Is your product for everyday use? Special occasions only? Does it satisfy a need or a want? Those are two different things – necessities versus luxury items. Most people need a wallet; jewelry, on the other hand, is nice to own but not necessary to function. An item’s use will affect how and where you sell and market it.
This question ties in again with previous pieces of your business plan, like Questions #3 and #4. Your product’s use will also influence the language you use to promote and describe it (just like the feelings or values it invokes), along with where you choose to spend your time marketing it. Obviously, if you’re selling wedding-related products, wedding-related blogs or websites are a good place to begin advertising and selling your products. It’d be smart to promote your line of pacifier clips and diaper bags in magazines and websites devoted to mothers.
As we’ve discussed before, you might need to do a little product testing with friends and family to really get a feel for how people interact with your product. Some product types are not as obvious as others when it comes to figuring this out. If you sell jewelry, you might not be sure if people wear your earrings to work or out on a date. Give out some samples and ask your friends a few weeks later how they’ve been using or wearing them. This sort of knowledge helps you narrow your focus and spend your selling and marketing time more efficiently.
Question #5 might seem repetitive or even intuitive, but we are slowly refining and polishing the finished product of our creative business plan. Pretty soon, you’ll have a binder or folder full of great ideas, inspiration, and important hammered out details to build a path toward success for your business.
Question #4 is all about finding your target audience, otherwise known as your ideal customer. You might have started thinking about this back at question #3 when brainstorming what feelings and values your product or brand appeals to. Thinking about what emotions your products appeal to naturally leads you to thinking about what sort of people your product appeals to.
Now you may be tempted to say, but Janet, “everyone” is my target audience! I want my products to appeal to anybody and everybody! While this sounds nice in theory, it’s not efficient or effective in reality. You will spread yourself too thin, your message gets watered down, and you end up appealing to nobody in particular. The more honed in on a specific demographic you can get, the more effectively and efficiently you’ll be able to sell your product. Your target market will easily find your business and feel like you are talking directly to them, because you are! Don’t make the mistake of trying to please everybody and wind up pleasing nobody. Being too broad or generic is one of the biggest mistakes newbie creative sellers make.
Does your product appeal to moms? Singles? College students? Brides? Grandparents? The demographic possibilities are endless. The more specific you can get, the better you can place and promote your products.
Here are some characteristics you should think about when determining your target market:
Educational background (current student, college education, etc.)
Income level (budget-conscious vs lots of disposable income)
Location (city dweller vs suburbanite)
Values and interests (green, health nut, trend-follower, tech-geek, etc)
Family situation (single, married, parent, etc.)
Other target market questions that might apply to your product:
What experience does your customer hope to have buying your product?
Will your customer use your product more than once? Will they become a repeat customer?
What else does your customer like to buy?
Is your customer buying your product for themselves or as a gift?
What recent challenges has your customer faced?
What recent milestones has your customer experienced?
It’s important to think about who your products truly appeal to, and not just who you envision buying your products. When I started Lazy Owl, I imagined selling mostly to people like myself. At craft fairs, I was surprised how many younger girls were drawn to my bright, colorful jewelry pieces, and I realized I was missing out on targeting a whole segment of my potential customers. Sometimes you have to take your business out and about, get some feedback from customers, and watch how people interact with your products to get a better feel for your true target market. Don’t worry, you can always adjust your definition of your ideal customer as your business develops.
Once you’ve determined your target market, you can use this information to make your shop appearance and your brand appealing to your target audience. A certain “look” is more likely to reel in a budget-conscious college student versus an affluent career woman.
Knowing your target audience will also help you determine where and how to spend your valuable time marketing and selling your product, which also leads us back to question #2! Now is a good time to go back to question #2 and think about your answers in relation to your target audience. Do the places you’ve chosen to sell and promote your business make sense for reaching your target customers?
Spend some time working on the worksheet for Question #4; successfully identifying and marketing to your target customer is one of the most important parts of your business plan. Knowing who and how to effectively find and sell to those most likely to enjoy and buy your product is the key to running a successful creative business.
#3. What am I selling? Both literally and figuratively.
Like question #2, this question also has dual meanings. First and most obviously, it’s asking what exactly you are creating and putting up for sale. What is your product? What are you good at making in an efficient manner that results in a high-quality, sell-able product? What do you enjoy making? At some point, it is wise to make sure that the things you are selling are actually generating a profit and thus worth creating for your business…but that’s a whole other story about pricing and sourcing and expenses and what not. Just something to keep in mind!
