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Simple Steps to Increase Your Sales

Do any of these apply to you?

  • You love making your soap, you love the creating part but, truth be told, you would rather not have to deal with the rest of the things necessary to run a business so you haven't done everything you could do to advertise your products.
  • You are new to running a business and really don't know what to do to get your products known about so they will be sold.
  • You did fine for a long time. Word-of-mouth, some farmers markets and a few other basic things were enough to bring in sufficient business to keep you comfortable and busy. But the drop in the US economy made a big difference in how much you sell and you're not really sure what to do about it.
  • You would just like to make more money.

What do you do? What's the answer?

When looking at a subject, it's a good idea to make sure you really understand the key words of that subject. Let's look at some definitions: (These are from the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary.)

1 a) the act of processing, selling or purchasing in a market; b) the process or technique of promoting, selling and distributing a product or service.

I bet you're pretty good at the processing, selling and distributing part but you probably need to improve the promoting part. So let's look at promoting:

(Looking just at the definitions that apply specifically to marketing.) 2 a) to contribute to the growth or prosperity of; b) to help bring (as an enterprise) into being; c) to present (merchandise) for buyer acceptance through advertising, publicity or discounting.

Let's take apart the definitions of "promoting". If you have a business at all, you are doing definition 2a to some degree and you've clearly done definition 2b because your business exists. But definition 2a is too general. How do you contribute to the growth or prosperity of something? What's the drill? What do you do? Definition 2c is more specific. Now we're getting somewhere.

You present your soap to the buyer. You let them know it exists through advertising; you increase their desire (acceptance) of it by informing them of the benefits of your products, announcing new products, giving special deals or offering discounts. Of course, to be able to do any of these things, the customer has to already know you and your products exist. So how do you get their attention in order to increase their desire for your products?

More sales!

Perhaps that's where advertising comes in. So what's advertising?

1) the action of calling something to the attention of the public especially through paid announcements.

Ah, that's advertising! (I ignored definitions #2 and #3 in the dictionary because they have to do with magazines. We all know that you can advertise in magazines but that's usually really expensive and not so easy for a small business to do. )

Yes, it does also say "through paid announcements" and yes, paid announcements probably do the best job of "calling something to the attention of the public" but does that mean if you do something that isn't paid, or if you didn't pay very much, it's not advertising or promoting or marketing?

Is there a simple formula or description?

Yes, there is. If you understand a subject, you can usually bring it down to an essentially simple concept.

Before I say it though, I want to get something out of the way. The most basic thing you need in business is an excellent product that is sold honestly. I know you all do that, but the subject of marketing/promoting/advertising has a bit of a bad name because of people running companies, large or small, that sold products that really weren't excellent and who weren't honest about the cost, follow up or tech support.

Please understand that the actions of those few do not make promotion bad. If your product is wonderful (and I'm sure it is), you sell it for a fair price and you are honest with your customers, why shouldn't you shout it from the rooftops! That's just it. You can and you should! Back to that simple concept I was talking about. Can you bring this whole thing about marketing and promoting and advertising down to one simple phrase? I think so. And this is it:

You must get your company name and a description of your product and your contact info in front of as many eyes as possible as often as possible.

Simple, huh? And, sort of like soapmaking, it can be as simple or as complex or as fancy as you want to make it.

This brings us to another of those simple concepts: Your public, the people you sell to, can be broken down into four types:

  1. The ones who have purchased from you.
  2. The ones who know about your products and have not yet purchased but have some interest.
  3. The ones who don't know about you yet.
  4. The ones that know about you but aren't going to buy anything, ever.

You can take the first two and put them together. For this purpose, you can assume those people who haven't purchased yet will purchase sometime. They just need to be reminded. You can ignore the 4th type—no need to waste any time and effort on them.

That gives us two types: the buyers (current and potential) and the ones who don't know about you yet.

The Buyers

Look through everything you do. Do you make it easy for your customers to find your product or your company again after they've purchased one of your products? Do you regularly remind your customers, and those who have shown interest in being customers, about your good products and how to get them from you?

You may think it's easy to find you, that your company's name is very memorable and your products are so incredible that your past customers will definitely come back to you. Sure, you think that because you created this business and these products and all of that is really important to you. But let me clue you in on something:

You cannot expect a customer to keep your contact info or even remember your company name.

I have some handcrafted soap in my possession right now that is beautifully made. The label says what it's made of but doesn't tell me how to get more.

When I mentioned to a friend that I was writing this article, she told me about some wonderful soap she received as a gift. She loved it and wanted more but the label contained no contact info. And she wasn't in touch with the person who gave her the gift so she couldn't ask where to get more. The next example isn't from the soap world but it well illustrates the point I'm making. An acquaintance ran his own electrician company. He completely rewired a large house. It was a big and expensive job. The homeowners loved him and loved his work and even had a little wine/cheese celebration at the end to thank him for the well-done job. I'm sure he thought they would remember him and his company name forever. Did they?

