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How to Improve Your Business

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DreamWerks Designs
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How to Improve Your Business

Postby DreamWerks Designs » Sun Jan 15, 2017 11:37 am

A member reached out to me via PM and requested some general business advice on how to increase his sales and become more consistent on a month to month basis. After reviewing my replies I thought that some of the other members here may find the info helpful too, so I elected to post much of what I discussed with him (the non personal stuff) below... Enjoy.

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"Thank you for the kind words, I'm happy anytime my posts can provide value to someone. I got into business for much the same reasons, except I'm the son side of our duo. I took a look at your website, ebay, and facebook; you do some very nice work and it seems that you are satisfying your customers based on the reviews that I've read... So you've got a good foundation to build from. Those 2 pieces alone are a big part of the success equation and with a few changes to your approach, I think you could start to find your magic. I'm not a know it all by any means, but I have summed up my thoughts, provided some suggestions, and added some resources to help you in the following paragraph:

With e-commerce, first impressions are huge. Some studies show that you now have 15 seconds to capture a lead, so it's crucial for all of your web properties like facebook, your website, and ebay to be consistent in design, logos, and photography styles. This process is called branding and helps the customer identify your company with seeing a sign/etc... Kinda like how you know a mcdonalds is a mcdonalds just by the building/colors. With this is mind, here ya go...

-Update your logo to something new and fresh. This will show customers the type of work that you can do on the design side. Dont sweat it if you cant come up with it on your own. You can use logomakr.com or hipsterlogogenerator.com to help you make one, or you can use a site like fiverr.com or 99designs.com to have one made for you really affordably. Use this logo on all of your sites.

-Part of the branding will be finding a consistent niche, either by style (mission, lodge, cajun) or by type (exterior/garden, wall art, lamps, etc). Since you are LA, I would think that outdoors would be a big focus. Therefore I would choose a cajun/nautical/lodge type niche to focus on. This way you can advertise to the property management companies that run rental cabins/houses, provide catalogs to alligator tour cos or sell in local gift shops at those places. This kind of stuff will pay the bills, try to use some of the more dynamic scenery pieces, as well as small items like fish bottle openers, duck wall pieces, and the like. You can even take a fish/duck scene, throw a mirror behind it, and now you have a $175-$250 wall piece. Or take a fish or duck single silhouette, add a base of wood/metal chunk, add a upright tube, buy a lamp kit and shade from hobby lobby, and now you have a $100-$150 lamp to sell. Be creative and use the files in combination with each other and with other materials to put your own spin on it and set it apart from all the other typical stuff. Trust me, it works. You sell more stuff and get a higher price per item.

-Sign up for etsy.com, focus your selling efforts there instead of ebay. Etsy customers are looking for handmade items, like the story behind the maker, and are willing to pay for that hometown experience... This means that you average sale will probably be higher and your volume of sales will certainly be higher. Don't waste your time with ebay, most buyers there are looking for cheap stuff and the fees can eat you up if you sell a lot of volume. You will get a better return on time/money investment with etsy.

-Product photography is huge when it comes to first impressions. Your pictures should all be the same size, have the same backgrounds, and have the same general lighting/filter. Check out Shopify.com/blog and search for "product photo". There are great tutorials and tools to teach/help you.

-Your product pics feature different colors, try to use a consistent color for your main product images to maintain consistency. You can then have thumbnails on product pages to show each color option. This will help the site feel less "chaotic" or "unorganized" to the customer. Remember, their perception is reality.

-Use instagram and pinterest, along with facebook. These are the social media sites that your buyers use, so you should too. The product pictures must be good, so see my point above. There are so many resources for this that there is no excuse to not have @ least good/consistent pics. This separates the haves from the have nots.

-Boost your facebook product sale posts. Spending $20 will go a long way if you do it once a week for 12 months. See shopify.com/guides for all sorts of good guides and tutorials with social media advertising/use info.

-Add contact info, phone and email, to top and bottom of each page on your website. it gives clients piece of mind and they dont have to dig/look to place a custom order.

-Use a website theme more suited for ecommerce categories. Your products are not organized by a particular type, so your decor page is lumped together with Kcup holders and wall art as well. BTW, I like the K cup holders.

-Add free shipping for orders over "X" dollars. Almost every site has an offer like this, a large percentage of people will not order if somewhere doesn't offer free shipping.

-When sending out a new product, include a coupon for their next visit. This will help you earn a sale that you otherwise may/may not have gotten and gives them incentive to return soon... It gives your client a warm and fuzzy. You can even include a handwritten thank you note.

