Never underestimate the value of networking with others for bringing more success to your business. You want your shop to stand out from others... and to reach your target customer base. This thread is going to highlight some of the ways you can do that through networking.
Social media these days allows for interaction with both customers and other shops. This can be used to spread the word about yourself and your products. If opportunities come up to be featured on a blog... have a look at it and see if the history of the blog relates to your shop. That should give you a good sense of whether or not the blog followers would be interested in coming by to check out your shop. It's also a great way to get to know the blog owner... and they can become customers too! One tip though... don't get sucked into offering a giveaway unless you want to. Giveaways might drive traffic to your shop... but don't often result in sales. DO however consider strongly offering a coupon code to the blog readers... if they like your product, coupons are a great way to both encourage a sale AND let you know where the customer came from!
(As a side note... if you get requests for giveaways and don't want to participate... a suggestion for how to handle it is to say "thank you for your interest in my shop/product... I am not in a position to offer a giveaway at this time. However, I would be glad to offer you a discount of XXX if you personally would like to make a purchase! Should you like my item once you have tried it, I would be honored if you would consider promoting it on your blog/facebook". This is a nice way to weed out those who are just looking for freebies and give those who are actually liking your product a chance to try it, you make a sale, and you may get promotion out of it too. Either way, you don't lose. This has worked for me in the past and the happy customer went ahead and promoted my shop many times on her Facebook link page... which in turn brought me fans and a couple sales.)
Okay... back to more networking tips!
Facebook is another way to use networking. The "tagging" feature means that you can share other shops that might be promoting you... or you can promote them and hopefully have fans of theirs stopping by to check you out too! It's a back-and-forth way of sharing the handmade love! I'll talk more about how to effectively use facebook in another thread... but from a networking standpoint it is a good tool to explore!
The Etsy community is one of the best places to network! You are already part of this team, and many of you are part of many more teams... this is GREAT! Being and active part of a team means people will get to know you and your items and when they think, "hey, I want a..." they will have someone already in mind! It is important though to remember that this is really the most effective when you put in the effort to BE recognizable. Posting your new items and promoting your sales and whatnot is great... but the more personal you are the better. When you join teams, make sure they are ones you feel passionate about. We're all mommies here... so we share that in common! Look for other teams that you share something with. Try location, or interests you have, or type/style of products you make... you may be surprised at the different types of people you can connect with through teams!
Make treasuries! Treasuries are a fantastic way to network AND potentially reach target audiences! Often, people who make certain items do so because they have an interest in that. For example, people who make items for children often HAVE children! If you make children's items too... using themes that relate may bring in people who will promote on your behalf by favoriting your shop! This doesn't mean you need to stick to themes related to your shops though... any kind of treasury will network for you as long as it is beautiful and professionally done. When you feature a shop... don't be surprised if they come check you out! And with treasuries and "favorites" showing up in people's circles... you have the potential to be seen by MANY new faces!
Use your shop address... people won't know about it unless you show them! Have business cards and don't be afraid to hand them out if the opportunity arises! My husband and mom have probably handed out more than I have... but I've had opportunities too! I've given them to moms at mom & baby groups I've participated in... they asked about me so I gave them one. I've even given a card to the lady at the fabric shop who asked what I was going to be making. When you check your shop stats and see that line "direct traffic"... those are people who either typed in your shop address from having seen it somewhere, or clicked on it. :)
Don't forget to also use your shop in your online communication! If you are part of any outside forums, check the rules or ask admin and see if you can include your shop in your user profile or signature. Keep it clean, small, and professional and you will find that humans are curious creatures and it will get clicked on! (Keeping it small and tasteful is better in most cases as some people, including myself, find large or flashy self-promotion to be in bad taste).
Most email providers also have "signatures". Create one to go out on all your outgoing emails. I have had this happen that I email with someone from Kijiji or something, and don't even think about my signature being there, and they have emailed back and asked about my shop. Yay, new customer! :)
Friends and family are GREAT for helping you to network... so make sure you have provided them with the information they might give to others. Business cards, or having your shop "bookmarked" on their PC, is another way to network THROUGH them (obviously with their permission of course).
I'd love to hear some more ways that you network to promote your shop!