I’ve been running my own record label for the better part of three years at this point, and along the way I’ve learned countless lessons I wish I had known prior to launch. That’s just the way life works sometimes, I guess. You can plan and study all you want for something, but eventually you will find there are numerous paths to success you never even considered. The best you can do is learn as you go along and pass whatever knowledge you gain to those who have yet to begin. Share what you have learned so that others will not only have a leg up on their own journeys, but so that you can better understand the information yourself. That is what I hope to accomplish with this series, and every few weeks I will share a new lesson learned during my adventures in the world of small business ownership.
One of the reasons I always loved supporting indie artists and labels as a teen was because anyone I ordered from online always seemed incredibly appreciative of my business. I cannot think of a single time I ordered something online from an artist or label and did not receive something extra when the package eventually arrived in my inbox. It may have been something small, like a sampler CD or free stickers, but to me it showed that I mattered to the people from whom I had ordered. They could have given me what I paid for, but instead they went out of there way to give me something extra, and through doing so they forged a connection with me that more than likely continues to this day.
What I didn’t consider when I was younger was the cost associated with these freebies. Running a business is rarely a cheap adventure, and that goes double for any attempt at building your own empire within the world of music. Stickers and sampler CDs cost money, even if you burn the CDs from iTunes playlists on your own laptop it’s going to cost something, and that amount will add up as the number of orders received begin to grow. Before you know it, you could be in debt not because your products aren’t selling, but because you’ve given away just as much as, if not more than you’ve sold.
For now, the main way my label attempts to engage with consumers beyond simply fulfilling orders is by creating unique, handwritten ‘thank you’ letters. These are short notes written by either myself or own of my team members that, with slight variation, thank the consumer for their purchase and offer some kind of advice, anecdote, fact, or thought aimed at making them smile. Sometimes that means offering exclusive discounts, while other times that may entail promising pizza to overseas fans if they ever make it to the place where you’re located. You know the chances of that last one coming true are probably slim to non-existent, but like any greeting/thank you card ever sent it’s the though that counts, and offering your fans free pizza is one heck of a gesture to make.
Here are a few examples of letters we have created:
Obviously it would take a long time to write letters for each order as they are received, so what we do at my label is dedicate a little time every day to writing letter that leave space for a recipient’s name to be added later on. We try to write at least 10 a day, that way we always have a stack ready to go whenever orders begin to roll in. Sometimes an album can sell out in a matter of hours, and we need to have a hundred or more notes ready to go just as fast. With planning, we are able to meet that need and still have some on reserve.
We sign every letter with our Twitter handle to encourage people to not only follow us, but to tag us when sharing photos of their orders. I think everyone I know who enjoys vinyl likes to take pictures of their new records, so adding a note with our handle encourages people to tag us when making their post. That exposure, which is produced by the consumer at zero cost to us, is essentially priceless.
I know that taking the time to write notes, especially those made out to individual customers, will add untold amounts of time to your shipping process, but it’s absolutely worth the effort. Make your fans feel as special as they make you feel when they support your art. If you can accomplish that, there is not a doubt in my mind that you’ll have fans for life.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.