Building my own little Empire!

Empire building is not one of my strong points. I consider myself a typical artist, who is more concerned about the creative aspect of this method making a living, over the actual selling. However, selling must be done to make ends meet. So, I put my head together and created a plan. The following post is the methodology I have put in place to make my online store workable as possible and an attempt to get that Empire built.

I have had a shop on my WordPress site since I first got the space set up, it’s just a simple ase of all I did was add images set the price and hoped people would come running to buy the stuff. That was a very naive thing to think. Especially with the plethora of artists out there, all with the same intent to make money. So, what I did initially was to look at POD selling (POD meaning Print on Demand). Some nine years ago, I began with Society6, with some 5 pieces online.

Nine years later I am now on around 30 POD sites and in the process have learnt a few things about both selling and working with POD sites. So I will begin with stating this practice first, and then go into what I have done to resolve some of the tension, issues and practices.

Before I get stuck into life on the POD circuit, I would point out I did make a PDF about selling online. You can get a copy here!

OK, so as I previously said I was a little naive to begin with, thinking all I needed to do is have 5 piece sitting on Society6 (the most popular at the time) and I would get a following, loads of sales, etc. Time has shown that this is not the best or correct approach. That also said, it is wrong to believe that you should jump on every POD site and think that the money will roll in. There is a great deal of care needed in navigating these treacherous waters. Many PODs are out to make profit, so they really (it seems) don’t give a shit about artist’s right, concerns or feelings. I say this with much insight and experience. I will say however, that all PODs are not the same, and some do actually respect the artist they are using the work off to make themselves a profit. Many of these POD sites are what we call curated. That means they limit the number of artists and limit their work even, so the attention is strong on all of them. It’s NO surprise in my case, the two top selling PODs in my arsenal, are both curated sites; Juniqe and iCanvas. Not surprising as well that both use internet sell-through stores to place their products. There is a lot of warning and research required in entering into any TOS agreement with a POD, so be aware of this.

One of the main issues with POD sites is control. With curated sites, they dow all the placement of artwork and which products they go on, etc. With the open door POD, Society6, RedBubble, etc, they allow the artist to set the artwork, and even the commission in some cases, and then the restrictive ones, basically take your artwork and do as they please. I personally have had issues with ArtBoxOne, Impressionarte, and others who do not respect the art in a way to even make it look nice on the product. This ends with countless emails and conversations to even try to fix a simply thing.

Recently I had over 60+ of my caricatures “SUSPENDED” as they say on Society6. This was due to some algorithm picking out the tag words in order to avoid possible DMCA conflicts. This is a very frustrating action they take, as it seems they don’t even understand the law, or do and are trying to avoid extra work on their part. Words can’t be copyright (see here the official Copyright Office documentation), not even in combinations. So, as a quick example, I can go into a hardware store with a list and it can have the words “Nine Inch Nails” on it, fair enough. I can also, if I wanted to take a photograph of that list and place it on the internet and still not have an issue. This is because the band (Nine Inch Nails) can not copyright those commonly used words; not even in that sequence. The only thing they can do, is trademark their logo with those words contained. Think about it, if they could copyright the words “Nine Inch Nails” every online hardware store could effectively be sued. Now, it goes against artist more as these PODs seem to assume that if you did place art on their site using the term “Nine Inch Nails” you are violating the band’s copyright, or using it in the least to make better your artworks popularity, but in fact it could just be a photograph or a piece of art of a set of nine inch nails. This is the big ‘fuck’ up with how these online stores misses the DMCA so they can hide behind the ‘safe harbor’ principle in the DMCA.

What this does for the artist is losses their control on their work. An artist doesn’t instantly think of a copyrighted work that is popular to name their work after, to exploit popularity. They name their work based on many factors, like subject, emotion, sentiment, etc. So, the constant DMCA takedowns on RedBubble, Society6, etc was a little like the straw that broke my back. I needed to have all my catalogs open so it can be unaffected by the misuse of the laws. Here is where the WordPress Shop came in.

Here is were WooCommerce enters. WooCommerce is a free plugin that enters the WordPress arena. It has everything you need to start up an online store. It is pretty idea for the small individual artist who likes the idea of trying to sell their artworks online to a bigger audience. It does have a few restrictions that limits the scope of the selling power, but overall, this is the starting point of the empire building. As, I said I have had a WooCommerce store since I started with GoDaddy (see my post about that fiasco) and WordPress. The big issue with GoDaddy was they deliberately slowed down the sites so they could peddle a better upgrade package. I did this once, and found that the site became slow again after a short time, and supports only response was to upgrade further. I had, had enough, which in hindsight was a good strategy.

As I stated before, many of my caricatures were being taken down due to the DMCA and the Right to Publicity Act. Now, these are both US based laws, that have no legal ground in the EU. The European countries did sign the Berne Convention, but this is not a mandatory follow through on all signatories laws. That said, if you do host your own site on a server, make sure you check the registered and physical location of the company providing you the space. If it is US based and you put potentially copyright infringing work on your site, it could get taken down without your permission. I have chosen a provider that is based in the country of my residence, so I have a little more control of what could be taken down. Always good to check.

