August 21, 2012

3 Business Opportunities To Beware

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Tags: , , , , , — Meredith @ 12:12 pm

If you’re a new to running a business the marketing and sales opportunities can be overwhelming. Which ones are good; which ones are a dead end? Here are 3 popular opportunities you will want to consider with caution:

1. Flash Sale Sites
Why it sounds appealing:
Flash sale sites come in so many flavors these days: you’ve got sites like Fab, Gilt Group, Groupon, Living Social, etc. They’ll often come with compelling promises of promoting your brand to millions of consumers and selling a ton of product for you.

What might be wrong with the deal:
These sites are often looking for a below wholesale price from you on your products and they aren’t looking to agree to a minimum purchase. Meanwhile, they’ll want you to set aside inventory you could be selling at full price just for them, and at the end of the sale they will expect you to turn around and ship your goods out within a day or two and it could be anywhere between a few pieces or thousands — either result can be problematic.

What if they only sell a few units? Are you willing to set aside hundreds of units of product you could be selling at full price on the chance the flash sale will call for them? Are you willing to then part with only a few pieces for below wholesale if the sell-through isn’t great?

What if they sell thousands of units? Is it realistic for you to ship out that volume of inventory with a short turn around? What if they are paying on net 30 terms (which means they pay 30 days after you ship)? Can you afford to produce all that inventory you won’t see money on for over a month?

Why you might do it anyway:
Flash sale sites really vary with their models these days. Some do purchase inventory up front, like a regular wholesale customer. Some give you a longer turn around time to deliver goods. While there are plenty of flash sale sites with unfavorable terms, some flash sale site operators are getting wise to the fact that bad terms means it’s harder to get brands to participate and are offering more flexible terms to woo brands.

If you’re in a position to work with the flash sale site terms and can make it a break even or profitable proposition, the exposure can be a huge boon to a brand owner.

2. Consignment
In a tough economy retailers are looking for ways to cut costs. One way they might do this is by accepting your products on consignment. This means they take your products and you only get paid if the products sell. If the products do not sell you can take them back or leave them on consignment until they are sold (depending on the store). If your products sell you will get, on average, about 50% of the retail price. So if your item sells for $20.00 you get $10 and the store owner gets $10.00.

Why it sounds appealing:
If you are having a hard time getting your foot in the door consignment can be a great way to prove yourself to a retailer. It gets your products in the retail space where customers can see them and allows you to beef up your list of stockists.

What might be wrong with the deal:
I’m not a big fan of consignment; here’s how I see it — I’m parting with a product I can sell myself at full price and trusting a retailer will drive foot traffic, merchandise my goods to sell and then actually follow through on paying me. If all goes well, I’m only getting half what I’d get retailing the product myself. All the risk is assumed by me and the reward isn’t substantial enough. Plus, it’s an administrative headache for me to keep track of which stores have which products, how long they’ve had them, whether they’ve sold or not, etc. For a product like mine, with a relatively low price point (my products all retail for less than $50.00) this nickel and dime game isn’t really worth the hassle.

Why you might do it anyway:
There are really only two good reasons to consign your products:
1. You have a product with a high price point and significant margin, for example an expensive bag or art or piece of jewelry AND you found a retail partner who wants consignment terms but also has a storefront with a significant amount of foot traffic and moves a lot of product. If you have that situation consignment might be worthwhile since your retail partner only has to sell a few pieces for you to make money at it.

2. You have a retail partner you want to work with who is on the fence about working with you. You feel your product would sell for them, but they aren’t convinced. You can offer to consign some inventory with them on a trial basis to demonstrate its sellability — but this is really only worth doing if you expect the retailer will convert to wholesale terms once you’ve proven your product will sell for them.

3. Product Reviews
These days you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who has a blog, and product reviews are a popular way bloggers like to get “paid” for their work. They’ll ask you for a free sample of your product in exchange for writing a review about it.

Why it sounds appealing:
When you’re desperate for publicity any write up can sound attractive. You might also be wooed by the idea of link building if you’re trying to improve your SEO. Bloggers looking for products to review might try to dazzle you with stats on their blog traffic or the size of their mailing list to entice you, making it sound like a pretty sweet deal. Just send them a freebie and get this awesome plug on a blog.

What might be wrong with the deal:
Most successful/high traffic blogs aren’t spending their time soliciting freebies. They already get plenty of offers and are making their money from advertising, affiliate programs or selling their own products. If a blogger is asking you for free stuff, it’s not really “free” for you. You still have to pay for the product and shipping. If you keep sending out product every time you get a request those costs can add up.

You also have to consider whether the blogger actually has substantial traffic and whether the traffic is targeted enough. We constantly get requests for free product from mommy bloggers with only a few hundred readers who focus on blogging about topics like coupons and living on a shoestring. With our youth apparel at a $25 price point, we know we’re not selling a product that appeals to shoestring budgets. These offers aren’t a good match for us demographically speaking, and even if they were, the readership isn’t significant enough to make it worth handing out free products.

