Make Magic for Your Biz With a Strong Brand Story

In May 2015, I put together a video presentation for the online Maker Mentors conference. My audience followed along, asked questions via chat, and we got together in the forums after my talk to discuss branding.

To plan my talk, I first wrote a blog post, because I find I am best able to organize my thoughts in writing. I’m sharing that original blog post with you here, and I have an offer below so you can watch my full talk on video for free!

Skip the article, watch the video! Just subscribe to my newsletter here for access to our free resources, including this 40 minute video about your brand story.

Hello! My name is Arianne Foulks. I’m captain and founder at Aeolidia, a graphic and design studio where we have been helping creative folks tell their story and set up shop online for over a decade.

We only work for creative, product-based businesses, and we like products that are unique, well-designed, and full of the maker’s personality.

Over the years, we have watched many businesses succeed, and many more struggle.

Those businesses that seem to have had an overnight success and barely needed to work at promotion? There is something special about them. They know it and their customers know it. Their work can be spotted from a mile off, it’s something that people want, and it’s easy to promote – like a snowball rolling down hill, gathering speed, and getting huge.

Why is it so easy for them? If you have what they have, it will be easy for you, too. If you’re lacking this, it will be like trying to win a race with a bicycle that has square wheels. A crazy amount of work, with few results.

Today we are going to talk about storytelling, brand identity, and how you can make your work into that snowball that only needs a little nudge to get rolling on its own.

Once upon a time, there were two makers

What to do when your business is not taking off

Meet Toby:

He makes soap using a variety of methods. He has been experimenting with metal sculptures, and also brings his handmade kites to the farmer’s market to sell with his soap.

His friends love his soap and have encouraged him to start selling on Etsy. He is giving it a try, and learning how to promote his work, but he is finding it frustrating.

Why some businesses succeed and seem lucky

Say hello to Lucy:

She makes handpainted ceramics with geometric shapes and bright colors that are unique to her.

She has been honing her skills as a hobby, and is excited to turn it into a business. Her launch goes well, and she is soon overwhelmed with orders.

After a year in business, both of these entrepreneurs find that they’re having some problems. Which types of problems would you rather have?

Toby has problems:

toby-smHe feels like he is doing what he is supposed to to market his work, but he isn’t getting any traction. Every marketing effort he makes seems to fall flat.

A friend helped him get a feature on the Etsy blog. Toby felt like this was going to be his big break, and was excited by the new stream of traffic and many new orders to fill. Two weeks after the article was published, everything seemed to go back to how it was, with just a couple of orders each day, and no progress made.

Toby spends a lot of time working on his photography and applies to some juried craft fairs, but is not accepted to any of them. At the farmer’s market, he keeps hearing from people that he’s charging too much for his soap, even though he’s struggling to make a profit at his current price point.

Frustrated, he launches a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new idea for his business. He quietly takes it down a couple of days later, when he sees his only backer is his mom.

Lucy is having some problems, too:

lucy-smYou’ll see that Lucy’s problems are quite a bit more fun.

Her website has been crashing whenever she launches a new product, because so many shoppers hit the site at the same time. When she promotes new products, big blogs and news outlets pick up on the story and sometimes spread it farther than she expects.

She is struggling to keep items in stock, as she has more demand than supply, and can barely keep up with production.

She has been accepted to more fairs and shows than she is able to attend, and needs to carefully decide how to divide her time.

It’s hard for her to keep up with all aspects of her business, while she’s juggling publicity, production, and new business prospects.

What is different about these two businesses?

They are both skilled artisans, producing a quality product with love and care. They are both hard workers, taking extra time to learn about running a business and how to market their products. It is working for Lucy, but not for Toby. Let’s talk about where Toby is stuck and what is working well for Lucy.

Toby:

toby-smHe is not sure what type of person is interested in his product. He thought that with a woodsy scent, he could interest young hipster men in his product, but at the farmer’s market, a mix of people seem to be purchasing it. No hipsters, but he can’t tell what unites his shoppers and interests them in his soap.

He couldn’t tell you what makes him different from his closest competitor. There are only so many ways to make soap, and if you asked him why you should buy from him instead of Soapy Joe’s down the aisle, he wouldn’t have an answer.

He can’t focus on one thing. He has disconnected product lines and is having a hard time interesting his soap customers in his sculptures, and creating a logo that makes sense for both soap and kites.

