The Internet can provide knitterpreneurs with a fantastic opportunity to find customers from all over the world. So how do you start your knitting business niche website, process payments and get your customers to find it – all for FREE?
There are so many ways to create a presence on the web these days it can all get a bit confusing – do you start a blog? a website? an e-commerce site? a craft-mall store? an E-bay store? And then how do you get people to find you – on search engines? From advertising or promotions? Through links and recommendations? Is your head spinning yet??
Don’t worry! In this article I’m going to show you how to decide what sort of site you’ll need for your knitting business, and where to find the resources to build it easily, and for FREE. But the first thing you need to do before jumping in and starting your site is to sit down and do a bit of planning – this will save you a lot of time and headache!
The first step is to decide what you want your knitting website to achieve. Think about the following questions:
• Do you just want an online catalogue so people can get more information about you and your products? (Like an electronic business card)
• Or have you found a knitting niche that you want to become well known in?
• Do you want to be able to make sales online? Can your products be shipped around the country or worldwide?
• Is your goal to get people to find you online? Do you want lots of traffic to your knitting website? Do you want to be found through search engines?
• Or are you going to be mainly promoting your knitted products or services in the real world (like at markets and fairs or in stores etc)?
• Do you want to keep in regular contact with your customers? Do you have lots of good information about knitting or crochet that you can share with them?
• How much time do you want to spend on this project? Do you want to ‘set and forget’ or are you willing to make a long term commitment to updating it?
Following are the three main types of knitting website you can create, and depending on your answers to the above questions, you’ll find that one will stand out as the most suitable for your knitting business.
A Static Knitting Website – often used as an online catalogue, these websites are called “static” because their content does not tend to change. They are designed to give people information about you and your knitting business and products, and they are the easiest site to set up and maintain because once you’ve got all your information and pictures there, you don’t need to do anything but get people to visit it!
Many static sites rely on off-line promotion for their traffic, in other words, they are great to list on your business card or in advertising so people can go and find out more information and see your complete range of knitting online.
You can create a great static knitting website for free on services like weebly.com. I created a sample site there today and it was really quick and easy, and looks great. Have a look at http://gentletouchknits.weebly.com to see what’s possible in about half an hour! This site was completely free as it is hosted on weebly, there is also the option to register a domain name and host it yourself (but this means you will need to set up a hosting account – which is easy and cheap, but not free!)
The main disadvantage of static sites is that search engines seem to prefer “dynamic” sites like blogs, whose content is regularly updated. This means that your static site may be more difficult to get listed high in search engine results, and if thats the main way you want to get traffic, then perhaps a blog is a better option.
A Knitting Blog – like the one you are reading! A blog is a website that is regularly updated with “posts”, rather than static pages with information and product listings. It can be a great interactive way to keep in contact with your customers, and also a good way to get listed quickly and prominently in the search engines.
There are lots of places where you can start a free blog, the two I have used are blogger.com (which is owned by Google, and some say is faster to get listed and ranked because of this), and wordpress.com, and if you’re looking for convenience you can also create a blog through weebly.com. All are easy to use and quick to get started.
Blogs can be very personal and friendly, and will help you create an ongoing relationship with your customers. They are also a good way to dominate a niche market. But you do need to keep them up to date, so in that sense they are an ongoing commitment where a static site requires less maintenance.
A Knitting Shopping Site – This is similar to a static site, with listings of your knitted products, photos and descriptions, but it is also able to take orders and process payments.
There are a couple of ways you can do this. The fastest, easiest way is to set up a shop front through one of the online craft malls like etsy.com (I will do a whole post about craft malls and which are the best value, so look out for that one very soon!).
These are great because there is already lots of people searching on there for handmade products, so you’ll probably get some good instant traffic. These services usually charge a listing fee or a monthly access fee, as well as a percentage commission on every sale, so they’re not free. And most of the time you won’t really own your own site, so you might be limited in design or layout, and with some your store won’t get listed in search engines.
The other option is to add a shopping cart to your already existing static website. There are services like romancart.com or paypal.com which provide you with order buttons to place next to your knitting items for sale. Payments are then processed by secure servers. These two services are free to set up, but they do charge a small percentage commission per sale.
Now, you don’t need to limit yourself to just one of these types of site. Many people start by building a static site, then adding a shopping cart, then adding a blog. By doing this you get the benefit of all three models – and this is of course a long term plan.
If you are new to the online world, just start by going to a site like weebly.com or blogger.com and have a play around. You can’t break anything, and the best way to learn is by having a go – you’ll have your knitting business up online before you know it!
Let me know how you go with these sites in a comment below, or if you have found any other good free services for creating websites, blogs or shopping carts that other knitters may find useful, please share your experiences with us!