Why you might do it anyway:
If your product’s sample costs are low and the sample requests are coming from media outlets that cater to your target audience you might want to consider ponying up the goods. If you sell a product like food or skincare goods, you can probably package samples in a way that makes them cheap enough to produce and ship to reviewers.

While I wouldn’t recommend giving away freebies to everyone who asks, a review on a site with decent traffic that attracts your target market can be quite worthwhile.

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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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April 13, 2012

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

Happy Friday! Here are my favorite reads from around the web this week:

Lastly, on a personal note, if you’d like to help Ex-Boyfriend out with our charitable fundraiser for homeless animals any little bit is appreciated! Read the details here! Fundraiser ends Sunday.

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March 12, 2012

Cool Tool: Statmyweb

Filed under: Cool Tools — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 5:51 am

Whether you want to check up on the health of your own site, spy on competitors or evaluate a blog to see if it’s worth sending them a sample to review, StatMyWeb is a handy too. Here’s the type of info you can gather about any website:

1. Estimated website traffic
Why this is useful: If it’s a competitor’s site you can get an idea of how their traffic compares to your own. If it’s a site soliciting a product sample for review, you can see if they have enough traffic to make a review on their site worthwhile. If it’s a site you’re considering adding to your press list, you can see if they get enough traffic to make it worth the time it will take to pitch them.

2. What pages are most visited on a site
Why this is useful: If you’re analyzing a competitor site, this might give you an idea of which of their products are most popular. You can use this kind of information to make decisions about your own product development.

3. Keywords a site ranks well for
Why this is useful: If you’re analyzing your own site, it’s important to know what search phrases you rank well for. You want to be sure that those phrases are relevant for what you sell. If you’re looking at a competitor’s site you might be able to get ideas for new key phrases you want to optimize for. You can use information about your own rankings and competitors’ rankings to make tweaks to your site’s search optimization. (Need more SEO help? Check out my free SEO download.)

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December 9, 2011

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

Happy Friday! While you’re here, check out my newly beefed up resources page. I’ve added links to a ton of products and services I personally use to run my creative business. I’ll be adding more resources in the coming months so that my readers can benefit from my favorite finds. Many of the vendors I recommend are the result of exhaustive searches to find suppliers with the perfect combination of best price and great products. If you need promotional items, web hosting, domains, graphic design, etc. the resources page has great suggestions.

On a personal note, I’m pleased to announce that an Ex-Boyfriend tee (my clothing company) was featured last week on an episode of ABC’s Modern Family. I’m always touting the benefits of publicity and this placement was a result of hard work from my partner and our PR assistant. (If you want to know how my partner and I do our own PR I’ve written an ebook about it.)

Now, on with my favorite reads this week:

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November 30, 2011

The Case Against Buying Store Lists and Media Lists

Filed under: PR,Wholesaling — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 10:53 am

I’ve noticed recently that a lot of fellow biz bloggers and biz coaches are selling press or store lists (or offering them as a value-add for premium products). I’m pretty much against buying/using pre-made store or press lists, and here’s why:

1. They might make me lazy
It’s tempting to use someone else’s list. Making a list of stores or media outlets to pitch is time consuming, so why not let someone else do the work? Because working from someone else’s list is like working with blinders on. I promise you, there are more stores and media outlets that are great for your company that are not on that list you just bought. If you’re relying on a pre-made list, you might not go hunting for them.

2. They don’t give me an edge over my competitors
If someone is selling a list of store or media contacts, you have to wonder who else bought the same list. Are those stores or editors being bombarded with pitches from your competitors? That’s going to make it tougher to get them to focus on you.

I love when I find a hidden gem of a contact and it pays out for me. I’m great at thinking of unconventional places to pitch my work that competitors might not be trying. As a result, I can stand out and probably get a better response. Some of my best media placements for Ex-Boyfriend haven’t been Good Housekeeping or Elle or Design Sponge, they’ve been outlets that focus on niches relevant to my products, like geek culture blogs or outlets with a focus on animal lovers. Other tee labels might all be fighting for a placement in the same dozen or so coveted outlets, but personally, I prefer to skip ’em. I’d rather go where my competitors haven’t thought to look.

Case in point, earlier this fall my company was featured in a magazine about cheese. We saw quite a few orders stemming from the placement. The average clothing company might not think about working with an outlet about cheese. By working with a media outlet that isn’t the first one our competitors think of, we were able to score a win.

3. They probably aren’t perfect for me
Even if I take competitors out of the equation, if a friend who had a jewelry line or a handbag line offered to give me her press list or store list, I’d still say “no thanks”. Media lists and store lists have to be highly customized to be valuable. The press contacts and store lists that are good for another business are not necessarily useful for mine. Even if I could get lists another clothing company was using, it probably still wouldn’t have all the stores and media outlets I should be pitching.