His packaging and displays look homemade and he has different graphics, logos, and fonts that he uses in different places. His Etsy shop doesn’t look like his farmer’s market booth, and the packaging is different from item to item.

His products aren’t being featured and sold where his ideal customers are. His soap customers aren’t reading the Etsy blog or shopping the farmer’s market. He’s not sure where they are, since he doesn’t know who they are.

Lucy:

lucy-smShe sure seems lucky! But it turns out that she’s a hard worker with a natural knack for telling her story. Maybe if you asked her how she became an overnight success, she wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the reason, because it comes so naturally to her.

She knows who likes her work and she speaks directly to them where they are hanging out and shopping.

She knows what makes her work different and valuable, and makes sure blog and magazine editors know as well.

Her products make sense together and her logo and packaging tell her story for her when she’s not there to do so.

Because of her storytelling and memorable brand, people want what she sells and they have an easy time sharing it with their friends as well.

Telling your brand story

So you can see why you might want to work on your business’ story.

There are two things you need to figure out first, before working on your full brand story. Work on this, and everything else will be able to roll into place:

1: Discover your Unique Selling Proposition

Your Unique Selling Proposition (or USP), is what makes you different from every other company out there. You should be able to immediately tell someone what makes you different from even your closest competitors.

Aeolidia, for example, designs logos and makes websites. There are gazillions of people who design logos and who make websites. Why is Aeolidia special?

We stand out in these important ways:

Aeolidia is your friendly design team. Customer experience is our top priority, and we pride ourselves on being easy to work with, skipping the jargon, lending a helping hand, and really caring about our clients’ success.

Aeolidia knows creative design-based businesses. Our niche is narrow, so our clients know that we understand what they need and how it should work before we’ve even started talking with them.

No one else knows your creative business as well as we do, has the combined team to help with each stage of the project, or can turn around a full, custom website project as quickly and effectively as we can.

Learn more about finding your USP.

2: Pinpoint your target customer

Even if you feel that your product could be helpful for everyone, you can’t market effectively to everyone. When you sit down in front of a blank page to blog and feel totally stuck, it’s probably because you’re trying to write something that will appeal to everyone.

People buy from you because of how your work makes them feel about themselves. So to do a good job telling your story, you need to know who you’re telling it to. Common practice is to narrow down to one particular person who is your ideal customer, and speak directly to that person in all of your marketing efforts.

For instance, at Aeolidia, we could say that our customer is anyone who needs a website. That is an enormous amount of people, and nowhere near targeted enough. So maybe our customer is a creative business that wants a Shopify website. That is much more narrow, and going down the right path, but is still not specific enough. There is a wide range of businesses that would fit that description, all with different problems, needs, and preferences. We narrowed down to this one person, who is a delightful amalgam of some of our best-fitting, most successful clients over the years.

Our target client started out handmaking every one of the items she designed, and has found a way to scale that feels right for her business. Since then, she has grown rapidly, and has many wholesale accounts. She may have designed a collection for a large chain store, such as Target, Anthropologie, Land of Nod. You can find her products in our favorite brick and mortar stores (hello, our other dream client!) all over the country, and can recognize them from a mile away.

She values her own hard work, believes in what she does, is willing to invest money when it makes sense, and knows when to delegate tasks. She wants to increase awareness and sales without letting things get out of her control. She is optimistic, open, and friendly, feeling that similar businesses are more “colleagues” than “competitors.”

She either doesn’t have an ecommerce website, using her current website as informational-only, for retailers who discover her at tradeshows. Or she has a simple web shop that she doesn’t promote because it either doesn’t work right, or doesn’t communicate her brand to her customers. Having a great ecommerce site will be an easy extra income stream for her – not only does she have all the processes and resources she needs to manage inventory and ship orders, but the web sales will be more profitable than the traditional 50/50 wholesale split.

So you can see, that is a person who is much easier to talk to than the faceless customer entity.

Learn more about finding your target customer.

Telling a story through your brand

Once you know who your customer is and what is unique about your business, don’t keep it to yourself! You need to make sure that everything you do glows with this, the heart of your brand identity. Examine what you’re showing the world and see if it matches up with what you know about your business.

You can think of your brand identity as the personality of your business. To create a brand for your business, you don’t start with the logo. You start by brainstorming what’s unique about what you do, and putting together a description of your business’ personality which highlights why a customer will want to choose you over others.

Once you know what your business is about, you’ll have an effective starting point for making sure your products, your logo, your marketing materials, and your advertising all make sense with your brand identity.