Your business plan should include a succinct description of the product(s) you offer for sale, preferably in a single sentence. Being able to boil down your products to simple phrases or key words will also be important when we talk about SEO and tagging. I sell many different types of jewelry, but I can describe each of them in short key phrases – rosette studs, vintage crystal earrings, bunting necklaces, etc. Do this for your products by product line or type.
You can also leave room for those “dream” items you want to make and sell in the future. Maybe you are prototyping a new design. What do you have on the backburner that you are experimenting with and hope to sell someday?
Second (for the “figurative” part), what is the experience, value, emotion, or feeling that you are selling via your product and brand? Does your product appeal to a customer’s senses, values, or emotions? This will influence the best approach for both marketing and selling your products and your brand.
For example, someone who sells luxurious, high-end or high-priced custom jewelry pieces might try to appeal to a woman’s emotions. They might use language like “spoil yourself” and try to convey the idea that every woman deserves to splurge on a little piece of something sparkly. For my simple, inexpensive rosette stud earrings, my strategy changes to appealing to a woman’s sensibility. I hone in on how the little rosettes are perfect for adding a budget-friendly touch of color to your daily wardrobe. Knowing what your product appeals to will help you talk about your product in an effective way.
To what sort of mentality do your products appeal? Do they make your customer more efficient? Stylish? Practical? Eco-friendly? Glamorous? Find what emotion or value you are appealing to and capitalize on that in your marketing strategy. If you aren’t sure, ask friends and family what words, feelings, or values pop into their head when they see or use one of your products. Does it make them feel happy? Useful? Trendy? Now’s a good time for some product research; have fun with it!
This question should get the wheels turning in your head about what the best “pitch” is for your product. Include these ideas in both your business and marketing plans.
See my first post about writing a business plan for your creative business. My article about question #1, Why do I want to sell my product? can be found here. Time to move on to question #2!
#2. Where can people find my product?
This question is really two-fold. Notice it’s not “where will I sell my stuff” but “where can people FIND my stuff”. It gets you to think about not just where you will literally sell your products, but where you will promote them and your brand as well.
Where will I sell my products?
There are so many places to sell your creative goods, both online and offline. When you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to test the waters in just one or two selling arenas so you can fully devote your energy to them. It takes time, energy, and patience to set up shop in each venue and determine if that venue is the right fit for your business.
For business plan purposes, feel free to list all the possible selling options you’d like to explore given the time, energy, and funds to expand. You can have some short-term “now” sales venues to focus on and master, and several “later” possibilities to explore down the road.
Just a few ideas of where to offer your products for sale…Etsy, Artfire, Ebay, your own website, local retail shops, craft fairs…the list is endless. Be adaptable and open-minded. And don’t be afraid to dream big or go “off-road”. When I began Lazy Owl Boutique, my only goal was to set up a successful shop on Etsy. By the end of the year, I thought I’d give a few local craft fairs a shot. A year later, I began selling in a local retail shop. It was never my goal or idea to take my business “offline”, but it just naturally evolved that way and I’m loving it. You’ll be surprised where this crafty path might lead you!
Where will I promote my brand and business?
The second interpretation of this question relates to where you will market your product. Where can people hear about your business and discover your product or brand? Where can you tell your story? Just like sales venues, there are countless options for marketing your creative business, both online and offline. These days online promotion isn’t just about Facebook and a blog. There’s also Twitter, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Wanelo, Tumblr, and many other possibilities. Pick a handful of outlets that you already feel comfortable with and fully immerse yourself into making them work for you. Don’t forget to think about any goals for offline promotion. Maybe you are interested in participating in local crafty meetups or writing articles for a craft magazine. Where you market yourself is also determined by where you can find your target customer, another business plan “bullet point” that we’ll discuss in a later article.
Again, you can have “now” and “later” columns for your promotional venues as well. Since your business plan is something you’ll keep on hand as your business grows and evolves, it’s also nice to refer to for new ideas and inspiration in the future. Once you’ve mastered one venue (or figured out it isn’t a good fit for you), you can look at your business plan and get ideas for the next tool you want to tackle. This bullet point will also serve as the foundation of your future marketing plan.
While thinking about both your selling and marketing venues, play to your strengths. Here are some examples:
Are you great at chatting up strangers and closing a sale? Maybe craft shows are the best fit for you.
