March 25, 2014

How Jewelry Designer Peggy Li Shines in a Competitive Market

Filed under: Case Studies — Meredith @ 8:04 am

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Jewelry designer Peggy Li launched her company over 10 years ago, making her a veteran in the handmade business community. Today I’m chatting with her about how she’s grown her business and continued to thrive in a crowded marketplace.

Tell us a little about yourself and your company. What does your company do and when did you get started and what’s your growth been like over the years?

I create and sell jewelry at my website, Peggy Li Creations (http://www.peggyli.com). I got started like a lot of jewelry makers, by making jewelry for friends and family and for myself to wear. People would stop me in stores and on the street and ask where I got my pieces. On a whim, I sent some pieces into my favorite TV show at the time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To my utter surprise, they used pieces on the show and my business was born! I worked full-time for several years while running my jewelry business on the side but it has grown pretty steadily year after year. I went full-time with the business about two years ago and it’s jumped to 30% growth year over year.

When did you realize this was going to work and you could make a career of this?

I’ve always wanted to do a lot of things, so I don’t think I’ve even settled on this business as my career. I love the challenge of running a business and the creative outlet of creating things that people enjoy wearing. On the practical side, I believe that if you’re already working, it’s great to keep that job for as long as possible while you build your business (I even went part-time with a day job for several years before cutting the apron strings). It took a lot of pressure off of me and allowed me to enjoy all aspects of the business before I made it my business. When I saw that I could make as much money as my (part time) day job, when I saw consistent numbers year over year, that’s when I had more confidence that I could run my business as my full-time job.

Do you have moments where you get discouraged or feel like you can’t make your business work? If so, how do you get yourself out of that place?

As entrepreneurs I think we all fall into these funks from time to time. I try and focus on the positives and take a moment to celebrate the things that I have accomplished, then put it all aside and get back to work!

I know jewelry is a very saturated market, how do you stay competitive with so much jewelry out there and the influx of hobbyists flooding the marketplace with cheap goods since they aren’t trying to make a living or wholesale their products?

There are plenty of customers out there and it’s about targeting your market, understanding who your customer is, and speaking to them and finding where they live and shop. As long as I take care of my end, creating quality products, giving great customer service, and creating my brand to reflect the value of my product, the rest falls into place.

I also keep an eye on important stats like which items are selling. What are people looking for? What’s current in the market? How can I improve all aspects of my business?

One thing that’s really impressive about your business is your ability to get your product in the media (magazines, TV, movies, etc). How do you make this happen and does it make a big difference for you in terms of online sales and/or wholesale? How do you maximize the benefits of these media placements?

Thank you! My business got its start with a TV placement so it’s in the DNA of my business model. It’s very important for my online sales and is a great way new customers can discover my work.

I pitch my product to various shows just as I would pitch my product to a blog, magazine or newspaper. I’ll sound like a broken record – target your market! I target shows I think are a good fit for my brand. When I have a placement, I do outreach with TV fan sites and with “seen on TV” blogs and websites to get the word out about my work on TV. It’s also important to make those products SEO friendly for people searching for what their favorite TV character wears.

What are some of the most valuable things you’ve learned running your business or things you wish you’d known when you started?

I wish I had been more confident at the beginning and more proud to be a small business person. I didn’t tell a lot of people about my business when I first started and I wish I had more business mentors in the early years.

How do you go about getting your product in front of retail customers? Do you mostly sell online or at live events? What are some direct-to-consumer marketing tactics that did or didn’t work for you?

Over the years I’ve done lots of live shows, fairs, websites, brochures. These days I sell mainly through my online site and through a few select online retailers. I believe it’s all about understanding your target market and partnering with online sites that fit your brand. If an online retailer doesn’t work for you, don’t continue to use it! I have to use my time well as there is only one of me!

With online direct-to-consumer, I believe it’s so important understand SEO and optimize your ecommerce site to make it easy for people to find. You also need a website that is informative and easy to shop. I also blog, use Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook to build community and share my brand with my customers, who can build a one-on-one relationship with me through these outlets. Building trust with customers and being credible is key for people who can only experience your product online before buying.

Tell us about a big mistake you made running your business, what you learned and how you recovered.

I’ve made a few mistakes  — spent money on PR firms and PR opportunities which were duds or worse, scams. These lessons have taught me that information is your best friend. Do your homework on any opportunity, understand your risk and options. Even more important, understand your own business, products and goals, and use this to help guide your business decisions. Also, don’t beat yourself up over mistakes! They will happen and they are part of the learning process.

If you had to start over from scratch today with a new business what would you do differently? How would you go about it?