Does your logo make sense for what your business stands for? Does your website make it clear to your visitors what is different about you? Do your social media interactions, blog posts, and press mentions speak loud and clear to your target audience, instantly letting them know why you’re special and why you’re just what they need?

See some brands that have a great story in the Aeolidia portfolio.

Telling a story with your marketing

Not every business is going to make it. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, right?

If you take away one thing from today’s talk, remember that storytelling is everything. You don’t want to be a salesman, pushing your products on people who don’t care, but you do want to be a storyteller. How can you apply your story to your marketing?

Show up where you’re welcome and where your customer is as well. Communicate about things your customer is interested in. Be polite and respectful, but don’t hesitate to jump in and be friendly.

Bring something of value every time you show up. Value can be a lot of different things. Entertainment, inspiration, information. Remember to ask yourself before you post what value you are bringing, and your marketing will be instantly improved.

Create things that your customers will naturally want to share. If you’re talking to the right people, the people who will be really into what you do, and you’re creating interesting, valuable blog posts, photos, or products, they will naturally want to share it. If you pitch a big blogger (who has the right audience!) with a friendly email that tells your brand story and shows all your graphic elements working in harmony with that story, she’ll know that her readers will be interested in what you’re sharing, and it will be easy for her to decide to promote your work.

Always remember: why is it interesting, and who would be interested in it?

The huge advantage that small businesses have is their story. What is your story, and how can you communicate it to your customers?

Learn how to pitch your story to the people who will matter most to you.

Want to watch the video?

Would you like to watch the video? You can do so for free by joining my mailing list. Your confirmation (and all emails after that) will have a link to our free resources. The video is on the bottom of the page.

My video includes:

  • A puppet show! And access to my general goofiness.
  • A bonus story about how storytelling saved Aeolidia, my own business
  • Additional detail and explanation on topics

Here’s a short clip from it:

Are you interested in seeing all of the videos from the Maker Mentors conference? If so, you can purchase access to the entire conference content here. My purchased video will include the chat sidebar (which you’ll be missing from my free offer – the video I recorded from my computer – not the conference’s video with the Q&A). You’ll also get 20 other videos from all the other speakers, which you can watch at your own pace.

A Fresh and Modern Redesign: Alexis Mattox Design

Alexis Mattox Design creates classically modern paper goods, wedding decor and lifestyle products. The focus of the company had been primarily wholesale, and when it was time to amp up its online presence, Alexis contacted us for a fresh and modern redesign of the website. She told us:

Our current site doesn’t meet even half of our needs. Our product line changes often since we aren’t just a stationery company or a wedding company so we would love something that is flexible and can grow with us because we have a lot of ideas for the future!

alexis mattox design website before and after by aeolidia

Alexis Mattox Design after the website redesign

alexis mattox home page design by Aeolidia

The products that Alexis Mattox Design creates are fresh, fun and modern – and the website needed to match! Our designers created a new website design which allows the gorgeous product images to stand out. In addition, we worked with Alexis to organize her categories and subcategories so that customers can easily find what they are searching for, designed item pages to  ensure that customizable products are simple to order, and made sure that company, wholesale, press and other information is easily accessible.

alexis mattox item page design by Aeolidia

 

alexis mattox stores page design by Aeolidia

 

We asked Alexis about her project with us and she told us:

Our experience working with Aeolidia was excellent. Their knowledge and expertise helped us get our website to where we needed it to be and beyond. Working with them was so worthwhile because a beautiful, functional site made a big difference in our ability to sell products and communicate our company message. I would recommend their services to anyone. Thank you Aeolidia!

What do you think?

A big change from the original, right? We love how fresh and modern everything is, and the photos are just stunning! This site redesign should be a huge success and help to increase online sales. Does your website match your business? If not, come talk to us!

How to Create Content That Connects: Your Product Pages

Continuing on with our series on how to create site content that connects with your dream customer, there are two main things that go on every product page – images and the product description. So let’s talk about how to make sure both of those areas are doing their best to get your customer’s interest, as well as some other features you might consider for your product pages to make your customer’s visit the best it can be!

Photos

It should go without saying that the most important thing on your product pages are the product photos, but I’m going to say it anyway. I’ve seen far too many webshops with too small, out of focus, horribly lit product photos over my many years. Photos are #1! Key! Muy importante!

