What I Learned During My Week in Silicon Valley

I am always so jealous of our members up in San Francisco. There always seems to be a million free AND helpful resources for makers and other creatives. So I asked #ahasmember Rebecca Saylor of our San Francisco chapter (and the adorable shop Oodle Badoodle) to share what she recently learned at a free workshop series hosted by Shopify. All the big name Silicon Valley brands were there educating creatives about their latest products and tools. Rebecca took so many good notes this could literally be three blog posts. :)

Have you recently learned anything new when it comes to making your business better? We'd love to know about it! You can let us know in the comments or email academyofhandmade@gmail.com if you would like to make a blog post out of it.

A few weeks ago, I found myself at Firehouse 8 in Nob Hill, in a room full of creative entrepreneurs listening to Pinterest talk about the new Pinterest “buy” button, Facebook talk about lookalike audiences and Naskademini demo-ing how to set up studio lighting for product photography and wondering what I need to do next to grow my own small business.

If your small business has it’s own web-based shopping cart, chances are you know, or have heard, about Shopify. If you’re not familiar with the platform, it is (in their words) “A home for your brand.”

Unlike Etsy, TicTail, ArtFire, Amazon, etc., it is not a marketplace, it’s a website and shopping cart software system. In addition to helping small businesses create webpages and shopping carts, there are countless plug in apps available to truly customize the Shopify experience for it’s user base.

This summer, Canadian-based Shopify has taken to the streets to meet small business owners and provide them with workshops designed to help them grow.

Workshops included Branding and Marketing, SEO, Product Photography, Email Marketing, and Customer Service. Evening Q&A panels included “How to Make it as a Maker” and “Working with Influencers.”

The week was full of great mini-workshops and networking opportunities. I walked away with strategies for these things in my business:

1) What is the Pinterest buy button and how to use it

2) Facebook look alike audiences in the Ads Manager

3) How to amp up SEO for ecommerce

4) The power of product photography

Let’s dig into these topics!

Pinterest: Buy Buttons

Very timely and most interesting to me is the concept of the Pinterest “buy button.” Right now, this feature is only available for Shopify users. So if your shopping cart is powered by Shopify, any pins that are pinned to Pinterest and linked to your shop via Shopify, will be able to be purchased inside the Pinterest app. Behind the scenes, buyers can check out using their credit card (via your Stripe account) or using Apple Pay.

It wasn’t exactly clear who owns the user information from the sale - you or Pinterest, but I’m sure as they roll out the button, more and more information will become available.

As someone who constantly creates shopping related Pinterest boards, I am looking forward to the buy button enhancing my shopping experience on Pinterest.

I love seeing technology enhance lives and make things easier!  Going to a shopping mall has never been a great experience for me personally, so having access to purchase all the wonderful things I find on Pinterest would be a great thing!

Moving your shoppers from pin to purchase is going to, not only increase revenue, but increase brand awareness.

In this workshop, I learned more than just information about the buy button! Pinterest covered other topics too. For example, how important it is to pin to your brand boards from your website and not just from Pinterest. Also, using “rich pins” which I am ashamed to say I had never heard about until this workshop! Finally, a key take away from the Pinterest workshop was how hashtags just aren’t important on Pinterest. Unlike Instagram, Twitter & Facebook, hashtags actually make it HARDER for the Pinterest search engine to find your goods. This is because the software has to filter out all those “#” and try to decipher words that are strung together. So when writing your Pinterest descriptions, make sure to capture your audience just like you would when writing product descriptions for your website! (easy, you can just cut and paste).

If you want to dig deeper into the world of best practices on Pinterest. Check out this PDF from the Pinterest Blog.

Facebook: Manage Those Ads!

Onto Facebook! Selling and marketing on Facebook is a HUGE topic. I feel like in the last few months, I’ve attended 10 classes just on Facebook marketing and each class touched on a different topic! The Shopify tour focused specifically on marketing to look-alike audiences inside the Facebook Ad platform and tapping into the power of your email mailing list.

In Facebook’s terms, lookalike audiences are the “paths to more customers.” Say what you will about Facebook but it’s undeniable power as a marketing platform continues to reign. There are literally billions of people logging into Facebook every single day. According to Facebook, the average user logs into Facebook over 14 times in a 24 hour period. From a small business standpoint, that’s a huge opportunity. So how can you get your brand in front of people who care?

