In case you didn't know, all of us here at Tees In A Pod love getting your questions!
We dedicate time to Q&A's at the end of each weekly podcast. However, when discussing some questions, we realise there are those that warrant a little more time. A question by Peter Grigoriadis regarding MySpace spawned the blog post by Tim "Is MySpace Dead?", and the following is in response to another great question by From Diane Trujillo (@PandorazBox80 on twitter).
THE QUESTION: "Tim spoke about focusing on your strengths when deciding how to divy up the workload. What would you suggest for a solo designer who needs to find someone who has the strengths which are your weaknesses in order to have a well-balanced business? Is it even necessary to have a partner to help? Specifically, how do you deal with your weaknesses, especially those that affect necessary aspects of a successful business. For someone who is just starting out with nothing but a vast imagination and a few concrete ideas but no business background or experience, how do you turn that into a successful venture?"
Going it alone is a choice everyone needs to make for themselves. The decision doesn't mean that you can't be successful, however it may mean there will be areas of the industry you'll need to learn about, as well as the need to make some tough choices. It is important to identify behaviour that may weaken your business and identify how you can turn weaknesses into strengths.
By collectively answering this question, our aim is to help anyone who chooses to go the solo path - discarding any and all outsourcing such as enlisting the help of a web developer/programmer or marketing expert.
FROM A POD SHOP CUSTOMIZATION PERSPECTIVE - By Amanda When I saw that Zazzle was offering store owners the opportunity to customize their stores through "Advanced Store Customization BETA", I wanted to try it, but didn't know how to do it or where to start. After a long process of finding articles, watching YOUtube videos and listening to tutorials about this very topic, I then tried it. Bit by bit I found myself learning how to use CSS and Html. At first I was a bit overwhelmed by it, for it's like another language, but as I took it slowly and made sure to back up my work, I felt more at ease when using it. It was a weakness that I had, but my determination and in not restricting myself, allowed me to grow in this area. It might of taken me longer, than if I had a team to work with, but diving into something with an open mind and in trying something new, eventually become a strength I never knew you had. Weaknesses might just be, undiscovered strengths. If you have the time, explore and try it, for you never know what you might uncover!
FROM A PRODUCT DESIGN PERSPECTIVE - By Manz Without having a team to collaborate with, there are a few traps one could fall into:
1. You may spend countless hours creating a fast selection of designs, yet you've neglected to make some choices which can result in a curve in the quality of what is available on your store. It's not uncommon to become attached to your work, however you should always try to take a step back and be objective - that could possibly mean purging designs that don't meet the standard of your best seller. While it may be upsetting to think that this work will live out its days on a back-up disk, it's better to accept that and keep what you present to your fans at the highest quality possible. I personally have more design work that's never been seen than what is online and under the scrutiny of the public eye. My philosophy, however, is that nothing is ever wasted - new processes can be learned and better ideas born.
2. While it's important to put you into your work, you must always still acknowledge the demographic you will be marketing to. Just because your favourite colour is pink doesn't mean that colour is appropriate for the design or the customer. Same applies with the use of fonts. Try to always make your decisions based on the relevance to the idea and not just your personal preferences.
3. Without the input of peers/collaborators, you may only develop your concept/design to 80% of its potential. My entire experience in graphic design has involved a development process which has always included feedback from others. By enlisting fresh eyes and a different point of view, you can push your ideas further. If you are a solo artist, a good idea is to use the many social media sites that are out there and ask for feedback. Post a graphic to your Facebook wall or load it up to twitpic. When it comes to obtaining feedback, be specific in what you ask. Do you love or hate the blue used in this design?Do you think the font is right for this design? Etcetera...You get the idea.
SEO is important to everyone who is selling online. "If you build it, they won't come." or so we said in one of our podcasts. You need to do your best to optimise the traffic to your site. And you need about it from the get go.
When you start building your online presence factor in google into all that you do: - When putting up blog posts link using anchor text - Make sure your on-site SEO game is in shape - Actively seek back links to your site from reputable website - Put out quality SEO friendly content. Content that if it spreads it will benefit your online presence - Get your robots.txt file in order - Use social networks to amplify your reach and gain more backlinks. - Read up on google to try better understand how it "works" (not that anyone fully understands it)..by understanding it (or parts of it) your entire SEO effort will become more coordinated and make sense.
If this area is where you find you're weak, use the resources that are available online - tiap recently started a SEO corner where we hope to draw your attention to the small things that you can do to help your chances of success. If you find the language is still greek to you, directly ask the author for help/clarification. These authors are writing up these post to help those who are interested, so ask, they'll be happy to hear from you and help.
As a solo artist/sole trader, you won't have the same luxury of time that competing businesses enjoy. It would be unwise however to think that you don't need to use any of the social media sites available to you for FREE. Having to micro-manage your time may mean that you need to once again make some hard decisions; perhaps choosing ONE social media site that you can pour all of your free time into. Try dating each social media site first and read the TIAP blog post by Amanda, Before You Divorce Social Media, You Need To Be "Engaged".
When going it alone as a solo artist one important avenue that is overlooked is branding. To build your business from the ground up it is important to even start with a strong name that either defines your products or contains a powerful keyword relating to your products. Knowing which keywords to target and the buying phrases your customers are looking for can really jump start your business or have your business looking at no hits/sales if you choose poorly. An example of targeting buying phrases is instead of targeting the keyword artistic t shirts go after the phrase buy artistic t shirts as if you can get ranked for this you will be looking at a pool of those looking to buy and not browse artistic t shirts.
Another thing to keep in mind is to be as specific as possible. As a solo owner you should specialize in one style or type of shirt or merchandise. Being a jack of all trades and trying to vary your designs from cute to offensive is probably going to be too exhausting for one person to pull off. Instead find a niche that you have an interest in and that others have an interest in buying t shirts or merchandise in and own it. By dominating your niche you should be perceived as one of the only places to go in town for products in that niche and the sales will follow. To dominate in your niche you may want to join forums related to the products you are selling. Make sure to actually participate in the forums with good solid posts and not just push your products. Forum users can easily see through those who are just there to spam versus those that are giving back something to the community while promoting their products.
We hope that helps you Diane and anyone opting to go it alone.