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Maker Business – Marketing

Marketing is your job

Rule #9: Marketing is your job.

Marketing you say? Hell yeah, I got this one…

I mean, marketing is all about making things look good, right? Check this out:

The Button

OK, I’m only slightly kidding. I know marketing is more than just pretty pictures, and making things look good, but I do believe that’s definitely a part of it. Just look at the stuff that Evil Mad Science or Adafruit does. They both do their best to provide good, clear photos of their products. Check out the Make Flickr Pool. Some photos are really terrible, and others are really well done. I’m much more likely to view a photo and read about a project if the photo is awesome. (Awesome photos can also help you get in the roundup.)

I may have a bit of an edge, because I’m sort of a photographer, but even if you aren’t, there are some great tutorials online to improve your photography no matter what you shoot with (even an iPhone!) and if it’s really important, find someone to take good photos! If you can find a maker who would take some great photos in exchange for a free widget, send them the widget. A good set of photos go a long way.

OK, enough about photos… on to the other parts of marketing.

You should be blogging about your progress, and tweeting, too. Take pictures and videos of every milestone, and post those. Use every opportunity to talk about your work in progress and get people excited about it, which will not only start to form a community around it but will also build demand for it.

That’s all marketing. Community management is marketing. Tutorial posts are marketing. Facebook updates are marketing. Emailing other Makers in related fields is marketing. I suppose what I’m doing right now, writing this list, is marketing.

You can have the greatest product in the world, but if no one knows about it, you may never sell one. Marketing is sharing, it’s telling your story. It’s also hit-n-miss, and there’s no formula to make sure your marketing is effective, but you need to do it anyway.

I’ll also add in this little update: I created a store, and have already sold one unit. Starting slow, right? I’ve not opened it to the general public yet, but invited a few interested people to order. I’ll ramp up a bit and see how it goes. As for the rules, the next one is not fun…

(See all the posts in this series: Begin, Stock, Buy Smart, Basic Rules, No Leeway, Be Open, Community, Manufacturability, Marketing, Shipping, Lessons Learned, The Real Costs.)

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Maker Business – Manufacturability

Design for manufacturability

Rule #8: Design for manufacturability.

I have not designed for manufacturability, and I think for what I am doing, that’s fine. I’m basically acquiring all of the parts, doing a bit of soldering, a bit of programming, some drilling, filing and painting, and then some assembly.

The actual manufacturing of all the bits (at this stage) is happening elsewhere in the chain. Speaking of the chain though, I can already see (even with my initial run) that any area for small improvement can become a large improvement when you multiply it by 10, or 100, or 1,000 or more. That said, I’m considering investing in some better equipment. The hole saw I was using is just slightly too small. For a one-off thing, that was fine, as I didn’t mind a few minutes of filing to size the hole correctly. That “few minutes” times 10 or 20 starts to add up. I’ve also got a mediocre soldering iron, and if a better iron can make the soldering go faster, that’s a benefit. Getting things done faster means you’re making more in less time, and if you’re paying yourself (and you should be) then your hourly rate just went up.

I’m barely into this thing and I can already see where large manufacturers look for the smallest of savings to cascade into bigger savings (of time and money.) One thing I really don’t want to compromise on though is quality. I still make sure every unit looks good, and functions. I test each unit after programming and after assembly.

And now for some good news… I’ve made my first sale! I haven’t really opened the store to the public yet, but for the dozen or so people who were really interested in the product, I’ve started emailing them and offering them the first chance at ordering. We’ll see how it goes from here. Who knows, I may sell the first batch and then no one will ever want to buy one again. It’s a distinct possibility, and I’m protecting against that right now by not keeping a lot of stock. Oh, I’ve also learned more about shipping this week than I ever wanted to, and I still feel like I know almost nothing. Fun times!

Oh, I’ll warn you now: the next post in this series will be filled with amazing insight. Stay Tuned! :)

(See all the posts in this series: Begin, Stock, Buy Smart, Basic Rules, No Leeway, Be Open, Community, Manufacturability, Marketing, Shipping, Lessons Learned, The Real Costs.)

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Maker Business – Community

Create a community to support and enhance your products

Rule #7: Create a community to support and enhance your products.

I haven’t really created a community (yet) and I’m not entirely sure I’d be able to, but as it is, I’m trying to service an existing community… the users of Sparkbooth.

