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Getting The Word Out
Getting The Word Out

Does online advertising make sense for your maker business?

On its surface, the internet seems like a marketing paradise. No other interface offers the variety of interactive promotional tools that allow you to connect with customers. But all of that choice presents ample opportunity for mistakes and missteps, and online advertising is not one-size-fits-all. Here's what you need to know before beginning to use the internet as a marketing and advertising vehicle for your maker business.

Money matters

If you're running a small, home-based business, chances are good that you don't have a massive advertising budget. That means every dollar you spend has to yield a return in the form of driving sales. With that in mind, you must have a solid understanding of demand for your product before even considering an online advertising avenue.

"One of the things you want to know is, is there a market out there already?" says Zachary Rischitelli, managing director of FiG Advertising and Marketing in Denver. "Are people searching for your product? Does Google find you relevant?"

The search relevance of your product will likely play a role in how much you decide to invest in an online marketing campaign. It's generally best to start out small, with paid search results that bump your business to the top of any search that someone conducts for your products. It's a lower-cost option than banner ads on websites, which are closer to traditional print advertising. You can design banners with bright colors and animation, but that design costs time and money. Then you have to purchase ad space on a heavy-traffic website, which can be expensive.

"Banner ads make much more sense on a larger marketing budget," Rischitelli says. "That tends to work far better if you already have a growing business with an established brand. It's not really a 'starter kit,' if you will, for advertising online."

Grass roots

Arguably the best thing about online advertising is the range of low-cost and no-cost options available to start building a brand and developing the profile of your business. But even with a low price tag, doing so still takes work and time. As with most projects, you'll get out of it what you put into it.

Social media offers you a free way to connect with scores of potential customers, but it requires you to maintain a constant social media presence, with current products spotlighted.

"Social media, and especially Pinterest and Facebook, can give you the space to visually highlight new products to customers," says Jennifer Badr, owner of That One Creative Studio in El Paso, Texas. "When you have new products, you need to update your cover photo to highlight them. You need to keep your product selection up to date, and frequently post — maybe once a day — to keep yourself at the top of the feed for those who have followed you."

Using a social media activity tracker can help you monitor what's happening. If you're using social media to drive traffic to your website, make sure the content there is current, as well. Your newest and best-selling products should have prominent places on the front page.

Starting a blog and keeping that stocked with fresh material is a good idea as well. If you can serve as a resource or conversation-starter for your customers, you stand a better chance of developing the type of relationships that keep them coming back to your site.

How much do I spend?

It's a question with no easy answers. Whichever avenue you choose, it will require some investment to develop an online presence. You can start out with social media and free website templates, but if your business grows, you'll quickly progress beyond that. Then it becomes a question of how much is enough to invest, and how much is too much.

"It's really going to depend on the size of your business and what you're trying to sell," Badr says. "A rough number is maybe 20 percent of your sales revenue should go back into the business for marketing and advertising. But there are other factors at work — do you have a relatively large amount of seed money that you can use to make a larger investment sooner? Are you literally starting from nothing? A lot of it is case by case. No two businesses are grown the exact same way."

And don't expect an immediate return on your investment. While you're still making smaller investments, they might not bear immediate fruit in terms of sales. The internet is a tool in your belt, not an advertising panacea. "When you’re investing $100 a month, you're building the brand, and that takes awhile," Badr says. "When you're bigger and investing, say, $1,000 a month, that's when you can see your advertising strategy start to pay for itself."

Tips and takeaways

  • Start small with paid search results that automatically bump your business to the top customer search results.
  • If you're using social media for marketing, make sure posts are frequent, up to date and timely.
  • Generally, about 20 percent of your sales revenue should go back into the business for marketing and advertising, but don't expect an immediate ROI.

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