Five tips to promote your creative business online

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I meet many talented local artists, makers and people who aspire to or have just set up their own creative business. I have met lots of them since I started my own business five years ago – but also before that in my previous job as marketing/audience development consultant in the arts sector. Most of them are women, trying to build a business that will fit around their family. I am no different. And we all struggle with the same question: how do we best promote what we do and where?

I have always worked on a shoestring budget, or actually no budget at all and have somehow managed to get my business name known and steadily grow my business. How did I do this? Don’t get me wrong – I have have so much to learn and improve in how I run and promote my business – you live and learn and fall and get back up – but today I will share some of the things that have helped me promote my business  online and ‘get my name out there’ in the first years of setting up.

1. Be social

Before we get into the online bit, here is tip one: networking is very important, both online and offline. Knowing lots of people helps. Go to local business events, workshops, talks. Speak to people, exchange business cards, ask questions. Chances are you will always come away with at least one new idea, useful contact or bit of info that will help you move forward. Not everyone is comfortable introducing themselves to new people at such events, but just remember that people are all there for the same reasons: they want to learn something new and meet new people. So don’t be shy, because you have something pretty cool to talk about: your business.

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Online marketing means you have to be on social media – there is no way around it. But it is fun, mostly free (with a much bigger effect than any paid advertising will ever have) and with the right approach it can really make your brand and product stand out and reach a big audience.Yes, it can be all consuming and rather addictive even, but if you choose your accounts wisely and set dedicated time aside to update them regularly (or use an app like hootsuite to schedule posts and update them all simultaneously for you), then it is not so daunting.

I won’t go into the detail of every social media platform, as most of you are on it already and plenty info can be found on the internet, but it seems that Facebook and Twitter are still the most popular. On Facebook you can easily set up a Page for your business, sharing news and photos, videos and links. Nina’s Apartment currently has just under 5,000 Likes which didn’t happen overnight but grew through being engaging, entertaining – paying for some posts every now and then (you can boost a post to reach more people for not too much money if you have something very important you want to share) and just generally being active on it. I love Facebook and the interaction with customers and ‘Likers’ and it is also pretty easy now to integrate apps such as the Mailchimp newsletter and Shopify (the online shop system I have used).

Twitter is very different for example, with the added challenge of saying something worth reading  in only 140 characters. However, I find Twitter particularly useful for following professionals, journalists and bloggers in the industry. If you are active on Twitter and start to reply to tweets by people you want to connect with (or be seen by), it is not too difficult to all of a sudden be speaking to a celebrity! That’s the beauty of social media – the formal barriers are not there and people are generally more easily approachable. And so should you be.

2. Be human

Social media is about showing the human face behind your business. It is about connecting with your customers, lowering the threshold, having a conversation. Smile, be nice, be yourself. Your website can be more static and informative – your social media activity however should be fun. An informal, friendly voice talking about what you do and why you do it, rather than a one-way stream of information about opening hours and what you have on offer this week. Listening to people as much as talking to them (and not at them – get it?) is a helpful way to find out what your customers need and think of your business. The ultimate goal of being on social media is to make people want to be part of what you do, to love your brand and tell others about it. Because once you get the ball rolling, social media really is ‘word of mouth on steroids’.

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3. Be consistent

To establish your business name and brand (and remember, a ‘brand’ is not just a logo, it is the whole package: from type font to customer service!) you want to create recognition. A consistent use of logo, colours, images, type font and tone of voice are therefore pretty important in order to come across as someone who knows what she’s doing. Decide how you want to be seen, what look or style you want to portray and stick with it across all of your marketing. It will make your material online and offline look professional, coherent and recognisable.

4. Be pretty

I am not talking about your looks here. I mean the way your business is portrayed in everything you put out. If you design or craft things you want to sell or get seen, make sure your photography is up to scratch too – and consistent. Ever been on Etsy? You are probably drawn to those pictures that are really making the product stand out: white back ground, no clutter, beautiful styling. Keep this in mind when taking photos of your own products. Don’t make things too complicated though, just use what you have already and your imagination. I take all photos on my iphone 5, usually against the same concrete wall background (consistency!), then editing them with the built in image app or putting filters on them in Instagram. There are lots of great free mobile apps available too to turn photos into videos / slideshows, add text, or turn them into collages. All very useful to make your product look pretty and draw attention to your business on social media.

