Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A World of Free: Or, Why Don't You Just Buy Something Already?

I attended I Heart Art PDX's salon discussion entitled A World of Free tonight. The discussion was led by Rebel Craft Rumble champ and blogger extraordinaire, Diane Gilleland.

The conversation was very interesting and it definitely got me thinking about "free." What is the value of the content we freely share in the blogosphere? Is this actually helping us in the long run? What is the point of all this?

While I would like to let some of this discussion sink in to my brain a bit, I do want to share a few things while it's still fresh.

I think there were two very important points made tonight.

1. What value can you create from your content (and is it measurable)?

It seems to me that most small business owners these days are blogging either because they're "supposed to" or because they honestly want to share something of themselves with their potential customers. In my experience, blogging does increase traffic (if you're aware of Google and SEO this is probably something you've thought about) and it can make you feel good as a business owner because you often get positive feedback about your posts. BUT... what is all of this effort getting you?

When I worked in non-profit fundraising, the idea of "dating" was thrown around a lot. Like, all. of. the. time. Getting people to sign on to your idea and then open their wallets is like some kind of mating ritual. The way I see it, small business ownership is the same way. Let me break it down:

-First, you have to make sure you're worthy of dating. Make yourself look good. Spray on some perfume. Pack on the make-up. Whatever you do. Look pretty. It's about quality really (i.e. does your website look good and is it easy to navigate?)

-Then, there's some flirting involved. I think this is kind of like advertising. You have to get some attention and get them to at least make eye contact and intrigue them somehow. Buy some ad space, put up fliers, get yourself out there!

-Next, they click on the link - you've got a date! Now you have to be charming. I feel like this is where blogging comes in. You've done all of this work just to get them to spend some time with you... what normally happens on a date? You discuss things - hobbies, interests, places you've traveled... mostly a bunch of random bits that are funny and cute, but really only hint at who you truly are. Just like your blog posts. You want to keep them coming back for more.

-But here's where things get sticky. At some point, you're going to have to tell this person what you need and why you're here with them. Whatever that is, you've got to figure out a way to get your point across. Most likely with your business, you want these readers to buy something from you, to hand over the dough. It's the only way the relationship can continue! If not, they can still be friends but we both know that will never work. They'll check your blog posts for a while but will eventually fall out of touch.

So, you've got the charming stuff going for you, I assume. The blog is going well, but do you have goals in place? Do you even know what you want out of this relationship? You should probably figure that out and then find a way to work it into the conversation or else you might be just wasting your time.

2. Do you recognize the distinction between community and customers in your internet world?

I have to admit, I've avoided the craft community for a long time. It's not that I don't like crafty people because I really do - they are incredibly interesting - but I grew up in a crafty househould. On weekends, we went to craft fairs and walked around gathering ideas of things to make at home. We were big DIY'ers. When I started Queen B Quilts and wanted to spread the word, I decided to do a couple of craft fairs and do you know what happened? Crafty ladies would come to my table, ask me how I make my quilts and then say "thanks!" and walk away. I know they were just going to take that info home with them and do it themselves - meanwhile, it cost me $50 and day of sitting in one place to leave with no sales.

In fact, I've been fascinated by handmade businesses for a long time. How do they survive? Who is buying this stuff? It always seems to me that they are just marketing to other crafty people who are probably just taking the idea and not buying a darn thing.

Now, I'm completely ignoring the many many benefits of being involved in a craft community, but that's beside the point. If you're marketing to people who know how to make your product, you need a better marketing plan [or maybe a new product - I'll get to that another time]. Who are your customers? Where do they hang out? What do they do on the weekend? How old are they? Do they shop online? Do they even read blogs?!?!

This is probably the most important thing you need to identify in your business plan (whether it's written down or in your head), who is buying what you're selling? Figure that out and go find them. Your product or service should be solving a problem that your customer has. Diane said tonight that she looks for "no brainer" moments, where your customer doesn't even need to think before saying "oh yeah - I'll pay for that!" What is it that you're offering that might make someone immediately pull out their credit card?

I think the key idea here is to have a clear and compelling idea and then find the people who could really use it. [side note: this could be one of those "chicken or the egg" scenarios... may need to discuss this again later] And remember that the free content you're giving out is only creating a pleasing atmosphere for your customers. It most likely isn't going to drive your sales, but it's definitely not hurting them either.

It's a complicated world out there. Hold fast!


  1. Thanks for this nice sum-up of the points from last night. I appreciate your thoughtful take on this, and oh my, what a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. I feel extremely lucky to be making a decent living (so far) at my craft and I feel I need to be asking more of these questions. Maybe asking the right questions will automatically lead to more right behavior, bypassing the left brain altogether? I do hope. Thanks again.

  2. So many good things in this post, I don't even know where to begin!

    I love the "dating"analogy. I think you're absolutely right, that the blog really is the date itself and not necessarily the first contact. And I think you're right that free online content may not directly drive sales, but doesn't necessarily hurt them either.

    Free online content, speaking super generally, is either a mode of personal expression or a marketing technique. I think it's possible to use online tools in a way that meets both criteria at the same time, but that doesn't happen unless we have a clear idea of, like you said, what we want from the attention we're getting. (And, it doesn't happen unless we ask for the audience participation we want.)

    Your experience as a quilter at craft fairs is really interesting. I'd love to hear more about how you went about identifying who your actual customers are, and then locating those people.

    Thank you so much for coming last night, and for this very thoughtful recap!