I’ve been running The Yellow Birdhouse for about 4.5 years. I have sold my handmade creations either through consignment or wholesale during those 4.5 years in local brick and mortars. I’ve been selling on Etsy for almost 3 years and I’ve run a second Woocommerce shop for about 2 years. So I’ve got some experience under my belt for sure. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I’m still learning. But I feel at this point in my journey I’ve got some wisdom to share. Today’s wisdom is all about the various resources and tools I use to run my creative business. These are tools I personally use every day and highly recommend. And many of them are free! This post will be kept up to date as I discover new share-worthy tools for creative shop owners to help you run the business you’ve always dreamt of!
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Tools for Creative Shop Owners
When you’re running your own small creative business, you have to wear ALLLLL the hats.
You have to think about websites, packaging, accounting, product development, marketing, promotion, shipping and everything else.
It’s a ton of work above and beyond developing your craft.
It’s taken me years to discover all the best resources and I don’t want you to waste that much time on the same struggle.
I want to help you free up time to be your best creative self.
So I’m revealing all my sources!
Shipping & Packaging
Unfortunately, shipping costs can be prohibitive. It’s one of the biggest hurdles for online sellers to overcome when opening shop.
Fellow Canadians will understand when I talk about the Canada Post magic slot! 😛 I actually design all of my products to be able to fit through the slot so that I only have to charge lettermail pricing for shipping within Canada. Darn that magic slot of doom! Lol
I’ve recently discovered SlotBox though and I’m in love! They have designed boxes that will fit through the magic slot! So you don’t have to worry about your items getting crushed. And their pricing is very reasonable. It’s a game changer for sure.
When I’m shipping items that won’t fit through the magic slot or that are heading to the US, I use Chit Chats Express. It’s a bit of a learning curve to get the hang of, but the pricing is wayyy better than you’ll get with Canada Post. It’s the only way to be able to afford international shipping for me. And I’ve had excellent experiences with Chit Chats customer service. (Seriously, they’ve seen me at my worst, most stressed out and have still been polite and helpful!)
If you do use Canada Post to ship parcels, make sure you have a Solutions for Small Business account & card, it’ll save you a small amount of money on shipments.
I do use some cardboard boxes and the most cost-effective ones I’ve found are sold in bundles on the Staples website. (You’ll pay much more for them in store, stick to the website, delivery is usually very prompt.)
I recently found these cute Thank You stickers on Amazon to add to my packaging! They end up costing about 3 cents per sticker. 🙂
I use Vistaprint for most of my marketing materials including business cards, notepads, return address labels and to make custom stickers. I’ve always been happy with the quality and pricing, and there’s usually always a coupon to be found! Like a $25 voucher through this link! Plus you can cash back on Vistaprint orders through Ebates.
Websites & Plugins
You should have your own website even if you host your shop on Etsy. It’s good to build up a little corner of the internet that’s your own. It doesn’t have to be complex, it just needs some basic information like who you are, what you do, a few photos and how to contact you.
I’ve gone through a few different webhosting companies so I feel super confident recommending Siteground. As soon as I switched to them, my site speed drastically improved. They have great customer service and they made switching over pretty easy. You can get a plan with Siteground for as little as $3.95 per month.
(One of the companies I tried was Bluehost and I would NOT recommend them. Siteground is so much better!)
You can test your site speed using Pingdom, it will give a good sense of how well your site is working and it tells you what to improve upon. (It you happen to speak techno-babble anyway!)
A few of the plugins I use for The Yellow Birdhouse site are Yoast (for SEO), jQuery Pin It (to add a pin it button to images), Social Warfare (to add social share buttons to posts) and FooGallery (for creating nice galleries of images.)
I’ve actually written a whole book dedicated to taking awesome photos using your smartphone, you can grab a free chapter through this post.
For now, here are some of the tools you need to know about.
Dropbox, for storing and sharing photos and for getting your pics off your phone and onto your computer or vice versa. I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to figure out that dropbox was the tool I needed for this. I used to email all my pictures to myself. I cringe to think of all the hours wasted during that process!
The best free editing apps I’ve found, and use everyday, are Photoshop Express and Snapseed. Yes, I double edit my photos. It’s worth it. I have yet to find a single app that will do everything I need it to do.
You can read all about my photo-taking process in depth in my e-Book!
Firstly, if you are not a graphic designer then you need to hire one to design your logo and branding. Don’t cheap out on this step! It’ll totally be worth it to help you develop your brand identity and stand out in the crowd.