 

 

5. Be everywhere

Having an actual website is still a good idea, despite having your social media accounts. A website is your base, your home, the place where all your social media leads back to. This can be an online shop or a blog (my website/blog is built on WordPress) or a professionally built website – that is up to you. But everything you put out on social media should lead back to the base. And make sure you can be found. Paying a bit on Google Adwords is worth it if you want to drive people to an online store or actual local shop with an address. There is an awful lot to learn about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) which I am still learning more about. Basics? Pay attention to all descriptions, words you use in titles, image captions, links – and get others to link back to your website too.

An email newsletter is a great tool to directly contact your customers. Collecting email addresses is therefore a good idea next time you are at an event or fair. Apps Like   Mailchimp are free and easy to use and make your newsletters look professional and attractive. These apps also offer very useful insights in who opens and clicks on links, telling you a lot about those people who are most interested in what you do.

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As for social media, pick a few social platforms that you like and are happy to commit to on ideally a daily basis – yes you need to post frequently! My opinion on what social media work best? Facebook is great for building a local audience, getting your posts shared, talking to your customers, promoting your product and sometimes finding a buyer for it. Twitter is great for following people in the industry and connecting with professionals – and so is LinkedIn.

Pinterest…oh Pinterest. My favourite! Great for inspiration and highly addictive, but it can also be another tool for yourself to promote your products/business – linking back to your website. Did you know that red items photographed against a white background are the most ‘pinned’ images on Pinterest? Together with those that contain text? I know, so much to learn.
Instagram, another favourite of mine, has the benefit that any photo can be made to look pretty cool with the available filters. Instagram is great to feature your products but you can also share fun, informal photos of yourself at work or the things that matter to you, finding like-minded people all over the world, fellow creatives and also get (local) people to follow what you do. Basically, it is just another platform to show off what you do and build your reputation. I know a lot of people who successfully use Youtube or Vimeo as well to boost their reputation and follower numbers. How about creating little ‘how-to’ videos or demos about what you do? Or a tour around your shop or studio?  Videos have the added bonus of rating higher on Facebook, reaching more people.

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Last but not least: start a blog. Don’t like writing? Just post beautiful pictures. A blog is another way of creating a following and adding something to the online mix. It is something I personally love doing and am committed to. I love writing. I blog about my business, but also about interior design in general, the styles I like, things that inspire me, etc. The goal of my blog is to provide a beautiful, entertaining and informative site that people like looking at and reading – with the additional opportunity for them to buy my products/services if they feel inspired and want to find something beautiful for their home.  So I am not trying to flog my products and services constantly – because that would be plain annoying – but rather aim to offer an attractive ‘package’ that hopefully makes people want to come back to again and again because they like hanging out with me and my brand. And that is the key in all social media: be social, not pushy. And just be yourself.



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1:1 Surgeries
For small creative startup businesses

Feeling inspired and want to learn more? You can now book a 1:1 surgery with Nina Eggens of Nina’s Apartment. Nina has over fifteen years experience working in marketing and pr in the creative sector – plus she knows first hand what it is like to start a creative business from scratch. She is passionate about helping others start up their own creative businesses and can help you feel more confident in promoting yourself and your products online and offline. A 90 minute session costs £45 and could include an online marketing ‘health check’, practical help in setting up social media accounts or simply the opportunity to ask lots of burning questions about promoting what you do and what to do next in your journey of setting up your business.

Get in touch for more information.

About sideboards and nappies or how I became a mumpreneur

Lethenty Mill in Aberdeenshire

It is four years this year. Four years of lugging furniture around, changing millions of nappies and breastfeeding on the go, because I also had two babies in the meantime. I have a shop. I am a business owner. A ‘mumpreneur’. I am my own boss. How on earth did I get here? And what drove me so mad to combine tiring motherhood with running a business?

First of all, I never thought I would end up as a Dutchie in Scotland. Thought I would be here just temporarily, passing through. But here I am, ten years later. I also never thought I would start up my own business, let alone one where lifting a two meter long teak sideboard is a regular task. It was never on my radar, never in my plans. I was just happily doing all kinds of jobs when one day a seed was planted. And it grew. And grew. It grew a bit more. And here we are.

