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It wouldn’t be a series on small business without talking about the world of Social Media. I was having a hard time deciding what to write, though, because many cubic tons of information are already available. To start, you need only search on small business social media and you’ll have reading material for days.

When I first started, I read many of these posts to get a sense of things and found that they fall into many categories:

  • Category #1 includes posts that discuss the different social media venues and the elements of social media that are most important.
  • Category #2 includes posts that enumerate the top 5 or 10 things you should be doing with social media.
  • Category #3 includes posts about how to have an “authentic” conversation, engage your customers, or create your personal brand.
  • Category #4 includes posts that provide studies, data, and infographics about the ROI (or lack thereof ) of social media.
  • Category #5 includes posts about why [enter social media venue here] is or is not the best thing since sliced bread.

What many of these posts lack, however, is advice for people who are anti-social. In other words, people for whom the online repartee doesn’t come easily, yet they know it’s imperative for their business.

The Secret Password Is…

So if you fall into the anti-social category, this post is for you because I’m going to share a special word with you that should make life easier. The secret password is…integration.

The majority of the popular social media tools offer the ability to post information to the other sites. Some examples:

  • Facebook will tweet your status.
  • You can import your blog posts to your Facebook profile.
  • You can embed YouTube videos easily into any tool that will allow you to enter a snippet of code.
  • Use a snippet of code to insert photos from your Flickr stream virtually anywhere.

So where should you begin? Here is a simple process to help you participate in three of the most popular tools:

  1. Start a blog even if no one reads it (at least at first). Here is some info on the best time to publish your blog posts.
  2. Upload all of your blog-related photos to Flickr and embed the photos from Flickr into your blog posts as necessary.
  3. Import your blog as Facebook notes so that each blog entry posts to your business page.
  4. Set up your blog so that every new post creates a tweet.
  5. Use a tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to schedule relevant tweets or Facebook posts.

You Don’t Have To Be “On” All The Time

Many people may be asking, but what about being a part of the “conversation”? How do I stay engaged enough that people will know I’m not a bot?

My answer: the secret password is integration not automation even if you are literally automating some of the tasks. The above process is helpful to get you started because you are not only visible in more than one venue, but each of them allows people to converse with you via comments/responses. You are therefore able to see where people are most likely to engage with you and your content. You should also make sure to logon to Facebook and Twitter and correspond in real-time, but integration affords some leeway for those days that you don’t have time to be “”on”” and interact immediately.

Where Do You Fall In The Social Spectrum?

As a small business owner, the bulk of the work falls to you therefore it’s important to determine how to get involved in social media but not get overwhelmed. Integrating the tools you use will help you focus on your content and interaction with others.

Where do you feel you fall within the spectrum of being social and how does that impact your use of social media for your business? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

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The Facts

Name: Maya E. Henderson
Business Name: Springtree Road Handspun Yarn & Fiber
Product(s)
: handspun yarn and hand-painted fiber
Years in business: 1 year, 3 months

The Business Challenge

I want to increase my customer base, how should I diversify?

Maya’s Business Challenge Insights

It all depends on your goals. Some people might want to sell their products online at a couple of different venues like Etsy, Artfire, etc., to get the traffic that can come from those sorts of online communities. They are very helpful for getting started and learning how to develop a business online. Another choice is to go your own way. I maintain the Etsy shop I started last year, but I also have my own shop that I run through Big Cartel. Big Cartel is not a community – each shop stands alone and you are solely responsible for finding your customers. So it depends on what you want for your business, how much work you can/want to put into it, and where you plan to be in five or ten years.

Maya’s Story

How competitive is your niche in the handmade market?