Now I didn’t just jump into this existing community with the idea that there was money to be made… I’m a Sparkbooth user, and in solving my own problem I’ve also solved the problem of other Sparkbooth users. (And yes, I’m not the only one.)

I’m hoping members of the community support my product, and as for the enhancing part, well, that may happen just as a result of having customers. I’ve already thought about ways to make things better (the product and the process) as well as some alternatives that may be of interest to people.

Of course, there’s this bit regarding customer support:

Get it right and you can have a community rooting for you. Get it wrong, and you’ll have a virtual riot on your hands.

Hey, no pressure, right!?

(See all the posts in this series: Begin, Stock, Buy Smart, Basic Rules, No Leeway, Be Open, Community, Manufacturability, Marketing, Shipping, Lessons Learned, The Real Costs.)

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Maker Business – Be Open

Be as open as you can

Rule #6: Be as open as you can.

I think for this current project (the USB Button) I’ve been pretty open, especially since the original post that spawned this whole thing laid out the components, instructions, and code to make what I plan on selling.

Could I be even more open? Probably, but right now I’m more focused on getting the product out there, and seeing if people will buy it (and it looks like some people already want to.)

Here’s a fun bit from Rule #6.

If someone else decides to use our files, make no significant modifications or improvements, and just manufacture them and compete with us, they’ll have do so much more cheaply than we can to get traction in the marketplace.

If they can do so, at the same or better quality, then that’s great: the consumer wins and we can stop making that product and focus on those that add more value (we don’t want to be in the commodity manufacturing business).

Now, in my case, someone could easily do it cheaper. Well, I guess easily is an opinion. But again, if someone does all the work, and produces a decent product at a lower price, then good for them! And as mentioned, the consumer wins. (I’d probably even buy one!)

I’ve already got a guy who is telling any potential customers that they can just go to ebay and buy “one of these” for super-cheap.

buttons

By “one of these” he is referring to a plastic USB footpedal from China. I’m not trying to brag, but the button I’m building is all quality parts, and it’s in a die-cast metal enclosure, and it looks really nice. (Well, I think so.) If you’re running a photo booth at a wedding do you want a cheap plastic footpedal or something that looks awesome. Sure, you can rebuild the footpedal to look awesome, but not everyone wants to spend the time (or has the skills) to do so.

I thought about ignoring the comment from Gary, but hey, more power to him! I’m not going to ignore it, I’m totally going to talk about it, and link to it. How’s that for open?

(See all the posts in this series: Begin, Stock, Buy Smart, Basic Rules, No Leeway, Be Open, Community, Manufacturability, Marketing, Shipping, Lessons Learned, The Real Costs.)

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Maker Business – No Leeway

You get no leeway for being a Maker

Rule #5: You get no leeway for being a Maker.

Hmmm, so part of Rule #5 says “The customer is always right. Even if they’re being a jerk” which causes me some concern, and here’s why. When I first published the code and instructions for my button I was more than happy to answer questions on the blog post, and even via email, because I’m all about being open, and sharing, and helping other people make awesome things… that’s just who I am. But… I’m also a business, and yes, I do need to make money, and yes, I do try to make customers happy, but I do realize I can’t do it at the expense of the company itself. If this whole endeavor goes down the tubes and makes my life a living heck I’d like to think I could walk away from it. (People who know me are now laughing, knowing that I’m terrible at quitting and tend to keep things going way too long on occasion.)

All that said, I don’t expect any leeway for being a maker, but I guess I am hoping for some leeway because I’m just one guy trying to help people out by providing a product they want. I’ll go above and beyond to help customers if things don’t work right, and I hope they’d be understanding of the fact I’m just a small business trying to make simple things, and not some huge corporation trying to make a million dollars. Maybe that’s my expectation because that’s how I look at things. I do tend to give makers leeway because I usually believe that they are in business doing what they are doing more for the love of it than for the money, and I value that, and want to see them succeed, and if it means I give a little leeway, than so be it.

So going back to “The customer is always right. Even if they’re being a jerk” line… I try really hard not to be a jerk customer, and I just hope other people do the same thing.

(See all the posts in this series: Begin, Stock, Buy Smart, Basic Rules, No Leeway, Be Open, Community, Manufacturability, Marketing, Shipping, Lessons Learned, The Real Costs.)