I’d love to start a new venture and have partners so the burden isn’t entirely on my shoulders to get things going. I’d also like to tackle a business that doesn’t depend on physical product! For example, I’d love to take my experiences, especially in PR, and create a business to help other businesses build their PR.

A big thanks to Peggy for sharing today and be sure to check out her beautiful collection at PeggyLi.com. I actually wore a pair of her lovely earrings a few years ago at my wedding :)


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September 20, 2011

Getting Customers Psyched to Photograph Your Product & Share It On Facebook

Filed under: Case Studies — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 5:52 am

One of the things I love most about business blogging is sharing really creative marketing ideas with my readers. I hope these finds inspire you to do something awesome to bring excitement to your brand and products. Today, I want to share Old Bay seasoning’s clever campaign that got fans taking pictures of something as mundane as a spice tin and posting it all over Facebook.

The Campaign:
Old Bay seasoning invited its fans to “photobomb” Old Bay. Their Facebook page declared “Bold Never Gets Old. Upload a Photo and Prove It”. Fans were asked to photobomb a pic with Old Bay and post the photo to Old Bay’s wall. Uploaded photos that scored the most likes would be shared in a special gallery and might even become the official Old Bay profile photo.

Why it Rocks:

  • Gives fans a reason to engage with a fairly mundane product in a creative new way
  • Makes fans part of the brand, using their user generated content as product photos
  • Gives Old Bay social proof, loads of fans photographing their product can’t be wrong
  • Celebrate’s fans’ creativity
  • Gives fans fun new content on the brand Facebook page to enjoy
  • Makes Old Bay part of the conversation on Facebook, when fans upload a pic to the wall their feed is updated saying they posted to the Old Bay’s wall, giving fans’ friends reason to check out Old Bay’s page.

What You Can Learn From It:

  • Any type of product or service can be turned fun and social media-friendly.
  • Connecting with fans goes beyond selling them a product, you can get them excited about your products by looking at them in a new light.

What can you do with your products or services that engages customers in a new way?

 


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January 17, 2011

Success Stories: 2BigFeet.com

Filed under: Case Studies,Success Stories — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 8:53 am

Brandon Eley, author of Online Marketing Inside Out, launched 2BigFeet.com to help men with larger feet find shoes that fit. The company has been growing at roughly 183% per year, year over year, since 2007.

What made you decide to start your business?
We saw firsthand how hard it was to find large size shoes locally. Most stores stopped at size 12, with very few going to 14. Above that, there was nothing to be found. We thought there was an opportunity to sell large shoes online, and we were right.

What factors do you think were most important to making your business a success?
First, we were frugal. We didn’t spend money on the largest warehouse or the nice office furniture. For the first 7 years our desks were folding tables and our chairs were $29 Staples brand office chairs. We still have second hand furniture and computers, and only spend money when it’s absolutely necessary.

We also reinvest a lot back into the company. Instead of pulling the profits out of the business, we reinvest in new styles, more inventory, etc.

Lastly, we never relied on traditional marketing tactics. We tried some print and radio early on and saw very quickly how effective (or ineffective) they were. Since then, we’ve done only online marketing — including email marketing, search marketing — which is far more effective.

What did you do to get the word out about your business when you first started and is this different than what you do now?
When we first started we did everything we could to get the word out. We used banner ads, tried radio, and even had billboards at one point. Most of the advertising we did wasn’t very trackable, but we knew it wasn’t working because we had no traffic.

Now we only do online marketing, which we can track the effectiveness of very closely. It allows us to quickly change our marketing messages to get the biggest bang for our buck.

What are some of your most important marketing tools?
Google Analytics (or any analytics package) is an absolute must. GA allows us to track each campaign independently using special URL’s so we know which ones worked. We also use Google Website Optimizer extensively to test and improve our home page, shopping cart and other key areas of our website.

What is one thing you wish you’d known when you started?
When I started 2BigFeet in 1999 I didn’t know anything about website development or online marketing. I spent the first several years learning as we went. I wish there were great websites and books about online marketing back then, but there weren’t. Fortunately for those starting up now, there are some great resources available.

Did you do everything on your own to get your business where it is today or did you hire help? If you hired professionals, what kind of professionals did you hire that had the greatest impact on your success?
To save money, we did just about everything ourselves. The two times we hired marketing professionals we got burned. The first was a search engine optimization firm that charged us several thousand dollars and delivered absolutely nothing. After six months we finally gave up and started learning SEO ourselves, but the time we lost cost us a lot.