There’s more to your products than being a shirt or a necklace or a bag. Our products have so many niches they could appeal to that it’s important to build our prospect lists with those niches in mind. Hopefully there aren’t a lot of businesses out there with your exact combination of product types and niches, which is why the best store or press list is going to be the one you created yourself.

Purchased Lists as a Jumping Point
The case can be made for using pre-made lists as a starting point. You could use them to get ideas for your own custom list and cross off the ones you don’t need. This can work okay if you understand that the list you’re getting isn’t “your” final list and you want to spend the time checking out each contact on the list to see if they’re a fit for you. It’s not my preferred approach, I’d rather spend the same hours just making my own list, researching my own niches.

If you do decide to start with someone else’s list, make sure you’re not taking their list as gospel. Be prepared to spend the time checking each contact to see if they are suited to your business and then spend the time adding your own contacts that aren’t on the list initially.

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July 1, 2011

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

Filed under: Link Love — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 8:47 am

This week’s round up is heavy on the SEO info, but there were so many great SEO articles this week. Have a terrific 3 day weekend, all! See you next week 🙂

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June 29, 2011

7 Little Tricks For Making Your Company Look Like a Big Deal

Ever hear the expression “dress for the job you want”? What it means is, if you keep showing up to the office in cut off shorts and ratty t-shirts, people will think you look like you belong in the mail room and that’s where you’ll stay. If your business is, figuratively speaking, dressed like a ragamuffin, it’s always going to be one. If you want to run a million dollar business, then fake it til you make it. Below are 7 ways you can make your business look like a big deal:

1. List your Phone Number
Real businesses have phone service. If you want to look like one, include a contact number on your website, ideally some place easy to spot. It says “we’re a real company, with real staff waiting to take your calls.” Even if you can’t man your phone line 24/7, have a professional voice mail greeting that implies that customer calls are returned in a timely fashion. (And then actually return the calls in a timely fashion.)

There are dozens of services that provide phone numbers for small companies. You can even get a free number from Google Voice (though it does have Google Voice branding on it). If you are willing to spend a little, you can get a toll free number for less than 10 bucks a month.

Bonus: Having a phone number ups your website’s trust factor, an important component of conversion rate optimization. People want to give their money to businesses that seem trustworthy. Having a phone number listed makes your business seem more like it can be trusted to take a credit card number and deliver products.

2. Have a beautiful web design
Not just any old website will do, you need a website that looks really great. Having an attractive professional website makes your business seem successful. It makes journalists more willing to write about you. It makes wholesale buyers more interested in doing business with you. It makes consumers more willing to trust you.

If you’re thinking “web design is hard” or “a web designer is expensive”, consider all the money and opportunities you’ll lose by having a terrible website.

3. Have great product photos
Great looking product photos are an extremely important part of your company’s image. Don’t bother with indoor lighting and a cheap camera. You want your photos to look compelling. Like a great web design, great product photos impress all kinds of online visitors from customers to the press.

If you want to take your own product photos, do some research to see how other people have staged photos of similar products. This will give you ideas on how to stage your photo shoot. Then be sure to work with proper lighting, so photos don’t look murky or gray. Finally, do some retouching in a program like Photoshop, so your photos look perfect.

If you’re not up for all this work, consider hiring a professional photographer to shoot your items. There are even photographers that specialize in doing product photography and will shoot your products for a pretty affordable rate, usually charging per product photo.

4. Merchandising
Merchandising products on your website in a variety of ways is useful for several reasons. It makes your product catalog seem bigger and it makes shopping for products easier. I wrote a detailed piece for Design Sponge last year on ways to merchandise a shop. You’ll notice a lot of bigger companies merchandise their online stores using the same strategies.

5. Publicity
Getting a mention from a major media outlet is not only a great way to increase brand awareness and give your sales a boost, it also makes your company look important. These placements give you credibility with both retail customers and wholesale customers, so they’re a valuable boon to your business if you can get them. Once you’ve scored them, you can use them on your website, adding logos like “as seen on” to product pages and your home page.

Not sure how to get publicity? Check this out, I’ve written a very detailed how-to.

6. Engaged Social Media Followers
Want to convince media outlets, wholesale buyers, competitors or potential new retail customers you’ve got an army of rabid fans? Of course you do, and social media makes that easier than ever. By truly engaging your fans on sites like Twitter and Facebook (instead of just selling to them), you can get them to talk to you and about you, thus making your fans seem like they’re crazy for you.