Your product photos speak so much louder than words, and they speak first! A potential customer is only going to be interested in reading the description if they’re first interested visually in what the item looks like. If you have nothing else on your product page, some clear, beautifully lit photos and an add to cart button will serve you far better than the most beautifully written and compelling description next to a crummy photo.

When you’re selling a tangible item of any sort, your photos are what help your potential customer begin to understand what it might look like, feel like, be like in their own home, or on their body, etc. They can help give a sense of scale, texture, dimension, detail, color, light – all the juicy things that make us go “ooh” when we get to hold and touch and check out an item in person.

Your photos come closest to conveying what your item is like in real life, and that’s the best thing you can do as an online seller: give your customers as close to a real life experience as you can.

So for photos that really reach out and speak to your customers, you’ll want to have: (as these apply to your particular product)

  • clear, fully in focus shots – not that they can’t be artistic or with an out of focus background/dreamy look, if that’s what you’re after, but the product details need to be readable
  • multiple photos, with different views/angles so people can see every single side
  • BIG photos that people can zoom in on or see a close up of to get a good sense of the details
  • photos that deliver a sense of scale, ie: being shown on a model, or next to another object in a setting
  • “lifestyle” photos of your product in a real life setting or being used so your customer can better imagine it in their own life
  • photos in natural light, or with a light box or professionally lit – not lit by your iPhone flash

There are a lot of free tutorials for taking better photos all over the web, so google it up and practice practice practice. But if you find you just can’t take photos that speak to your brand and represent your products well enough, I believe this is one area where paying a professional, like our photographer here at Aeolidia, is money well worth it.

Bel Kai item page, with multiple photos and a way to customize the product

Bel Kai item page, with multiple photos and a way to customize the product

 

Project Life item page, showing product in use, "bundle and save" area, and "you may also like"

Project Life item page, showing product in use, “bundle and save” area, and “you may also like”

 

AHeirloom item page, with beautiful photography, product in use, aspirational description, "complete your order" upsell, and "you may also like," as well as customization options, all in one tidy package.

AHeirloom item page, with beautiful photography, product in use, aspirational description, “complete your order” upsell, and “you may also like,” as well as customization options, all in one tidy package.

 

Amata Jewelry's crisp, clear photos, social sharing icons, and path to discovering more items.

Amata Jewelry’s crisp, clear photos, social sharing icons, and path to discovering more items.

 

Product Description

The second part of your product page focus is, of course, the description! There are so many different ways to write your product description, from basic to downright poetic, but no matter how you write it, you’re going to want to consider both your product’s features and its benefits.

The product’s features are the factual details – the size, color, length, material, etc. This is essential information to include, of course, but far too often, it’s the only thing that people include in their product descriptions.

That dress you spent hours dreaming up, designing the pattern for, finding the perfect fabric for, cutting, sewing, finding a model to wear it, photographing and uploading to your site gets described in the end as “Wrap dress with a tie front. Cotton jersey. Eggplant. S-L.” That can be fine, it can work. Especially when paired with an awesome item image, it might be all you really need in order to sell it…

To go one step further with your descriptions, though, in order to really draw in and connect with that dream customer, you want to emphasize the product’s benefits over its features.

This is the value it brings to your customer, the story it inspires, the real reason why your dream customer might be attracted to it. Why is it special or different? What can it DO for your customer? How will it make them FEEL? These are the details that can make that add to cart button much more appealing to someone. For example:

“This wrap dress was inspired by wanting something easy and flattering to wear after I had my baby. It’s simple enough for everyday and can be dressed up with your favorite jewelry for date night, in a breathable stretchy cotton jersey that’s so soft you won’t want to take it off. The wrap design and easy fabric make it super flattering for every body type to help you look as beautiful as you are on the inside.”

Remember to emphasize the benefits of what you offer, find those points of emotional connection, and your descriptions will be much more compelling and effective.

Other features to consider for your product pages:

Social sharing

Gotta include an easy way for people to share your products on their favorite social spots, so don’t forget those share buttons! I’d say Pinterest is particularly important here for product and content sellers both, as people buy and spend more on Pinterest than on Twitter and FB. It’s worth it to spend some time getting your products on there!

Reviews/testimonials

These are an awesome way to reach right out to your customers, by letting other happy customers do the talking for you! Their words speak much louder to potential customers than yours can about what you have to offer, and can be one of the main deciding factors that help people click that add to cart button. Consider including a quote from a happy customer, or pic of them using the item, on the product page itself.

