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[109] The Digital Tools I Use to Run my Businesses – 2017 Edition

 

Do you ever wonder what digital tools and software other people use to run their businesses?

I do – and I get asked about various and sundry software solutions a lot, too. So, this week, I decided to do a big round-up of all the digital tools & software I use to run my own handmade business – and Create & Thrive, as well.

I discuss what I use and why in detail in this episode – covering social media tools, website design, shopping carts, time management, photo editing and graphic design, file storage, audio & video recording and editing, outsourcing, book-keeping… and more!

Take a peek behind the scenes of my businesses, and see how I keep everything running (mostly) smoothly!

P.S. While finishing these shownotes, I realised I left one or two things out of the ep. I’m sure more will come to mind, so I’ll update the links below if that happens!

 


 

Quotes and Highlights from this Episode:

 

FYI if I have (R) next to a link, this means it is a referral or affiliate link. This means that if you click that link and sign up to the service, I get some form of reward. If you’d prefer to avoid that, just google it.) I am only listing and recommending tools and software that I use myself and would recommend to others wholeheartedly.

 

Digital Tools/Software I use to run all my online businesses:

  • My main social media are Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. I used to love and use Twitter a lot (not so active on there now) and I have a Google Plus account. I’m also starting to use YouTube more.
  • Handmade sales venues: Etsy (R) (I’ve also sold on Hatch.co, Dawanda, madeit).
  • My own websites are created with WordPress self-hosted, and I’m currently transitioning to Divi Theme (and lots of plugins – I’ve used a free theme called Pinboard previously on some sites).
  • My web host is Dreamhost (R). I’ve been with them for over 10 years and have always been happy with their service.
  • My current shopping cart on my e-commerce website is Ecwid, but I’m moving to WooCommerce.
  • I use E-junkie & Paypal to sell my C&T courses, ebooks etc.
  • I use Trello to keep track of my work and life, and I also use the Cal app on my android phone as my appointment-keeper (as well as some paper in my office – a whole-year wall planner and a weekly desk planner).
  • I use focusbooster on my computer when I really need to get stuff done – it’s a pomodoro-style app. I schedule work periods of 45 min and rest periods of 15 min each hour.
  • I use Canva for all my graphic design.
  • I use Picasa (now transitioned to Google Photos) for most of my product image editing.
  • I use GIMP for any image editing I can’t do with Picasa or Canva (it’s sorta like a free version of Photoshop – and it’s open-source).
  • I use Snapseed on my phone to edit photos on the fly – especially for Instagram.
  • Insta Downloader is the app I use to repost another person’s Instagram post. It has awful ads, but it works!
  • I use Grum on my desktop to schedule up my Instagram posts once a week.
  • I use Dropbox to store all my business photos and documents so I can access them from any of my devices.
  • I use Google Docs for some of my business docs, too.
  • I currently use Xero accounting software for my book-keeping.
  • I forgot to mention my mailing list software! I use Mailchimp.

 

For Create & Thrive Specifically:

 

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[24] Blogging, Content, and Design Essentials with Arianne Foulks of Aeolidia

The Create & Thrive Podcast - Episode 24

Today I am talking with the amazing Arianne Foulks from Aeolidia, with whom I discuss the essential website design and content elements that will ensure your site invites people in and encourages them to want to shop with you.

Arianne has a wildly successful web and graphic design studio, and directs a team of people who craft gorgeous websites for creatives. I invited her on the show because she knows what works! In this episode we talk about logo design, photography, content, and more – all the things which a great website needs to get right.

It’s so important to have your own home on the internet – somewhere that represents your business to the world and tells your business story. But it can be hard to know what to focus on when creating a website, as there are so many possibilities!

Listen in for Arianne’s top tips for making sure your business’s online home is the best it can be.