The main way this store was going to work in my favour is in the ability to implement some additional plugins that would serve the purposes I required for the store to become better. As I stated at the start, I did have a store before, but I would receive the order and then I would have to rush to the printers, get the print, buy the necessary protective packaging and then post the item to the customer. This was very time consuming and with additional costs for a busy artist. This tended to mean the prints I sold would be quite high in price. In addition to this I could only ever provide one service; art prints. Many of the PODs I was on also provide other merchandise that could be sold with my images on. So, what I needed to do is find a method, using WordPress and WooCommerce to deliver quality good at a good price and take most of the hassle out of my life. The following are a list of plugins I have incorporated to make my store work. Some fo these are not necessary, but I will through the process and tell you why I have incorporated them. Some of the are also commercial, so that can affect the need to use , but as I stated I will state their need as well as why I have used them, along with cost.

So, from the basics up, I started with WordPress (free), and then installed WooCommerce (free). From this point I added the follow plugins; Akismet Anti-Spam (free), Contact Form Builder for WordPress – Conversion Tools by HubSpot (free), Cookie Notice (free), Disable Gutenberg (free), Ditty News Ticker (free), EventON ($24), Facebook for WooCommerce (free), Google Captcha (reCAPTCHA) by BestWebSoft (free), Imagify (free/$4.99-$69.99 monthly), Newsletter (free/$65), Printful Integration for WooCommerce (free), Product Feed PRO for WooCommerce (free), PW Advanced Woo Reporting ($38), PW WooCommerce Affiliates Pro ($29), PW WooCommerce Bulk Edit ($49), Share Buttons by AddThis (free), StopBadBots (free), Strong Testimonials (free), User Registration (free/$49), WP-statistics (Free/$20 for add-ons), WooCommerce Simple Storewide Sale ($21), Wordfence Security (free), WP Content Copy Protection & No Right Click (premium) ($29), WP GDPR Compliance (free), WPSSO Core Pro [Main Plugin] ($59), WPSSO Update Manager (free) and Yoast SEO (free).

As I mentioned before they are not all necessary and by no means do you need to buy them. I did a lot of research in some of the aspects and even contacted the developers to confirm my needs and this is what I discovered to be the best options for my cause. My plan was/is to have a store that I can generate income from, but feel secure about as well as maybe get some additional help in selling from. The WooCommerce platform simply gives you the foundation. I had to think of all the other aspects that I needed to feel happy. You may have read my previous article about security here. An aspect of my need for the store to be effective, is the security aspect, and hence the number of plugins listed related to security. You can if you like not include these, but I would say they are at your peril. I will run through these first, and then move onto the store related ones.

Security

Akismet Anti-Spam (free) – Akismet is a must and almost a mandatory plugin for WordPress. If you don’t install it you can assume that the WordPress environment will be barged with SPAM comments on any of the blog posts you have made. This plugin helps protect against this senseless attack and stops your need to sift through all these comments to determine which is legit and which is not. “Akismet has protected your site from 1,212 spam comments already.” Mine reads!

Google Captcha (reCAPTCHA) by BestWebSoft (free) – If you have any kind of form on your site you need to think of levels of security to stop bots and malicious form sending attacks. One of the best ways is to incorporate the reCaptcha v2 0r v3 systems. This plugin gives you a quick and easy solution that can be applied to every input environment. You will have noticed that on the pop-up window for the Newsletter, in this post.

StopBadBots (free) – This can be learnt about more here! It’s amazing how many times your site is trawled and attacked by bots.

User Registration (free/$49) – Having a store will mean that the buyers have to register to complete the purchase, and maybe sometimes when commenting. Now, the register form that comes as part of the WP-Admin is prone to hacking and malicious login attempts. This plugin allows you to create a new User Registration away from that page (it will need a little extra programming, which you can find out about here!). This form obviously has the reCaptcha incorporated.

Wordfence Security (free) –  First thing I always do when I set up any WordPress environment is to install this plugin. It basically has a firewall and tracking system that has helped save a lot of trouble with malicious activity.

WP Content Copy Protection & No Right Click (premium) ($29) – To fully understand the need for this plugin, read this article, here! It is not totally necessary, but if you are having a lot of images soon the site that could be stolen, this is the plugin for you.

WP GDPR Compliance (free) – This is a simple plugin you will need to comply to the new EU laws…if you are in Europe. It adds an extra tick box required to allow people to accept the acknowledgement of the laws.

Shop Building

These are the specific plugins I have added to the WordPress environment to build a better store experience and hopefully help in the delivery of a more improved shopping experience. Not all these plugins are essential and I have stated the reason whey I decided to add them.

Contact Form Builder for WordPress – Conversion Tools by HubSpot (free) – I have always had a Hubspot free account, but never really did anything about it. One thing it can do is collect contact information from your site every time there is an interaction. The plugin itself enables you to build forms to help with this process, but to be honest I have not used the only form I created in any location on my site, but it still collects data from the other forms, that I have created using Gravity Forms.*

Cookie Notice (free) – This is an essential plugin to comply withe new internet laws stating you need to declare what information your site collects. This can be declared in full in the Privacy Notice and Terms of Service pages.