Cross Promotion

It not only gets people looking around your site more, but it’s engaging for people to see recommendations for other products in your shop that they may like based on what they’re looking at now. It makes the shopping experience feel more personalized towards the customer and can lead them down a bunny trail into your shop and products they might not have otherwise discovered. Consider a similar items/you may also like/customers also bought sort of feature for your product page to help guide your customer based on their interests.

Wish list/favorites

People love window shopping and envisioning what they want to buy, and they love a way to stay organized and come back to the things they know they like, once they’re ready to buy. Make it easier for customers to do all these things with a wish list or favorites feature on your product page, especially if you carry a large quantity of products.

Other product specific things to consider….

– Selling clothing or accessories? It’d be helpful to include a link to your sizing chart!

– Does your item require special care the customer needs to know about upfront?

– Are you making limited or one-of-a-kind items? Knowing that there’s only one or few can be a great impetus for someone to buy it now!

– Are there customizable options? Make choosing and executing an order as EASY AS POSSIBLE for the customer

If you make it incredibly easy for your customer to learn everything they need to know before they buy, then BUY is exactly what they’ll do!

And happy buyers are the best form of marketing of all because they tell their friends, they share on social media, and they buy AGAIN. Yes! That’s what we want.

Did you miss the other articles in this series on how to make your homepage appeal to customers, and writing your about page? If so, check those out too, and go forth and make sure your site’s content is speaking to your dream customer, loud and clear!

Know Your Business: Best Next Step for Fresh Paper Studios

This post is part of our Best Next Step series, where you will hear from creative business owners like you, who are wondering what to focus on next. The background stories and questions are from all kinds of businesses in various stages of growth, and I share my ideas for how to proceed forward most efficiently and ambitiously. Today we’re hearing from Emily of Fresh Paper Studios about where her business was at in 2014.

Fresh Paper Studios

Business: Fresh Paper Studios
Owner: Emily
Site: http://freshpaperstudios.com

Below is a screenshot of the Fresh Paper Studios website:

fresh paper studios website

About:

emily of fresh paper studiosI create bold, unique wedding invitations and personal stationery for fun, creative people. My business is light-hearted and casual, my designs are fun and unexpected, and the quality of my paper products is thick and lovely. I work with customers like a friend–the sassy, creative friend who’s happy to make you look as cool as you feel. Right now, customers can buy my products on my website (above) or on Etsy.

Challenges:

I’ve been running my business for 4 1/2 years. After the first 2 years, I was able to earn a full time income from my business and it’s been steady until about 6 months ago. Traffic and sales have dropped, and I’m struggling to figure out why or how to change that. I’d like to put myself out there more–make more of a name for myself and also expand my offerings. I get paralyzed by indecision, though, and don’t really know where to start. I also struggle with time management (working at home with my 3 year old daughter!)

Objectives:

*I would like to make my current invitation offerings a little fuller–I want to make sure I’m showing coordinating pieces (save the dates, programs, escort cards, etc) for each invitation design–by January
*I would like to streamline things so that I don’t feel so busy and overwhelmed all the time

Promotion:

I have an email newsletter (that goes out to 85 people, including my mom.) I post on instagram about once a day, facebook a little less regularly, and I’m trying to slowly build a presence on pinterest. I’ve had my save the dates featured in a few bridal magazines, which was awesome! But that wanes eventually and each of those opportunities was a case of an editor finding me and asking for photos. I have no idea how to approach people to get press.

Thanks so much for this opportunity! :)

fresh paper studios invitation

fresh paper studios invitation

Fresh Paper Studio’s Best Next Step

Hello Emily,

Thank you for entering our Best Next Step giveaway – hoorah, you’re a winner! My thoughts follow (read them with a grain of salt, since I only have a brief outline of your business and challenges right now).

Oh, this is a nice and juicy situation to be in! I’m sure it doesn’t seem that way. :)

I have some ideas for you to use to propel yourself in the right direction. You need to know your business!

First, this stands out to me as your biggest block:

“But that wanes eventually and each of those opportunities was a case of an editor finding me and asking for photos. I have no idea how to approach people to get press.”

