#HandMadeChat No. 49: How To Launch A Successful E-Commerce Site with @IndieMade

On Thursdays, Indie Business Network hosts #HandmadeChat, a Twitter talk show to educate, train and inspire creative and artisan entrepreneurs to become profitable business owners. While the show is aimed mainly at entrepreneurs who make and sell handmade consumer products, the topics and discussions can empower and encourage the growth of any small business.

This chat was sponsored by American College of Healthcare Sciences, holistic health education, with certificate, diploma, and undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

jenniferpetersoncollage

Our guest was Jennifer Rapp Peterson of IndieMade in Chicago, Illinois, where she offers creative websites for artists and entrepreneurs.

Q1: WHAT ARE THE TOP CHARACTERISTICS OF A WELL DESIGNED E-COMMERCE SITE?

A: A website should be well designed on the outside, but more importantly, well architected on the inside. It should look professional. The best sites have simple, intuitive, consistent navigation that present a brand well. A good site is also flexible so it can accommodate changes to your business. Most importantly, a site should be well designed on the inside, and it should be editable by you.

Q2: WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN DESIGNING AN E-COMMERCE SITE?

A: I see people make several mistakes. Here are some of the most common ones:

  1. Going it alone
    I am surprised that so many still design and code their own websites from scratch. No one needs to learn how to code to get a website done affordably these days.
  2. Hiring above and beyond
    Some folks think they need to hire software developers to program a website from scratch and spend WAY too much. And, in the end find they cannot easily update or edit their websites.
  3. Overdesigning sites
    Never should your design overpower your products.  As a creative, we make the mistake of overdesigning. Using too much color and flashy graphics can completely distract a buyer.  Products should be easy to find and purchase. It is important to be mindful of your customers – don't force any sound or animations.
  4. Fractured web presence
    For instance, not including other content on the e-commerce site – or having a separate store from their website. A website should be consistent and maintain its appearance and navigation – it's obvious when something is patched together.  Some customers get lost and cannot find their way back to your products if you have several plugins/websites you are using.

Q3: WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF HAVING MY OWN BRANDED WEBSITE VERSUS A PAGE ON ESTY, POPPYSWAP OR ARTFIRE?

A: Comparing marketplace websites to your own website is like comparing apples to oranges! It is not really a question of “versus.” The bottom line is, if you have a business, you need a branded website. Having a website is a MUST for ANY professional or business. Once your website is in place, you can use software packages to sync with your marketplace site, if you have one.

If you maintain a marketplace site, choose it based on your target audience. Knowing your target audience will inform which marketplace(s) you should list your products. I think marketplaces are awesome marketing channels and should be used as such. They are great tools for introducing new folks to your products.  They should be outposts for your website. Promote your website, not your market place site.

Here are some important things a branded website can do for you:

  1. It provides your business with a branded online home. It is often the only real estate (especially those of us who work at home) a creative entrepreneur owns
  2. It gives you ownership rights. Marketplaces site owners can change anything, and you are at their mercy. When you own your main site, you are in control. You are impervious to changes made by the marketplace.
  3. It's easier on you and your customers to have a single main point of contact for you and your products.
  4. It saves you time and money.
  5. You make more money on your website than you do anywhere else. (Those transaction fees do add up!)
  6. Having multiple web addresses on your business cards is unprofessional and confusing to your customers.

Q4: HOW DO I CHOOSE A COLOR PALETTE FOR MY E-COMMERCE SITE?

A: Start with white. Find a software package that is independent of the design, so you can manipulate everything. Wait until you get your product images up at a new site before making final color decisions. Your products should stand out, not the colors of your site. In general, the best websites use a really simple, plain palette.

Q5: HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE CLEAR, CRISP PRODUCT PHOTOS AT MY E-COMMERCE WEBSITE?

A: It is imperative to have good photography of your products. There are many very affordable ways to do it yourself – with a little education and organization.

Q6: SHOULD I HAVE A BLOG AT MY E-COMMERCE WEBSITE, OR SHOULD IT BE SEPARATE FROM MY SITE?

