Jewelers Suite JHJ Magazine

Free Agents: How to Navigate the Endless Sea of Digital Products and Pay Nothing (or as little as possible

written by Lee Wiser McIntosh

As we hopefully and warily, and might I add wearily, approach a new post-Covid world, it’s time to assess how “business as usual” will look going forward. Prepared stores had their on-line stores in place and the unprepared quickly mustered some form of e-commerce. Curbside delivery of jewelry became a new normal as did virtual trunk shows, zoom calls, and industry webinars. One thing is certain, as an industry we rallied, and another certainty… we became busier than ever.

The nature of work either escalated or changed radically for everyone. Digital solutions were developed at warp speed, some falling by the wayside amongst other digital debris…remember that whiz kid Skype? Others becoming household names. Hello Zoom!

BATCHING and AUTOMATION became key to doing more with limited resources that support your STRATEGIES and EMAIL CAMPAIGNS. I call it B.A.S.E. to help me and my clients stay on track. We’ll use this concept to rate the platforms featured in this far from exhaustive survey. 

I chose platforms that I have used myself or see being used by jewelers  Our whirlwind tour includes social scheduling tools, email providers, calendars and chatbots for your websites. We explore when they work, when they don’t, when they should be upgraded, and when they should be ditched.

The conversation would not be complete without discussing time versus money (because after all, turns out the old adage is true: time is money). We’ll look at ways to manage expectations of yourself, your team, and the technology.

I have worked with small and large stores, designers, and manufacturers at different stages of their professional journey. From established brands to those who are bootstrapping, I have experienced every level of sophistication. Though nuanced, it primarily breaks down to two mindsets: those who will invest in digital and those who see it as a low level chore to be farmed out to an agency at best, and to an intern at worst. Everyone needs to keep an eye on their bottom line and SaaS* is a line item, typically tucked under marketing on the income and expense report, that is burgeoning. But does it have to? Can marketing strategies be implemented using freemium digital products? Can *software as a service be tailored to get the most from service providers at not only a low price, but also at a reasonable cost. The two are not the same. 

Let’s address social first. Instagram is no doubt the visual choice for the jewelry industry. A terrific place to source new designers and to engage with your customers.

Its powerful parent company, Facebook, offers a lot of opportunity as well, but both are instances of “Building your house on borrowed land.” You are at the mercy of the ever-changing algorithm. And now, you also face the possibility of censorship which could come at the most inopportune time… like December. Or anytime, really.  

I’ve seen some hysterically funny posts on jewelry pages that fact checkers may not find so hysterical. Or links that are deemed inappropriate by the aforementioned fact checkers. That’s a long conversation for another time… suffice it to say, email has an exalted position in my tool box. And to everyone who considers Facebook a God-given right, remember: if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. 

While some degree of social is a good thing (and unavoidable), managing it is made painless (even pleasurable I daresay!) with Planoly and their freemium option offers the basics which are versatile enough to get the job done for many of my clients.

Connect your Instagram or Pinterest account to Planoly and then begin to plan your content visually through a content calendar, view your grid, and schedule your posts. With the free version, you are limited to two platforms, one user, and the number of posts that can be posted daily. Often you will hear “friction” referred to as a negative, and “frictionless” as the goal. I disagree. It depends.. 

“Often you will hear “friction” referred to as a negative, 

and “frictionless” as the goal. 

I disagree. It depends.”

The degree of separation that a service like Planoly or Later provides gives you some distance and some some time to think about your “why.” Good friction slows you down and gives you the space to consider the “big picture” and to think about your content. How it is serving your customers and supporting your business goals? Which by the way, the ultimate goal of social media is to engage your audience to the point where they migrate to your website and subscribe to your emails. 

Planoly lets us check off BATCHING, AUTOMATION and STRATEGY from our B.A.S.E. filter and that makes it a winner in my book. LATER, their primary competitor, is another similar planning tool that I use for some clients. It may “click” better for you than Planoly so experiment with both.

Email endures! 

The measurable ROI of email is still conservatively estimated at 43:1.

For every dollar you’re putting down, you’re picking up forty-three. Let that sink in. 

Then compare that to social ROI… which really can’t be done unless you’re making an apples and oranges preserve. 

I’ve found that those who love Instagram underestimate the amount of time they put into content creation and overestimate the quantity and quality of followers. If you are extremely lucky, 4-7% actually see your posts on a regular basis. Over the past year this figure has plummeted to <1%. (That’s not a typo.) There are accounts I adore, “save, like, and share” and I still don’t see their posts unless I use the search function.          Go figure.  

This past week a prominent Instagram influencer was lamenting the fact that her engagement rate was .3% of her 23.5K hard-earned followers. Her content is amazing. She’s the real deal, knowledgable and plugged in. She regularly “pays to play”… but maths is maths! Personally, I find those figures heartbreaking. 

Mailchimp is the email provider that’s consistently implemented by stores and designers for good reason. A few rely upon the free version, but the paid versions are reasonably priced and are based upon services and subscribers. So budget anywhere from $10-$500 a month for lots of bells and whistles. I tell each client that my goal is for them to have an outrageous monthly email expense. It’s a high class problem to have and at that point you’ll be making bank with each campaign!

In the competitive realm of email provider services Mailchimp keeps raising the bar: ease of use, training, deep analytics, automation products, and landing pages, to name a few that are relevant for jewelers. It can also fully integrate with your e-commerce store and has predictive software for optimal send times!

The free version lacks the most critical productivity component: SCHEDULING… a variant of  AUTOMATION.

