June 29, 2012

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

I’ve been so busy with running my company that I’ve hardly had time to share great links, so today’s update is a bit long. Before I get to it, I wanted to tell you that one of my favorite biz coaches, Sarah Shaw, is doing a free conference call on July 10th about how to get your business to $1 million. You can sign up for it here.

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June 28, 2012

Growing Your Brand With Distribution Channels

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 9:07 am

I obsess about pretty much one thing 24/7 — getting my brand and products in front of as many eyeballs and into as many consumer hands as fast as possible. This might sound like a no-brainer for a product-based business, but I’m always surprised when I talk to other budding entrepreneurs who limit their distribution channels.

When I talk about distribution channels, I mean all the ways you are getting your brand and products in front of consumers. While I won’t say it’s impossible to make it with a single distribution channel, it is much more difficult. If you rely only on Etsy or only on craft shows to distribute your product you’re missing out on a lot of other ways to build brand awareness, boost sales and ultimately make more money.

When you think about distribution channels, think about the options that are a best fit for your product and brand and think about all the different options within a type of distribution channel. Here are some examples of distribution channels you may currently be overlooking.

1. Online
While most of my readers do some form of selling online, there are tons of sub-channels within online sales such as:

  • Your own wesbite
  • Marketplace websites (Ebay, Etsy, Amazon)
  • Deal-a-Day Sites (fab.com, Living Social, Zulily)

The more online venues you use to sell your product the more consumers you can reach. If you currently sell online, look into more places you can sell online, instead of relying on a single venue.

2. Wholesale
A lot of creative entrepreneurs are wary of getting into wholesale. You have to learn some lingo, talk with confidence to total strangers and try to sell to them, and get your product to a price point where you can sell it for 50% off and still make money. Admittedly, there’s a lot to know but it’s not an insurmountable challenge, you just have to educate yourself. (Side note, I LOVE this wholesale e-course. If you want to get into wholesale this is a top notch resource!)

Within wholesale, there are lots of ways to sell to stores, you can try:

  • Sales Reps – Reps will sell your product to stores for you, though they take a percentage of gross sales. Usually 10-15% depending on the industry. You’ll need a price point such that you can pay a rep, sell for half off and still be profitable to make this work.
  • Trade Shows – Trade shows are events where buyers and store owners gather to shop for products to carry. Be prepared to invest about $10,000 to do a trade show. (You’ll be paying for booth fees, booth decor, marketing/sales collateral and most likely hotel, air fare and rental car.) They’re not for the newest of newbies but if you have a little experience under your belt and the cash to invest, a trade show can be a great way to get seen by stores.
  • Cold Calling – This requires the least outlay of cash, though it will eat up a lot of time and you’ll need to be comfortable with calling up stores and asking them to carry your line. My company has had a ton of success with this method.

3. Events
I love events, it’s not only a great way to sell a lot of product directly to consumers, it’s a great marketing tool. I always go to events with a sign up sheet for my newsletter and a huge supply of the most adorable swag you’ve ever seen. People love it. I always leave with thousands of dollars in sales, hundreds of new email subscribers and thousands of people taking my free comic strips and stickers with plans to adorn their laptop, car, fridge, office, etc. with my branding.

I recommend vetting events carefully, choose events that attract your target customer and have a large audience. These things are a numbers game so you are likely to make more money and get more marketing impact out of an event with 50,000 attendees than 5,000. Here are some kinds of events to consider:

  • Craft shows – I am not crazy about craft shows for my own business but lots of people love them. There are all kinds of craft shows from the alternative variety that attract the young and hip to traditional craft shows that attract suburban moms.
  • Conventions – I have had great success with comic cons, but there are conventions for nearly every niche interest such as scifi, tattoos, steam punk, etc. Check local media or convention centers for lists of upcoming conventions.
  • Festivals – think music festivals, food festivals, wine or beer festivals. Pick festivals that attract your audience. Check out your local chamber of commerce, newspaper or other local/regional publications for listings and ads for upcoming events.

Distribution channels feed each other
The more good distribution channels you have, the more the other channels benefit. I’ve found stores to carry my line doing events and I’ve had them contact me online because of my web presence. I’ve had retail sales online shoot up from having my products and brand seen at events and in stores. I’ve had my event sales grow because I go to the same kinds of events all the time and people recognize and like our brand, sometimes they recognize us from seeing us online or in stores.

They more you do all of these things the more they boost each other and the more overall revenue your company will see. Experiment with different channels and sub-channels to see what gets you the best results. You need not do every single channel, but you’ll likely see a big boost to your business from working on more than one.

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May 25, 2012

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Filed under: Link Love — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 7:53 am

Happy Friday! Settle in for a long holiday weekend with these small biz and marketing reads from around the web:

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July 22, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

They’re calling for a heat index of 120 today. Yuck! Sounds like the perfect weather for staying indoors with the AC and catching up on some biz reads. Here are my suggestions:

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June 24, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Filed under: Link Love — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Meredith @ 12:28 pm

Happy Friday! Below are my recommended reads this week from around the web:

Lastly, I wanted to recommend checking out Kyle-Beth Hilfer’s legal blog. She covers legal issues that pertain to small business and creative professionals. Add it to your feed reader for great insights on this important topic.

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June 10, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Happy Friday! Below are my recommended reads from around the web for the week:

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April 29, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Filed under: Link Love — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 6:37 am

Lots of great reads around the web this week on email marketing, copywriting, blogging, SEO and more!

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April 15, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Filed under: Link Love — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 7:23 am

Thanks to all the SB readers who’ve helped my online shop raise funds for homeless animals. Today is the last day of the fundraiser. If you want to help details are here!

Don’t forget, I’m de-stashing some craft supplies I’ve amassed over the years and the prices are CHEAP. All items ship for free within the US. If you’re outside the US and want something let me know and I can check into how much shipping will be.

Here’s what I’ve read this week that I recommend checking out:

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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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November 12, 2010

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:

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