How to understand your market
What have you got to sell? Are there customers waiting to buy? Have you checked the demand? Here are some easy ways you can answer these questions, and engage with your market.
You will also need to address the need for constant innovation. A business without a stream of new products isn't really a viable business. You will need to regularly test out which of your new ideas will find a ready market, and which will not.
1. Research your competitors
Check out what your fellow creatives are doing. Not just what they are making, but how and where they are selling, and at what price.
Quietly gather information. Visit the places they sell from, visit their website, and ask for brochures, catalogues and price lists. Join their mailing lists, and subscribe to their blogs, newsletters, Facebook pages and twitter streams.
This is not an underhand activity. It’s a commercial necessity and most companies do it. Some on an ad hoc basis, and some as a deliberate part of their marketing plan.
What are your fellow creatives are making, how and where they are selling, and at what price?
This is definitely not about copying what they do. It’s about gathering intelligence to use in your own unique way. And through doing this, you learn what tactics other creative people are using to survive and prosper.
2. Get feedback on your work
Get out there and get some feedback on your work. Test the market, so that you have a chance to adjust things before committing to spending money on marketing or larger production runs.
It’s a fatal error to create a product or service in the hope that it will earn you money if there is no demand for it. And I fully appreciate that there will be many things you do in your creative career simply for the joy of it. It’s about not confusing the two things.
Surveys are a really easy way to get answers to the crucial questions you need to ask. You can survey people face to face (often best), by email, on the telephone, or on your website or blog.
If you have a database of existing customers or an email newsletter set up on Mail Chimp or Constant Contact, you can use a facility called Survey Monkey to set up and send out your questions and gather the data. Survey Monkey will even analyse the data for you automatically.
3. Show your work to customers
Before you start selling something new, show it to both existing and new customers. See what they think, ask if they think it’s up to scratch and if the price is right.
This is much better than meeting an awkward silence if you try to sell it to them and they don’t like it as much as other things that you make or do. If it’s easier, send out a few examples of your work then ring to get some feedback.
4. Sell through retailers and galleries
Don’t just turn up on someone’s doorstep and ask them if they will sell your work. Good market research is the first step in establishing relationships with new outlets for your work. It’ll help you get more sales in the end.
Don’t just turn up on someone’s doorstep and ask them if they will sell your work. Use good market research.
One really effective way to get some feedback is to visit shops and galleries simply to ask a) if your product would sell there and b) whether your estimate of the selling price is close to the mark.
This helps build a relationship. It also makes any eventual sale easier, because it has started with a process of exploration rather than a direct sales proposition. Don’t forget that people are busy, so call ahead to make an appointment.
5. Research online
Those of you who use online sales sites like Etsy will know this. If you register for Etsy you can quite easily see what products are selling and at what price.
You can also see how many sales individual crafts people have made over what timescale and within what price range. It makes for a fascinating hour or so of research.
It’s a really accurate way of getting real time information about the marketplace. The Etsy blog is packed full of useful information – it’s in their interests to help you sell more.
There are many other online forums focussed on other artforms. Many have threads running on a number of topics around sales and marketing as well as the creative side of things. Just take a little time to find the ones that match up with what you do.
6. Check your findings – and proceed
Once you have done all or some of the above, you will have a really clear idea of where your product sits in the marketplace and who is likely to buy.
You’ll have avoided cold-selling a brand new product. And you may well have identified useful improvements or variations – and maybe a few gaps in the market you hadn’t thought of already.