The second professional we hired was a PR firm. We paid them a hefty retainer for 4 or 5 months in hopes that they could get us some media coverage. After paying them several thousand dollars we had not gotten a single article or interview, so again we fired them and did our own PR. Within a few months we were mentioned in several major newspapers, were interviewed on NPR, and were mentioned several times in John Battelle’s bestselling book “The Search.” (Editors Note: We had the exact same experience when we hired PR firms for our online retail business.)

I think one of the biggest reasons we got burnt was that we didn’t have a foundational knowledge of advertising and online marketing. We didn’t know what questions to ask or what to look for in a professional firm. We now routinely outsource tasks to several firms successfully.

What are your most important sources of information for growing your business? (A mentor, certain blogs, magazines, message boards etc)
There are some excellent online resources now that simply weren’t available when we got started. Blogs like Duct Tape Marketing and HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Blog have excellent advice and tutorials. Associations like NFIB and the SBA can also be great sources of information.

I also recommend getting a mentor. Having someone to use as a sounding board for ideas can be really useful. If you don’t know someone who can help, check out your local Score chapter.

Are there any areas of online business you wish you had more expertise on?
I wish I knew more about online marketing when we started, but it just wasn’t an established field then.

Do you see yourself changing your opinion on business advice as you’re progressing in your own business?
I am constantly changing my opinions! While basic principles stay the same, the tactics change often. As our business grows and matures, we are constantly looking for new and better ways to do things. Something that worked well 5 years ago may not work at all today, and there are new platforms (like mobile) emerging every year.

Success stories is a new feature here at Smaller Box. I interview independent online retailers with over $100,000 in annual sales. If you’re an independent online retailer with over $100,000 in annual sales and you’d like to be interviewed, please contact me.


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June 16, 2010

Making Fans Part of the Brand

Making your customers a part of your brand is a great way to increase engagement, build a fan community and solicit customer feedback. At, Ex-Boyfriend, we’ve tried a few different things to build relationships with our customers.

1. Put Your Pin on Our Map
The Ex-Boyfriend website hosts an interactive map which automatically places a pin in each city the company has shipped orders to. To get their hometown pinned, customers simply need to place an order.

The map offers a fun way to see where the brand’s products are being worn (all 50 states and 5 of the 7 continents) and even lists which cities have had the most orders shipped to them. (Chicago is currently #1.)

(How to: Building a map like this for your own site requires a little technical expertise, but it’s not super difficult. The map employs Google Maps technology, which is free and has an API for webmasters.  Simply create a database table that holds the longitude and latitude coordinates of each city your company has shipped to. Then use Google maps to place pins in each location. As new orders come in, update your table if the new order’s city is not already listed in your table. You can find tutorials on Google Maps here.)

2. Help Us Design Our Next Product
Ex-Boyfriend hosted a contest asking fans to suggest concepts for their next t-shirt design. Fans were also invited to vote on the suggestions submitted by the contestants. The winning contestants’ design concepts were brought to life by the brand’s illustrator and the contestants were given free tees.

The contest offered an opportunity for fans to participate in the brand’s creative process and have their ideas realized by a professional designer.

3. Introduce Yourself
Ex-Boyfriend updates their blog each week day with fun content like videos, cocktail recipes and cute pictures of kittens. Fans are welcome to add their commentary, and just recently, Ex-Boyfriend started sharing  fan photos, fan interviews and fan videos. The brand’s illustrator mails a handwritten thank you to each fan who submits their photos/videos.

Got a handy tip for incorporating fans into your brand? Share it in the comments.


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April 22, 2010

The Best Thing I Did For My Business Part 8: Harnessing the Press

Filed under: Case Studies — Tags: — Meredith @ 8:09 am

I talk about the importance of PR a lot on this blog. I’d say it’s definitely in the top 5 list of most important things you can do for your business. In fact, it’s been #1 for my online retail business in terms of a dramatic increase in traffic and sales. A few of the other businesses I spoke with for this series said press was #1 for them too.

Happily Ever Afterwards sells anniversary keepsake boxes and found much of their growth came from reaching out to the bloggers in the wedding industry. The company says “It’s been a great way to connect with amazing people, find networks that relate to this niche product and it’s an affordable way to begin if you’re a small fish.”

Happily Ever Afterwards reported a 50% increase in sales from blogger activity and says “Connecting with the bloggers opened doors to four boutique wedding events in the last few weeks and our presence there combined with the word of mouth from the bloggers (most of whom are wedding planners) has made a great difference.”

Make More Cents, a company with a variety of traditional and unique banks, money jars, secret banks, coin sorters and saving tips, also reported a huge increase in business as a result of working with bloggers. “For 2010, we are already ahead of last year’s business by over 75%.”

