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Top e-commerce business tips

At Avery WePrint we work with many small business owners who sell products online. Our labels are used for both product labelling and shipping packages and we regularly share advice to help e-commerce businesses.

Each month we are proud to support Handmade Hour, a bi-weekly Twitter chat packed full of inspiring handcrafted products. It’s a fantastic community of small business owners, who all champion and support the talented handmade industry. We’ve been chatting to some of those small businesses we’ve got to know during the Sunday chat to get their thoughts and advice on how to grow your online sales.

How do you get people to hear about your products?

MisHelenEous is an online business selling handmade gifts for the home and hound and its business owner, Helen Rogers told us: “I'm a huge fan of Twitter and Instagram for letting people know about my products and services. I enjoy aspects of both as they allow me to instantly respond to business enquiries and opportunities, and also the sense of community that exists amongst my contacts, supporters and customers. The blog on my website is also kept updated with news, events and collaborations. My online shop has an updates section too which is more focused on special offers or discount codes and includes the shipping deadline dates nearer Christmas.”

Online shop owner, Sean Bright from Hey Kids Rock'n'Roll added: “People mostly hear about us via social media including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The shop wouldn't have been possible without social media as most of the items are based on fairly niche subjects but that can be an advantage these days as online communities build up around their specific interests.”

It seems video is a key awareness driver for e-commerce business ‘Art by Annamarie’ who has been drawing, painting and creating as long as she can remember. Owner, Annamarie told us: “We have a website called but most of our business is generated through our awesome YouTube channel called The Narrowboat Experience.”

How do you create the personal touch that you’d get selling face-to-face?

When people buy from a retail outlet they get to touch the product, see it close-up and quickly ask questions to members of staff to help them decide whether they’d like to buy. However, when selling online you don’t have this luxury but there are still ways you can add that personal touch.

VelvetVolcano business owner, Tamsyn Martin revealed: “We create a personal touch through our packaging and take great pride in wrapping our items as we theme them depending on the order. For example, if someone orders from our 'Spooky' collection they receive our spooky 'FrankenKitty’ design packaging, whereas if it's from our 'Cute' collection they receive our colourful rainbow design packaging. Everything includes a handwritten note from me or Mumma VV to express our gratitude for supporting a small business and all orders receive either a sticker or a badge. Plus, all crochet items are packaged with a crochet flower or eyeball ribbon that can be re-used as a choker, bracelet or for wrapping another gift.”

Helen Rogers from MissHelenEous added: “I send out something I would like to receive myself, regardless of whether the customer has ordered the item for themselves or someone else. I don’t make an extra charge for gift wrapping and it’s often something that is commented favourably on in my reviews. A typical MisHelenEous parcel contains an item wrapped in tissue paper in my brand colours, tied with co-ordinating bakers twine and a gift tag attached. A compliment slip with a handwritten message from me, my business card and complimentary stickers are also included. If requested, a special Gift Card is also included with the special message from the customer to the recipient, and lastly a leaflet containing a discount code for future use as I like to thank my customers, encourage repeat orders, and increase brand loyalty.”

How do you take photography that sells your products?

When buying items online we all need to see as much of the product as possible to help us make a purchasing decision so good photography is really important. We love this advice from Helen Rogers: “This all depends on what you are selling and there are generally two styles that work well. One that shows only the product on a plain background, in detail and to scale. And the 'lifestyle' shots that give your customer an idea of how your product would look in their home or everyday life. If you take your own product shots (and I do) it’s best to pick a theme and stick with it for a cohesive brand identity. However, for magazine or blog features it’s probably best to 'style' your shots. It’s a big investment and one many start-ups can’t afford but if you are able to employ a professional photographer for your products it could potentially increase your exposure and therefore sales both in the short and long term.”

When it comes to taking good photos the team at Art by Annamarie added: “You have to use the right light when photographing your products. We have tried many different set-ups for photographing our artwork including having a hanging wall used only for photographing prints and using a shelf. At the moment, we scan the images and use a digital program to enhance the background so don't be afraid to try new things. Look at what other shops online are doing and consider what is on-trend. Make sure everything in your photograph adds to the story of the product.”

Tamsyn Martin at VelvetVolcano revealed her top photography tips too: “I use my camera phone, a mannequin, two large photography lights, a reflector and multiple different coloured backdrops. Get as many different views as possible as when you're selling online you need to try and make the products as 'real' as possible to your customers.”

Keep learning to help your own e-commerce business

When it comes to where to get more advice for her own e-commerce business MissHelenEous commented: “The mighty HandmadeHour & HMNation were, and still are, our champions and they have created a very supportive online network that has grown and grown. I must also mention the tireless and invaluable support of MancMade - for Mancunian Makers & Creators, and also The Crafters Directory.” Whilst the team at VelvetVolcano told us: “There's some great groups on Facebook for small businesses, especially 'The Rollercoaster of Running an Indie Business'.”

Thinking of starting your own e-commerce business?

If you haven’t already started selling online but this is something you are thinking about doing, then these top tips from existing business owners may help get you up and running.

1. It's a lot of work, and often disheartening, so you do have to genuinely like and believe in the products you make.
Hey Kids Rock'n'Roll
2. Do your research and know what your market wants. Social media is important and having a good social media presence is essential. Believe in your product and make that obvious by how you present it, how you talk about it and how you price it.
Art by Annamarie
3. Be prepared for hard work and write a business plan (I've learnt from not doing one in the first place that it can leave you flailing for a bit without one. Don't compare yourselves to your competition or peers - focus on you and your product.
4. Do a lot of homework first and make sure you are up to date with distance selling rules, your legal obligations for refunds and returns, current EU privacy policy update information, HMRC & ICO registration, and shipping rates for whatever it is you are selling and where you are sending it. Check the countries you can and can’t sell to as well, due to various trade sanctions. Make sure your selling platform is best suited to your purposes and your accounting and administration systems are in place. There will be a lot you learn as you develop and some things you may have overlooked that will only become apparent once you are up and running. Flexibility and adaptability are essential.

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13 July 2018