EveryPlaceISell Merchant Profile: 3Fine Design
By Ina Steiner
Tracy Behrends designs and sells contemporary handcrafted jewelry from a studio in her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She sells on three marketplace sites: Artfire, Zibbet and eCrater, and uses her own website 3FineDesign.com to host her online portfolio and as a way for people to find her. "A lot of customers like to know that you have your own website - it's a terrific business tool," Tracy says.
Designing and managing her own website has been a positive learning experience, and Tracy recommends other sellers do the same.
She also believes that shoppers can get to know artisans by reading their blogs when visiting their studios, which can increase sales. "The written content within our blogs helps to put a face and personality behind our products."
It's not easy standing out among all of the handcrafted jewelry on the Internet, and Tracy reveals some techniques she has used to carve out her own niche.
What is your first and last name?
What is the name of your business?
When did you start selling online and why?
I started selling online in 2005. I wanted to be able to work from home and market my product globally. The internet is an extremely handy tool that allows me the opportunity to market my product to the world from my home studio. I have thoroughly enjoyed setting up all my online stores and designing / managing my own website.
What was your background?
I graduated from college with a BA in International Relations, studied Graphic Design for a year, worked for a major American airline for 5 years, traveled and even lived overseas in Jerusalem Israel for a year.
What do you primarily sell and why?
I sell contemporary handcrafted jewelry - mainly beadwork, wire sculpture and leathercraft items. I enjoy the fact that jewelry is a very personal business (particularly my custom work). The items are small and detailed, can be loved and appreciated for years, worn by those who purchase my pieces or given to a loved one for a special occasion. I'm a very detail oriented person and thoroughly enjoy creating something that someone will enjoy wearing, giving to another or passing down for generations.
What are the unique challenges you face with the types of items you sell?
Handcrafted jewelry is an extremely saturated market online and offline. There is literally an ocean of handcrafted jewelry out there. This can cause several challenges such as getting enough visibility (particularly online) and finding the perfect venues to sell my pieces that are well suited for design style and target market. I've had to really ponder who my target market is and where I'm going with my business. I find that it's a challenging and educational process as I learn, grow and change. It's very important for me to find /carve my own little niche, stay focused and produce unique items that will be enjoyed and appreciated by others. It's a constant growth process that yields several challenges along the way.
On which marketplaces and venues do you sell?
I'm currently selling on ArtFire, Zibbet and Ecrater.
What are the pros and cons of each marketplace and venue?
ArtFire: (Pros) Terrific and responsive staff / customer service, great SEO, customizable studios, fantastic and helpful community / forums, great selling tools, very fair monthly fees for Pro accounts, simple order process and fast upload speed. (Cons) I honestly can't think of any.
Zibbet: (Pros) Fantastic and responsive staff, helpful community, clean look and design, beautiful Premium studios (customizable), reasonable monthly fees, easy signup, simple checkout and listing capabilities. (Cons) Sometimes the site (loading) can be a bit slow and the internal search needs to be optimized. Both of these issues are currently being addressed and worked on. They only take PayPal.
Ecrater: (Pros) Clean design, helpful community / forums, great customer service, its FREE, clean looking listings, SEO is good, simple order process and easy checkout. (Cons) I wish the feedback system was different and the international shipping allowed for flat rates to all countries rather than having to set up a shipping matrix.
When considering all the places you sell, which channels are most profitable?
So far, ArtFire has been the most profitable for me.
How does your revenue break out by channel (what percentage of sales come from each channel)?
ArtFire: 60% Ecrater: 35% Zibbet: 5%
Which payment methods do you accept?
For my online stores I accept the following (each venue will differ): PayPal, Google Checkout, Amazon Payments and Revolution Money Exchange
What are the pros and cons of each payment method?
Paypal: (Pros) Handy, well known, great invoicing capabilities, easy to use, accepted by most venues. (Cons) Sometimes there can be hiccups with PayPal at checkout. It doesn't happen very often but it's worth mentioning.
Google Checkout: (Pros) My favorite payment method! Simple invoicing, automatic transfer of funds to bank account, very neat and organized order and transaction area, can automatically generate shipping and tracking info to customers, well-known, reputable, easy, easy, easy. (Cons) Can't think of anything.
Amazon Payments: Simple, easy to use. Reputable. Great customer protection policies that encourage people to buy (people feel safe using them). (Cons) No automated message capabilities (shipping and tracking) like Google Checkout. No customer information (address etc.) given in the transaction area (to double check against any info you may have received from the selling venue). Bare bones info. No bells and whistles.
Background (URL, when launched)
My Website URL: 3finedesign.com Launched 2007 I had a website before that under a different business name (launched around 2005-2006). I changed my business name to 3Fine Design(R).
What was the impetus for starting your own website?
I wanted to design my own website and use it mostly as a place for people to find me and have as a handy, convenient online portfolio. A lot of customers like to know that you have your own website - it's a terrific business tool. Designing, creating and managing my own website has not only been a terrific investment but a wonderful and challenging learning experience. I highly recommend it to all.