About a year later, the electrician and his wife were walking through a local store when they came across those homeowners. The homeowners said, "Oh yeah, you! Some friends of ours needed some electrical work done but we couldn't remember your company name and we lost your phone number." Imagine if that electrician had retained the names and addresses of everyone who had ever purchased from him and then sent them occasional promotional mailings to remind them of his good works and how to reach him. He didn't do that.

Hmmm. Perhaps that's why he is no longer in business?

Retaining Customers

So this subject of retaining customers, getting them to purchase from you again (and refer others to you), can be broken down into two easy concepts.

  1. Make it easy for them to find you.
  2. Remind them about your wonderful products.

There are quite a few simple things you can do to make it easier for your customers to find you and remind them of your wonderful products!

  • Put your company name, a simple line about your products and your contact info on every piece of paper a customer might see and on every email you send out.
  • Put your company name and contact info on the label of every product you sell. [Editor's note: It is required by law that you put your name and street address on every product sold.]
  • If you have a website, make sure your contact info is in a prominent place where it can be easily found.
  • Have business cards or fliers telling about your company and your products sitting on your table at every show or fair you do. It can be a four-color brochure or just a copied sheet with the pertinent information, just so long as it's something they can hold in their hands and take home to help them remember you. [Note: The beautifully designed Why Handcrafted Soap? brochures for HSCG Members are a great way to do this. You can print your contact info on a small label that you attach to the back. But don't think you have to have those pre-printed brochures or something equally well-made to hand out at your table. A piece of colored paper with black ink that simply says what you make/sell and how to reach you will also work.]
  • How about putting a pad of paper on your table asking for the customer's contact info (email and regular mail) so you can tell them about future discounts, specials and new products?
  • Carry business cards, with your contact information and brief info on your products, in your pocket or purse so you can give one out whenever you have a conversation with anyone about soap or your company.
  • Remember to put the Guild logo (for members only) on all your materials as well.

But notice, all of the things in the section above are sort of passive. You put the contact info out there and hope that the customer or potential customer sees it and holds on to it. That's important but isn't there something you can do that is a little more active?

Yes. They are called promotional mailings.

Promotional Mailings

Remember the definition of promotion in the beginning of this article? Promotional mailings are where you present your beautiful products to those who have purchased, or have interest, over and over to remind them of your products and how to get them.

Remember the part about offering discounts in the definition of promoting? This is where you do it. This is where you create buyer acceptance (that means they want to buy from you) through offering discounts or some kind of special deal or new products.

Remember the line above about shouting from the rooftops? This is where you do it. Like the brochures/fliers at your table, promotional mailings can be simple with one color of ink or really well designed full-color pieces; they can be sent by email or postal mail. And here's another one of those really important things that you should remember:

"The number of times you mail and the number of people you mail to are way, way, way more important than the quality of the mailing piece."

As you can afford it, make it better, make it prettier, make it look more professional but don't wait until you can do the full-color glossy piece or have professional photographs before you mail.

One of my most successful mailers is a roofing company here in Portland, Oregon. They mail out a simple yellow card, just 4 inches by 6 inches in size, with black ink and a simple message that says something like "Beat the Rush, Roof Early This Summer", including their company name and contact info. And they get results — new customers (from referrals) or returning customers — every time they mail.

I get referrals — new customers — every time I mail a letter or postcard to my customer list so I know this works.

Promotion Creates Sales

Building Your Mailing List

The number one, most valuable thing you have is the list of people who have purchased from you or have expressed interest in your product.

How do you get a mailing list of regular mail and email addresses?

Every time you can obtain an address (email or postal) from a customer or potential customer, make absolutely sure it is retained and put on your mailing or emailing list.

Remember the mention earlier of the pad of paper on your table asking for the customer's contact info so you can tell them about future products, discounts and specials? This is why you need to do it. At a show or fair, you usually don't get the person's contact info when they buy so this pad is essential.

Paper Mailings

Regular paper mail is still the most effective form of promotion. It costs more (but usually less than magazine advertising) and it gives the person who receives it something to hold in her hand, something to put in a file, something to stick on the refrigerator with a magnet.

What about killing trees?

But wait! We're people who care about the environment. Making paper kills trees, doesn't it? That's what "everybody" says. Won't my paper mailings be called "junk mail" or make my customers mad? Here are some things to know:

  • All trees used to make paper are farmed. Using paper is no different than using cotton which is also farmed. You wear cotton clothing, don't you? You don't have to feel bad about using paper.
  • "Junk mail" is unwanted mail. These people somehow came to you — to your table or your website or they purchased from you. That means your mail is not unwanted. Your mail is not junk mail.