 

Have your domain name

Quotes and highlights from this Episode:

  • “Have your own domain name even if you have other web presences.” {Arianne}
  • Get your domain name and point it to your primary online presence (e.g. Etsy)
  • Having your own domain belongs to you and nobody else unlike Facebook and Etsy when your shopfront belongs to those companies.
  • People want to go at their leisure and find out about you online before getting in contact.
  • It’s like having a menu in a restaurant, it’s a way to see what’s on offer before you sit down to eat.
  • Your about page is the most important thing to get done first on your website.
  • “People want to know who made it, why they made it and what their story is.” {Arianne}
  • Big beautiful photos are so important.
  • Tell a story with your products through styling.
  • “Learn a little bit about what makes good photography. Less of the technical stuff and more of what makes a great photo.” {Arianne}
  • Make sure you tell people your name so they feel they know you a little more.
  • Contact information is vital.
  • “It’s an important for searchability to keep your website up to date and relevant” {Jess}
  • It can be important to have both their own website and other online stores if possible.
  • It’s not enough to rely on Etsy or another platform to send them buyers.
  • “Relying solely on a company who is not under your control to send you customers is not ideal.” {Arianne}
  • Build up an audience on your own website.
  • “I can sell in Australian Dollars on my own website but in American Dollars on Etsy.” {Jess}
  • StitchLabs: A way to keep your inventory up to date on multiple platforms without having to do it manually.
  • It’s still very important to blog even when you have an ecommerce site.
  • “Those who have been in the blogging world for ages think it’s a no-brainer. But for newbies I understand the confusion about why you would blog.” {Jess}
  • You need to enjoy blogging to want to blog.
  • Blogging brings traffic to your site – partly through Google and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).
  • Blogging gives you keywords which will eventually list on Google and traffic will come to you over the years.
  • “Having a blog can really humanise your brand.” {Arianne}
  • Establish yourself as an expert in something.
  • Once you start blogging it makes all your other marketing efforts easier.
  • Your social media is made much easier when you have your blog written and you can borrow content.
  • “Get yourself on a schedule and find something that you like and you enjoy doing with your blog.” {Arianne}
  • Make sure you’re keeping your target market in mind.
  • Video can be a great way to get more people interested in your website.
  • Make sure you have some keywords associated with your video so it’s searchable.
  • “There’s a lot of writing that goes into marketing.” {Arianne}
  • “When we say keywords, we don’t just mean individual words.” {Jess}
  • Think about it more like a ‘keyphrase’.
  • What are your customers going to be typing in?
  • Try not to use jargon and lingo that your customers may not know.
  • Keep working on your website as long as it doesn’t take you away from other aspects of your business that also may need work.

 

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(You can also subscribe to the podcast and listen to this episode on iTunes + Stitcher – just search ‘Create & Thrive’.)

[18] Five Mistakes You’re Making With Your Etsy Shop and How To Fix Them

The Create & Thrive Podcast - Episode 18

After working with hundreds of makers over the last few years, I regularly see people making the same mistakes in their Etsy shops over and over again.

In this episode, I share the top 5 mistakes I see people making with their online shops. I’m focussing on Etsy today, but honestly, these issues crop up no matter what online venue you are using – so even if you’re selling somewhere other than Etsy, you will benefit from this episode.

Today I share some really vital things which you can quickly and easily change right now to make your online shop more professional and encourage customers to purchase from you. Other issues I touch on might take some time to get it right, but it’s important to start on these now so you can add to your skills

I hope you don’t recognise these mistakes in your shop – but if you do, at least you now know what you need to work on to make it better!

Your shop will never be perfect: but you can always improve and be the best you can be.

Are you making any of these 5 mistakes with your Etsy shop?