Do you feel more comfortable behind a computer and take great photographs? Sounds like online selling via Etsy would work best.
Are you a great writer? Make writing an article for a craft magazine one of your goals.
Do you have a lot of connections in the local community? Selling in a local storefront or teaching crafting classes might be good options for you to network your business.
You only have so much time in each day to dedicate to your business. Focusing on your strengths and planning your business accordingly ensures that you are efficiently setting yourself up for success and using your precious time wisely.
That being said, don’t be afraid to stretch yourself and try something new! Challenging yourself as a business owner stretches you as an artist as well. I myself am an extreme introvert (surprise!). Selling at craft shows was not something I was comfortable doing at first (and I still consider myself a terrible saleswoman!), but stepping away from the computer and talking firsthand with my customers gave me the chance to see how people interact with my jewelry. That’s a very beneficial experience I can’t really get from selling only online. It’s important to step outside of your comfort zone every now and then to grow your business.
Question #2 encourages you to think about your goals for online and offline sales and promotion, whether for now or for in the future. Brainstorm all the possible ways people can hear about you and your shop, then decide what makes the most sense for you and include that in your business plan!
See my first post about writing a business plan for your creative business.
The first question of our creative business plan, and thus the most important, is:
#1. Why do I want to sell my products?
You love to create. You love what you make. You love spending a Sunday afternoon leisurely browsing your local craft supply shop (guilty!). But what made you decide to go from making your creations for Christmas gifts to selling online to the world?
There are many possible reasons you may have decided to take your craft from a hobby to a business. Maybe one of these applies to you:
You want to finance your craft supply addiction
You want a side business to make some extra cash
You have so many thingamajigs lying around you need to get them out of the house
You want a creative outlet; any income is just a bonus
You are a stay-at-home parent and you want to generate some cash whilst working from home
You want to make a full-time income from your craft business
You want to be your own boss and make your own schedule
Knowing the “why” behind your business is important because it highlights your priorities. What’s your end goal? Money? Artistic expression? Freedom from cubical nation? Being able to make your own schedule? Whatever concept or goal that is driving you to start your business will determine how you should run your business. If your top motivator is money, you should operate your business differently than if your top motivator is creative expression.
Take some time to think about why you decided to start your business (or want to start one), and write this down as the beginning of your business plan. Keep this with you for when the road gets rough. It’s important to have a reminder of why you were inspired to begin this journey and your end goal or dream.
You can download and print the worksheet below for helpful prompts on answering question 1 of your creative business plan. Your business plan will start with a “big picture” view of the inspiration and motivation behind your craft before we zoom in and hammer out the details. We start with the “ideal” and figure out how to make the ideal into real!
Now is a great time to begin a folder or a binder with your business plan materials. You can use Lazy Owl’s downloadable and printable guides, but feel free to add pictures, sketches, magazine tear-outs, notes, and any other inspirational mementos that you want to include as part of your creative business plan.
Business plan, schmisness plan. Who needs a business plan? You do!
Regardless of if your Etsy shop (or other online creative biz) is a creative outlet, a hobby, a part-time business on the side, or your full-fledged day job, you need a business plan. A business plan can help you hone in on what your shop represents, who your target market is, and what you want to get out of your business. Working on a simple business plan helps you both think seriously about your business and take it seriously. Your business has a higher chance of success if you have a business plan.
Spending some time thinking about your business and goals should be fun, not a challenge. Make your business work for you! Don’t be afraid; you can create a business plan that’s as informal or formal as you want.
I have degrees in both accounting and mass communication; that’s a lot of left brain and a lot of right brain. When creating my handmade jewelry shop on Etsy, Lazy Owl Boutique, I developed a business plan that worked best for me. It’s dynamic and simple. I need something that will make me think about the important stuff but not work too hard. Questions that I enjoy answering and thinking about. Based on the “5 W’s of Journalism”, my business plan has 6 W’s and 2 H’s. I’m sharing it here today in hopes that answering these questions will encourage you to get serious when starting your business.
These questions will help you get to know your products, your brand, and your purpose. You might be surprised at where the answers will lead you!
click the pic to download the printable pdf
The above questions serve as a guide to get your business wheels turning. Over the next series of articles, we’ll discuss each of the W’s and H’s individually. This series of articles will include free downloadable and printable worksheets that you can fill out and keep in a binder as your very own business plan!