Happy Monday! It’s time for another post in the Business of Machine Quilting series. I am sorry that I missed last week’s, but hopefully this week’s post will make up for it! Today, we are talking about marketing to potential customers. By this point, you have practiced your quilting, developed a plan and are now ready to bring in the customers. The big question is: How do you do that??
When I started quilting for customers, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. I printed some business cards (they were so horrendous!) and decided it was time to get out there. I joined a local quilt guild and a quilting group and started attending meetings. Soon, I heard that the guild was having a quilt show and was allowing vendors. So, I decided to be a vendor. Looking back as, it is so laughable. I had a quilted sample and some business cards and that’s it! I am so sure that I looked out of my league. I worked my “booth” all weekend to no avail. I left the show with no new customers and no idea what I was going to do.
But a couple of weeks later, something crazy happened…..a customer called me. She wanted me to quilt her quilt! Oh happy day! Kathy, my new customer, was getting to open a quilt shop and wanted me to quilt her samples. (A random fact, several years later, Kathy’s daughter became a fabric designer and I started quilting for her as well. You may have heard of her….none other than Tula Pink!)
As I continued bringing quilt samples to the guild meetings, I began to pick up more and more customers….and the rest in history!
So what can you do to pull in more customers? Here are a few tips and pointers to get you started on your way!
1. Join quilting groups.
Whether you are wanting local customers, or are trying attract quilters online, join a few groups. Making your skills known to other quilters will definitely help get your business going. But whatever you do, don’t be annoying about it. All you need to do is to show your quilt (with your fantastic quilting) and demurely say, “Why yes, I quilted it myself.”
2. Always carry a business card.
You are now in the business of selling yourself and you never know when the opportunity will arise. I have handed out my business card at a grocery store before! If you already have a customer or two, ask if they would like to have a couple of extra cards as well.
3. Encourage Referrals
Word-of-mouth is the best advertising, no doubt about it. Don’t be afraid to ask your quilting friends and customers to pass your name along. Even as you grow your business and pull in more customers, be active about asking for referrals. A great book that I read on this is called The Referral Engine. A lot of people might feel uncomfortable doing this, it can feel a lot like being a “salesman”. But it doesn’t have to be scary. It can be as simple as a handwritten note, thanking them for their business (or friendship) and mentioning that you would love for them to keep your name in mind should they run into any one needing quilting services.
4. Be innovative
Just because something works for other quilters, doesn’t mean that you have to do them as well. Read books about marketing and advertising and see how you can apply the suggestions to your situation. One book that I read and used a lot was called Guerrilla Marketing for Free. (Can you tell that I love reading business books??) Also try to think of unusual, creative ways to make yourself stand out.
5. You just need one!
It can be disheartening to put yourself out there and not see a return, or you might not grow as fast as you think you should. Don’t be discouraged!!! You only have to find that one person, the one person who tells their whole quilting group about you. Networking is a lot like branches on a tree, each lead eventually branches out to more and more customers.
But enough rambling from me! How about an expert’s opinion? For this week’s interview, I have asked Heather Grant to share some of her marketing savvy. You may know Heather as the blogger behind Modern Day Quilts, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. She is a business consultant and has worked with authors (myself included), businesses and even the Modern Quilt Guild. She is brilliant, just brilliant.
When I was first quilting for others, I felt the need to discount my quilting in order to pull in new customers. If we could go back in time, what would you say to me about discounts and coupons?
If you offer discounts, make sure it has some kind of quantifiable return and that they are special. Does it grow your business? Does it encourage someone to keep coming back? If you give a discount to everyone, it doesn’t make it feel to the customer like they are getting a special deal. Discount programs should focus on converting new customers or rewarding your committed customers. Examples of good discounts are:
· Partnerships – if your LQS doesn’t have a long-arm machine, consider partnering with them. For example, LQS customers who spent $75 or more get 10% off quilting when they show their receipt. In return, the shop will put your business card at a visible spot near the register. Tell your customers about this deal to help drive customers to the LQS and make it a win-win for both of you.
· Referral Discounts – if a current customer refers a customer to you, you offer a discount to the customer. People rave about this. I had a hair stylist who offered a free haircut for every 3 clients I referred. I kept talking about him, because not only did I love his work, but I loved the free haircuts!
· Loyalty Programs – keep your customers coming back. For example quilt 5 quilts, get 25% off your 6th one. This can go on the back of your business card, to encourage new people to keep quilting with you
· Flash Sales – this is a great concept for Facebook because it encourages engagement and conversion of your audience. Keep this very targeted and don’t do it frequently. This is great for slow periods when you need some quilts to quilt. It should have defined criteria to protect your business, such as:
o New customers only
o Limit the total number of customers/quilts
o End date of the flash sale
o No more than 6 times per year
How much research and preparation should someone do before they start marketing to potential customers? What items should they be researching?
I don’t think any small business should start without creating a basic competitive analysis. You want to know what you competitors offer. It can be a simple spreadsheet with the competitor’s name, price, style, pros, cons. Look at this analysis and see what differentiates you. Make sure it isn’t just price. Is it your customer service? Do you specialize in a certain type of quilting? What makes your offerings unique? Is there a long-armer who is well known in your area for what you want to do? If so, you may consider adjusting your focus. Revisit this spreadsheet every six months to see how your competitors are doing and make sure you are still differentiating yourself.
The second thing to consider is your target market. It is really easy to say that you want to target all the quilters in your area, but when you do your competitive analysis, is there a certain type of quilter no one is fulfilling the needs for? How will you market to each different type of quilter? Modern quilters are looking for something different from traditional quilters. They can both be in your customer base, but think about the messages you say to each of them.
What tips would you give someone who is trying to attract new customers?
Be cautious in offering your work for free; make sure it has a quantifiable return. Be willing to fail cheap, both in money and time. Your customers are your bread and butter. Network in your quilting community, focus on personal attention and word-of-mouth should follow. 54% of purchasing decisions are made from word-of-mouth references*. Make a goal that every sale should generate a lead or referral.
*Word of Mouth Marketing Association, womma.org
But wait! That’s not all! Heather had so many suggestions and tidbits, that I couldn’t fit it all in a blog post! She graciously allowed me to interview her via Skype so that we could get even more marketing advice.
Next week, I will be back with another interesting topic….How to figure out your pricing. In the meantime, Happy Quilting!