Patricia van den Akker is the Director of The Design Trust. She is a very experienced creative business adviser, trainer and coach, who works especially with designers and craftspeople on helping them to start, run and grow their own business. We asked her to offer her top five tips for improving your visibility and credibility – let’s get noticed this Christmas!
One of my biggest marketing sayings is: “People only buy from people they know, like and trust.”
If you are just starting out, want to get bigger paid commissioning projects or sell to (larger) retailers than you need to make sure that you and your work are visible and credible. You need to be out there, creating a profile, showing what you can do.
Visibility and credibility often go hand-in-hand. But either of these need to lead to you actually getting more clients and more sales, so that you can make money with what you do best. If you are hoping that potential clients ‘magically’ will find you working in your studio, attic or home, than you might be waiting a very long time.
So, what can you do to increase your visibility and credibility?
1 Focus on your niche
One of the best and most effective ways to increase your profile or visibility is to focus on a niche market. A niche market is the combination of your preferred client groups and what you are best at (your skills and passions).
A great example of a niche is Poppyseed Cats who create funky collars and name tags for cats, or children’s clothing boutique Wild Things Dresses who offer simple, quirky dresses and accessories for girls.
By focussing on a small group of potential clients it is much easier to stand out from the crowd, as you will be a bigger fish in a smaller pond!
Knowing and communicating your niche (‘your signature’) consistently by creating a brand with a couple of key words and great images will make it easier for you to get recognised. You will become an expert and the ‘go to’ person in that particular field or for those type of clients. Your work will become more ‘collectible’ and clients will buy again and again from you. You will really get to understand your client’s needs and wants, and are able to create better matching products for them that they want to buy.
And others (including the press) will find it easier to understand what you do, and are more likely to refer clients to you too.
All of this will make marketing yourself a lot easier.
2 Where are your clients hiding?
A major challenge when you are starting out is that you don’t know enough people or don’t get into contact with enough people. To increase your profile or visibility further you will need to reach to a larger potential audience for your work.
At this stage it is not just about selling your work, but becoming more known for what you do, so that potential clients start to recognise you, and start to like and trust you.
So, if you know who your client groups are, than you need to find ways of meeting and communicating to large group of these client groups. You can do this through:
• Participate in open studios, exhibitions, crafts markets/shows or trade fairs
• Launch a new collection at a show or exhibition and invite people on your mailing list
• Try to win an award or participate in a highly regarded business support programme such as the Crafts Council’s Hothouse programme
• Try to get local or specialist press for what you do, think about approaching local papers and radio, but also write a regular blog posts and write guest blogs for others.
• Have a really professionally looking website or online shop with images really showing off your best skills (this doesn’t need to cost that much anymore!)
• Approach a selected group of retailers in a personal and well researched way to introduce yourself and your work
• Attend or speak at relevant networking events or private views
• Talk about your work at conferences, run your own practical workshops, create an online video
• Write about your work: blog, press, twitter
• Put your CV on your website, showing your education, exhibitions and awards
• When you have got news (e.g. won an award, participate in an exhibition, launch a new product or collection, got a new exciting sales outlet) then let people know about it via an email
3 It will take time
Building your visibility and credibility will take time. And you will need patience …
Being successful as a craftsperson means that you need to build personal relationships with people. Stay in touch with potential clients and others on your database. Send them invites for exhibitions. Tweet regularly some images of work in progress. Write a blog about other exhibitions or books you have been reading that are influencing you.
Especially trade buyers will keep an eye out for new people for a couple of years before they actually buy. They are likely to start with a small order and see how you cope with this, before putting in a larger order.
Also, many creatives who start out underestimate how much time they need to spend on marketing. If you are serious about earning your living with your crafts, and you are just starting out then a good guideline is that you will need to spend about half of your time on marketing, about 40% on making and creating, and 10% on admin.
How you divide your time is up to you. It might suit you better to do marketing 2 days per week, or to do marketing every afternoon, or maybe most of your marketing and selling will take place in the run up to Christmas with some additional marketing boost activities during the year.
4 Your photographs are your most important investment
Never underestimate the power of a great image! You can only be successful if you have brilliant images that show off your work at its best, its colours, your technical skills, the quality of the materials you use.
Getting professional images (done by an expert or by yourself with help from some good specialist photography books) will be one of the most important investments in your career.
Great images are essential when you sell online, when you want to be selected for trade shows or craft fairs, if you want to be published on blogs or in magazines.
Your work can be great, but if you don’t show that to me (as a potential client, journalist, blogger, craft fair organiser) than I won’t buy from you. You will not look professional, and I won’t trust or like your work as much as it deserves.
5 Create a brand
Branding is the process of creating a distinct, recognisable identity and personality to communicate and promote you, your business, and your products and services. Often branding refers to the visual aspect of your business, such as your products, images, logo, packaging, exhibition display, your studio.
But branding goes far wider than that including your customer care or language you use.
Branding is about all the associations, thoughts and emotions that people have when they think about you and your work or business. Branding helps to define the first impressions for any potential new client, when you are personally not there.
The importance of branding is that you create a clear, conscious, consistent and personal message so that it attracts the right potential clients.
If you like quirky and colourful crafts then your website, logo, images, display etc will look very different from that of a minimal metal worker. That’s easy enough, but make sure that you also stand out if you create precious jewellery or scarves, when there is far more competition.
To start creating your brand you need to identify your 5 core values. What is important to you? What makes you stand out in the market place?
Write down very specific and descriptive words, such as ‘hairy textiles’, ‘bright geometric shapes’, ‘functional minimalist ceramics’. Make sure that they describe what you are about, and get an emotional connection with them. Try to ‘create a picture in somebody’s head’.
Avoid words like ‘unique’, ‘quality’, ‘professional’, ‘hand-made’ as they aren’t distinctive enough.
It can be hard to do this by yourself, so ask others to comment on you and your work. Have some fun with it!
These 5 core values in combination with your niche market description will give a good guideline to get you started with creating your brand. Collect images you like on a mood board for inspiration how to photograph your work, to create your logo, or the colours to use for your website or packaging.
Be consistent in your branding, telling your story with your ‘signature’, with high quality images and an easy to navigate website, and you will very soon be trusted and liked!
If you are consistently out there with your story, in your own personal voice, sharing your passion for your skills and ideas, in everything you do then I have no doubt you will be a successful craftsperson.
©Patricia van den Akker, The Design Trust
The Design Trust have recently launched a great e-book which helps creative people start up their own small craft business. It’s an easy to read, thorough guide with lots of mini tasks to help you understand your niche, develop your brand, get a handle on marketing and promotion and generally help you with all those questions a new venture throws up. I’ve read it and would highly recommend it!