February 03, 2018 5 min read

When you start a business to build and sell things, anything, you need tools, right? You have an idea of what you want to build, how you want to build it, and what you think you need to build it. You look around the shop, or office (den, kitchen table, spare bedroom) to see what you already have in order to figure out what it is you think you need to go get.

Then you start your trek to collect those things. In woodworking, your first inclination is hand tools and light machinery. So it’s off to the hardware or big box store, online sites, or garage sales. And you start collecting. And collecting. And pretty soon, you have quite a few tools in the toolkit, some of which you are still scratching your head over just how best to use, and others you are not so sure you will use again. Yes, those are all very important to turn your idea into a tangible piece, but not always the most important tools if you are trying to sell what you built. To borrow and paraphrase from a popular movie line, you have built it, but does anyone know, and if they do, will they come to get it?

Enter, the other most important toolkit. The tools to promote your product, or service, find and attract potential customers, communicate, engage and convert those prospects into customers and followers, and measure whether what you are doing is generating any return. And wow! There are a lot of tools out there….

There are the social media platforms, the email list builders and customer relationship managers (CRM), the applications that take information from one place and drop it in to another application so you don’t have to remember to do it yourself, the programs that monitor how viewers engage with the social media posts and automate responses accordingly, or look at the SEO on your website and selling platforms and grade how effective it is. Or isn’t. And then trying to get all of this to play together nicely. You look up from the keyboard and realize there wasn’t one wood shaving made today. Dang.

And that is just scratching the surface. Or video monitor. Every morning, or very late evening, when the user-interfaces for these applications and programs get fired up, I wonder if they are all necessary. Is all of the setting up and tweaking needed? Isn’t one social media platform, akin to the sign in the window, okay? Isn’t one email service, your flyer in the mail, sufficient? You’ve gone door to door and handed out your business card. The lights are on, the doors are unlocked, the shelves are being stocked. That’s it, right?

Wrong. Not these days. Not when you stop to visualize that your small or medium-sized business is but a dinghy in the vast and expansive ether-world ocean of all of the other small and medium size businesses. Then there are the ocean-liners, the behemoth businesses whose wake will disrupt you from miles away, or just flat run over you. (Well, float over you, since you can’t run on water.) Geez! Why even set sail? How can one even begin to compete?

Because this other toolkit, this box of digital screwdrivers and electron saws, can be the equalizer. Just as it takes time to learn and master a new hand tool or acquire the finesse to use a beading tool on the lathe, it takes time to learn how to use this other toolkit. This other most important toolkit. It can be daunting. Overwhelming. I read in threads in various forums of new online shop owners asking why it takes so long to get a sale, where are all of the buyers, why are some shops more successful than others? They themselves have cute items, handcrafted like the others. They have passion for what they are making, for their craft, their handiwork. They have their online store. Just, the online store. Isn’t that enough?

Reach. You have to reach your customer. Not wait, or expect, for them to reach you. Remember, they don’t know you are there. Just as with putting product on the shelf, you have to start using this other most important toolkit to put collateral where your potential customers are: with their face to their phone or video monitor. You wouldn’t just whip something up and put it on the shelf, hoping someone will like it enough to buy. So you can’t just throw together some email blast, some quick ad to post on social media, and expect the like and share buttons to reach triple digits in a day. (That would be a really nice thing to have happen, though!)

You do have to put some thought into how you are going to engage with your potential customers. What message you want to convey, and what tools you have at your disposal to get that message out. And seen. Speaking from experience, it is not always the tool in your hand that is the problem. For instance, we have used images in ads on social media, with moderate interest and response. Change the image, and the response improved. Same tool (social media platform), different material (image), better response. And, as if that wasn’t enough (and wouldn’t you think it should be?), changing from a carousel image delivery method (flat blade screwdriver) to a multi-image video/slideshow (#2 Phillips screwdriver) made for an even better response. Who’d of thought?

So, what does all of this mean? That it is not enough to be really good at making something with one set of tools, without also learning to use, and eventually master, the other most important toolkit, the one to get the word out, heard, seen, and acted upon. You have a passion for the item you built to sell. You have to have a passion to tell people about it. A LOT of people. These days you just can’t wait for someone to look in the window, open the door, and come in. You have to go out amongst the ether-world and drag them in. Well, it would probably be better to earn their trust and patronage by impressing them with what you have to say and sell than by actually dragging them in….

Now, grab that toolkit and get to work….. either one. Just get back to work.....

 P.S.: You will notice that I did not name names of any digital products or services. Mainly, what works for me may not work for you. And I don’t get paid to do it. I will name one name/brand, though. And no, not being paid for this either. Ben Angel. To be found at www.benangel.co. I have viewed several programs that are supposed to help you effectively use social media in promoting your business, for a fee. And they keep selling you on their other products. While benangel.co does soft-sell also, what I have found is, there is substance to the program. There is real explanation of how things work, and why. I feel, for anyone starting a business, that is the best help you can get.

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