If you hired any companies to set up your website and/or design your logo/branding, how did you find them?
I did it all myself.
What software/service powers your website, and would you recommend it to others? Why or why not?
My website domain is hosted by Register.com and I pay to use their do-it-yourself website software. It's fairly easy to use and I've had good success with it. However, there are a lot of services out there and I highly recommend that people who are interested in starting their own website shop around for the best prices and company to suit their particular business needs.
Does it have a checkout system, is so, what do you use, and what do you like/dislike about it?
I don't have a checkout setup on my website. However, Register.com does offer one (it's a bit more expensive than what I have now to have checkout). However, I use my website as a launch pad and link to my outside selling venues so customers can find my products and purchase.
What did you pay to set it up, and what are the monthly costs of running it?
I don't have a shopping cart but it costs about $150.00 or so a year at Register.com for my Do-It-Yourself setup.
How difficult was it to set up?
Not too bad. When you're doing it yourself it's always a time consuming process, but the software itself is pretty easy to use.
Does it have analytics, reporting?
I have Google Analytics set up on my website and it works great.
What features do you wish it had?
Can't think of any right off hand.
What are the challenges you faced in starting your own website?
You have to have patience and not expect that everything is going to fall together overnight. I put a lot of thought, detail and design work into my site to make it unique, cohesive and reflect my personal design style. In addition, it was very important to me to research my business name and get my trademark registered before jumping into purchasing a domain and setting up my website. I wanted to make sure that there wouldn't be any hassles or conflicts down the road with my trademark or domain name.
What would you do differently if you were setting up a website today?
Maybe shop around a bit more for the best price / company / software / host.
How do you control inventory as a multi-channel seller? In other words, if you have the same item listed on multiple channels, and it sells, how do you make sure you take it down from the other channels?
Whenever something sells, I take it down from the other channels IMMEDIATELY. I check my online stores and business email OFTEN to make sure that I'm on top of things all the time. I'm not a procrastinator and don't let anything slide in that regard. I feel that's very important if you want to run an efficient and customer service oriented business.
How did you create the logo/branding for your business/site?
I first came up with my business name on my own and then immediately went through the registration process for my trademark. It took about a year and a half to obtain it with the help of legal counsel. It was pretty pricey but feel that it's really worth it in the long run for branding and name protection. I'd hate to invest years of blood, sweat, tears and a lot of money into a business only to have it taken out from under me by someone else. My logo is my business name with the trademark register symbol following: 3Fine Design(R). Simple and straight to the point. I chose a font that had the right look and feel for my design style. I try to keep everything on my website (colors, fonts, etc.) cohesive so that it truly reflects the flavor of 3Fine Design(R).
How do you differentiate yourself from others selling similar products?
It's all in personal style and design. I try to come up with design ideas on a regular basis that are new and different from anything else that's out there. I feel it's very important to be unique, try to yourself and find your own niche.
How do you drive traffic to your listings, and which channel do you primarily drive traffic to?
I drive traffic through the use of my own website, several art sites, LinkedIn, BusinessCard 2, Twitter and the like. Most of the traffic I get to my listings actually comes from people finding me using Google searches. I drive traffic to ArtFire primarily, however, the other two get a fair amount of attention as well.
Can you talk about some of the SEO techniques you employ to drive traffic to your site(s)?
It's necessary to write excellent, detailed, relevant, keyword rich descriptions along with unique keyword rich titles. Even if I use very similar descriptions for some of my items, I always use titles that are different. I try to think of specific words that people might use to search for the particular item I've listed. In addition, it's also important to check your own website using SEO tools like Meta Tag Analyzer and a few others to make sure that your site is maintained well and set up to be search engine friendly. Every time you add a page or change things around, things have to be adjusted accordingly.
Do you participate in social networking sites? If so, which ones?
I only use Twitter, BusinessCard2 and LinkedIn. I don't have a lot of time for social networking so my preference is to use venues such as art sites (galleries) to put my work out there and be found that way.
Which ones work for you? Which don't?
Twitter is great. It's fast and easy.
Do you have any advice for other sellers about how to utilize social networking?
Social networking works great for some if they have the time for it. Unfortunately, my time is very limited so I can't offer up any expertise in that regard. My best advice is that there's only so much time in a day so use it wisely in order to obtain your desired end.
Can you talk more about how you distinguish yourself in a saturated market, and the niche you've chosen?
I truly am in a very saturated market. There's literally an ocean of jewelry items for sale online and elsewhere for buyers to choose from that includes both mass-produced items and handmade pieces.
In order to distinguish myself, I always try to be true to who I am as a creative individual rather than trying to follow trends and paths that others have carved previously. To be honest, I don't pay any attention to trends or what's "in" or "fashionable" as trends come and go very quickly. In other words, it's more important for me to be true to who I am as an artist and designer than it is to try to keep up and / or"fit in" with the latest fashion trends.
