May 1, 2012

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Article

Think Big

Promoting Your Micro-Business with Macro Results

Peri Kinder

May 1, 2012


Susan Petersen’s company, Freshly Picked, started with a bag of scrap leather she bought from a yard sale. She had a newborn son and thought it would be fun to make him a pair of moccasins. With no sewing skills, no leather-working experience and no idea if her machine would even sew through leather, Petersen experimented until she designed her first pair of soft leather moccasins.

The shoes turned out so well, she decided to make them for family and friends. With her product generating a great response, she signed up with Etsy.com to provide an online platform for getting her children’s moccasins sold across the country. But she soon ran into problems.

“It was just too much to keep track of,” Petersen says. “You had to be on top of it every day. You almost have to hire someone to keep up with Etsy and stay on top of their search engine. It’s a lot of work.”

Instead, Petersen hooked up with BigCartel.com, a Utah-based website that allows micro-business owners to customize a site for their products. It was the perfect match. With Big Cartel, Petersen is able to ship, track inventory, gather analytics and monitor visitors—all for one small monthly fee.

Matt Wigham, co-founder of Big Cartel, started the site as a place for musicians and artists to sell their products by setting up unique, independent stores on the site. Big Cartel has become so popular with micro-business owners that the site recently passed the 200,000 clients landmark.

Costs to operate a shop on Big Cartel range from $10-$40 per month, depending on the services desired, and Wigham says Big Cartel doesn’t nickel-and-dime its clients. “We even offer a free account for people offering up to five products if they want to kick the tires a bit and try it out. It gives small brands a chance to get their stuff out and gives them a place to send customers and build their brands. Our whole mission is to help artists make a living doing what they love.”

No more than 300 products can be offered on each seller’s site on Big Cartel but that’s just fine with Petersen, who recently added leather desk accessories to her product line.

Word of Mouth
Another resource used by Petersen is the mommy-blog community. As a well-known blogger herself on freshly-picked.com, she targeted the top mommy-bloggers in the country and sent them samples of her shoes. Petersen also sent samples to national parenting magazines and any other location where kid’s products are reviewed.

“Half of my advertising budget is spent on sending out samples to people,” she says. “If you start with a good product that you believe in, you can get it in the hands of people who will help get the word out. A lot of companies are realizing that mommy-bloggers have a lot of clout. There’s so much buying power in that community.”

She also advises entrepreneurs to get their product out to the public as soon as possible, even if they think it might not be perfect. Using feedback from her customers helped Petersen develop a product that continues to evolve and improve since that first bag of scrap leather.

“I built them from the ground up and I didn’t wait for them to be perfect before I started selling them,” she says. “I’ve really involved my customers in the process. I listen to their suggestions and the product has become better. They believe in what we’ve done and where we’ve gone together.”

Petersen added another sewer to her company and watched her sales jump significantly during the last year. In fact, in December 2011 she brought in as many sales as she did in the first six months of 2011 combined.

“Things are growing pretty quickly,” she says. “Big Cartel has been so good to me and my business. They’re really trying to give store owners what they want.”

Unique Venues
Diann Reese, owner of Mimi’s Garden Shop, goes about promoting and selling her products in a different way. Two years ago, she started selling high-quality jams, jellies, butters and syrups at farmer’s markets and home shows, allowing the public to taste her interesting varieties of fruit-based products. She hand-picks and even grows as many of the ingredients as possible with nothing artificial added.

With flavors like raspberry-jalapeno, black forest, champagne grape and spiced pear, Reese’s gourmet jams and syrups are a big hit with market patrons. She’s always enjoyed cooking and spent 10 years collecting recipes before narrowing the selection down to her favorites.

Last year, Reese got involved with the Wasatch Front Farmer’s Market held at Wheeler Farm in Murray. It was the first year for the market and organizer Maryann Alston says this year the market is expanding to include a venue at Gardner Village in Midvale.

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