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Friday, September 30, 2011

Websites and the Whatnot

Last week I introduced our new business, CopperDog Studio, to my blog readers and to the world of facebook.  I also put some tags up for sale on etsy.  We have sold two tags on etsy... to a friend, but still, our first sales, so yay!

This week I have been focused on building a proper website.  A friend suggested Big Cartel as a good host for artists as a selling platform, so I tried it out.  They have several levels of involvement: the "gold" level is free, is somewhat customizable, but only lets you have 5 products.  I went with the next level, the "platinum" level, which is $9.99/month and lets you have up to 25 products, "full" customization, and several other better features.  However, the "full" customization is really only for people who know HTML and CSS coding language.  I do not.  In fact, I'll be honest, I had never even heard of CSS until this week.  Now you might think I'm a web dummy.  Yep, I'll admit it.  I took a computer art class in college, and that was only 10 years ago, but CSS was not very widely used if it was even around at all back then, and we just barely touched on HTML after we played with Photoshop and Illustrator for most of the semester.  (I do love me some Photoshop!)  Well, after doing some research, I was able to learn enough to be able to embed a mailing list sign up form directly onto a page of my website, and I considered this a major breakthrough.  However, I have yet to figure out how to do it on facebook.  But speaking of facebook, Big Cartel has a facebook app that allows you to link directly to your store from your facebook fan page.  Major points for BC there.  I'll get to the points thing here in a minute.  I was really frustrated with all this CSS business, knowing that every time I wanted to change something beyond the super basic stuff, I would have to mess with that again.

So I was considering other options.  I use Other People's Pixels to host my CopperTide website, so I'm familiar with their control panel, and it's really user-friendly.  OPP is great as portfolio display site, but not so great with the sales.  They also offer lots of customization options that you don't have to know coding language for.  So I thought I would build a website there, too, and see which one I like better.  They also offer a 14 day free trial (after which, if I decided to keep it, it would cost $16/month or $160/year).  A little more expensive, but I didn't have anything to lose by setting up a trial.  On my end, OPP is much easier to use, but there are also some things I don't like about their set-up.

So I made a list comparing the two:

Big Cartel
- home page = product views
- when you open a product view, there can be up to 3 images for the same product which you scroll through
- product description is displayed in a narrow column that makes it seem incredibly long and tedious - even though it's all important info
- clear about "add to cart" on each product
- you can add as many items to your cart as you like
- allows me to add shipping costs for one piece and then for additional pieces
- weird format for links -they're all tiny over on the right side
- i was able to embed an email list sign up form, but you have to follow a tiny link on the right side to get there
Other People's Pixels   <----- this would change to the above address if I chose to go with this host (this is a free trial)
- no product views on home page, just 1 image of my choice
- when you open a product view (from the nav bar) you only get one image per product
- product description is still a narrow column, but not as narrow; uses a scroll bar on the screen rather than scrolls the whole screen down, so you see the image the whole time
- not so clear on how to "add to cart" (by clicking on the different color price link)
- you can only buy one item at a time
- does not allow me to add  shipping costs, I would have to send the customer a revised paypal invoice
- good nav bar at top of page, clear on what is where
- i was not able to embed an email sign up form, but i was able to add links to do so on both the home page and the contact page

As I had spent hours and hours immersed in website business, I felt like I had lost a little bit of my objectivity, so I asked a few friends with some marketing savvy their opinions from both a marketing standpoint and a customer's viewpoint. All but one said they preferred the Big Cartel site.  Pretty much, I knew BC was the way to go after reviewing my list, but it's always nice to have some feedback.  If this was just a place to display the work, I would probably stick with OPP, but as this is a business and the focus is driving sales, we're going with Big Cartel.  One of my friends even said that from a customer standpoint, everything was clear on the BC site, but he would probably get frustrated and leave the OPP site and buy his tag elsewhere.  Not what you want.  That was just the kind of feedback I needed - thanks, Paul. 

So I have a lot to learn about CSS code, but I would rather have to work more on my end than lose sales because the site is not user-friendly to buyers.  It might not look quite as pretty right now, but the more I can learn about CSS, the more I'll be able to customize it and make it awesome!

I would love to hear your opinion, too!  Check out both sites -

Big Cartel :
Other People's Pixels :

Let me know what you like and what you don't - the more you comment, the more information is out there and can help other people trying to figure out what to do with their websites.
I found another article comparing Big Cartel with Etsy and Storenvy.  I've never used Storenvy, but it might be worth checking out, too - since it's free!