I think a lot of people who buy handspun yarn find it on Etsy, and I have a shop there. This is my second autumn/winter season in business and it seems that there is even more handspun out today than this time last year. But to put it in perspective, I get 10,046 listings when I search Etsy for “handspun yarn,” while “silver earrings” gets 215,811 listings. On the other hand, a pair of simple beaded earrings likely takes less time to make than to dye and spin a yarn. Once you’ve made the earrings and taken the photos, you can use the same photos every time you sell and relist. Ninety-nine percent of what I make needs a new photo every time. So it’s all relative, but to answer the question – I do feel the competition.

How do you locate and engage your users online?

I have a blog, a Facebook page for my business, a Ravelry group, etc., and you can find links to everywhere I am online at my home page. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for folks to find me and connect with me at their favorite places to hang out online.

How do you assess the success of your marketing efforts?

I check my Google Analytics to see where traffic is coming from, but I wish that I could get more information than GA provides.

Why did you decide to diversify your online presence?

For several reasons, but the biggest one is very simple – to see if I can. To see if I have what it takes to build this business into what I think it can be. There are several fiberistas I really admire who have done Big Things, but I’m fairly certain they’re really people just like I am. So, can I do Big Things? I’m not sure, but I’d like to find out. So my shop that I run through Big Cartel – it’s really mine. I’m not under anyone else’s umbrella. Scary. But I’m feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Which marketplaces did you consider?

Big Cartel was the only place I seriously considered. It was the one I’d heard the most about and I’d seen other very lovely shops using Big Cartel. When I looked at the Big Cartel site it seemed simple enough to me – also important because I don’t have a lot of time to learn a whole new way of doing things. The price is definitely right, and your Big Cartel shop is customizable as long as you know what you’re doing and/or can hire someone to help you.

What were the criteria you used when reviewing additional marketplaces to sell your handmade goods?

I just really wanted something that felt like my shop, that it belongs to me. Since you can customize your shop, I think Big Cartel does a good job of that.

Why did you ultimately decide on a Big Cartel storefront?

Price and ability to customize. Even though I haven’t done that much with it yet, I would like to when I can. Also, my customers don’t have to become a member to buy things from my shop – no remembering a password and all that. You put items in your cart and pay through PayPal. I definitely wanted that. I like to keep things simple.

What kind of response have you seen from your customers with this new addition?

My customers have been completely wonderful. They’ve been so supportive; I couldn’t ask for more.

What are your overall goals for the holiday season and how do you plan on leveraging both venues?

I know from the reading that I do that I’m supposed to have a big plan for the holiday season and all that. But if this year is anything like last year, at some point it gets too crazy and you just have to hang on until about February. My overall goal is to balance my work and my life this holiday season.

Last year we threw up a tree the week before Christmas. I don’t want to do that this year. I have a 5-year-old. I want to decorate and bake cookies with her. So I’m going to try to keep to a schedule, work hard when I’m working, and relax when I’m supposed to be relaxing (hard for me). To leverage both venues … hmmm … I’m not entirely sure. Just as last winter was my first in business with Etsy, this winter will be my first with both shops open. So I think again this year it’ll be more about holding on than having a plan of attack, but come back and ask me next year and I should have more for you.

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Snail Mail Still Holds Meaning

Many years ago, I mentioned to a friend that I might stop writing him letters and he said, “Please don’t. Otherwise I’ll only have the Publisher’s Clearinghouse envelope to look forward to when the mail arrives.”

I remember giggling but also thinking that getting an unexpected letter or card in the mail is a lot of fun. A postcard is even more exciting because it usually means that the person is away from home and is thinking of you.

So for those of us who feel not only that snail mail still holds meaning, but also really enjoy travel to far away places, Postcrossing is just the site for us. (Thank you Swistle for writing about it, btw).

Basically you sign up and start exchanging postcards with other “postcrossers” around the world. The site even tracks where postcards have been swapped.

This reminds me a little bit of the Flat Stanley project, but is instead something for kids of all ages.

So sign up and send and receive some cards in the post!

P.S. Come back and tell us what you’ve received. We’d love to join you on your postcard adventures.

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