 

Good Policies

Quotes and highlights from this Episode:

  • “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at somebody’s store and they would have maybe 5-10 items. I can tell you immediately that this will be a turn off for people. They won’t take your seriously if you don’t have a well-stocked shop.”
  • If you have high priced or artist pieces, you might be able to get away with less products.
  • With Etsy, you should have 25+ products which will give you more than one page of products.
  • You want your shop to look full and that you’re serious about business.
  • But you also don’t want to have too much choice.
  • 100 products is said to be the magic number on Etsy but don’t panic if that’s out of the realm of possibility for you.
  • Grow your items slowly but surely until you have a good selection but don’t go the other way and have too many products.
  • “I ended up having too many with 400+ items and I had a lot of older ones which I made the decision to narrow my brand and took a bunch of them down. My business has grown more since then than ever before.”
  • Don’t be afraid to get rid of things that aren’t working.
  • Don’t use flash photography as it looks awful and makes harsh shadows nor does it to any products any favours.
  • A bit of styling is OK but don’t clutter the image.
  • Dial back your styling until your product is the star of the photo.
  • If your item blends into the photo, it’s too cluttered.
  • Taking photos freehand will definitely give you blurry photos sometimes.
  • On the camera screen it might look fine but if you blow them up on your computer screen and they aren’t sharp, redo them.
  • “I’ve made all these mistakes which is why I can talk about them. But I’ve learnt a lot since then and I’ve come a long way.”
  • It will take trial and error – you can do it, it just takes time.
  • Filtered or ambient light is best.
  • Before you work on your marketing, spend time on your photos and getting them right.
  • It’s important that people can see who you are especially with resellers and big companies infiltrating the market.
  • Show behind the scenes photos to show social proof that you brand is genuinely handmade.
  • Customers can separate your quality from all the rubbish that is out there.
  • It’s important with connecting with your ideal customer.
  • Be genuine and warm and tell them why you make what you make and why they’ll love it.
  • If you don’t have Policies or a FAQ in place, make that a priority.
  • It will make dealing with issues really easy since you will have a policy to refer them to.
  • Customers can know before they buy what your policies are and can make an informed decision to buy.
  • “Good policies will nip a problem in the bud before it becomes a bigger issue.”
  • There’s lots of great examples out there and see which ones are clear and especially in your specific niche.
  • Descriptions help you convince your customer to buy.
  • Most of the time you want to tell customers that you have what they need and the detail in your descriptions will do that for you.
  • People are inherently lazy and want to know all the answers to their questions upfront so describe the item as if they can’t even see it.
  • Benefits and Features are the most important aspects of your product so figure them out first.
  • What is the emotion attached to the item? Include that story in the description.

 

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[17] Should You Sell Your Craft Online?

The Create & Thrive Podcast - Episode 17

In today’s episode, I’m going to take you through a workshop that will help you decide whether you should sell your craft online.

You might find that you prefer to sell via wholesale or consignment in shops, or at markets –  or maybe you can do a mixture of all three.

I love selling online; it suits me and my lifestyle.

Why? Well, amongst other things, I like to have my weekends off – and I especially love the idea of making money in my sleep!

No matter what, you need to have a website and a couple of social media channels but that doesn’t mean you have to sell your products online if that isn’t a good fit for you and your particular product.

Listen in and think about each of the points below to see whether selling online is a good fit for your business.

  1. It will take you longer to make money.
  2. Is your item easily shipped?
  3. Are you happy to sell internationally?
  4. Is your work easily reproducible?
  5. Do you value face-to-face interaction over online interaction?
  6. Do you have the products to do markets?
  7. Do you like having your weekends free?
  8. Are you willing to invest the time to take and edit stellar photos?
  9. Do you enjoy the process of selling and marketing?
  10. Are you happy to make less money selling to shops?
  11. Do you have the time or the skills to set up an online shop?

In the podcast, I take you through each of these points in detail, in order to help you consider the pros and cons of each question.

Sell in your sleep

Quotes and Highlights from this Episode:

  • If you decide to focus on selling online, it will take you longer to make money; unless you have a lot of money upfront to get your shop running with lots of advertising and marketing.
  • Online is more about the long game.
  • “Once you’re established and you have traffic going to your site, you’ll make money in your sleep.”
  • Consignment and wholesale will make you larger chunks of money but more sporadically.
  • If you make small items, selling online can be easy since shipping can be reasonably low.
  • If you make large or heavy items then shipping might put off some customers.
  • If you sell online, you’ll make more sales if you’re happy to sell your things online.
  • “80-85% of my sales are International”.
  • It can be really exciting to sell to people overseas.
  • Don’t be worried about losing items in the mail.
  • “I sell thousands of parcels overseas every year and I have about four go missing. I write these off as expenses and send a replacement.”
  • Don’t be concerned about language, use Google Translate and use a disclaimer that you’ve used that service so the customer.
  • If you’re going to have a successful online business, you really have to have some items which are reproducible.
  • You need to do so much for one listing (photography, description, loading onto the site etc) that it makes more sense to sell the same design over and over again.
  • “All I have to do when an item is sold, is make the item and send it. Each item is as close to the prototype as I can make it – and though it might be the ‘same’ as another product I’ve made, it’s still handmade with love.”
  • You don’t have to give OOAK products all together, you just need to have a reproducible range too.
  • Then you can put your high end creations online when you have the time and passion to create them and not feel like it becomes a chore.
  • You can interact on your own terms and in your own time.
  • “I don’t even have a phone line, I do all my business via email.”
  • If you love face-to-face and you get energy from interactions with other people then selling online might not be the best thing for you.
  • “I don’t have any stock. I make a design, I photograph it and then more often than not, I keep it myself or I give it to Nick.”
  • Wearing your own jewellery is a great way to market your goods.
  • Markets don’t make much ‘time sense’ if you don’t have a lot of products lying around.
  • If you can make a lot of product quickly, markets might work for you.
  • If you don’t want to work on the weekends then markets probably aren’t for you.
  • “Most often I can make more online in my day at the markets than at the market itself.”
  • When you sell online, you’re not actually selling the product, you’re selling the photo of the product.
  • If you’re not willing to learn how to take amazing photos, it’s not worth starting.
  • If your photos aren’t stellar yet, as long as you’re willing to work on them, don’t let that stop you.
  • It might take you a week, a month or a few years but it’s worthwhile trying.
  • “I’m not a trained photographer but I’ve worked it out myself so you can do it too.”
  • C&T GUIDE: Product Photography by Jeffrey Opp
  • There’s no way around it, you’re now a salesperson and a marketer.
  • Do you enjoy telling your story? Because that’s marketing!
  • If you can change your mindset and think about marketing as telling your story rather than selling your product then it will be a much more authentic experience.
  • When you’re selling online, you need to enjoy that process and you need to work out how to enjoy it.
  • When you sell at a market or online, you get the whole price.
  • Through a shop, you will be getting around 50% of your retail price in your pocket.
  • Consignment is a bit ‘iffy’ sometimes since you get your money only after the product sells in the shop rather than upfront.
  • If you’re not already making a profit on your product above the wholesale price, don’t start selling to shops yet.
  • No matter what avenue you choose, it’s going to be a lot of hard work.
  • Time is part of the expense of your business.
  • Out of the options of Markets, Wholesaling to Shops or Online Selling: which one makes you feel a flutter of excitement?
  • Pick one to focus on and make it your priority.
  • It doesn’t mean you can’t dabble in the other options, you should just focus your attention on one route to start with.
  • “You’ll probably find it’s easier than you thought it was to get started.”
  • Nobody can tell you which way to go but there are lots of folks who help you with the ‘how’.
  • C&T COURSE: Set Up Shop with Jess Van Den
  • C&T COURSE: Wholesale Know How with Melanie Augustin

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Quick Fixes for 6 Common Blog Mistakes

 

 

 

 

 

Quick Fixes for 6 Common Blog Mistakes

You want to look like you know what you’re doing, but is your blog plotting to make you look like a fool?

I see these same content and technical mistakes on blogs over and over, and most are easy to fix. If these common blog mistakes have been driving you crazy on your own site, I’ve got some tips for you today.

My fixes use WordPress menu names, but most blogging programs will have similar functionality, though perhaps tucked behind a different menu.

 

The mistake: Images that click to the same size image

small-photo-615x400

This is a common problem with a simple fix. As a reader, I see a photo in a post, and notice that when I hover over it, it’s a link. Expecting to either get a lightbox-style pop-up over the screen with a larger photo, or at least be taken to the larger photo directly, I click, and I get… the exact same photo at the exact same size, but on a blank page. Now I need to click my “back” button to get back to what I was reading.