Who do you use to host your site?  Is your focus on sales or display?  Are you happy with your website?

Check back soon for more updates!  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

CopperDog Studio

Mark and I have been super busy trying to get everything ready to launch our new business, CopperDog Studio!

The idea for CopperDog came about when we finally realized we couldn't keep ALL the stray buddies we came across, but we still wanted to do something to help out local rescue organizations. As you know, we do have an adopted kitty, Gabardine, and our adopted pup, Buster.   We came across another stray dog a little while ago, and unfortunately we couldn't keep him.  But we met so many kind and helpful people and organizations in the search for a home for Fat Boi (not our name for him), that we were more inspired than ever to get this business going.

We make handmade etched copper dog tags and pet portraits. All of our products are custom made.  10% of proceeds are donated to local rescue organizations in the hopes that we can help more sweet pets find good loving homes!

We're really excited about this, and we're in the initial stages of launching the business.  I'm going to try to do this right, and I may be already jumping the gun.  (I probably am.)  We have business cards and postcards on the way from vistaprint.  Above is the postcard.  I posted our first products, handmade etched copper dog tags on our etsy page yesterday evening, and posted a few pics on the new facebook page!  Please click and "like" us!

I'm still working on my "Marketing for Makers" home study course, and I have already learned a lot.  I know I have a lot more to learn, and I will share things as I go.  But I was excited, and I had to go ahead and share CopperDog Studio with you!

More to come as we get rolling!  Stay tuned!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reality Check

I never stop being busy.  With work stuff, with life stuff, with fun stuff, it's always something.  I did take a break last month for a week-long family vacation at Hilton Head Island, SC.  It was fabulous.  The beach is my favorite place ever, and this was a beautiful one.  We were there to watch Hurricane Irene pass by the SC coast before slamming into the Outer Banks of NC and going on to wreak havoc on the Northeast.

This was taken at about 11:30am, about 30 seconds before the torrential downpour.  Gorgeous to be able to watch it come in like that.

This was about 8:00pm when the rain finally let up.  Love it.

Ahhh, the beach.  Ever-inspiring.  For more photos, visit my photostream.

When we got back, we had no cable or internet for a week.  Thanks, Irene.  But we got it easy... poor Vermont.  Even though it did put me waaaaaaay behind, work-wise.  So I have been playing catch-up ever since.  So busy.

So Mark and I are busy launching a new business - you know, one's not enough... - CopperDog Studio.  It gets its own post soon, I promise.  But I figured I better step up my marketing efforts for both businesses.  We have high hopes for CopperDog, so I gotta get on it.  I have posted a few teasers and sneak peeks on my facebook page, but that's about it for public interaction.  My goal is to get it ready for orders this week.  Whew!

Back to the marketing efforts:  I signed up for an e-course called "Marketing for Makers" by Megan Auman, author of Crafting an MBA.  I highly recommend her blog, and I have a feeling I will highly recommend this e-course, too, when I'm done with it.  I just started with Lesson One this morning, and already it's forced me to really look at my current business statistics and to make goals for six months to a year from now.  (Also, Google Analytics is a must-have if you have any sort of online business.  If you don't have it already, go get it, it's free.)  I have a bad habit of just taking in the sales when they come - I keep a record for taxes, etc, but usually the money goes right back into the business.  So I haven't really taken an in-depth look at statistics and averages, etc, until now.  It's very interesting, but a little depressing to be quite honest, when I compare it to how much I would have been making at my old job - which wasn't that great either, but I could live on it comfortably and even build up a little savings.  Which is a goal I have for my craft business, but I do realize that starting any business you usually don't make any money for the first three years or so.  So this course guides you through setting goals for the immediate future as well as the a little further on down the road.  Plus it's not just about setting goals for sales, it's about setting goals for your marketing efforts.  I'm really excited to get this going, and I'll report more as I learn more. 

Now, I'm off to the Visual Arts Center of Richmond to make some enamel samples for some of the workshops I'll be teaching this fall!  They start this coming weekend, Sept. 17-18, so if you know of anyone who would be interested in Micro Raising or Enameling in the Richmond VA, Winston-Salem NC, or Ridgefield CT areas, have them look us up!  They're all going to be super-fun!  Ok, shameless plug, but seriously it would be a great time, and I need more people to sign up so that all the workshops will make, especially these first few! 

Check back soon for more info and to hear about CopperDog Studio for all you puppy-lovers out there!

Thanks for reading!