-You have a lot of potential around you. Visit the family owned garden centers/home furnishing retailers/rental property management co's. in lake charles, lafayette, etc. Also, contact some of the drilling/oil/boat repair companies to offer fab. services/part reproduction on flat work.

-Integrate coupons and mailing list subscription with your website to help build customer loyalty. If you dont have these skills, get an all in one ecommerce platform that includes all of this for a steady monthly fee (apprx $80/mo. for a good ecommerce solution with upgraded features, a basic plan is about $20/mo.)."

Product Ideas

"Here are a few quick ideas to get started:

Garden Type items

- Garden mission bells made out of old welding/oxy/acetylene tanks. Check them out by googling them.

- Large 3d garden silhouettes/statues. Lizards, frogs, turtles sell well. Cut them out of flat 18-20 ga. stock @ 36"-48" long, then place them over a cylinder object (concrete filled round form, big piece of pipe, etc.) to roll them a little, then take channel locks and bend the legs/feet tail and neck to give it a 3d stance on the ground, then take weld some ball bearings/chunks of rebar/metal circles cut from scrap to the top of the head for eyes- and your done. These can bring anywhere from $100 up to $200 in the right type of market.

- Garden/plant stakes for basil/thyme/kale/etc. cut from light gauge steel. A good entry level/gift/add-on type product.

- Large pelicans/cranes/flamingos made out out of round bar. Cut a face/body/wings from flat stock, them make the rest out of round bar. Stakes as feet or cut an oval base and weld it on.

Home/Interior Items

- Lamps and Mirrors sell VERY well and command a top end price, due to the perceived value/skill needed to make.

- Use large square tubing (or use your table to make side panels to tack together) and make random cut-outs on the sides/panels, then take a square piece of stained wood (4x4,untreated) and slide up inside of your metal square. Take a long paddle style drill bit and drill a hole through the middle. Get a lamp kit and shade from hobby lobby (use edison bulbs) and install. tack a square 3/8" or 1/4" base plate to the bottom of the unit and you have a $150-$200 lamp (depending on size,style,shade type). You can even make your own square lamp shade out of light gauge stock using your table.

- Cut out a 48" x 24" rectangle in a window pane style (make squares inside of the large rectangle) out of some light gauge stock, make it slightly larger so that you have 1/4" overhang on each side that you can break/bend over to form side pieces, place a mirror behind it and you now have a $200-$275 mirror.

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head, there are countless opportunities for you. You can search pinterest.com to get product ideas and see what is popular. Just remember to put your own spin on it and stay up to date, you don't have to be everything to everybody and you don't want to have the exact same thing that everyone else has (that can be the problem with free .dxf files). I hope that this helped you, please let me know."

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As always, if you found this helpful- please let me know in the comments section. I can post plenty more tips.tricks, thoughts, for those that are interested.

-TB

beefy
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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby beefy » Sun Jan 15, 2017 1:59 pm

Thanks very much TB.

The free shipping thing - that's an interesting one and really brings to mind how powerful it can be to understand the mind of a customer. Forgot who it was but someone here told us about a market they did. The first day they priced an item at say $100 and charged say $40 for delivery. Sales were very poor on that first day and it was the shipping that turned customers off the deal. What they saw was an extra 40% of the price just to get it posted.
So the next day the tactic was changed. The price was now $140 and the shipping was.............wait for it............FREE. Sales were great on that 2nd day despite the total cost being effectively the same. It was nothing more than a different way of presenting the item to the customer and the customers perception of the deal. They FELT they were getting a good deal.

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DreamWerks Designs
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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby DreamWerks Designs » Sun Jan 15, 2017 6:43 pm

Exactly Keith!

Customer perception is everything. It's not about deceiving a client, it's about accommodating their expectations and understanding their buying behavior.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

TB

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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby SeanP » Mon Jan 16, 2017 8:04 am

Some great info there Tb!
Many thanks
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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby tnbndr » Mon Jan 16, 2017 9:52 am

Great Write up. Appreciate the information.
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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby gamble » Mon Jan 16, 2017 10:38 am

beefy wrote:Thanks very much TB.

The free shipping thing - that's an interesting one and really brings to mind how powerful it can be to understand the mind of a customer. Forgot who it was but someone here told us about a market they did. The first day they priced an item at say $100 and charged say $40 for delivery. Sales were very poor on that first day and it was the shipping that turned customers off the deal. What they saw was an extra 40% of the price just to get it posted.
So the next day the tactic was changed. The price was now $140 and the shipping was.............wait for it............FREE. Sales were great on that 2nd day despite the total cost being effectively the same. It was nothing more than a different way of presenting the item to the customer and the customers perception of the deal. They FELT they were getting a good deal.