You can do paper mailings yourself by sending postcards (4"x6") at First Class postcard rate (35¢ in 2019). You can print postcards on your own computer or get nice, glossy, 4-color postcards printed online at a very reasonable price. [Note: Check UPrinting or Vista Print for possibilities.] If you're mailing a small quantity, you can mail some every week as your budget allows.

Alternatively, you can use a mailing house to do mailings for you. Mailing houses know a lot about how to get things printed and they do the work for you. Often they can get the postage prices down, depending on the mailing list, mailing piece and number of pieces mailed.

Really important side note: When you mail to your customer list, make sure that the words "Return Service Requested" are put on the mailing piece under the return address. If the person has moved or is no longer there, the new address (or the fact that he/she is no longer there) will be sent to you by USPS.

The ability to get address changes is one of the big reasons that sending paper mail is important — it helps you retain your customers' addresses.

Email Mailings

Email is much cheaper than sending paper mail. It pretty much just costs the time of the person who maintains the email list and the time of the person who creates the email that you send out. But is it as effective as paper mail? Rarely. Email is much more transient. It's electronic, easily deleted and most people don't print or save promotional emails they receive. And, very important, when a customer changes their email all you get is a "bounced email" notice and you lose that person from your list because you can't reach them any more.

If/When you send emailing mailings, make it clear that the email is from you and that you are sending information they requested (so it's not spam). Be considerate—don't include large photos that can clog up someone's email box, and make sure not to disclose all the email addresses you are sending to (use bcc, not cc!). Some internet service providers limit the number of emails you can send at one time, so check before you send a lot of email from you home computer.

Make sure that you follow all the regulations for allowing people to unsubscribe and take them off your list when they request.

There are several good programs or services for maintaining email lists and sending email. They are familiar with the protocols for sending "bulk email" and are set up to send the email in a way that will help it get through spam filters. [Check out eCampaign program, Constant Contact, iContact and MailChimp.]

In addition to straight email, you can also use social media to send email-type updates to your customers. But that's another topic, and not something I can cover in full here.

The Best Mailing Plan

What should you do? In an ideal world, you should do all of it. Send email mailings and do regular postal mailings.

How often should I mail?

The answer is simple: as often as you can!

For email, you can send as often as you have something to say. Many email marketers suggest setting a schedule (say every Monday or on certain days of the month) and sticking to that so your customers come to expect it.

For postal mail, you should mail to your entire list at least quarterly. If you mail quarterly, you should receive all updated addresses from USPS as they occur. You could do it as one big mailing (and possibly get a better postage rate through a mailing house or by sending bulk mail yourself), or you could send a little bit every week as your budget allows.

Keep track of everything that you send (email and postal) and track the results. Generally, provided you are sending effective mail and it's actually arriving, you should expect to see sales increase 1-6 weeks after your promotional materials hit. If one particular mailing piece gets you lots of sales, then send it out to everyone you can!

The Ones Who Don't Know About You Yet

This is a shorter section but is actually a much bigger subject. This is where you need to get more creative and what you can do is certainly dependant on your available advertising budget. (A little side note: Make sure you have an advertising budget!)

How do you reach those who don't know about you yet?

  • One of the important ways you reach new public is at those fairs and shows that you do. Remember the comment earlier about putting a flier or brochure on your table for people to take away with them? One new person takes a brochure about your products. That puts him/her now in the category of those who know about you but haven't purchased yet. You don't know how many potential customers will see that brochure.
  • On that same table, you have the pad asking for their contact info. A person who is "just looking" today is just as likely to write down their contact info (and often do) as one who buys that day.
  • There are multiple other places where you can get the word out about your company. My neighborhood association newsletter has a place where it lists local businesses. Some restaurants have places where they post business cards of local businesses. You can advertise in small local magazines and newspapers all the way up to those with national distribution.
  • There are many types of paper mailings that you can do that will get you new customers. A mailing house will know about these. You can buy mailing lists of various types and send out mailings to them. (Everyone needs soap, don't they?)

Word of Mouth Advertising

I saved this for last because it's the most important.

Word of Mouth Advertising is The Number One most effective way to get new business.

How do you get Word of Mouth Advertising?

From those customers who love your products.

How do you get them to talk about your products?

By having really great products. I know you do. Everyone is happy to talk about things they love.

How do you remind them to talk about your products and where you are?

You do it by mailing to them to remind them of you and to give them something to hand to someone else.

And you do it by:

Getting your company name and a description of your product(s) and your contact info in front of as many eyes as possible, as often as possible.

Handcrafted soap is a wonderful, high-quality product and who doesn't need soap? So get out there and keep yourself, your business and your products in front of your customers and potential customers. Send email and regular mail as often as you can. Maintain your list of customers and keep it current.

Remember, those customers and potential customers were interested in your products. They'll need soap sometime, so make sure when they do, they get it from you!


(Originally published in June, 2010 Soap Guild Journal.)

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