How to Build a Client Base When Starting Your Small Business

I was recently contacted with this question:

Hey, quick question for you. My friend just started a store on etsy and isn't having much luck with people buying so far. With that being said, you seem to have a successful store and I was wondering if you have any pointers that I could share with her?

I've been asked variations of this question pretty consistently, so I thought I'd tackle it as a blog post!  Now, I am by no means claiming any level of expertise on the topic of small business ownership or etsy sale success, but for those of you who are starting out and want a few tips, this is for you.

So you've got a product or service and it kicks butt.  It's well produced and original and basically the BeeZ NeeZ.  So now what?  Now you want to sell said product/service and make some dollah billz off your sweet skillz :P   

In my opinion, the two most important factors to focus on as you develop your new business (besides maintaining exceptional product quality) are BRANDING and MARKETING.  I know, I know, those are two verrrry broad categories, but bear with me.  Those two things have been absolutely essential to building my business from bare bones nothing to a nice little something.  Developing a cohesive brand is imperative.  You want people to consistently identify your product, your voice, your business.  Your brand can be enhanced by anything from a logo to a catchphrase to a set of colors.  When you see a swoosh, you recognize who that is immediately, right?  Hear "I'm loving it"? You know who that belongs to.  Shopping at a baby store?  Notice the use of pastels in their packaging and lack of black.... that is all branding strategy!  Branding is a prime opportunity to embed some of who YOU are into your product or service, so make sure to consider how you want your business to be conveyed.

No matter what you choose, remember to always remain consistent. For me, I add a small logo I designed myself with a link to my website on the back of every paper product I sell, but if you're just starting out it could be as simple as including a hand-written card with your business name and basic info with each order. You can always add on as your business grows!

While on the topic of orders, packaging is BIG. I spend more than others in my biz might on wrapping for orders because I receive great feedback from my customers for it.  Think about it: would you want to open a plain old package, or open a package to something that has been carefully wrapped with a little tissue and twine? I try to make every part of the purchase experience enjoyable and it's payed off.  This applies for all size orders, and you can customize it to make it your own.  Anything that makes your package or service a little unique, something to look forward to receiving, and identifiable as a product by YOU will continue to carve your brand identity into stone. Don't have a logo or money to spend on wrapping?  Labels and stickers added to simple packaging are nice, too.

Now, marketing:

Talk about your business.  Share it with people.  Practice your elevator pitch, and make it authentic.  Barter your services or offer some freebies of your goods or service.  Just get your name out there.  But--and this is big-- never sell yourself short or undervalue whatever it is that you're providing.  It's ok to say "no" to business if they aren't willing to pay you what you're really worth (this is a huge issue for me and you can bet I'll be writing a separate post about artists and creators undervaluing and underpricing their own work and the cycle of BAD that it creates).  You can say 'No" if it doesn't jive with your business model. Or if it just doesn't feel right.  It'll feel like you're wasting a precious $$ opportunity at first, but in the end it opens up time to focus on doing the stuff that feels right.  Plus, having personal experience in having taken business that felt not quite right, it always turns out to be a money suck or a time suck (or both).  And neither of those things are worth it, trust me. 

Okay, you've done the things I mentioned above?  Then market more.  Make a Facebook page just for your business and invite everyone and their mom.  Make a blog and update it regularly, even if it's not just about the product or service being sold.  People will come to associate the product/service with the person behind it and people like feeling like they're buying something from an actual human (don't you?!).  Look into collaborations with other producers/artists. It will expand the range of visibility of your stuff, help your network grow, and gain you like-minded friends. There will be times when the hustle is exhausting.  Let's get real, it's usually exhausting.  You will likely put a lot of what you earn right back into cultivating your business and its branding and marketing endeavors.  Persevere.  You will gain visibility, which will gain you clients, which will gain you fans, which always leads to new and repeat clients, and the cycle will snowball and your business will grow.  It takes patience.  They don't say businesses are built on blood, sweat, and tears for nothing.  But if you truly believe in your good or service, it will be worth it.

I have curated a pinboard with exactly this issue in mind featuring all sorts of online business references. I've already used many of them and continue to add to it, so it always stays current and fresh.  You can find it here.  I also read about small business ownership NON-STOP.  Check out the books Guerilla Marketing by Jay Levinson and Art Work by Heather Darcy Bhandari, and subscribe to blogs that offer tips and advice on how to gain patrons.  Heck, etsy has entire forums devoted to business development.  Oh, and of course their Seller Handbook. Sign up!  Get involved in conversations!  

Did I mention I'm also always open to recommendations for new resources?  The best advice I've gotten has been from friends who have dealt with these struggles before me and offered their golden nuggets of wisdom.  I owe a ton of credit to these friends who have fielded all my business questions and supported me along this quest. I also owe a huge thanks to everyone who has believed in me and this business, and to my clients who have trusted me with providing them with an awesome product.  Ya'll keep me going.

If you have any more questions, ask away!  I'm all ears.  Let's open up some dialogue!  The best businesses are those that support each other!