In any business, the customer is always right, right? Well, in my humble opinion, yes and no. Yes, it’s very important to provide answers for your customers whether that be something they need or something they desire. It’s only a “no” when what they ask is either unreasonable or impossible to fulfill. And, I’ll try to elaborate and explain my viewpoint in this post.
First off, I’m talking about producing good products for customers, not a service which is very different. Since I’m a cardmaker and my main business thrust is to provide handmade greeting cards, the kind of cards I make are important. It’s vital that I hear what my customers want and need so that I can create that.
But, how do I know what my customers want? And, if I only make what they want, won’t I lose my creative freedom? After all, I’m artist first and a business owner second, right? WRONG! It’s the other way around. If my business was a hobby and I was creating for the love of it, then I would only create what I like and not care about anybody else. But, since my craft is also my business, if I want to stay in business, then I must be a business owner first and an artist second. It doesn’t mean that I can’t put my own creative flair into my work though and below I’ll list 10 tips for giving my customers what they want without me losing my creative edge:
- Talk to your customers. I like sending out surveys and this can be done very easily and quickly. Surveymonkey.com is my tool of choice. For a free account, you can ask up to 10 questions, email the survey to your customer base politely asking them to give you feedback. I like to ask questions like: “what type of cards do you find you need most?”, “what months of the year do you tend to buy the most cards?”, “what types of cards can you not live without?” I try to go deep with my questions but again, I’m looking for feedback. The thing is…I can either (a) make a bunch of pretty cards that no one buys and end up stocking them in a warehouse or; (b) I can simply ask what types of cards would a customer likely buy and then produce those cards that will earn sells while providing exactly what the customer needed.
- Look at previous sales. I like stats and get this, I hated numbers and math growing up! However, charts fascinate me so I love to decipher them. And, previous orders can tell you a lot about your business. So, if I see that birthday cards are my biggest seller, then I want to be sure I always have a bunch of them in the Shop. However, let’s say over the course of the year, birthday cards dropped off around summer but graduation cards picked up, then I wanna be sure I focus on creating more graduation cards during those months.
- Observe the competition. Nothing wrong here, in the cardmaking industry there is so much support of each other that it doesn’t feel like competition at all. I know not all industries are like this so I feel really blessed to be part of this community. That said, because I follow other brands, leave comments and encourage other cardmakers, I also notice what types of cards are popular and therefore that can help me design especially if I’m going through a creative block.
- Ask for requests. Isn’t it much more fun when the DJ asks for requests at a party? Then everybody gets to dance to their favorite song and the party is much more fun. Social media is terrific for getting almost instant feedback. Also, if I’m thinking of offering a new card design, I’ll make one and then post a picture to see what kind of interaction I get. If it goes viral with a lot of comments saying, “where can I buy this?”, then that’s a great indication that I may want to make more and offer them for sale. However, if it’s the reverse then it may not be a card that would be popular saving me a ton of time and effort. I don’t like warehousing unwanted products!
- Study the latest trends. In most industries, trends will come and go however it’s important to be aware of them because timing is everything in the sales business. You could be missing out if you don’t take advantage of current trends. For example, certain colors become popular again for whatever reason so producing products around these colors during those times can bring in new sales while keeping your customers up to date too as they look to you as an expert in your field.
Though we need to listen to our customers and the industry, it doesn’t mean that creative freedoms are gone, in fact…it’s great because we’re only limited by our imaginations. And, there’s plenty of places to go for inspiration. I mass produce my cards, but I never make the same card exactly the same every time. I switch up the colors, the embellishments to offer variations of the initial design. My customer may love the design of a card but not like red, so to offer it in different colors doesn’t limit them to only one choice. I have more of a chance to sell cards this way.
Every artist wants to stay true to their style and create what they love, I feel that too so I just try to adapt my talents into everything I make with my customer in mind. So far, so good!