There are only two ways to get more customers;
1 – You find customers (outbound marketing)
2 – Customers find you (inbound marketing)
If you simply make products, post them online, and wait for customers to come to you, it’s the equivalent of saying there’s a party at your house but neglecting to send invites or create an actual party, yet expecting people to show up.
Sending invites is the typical way to get people to a party.
>> Sending invites is the equivalent of outbound marketing.
It’s most useful when you know the people you want at your party. And, you have a way to contact them.
But let’s say you want a LOT of people to show up to your party…people you don’t know.
You have no way to contact them, so you need them to come to you.
How might you encourage people walking by to join your party?
The best way is to offer things people are always looking for.
- Good music
- Fun games
- Delicious food
The end goal is a great party with lots of people. But the music, games, and food are what draw people in.
>> Offering things people are looking for is the equivalent of inbound marketing.
But it’s not as simple as creating nice things and calling that inbound marketing. Although people do shop for nice things (e.g. beautiful jewelry, amazing art, nice smelling soaps), simply offering them is not marketing. You must be more strategic than that.
Let’s dive into what inbound and outbound marketing tactics are and how you can use them effectively.
1 – Outbound Marketing (You find customers)
Outbound marketing is any effort you make to go out and find potential new customers and get your business and products in front of them.
You’re reaching out to potential customers and trying to convince them to come check out your
It’s all the ways you try to make contact with people when they didn’t ask you to.
Although it’s the most common form of marketing, it tends to be less effective.
Consumers have so many options these days. And every business is shouting at us, trying to get our attention.
We’ve gotten pretty good at tuning out marketing messages. And they can even become annoying.
It’s sort of like someone trying too hard to get you to come to their party. They call you at work, show up on your doorstep, leave notes on your car, send you emails, etc.
Their desperation makes the party less appealing, right?
You may really want to go, but their over-selling makes you think: if the party is going to be so great, why do you have to try so hard to get people to come?
I’m not suggesting you stop outbound marketing. It’s still very useful.
But it shouldn’t be over-used or used in the wrong way.
How to make outbound marketing more effective
The best way to make outbound marketing more effective is to make it targeted. Quality over quantity.
Don’t throw dozens of marketing messages out there through different channels, in hopes something will stick; target the right people, in the right places, in the right way.
Not only will your marketing be more effective when you direct it toward the right people, it will also be less annoying.
For example, let’s say a local roofing company has started an expensive marketing campaign. They’re trying to reach anyone and everyone in the city they service.
Everywhere you go you see their posters on lamp posts and bulletin boards, you find flyers under your windshield wipers, their ads show up in your Facebook feed, and you see the business on your TV and hear them on your radio.
They want to be your first choice when you need to fix or replace the roof on your house.
But imagine you don’t even have a house, you’re renting. Those roofing ads are not only ignored by you, but they start to get annoying.
When the day comes that you own a home and need your roof fixed, you may actually avoid that company out of spite.
Perhaps that’s an exaggeration.
But either way, the roofing company has wasted time and money marketing to you, and the hundreds of others who don’t need their roof fixed or replaced.
On the other hand, if the roofing company created a marketing campaign to target older neighborhoods where the majority of homes are likely to need a new roof soon, they’d be reaching more people who require their services.
Online, they may create an ad campaign that targets people searching keywords such as “roof repair”, “roof replacement”, “best type of roof”, “how to fix a roof leak”, etc.
Now their marketing is reaching people who actually have the potential to be their customers.
First, make sure your business is serving a specific group of people.
People who can easily be found in groups. Like-minded people hanging out in the same place; reading the same blog, attending the same event, interacting in the same Facebook group, searching the same topics on Google, etc.
(More on this in How to Define a Target Market for your Handmade Business)
When you try to serve a bigger group of people, marketing becomes harder, not easier.
Next, get to know your group of people and the types of products, businesses, and marketing messages they’re interested in.
Combine the products, business, and marketing messages your people are interested in with the places your people are hanging out.
What does that look like for a small handmade business?
Let’s say I make all-natural cleaning products
- My people: My business targets health-focused people; those who want to reduce the number of toxins they’re exposed to daily.
- Products they’re interested in: I know my target market is interested in toxin-free products and I’ve created a line of toxin-free cleaning products for the home.
- Marketing messages they’re interested in: messages that help educate them on the harmful chemicals lurking in everyday products and healthy alternatives.
- Places my people hang out: one of the places my target market can be found is on Instagram where they’re following health-focused accounts and hashtags such as #toxinfreeliving.
