Today we are hearing from Melhi and taking a look at her businesses:http://www.cafepress.com/melhi?pid=4370506
1. What drew you to opening an online store? Were you in a related field?
It's something people have been telling me I should be doing since I was a teen. It wasn't until I met my current husband and he insisted so enthusiastically and adamantly that I was missing my calling, that I started looking into it with any seriousness at all. Online friends started recommending that I should sign up with CafePress, when CP first arrived on the scene, and as I would look into starting a large scale slogan-ware business of my own, off and on over the years, I always kept coming back to CafePress as an attractive and infinitely more affordable alternative. So, it took me a LONG time to decide to do this and exactly how I wanted to do it.
Was I in a related field? Sort of, but not really. I was successfully self-employed in real estate speculation, construction, CFD property reselling & land lording when I first started taking the suggestion seriously. I was also selling rhyming poetry on the side and volunteering as the advertising & PR person for a local charity. Later, I worked in many capacities at a local radio station, including advertising director, copywriter, producer, on air personality and co-programming director. Plus, I'm a political junkie who's been (mostly anonymously) slipping motivational social, economic and political commentary, humor, jokes, slogans, song parodies, very badly drawn cartoons, etc. into mainstream circulation (mostly spread via copy machines back in the olden days!) for the last couple of decades or so.
A couple of months into 2005, I sketched out a peace ribbon design I'd been picturing in my mind since the ribbon magnet craze had started. As soon as I showed the rough sketch to my husband and described what I had in mind for them, he insisted that it was something I should have been marketing since it first formed in my mind. To prove it, he showed the rough sketch to a couple of friends -- one wanted to know how soon he'd be able to buy it on anything and was later my first customer. I had only worked with creating low res web graphics, previously, so I had to upgrade all of my graphics software and learn to use it, before I could work on the design, itself. I'm not an artist, so I spent several months working on the high res version of the symbol, before I was comfortable opening a store to start marketing them.
2. When did you open your store?
Mid November 2005
3. What is harder about doing this than you thought it would be?
Carving out enough time to work on any aspect of it is definitely the hardest part, by far! I knew I was never going to have as much time to devote to the store and its related blog as I wanted or needed and I knew I'd picked a particularly busy stretch of my life to start this, but I had no idea JUST how desperate I'd become for more time!! I joke to my husband that even if I had all the time in the world, I'd still be overbooked!
4. What do you like best about being an online shopkeeper?
I like that there's no heavy lifting involved!! Seriously, compared to having a brick and mortar boutique, I like that I can work it around my busy life. It never takes time away from my family or my activism. If I don't have time to work on my store, today, I don't have to put up a "closed" sign and lose the business I would have had. Instead, my store is open 24/7 and the potential "foot traffic" is so much greater for a small online shops than if I'd opened a boutique in my little town. This being an election year, I'm especially busy and I'm seriously considering a bid for public office, so if I did have a small real-world boutique, I would be weighing whether to close my shop, altogether, at least until after the November elections. Instead, I can keep it open and work on it at odd hours, catch as catch can.
5. During the very first month, what do you wish you had known then that you do now?
I wish I had known that when we tag our graphics on CafePress, those tags don't double as Meta tags for the products that have those designs. I'm still rewriting descriptions, whenever I get a chance, to include important keywords that I thought I'd already covered with those tags. The time I've spent on that is time I would rather have been spending on store promotion, blogging or creating new designs.
6. Could you share some of the marketing you've tried so far (on or off line) and what has worked and what hasn't?
I've been too strapped for time to really work at promoting the store in any of the bigger ways I'd like to, yet.
Mostly, I've been marketing my store in conjunction with marketing my political blog of the same name. As I build a reputation, unsolicited links to and a regular audience for the blog, I'm also increasing awareness of the store. I placed banners and text links on my already established site & forum, as well.
I'm about to start a mirror/extension of my blog on an internationally famous political pundit's website, where, hopefully, I'll soon also be hosting a forum on issues related to the economy. I didn't join that forum to promote my blog or my store, but I'll get a lot more name exposure there and I do mention the store in my profile.
I have just signed on for a run of opt-in e-mail ads promoting the store. I'm not expecting much out of it. Mostly, I'm just curious to see if it will result in any new traffic or conversions.
I'm about to start printing up vinyl magnets in various sizes for display on my vehicles -- these will feature my peace ribbons and the URL to my store. I plan to begin displaying these during the summer as the election season is just starting to heat up. I'll be involved with a few fall events, so I may also do a print run of these in a business card size to give out for free. Assuming the store is doing well enough by the time we're heading into the 2008 Presidential election and assuming the ad rates are still as affordable as they are now, I'd like to purchase some premium advertising space on a couple of the bigger, well known liberal blogs.
What's working best for me? The CafePress marketplace is actually turning out to be a very valuable part of their service -- I've made as many sales through the marketplace, at this point, as I've made any other way! Search engine referrals have been growing, gradually and have just barely started to convert for me -- with the amount of thought, time and energy that goes into SEO, I'm very hopeful that this is just the beginning of an upward trend!
What hasn't worked? As far as I can tell, I don't think including my store's URL in my e-mail sig has converted to a single sale, yet. The first banners I made to display on my sites were amateurish & dull and didn't result in any clickthroughs at all -- I made new banners and that changed, immediately. I also get a few referrals from affiliate links, but no conversions from them, yet.
7. What other sites, blogs, etc. do you have if any?
Primarily, I have...
Monkees 101 - http://www.monkees101.com
The Monkees Mailing List - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/monkees-list
Melhi Ink blog - http://melhi.blogspot.com,
Melhi 101 (my derelict ego site) - http://www.anycities.com/melhi
While I won't own it, I'll begin co-webmastering the official site for my county's Democrat party, later this week and, as I mentioned, above, the "Melhi Ink II" blog is coming soon.
Labels: CafePress, online store, online storeowners