But when running an online business, there are loads of other graphics that you will need to create, and it’s not reasonable to outsource everything to a pro. You gotta dive in and figure out some basic design skills on your own!
I use Picmonkey to design all of my pins and any other graphic I may need. I’ve been using it for years, and I use it almost everyday. There are different plans available, but I gladly pay for the Pro Plan, it’s $100/year. So worth it. I save money by only using the free versions of several other tools. 🙂
One of my favourite things about Picmonkey is that you can use your own fonts if you choose. I have quite a collection of fonts I’ve acquired from Creative Market. I find it helps my pins stand out when I’m not using the same fonts as everyone else.
Speaking of Creative Market, every Monday they offer 6 new freebies. I’ve scored so many FREE fonts, illustrations, graphics, stock images, social media templates and even a couple website themes! I’ve also purchased quite a few graphics since the pricing is very reasonable.
Here is this week’s offering:
When I’m designing pins and graphics I like to draw colour options from the overlays I’m using. I find it’s the best way to create a cohesive pin. I use html color codes for that. All you do is upload your image, click on the colour you like and it will tell you the html code for that colour.
If you’d like to know more about how I create pins for my Etsy listings, check out this post.
I focus a lot of my social media energy on Pinterest. But I am active on Facebook and Instagram as well. There are a few tools that make managing all these accounts easier.
In Tailwind you can organize your boards and your group boards into lists, meaning you can schedule a ton of pins in just a couple of clicks. You can decide how many pins per day you want to post and you can space them out so you’re not just posting a ton of pins to a single board at one go. I don’t have time to spend on manual pinning and remembering which group boards I’ve already added my pins to. Tailwind keeps track of that for me!
For planning out my Instagram posts I use the Plann app. Sometimes (often) I forget to post to IG regularly, so I like that I can set a reminder for each pic through Plann. I can also save hashtag lists and make sure that my feed continues to look cohesive and branded.
I use Linktree in my IG profile to be able to have more than one link available. There’s a basic plan that’s free to use. When I first started using Linktree I packed in as many links as possible, but I quickly realized that that was too overwhelming for people. Now I only have 3 links, one to the blog, one to the shop and one to subscribe (via discount code). Those are the main things I want people to know about, everything else was just too distracting.
So now when you click the link in my IG profile, it takes you here:
I have also used Buffer to schedule FB posts. I haven’t been super consistent, but that’s my fault, not Buffer’s. Lol. Buffer is fairly straight forward to use and there’s a free basic plan. You can use it to schedule to all types of social media, not just FB. That just happens to be what I use it for.
There are quite a few Etsy tools out there to help your shop succeed. Two that I’ve tried are Marmalead and Etsyrank.
I was lucky enough to get to use Marmalead while they still provided lots of info in the free version. Now the free version is extremely limited. I have yet to try the subscription, but it is definitely something I’m willing to pay for when the time comes.
Marmalead provides you with all kinds of information to help you ace your Etsy SEO. Keyword searches, recommendations and stats plus loads more valuable info.
When the free version of Marmalead stopped being useful I decided to give Etsyrank a try since they still have a free version. It provides a lot of the same info as Marmalead.
Etsyrank provides loads of info in their free version. You can compare keywords, look up categories, tell you where you rank in search and grade your listings.
There are a few other helpful Etsy-related services out there, but I haven’t tested them out personally yet. When I do, I’ll add them here if they’re share-worthy!
Yes, you should have an email list. Everybody says so and who am I to argue?!
I use MailerLite and I love it. It’s free to use up to 1000 subscriptions and it’s really user friendly. I’ve tried other popular services (Mailchimp was NOT for me!) and nothing was as easy to figure out as MailerLite. You can create various styles of opt-in forms and landing pages plus they offer automation, which is essential.
One of the things I love about MailerLite is that ALL of their features are available in the forever free plan! They don’t hold back the fancy features for the paid plans!
I have also created an email signature for all my business correspondence using the free version of Wisestamp. It automatically adds a lovely signature to all my emails that includes links to my social accounts and my latest blog post.
I’m a bit hopeless when it comes to staying up to date with the books, so my husband does all the bookkeeping for my businesses.
To Sum Up
Ok I realize this post might be a little overwhelming so here is a very basic list of all the tools for creative shop owners that I personally use. 🙂
Shipping & Packaging:
Website & Plugins
So is there anything on this list of tools for creative shop owners that you’ve never heard of before? Which ones are you eager to check out?