How traditional arts and crafts industries are moving online to keep up

Small businesses are significant contributors to the Australian economy and positively impact local communities in many ways. Yet there are a number of challenges small businesses continue to face, such as increased competition from larger brands and difficulty in connecting long-term with customers due to the many options consumers now face.

When I decided to combine my entrepreneurial spirit and creative flair to pursue my lifelong dream of opening The Ceramic Studio in Brisbane, I felt confident in my abilities to set up a business and develop a range of classes that would appeal to all sorts of people interested in ceramics. However, there were a number of challenges I didn’t anticipate facing, one being finding the best avenue to market my studio and courses.

Initially, I was struggling to turn over enough revenue to cover the rent or even support my own wage. I eventually realised there were a number of options available to market and create visibility for the studio, but the key was finding a channel that worked best for my business.

Traditional marketing activities like leaflet drops can be a great way to reach your local community, but being a solo operator when I first started, I found it time-consuming and was only able to reach a limited market. It also meant we weren’t able to be specific in who we were targeting.

Then there’s the option of paid advertising, which was a method I wasn’t able to consider long-term as it was simply out of our budget. While paying for advertisements in a local newspaper meant I could reach a large local audience, only a few customers trickled through here and there, and the business return simply didn’t cover the cost.

I ended up trying a number of other marketing methods but was struggling to make ends meet and eventually the reality hit hard that I might need to close the business. I ended up going back to full-time work and worked in the studio at any opportunity I had. I needed an option that was going to allow me to keep my doors open and also grow the business – and that’s when I decided to start marketing online.

The number of people using the internet has surged over the past year, with more than one million people coming online for the first time every single day since January 2018. I could also see people’s appetite for handmade products and activities was growing, with the rise of artisan and craft industries and sites like Etsy becoming hugely popular. I knew that I had to think outside the box and move with the times, so when my son mentioned the e-commerce platform Groupon, I thought it was definitely worth a shot.

Leveraging an online marketplace with millions of subscribers enabled me to not only target new, local customers over multiple digital channels
– online, email and mobile, and also through social media – but to do it in a measurable way. I’m also able to create meaningful engagement and interaction with my existing customers through the campaigns I run.

The Ceramic Studio now has a steady flow of customers coming through our doors, so much so that after a year concentrating on the business I was able to finish up at my full-time job and open a second studio. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt in this process is that there’s not one solution that will fit all business needs, and being open and flexible to trying new things and willing to take risks can really pay off.

Cath Rodriguez, Owner and Founder, The Ceramic Studio

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