Disable Gutenberg (free) – This is not an essential plugin, but the latest WordPress update has generated the Gutenberg editor. This does not help with a lot of the plugins I have used, so has disabled the environment so that I can created the better content I want for my site.

Ditty News Ticker (free) – This is a nice little news ticker plugin I decided to add to my homepage. Many people ignore states statements, especially when they are of a small text size. So, this gives an animated trigger to have people follow links to pints of interest around the site.

EventON ($24) – One of the things I do is share my caricature and animal prints on celebratory days. This plugin lists all these days and gives people the notification of how to visit the product pages to get offers that I have on those days. It isn’t exactly designed for what I have used it for, but it was the best designed one, and I have been able to adjust it accordingly for my needs. Check out how I have managed to use it on the site, here!

Facebook for WooCommerce (free) – Now, I have been checking stats for visitors through both AddThis and via the Visitors Traffic Real Time plugin, and I have found that the biggest refer is Facebook. So, I have decided to duplicate the store on my Facebook Page. Now, this little plugin basically allows this to happen, with little or no effort (check my next post on some set-up requirements).

Newsletter (free/$65) – For some time now I have been using MailChimp and even getting extensions to help integrate MailChimp as much as possible to the WordPress environment. This I found was very time consuming in the end. Having to generate a template every month for my Monthly Newsletter and then export it, go to MailChimp, change all the content and then send it out. So, what I have done is bought an integrated Newsletter that can be generated, and sent through WordPress, as well as have a Subscription form that can be utilised to collect new readers (More of this in the following posts).

Printful Integration for WooCommerce (free) – Now, I looked around at some print on demand services and found that Printful was a well recommended one, which I was already using for my Etsy store. So, I chose to extend this to my WordPress environment and it basically allows my products to be stored ready at Printful, but be listed on my WooCommerce store (check my next post on some set-up requirements).

Product Feed PRO for WooCommerce (free) – Now it seems that to get the best SEO listings for products, and if you are interested in Amazon listings, you need to generate better SSO properties. This is one of the recommended plugins to do that.

PW Advanced Woo Reporting ($38) – This is a plugin I needed as I am basically setting up an affiliates option for my store. To help in the delivery of this, I am setting up Coupon Codes for each Affiliate and this plugin can make sales reports based on those codes, so they can be delivered to the necessary affiliate.

PW WooCommerce Affiliates Pro ($29) – This is the plugin that controls the Affiliate Program interaction with my store. Once you register and get your information, you then basically have every sale listed on your report page. If you re interested in this program, look here!

PW WooCommerce Bulk Edit ($49) – This is a dandy little plugin, that does come in a  free version, but basically if you have a lot of products in your shop and you want to make changes on a mass scale, this basically takes the time out of the whole process.

Share Buttons by AddThis (free) – An essential way to get you pages spread around the internet. This plugin by AddThis adds those little share buttons to the side of your website and collects the necessary stats from visitors.

Strong Testimonials (free) – Even though my store has a reviews section on each product, many times people don’t fill them in or even read them. What I decided to do is to add a testimonial banner to the top of the entry point of the store in order to get some of the better testimonials on my products over. This is simply to boost confidence in the things I sell.

WP-statistics (Free/$20 for add-ons) – This plugin gives some more detailed stats to the website than Jetpack does, such as referent detail and geolocation. This is helpful for looking at advertising angles on certain demographic information. My future plan is to use this to make stronger adverts.

WooCommerce Simple Storewide Sale ($21) – A simple little plugin that sits in the WooCommerce settings pages, and allows you to set a sale on all, any or specific products, at any date or date range. It also gives option to pre-warn of the sale in the banner information.

WPSSO Core Pro [Main Plugin] ($59) – Rich Pins on Pinterest have been a bane in my life, since I got my Pinterest account and Store. Rich Pins only work if you have a specific setup on the details being sent out in your products. What this plugin does, is builds that data into your product pages so that most social media sites can read the information and utilise it. I now have Rich Pins on my store products (check my next post on some set-up requirements).

WPSSO Update Manager (free) – This is required in order to maintain the one above.

Yoast SEO (free) – This was my main SEO Tool, which I use in the free version. It does take some setting up each time you do a post, add a product, etc, but it does a good job. I was hoping it would help with the Rich Pins, but it failed to make it happen, hence the plugin above (check my next post on some set-up requirements).

*update – The Hubspot plugin causes a duplicate pixel error when installed with the Facebook for WooCommerce plugin. Still communicating with Hubspot for the reason, but it doesn’t create a functioning error.

That is a little rundown of all the items I have installed and some of the reasoning why I did this to help build my Empire! The next posts will be about some of the necessary setting up that is required for the integration of some of these plugins. Like me, you may fall into so problems (especially with Facebook), so I hope the next posts will help resolve these issues so you don’t fall into the problems I had.