I (and a friend) have been working on starting a nonprofit in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala since October. It's called Mayan Co-op -snip-, and the point is to help Mayan artisans sell their goods over the internet. We opened the store in December, and had some modest word-of-mouth sales. Since then, we've struggled: it's become entirely a marketing effort, and sales are hard to come by. So, I'd like to ask the collective for advice on how to move forward.
(Please don't interpret this post as advertising. I don't get any money out of this project.)
Here are the things we've considered or tried, and the results, if any:
-Soliciting press. We've written several general newspapers of varying sizes with our story and why we think it's worth publishing. Most didn't respond to multiple phone calls and emails. We did get a story published in my former university's daily paper. They claim a circulation of 9000, not including online readers, and it was a half-page story on the second page, but it resulted in one (1) sale. We have a new tactic, which is to ask friends of ours to write their local newspapers and ask for an article about us. The theory is that newspapers would be more interested in story requests from uninvolved parties -- it would feel less like advertising -- but our friends are busy with their own lives, and they haven't actually written any newspapers yet.
-Soliciting blog attention. We wrote to maybe 20 authors of blogs on latin american travel, development, and culture, and talked about our project, and invited them to write about us if they thought we were interesting. Evidently, we're not One group blog offered me a guest spot if I wanted to write about what I've learned about Latin American development in the course of my project, and I plan to do that, but I've been a little busy, and it seems like a relatively low-payoff effort.
-Paid advertising. We did trial runs with Google AdSense and with the Facebook Fliers programs, with dismal return rates. We put a lot of effort into AdSense, designing two campaigns and struggling for hours to come up with the perfect 30 characters to convince people to check us out. $50 and several rounds of tweaking later, we had 1 sale. We didn't even get a single hit from 15000 displays of our Facebook flier, so we aren't following up on that system.
-Talking to resellers. We hoped to act as a supplier for brick-and-mortar stores, but that hasn't worked out. The big chains like 10000 Villages are impossible for us to work with because they need thousands of each item that they sell, and we're working with individual artisans that produce mostly one-of-a-kind work. We haven't found any small stores that are interested in working with us, but we haven't been able to find many options.
-Coffee shops -- We also have considered talking to independent coffee shops to see if we can work with them. Our products are very aligned with the coffee-shop vibe, and the coffee-shop customers are exactly the kind of people we want to talk to. We thought of two possible ways: first, we could act as an interior design option. We would bend over backwards to find anything a coffee shop would want, and we think that we would make a coffee shop look homey, international, and cool. Second, we could ask them to sell one or two of our products, like how Starbucks always has a book and a stuffed animal or something for sale. This would be done on a profit-sharing basis. We haven't talked to a lot of owners, but we've had no takers.
-Student groups -- we've emailed a bunch of student groups -- Latino Student Associations, Latin American support/solidarity groups, etc -- asking them to help us in any of two different ways. First, we asked if they could hand out a flier at their next event. This flier would include a promotional code that would route 10% of the total sales to their group. Second, we asked if they would be interested in hosting a booth sale on their campus, again, on a profit-sharing basis. There was almost no interest. One group said they would pass out fliers, then flaked when we had them printed and delivered (at our expense).
-eBay and Craigslist sales -- our eBay sales attempts have been shot in the leg. Our first post was killed, they suspended our account, they will not give us an explanation, and we have to go through a difficult bureaucratic process involving faxes, bank statements, and two to four weeks. We considered selling over craigslist, but it works on a local basis, so that basically means that our US shipper (who has all the product) is the only person who can post and sell stuff, and he hasn't gotten around to it.
-Posting fliers around college campuses -- again, this is dependent on busy friends, and we're waiting on them to actually do it.
-Recruiting help with marketing -- we posted requests for help on idealist, college job sites, and craigslist. The requests on college job sites were advertised as internships -- we were looking for marketing students, and we figured we could help them in return by giving them experience and something to put on their resume. Finally, we also worked with one university to make an official program in which the student would get academic credit for helping us. We got a lot of responses, and we talked to them a lot and gave them lots of direction, but none of them ended up doing any actual work.
-Recruiting customers -- we write a personal thank-you note for every order, and ask that the customer help us spread the word if they like what they got. This hasn't resulted in any sales. We've started including promotional codes in orders to encourage repeat customers or referrals, and we have yet to see if this will work.
-Internet deal sites -- this has been our success story. We ask people to post on sites that collect promotional codes, like fatwallet.com. (We cannot post them ourselves because all of their terms and conditions ask that people affiliated with an organization do not post about that organization.) This has resulted in almost all of the sales that happened after our initial friends-of-friends burst.
-Facebook group -- we started a facebook group, asking everyone we knew to join. The group description talked about what we're doing and asked people to check out the site and buy stuff if they liked it, to get in touch with us if they wanted to volunteer, and to invite their friends to the group. The group stayed tiny and didn't result in any sales.
-Church youth groups -- I'm trying to get in touch with the national leadership of my old church's youth group. I'm going to offer them the same programs -- booth sales and fliers promotional codes -- that I offered the latin american student groups. My youth group was always running fundraisers, and when I was involved, I definitely would have jumped at the opportunity to work with a nonprofit like the one I'm starting now.
Ok, sorry for the novel-length post, but I'm winding down, I promise I'm looking for any ideas you all have -- you are many, and I am one. How can I get the word out about what I'm doing? (Please note that I don't have any budget to speak of -- I've built up quite a bit of credit card debt already.) How can I make this project grow and do good? Also, if any of you can help with any of the things I talked about -- press, blogs, talking to resellers, coffee shops, booth sales, fliers, etc -- feel free to pm me or whatever.
Thanks for reading this monster, let me know what you think!
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