I found out about The Selling Lounge from Cafe Handmade user and fellow environmentally-conscious artisan Diana. (Click her name to be taken to her website.) It's described by the operators as a "peer support" network where artisans are able to promote themselves by promoting others. It's also a good resource for learning more about important topics like advertising, social networking sites, and search engine optimization (SEO).
Membership to the forum is free (my favorite price!) and must be approved by the administrator before your account becomes active. The approval requirement is not likely to be a hinderance to anyone, as I found myself approved within 30 minutes. Now it is important to note that unlike other tools I have reviewed in the past, this website is NOT specifically for handmade goods and artists. Any online shop owners are welcome as long as their products are family friendly (PG). This may be ideal for those who sell both on handmade venues and on an auction site like eBay or a sales site like Zazzle. Why might I recommend checking out this forum for those who are only on handmade venues?
Reason #1: Store Directory - This forum offers a free directory that uses keywords, links, and descriptions to allow members to provide information about their online stores in a format that is Google/search engine-friendly. This is a free way to promote yourself and potentially increase your rank in online searches.
Reason #2: Link Exchange Opportunities - If you find someone else whose site attracts visitors that would be interested in the products you sell, you can get free advertising by adding their advertising banner to your site/shop/blog. In return, they add your advertising banner to their website, driving traffic to you. You'll want to do this with some discretion because otherwise you won't see much of a traffic increase. What I mean is that if you sell crocheted scarves, you may be more successful in driving traffic when you do a banner exchange with a jewelry maker than with a graphic designer.
You also want to build up a reputation for reliability on your website just like you want build up your credibility on Twitter. Your readers/site viewers should know that when they click on a banner on your site that it's going to be a site you've at least reviewed and decided is appropriate to post. Do not ever do a link exchange with someone whose site you've never visited! Your customers will most likely see your promotion of another person's site, even just via banner ad, as an endorsement. Just take care with who you choose to exchange with and make sure their style, language, graphics, products, etc. are going to be something you can reasonably support and that won't shock and offend your customers. (i.e. If you run a family-friendly children's clothing webstore, you may want to browse the other person's site - otherwise, for all you know they could be constantly dropping f-bombs in their blog or selling adult-themed items. Adult sites aren't welcome on the Selling Exchange, but it's your responsibility who you link to, not theirs!)
Reason #3: SEO Information - There is a plethora of information in the forums about keywords and how to optimize yourself for ranking on search engines. This is absolutely crucial information for anyone that wants to be picked up by Google by customers searching for products to buy. A huge number of people are going to find your Zibbet or Artfire shop by searching for the product they want on a search engine and not on ArtFire.com or Zibbet.com. You need to be an SEO guru to make sure that your products are listed high in the results. If you have no or little idea of what I'm talking about here or you think you could improve your optimization at all by getting tips from others, this section of the forum deserves a once-over (thrice-over?)
Reason #4: Blogging Information - If you're reading this post you clearly know what a blog entry is. You're also most likely someone who's interested in why it and other online activities can be good for your business. If you'd like an index of articles and comments about why blogging can be such a beneficial part of generating traffic to your site and exactly how you can use blogging for increasing your sales, there is a forum section dedicated to that.
Clearly, this site has tons to offer. There are some small things I dislike about the site though. At first glance I found the format to be a little overwhelming. Because it's a forum site, there is a great deal of text displayed all over the homepage and on the forum index which can be a little intimidating when you're trying to scan for information. There is just an incredible amount of information and it can't be digested all in one sitting. The site also uses BBCode which not favorite forum formats because of its appearance and user-ability (not a word, I know but you get my point.) The main thing I think that some will not like about this site though is that it is not limited to the same type of sellers you will find on an Etsy-esque venue. If you're only interested in promoting handmade, vintage, and/or craft supplies, you'll need to be absolutely clear that there is a lot of online seller diversity when deciding whether or not this site is right for you.
Reason #5 - Now to my favorite part! The absolute best part of this website is the community. Everyone I've spoken with has offered helpful advice, warm welcoming messages, and even Twitter and Facebook follows. I'd give this site some serious consideration if you're interested in networking because everyone there seems to be ready and willing to participate in building the community. There are monthly contests, blog features, a newsletter, and other promotion opportunities I haven't even touched on here.
*NOTE: The site is called the Selling Lounge. Don't be dense like me and google The Seller Lounge as you'll get a marketing website and a bunch of complaints about how it's a scam. I don't want my readers signing up for the wrong thing!*
Until next time,