The following essay went out to subscribers of A-Clue.com this morning. You can join the club by clicking here.
This newsletter launched in 1997 as A Clue…to Internet Commerce, so in honor of that I want to present a quick four-step plan you can use to make yourself some serious cash. (I wasn’t thinking of this film when I wrote the title, but the late Burt Lancaster remains one of my personal heroes.)
This plan fits the spirit of our times because there is a huge hunger in America for American-made products. The loss of jobs making things hurts psychologically, not just economically. The fact that when you go to any American tourist trap you wind up buying the same tired crap from China spells opportunity.
Take advantage of it and you can be a local hero.
If you have Step One done, you can even implement this for the Christmas shopping season which starts, online, this week.
You’re looking for something that is semi-handmade, something made in your local area, something useful. Can you design it yourself? Go for it. Can’t? Find someone who can. Concentrate on local color, local materials, and local labor. You want to emphasize that in your marketing.
Price point? I’m thinking about $20/retail.
What can be made for $20? If you’re near the sea, use shells. In the mountains, think rocks (or crystals). Somewhere in the middle, like Atlanta? Clay.
Think awards, or knickknacks, or saucers, or small tea plates. You can do food products – local ingredients, remember. Preserves sound nice. (One of my favorite stops on I-85 is the peach stores in South Carolina – preserves, cider, relish, and knick-knacks.) Most of all, think local. If you can’t find anything in any small store like this, then look for local designers.
You don’t need an exclusive with the supplier. Instead, ask for an online exclusive. Since this is a new product, this won’t be hard to get. And make sure your production partner can scale, if need be. Consider working with a local charity or Goodwill. The story is as important as the good itself.
Remember. Local ideas. Local materials. Local production. Local labor. Keep the money local, too. Something that says where you are.
Step Two – Set It Up.
You need some things that are pretty simple to get. You need a store name. Play around with a site registrar – don’t spend money you don’t have on an existing URL. You need a merchant credit card account, with an online cash register. A Web site account. And a blog account. Out of pocket expenses for all this? Maybe $100 – if you let yourself get ripped-off.
It’s imagination and marketing that will get you where you need to go.
If your existing credit is good, the credit account should be easy. If you want to spend the time and money, incorporate. Bring in the production guy as your partner – you’re management and sales.
Step Three – Develop the Campaign
Got a local college? Look for a marketing class. Find a business professor who will champion you. Brainstorm. Don’t have a business school? How about an art school, maybe a film class? Again, find a champion on-campus who can use you to help him (or her) educate people.
On what? On slogans, on humor and (most of all) on images.
The key word here is YouTube. You’re going to make your ads with a handheld camera, only they won’t look like ads. They could be quirky little adventure stories (with the product as the hero, or at least in use as part of the story.) They could be comedy routines. They could be ad satires. They could be music videos (with a local band). They can be all these things.
Remember how, in the early days of Internet commerce, we used to say that test-marketing was free, so work your list? It still is. But YouTube is also free. That means you can post every finished film your class makes (and which you approve), both at YouTube and (through YouTube) on your blog.
Measure by views. They’re listed at YouTube every time you go there.
Step Four – Execute the Plan
Go to every local gift store in your area and try to get your product in there, if only a single unit. Emphasize the local angle.
Make sure you have a few new items on your blog every day. Push the RSS feed. Link to every other local blog you can, as well as those that deal with similar product categories. E-mail the travel writers, the food writers, the national magazines. Get your production people front-and-center.
Run those YouTubes. Get that traffic. Entertain.
Only after you’ve got sales, and a little national exposure, do you go to the local media. They will want the story then.
Finally, watch the money fly in.
Americans very much want to support American-made right now. And people in every state want to support producers in their state. If your price point is low, if your quality is good, if your advertising is quirky, you’ve got a business.
You’re going to make money. Welcome to the gift show.