Keith.

I agree.
I worked at a welding place and had free shipping over $35..and customers would eat it up...however little did they know shipping was factored into each product already. So while they are thinking they are getting a good deal...they aren't. Because they are paying shipping a few times over. :roll:
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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby DreamWerks Designs » Mon Jan 16, 2017 10:42 am

Thanks for commenting Sean, Dennis, and Gamble!

I appreciate your feedback and glad that you found it to be a worthwhile read.

-TB

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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby motoguy » Mon Jan 16, 2017 2:22 pm

TB,

Thanks for this post, as well as the comment in the "what did I do" thread. This is very timely information for me. My wife and I have been having these very discussions, regarding frustrations with my business. I'm within a day or two of the anniversary of my 1st cut, which would also be the first anniversary of being in business. It's been a tremendous learning curve, on a variety of fronts. It has also proven the viability of the business, however we still seem to be struggling. I feel our struggle is actually on focus, marketing, time management, and pivoting towards the most profitable products, vs "can we make money from this". We've established the business can be profitable and generate a good income...now we just need to structure/organize appropriately, and try to maximize this aspect. We have reached a point where we feel the need to pivot the focus, or maybe more appropriately, define one.

A few things stuck with me from your postings: "At this point in your business, or at any time really, you don't want to be everything to everybody." I have been guilty of this. As a matter of fact, I've looked at these as "I won't make a lot, but I'm being paid to learn". And they've been just that. I'm glad I've taken on these projects, from an educational aspect. They would have been profitable as well, had they taken the time the -should- have taken, to create. 1/2" industrial parts, layered commercial signs, stainless lettering, backlighting signs, huge multilayered clocks, etc. I've learned from them all, and they've all expanded my skill set. They've not been big moneymakers, though, due to the learning curve involved.

Looking back on the year, and where we're at, I feel I'm overextended. I've been guilty of trying to be "everything to everybody". I am working in a very limited physical space, and the large 4' clocks, 6' signs, etc kill my productivity. Too much rearranging/moving equipment to go from one process to the next, and too much reliance on mother nature to work outside. I'm beginning to think of these more as "vanity" projects, vs the most profitable ones. By far, the most profitable product line for us this year was the split-letter monogram. Our best months were Oct-December, and those monograms were a LOT of that business. Those few $ worth of Etsy alphabets brought in a lot of revenue. I realized a lot of that success was due to the Christmas season, but those monograms have been strong for us all year.

I'm working with VERY limited physical space, which makes me very inefficient with larger items (4' clocks, 6' signs, etc). The irony is that I have a 6x12 table, so I can CUT whatever I want...and then not have room to process it! We are looking at renting a larger area, or building a shop on-site. I would like to establish a better, more reliable, more efficient cash-flow before we do that, however. I feel I can better utilize my existing setup, by focusing more on the semi-custom work, vs full custom. Things like the split letter monograms, the tattered flags, etc. Things which are relatively small, can be processed easily in limited space, and can be shipped with a reasonable charge.

Our plan, at startup, was to mimic the plan of a specific Etsy seller. I have a family member that worked for this seller/company, before the company moved from MO to TX. The family member gave me some helpful insight into how that business was run; "90% of the product was 3-letter monograms", "very little was coated/painted, most went bare steel", "the gates/cool stuff was fun, but the rarity and didn't pay the bills", etc. My family member had about 3 years of working with this company, and gave some good info.

Looking back, however, I've found we've gone almost completely the opposite. We've totally neglected our digital/web presence, relying mostly on word of mouth for industrial customers, and Facebook for artsy customers. We've inadvertently become focused on being a local business, vs one that can ship nation wide. We've been pushing the "100% custom" aspect, vs high volume custom-ish stuff (like the monograms). We've essentially been focusing on one-offs, vs production type items. I would like to change this. I'd like the production stuff to pay the bills, and the one-offs to be used to showcase/get attention. Focus more on a market segment, vs trying to cover EVERYTHING, and doing it inefficiently.

