When you start a creative business it’s natural to ask your friends for input. The trouble with relying on their feedback is that it’s a little like asking them if your baby is cute. Even if it’s the ugliest baby they’ve ever seen, they’re not going to tell you. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. The fact of the matter is, sometimes babies are ugly, and sometimes there are problems with your business that are glaringly obvious to your friends. Here are 3 common things your friends are probably lying about (and what to do about it).
1. Your website
Creating an attractive, user-friendly website is not easy. There’s a reason people spend years getting a degree in graphic design. If everyone could make a great website, the internet would be a whole lot prettier. Those websites that look beautiful were anything but effortless. Most professional websites that you see were designed over weeks or months by a team of professionals. If you think a quick read through HTML for Dummies is going to get you the same results, think again.
The trouble is, when you finish your clashy, tacky, flashy, blinky monstrocity of a site and show it to your friends, they’re not going to tell you it’s bad. They probably aren’t design professionals and even if they know it’s bad, they don’t want to offend you.
The best fix is hiring a design professional. There are lots of talented web designers out there who can give you a website to be proud of. If you sell online, that website is going to be the face of your business, so don’t let a bad first impression kill your sales. If your website is a hot mess, customers are going to think your products will be just as shoddy.
If hiring a professional is out, that doesn’t mean using their design work is. Sites such as Template Monster have thousands of pre-made web designs you can purchase. You can even have the themes professionally installed, so you can have a perfectly professional look to your website, without the steep price tag of a custom site. Template Monster has themes for most popular ecommerce programs like osCommerce, Zencart, and Magento. Most themes are under $200.00, and many are even under $100.00
2. Your product photos
The quality of your product photos can make or break your online sales. It doesn’t matter how amazing your products are, if the photos aren’t up to par, customers won’t be buying. Like an ugly website, ugly product pictures don’t engender trust in customers. They’ll think you’re unprofessional and that your products will be cheap and low quality.
Chances are your friends aren’t photographers or experts on selling online, so when they see your product photos they may not be able to critique them properly (and again, they don’t want to hurt your feelings). That doesn’t mean your photos are going to pass muster with customers.
Hiring a professional photographer is going to be the safest way to ensure great product photos. They have the proper cameras, lighting and other equipment to get great shots and the experience to stage your products in an appealing way.
If you can’t spring for a professional photographer, get as educated as you can about product photography. Make sure you’re using a good camera. Take cues from professionals about staging product photos (look at catalogs for larger stores for ideas) and shoot with a light box or using natural light.
3. Your products and branding
With so many people trying to start a creative business these days, it’s really hard to compete. To succeed you’ll need terrific products and remarkable branding. You might enjoy stringing beads or knitting scarves, but that doesn’t mean you can start a business with it. Your friends don’t want to be the ones to tell you they’ve seen what you’re doing a million times before, even if they’re thinking it. They also might not be aware of the vast competition out there, so even if they think your items are perfectly nice, they may not understand that several other people are already doing the same thing.
You need at least one of two things to stand out in the marketplace: exceptional products or exceptional branding. Ideally, you want both, but plenty of unremarkable products have been saved by clever branding.
Take product lines like Blue Q for example. They sell fairly mundane things like tea bags, but brand them as “Get along with your co-workers tea” and instantly a box that’s no more interesting than a $1.50 12 pack of Lipton becomes a great gag gift for the office that sells for 10 times the price it would fetch in an ordinary box.
If you’re selling something common like soap or mittens, that a zillion other people are selling, you may need to rethink your branding. You have to find some way to position your products in a unique way so people have a good reason to choose your items over the competition.
Take honest stock of what else is out there and really think about what makes your products better and more appealing than the others. Develop a list of benefits and features that your product provides that makes it stand out. If you can’t come up with anything, it’s going to be tough to convince consumers to shop with you instead of someone else.
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