Start a craft business part 2
Remember that you are representing your business at all times, particularly when at craft fairs, networking events as well as on social networks too. I’m not saying you need to be dressed up in a full suit at all times but bear in mind that first impressions really do count so make sure you are projecting the image you want, whether in person or online.
Also under this section I would like to emphasise the importance of a professional looking website, especially when you are selling online. You do not need to pay a fortune to have a nice looking website. I’ve seen many Mr Site websites or Create.net sites which look as good as those that have been designed by professional web designers.
When designing your website make sure that it is easy for people to search and to locate what they are looking for, that your contact details are easy to find and that you use good quality images. Nothing says ‘shoddy site’ more than dark gloomy, low quality images. For online sales the image is what sells your product so it’s worth the cost/effort to get good quality images.
Make sure you have good quality professional looking business cards as these often form part of people's first impressions of you when they meet you at an event. Personally I find Moo business cards look great and I love the fact you can have lots of different images on them. A great chance for you to showcase your products.
The most important thing in running a business is to focus on getting a good reputation. A bad reputation can do an unbelievable amount of damage to your business. For most people there will be many other companies offering the same product/service as you, so if you get a bad reputation the customer will just go to one of your competitors.
The most important factor in building a good reputation is customer service. Keep your customer updated and informed at every stage of the process. Deal with any queries or issues in a timely manner. Treat every person you deal with using the same standard, whether they buy your product/service or not. Just because they don't buy now doesn't mean they wont in the future, or wont recommend you to a friend.
I find the most off putting thing is people not replying to your e-mails or phone messages. Even if you cannot give an answer instantly reply to the e-mail to acknowledge receipt and let them know you will get back to them soon rather than keeping that person waiting. Lack of communication is inexcusable. Many of us start off with the aim of replying to every e-mail straight away but once your business starts to grow that become unpractical. However, to send a response or acknowledgement within 24-48 hours is reasonable aim and will help to keep your customers happy. I have stopped dealing with companies in the past because weeks later they have still not replied to my e-mail; you start to wonder if they really want your business at that point.
Another important point in customer services is to deliver your promises. If you tell people they will receive your product within 3 days, and 5 days later they have to contact you to find out where it is that will make the customer think you are not trustworthy as you do not keep to your promises. You are better to under promise, and say it will take 5 days and deliver within 3 days than the opposite. We all know that unexpected problems can arise that can affect your promise, but then we are back to the customer service/communication point. If you cannot keep the promise you have made then take the time to contact them and let them know, and when they can expect to receive it. Most people still consider it to be good service, irrespective of delays etc if they have been kept updated throughout.
Another important thing when dealing with other businesses is to make sure you pay your bills on time. Once you get a reputation for being late payer, or as someone who it is difficult to get money off you will find several companies are no longer willing to deal with you. I find the easiest way to keep on top of bill paying is to pay then straight away if possible, then you don't have to worry about missing the deadline.
One other quick note on this subject is to remember that comments you make on your blog/Twitter/Facebook even when relating to personal things still reflect on your business. Many of us use these platforms for both personal and business reasons so you have to remember your customers, as well as your friends, can see your updates. Be careful of the language you use, and the topics you choose to discuss as they could put off potential customers. You are best off presuming that everything you put online is being read by potential customers.
Dealing with problems
This point ties in very well with the point above. As noted before problems do arise and they can adversely affect your business. Your supplies might not be delivered in time, meaning you cannot meet a delivery deadline. A cheque might not clear when you expected, leaving you unable to pay an invoice. These things happen to the best of us, and are often beyond our control.
What matters is how you deal with it. Communication is the key, contact the person awaiting the product/payment, explain the problem, apologise and let them know when they can expect it. I’ve found the sewing/craft industry to be full of very friendly supportive people, if you have a problem try asking for help. If you can’t find a particular supply etc ask others in the industry and you will probably find there are many people who will be glad to help you. Hurdles are there to be overcome, you just have to think about how you will get over it.
If the problem is one of your customers, they are unhappy with your product or service, keep a professional manner, stay polite and let them know how you will resolve the issue. Bear in mind that negative comments circulate a lot quicker than positive ones, particular since the advent of Twitter and other social networks. The last thing you want is someone tweeting about the awful service/product they received from you. Even though it may leave you out of pocket giving a refund to an unhappy customer can often cost you a lot less in the long run!
I won’t lie to you, running your own business is very hard. There will be days when you wonder why on earth you even bothered. Some days you may be up working until 3am, see comments on Facebook criticising your work, not get paid for a job you have done, have a customer poached by a competitor etc. Running your own business is an emotional roller coaster, you will have good days, you will have amazing days, but then you will also have really bad days.
The main thing you have to do is remind yourself why you are doing it. If you are running your own business so you can be at home with your children, focus on that, if it is to pay for a few holidays, or even to pay your mortgage keep thinking about that. No matter how bad things get it is all a learning experience, even if you business fails you will have gained invaluable knowledge from running it.
It pays to take stock every now and then, summarise what you have achieved turnover wise, number of sales, hits to your website, social networking fans etc. Take a break from the day to day details of the business every now and then to step back and look at the bigger picture. This really helps to motivate you when you look over your past successes and don't dwell on any current issues.
You also have to learn to prioritise and accept you can’t do everything. When it all seems overwhelming make a list, move things into order of importance and then feel proud of yourself as you tick things off. Don’t panic if you don’t get everything on the list done (I have things that have been on there for years!) just think of what you have achieved with the things that you have taken off the list.