The fix:

When you’re adding the image to your post, make sure the “link to” choice is set to “none” in WordPress. WordPress will remember what you did last time, so it’s always good to check the setting for each new image, rather than assuming it’s set how you want it.

If you do want to link to a larger image, make sure you upload the large image itself, choose to have it resized in the post, and set the “link to” field to “media file” or “attachment page.”

 

The mistake: Images that are the wrong size

small-photo2-615x450

It irks me when I’m reading a blog and the photos don’t take advantage of all the width of the column they’re in, or  when photos are all different sizes throughout the blog.

The fix:

Always upload images that are as large or larger than the space you have. Sometimes this isn’t enough, though, as your WordPress admin might be set up to size and display photos smaller than they are.

If big photos turn small when you add them to the blog, you need to adjust some settings. Find out how many pixels wide your photos need to be to fill the space available. There are a lot of different ways to do this, none of which are quick to explain, I’m afraid. Ask your friendly web designer friend (me)!

Now that you know how wide you want your photos to be, make sure WordPress is set up to help you with that. Go to Settings in your WordPress admin and choose Media. You can set three standard sizes, and then you’ll be able to choose from between them whenever you upload a new image. Your small size could be used for thumbnail graphics that lead to posts, your medium could be the photos in the posts, and large could be the size people see when they click to view it larger.

 

The mistake: Photos that have been distorted

distorted-photo-615x450

It’s weird to come across a photo that’s obviously been stretched or squished, like a piece of chewing gum.

The fix:

You are probably changing the height or width of your image without changing the other side. For instance, if your image is 400 pixels wide and 400 pixels tall, when you change the width to 300 pixels, you need the height to change by the same amount.

The fix for this depends on where you’re having the problem. If the problem happens when you edit the photo, be sure that when you change the width of an image, the height is also changing proportionately. This would be in Photoshop or whatever other photo editing software you use.

If your photos look fine on your computer, but then look crazy on your blog, check your media or file upload settings to make sure that they aren’t automatically being resized on one dimension only.

 

The mistake: moderating comments unnecessarily

hold-comments-615x384

If you want your comments section to be lively, it’s always best to have a discussion going as quickly as possible. Holding comments to be approved manually by you slows things down, and in the time it takes you to click and approve a comment, people may have missed out on the opportunity to discuss.

The fix:

Allow comments to flow freely on your site, unless you begin having a problem that requires you look at each comment individually. This is under Settings > Discussion in WordPress.

 

The mistake: being overwhelmed with spam

akismet-615x300

As soon as your site is ranked in Google and starts getting traffic and interest, spam robots will flood it with tons of garbage comments. Letting these pile up on your site is bad for business, and spending all of your time manually deleting them is a waste of your time.

The fix:

Pay Akismet $5/month to wipe this stuff out before it even makes it to your blog. If you spend more than 5-10 minutes per month tackling spam comments, I’d say this is money well spent.

 

The mistake: A bunch of garbage in your sidebar

sidebar-garbage-615x450

WordPress gives you so many handy dandy widgets that it’s super tempting to fill your sidebar up with lots of neat looking goodies. However, clogging your sidebar with clutter will just cause visitors to ignore everything they see to the side of the real content, and you will have lost the opportunity to make your blog an easy place to explore, or to promote what you most want people to know about.

The fix:

Edit your sidebar ferociously. Look at each thing you’ve added, and ask if it’s something your reader needs, or if it helps you with your business goals. Remember that the more distractions you give your reader, the less you’ll be able to guide them through your site to your ultimate goal (purchasing your products, signing up for your service, etc.).

I share many more tips like this in my Aeolidia newsletter.

What mistakes do you see on blogs that drive you batty?

What questions do you have about your own blog?

P.S. If you missed my post with 260 blog post ideas, that’s a good place to get started on improving your blog!