp to send my announcements, which I like for its clean look and well-designed website. It’s not the cheapest option, but for me well worth the monthly fee. I try to keep my newsletters pretty short and sweet, with lots of visuals and extra goodies for people who scroll to the bottom.
I don’t want my newsletters to only be about selling stuff—instead, I think of them as a tool for keeping the mochi-knitting community alive. So I always include news about other stuff going on in the Mochimochi world, like this blog series, and often also a photo of a toy that one of my customers has knitted. I use a first-person plural voice for these newsletters, because I want to emphasize that it’s not just all about me—John is a HUGE behind-the-scenes part of Mochimochi Land!
• Ravelry Listings It seems like alllll the knitters in the world are on Ravelry—of course that’s not really true, but it’s by far the biggest website referral for me, so it makes sense that I prioritize it in getting the word out about my designs. Just by listing the patterns on Ravelry, I’m getting my designs in front of lots of knitters who haven’t seen my work before. Plus, I can also see what kind of attention my designs are getting. (Of my four new tiny people, the Tiny Lumberjack is definitely getting the most love by Ravelers.) I’ve learn a ton by checking the user activity tab for my designs.
• Ravelry Ads This is pretty much the only actual advertising that I do. With the Ravelry group forum banner ads, I can be so incredibly specific about who I want to reach (toy knitters, knitters who love Doctor Who, NASA knitters), that it’s very much worth the $1.50 per 1,000 clicks. And with this type of online advertising, I can set a budget and make adjustments to the forum selection as I go, so it doesn’t feel like I’m just blindly paying for ad space.
• Facebook Here’s a website that’s changed a lot since I started using it for my business. I may have more than 6,000 “likes” on Facebook, but these days only a tiny fraction of that see each of my posts. So the idea with Facebook is to try to post things that will get actively shared on the site, and I’ve found that images (not just links with thumbnails) are the most effective way to get this to happen. At the same time, when I think about my personal Facebook use, I know that one of the main reasons that I ever “unlike” something is when they’re constantly posting stuff in my feed. So I try to keep my Facebook posts visual and relevant.
• Twitter I have a smaller following on Twitter, but it suits me a little better as a user. I like that it has a more casual, conversational feel to it than Facebook, and I feel more comfortable posting multiple times a day on Twitter. Of course, it’s less visual and there’s the character limit, so things have to be concise and well worded. It might be a less effective marketing tool for me, but I just like it more personally, so I spend more time there than any other social media website.
• Blog The weight that my blog has as a marketing tool has changed a lot in recent years—fewer people are using RSS feeds (which let them automatically see everything I post) and more people are using social media (where I have to actively post and try to get people’s attention). But my blog is still really important as a community hub on my website—it’s the “voice” of my website. So a blog post about my new patterns is a chance to be a little more chatty about them, to share some behind-the-scenes images and thoughts on them. My blog post yesterday was a pretty straightforward announcement, but I can follow up with more fun posts that reveal more about my new characters’ personalities, or maybe that share images of lumberjacks and astronauts that other people have knitted, etc.
• Pinterest A confession: I don’t really enjoy Pinterest. Every time I pay it a visit, I am inundated by an infinite stream of images of beautiful things that I could be wearing, cooking, crafting, reading, watching, painting… it’s just too much for me, and I end up in a spiral of mild self-loathing. BUT I realize that Pinterest is hugely popular for good reasons, and people respond well to my images there. So I use the little “Pin it” button that I have in my browser’s bookmarks bar to post my photo from my blog post (making sure that the link will refer directly back to the specific post about the new patterns), and that way I can have a Pinterest presence without ever visiting Pinterest. (Although I do visit the site from time to time just to see what’s going on there and how my images are being received.)
• Flickr I also don’t spend a ton of time on Flickr, but it’s another highly visual website where people I might not otherwise reach may take notice of my designs. After posting photos on my photostream page (which appears to be temporarily broken as I type this), I add them to knitting and other crafty groups so that others might stumble upon them. I don’t usually include a link to the item page in my description, though, because Flickr discourages people from using it as an advertising tool, which I think is great. So I use it more as a general way to reach new people—if they are interested enough in my designs, they can still easily find my website to purchase the patterns.
Of course, there are so many other social media sites that I could be using, but with all the options it’s important to prioritize the sites where I think I’ll be more likely to find my audience and sites that I enjoy using. I’m certainly open to changing my marketing approaches as the internet changes, though, so I try to keep more or less up with where people (especially knitters) are spending their time online.
My takeaway tips for other small business owners: know your audience, know yourself and your style, and keep it visual and personal. The right audience will share your passion about your work, so it’s worth it to actively seek them out and then be active about maintaining the relationship. No spam necessary!
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