We've read through the info you've offered. Some of the aspects you mention, we had arrived at on our own. Some aspects were "aha" moments for us. All in all, we're actively looking to shift the way I'm running the business, the product type we're creating, and the revenue stream we're generating. Your information has been most helpful. I just wanted to say "thanks". :)
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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby DreamWerks Designs » Mon Jan 16, 2017 3:31 pm

It's great to hear that you got some value from it Motoguy! We're all guilty of getting complacent sometimes, I'm no exception. The only reason that these things are fresh on my mind is because of a recent 2-week refreshment vacation... I really took advantage of the quiet atmosphere to analyze my businesses from top to bottom and what I learned was mind blowing. I found several inefficiencies, lost opportunities, and the such, plus noticed that I was spending a lot of time working IN my business, rather than ON my business.

All of the info i provided was simply a guide/ideas; it's not the product that matters necessarily (as long as it's selling well), but rather the focus that you give to marketing your product(s). I think that you're on the right track with looking back on your sales history and shifting focus to those items that have historically sold well for you. Large projects aren't always better, size restriction is certainly something to consider because they can cost you money if not done efficiently.

One thing that I forgot to mention: lamps & mirrors can be scaled down for tabletop use (think a women's plucking mirror, etc.), as can just about any piece (lizards, horses, etc.) and they make great gift items.

Go get em!

TB

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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby michmetalman » Mon Jan 23, 2017 10:27 am

I don't offer free shipping and I do VERY well. I have always wanted to try it, but I can raise my prices say $10 and it will cover 1/2 the country ok, but on the other half I would eat $10-$15 maybe even more in some instances. Yes, people LOVE the word free...lol

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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby Gamelord » Mon Jan 23, 2017 11:47 am

Michmetalman, just offer free shipping on certain items. If it fits in a flat rate USPS box, free shipping should be a non-issue. Flat rate ships across the continent for the same rate. Most people will understand when you say "Because of the size, this item does not qualify for our FREE Shipping offer".
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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby michmetalman » Mon Jan 23, 2017 2:46 pm

Not many of my items fit in a flat rate. The ones that are small I wrap in cardboard and ship in brown envelopes First class usually under $3
All my bigger things I ship USPS priority. I get great deals because I use Stamps.com, but still would eat some cost shipping to the further away places.
I'll come up with something and give it a whirl.

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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby DreamWerks Designs » Mon Jan 23, 2017 9:03 pm

michmetalman- I hope I didn't offend you or seem condescending in my post, I wasn't trying to say that a business has to offer free shipping to be successful. Not all of my suggestions are right for every business or every situation, there are too many variables for that to be realistic. Most of my items are large as well; I just raised my prices about $30 on the large items, which allows me to offer the free shipping. I make out better on the closer shipments and almost break even on the longer shipments because I used one of the farthest shipping quotes to get my price increase amount.

I have never used stamps.com, I will have to give them a look- thanks for the info. I use a FedEx.com business account because I save between 8-16% on my shipments. Although if an item is under 2 lbs. usps will almost always be the cheapest method, but I have found that their reliability isn't as good as FedEx or UPS (they will sometimes be a day or two late, which isn't a big deal MOST of the time).

I hope that, if nothing else, all of the dialogue & discussion between members creates a spark in someone out there and opens a door that leads them to a positive change- whatever it may be.

-TB

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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby michmetalman » Tue Jan 24, 2017 6:49 am

DreamWerks Designs wrote:michmetalman- I hope I didn't offend you or seem condescending in my post, I wasn't trying to say that a business has to offer free shipping to be successful. Not all of my suggestions are right for every business or every situation, there are too many variables for that to be realistic. Most of my items are large as well; I just raised my prices about $30 on the large items, which allows me to offer the free shipping. I make out better on the closer shipments and almost break even on the longer shipments because I used one of the farthest shipping quotes to get my price increase amount.

I have never used stamps.com, I will have to give them a look- thanks for the info. I use a FedEx.com business account because I save between 8-16% on my shipments. Although if an item is under 2 lbs. usps will almost always be the cheapest method, but I have found that their reliability isn't as good as FedEx or UPS (they will sometimes be a day or two late, which isn't a big deal MOST of the time).

I hope that, if nothing else, all of the dialogue & discussion between members creates a spark in someone out there and opens a door that leads them to a positive change- whatever it may be.

-TB

Nope not offended at all. I like the info! Like I said, I will try come up with something because I know free shipping is a big eye catcher! Thanks for all the info!!!!

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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby chucko907 » Wed Nov 22, 2017 2:15 pm

This is very valuable information for those who run as a business. Thanks for sharing. Sometimes we have the talent, but these suggestions help us to profit. Thank you.

ScottF
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Re: How to Improve Your Business

Postby ScottF » Wed Nov 29, 2017 10:55 pm

Great info and I really appreciate you taking the time to share it.


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