They attribute their success to partnering with selected Mommy bloggers by contributing articles and participating in product reviews and giveaways. “I selected the bloggers based on their blog’s theme, traffic as well as geographic location,” says the company owner. “As part of the review and giveaway, many of the bloggers would collect money saving tips from their readers which I would consolidate and post on my blog. The Mommy blogger strategy increased my overall traffic substantially and built awareness with my target customer in a very cost efficient manner.”

Do It Yourself
Read my articles on PR. Make a press list and a calendar of events to promote to your contacts. Design a press kit and send compelling pitches that convince editorial contacts to write about your brand.

Tried This Tactic?
Had success getting editorials about your brand from TV, magazines, newspapers or websites? How did you do it and how did it impact your business?

<< Read Part 1: Self-Promotion
<< Read Part 2: Twitter
<< Read Part 3: Giving Customers VIP Deals
<< Read Part 4: Expanding Your Line
<< Read Part 5: Success by Association
<< Read Part 6: Well-Timed Campaigns
<< Read Part 7: Stimulating the Senses


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April 21, 2010

The Best Thing I Did For My Business Part 7: Stimulating the Senses

Filed under: Case Studies — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 8:05 am

In past articles I’ve written about strategies you can use to sell scented or edible items. Such products present a unique challenge for online commerce because your customer can’t taste or smell your product before they purchase. Etsy seller dasweetzpot sells handcrafted jams and jellies and found an increase in sales with two different strategies:

1. Mouth watering promos
“I created postcards using my jams being served on delicious foods. The photographs are not only amazing, but mouthwatering. The postcard has a coupon code for customers to go online, make a purchase and receive a free gift.”

2. Facebook Connection
“I have a presence in FaceBook. There I place recipes on how to use the jams in various dishes. The photographs alone are driving new customers to my online market site. ”

Do It Yourself
Use product photos that appeal to customer senses. Build community amongst customers and get them to share how they use your products or suggest ways your products can be used. Blogs and social media are a great way to help customers become part of your brand community.

Tried This Tactic?
Had success selling scented or edible products? What worked for you?

<< Read Part 1: Self-Promotion
<< Read Part 2: Twitter
<< Read Part 3: Giving Customers VIP Deals
<< Read Part 4: Expanding Your Line
<< Read Part 5: Success by Association
<< Read Part 6: Well-Timed Campaigns
Read Part 8: Harnessing the Press >>


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April 20, 2010

The Best Thing I Did For My Business Part 6: Well-Timed Campaigns

Filed under: Case Studies — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 6:22 am

In past articles, I’ve written about the importance of timing your promotions for the season and planning your promotional calendar in advance. OverstockArt.com has done just this with their Mother’s Day promotions.

Overstock Art is one of the Web’s leading distributors of reproduction oil paintings. To boost Mother’s Day sales the company sent out a special discount code for 40% off on oil paintings featured in their Mother’s Day gallery.

The company rounded out their plan with pitches to publications writing Mother’s Day gift guides and a blog post featuring the ten most popular oil paintings featuring images of motherhood. These efforts are a perfect example of promotions, PR and SEO all working in unison to help boost sales for a holiday.

Do It Yourself:
Make a list of upcoming holidays and events and brainstorm for ways to incorporate your products. Think about special promotions you can offer via email and social media. Think about how you can get press. Consider how you can improve your SEO to optimize for traffic and sales at various times of the year.

For more ideas read my article on planning your promotional calendar in advance.

Tried This Tactic?
Have you successfully run a marketing campaign based around a season or holiday? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

<< Read Part 1: Self-Promotion
<< Read Part 2: Twitter
<< Read Part 3: Giving Customers VIP Deals
<< Read Part 4: Expanding Your Line
<< Read Part 5: Success by Association
Read Part 7: Stimulating the Senses >>
Read Part 8: Harnessing the Press >>


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April 19, 2010

The Best Thing I Did For My Business Part 5: Success by Association

Filed under: Case Studies — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 11:11 am

Canoodling Owls by barkingbirdart

Getting an endorsement from a well-respected source can lead to a huge growth in your business. While many brands think of celebrity endorsements as the holy grail, you need not limit your search for endorsement prospects to the rich and famous.

PlaySportsTV.com, an online retailer of coaching videos for parents, teachers, and other volunteers, has partnered with numerous organizations to grow their brand. They’ve secured a partnership with the National Council of Youth Sports, offered discounted rates on their products to city athletic leagues and participated in a giveaway with 11 Burger Kings in Erie, PA.

