Building your e-commerce website? Then start by thinking about what happens when your first sale occurs.
I’m a huge fan of reverse engineering. Starting at the end and working my way backward, step-by-step to make sure that I’ve got everything in place.
I’ll admit, this planning process takes time. And planning isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
But I’ve found that plotting things out, makes it more likely that I don’t skip over any steps. And assures I have everything in place before I need it.
More times than I can count, I see artist and maker businesses rush to get their website up and products listed. And when I ask them what will happen when someone purchases a listing, I hear,
I’ll figure it out when it happens.
But waiting until a sale happens, means you are having to rush to come up with solutions. Rather than having a plan that falls into place.
Waiting to create policies and a plan until after her first sale, is exactly what happened to my friend, Jessica Davies.
I asked her if she would be vulnerable and share this story with you.
Because it’s an important reminder of why you need to think about what happens when the sale occurs (even before your listing is live).
Without diving into the nitty gritty, tell us a little about a time you learned the “legal” ropes…
Ah, well, this was very recent and more than a little embarrassing. I was in between moving out of my apartment of 18 years, where I had my jewelry “studio” in my kitchen dinette, to my new home in Sonoma County, where I would finally have my dream (and actual real) studio, in our garage. My bench and everything in it, as well as, all of my tools, supplies, torches, and equipment were completely packed up, disorganized and already getting covered with cobwebs. The week after the move, I had my very first web order and only after the purchase was made, did the reality of not actually having the item in stock, not to mention not being fully set up to make a new one, start to sink in. The timing couldn’t have been less perfect so I absolutely freaked!
First order of business was trying to remember if I had the item on hand in my inventory and once I realized that I didn’t, had to unpack and scour through my limited on hand stock to see if I had one. Nope, not on your life!
Fortunately, a few days later I remembered that I had one that was set aside as a birthday gift for a friend and client at one of my retailers. Problem solved and at least one of my hurdles was averted. I was in such a state; I am surprised that I remembered anything.
Yuck, that doesn’t sound fun, how did you feel at that moment?
Literally moments after getting the email notification that I had just made my first web order sale, I was simultaneously elated and terrified. Seriously, I think the feeling was definitely 50/50! I took a moment to breathe and be thankful for the fact that the sale of one of my most expensive (and beloved) pieces had just happened, reminded myself that it wasn’t a particularly bad problem to have (I mean, right?!) and then immediately tried to figure out my plan for fulfilling the order and making my new customer happy. After all, they just bought a piece of my work! Wasn’t that enough of a compliment to make me happy and alleviate my nervousness?
Well, somewhat, but then all of the other issues came to mind.
- What was my turn around time?
- Did I take returns?
- What type of policies did I have in place to protect myself and the buyer?
- Did I offer delivery confirmation?
- Did I offer any sort of warranty? Insurance?
And the list went on and on.
My impulse was to immediately email the buyer, apologize profusely and tell them that it might be a few weeks before I could ship out the item they purchased. Even as I explain this now, that just sounds absolutely terrible. Way to instantly let them know that my level of professionalism was compromised, I mean,
I’m such a flake that I took the time to list something for sale that I have no intention of actually selling. Sorry!
I decided to nix that idea put on my big girl skinny jeans, step up to the plate and spring into action.
Did this impact your creative business? How?
Well, it did make me realize that being a creative small business owner certainly doesn’t get you off the hook when it comes to making sure you are knowledgeable about all of the ins and outs of running your business. Being the artist and maker is not enough.
If I was to reflect and look back on how I felt and what I was thinking when I first designed and implemented my website, I can honestly say I lacked the confidence of anyone ever making a purchase from it. Since I had previously been more of a conceptual artist and jeweler, right out of art school, rather than a production jeweler, there was a distinct disconnect for me when it came to the concept of selling a product online in a shop, versus having an online gallery; two very different things!
I can honestly say I lacked the confidence of anyone ever making a purchase from it.
I dug a little deeper and once I went in on the back end of my site and was able to see the messages that I set up when I first launched it, I could see that included in the post-purchase check-out email there were some, albeit brief and vague, policies, so I knew I was a little safer than I first thought. Even though it seemed a bit “too little, too late”, I immediately updated and added pages that lay out my policies more clearly so that before a buyer makes a purchase they are well aware of what is expected from my end and what I expect from them.
What ropes did you learn from going through this experience?
First and foremost, my biggest enemy is self-doubt and insecurity when it comes to running a business. Being able to turn off my inner voice and boost myself with the confidence that comes from the act of people buying and more importantly appreciating my work, should always come first.
It’s an incredible life-affirming feeling to have people want to own and wear something that I make with my hands, head, and heart and if I can just remind myself of that rather than second guessing, I will be that much more successful.
What I realized once I calmed down was that I had actually been more professional than I gave myself credit for but because of my recent move, my studio being in a state of disarray and the overwhelming feeling of “I’ll never have an online sale” after 3 years of launching my site, had clouded my thinking. The most important lesson I learned is that regardless of how competent I may feel one person cannot do it all!
I need to work on hiring out my weaknesses and letting go of control. If I had consulted with someone when I originally built my site all of this would have been addressed. It was a stressful and tough lesson but ultimately all self-created. In the end, the customer got their polished, gift-wrapped piece safe and sound, within 5 days, and I survived. I sure hope she loves it as much as I do and wears it with the same level of confidence I felt when I created it.
What you can learn from Jessica’s experience
Thanks, Jessica! I appreciate her vulnerability and honesty in sharing her story.
So you don’t repeat her experience, take out a piece of paper and map out the journey that you want a customer to go through.
I’d suggest you start with the moment they are holding the product in their hands and then work backward.
This means you’ll think about:
- the unboxing experience
- how it’ll arrive on their doorstep
- how it’ll leave your studio
- how they’ll buy it
- how they’ll know it’s for sale
And along with that, all the shop policies that you’ll want to cover each of those steps. For example, things like:
- what payment forms do you accept?
- how are credit cards processed?
- what’s your return policy?
- how long will it take to ship?
- what shipping provider will you use?
- what happens if it gets damaged during shipping?
- what notifications does the buyer get on order? on shipping?
- how will you follow-up with buyers?
- do you make any promises about the quality/durability of your products?
But putting your shop policies on your website and creating a link to them in your menu bar is only your first step.
The second step is to include these in your website terms of service. Terms of service outline the ground rules between you and your website visitors. Your terms of service should explain your:
- shop policies
- rules around content generated by users
- rules around how you expect people to treat your work
- rules on changing the rules
It’s also important to remember that these are policies. And they only become enforceable if your website visitors agree to them.
The easiest way of doing this is adding a checkbox to your shopping cart form. And having buyers check it before they can finish checking out.
If you are ready to start reverse engineering your customer’s experience, then you are in luck!
Because in the artist’s Courtyard, there’s a course to help you create everything your website needs—before that first sale.
Have you had a similar experience to Jessica? Failing to put things into place because you lacked the confidence you would ever need them? Share your story in the comments below.
Want to learn more about Jessica? She was raised in Palo Alto, California in the seventies by a romantic aspiring artist and a passionate and meticulous tinkerer, she was instilled with a love of the arts, craft and the essence of form and function. The first piece of metal jewelry she made, at age 10, was a twisted, hammered, forged and soldered, copper wire bracelet; a Mother’s Day gift. From that moment on her life was permanently changed. The thrill of crafting things with her own hands along with her love of tools set the stage for a life of making.
Most recently she’s been inspired by her love of mid-century and minimalist architectural elements as well as geometric forms. She is currently working on a series of pieces inspired by the garden and security gates of San Francisco.