A: If you have already large audience for your blog, keep it where it is and embed your e-commerce site around it.

In all other cases, like when you are just starting a blog, put the site and the blog in one place. Content works best when it's hosted on the same site as the shopping cart. It is important to make sure that your website can accommodate both content and shopping.

Q7: I WORK FROM HOME, SO HOW DO YOU RECOMMEND I HANDLE MY CONTACT PAGE?

A: You don't have to list your address on a contact page. Use a rented mailbox or PO Box. Another alternative is to include your email address and phone number at your website, if that's comfortable for you

Q8: WHAT ARE YOUR TOP TIPS FOR SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION AT MY E-COMMERCE SITE?

A: Search engines are always changing the rules. Currently, my best tips include:

  1. Search engines are savvy, so concentrate on text. Search engines only read text.
  2. Start thinking about how a customer might search for products such as yours. Do keyword research using Google's Keyword Tool, and use those words in your content to attract buyers.
  3. Describe your products well, going into detail about construction and materials. Google (and therefore, people searching on Google) won't know that you use 100% organic cotton unless you specifically say this in your product's description.
  4. Use alt tags and/or captions to identify every photo on your website. Google searches on those too.
  5. Proactively create useful, relevant content people want to share and link back to.

Q9: DO YOU RECOMMEND I PURCHASE GOOGLE OR FACEBOOK ADS TO PROMOTE MY SITE? WHY OR WHY NOT?

A: Once you have a website/hub, you can look to outposts/ads that steer new customers to your e-commerce site. I think Google and Facebook ads are the most effective.

Q10: HOW DO I SECURE MY WEBSITE SO MY CUSTOMERS FEEL SAFE MAKING CREDIT CARD PURCHASES AT MY SITE?

A: Promote the security of the merchant account you use. Clearly post your store policies and FAQs. Make sure you have a secure certificate if you are responsible for the transactions or use a third party (such as Paypal) that handles the secure certificate for you so you are not storing your customers' credit card numbers. Using a well known, reputable third party processor gives shoppers a sense of comfort.

Q11: WHAT OTHER TIPS AND INSIGHTS CAN YOU SHARE ABOUT LAUNCHING A SUCCESSFUL E-COMMERCE SITE?

A: Many pieces must come together. The more organized your thoughts, the better off you are. Here are more tips:

  1. Define what success looks like for your business. Be as specific as possible.
  2. Know your target market(s) well. Do research, ask questions.
  3. Make sure your website allows you to show off the distinctive qualities of your brand and products.
  4. Make sure you are posting content that your target buyers find valuable.
  5. Create a marketing plan for your website. Decide what strategies work for you and your business (online and off line).
  6. Don't be afraid to test out new ideas. With a good website, anything can be changed.

Q12: OUR TOPIC THIS WEEK IS HABITS. HOW DO YOUR HABITS AFFECT YOUR BUSINESS SUCCESS, AND WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER IN REGARD TO DEVELOPING GOOD HABITS FOR SUCCESS IN BUSINESS?

A: The best advice is make sure you set aside time each week for planning.  Instead of being in reactive mode, it is best to stay ahead and hold the reigns of your business.

Also, do what you fear/hate the most first – call a reporter or do your taxes. 🙂

I recommend reading David Allen's Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. I also recommend Steven Pressfield's The War of Art.

More About Jennifer Rapp Peterson

At IndieMade, Jennifer offers the simplest, most affordable way for indie entrepreneurs to build an online presence. For a low monthly fee, IndieMade helps crafters, artists, photographers, DIYers, and artisans of all types easily produce creative websites.

Connect with Jennifer:

Website
Facebook
Twitter

When Is The Next #HandmadeChat?

The next #HandmadeChat will be Thursday, May 9, 2013, at 12pm ET, when  Brandon Uttley from Sales Performance International will share How To Use New Media To Land Your Best Job.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Our May 9 chat will take place at noon EST, instead of the usual evening time.

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.