17 February 2017

4 tips for success from a dyed-in-the-wool webshop owner

Webshops: they're springing up everywhere. Practically anything can be bought online, from daily groceries to the most obscure niche-products, and the market is still growing. It's almost as if any entrepreneur with a bit of good will can have a successful webshop online in no-time at all.

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Well, we’ve got news for you: that is actually the case!

If you go about it smartly, that is. By orienting and informing yourself well before you begin, for instance: what should you take into consideration, how do you set up something like this? Fortunately, the internet is full of how-to's, tutorials and 'the-X-steps-to…'s telling you exactly what you should do to ensure you end up with the biggest & best & most amazing webshop in the history of webshops. And those are really useful, honestly.

Knottenwol Shopify

But what you really want is a peek behind the scenes, right?

Listen to someone who's done it all before. Someone who skipped the whole orienting and informing phase, for instance, and just started from scratch. Someone who ran into all sorts of obstacles on the way, and acquired a range of useful insights and skills while overcoming them.

Someone like Francis Notten of Knotten. About six years ago she decided to quit her career as a freelance translator, and open a store offering crochet- and knitting supplies. She found a beautiful location at the Voldersgracht in her hometown Delft, ordered a batch of wool and yarn in the most gorgeous colours and qualities, and opened her doors. She launched a website as well, because she felt that a store couldn't do without some form of online presence.

Pretty soon her business attracted a loyal following, thanks in part to the craft-workshops she offered from the start. Through her website she informed her customers about all sorts of things: new products, the workshops, her latest knitting- and crochet patterns, and the daily goings-on in the store.

In 2013 Francis branched out with a webshop, to sell the products from her store online as well. It became an instant success: currently the site welcomes about 3.000 visitors a day, and she is looking for extra hands to keep up with all the orders.

To achieve this, however, she had to overcome a few hurdles.

No matter how thoroughly you inform yourself, setting up a smoothly functioning webshop is no picnic. Producing a bunch of product descriptions and pictures is nowhere near the end of it: how do you ensure that people can order and pay securely? And what to do when your site crashes

Francis decided to tackle it with specialized software, and ended up with the Belgian webshop-platform SolidShop. This turned out to be a less than ideal match: SolidShop only kept track of the webshop-stock, and didn't register sales made in the store. To get the full picture, Francis had to synchronize the two stocks manually at the end of every day.

This was a time-consuming chore, even more so because the webshop quickly took off. And not just the webshop: her Delft-based store also got more traffic. To her amazement Francis now noticed how regulars enter the store with the announcement: "I saw on your site you had new stuff in!" The webshop functioned as a huge shop window, which her customers could check out from their armchairs.

Meanwhile the daily hassle of keeping stock became a growing frustration. Francis was fed up with it and switched to Shopify, a Canadian webshop-platform that could be configured in such a way as to make stock management a piece of cake. What's more, the program was incredibly sturdy: Shopify websites hardly ever crash. The only drawback was that Shopify initially didn't support the Dutch paying standard iDeal, but fortunately that feature was added soon enough.

Knottenwol Shopify

And then it became more and more fun

With the software running smoothly, Francis could devote herself to the creative aspects of her webshop. She decided to shoot her own product pictures, instead of using those supplied by the manufacturer. She bought a quality camera and thought of ways to give her products their own atmosphere, for instance by using recognizable backgrounds for various types of wool.

She started to put together all-inclusive knit- and crochet kits, and developed the Fourtune Crochet-A-Long, collective crocheting projects in which she provided the participants with a new bit of the pattern every week. Video content was the next challenge: she recorded tutorials in which she demonstrated knitting- and crocheting techniques, and reported on activities in the shop. She shared much of it on her facebook-page as well, and in her digital newsletter.

Then the window-function of the webshop turned out to have another surprising side-effect. Where Francis' workshops used to attract participants form the Delft area, her webshop now proved to be a magnet for people from far greater distances: people who checked her facebook-page, read her blog, watched her video tutorials, ordered her products. People who loved the handwritten personal note that came with their order, and immediately registered for a workshop.

Which brings us to Francis' other major passion: great service. Making people happy with a beautiful, high-quality product, and some personal attention to go with it. She takes customer service very seriously, spending at least two hours a day answering customer's questions. "I just resent having to disappoint people." The glowing reviews on her website – the average rating is 9,2 – show that this is the basis of her success.

Does she have advice for beginner online entrepreneurs? Sure!

In addition to good service and good software, a good online presence is superimportant. Things should be happening on your website, otherwise people don't return. A regularly updated blog, video tutorials, special events: combined with social media they ensure a constant stream of visitors.

Which brings Francis to another important issue: because this eats up time and energy, it only works well when you sell a product you are passionate about. You have to like it, and express that in everything you do.

She herself is living proof of how successful this formula is. Francis is Knotten: her customers come for the wool, but they stay for Francis. Wool can be bought in a hundred other stores, but personal attention Francis-style: that's priceless.

Want to know more about Shopify?

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About the author

CODE easily writes 100 lines of code every day, but a blog is a different story! So we leave that to Linda Bleijenberg, our copywriter. She lives around the corner and wants to be an IT wizard when she grows up. Until then, she writes blogs about what we at CODE are up to.