PlaySportsTV may not have NFL pros promoting their wares, but they have well-respected organizations in their corner; organizations with direct connections to the brand’s target market.

Do It Yourself:
Make a list of other business or organizations you could partner with to reach your customers. Do you sell baby clothing? Why not partner with a company that sells maternity products. If you sell custom wedding invitations consider trying to form alliances with wedding planners.

Start by making a list of all the organizations that have relationships with your target market. Then try to think of how you’d like to approach them and what you have to offer them in exchange for their help. Will you offer their audience discounts? Will you make a charitable donation? Will you offer products for a sweepstakes?

Send queries to the groups you’d like to partner with, proposing a mutually beneficial relationship.

Tried This Tactic?
Have you formed a valuable alliance with another organization? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

<< Read Part 1: Self-Promotion
<< Read Part 2: Twitter
<< Read Part 3: Giving Customers VIP Deals
<< Read Part 4: Expanding Your Line
Read Part 6: Well-Timed Campaigns >>
Read Part 7: Stimulating the Senses >>
Read Part 8: Harnessing the Press >>


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April 15, 2010

The Best Thing I Did For My Business Part 4: Expanding Your Line

Filed under: Case Studies — Tags: , — Meredith @ 10:35 am

Having a varied product line with a range of options and price points is a great way to grow your business. At Ex-Boyfriend we’ve found that every time we add a new product to our collection we see even more business. Some other entrepreneurs I talked to described the same experience.

Charlene Anderson says “The best thing I did to grow my online business last year was add a new but related product line to my store. Artists and craftspeople (my niche) very seldom stick to one medium so having expanded product lines has allowed me to weather the recession intact.”

Alissa White of matchasource.com added gift sets to her line and says “The investment paid off when the holiday season hit. I sold the kit in three colors on matchasource.com and on Amazon. The kit was also sent out to media and bloggers who wrote favorable reviews which still send referrals to my door.”

Do It Yourself:
Think about items you can add to your shop that compliment your current offerings. This will allow your site to rank on search engines for more related terms and give customers a larger variety of items to choose from.

Be sure to pick things that make sense for your shop to carry and make sure you select items you can easily keep in stock.

Think about re-packaging your items as gifts, kits or sets so customers see your products in another light.

Tried This Tactic?
Added a new item to your line or re-packaged existing items in a new way? Let us know how it worked out for you.

<< Read Part 1: Self-Promotion
<< Read Part 2: Twitter
<< Read Part 3: Giving Customers VIP Deals
Read Part 5: Success by Association >>
Read Part 6: Well-Timed Campaigns >>
Read Part 7: Stimulating the Senses >>
Read Part 8: Harnessing the Press >>


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April 14, 2010

The Best Thing I Did For My Business Part 3: Giving Customers VIP Deals

Filed under: Case Studies — Tags: , , , , , — Meredith @ 8:27 am
It’s So Good – C’est Si Bon Greeting Card by Letterpress

Everyone loves to save some cash, especially in this economy. That’s why special deals are a great way to boost sales. Some entrepreneurs I spoke with found success offering specials both on site, via email and via social media.

Special Offers Page
FatWallet.com’s “Best Deals” page has been a huge hit with their customers. This page is fast becoming one of the most popular on their site. Although Fat Wallet is a deals and discounts website, you can use this tactic too. Last week I wrote an article about how a “special offers” page can help you boost conversions. Take another look in case you missed it.

Free Shipping, Free Returns!
Overstockart.com recently implemented a free shipping, free returns policy. “Since the inception of this practice they haven’t noticed an increase in their return rates, but actually an increase in their sales. They like to say this way people can see if the painting “fits” in their home before feeling like they’re completely committed.” The increase in sales without an increase in returns is particularly interesting to note. I wrote an article on the free shipping, free returns model back in January. My article includes advice on alternatives to this model, although this model is ideal if you can manage to implement it.

Discounts by Email
Gary West Meats says that sending a newsletter each month to their mailing list subscribers has yielded a 63% boost in sales! They’ve found that Tuesdays and Fridays are especially great days for sending promotions and that customers responded best to promotions for gift items and discounts on the item of their choice. “Everyone likes something different so they can choose what they want to buy that way.”

Want to start an email marketing program or improve your existing one? Here are some articles on that topic.

Tried these tactics?
Discuss your experiences with offering deals and discounts in the comments below.

<< Read Part 1: Self-Promotion
<< Read Part 2: Twitter
Read Part 4: Expanding Your Line >>
Read Part 5: Success by Association >>
Read Part 6: Well-Timed Campaigns >>
Read Part 7: Stimulating the Senses >>
Read Part 8: Harnessing the Press >>

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