May 21, 2009

Reader Mailbag: 8 Ways to Market Your Home Business

Each Thursday, I answer a question from one of our readers about finding a job. I love hearing from you, so please don’t be shy — send me your questions via email or leave a comment in the section below.  You can check out past Reader Mailbags, where I’ve covered everything from job search tips for college grads to how to land a job in real estate.

Dear JobMonkey,

I am a stay-at-home mom who has decided to open my own business.

I am a novice seamstress and make all my little girls’ dresses. Some friends and former coworkers started asking me to make outfits for their kids as well. This got me inspired and now I’m starting to sell dresses online. I’ve created a few patterns for different dress styles, which can be customized. I have started a small store on etsy and am finding that my profit margins are pretty good, since I’m quick on the machine. So far, my customers have all found me through word of mouth, but I’m thinking that I could really expand this with the right marketing techniques. I have no experience or education in marketing, however, so I’m wondering what the best way is for me to handle this.

Suzette in Nevada

Thanks for your email, Suzette! Well, the very first thing you should be doing is signing every single email with your website (or your etsy link). I’d love to be able to check out your creations, but I can’t since you didn’t tell me where to find them.

That said, I think you’ve got a great little business model going and it’s a super way to be able to work at home. It sounds like you already have all the equipment you need, so you won’t have to invest a lot of money in growing your company. If you do find that you need to hire other seamstresses or buy new machines to keep up with orders, be very careful about how and what kind of debt to use. You don’t want your money-making home-based business to turn into a complete drain of your family’s resources!

As far as marketing goes, the good news is that you’ve already realized the power of the Internet. It’s the easiest, cheapest and most effective to market your small business today. In fact, in the last year or two alone, there have been an avalanche of new social networking sites that will let you do this for free! Here are eight relatively easy and not-too time consuming ideas to help market your store online.

1. Start a blog.

You can buy a domain name and set up a website for less than $100 a year, but you can also use WordPress or Blogger to run your blog for free if money is especially tight. Post pictures of new creations and perhaps some cute updates about your kids and other smiling customers. Try to post at least two or three times a week, even if they are just short entries — that will help Google and other search engines pick up your site. You can also offer free give-aways every so often on your blog, which is a great way to increase interest in your product!

2. Guest post on other blogs.

Find other blogs relevant to your skills — perhaps other crafting blogs or even parenting blogs — and offer to write a free guest post about your niche area. That way you get to piggyback on that blogger’s existing readers. Remember, your post must include a short little bio with a link to your website/blog/etsystore. Potential customers need to know how to get in touch with you!

3. Set up accounts on Twitter and Facebook.

Bear in mind that Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites can be a real time drain, so you will want to set limits on how much time you spend there every day. But even as little as 30 minutes a day can create great networking opportunities. And since you said word of mouth has been your #1 marketer to date, Twitter and Facebook are great ways to capitalize on that momentum. Just don’t forget to “tweet” about your newest lines!

4. Join an online forum or two that are relevant to your business.

If you join a mommy forum, be sure to keep your comments on target to the discussions at hand. A few targeted mentions of your etsy store are cool. Non-stop spamming is not. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this list of Work at Home Mom websites.

5. Write an ebook.

An ebook can be a great way to cross-promote your business. Let’s say you write a 15-page ebook about sewing party dresses, for example. Not only will you earn profits from the ebook — which you can advertise for free on your blog, Twitter account and Facebook page — but you can also link sales of the book to discounts for your custom creations.

6. Swap ads with other small business owners on their website.

You probably can’t afford a large-scale advertising campaign, but you might be able to swap ads with others that you have met through your online travels. And if web design isn’t your forte, maybe you can offer to make a dress for a good friend who just happens to be a graphic designer.

7. Offer satisfied customers an incentive to send new customers your way.

This isn’t an Internet suggestion, per se, but it is a great way to virally spread news of your services and products. If you get a new customer thanks to the referral of an old one, send that customer a thank you email immediately, with a 20% off coupon for their next purchase.

8. Create a database of customers and stay in touch with them.

Invite them to follow you on twitter and befriend you on Facebook. Encourage them to check out our blog. Send them emails at the holidays, especially if you include discount codes for holiday dresses, for example. When you get their contact information, ask for their kids’ birthdays — and send out another coupon code a month before their daughter’s birthday.

Marketing your new small business online doesn’t have to be rocket science. The key is to think about how you would relate to customers face-to-face and then find ways to bring that approach to the Internet. Hopefully this list of ideas will get you on your way! Good luck, Suzette! And please, send us that link to your site!

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