Monday, February 8, 2010

Marketing - On the Radio

As some of you know, I was a guest speaker on WERU last Thursday. For those of you who missed it, the show is called "Doing Business" and is hosted by Jane Haskell. The show's title:>How Do I Really Do Market Research?.

Jane gave me some questions ahead of time to prepare for the show. Time went really quickly, so we only scratched the surface of the topic. I said last week I would spend time talking about demographics (which I will get to), but I thought for my business plan segment this week, I would share Jane's questions and my answers.

Each guest introduces self with a brief background of their business or agency. (name, title, business, location, briefly what your business or agency does or produces and for how long it has - and you have - been in business)

I am the owner of Sojourn Quilts, a home-based business located in Bangor, Maine. I make Maine inspired quilted fabric art. I started with story quilts and wall-hangings, but, in recent years have turned to small (2.5" x 3.5") art. I am still telling stories, though now it is with bite-sized images!

Tell us why you wanted to start your own business.

I became intrigued with the idea of turning something I love doing into a business. There are many rewards in seeing others delight in something I have made.

Tell us some of the issues you think people need to think about as they consider marketing their business.

What their product is, who may buy their product and how their potential customers view their product. (Is how you view it different than how your potential customers view it?)

Selling venues: What do you like to do? Will you find your target customers there?

Record keeping: How will you record the data and what criteria will you use to review it?

What kind of information do you want from your marketing efforts?

When you think of your target markets (demographics, lifestyle patterns, customer expectations) – what do they ‘look’ like?

Me! (Big Grin!)
Female, ages 30-50, or men who are buying for women
Connection to Maine and/or to fabric arts
Care about the environment
Respond to humorous or slightly quirky subject matter
Educated, internet-savvy
Appreciate quality handmade products, attention to detail

How do feel these might differ in the 2 – 3 years down the road if you are thinking about staying in business?

My records show me that the majority of my customers are located out of state. I just read a statistic that indicated US artisans make 60% of their income within their own state. It is clear I am under-utilizing this resource. Shows are not my favorite selling venue, so I will need to find some creative ways to increase my visibility within the state of Maine.

How did you know that it – the research - would work and that you were not groping around in the dark and there was nothing to research?

I didn't! The idea of market research was new to me. I didn't even know what questions to ask. The New Ventures class I took through Women, Work and Community helped me figure out where to start my research. The more I got to know my business, the more questions I had and the need for market research became clear.

One of the myths that might be in this dragon’s den is that this is complicated and there is a lot of foot work to do. What is your sense of this? How did you organize what you needed to research?

I didn't what information was important, so I kept all of it in an excel spreadsheet—customers names and addresses, inventory, cash flow records, sales venues I'd tried and how those turned out. I have data from 2004 that I just collected as I went along. Even with a very small business, I am able to see patterns in the data—what's working, where there are gaps--and make predictions and set goals for my business.

How do you currently determine how you do your work as compared to your competitors?

My primary business is online, so I spend a lot of time online interacting with people who like to be online as well. There are a lot of talented quilters and fabric artists out there. I try to make unique and unusual items and focus on the business end of things. Having a business/marketing plan and using it sets me apart from other artisans who see their work as a hobby.

How do you keep abreast of the changing market conditions?

I “listen” to the conversations on line in chat rooms and forums, as well as what my customers tell me, read about online shopping trends and habits, take workshops, and talk with other artisans.

How do you spot potential problems or challenges in your current market?

I review my progress periodically and compare my experiences with what is indicated in the business websites I visit, as well as in the online community. I am not as tuned in to the local market—that will be a focus for the upcoming year--but I do have a sense of national trends...what's happening nation-wide ripples through the online community pretty quickly.

When you conduct primary research, interacting with your customers, what do/did you learn?

What products work and which don't. (My customers keep asking for Lobsters!!!)

Where I need to improve my customer education. (With my small art, people keep asking: “What do I do with something so small?”)

Business Name. By asking people “What kinds of products do you think you will find at Sojourn Quilts?,” I realized that my business name may be too restrictive. Some people coming to Sojourn Quilts may be expecting traditional bed quilts. I am toying with the idea of changing my business name to something more descriptive of my current work. (More about this later).

What suggestions do you have for targeting your market? (focus on particular geo area, best selling prod, those most likely to patronize???

Keep records and watch for the patterns. What shows up in my business will probably be different than some other business, depending on the products. The patterns in my data, for example, show both strengths as well as gaps in my marketing. By reviewing the information periodically, I am able to adjust my actions, set new goals and try to address the weaker areas.

What is your take on the benefits of market research in relation to the business plan?

Doing market research helps keep me focused. It gives me a way to measure my progress. Am I staying true to my intended goals or have I gone on a tangent? Is the tangent worth pursuing or do I need to get back on my original track? Who are my customers, really? Who is buying? Am I doing the things I need to do to make my business visible to my customers?

What has given you the confidence to do the research?

Experiencing for myself how market research can—and does—help inform my business decisions. It creates a structure on which to build a business. I experimented a lot over the past five years—trying to discover what I wanted my business to be. With each step, I learned something and let go of something else. I feel much more confident and solid in my abilities to make my business work. It is definitely a journey.

What one piece of advice would each of you have for listeners who are thinking ‘I need to do some market research’?

Make use of free resources like Women, Work and Community. They will help walk you through the steps.

Did you find this helpful or do you have further suggestions or comments about marketing? Please let me know.



Sharon said...

I am glad I found you. I have a shop on etsy, and I just finished New Ventures in Augusta. I am going through the Maine etsy sellers who work in textiles and following links to blogs. I have enjoyed checking out people's shops. Your art is beautiful.

sojournquilts said...

Congratulations on graduating from New Ventures. I'm so glad you touched base! I love hearing from people with Maine connections. Best wishes with your Etsy shop.