You need to know how to do this! Approaching people to get press should be your focus. Word of mouth is nice and all, but it’s not going to get you far until you have some momentum. My best advice to you here is to purchase our Pitch Kit. Jena on our team created this for her clients, and the $44 will be the best money you ever spent on publicity once you start getting all the blog mentions and other press. You can learn more about that and purchase it directly here:

Get the Pitch Kit

Next, you say that you used to be getting more sales than you are now, and it seems like it’s a little mysterious to you how that happened. It would be a good idea to pinpoint what was happening before that was improving sales – or what you did to decrease sales. Do you have stats for your site, so you could investigate your traffic as compared to your sales? For now and for earlier, when they were better? Does Etsy show you stats like this? Was there a particular press mention that was helping you out, were you featured somewhere on Etsy that was helping, were you being found more in search before? Use whatever tools and history you have at your disposal to try to crack the case there, because you’ll be able to use that info to improve. It may be something as simple as Etsy changing how they feature sites in the search, and if you were relying on them to send you traffic, you’ve now learned that you don’t want to keep all your eggs in one basket.

Finally, you say, “I would like to streamline things so that I don’t feel so busy and overwhelmed all the time.”

I can’t offer specific advice here, without knowing what is making you feel busy and overwhelmed. I suspect you may not know just yet! In general, I would suggest you spend a week, or at least a couple of days, tracking what you do all day, to see where your time is going and how you feel about it. Just jot down each hour what you did and if it made you feel overwhelmed. You’ll see patterns emerge, and then can make plans to streamline.

Thanks for the chance to learn more about Fresh Paper Studios. I hope this all makes sense, and I encourage you to go out there and get more sales while doing more of what you love and less of what you don’t!

Are you ready for the next step?

If you’d like the power and experience of the Aeolidia team behind you, please get in touch! We would love to untangle your business priorities and take a few tasks off your hands so you can do your work. Contact Aeolidia – we never bite!

How to Be a Fantastic Boss to Yourself

Creative business owners: join me this summer to shape up our businesses! I have written an eight part series that will help you:

  • Increase efficiency and focus,
  • Enjoy your work more,
  • Reach your goals,
  • Learn to quit trying to do every darn thing that goes into running a business yourself!

Previously:
How to Build a Successful Creative Business on Limited Time
How to Easily Find Time For Your Creative Business
How to Reclaim Your Time and Get Help With Your Business
ONE Thing to Do to Make the Rest Easy
How to Grow a Business: Future You Will Thank You!​
How to Make Time & Enjoy Your Work by Hiring Help
Do You Have Solid Systems for Your Business?

This is the final post in the summer shape up! But never fear, we are always shaping businesses up around here. It has been a joy to hear how everyone’s been working on their businesses this summer. I’ve seen everything from small steps to radical overhauls to people going back to their roots with a fierce sense of focus.

This has all been so great. I thought the best note to end this series on is this one: be a good boss to yourself. So important, and so easy to overlook.

Be a good boss to yourself

You work for yourself because you want to have time for yourself and/or your family and because you believe in and enjoy what you’re doing. So don’t ruin it all by working yourself to exhaustion. New businesses will require late nights for a while, but that can’t turn into your way of life.

If you aren’t at a point where you can hire help or scale back your own crazy hours, doing so should be your top goal. Set a goal date for when the craziness will stop and plan backwards to see what you could be doing now to reach that future goal of a comfortable schedule.

As you work, ask yourself:

Am I being a good boss to myself? Am I setting myself a reasonable work schedule, assigning achievable tasks, giving vacation time, rewarding good work, and supporting myself when things go wrong?

Am I being a good employee for myself? Am I getting my expected tasks done, focusing on important priorities, taking breaks to avoid burnout, doing work that I’m proud of?

Position yourself to succeed

If you ever feel like you have dozens of things to do and none of them are getting done, this one’s for you! A good boss would give you meaningful deadlines and would hold you accountable to getting things done.

Without deadlines and accountability, it’s a challenge to complete anything you set out to do for your business. You will find all of your time taken up with the day-to-day reactive work. If anyone else works together with you, work together on accountability. It may be a weekly meeting or check-in, or a calendar that you both review.

If you are a solo entrepreneur, it can help to find an accountability partner outside of your business. You can set up an in-person coffee date to review what you’ve each done, or you could be part of an online group that does the same.

If you notice that your work gets put off endlessly to “someday,” treat yourself the way you would want a good boss to treat you. Build in the accountability that will allow you to get your work done.

Allow your workday (and workweek) to end

I realized years ago that there will always be more to do and I will never ever be able to be done. It used to be when I finished the day’s to-dos, I’d start in on tomorrow’s to-dos or look for a new task to complete, to try to “get ahead.” One day I noticed I was never getting ahead, I was just getting exhausted.