- Combine all 4 elements: I create a “This NOT That” post on Instagram with a popular shower cleaner on one side of the image and a list of its ingredients and the health issues they’re known to cause. On the other side of the image is my cleaner and its list of natural ingredients and their health benefits. The post’s caption uses popular hashtags my target market follows, such as #toxinfreeliving, #allnaturalproducts, #cleanliving, etc.
This type of targeted outbound marketing is much more effective than simply posting product photos with a “Check out my Etsy shop for more” caption.
Examples of outbound marketing
There are many ways to use outbound marketing in your business. Below are some examples
- Paid advertising (Facebook ads, Google ads, banner ads on blogs, etc.)
- Posting promotional content on social media (e.g. link to a new product, picture of a product you sell, mentioning a sale, etc.)
- Events (e.g. craft shows, trade shows, festivals you’re a vendor at)
- Putting up posters
- Sending out flyers
- Handing out business cards (when people don’t ask for one)
- Cold-calling, cold-emailing, or mailing lookbooks to boutiques to get wholesale orders
- Sending out press releases
- Getting interviewed on TV shows, radio shows, for magazines. etc.
I think of outbound marketing as the ways businesses show up in consumers’ lives, uninvited.
Sometimes an uninvited guest in your home can be great!
But when they show up at the wrong time and behave in a way that causes a disruption, it’s not so great.
Try to be a gracious guest in your potential customers’ lives, especially when you’re showing up uninvited.
2 – Inbound Marketing (They find you)
Inbound marketing is when you create content consumers are searching for. That content may be products, information, entertainment, or inspiration you post online.
It’s the closest scenario to: if you build it, they will come.
The key is, building something your target market is actually looking for.
Inbound is more so: If you do keyword research and know what people are looking for, then build it, they will come.
Making nice jewelry and expecting people to find your business because people like nice jewelry is not what we’re going for.
Making butterfly-themed jewelry because you’ve done keyword research and know that each month, thousands of people are searching for: “butterfly necklace”, “gold butterfly necklace”, “butterfly choker”, “butterfly bracelet”, etc. is what we’re going for with inbound marketing.
Another example of inbound marketing is: knowing that thousands of people are searching “how to clean costume jewelry” and creating a step-by-step article on your website’s blog, or a YouTube video explaining your secret method to cleaning costume jewelry. People may notice the jewelry on your website, or love the piece you’re cleaning in the video (which you happen to sell), and check out your products.
You may also know that millions of people follow fashion-forward Instagram accounts and hashtags. So you build an Instagram account full of Instagram-worthy outfits giving followers ideas and inspiration for their wardrobe. Your jewelry is often a part of the outfits, but rarely the focus.
Potential customers are coming to you because you have exactly what they’re looking for.
You don’t have to worry about annoying people with your marketing or wasting time and money marketing to the wrong people.
The right people come to you at the exact time they need you.
If someone is looking for a “gold butterfly choker necklace” and they find your business because you have a “gold butterfly choker necklace” listed on your site, it’s a match made in heaven.
>> Sending invites (outbound marketing) is asking people to come to your party.
>> Creating the party people are looking for (inbound marketing) is people asking you if they can come to your party.
Why inbound marketing is more effective
There are several perks to inbound marketing, but let’s look at a few of the most important (in case you’re not convinced you should be spending more time on it).
1 – You become an expert
When it comes to inbound marketing, you offer consumers more than just a product they can buy.
When you can answer all of your target market’s questions, even ones they didn’t know they had, they start to view you as an expert.
For example, let’s say you need your roof replaced.
You likely have a few questions, such as:
- How much does it cost to replace a roof?
- How to choose a roof material
- What to look for when researching installers
- How long should a new roof last?
One local company has in-depth articles on their site answering all your questions and guiding you through the process.
You start to trust the roofing company and see them as having more expertise than the other companies that simply use their websites to list the services they provide.
Through their articles, they’re proving they’re extremely knowledgeable when it comes to roofing.
And who are you going to spend thousands of dollars with when you need a new roof? A company you trust. An expert. Not just some guy with a business card.
Show off your knowledge and get your target market to view you as an expert by sharing informational content.
2 – You’re reaching potential customers at the right time
Let’s use the roof replacement example again.
You currently don’t need your rough fixed or repaired, yet the roofing company has spent a lot of money on outbound marketing tactics to reach you.
Are you going to pay attention to roofing ads?
With inbound marketing, the consumer is often ready (or close to being ready) to buy.
If you do need your roof repaired and you search “how much does it cost to fix a roof in X city” and come across a roofing company’s website, that roofing company is presenting themselves at the perfect time.
3 – More cost-effective
Many inbound marketing strategies are set it and forget it.
For example, if the roofing company writes one article on how much a new roof costs, that article continuously attracts new potential customers.
They spend time and/or money once and can reap the benefits for months, maybe even years to come.
Inbound marketing tends to produce a better return on investment.
Examples of inbound marketing
The following are examples of inbound marketing
1 – Posting non-promotional content to social media
People don’t go on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. to shop. They log in to be informed, entertained, inspired, etc. Posting more entertaining content on social media can help with inbound marketing.
For example, the roofing company may share photos on Instagram of different home styles and the type of roof and roof color that help create a specific style. A black metal roof for a modern farmhouse style home, clay roof tiles for a Spanish style home, cedar shakes for a cape cod style home, etc. People building a new house or renovating a home will be inspired by all the styles and learn the importance of choosing the right roof material and color for a home.
Instead of thinking of ways you can promote your products on social media, think about the types of accounts your target market follows and interacts with, and why.
Remember, they’re not logging into a social media account to shop. What type of information are they looking for, as it relates to your products.
For example, someone may follow several fashion accounts on Instagram. But they follow them for outfit inspiration. If a jewelry maker simply posted a photo of their earrings on a flat surface, that’s not providing inspiration. On the other hand, a photo of a head to toe outfit that incorporates the earrings (but doesn’t make them the focus), provides inspirational outfit ideas to followers.
Your products may allow you to share informational posts.
>> A health-related business can share a wide range of health tips.
>> A business selling eco-friendly products could share information about the environment and tips for being more eco-friendly.
>> A business selling cat products could share information about how to keep a cat healthy and happy.
Explore topics and content that’s related to your products, but not focused on them.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is a detailed and complicated subject. It’s forever changing as search engines, such as Google or Etsy, try to improve search results. They want their users (people searching a term) to find exactly what they’re looking for, quickly.
Although there is a lot to SEO, the basics are to incorporate the keywords your potential customers are searching into your online shop, in a natural way (meaning, don’t randomly stuff a keyword in where it doesn’t belong in hopes it will help your website or listing show up when someone searches it).
For example, although the industry term is “composite shingles”, the roofing company does keyword research and discovers, each month, almost 20,000 more people search “asphalt shingles” than “composite shingles”. Although the roofing company has the exact product people are searching for, if they use “composite shingles” on their site instead of “asphalt shingles”, they won’t get nearly as much website traffic.
Take the time to learn the basics of search engine optimization and constantly work to implement best practices. Never try to cheat the system, Google will catch on and they will punish your site by dropping it in the rankings.
Also spend time getting to know your target market and the keywords they use to describe your products and the terms they type into search bars. The tactic I share in the next section for blog articles, will be helpful in gathering terms for SEO.
Google scans words and images from your website to determine what it’s about. It uses that information to match the best website to a user’s search.
If your website only has a couple of pages and a limited number of words per page, Google won’t be able to collect enough information to determine what your website is about and which searches it should be matched with.
Articles are a great way to add more content and context to your website.
For example, instead of the roofing company having a home page, “Get a quote” page, “Contact Us” page, and “Service page”, they could add a blog and add dozens of articles answering common roofing questions, and providing the information and inspiration their target market needs to make a purchasing decision.
Spend some time on Google typing keywords into the search bar. Enter keywords you think your potential customers may search.
For example, if I’m selling natural cleaning products, I might type “why should I use toxin-free cleaning products” into the Google search bar.
Check to see what appears in the dropdown of the search bar, the People also ask section, and the Related Searches section.
These are all questions and terms people are typing into Google.
If I were to write a detailed article on the benefits of using green cleaning products, people who are considering switching to natural cleaning products have a good chance of finding my website (a better chance than if they typed “natural cleaning products” into Google because there’s less competition for the term “benefits of using green cleaning products”).
Each search query makes for a great blog article that can bring you potential customers. The topics are also great content for your social media posts and newsletters.
Word of Mouth
When someone raves to other people about a product or business those people feel compelled to check that business out, on their own. You don’t have to do a thing.
For example, let’s say my neighbour just had their roof redone, so I ask him who he would recommend. He suggests the roofing company he used because they were a good price, offered good customer service, and provided quality work.
That roofing company simply did their job, and did it well, and gained a new customer without having to do anything extra.
Consider ways you can create an extraordinary experience for your customers; one that would make them rave about your business or products to others, or recommend your business to friends/family/colleagues asking for their advice.
Depending on the products you sell, there may also be ways your products make others stop and take notice.
What might invoke people to ask your existing customers: “What is that?” or “Where did you get that?” when they’re wearing/using/displaying your products.
Your website design, layout, information, photos, etc. can entice users to willingly click around to learn more and/or shop.
A poor website or online shop can have people leaving seconds after they get get there. Then all the hard work you’ve put in, through inbound and outbound marketing, is a waste.
Once your ideal customer lands in your website or Etsy shop, you want the logo they see, the photos, the colours, the text, the products, etc. to all entice them to stay and look around.
If a shopper discovers my Etsy shop when searching for a “gold butterfly choker necklace” and they notice my logo looks unprofessional, the shop sections are unrelated to jewelry, and the other listings for jewelry aren’t on trend or their style, they’re going to leave without buying.
On the other hand, if my shop looks professional, focuses on jewelry only, and they have several styles of butterfly necklaces to choose from, as well as other on-trend jewelry pieces, they’re going to see me as an expert when it comes to trendy jewelry and butterfly jewelry, and spend more time clicking around.
I’m more likely to make a sale in this scenario.
For each page of your website or online shop, think about the questions a shopper may have next or what they may be interested to see. Also consider what might turn them off and get them clicking the back button.
Make sure your photos, shop sections, product descriptions, links, and even other products keep people interested, help you gain their trust, and nudge them towards buying.
*Emailing a newsletter
Newsletters are a bit of a grey area between inbound and outbound (in my opinion).
Technically, sending a newsletter is you reaching out to potential customers (which I would typically define as “outbound marketing”).
However, when someone signs up to receive your newsletter, they’re giving you permission to contact them. They’re telling you they want to receive your messages. That’s why I consider it “inbound marketing”.
I’ve written an article here about how to use email marketing effectively, and sharing a year’s worth of newsletter ideas that aren’t just: here’s my new product, I’m having a sale, view my new collection, etc.
You’ll also enjoy this article on using the Trojan Horse Method, which is a technique of hiding a promotional message inside a “gift”.
I think of inbound marketing as the ways customers show up on a business’s doorstep, uninvited.
You’ve thrown an amazing party and customers are knocking at the door and peaking through the window trying to take in what they can.
How to make inbound marketing more effective.
The main difference between inbound marketing and outbound marketing is:
>> outbound marketing tends to be focused on the business (i.e. look at what I’m selling)
>> inbound marketing focuses more on the consumer (i.e. this is how I can be helpful to you)
Inbound marketing should be consumer-focused
Create content based on what your target market wants to read about, or consume, not based on what you think will help you sell your products.
How often would you log into your personal Instagram account if every post was an advertisement trying to sell you a product?
If you’re posting nothing but promotional posts, you’re using social media for outbound marketing, and chances are, it’s not very effective.
But if you create content people are searching for on social media, and its focus isn’t to sell, you’re using social media for inbound marketing.
It’s also important not to create content based on best guesses (i.e what you think people are searching for).
Spend time conducting keyword research so you know exactly what people are typing into search bars.
Although online searches don’t always translate to what people are searching for offline (e.g. at craft shows or in boutiques), they’re usually pretty close.
For example, if thousands of people are searching for a “natural oven cleaner” online each month, those people are going out into the real world and shopping. They may show up at your craft show table.
People at a craft show may not be there to find a natural oven cleaner, but chances are, many people at the craft show are aware of the harsh chemicals in most oven cleaners and have choked on the fumes when using them to clean their oven.
Keyword research that proves there is a high search volume for a term online makes it a safer bet that there will be demand for the same product when it’s sold at craft shows or in boutiques.
Marketing can feel overwhelming, and it often seems as though it’s not giving you results.
It can be hard to determine where a customer came from and what the ROI (return on investment) is on a social media post.
Most marketing also doesn’t offer immediate results.
Someone who sees your helpful Instagram post likely isn’t going to buy from you that day. If you’re lucky, they’ll follow your account and think about buying after they’ve seen several of your posts.
That takes time. But you’ll never get to that point if you don’t spend time on marketing, and doing it the right way.
Start now with the expectation that you likely won’t see results for a few weeks, if not longer. Don’t give up if you don’t see results after a couple of posts.
Your marketing should be a mix of inbound and outbound. And my suggestion is to spend more time on inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing is the helpful friend.
They’re always there when you need a helping hand and don’t ask for much in return.
Outbound marketing is the friend who’s always asking for help.
They’re constantly asking for a favor, asking to borrow money, wanting you to listen to their problems, etc. It’s always, me, me, me.
Which friend are you more likely to want to help?
The helpful friend who’s constantly giving more than their taking.
Your potential customers feel the same way about businesses. They’re going to spend their money with the ones that provide more value.
A business needs a good mix of inbound and outbound marketing.
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!