Self-employment: gaining customers, advertising, and the importance of social media

social media has been instrumental in the success of my business. it’s changed quite a bit over the last 5.5 years that i’ve had my jewelry biz, but it’s still just as, if not more, important. i use social media to gain customers, keep existing customers coming back, engage with my audience, and create the “need” for people to buy. 

when my sister and i first started the business back in 2010, we created a Facebook page, Twitter handle, and set up a blog. we focused heavily on Facebook, as that was the “cool” social at the time. we would upload photos of new pieces, announce sales and promotions, and interact with customers by responding to comments. Twitter never really took off, and the blog died a slow death (as many do), but Facebook was a hit! as social media trends change, my strategy has changed, as well. now that i have a helping hand around here, i have Christina in charge of all things social media. she creates and schedules all the content to ensure that we have plenty of posts and tweets going out during the week. we focus heavily on Instagram, as that’s where we can have the most impressions. whether it’s photos of new products, reminding our followers of products we have that we still think they should buy, or hosting the occasional giveaway, we use it for everything! we’re in an age where a lot of people are more interested in a photo and a quick blurb than in 14 paragraphs saying the same thing. especially when it comes to selling a product, photos are key. we only use high-quality photos that fit into our aesthetic, followed up with a witty/cute caption that provides just enough detail for customers to be intrigued enough to check it out.
Christina has also been directing some of her efforts at Pinterest, as that’s another great way to gain exposure (for free)! she’ll pin some items every couple days and we’ve seen some growth in our re-pins and likes. using the analytics on the website, we can see that some customers are being directed to the site via Pinterest, so we know that effort is worthwhile right now. 
your strategy may be different, depending on the product or service you’re selling. the most important thing you can do is figure out the best way to reach your customers and do that one thing really well. don’t spend an hour tweeting every week if you only have 7 followers on Twitter. if your most popular social media is Facebook, but you want to focus on Instagram, give your Facebook followers incentive to follow you on Instagram by offering a giveaway or some other kind of perk that gets them to switch! know your audience and what they want…and do that. social media use is not a one-size-fits-all situation. you have to figure out what works best for you and the success of your business. if you’re not sure where to start, try to find other people like you, people in the same industry/area and see what they’re doing. take some tips from them, if it seems like it’s working, and figure out how to put your own personal spin on it. 
advertising can also be a huge help for a business, especially in the beginning stages. shortly after Kate and i started Elisabeth Ashlie, her blog took off. she was quickly rising to “internet fame” so we used that to our advantage to advertise the business! we both had sidebar ads on our blogs, would link to the business in relevant blog posts, and wear the jewelry in photos. we were in a unique position because of our blogs and the audience that we had, so we didn’t spend any money on advertising for the first couple years. we simply didn’t need, but we also weren’t dependent on the business succeeding in order to pay the bills. neither of us were thinking that this would be a long-term play. in the last couple years that i’ve been on my own with the business, i’ve done some paid advertising spots on other websites and in online magazines. i’ve yet to have had an experience that was clearly a huge success, but every new set of eyes on your products counts, so i don’t regret any of it. my sister will still tag Elisabeth Ashlie on IG or link to it in a post, which always results in sales and more followers, so it helps to have that secret weapon in my back pocket (many times she does it without me even asking!). 
when it comes to deciding where/how to advertise, think about who you want to see your ad, who is the target audience of the website/publication/individual that is advertising for you? is it within your target customer market, i.e. are the people who see it more likely to become customers? if your answer is no, i’d reconsider! certainly, the more people that see the name of your business and learn about it, the better. but, if you’re going to pay for advertising, it may as well be with a greater chance that it will convert to sales and customers, especially in the beginning stages of a business when you don’t have a bunch of money to throw around. consider reaching out to bloggers, Instagrammers, or other social influencers to see if they would be interested in receiving some product/payment to share about your business. find an online magazine that has an opening for ad spots, join a group giveaway, get creative! if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, consider finding someone that you could “swap” ads with – you advertise for each other for free. there’s an endless amount of ways that you can do it that doesn’t require spending a lot of money or knowing someone with 100k followers on Instagram, sometimes you just have to get a little more creative. 
before you go spending a lot of time or money on advertising and social media, make sure you have a website/storefront that is ready to be seen by potential customers. have branding, high-quality product photos, all the necessary information for customers, and a well-stocked shop. be prepared for traffic to your site/shop! you would be doing yourself a huge disservice by paying for advertising and having a half-full, messy looking website because it’s less likely that it will translate into sales. have your social media set up and active, so that when new followers click on your profile, they’re intrigued and want to start following you. look at other successful shop owners/business people on social media and try to see what works for them and incorporate those ideas into your own strategy.
most of all, have fun with it!  try to come up with creative photos for social media or witty tweets that will make people curious about what you do. comment on other IG handles/blogs to start getting your name out there, reach out to people. don’t expect success to happen to you, you have to make it happen. social media is one of the best ways to help you do that.

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  1. What application do you use to upload pictures to Instagram?

    Posted 2.11.16 Reply
    • I edit photos using the VSCO app, if that's what you're looking for!

      Posted 2.16.16 Reply
  2. Thank you so much for sharing this. I really needed to hear it! You are a true inspiration.
    xoxo, Julia

    Posted 2.12.16 Reply
  3. This is great! Chocked full of information! I always get kind of lost with this stuff.

    Posted 2.13.16 Reply
  4. Thanks so much for the tips! I make handmade products long with curated pieces; what is a good source for buying supplies for your handmade line? I currently use Beadaholique, but more resources would be highly appreciated! Wishing you much success!

    Posted 2.15.16 Reply
    • Hi Rachel, I'm planning on doing a post on how to source materials, etc. soon!

      Posted 2.16.16 Reply

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