So you have a product or service you would like to offer online, but how do you attract people to your site?  You can effectively market and promote your product or service without spending a ton of cash.  The ins and outs of promoting a web-based business can be daunting, but we have a few ideas that we think will get you pointed in the right direction.

The first thing to consider is determining your target audience.  Decide whether your service or product will be geared towards spinners, knitters or some other group.  Once you have identified the audience, you can start looking around at other sites that are doing what you want to do.  Consider the traffic to that site, and how well it is doing.  You want to make note of what they could do better, as well as what they are doing really well.  You also need to look around in forums, discussion groups and web rings to find out what your target audience is looking for.  What information, services or products do they want, but can't find?  Once you understand who you want to serve, and what they are looking for, you are ready to start thinking about how you can meet this need, and start your own online shop or web site.

A web site or shop should have a few elements that are absolutely non-negotiable.  Regardless of what you are offering, there are aspects of your site that must done well for your success.  First priority is making sure that your page works well.  The layout should be sensible, easy to navigate, and well organized.  Skipping over this part of the design process can spell disaster for your venture.  No matter how wonderful the content, or how snazzy the site, if it lacks organization, and is difficult to move around in, it will not be as popular as it could be.

Sit down and list the things you would like to display on your site.  Lets say for example that you want to sell extra lambs, fleeces and rovings on your new site.  You will want these things displayed, and probably information about the breeds of sheep, your farm, and any other interesting or relevant information.  Once you have listed all the things you would like to include on your pages, decide how many pages will be needed.  Then make a little page for each group of items on paper.  Each of your pages should have some example information listed, and some ideas on how you would like to display it.  Think back to the sites you looked at, what you liked and disliked about them.  Do not focus on fancy menus or elements with animation or music playing, because although these things might add interest to your page, they will become tiresome to repeat visitors.  Keep the pages as simple as possible, and you will be able to focus on the looks of the site later.

If you have your page developed professionally, you are now ready to talk to the developer.  Having all of this planning done can save you a lot of money.  The developer will have a clear idea of what you are wanting, and a paper design to refer to.  Giving your developer a clear, logical, and concrete idea to work by, will save them time, and save you money.  Making paper pages will help prevent miscommunication and also allow the developer to help you make your pages look and work great.  Listen closely to any advice you get from them, and don't be afraid to ask questions.  

If your site is small, and you don't plan on making a lot of changes, then a static site is probably the best option.  There are many utilities available for designing a web page.  Many of these are wysiwyg (pronounced wizzywig) editors, which means, "What You See, Is What You Get.  These utilities do the coding part for you, and you work mainly with the appearance of your page.  First Page is a free utility that has lots of functionality and is also easy to use and install, but it does require a little knowledge of HTML.  There are also lots of tutorials and help available so that you can get the effect you are looking for.  

There are also many utilities available for sale, and these are often very easy to use, even for someone with limited computer skills.  If you want a very easy to learn utility, then this type of software might be worth investing in.  Dreamweaver is one of the most popular, and although it is pricy, they offer a free download, so you can try it out before making a purchase.  There are hundreds of ways to make your own pages, hitting Google, and looking at some of the options is a great way to choose.

Once you have the site up and running, you are now ready to promote your site, and attract visitors.  There are many ways to do this, and we will briefly discuss several things to consider. Google is your friend, so be sure to check out Google web master tools.  They can help you optimize your site so that the Google bots can determine your content, and rank you accordingly.  Google tools for Web masters has many tips and tricks for optimizing your Google rating, and these will help you climb to the top of the list.  A Google search on Google optimization and page ranking will also be a good way to learn more.

Information added to your site can increase your traffic and sales potential. Look around for related information people may be looking for, but can't find easily.  This is a golden opportunity to attract readers, and customers.  Offering informative articles, tutorials or free craft ideas, and patterns is a great way to direct traffic to your site.  The more information that is added, and the more often it is added, also improves your page ranking.  If you can attract visitors with information, then you can potentially sell your services or products to them.

It is easy to sign up for a shop with Etsy, and of course there is Ebay.  Etsy allows more freedom, and may be easier for a first time seller to begin with.  Both places offer an opportunity however, so you should look into your options and read the rules carefully.  Ebay and Etsy both offer an opportunity to sell your items easily, and both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Etsy charges a 20 cent listing fee, and an additional 3.5% commission fee.  That's a pretty good deal for a reasonable price.  I like the set up and it is very easy to begin selling your products.  It is simple, straightforward and very easy to navigate.  There are no restrictions on promoting your personal site, that I could find.  Etsy is geared to the hand-crafter, and its simple, easy to use system is cost effective and stress free to use.  For fiber artists there is the added benefit that the customers seeking products there are looking for hand crafted objects, so your customer base is a little finer tuned.

Ebay is the big kid on the block for selling any item you can possibly imagine.  Ebay can be a valuable selling resource but it has some shortcomings as well.  One is the complexity of the fees and the charges incurred when selling an item.  The cost depends on the options you chose, and what the final selling price was, as well as other considerations.  It is confusing, and when you add on the other strange fees that pop up, you can easily get charged enough to cut into your profits.  So some caution is advised when making your listings, read everything carefully so that you understand what you are paying for each listing.

Ebay will not allow you to promote your private site in any way, so everything you want to sell, must be sold there, on Ebay.  Ebay also offers a store front option, but then the fees come back into play, so you will need to consider the benefit carefully.  Ebay does have a huge customer base to work with, and many people do very well there.  If you want to try Ebay, go and look at items similar to those you would like to sell, and see how they are doing.  This will give you a good idea of how well your product will sell.  For many, Ebay is a real gold mine of income, once you understand how to use the system to its fullest potential, but there is some learning to be done for a successful Ebay venture.

Once you have your personal site, you can post links where appropriate in forums, newsgroups, web-rings, and blogs.  E-mailing a prominent blogger and asking if they would post a link to your site is a valuable way to let people know about your site.  Do be careful and follow any rules in forums, and be considerate of the bloggers you choose.  Don't just slap links on their site, even if they are relevant, it's somewhat rude.  If possible, email and ask if they will link to you, if they do, great, if not, there are more to ask.  

A personal blog is also a great way to pull people into your main site.  As the blog entries increase, you have even more relevant content to draw people in.  You can also offer contests, group projects, and free patterns or activities to increase your traffic.  The more people who visit your site, the more income potential you create.  An Ebay or Etsy store can often be promoted from a personal site offering information and tutorials.  Web based business has a lot to offer to anyone who makes quality products, and we hope you feel confident to try it out yourself.  


For more information:

http://www.evrsoft.com/ for First Page
http://www.adobe.com/products/dreamweaver/  for Dreamweaver
http://www.joomla.org/ Joomla opensource Content Management System
http://www.wdvl.com/Reviews/HTML/  A review of many HTML editors
http://www.ebay.com
http://www.etsy.com