Some tricks that help:
– Ask questions that prompt responses
– In your product packages, include a note that asks customers to share a photo of themselves using your product on Facebook
– Take photos of fans at live events using your products and tag them on Facebook/share them on Twitter and Flickr
– Shoot videos of live events and interview your customers. You can just ask a couple of quick questions such as “what did you buy from [insert brand name] today?” or “what did you enjoy best about today’s event?” Then post to Youtube and let fans know they’ve been featured.

7. Product Presentation
If you’re just shoving your products into a mailer with an invoice print out from Paypal, STOP IT! You’re leaving the customer with the impression that you’re simply a transactional seller and not a real brand to be remembered. You want every customer who gets your package to remember it, so make sure your packaging isn’t an afterthought. This includes creating a stylish branded invoice and adding other little details to make your brand seem like a big deal. This can include hang tags, branded products or little freebies like branded vinyl stickers. These same rules apply to samples that go to the media. If your shipment looks impressive, it’s going to make an impression on anyone who gets it.

Bonus Tip for Wannabe Big Shots: A lot of small businesses who sell online take Paypal. It’s super easy and inexpensive to implement. The problem is, it makes you look pretty small time. Having the ability to take credit cards makes you look like a bigger company. If you’re a Paypal junkie, consider their virtual terminal product. It’s a nice all-in-one solution. This isn’t your only option, of course. A little research on merchant accounts will help you find plenty of other vendors that enable you to take credit cards online. And you need not completely ditch Paypal. Accepting both cards and Paypal is a great way to look professional and satisfy customers who have a preference for one of those two payment methods.

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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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April 25, 2011

4 Reasons to Love Free Publicity (and how to get some)

Filed under: PR — Tags: , — Meredith @ 3:56 am

If you’ve ever had your brand talked about in a magazine, high-traffic website, or newspaper, you know the amazing power of publicity. One little placement can generate thousands of dollars in sales over night! The good news about free publicity is that it doesn’t cost any money. The bad news is you’ve got to work for it. If you don’t know how to do that, I’ve got a solution, but first, here are some reasons to love free publicity.

1. Brand Awareness Beyond Your Budget
I’ve been able to get my shop mentioned in some of the highest profile media outlets around — outlets like iVillage, Gizmodo, Baltimore Sun, Nickelodeon, Animal Planet and dozens of others. I’m talking about media outlets that charge more than my monthly paycheck for an ad! I might not have had the cash to buy my way into those publications, but with a little strategic public relations, I was able to get my company mentioned for free.

2.Credible Endorsements Bring in the Customers
I am not knocking paid advertising; I’ve seen a great return on investment from ad placements. That said, advertising doesn’t carry the credibility of a media placement. When people see ads, they’re bound to be skeptical. It’s a company telling you how great they are. Of course they think they’re great, but they’re hardly objective. When a trusted source such as a magazine, website, newspaper, etc. has something nice to say about a business, consumers are a lot more likely to listen. That’s credibility you simply can’t buy.

3. The Caché of Media Placements Will Charm Those Wholesale Clients
Wholesale customers are just like your retail customers; they don’t just want you to tell them why you’re great, they’re interested in hearing about who else thinks you’re great. If you can get your company name or products into magazines, newspapers, blogs, TV shows, etc. that not only means more sales for you, it means more sales for the stores carrying your wares. Some high profile media placements are a great way to convince wholesale clients that your products are the hottest thing around.

4. Ripple Effects
Media placements do so much more than just bring you the audience from the magazine, website, TV show, etc. where your products or company were featured. Those placements have a huge ripple effect on your marketing. Getting on a TV show or movie can cause entertainment magazines to talk about you.  Getting on a high profile website can lead to a flurry of Facebook likes, Tweets and other online buzz, driving traffic to your site from even more sources, and getting search engines to take more interest in your site. Each placement you receive generates more interest in your brand and gets more people talking and sharing.

So now that you’re as jazzed about the idea of free publicity as I am, how do you get some?
I’m not going to lie, getting free publicity is going to take some work. I can’t emphasize this enough. I can give you the tools and techniques to be your own publicist, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to use them to see results. So if you’re ready to do some work… let’s talk about Scoring Publicity For Your Small Business.

This brand new download will teach you everything you need to know to be your own publicist. To be perfectly honest, I debated publishing this for a long time. The information I’ve shared in Scoring Publicity For Your Small Business is the stuff that gave my own online shop a huge competitive advantage. We’ve toiled away at doing our own publicity for several years and had to learn by trial, error and no small amount of research how to get it right. I ultimately decided to publish this information because I want Smaller Box readers to succeed and I know my business has enough other unique advantages that having this information out there won’t really do us any harm.

All of that said, Scoring Publicity For Your Small Business contains my absolute most-valued and top-secret resources and tips. These are details and tips I have not and will not share on the blog because they were simply too hard-won to give away for free, so you’ll only get these tips from private coaching sessions or Scoring Publicity For Your Small Business. If I’ve piqued your interest, read on to see what else is included in this brand new download.

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