I originally started making jewelry as a personal creative outlet before evolving into a business. My desire and mindset from the very beginning has always been geared to expressing my own personal creative style rather than striving to keep up with what's "hot." I've always been the kind of person who likes to do something "different" or "unique" so it comes naturally for me to just follow my heart and go with the flow.
It's wonderful trying to find your own little niche. However, it's an ongoing process that can require a lot of time, trial and error.
You have to be willing to experiment, have a target market in mind, forsake things that aren't working for you, keep focused and maintain an adventurous attitude. When it comes to finding a niche, I'm a firm believer in following one's heart and doing what you enjoy doing. It requires a lot of experimentation and discovery. Over time, I've discovered that I really enjoy making men's jewelry and earrings in particular. It's my opinion that the desire of one's heart and one's niche should fit together like a hand in glove.
In general, I'm a very practical person and want to create jewelry pieces that people don't have to fuss with too much. At one time or another most people have purchased a necklace, bracelet or a pair of earrings that require a lot of attention (or fuss) when worn in order to make it lay properly, are uncomfortable or pinch, keep getting caught or can't seem to stay out of the way.
At the end of the day, my goal is to create pieces that come from my heart, are practical to wear (no fuss), affordable and "outside the box."
How important is good photography, and how did you learn to take good photographs?
Good photography is absolutely essential to selling online. After all, you only have one chance to make a first impression. Buyers who shop online cannot hold, touch, test or try on your product. Therefore, it's extremely important that photos are visually appealing, set the mood and draw in potential target buyers.
Secondly, your descriptions must accurately describe and sell (or pitch) your product since you aren't there in person to do it yourself like you are at shows or jewelry parties.
Excellent product photographs are key to making your product look its best, draw in potential buyers and are critical to branding a business. I strive to keep my photographs, logo, banners, trademark and shop design cohesive so that it all works together to make my product appealing to the eye and distinctively 3Fine Design.
I'm not a professional photographer and have a lot to learn about good photography. I do take all of my own photographs and find that it requires a lot of time, patience and experimentation with my camera, lighting, light boxes, props or no props and the like to get the photos that I want. I certainly haven't arrived, but I'm a lot farther than I was when I first started taking them a few years back. Photographs are wonderful when they look fantastic and have that certain "eye candy" factor. Achieving quality photos takes an abundance of patience, diligence and practice.
You publish a blog on Blogspot.com and on Artfire. Have you been able to determine if your blogs drive traffic and sales?
Yes, I have two blogs (on blogspot and on artfire). However, I don't blog as often as I should due to time limitations. My goal is to change that in the coming months and set aside a certain amount of time per dedicated to blogging. I find that it's more convenient to focus on one blog rather than two and tend to favor my ArtFire blog.
Since ArtFire instituted blog capabilities in the Pro studios, it's been a tremendous tool for bringing in potential customers directly to my studio. ArtFire has worked very hard to maximize their SEO and do a fantastic job at teaching sellers how to write SEO friendly titles, descriptions and make the best use of their studio blogging capabilities. I've found that certain posts that I publish on my ArtFire blog draw in a lot of traffic to my studio. I can keep tabs on incoming URLs to my blog via the ArtFire stats and Google Analytics. It's been a marvelous tool for drawing in potential buyers to my studio in addition to sales that I can directly attribute to my blog posts.
The ArtFire blog in my studio has also been a fantastic in-house mechanism where people can get to know me better when they visit my studio and view my products. The "in house" blog helps to make a customer's visit more personal and provides a sense of security for making an online purchase. In my opinion, being able to get to know artisans via their blogs while visiting their studios increases the chances of yielding sales. The written content within our blogs helps to put a face and personality behind our products.
How about your YouTube video, has that brought you any traffic, or is it designed to help convert shoppers who have already found you? Do you think it's worth a seller's time to publish videos on YouTube?
In my opinion, it's definitely worth a seller's time to publish videos on YouTube whether they're product videos or tutorial in nature. Videos can be used either way: to bring in new traffic or help convert shoppers who are already familiar with my product.
Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I haven't developed my YouTube channel to its full potential yet. However, I plan to invest more time in development. I have a couple more videos in mind that I plan on putting together in the future.
YouTube is a wonderful venue for drawing in potential customers, a creative way to market your product and a convenient venue for networking. The combination of quality photos, voice audio and / or music helps to animate your product and make it come alive. You not only draw in traffic from YouTube itself, but videos are also a valuable tool when used as a mini portfolio. I incorporate YouTube videos into my blogs, a couple of my own online stores and my own website for added visual interest and customer interaction. YouTube is a popular venue and definitely a resource that sellers should consider when looking for effective ways to market their products.
Visit 3Fine Design's listing on EveryPlaceISell.com for the links to all of Tracy's storefronts and website. If you are a multi-channel merchant with your own website, you can learn more about being featured in AuctionBytes on this page.
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to email@example.com.
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