Aberdeen

I am a creative being. I have always been interested in art and design, was forever drawing, and did a masters in Art history at uni, focusing on 20th century architecture. At 26 I moved to Aberdeen to be with my now husband, continuing to work for arts organisations like I did in The Netherlands, just in a different country. I settled in fine, but like most foreigners arriving in the granite city I was missing the variety in cafes, museums and yes – independent shops, that I was used to on the continent. Maybe I should just set up something myself, I thought at times. Surely there was a huge gap in the market. I would go and add some continental style to Aberdeen! The first seed was planted.

Once my husband and I moved from his bachelor pad in the city to a four-bedroom house in a village nine years ago, we had to shop for furniture. Oh boy, did I get frustrated! I couldn’t find anything in and around Aberdeen that was even vaguely my taste. Too bulky, too beige, too traditional, too tartan, to boring. There were no vintage furniture shops other than stuffy antiques and Ikea was three hours away. I wanted colour! Nice European furniture. Things to suit the average sized house without taking up too much space. Eclectic old stuff as well as stylish contemporary pieces. Things to add soul to a home.

 painted staircase saying the words dreams don't work unless you do

img via Pinterest


Many people in this country seem to have a funny habit to cram large corner sofas into tiny living rooms and I just didn’t get it. I also detested the brown and beige ‘catalogue look’ that I spotted in so many houses. So many interiors looked exactly the same. What was going on? Surely North East Scotland could do better than that? The granite architecture as well as the dark winters make this part of the world grey enough at times and I yearned for bright colours and things for the home that made me smile and feel inspired. So I started dreaming. I started wondering. If I felt like this, surely other people felt like this too. If there was nowhere up here to buy nice European style furniture, I was going to open a shop myself.

Shop window in Copenhagen
A trip to Copenhagen gave me plenty of inspiration (I love that city!)

 


It took another five years and many mood boards and collages, bullet point lists and ideas in journals for me to take the plunge. I did lots of research, signed up for some Business Gateway courses, made a trip to Copenhagen to indulge in Danish design and see what kind of shop I wanted to be. The combination of losing my day job and being pregnant with my first child made the decision to change careers a little easier. I registered as a sole trader while still on maternity leave and began selling small vintage items and handmade cushions in an Etsy shop and at local fairs. When my baby boy was eight months old, I found local shop premises and got the keys to my very own space at Lethenty Mill.

Baby in a shop window
My little boy and ideal treasure hunting companion in the shop before it opened


Since then Nina’s Apartment has grown with leaps and bounds and it has certainly not been a walk in the park trying to cover all the bills that come with running a business. Not to mention the juggling of business and family life. Nothing romantic about that, just really hard work! But I love what I do and believe 100% in my products and service. Winning the Life with Style Creative Award last year and being shortlisted for two others was a great boost and reminder that I am doing something right and that people are appreciating what I am trying to achieve. And that I am, in fact, putting my own little quirky continental stamp on the North east of Scotland, one step at the time.

Having started as a shop selling a mixture of vintage, upcycled, handmade and retro, Nina’s Apartment has now specialised in the mid century modern and Scandinavian style. Trying to stay unique rather than duplicating what more local people started doing (the painted furniture, pre-1950s vintage), just makes sense. I want Nina’s Apartment to be the main destination in the North East of Scotland for mid century modern design.

Nina's Apartment mid century vintage furniture shop


I have built up quite a bit of knowledge about British and Scandinavian mid century design and it just is the style I love most. The minimalist lines and details are subtle and sophisticated and remind me a lot of modernist architecture, another love of mine and what I studied during my degree.

I always get excited to find quality new stock that I just know my customers will love. And there is nothing better than knowing that a piece of original vintage furniture is going to be appreciated again after some TLC and plenty of elbow grease. I simply love sourcing beautiful furniture and helping people furnish their home with unique pieces to bring some soul and personality into their interior. And my own house? I think I have definitely solved the problem that gave me my business idea in the first place, many moons ago! No beige and boring, that’s for sure.