Anyone who has attended a sporting event knows that standing up in your seat and yelling to a friend across the stadium is an exercise in frustration. They won’t be able to hear you and the people around you that can hear you, don’t care and will do everything they can to shut you up. The Facebook algorithm is designed to help you get your message in front of the people who care and want to hear what you have to say. One of the ways to fully utilize this marvel of technology is by creating a lookalike audience.

When you are out in the world talking about your brand, whether it’s on your website, your Etsy shop, at a craft market or pop-up store, or even your own retail store, you have the opportunity to engage with your customers and invite them to sign up for your email newsletter.

So much work goes into getting that email address. Once you begin marketing via email and you receive sales from that email list, you have taken the big step in your sales funnel process!

What Facebook has done is built an ad network that allows you to tap into it’s community using the work you’ve done to build your email list and serve ads to this new group of potential customers inside the Facebook platform.

Instead of me explaining this, Facebook has done a great job in the Facebook for Business section. Read more here.

SEO: A Surprising Favorite

My favorite topic from the event, was SEO. I feel like 2015 has been the year of SEO. I’ve seen SEO classes for Etsy and SEO marketing books released and everyone I know that has a handmade business is saying those three little letters S E O!!! If you don’t know what SEO stands for it’s Search Engine Optimization.

Perhaps you are familiar with search engines Google or Yahoo! Google and other search engines are a powerful gateway to your business. It’s like window shopping on the internet. Figuring out how to get the right people to look into your window is called SEO or search engine optimization.

Official definition: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website in a search engine’s “natural” or “organic” (not paid for) search results.

Much has been written about this topic but not much has been written specifically geared towards makers and the handmade business community, yet again leaving us to figure out how to take something designed for the size of big businesses and make them work for our micro-businesses.

Maybe you’ve asked yourself (or others) “How do I get more traffic to my online store?” This is a very common question for online store owners and understanding the principles for SEO will make that question go away in your world. On the last day of the Shopify tour, New Leaf Labs’ Rhian Beutler gave a great talk about all things SEO and why it’s probably the number one thing to master as a small online business. New Leaf Lab’s Founder Josh Highland wrote THE book on Shopify and SEO (you can read the first three chapters for free here)

The short answer to SEO is that it’s unique for every business, it takes work to understand, and mastering it WILL change your online business.

Product Photography: Make Your Stuff Look Good

On the last day of the Shopify tour, Canadian style photographer, Naskademini gave a very helpful talk on all things product photography. Naskademini is not necessarily known for his work as a product photographer (voted one of the best Instagram photographers in 2014) but he did line up a bunch of resources for successful production of photos in a studio setting.

Product photography can be tricky and for many of us, running our small businesses includes knowing (or wanting to know) and understanding how to capture our products online that represents how much care and attention goes into making them offline.

Some key product photography take aways:

1. Increasing the quality of your photos in order to create the in-person experience online.

2. GET CLOSE - zoom in to give your customers a feel for the details. Ask yourself “Is this close enough?” and then get closer!

3. Invest in a good camera and then learn how to use it. iPhone cameras are ok, but a good camera can make a huge difference in how your photos appear online.

4. Shoot in RAW but do all you can to minimize the “post production.” This means, try to capture the best photo of your product in the camera to keep yourself from doing a bunch of editing work before the photos can go online.

5. Keep in mind that white bounces light and black absorbs light. This is why most product photos are shot on a white background. When you introduce color to the background, you begin to distract the shopper’s eye from really seeing the details of your products. You want to keep them focused on the product, not the background.

6. Look at each of your product photos and think of these words:  NICE, CRISP, SHARP, CURATED. If you can’t feel these words in each photo, keep trying until you get it right. Making the effort in your photos is going to elevate your brand and increase sales.

7. Take measurements! Invest in a few yard sticks and line up your products when shooting them for your website. Use masking tape to remind yourself of placements will make it much easier to get that consistent and professional look.

8. WRITE DOWN YOUR SET UP AND SETTINGS! Once you get your set up working and all the camera settings just perfect, you look at your photos online and you can feel your brand oozing through each one, WRITE IT ALL DOWN! This will help to decrease set up time and make it faster and easier for you to get your product photography completed and get back to making :)

Whew! We have a lot of work to do! Thanks for joining me on this wrap up and you can check out the upcoming Shopify Retail Tours in other US Cities here.