by Jess Van Den
Founder of Create & Thrive & the Thriver Circle and self-employed silversmith working under the Epheriell label.

We live in the best time that’s ever existed for creatives. The internet has given us all the ability to make our work visible, and allows us to connect with the people who will value – and buy – what we create.

But before you just throw your work up online for people to buy, there is some important work to do. Here are 6 vital steps you need to take before you’re ready to open an online store.

1. Decide what, exactly, you’re going to sell, and who you’re selling to.

If you are in the beginning stages of your creative career, you are likely to be in the ‘discovery’ phase. You’re still working out your style – still trying to decide what your creative work will look like.

To build a following and sell your work, it’s essential that you become known for something. You want to be the "person who does ….." and you want people to remember your work because it stands out in some way. This is your "micro-niche". We’ve all heard of "finding your niche" – but you can get even more specific. I’ll give you an example using my own work.

I make minimalist, modern Sterling silver jewellery under the Epheriell label. That’s a niche, for sure. But I have a micro-niche inside of that and it’s that I specialize in oxidized sterling silver wedding rings. You can see how the micro-niche is something incredibly specific, and it is something I’m known for. Some of my work does not fit that micro-niche, BUT the items that do, have been responsible for most of the features and a majority of my sales over the last decade.

Once you know what your micro-niche is – you’ll be able to more clearly communicate this to your ideal customer – that person who will fall in love with your work and become a fan.


2. Decide where you are going to sell

There are so many website providers and online venues that it can be overwhelming to decide where to sell. There is no one size fits all. You should have your own website and your own domain name to keep things looking professional.

You may also decide to make your work available via industry-specific venue sites in order to take advantage of the traffic already coming in to those sites. Is there a dominant online sales platform in your niche that customers flock to? Try to get your work there!

In the beginning, you might like to make your work available across many different sales venues in order to increase your visibility – but over time, don’t hesitate to narrow that down a bit as business picks up.

3. Work on your photography

Once you decide to run a creative business (especially a product-based business) you really need to be thinking about your photography. Photography is super important in order to attract your ideal customers. In fact, it’s probably the number 1 thing that will impact whether your work gains notice – and customers – or doesn’t.

Look to other successful creatives in your niche. Study their photography. What makes it "pop"? Learn from what they’ve done, and use that as inspiration for your own photography style. Ideally, your photography should reflect and reinforce your overall aesthetic. For example, if you create minimalist clothing, your photography style, the styling of your models, etc. would generally be reflective of your clothing. If you create boldly-patterned, bright clothing, your photography backgrounds and styling would compliment that.

It should certainly be crisp, clear, well-edited, and focussed. And by focussed, I don’t just mean the focal point of the camera – I mean that the creative work is the star of the photograph.

There are endless resources online that can teach you how to take excellent photos. You may also like to ask your photographer friends for tips and help. And yes – you can take excellent photos with your smartphone! Just make sure to edit them afterwards (which you can also do with your smartphone).

4. Brainstorm your keywords

If you want people to find your work, you have to use the right words when you share it. A lot of creatives make the mistake of using "artistic" words when sharing their work online. For example – say you’ve created a dark, moody watercolor painting that looks like a reflection of a city in a puddle. When you list the painting for sale online, you do want to include the name of the painting – but you also want to make sure that you describe the painting as clearly as possible because you want to make it easy for someone who wants that exact painting to find yours!

A keyword is a word or phrase that people will put into a search bar to find something. When thinking of keywords you need to put yourself in the mind of the customer. Literally ask yourself "what would I type into Google to find this painting"?

If you look back at the example, you’ll see some obvious keywords jump right out at you like "dark", "moody", "puddle", "city".  When it comes to selling online, the title of your product and the first few lines of the description are the most important places to have keywords. If you’re selling on a venue site, they might also allow you to specifically add keywords – so you’ll want to make sure to do this.

5. Think about shipping

It’s so important that you don’t neglect to work out the shipping costs of your item, and ensure it’s covered. Especially if you create large or heavy items, messing up your shipping costs is an easy way to lose a lot of money on a sale.

Ask yourself – will you be shipping domestic, international or both? What shipping carrier will you use? How will you package your piece? How much will this packaging cost you per sale? All of these questions – and more –need to be answered and the costs calculated to ensure you’re getting paid for the shipping costs of your item.

However, if you do make a mistake (lord knows I did this in the beginning more that once) never ask your customer to cover the extra cost – it was your mistake, so you need to cover the cost. It will be a very valuable lesson to ensure you get it right the next time.

6. You need policies

Wherever you sell online, you need to have a comprehensive policy section on your site. Yes, yes – writing policies is NOT fun. But it IS a vital step in protecting both you and your customers. A lot of potential issues with your customers can be side-stepped through the judicious use of policies.

A well-planned policy preempts a lot of issues, and makes sure everything is spelled out clearly to your customer prior to purchase. It also keeps everything fair and transparent, and makes sure you can’t be accused of making up one set of rules for one customer, and another for others. It’s as much about your protection and peace of mind as it is about informing and protecting your customers.

One last thing: your policy document isn’t "set and forget" – it should evolve with time as you learn what specific issues arise from the sale and use of your particular product. But it’s best to think about it and try to make it as comprehensive as possible from the beginning.

If you’re not sure what you need to have in your policies, the best thing to do is to read the policies of established businesses in your niche to get a good idea of what you should cover.