I typically write 30-90 days of emails at a time by diving deep into a rabbit hole, thus BATCHING my work. BATCHING allows me to be STRATEGIC by keeping the big picture in mind and also staying in the client’s voice. Being able to get client approval and get it DONE, double-checked, and SCHEDULED is key to everyone’s sanity. Without scheduling in place, you are relying on your calendar’s to-do list to make it happen… then your best customer walks through the door and the email doesn’t get sent and if it was a time-sensitive email, all your hard work was for nothing. 

When you start to feel the limitations of Mailchimp, which may occur around 15,000+ subscribers, my absolute favorite is ConvertKit. Intuitive and flexible, I can easily target my audience, schedule email campaigns and easily plan automations. Slightly costlier, I find it well worth the expense. And they’ll migrate your subscribers for free!

We would rate the free Mailchimp option as good in the BATCHING, AUTOMATION, STRATEGY, and EMAIL CAMPAIGN technology, but the house always wins: Scheduling is a non-negotiable with me and so I pay for this service.

Let’s talk about website features including calendars and chatbots. 

Calendly offers a basic scheduling tool that can be installed on your website by inserting a snippet of code. Even though we are coming out of COVID era, I think the idea of working by appointment is here to stay. Calendly connects their calendar with yours and notifies you of appointments with an email. On-line calendars are very beneficial for solopreneurs or those operating with a skeleton crew. With the free version, you have to choose the duration of the appointment. Thirty minute, sixty minute or even fifteen minute slots can be easily programmed. 

Mine works like a charm… as far as I know. I use it primarily to book discovery and on-boarding calls. HOWEVER, I have had potential clients unable to get it to work. 

Operator error? Perhaps, but it’s still on me. This always leaves me wondering how many did not take the extra step to let me know that the calendar glitched on them. This is an unsettling thought and an example of BAD friction. 

By applying the AUTOMATION criteria, the free version of Calendly scores a shaky good nuff. 

I’ll be exploring other options like Chili Piper or upgrading to Calendly’s paid version.

Chatbots are great, but like toddlers, should not be left to themselves. No matter how much “conversation” and answers you’ve backloaded into them, they should be monitored frequently. There are also a TON of them out there. Ask your web developer for recommendations best for your site’s platform.

But first, a personal example of a good chatbot gone bad.

Last November I saw a designer I admire and am acquainted with on an Instagram interview.

I fell hard for her earrings and decided that would be my Christmas self-purchase. 

I went to the website, credit card in hand and… 

the earrings were not on the site. 

But the chatbot cheerily asked if they could be of assistance.

Knowing that I’m talking to a bot I used simple, direct sentences. I assumed a human would be monitoring. I assumed wrongly. I requested more information about the pair that appeared on a specific IGTV interview. I referenced a similar pair on the website. Circular answers continued, always pointing back to the similar earrings that I wasn’t interested in. I became increasingly annoyed and knowing she’s well staffed, was convinced that certainly someone would follow up with me; yet the call never came. And the purchase was never made. Like everyone on the internet, I have the attention span of a gnat. (With apologies to all the gnats out there who are focused.) This is a case of bad friction!

An unintended use of the chatbot is to see what questions get asked over and over again. 

You may think that something is clear on your website and logically located. But if questions regarding it persist, it reveals a UI problem and changes to the website’s design to make it more intuitive are called for. 

For this and other reasons, I’m crushing on Typeform and will be implementing it on mine and other websites… momentarily! I love it and could wax eloquent on it for days on end. As a website assistant, it brings a conversational way to engage with customers and provides valuable data. Use it to schedule a custom design appointment, and learn all about your customer’s preferences before they walk through the door. 

Frictionless, in the best possible way. 

The plethora of options available is overwhelming and coupled with “you don’t know what you don’t know” could lead to a lot of trial and error or worse, paralysis. I lean towards minimalism and ease of use and here’s a good way to start the process when considering any tool.

Firstly, determine your non-negotiables pertaining to the platform. These are features that make your day more productive, efficient, and also will eliminate or limit potential mistakes. As I mentioned before, scheduling is a must for me and essential to my survival. 

Firstly, determine your non-negotiables pertaining to the platform. 

These are features that make your day more productive, efficient, 

and also will eliminate or limit potential mistakes.

Secondly, intuitiveness is critical. Programming behinds the apps is done by different humans with different approaches and mindsets. What is easily used by one person may be anti-intuitive for another. Hopefully, you’ll be good to go right out of the gate, but realistically, there should be some expectation of a learning curve. But if it doesn’t work for you with a modicum of effort: CUT BAIT! Move on to the next option which will get you to the same goal, but by a different path. 

Thirdly, consult with your agency and web designer. They should have a good sense of your business, your brand voice, your business goals and how you can best serve your customers. They can recommend different options that will hopefully flatten your learning curve. They can also help you determine if you are good with one user versus the expense of three.

This survey was hardly exhaustive, nor was it meant to be and I’m fully aware of some glaring omissions. I intentionally used a broad brush on some topics and I am admittedly focused on the strength of email. 

All of this will hopefully lead to more conversation! I’d love to hear from you to know what products and platforms you would like to have more in-depth analysis and explorations. 

Would you like to unpack the nuances of Instagram, email strategies, or Typeform? Curious about Kajabi or Klayvio? Debating between Hubspot and Salesforce? Interested in integrating The Edge better? Wondering whether to use WordPress or Weebly? (And now you know why this article had to be a survey!)

Do book a call under the WORK WITH LEE tab on my website:

The free version of Calendly has been working flawlessly. (Wink!) But if you do encounter any difficulty, connect with me via email: