This is the second in an on-going series of Q&As with real small business owners from all over the world and in a wide variety of industries who have successfully used social media to grow their business. You can read the first in the series here.In this Q&A I am asking a very creative and talented Etsy seller and fan of all things hand-made, Jessica Van Den, who has used social media to grow her home business from a part-time hobby into a full-blown business that allows her to now work from home full-time.
How Jess used social media to manage this is laid out in her answers below, and there are some fantastic takeaways if you are looking at doing something similar. But as Jess herself says, make sure you are really ready to put in the hard work and find your passion!
There is also at least one thing that both Anthony Lloyd, the subject of the first Q&A, and Jessica Van Den agree on, and that is to treat social media like a communication channel and to engage your followers on a personal level.
Before I dive into the questions, I just wanted to give Jess a big thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!
[Me] You are now working full-time on your passion – what advice would you give to someone who is just starting out and wants to do the same thing?
[Jess] My first piece of advice would be to make that what you are doing is REALLY is your passion. Turning a passion into a viable business is possibly one of the hardest and most time-consuming things you’ll ever do – so make sure you really love what you’re doing, because it will consume your life for a long period of time.
Strangely enough, my other piece of advice would be to just get started! So many people hang back and umm and ahh because they’re not quite sure how to go about building a business. I’ll tell you a little secret – I’ve been trying to work out how to make my living using the internet for over 14 years – ever since I fell in love with the internet back in high school in 1996!
But it took me until my late 20s to find something I was really passionate about, that was ALSO a viable business – and then I worked at it as a hobby for over a year. Along the way I’ve tried (and failed at, or given up on!) a lot of things. But every single ‘failure’ taught me something, and that’s what’s enabled me to build a successful business today.
[Me] Your business is mostly selling items through Etsy – if you were to do this all over again is there anything you would do differently?
[Jess] I would start an e-mail list right away! If you don’t have one set up for your business, it really is a must. I’m a HUGE fan of social media, but there is no marketing tool more powerful than a mailing list. The people on that list have given you permission into one of the most sacred of their online spaces – their inbox. They might not check twitter, facebook, etc etc… but they will ALWAYS check their e-mail.
I would also possibly have diversified a little sooner – I currently sell my jewellery not only on Etsy, but on my own dot com and on lots of other venues, too. I also run a magazine (bespokezine.com) and I blog full-time, as well as running e-courses, writing e-books… in short, I’ve got a lot going on, and multiple income streams. I think that’s a must for any online business. Don’t rely on just one thing or product to make your living.
[Jess] I do definitely have a different strategy for each one. Every social media site not only works differently, but attracts a different audience. However, the most important thing to remember about social media – no matter what form it takes – is that using social media is all about conversation. It’s about being authentic and generous.
Too many people make the mistake of making the social media they use all about them, while neglecting to get involved and care about others. In my e-course, Crafty & Connected, I start off talking about this issue, because it really is the most fundamental thing you need to understand before you jump into social media.
As for managing them – you need to remember that you can’t do everything! My blog is the center of my online universe, and everything I do on social media aims to direct people back to that hub – each social media is like a spoke on the wheel. So I use a number of different social media to share my story and connect with people – but I know I’ll be more active in some than others, and I don’t beat myself up about that. We’re not super-human!
[Me] Still on the social networks you use, which sites do you find works best for you?
[Jess] I adore twitter. Adore it. It’s my place. It’s where I’ve found my strongest connection to my tribe. Not surprisingly, twitter is therefore the place I do the majority of my social networking. When you find the social media you really dig, you need to run with that. Don’t neglect to build up a presence elsewhere, too, but you’ll find it easy to be authentic – and have fun! – when you find the best media for you.
Facebook, also, cannot be ignored. I rarely get on Facebook to check my personal page, but I update my business pages every day, because I know what a powerful tool it is, and I’ve built up a really great community of wonderful people there, too.
[Me] How do you think networking and running events off-line has helped your online social networking?
[Jess] Having recently attended the Problogger Training Day in Melbourne, I am more convinced than ever that we need to get out from behind our computers and meet people in the flesh whenever we get the chance. I met a lot of online friends there, as well as making a ton of new connections.
Another example of this – I’m a member of a great organisation here in my city called BrisStyle. It started out as a group of Etsy sellers, but it’s now so much more than that – running regular markets, as well as workshops and events for crafty business people.
Through that group, I’ve not only built friendships, but also had fabulous opportunities appear for my business! For example, the other weekend I was invited to run one of their workshops, which allowed me to share my passion for social media with 100 local creatives. A dream of mine is to see a fantastic conference for creative and crafty bloggers and business owners in Australia (anyone want to help me out with that one? ;D). So I’m definitely a big believer in getting out there – though that can be a little daunting to us introverts!
Jess Van Den is a creative entrepreneur who’s passionate about crafting a DIY lifestyle. She makes eco-conscious, modern sterling silver jewellery under the label Epheriell, edits and publishes *bespoke* zine, and also blogs daily at Epheriell Designs about craft, creativity, life, and business.