Now, when I’ve finished the day’s 2-3 to-dos and emptied my inbox, I close the computer and pay attention to some other part of my life.

What about circumstances out of your control?

After years and years of working for myself, I’m finally in a place where I’m ultimately in control of how, where, and when I work. Not perfect or complete control, but I’m happy with it.

You might feel frustrated if your circumstances are more difficult. Maybe you have an infant, or young kids and no childcare. Maybe you need to work a full time “day job” and work on your business in the hours that remain. Maybe there’s no place in your house to be a proper office and you can’t afford to rent a space. Probably you aren’t at a point where you can hire help. You can still apply my ideas from this summer to your own situation, no matter how different it seems.

I have five hours a day. Maybe you have one. During that one hour, you can still focus, avoid distractions, and prioritize your most important thing to chip away at.

If you are persistent and stick to the pursuit of your goals and plans with purpose and dedication, you can get your business to a point where it’s a joy, and much closer to what you were picturing when  you decided to be your own boss.

If you persistently stick to the pursuit of your goals, you can shape your business to the point where it’s a joy.

How to do this yourself?

I talk about this kind of stuff in the newsletter, and if you subscribe, you can be sure not to miss any tips and ideas.

Where are you at?

I’d love to hear where you’re at! How are you doing with your business? Burning the midnight oil? Thinking of hiring help? Have a staff and a plan? Do you hire out certain jobs, or try to do it all yourself? Do you balance your work with caring for young children, or working at another job? Do you take vacations, and if so, how do you manage it? Do you want to stop doing the day-to-day work, or do you relish it?

Start Right by Choosing a Business Name with a Story: 5 Junes

Choosing the right name for your business is essential—but it’s more than coming up with words that sound right. The strongest brands have names that tell a story. A great name is more than a label, but rather a bold statement that tells the world who you are. Choosing a business name with a story is the key to ensuring that your target customers understand who you are!

Judy Ransford came to us because she needed a new name for her line of clothing for tween girls. Though it previously operated as Antelope Flats, the brand was getting ready to launch big this fall, and Judy wanted a name that truly encompassed her brand:

which is celebrating tweens, their connection with family and friends, their optimistic outlook, and having fun and building confidence with fashion.

Naming a business so that it appeals to its target customers

Inspired by Judy’s energy (and my own nostalgia for the tween years), I was thrilled to brainstorm names for her. I especially loved how the fleeting passage of time was such an integral part of her brand. Girls ages 9-12 (as well as their moms) were the target audience, and these years kept resonating with me as such a special era in a tween’s life, full of innocence, free spiritedness, fun, and curiosity. For Judy’s first round of names, I went with a creative direction focused on celebrating time and came up with concepts like Eternal May, Present Noon, and 5 Junes.

5Junes arrow graphic designed by Aeolidia

Almost immediately, Judy responded that she was in love with 5 Junes. For her, it evoked the right emotional tone, and  for her 10-year-old daughter, it sounded cool and trendy. As a bonus, it was also my personal favorite, meant to represent the 5 spring and summer seasons a girl experiences from ages 9 to 12, bursting with life.

Even though this was only the first round of names, Judy knew 5 Junes was the right fit—and when you know, you know!

The only question now was: 5 Junes or Five Junes? Our designer Christine popped in with an excellent suggestion:

“5 over five will be more appealing to the tween audience and more memorable for the moms. I also love the design possibilities. (We can achieve a sense of symmetry even without two words of nearly equal length.)”

5Junes stacked logo designed by Aeolidia

Designing a modern, stylish logo and identity

As we moved on to the visual storytelling of the brand, Judy’s input was on-point and very clearly communicated. She wanted something modern and clean, with an edge.

“The edge could be a dash of folksy/rustic, or maybe a rough/grungy twist. I want the logo to communicate to the mom that 5 Junes is a stylish, upscale brand and to communicate to the girl that it is a cool brand, in tune with what’s fashionable her age group and for teens. I’m drawn to texture like denim, linen, rusted metal, distressed wood, or the night sky.”

After studying Judy’s Pinterest boards for the brand and taking into consideration her style in terms of colors, typography, and textures, Christine submitted five original logo concepts. All were in Black and White in order to keep focus on the design and not color, which comes later in the process.

Concept number 1, featuring an ornate 5 with a woodgrain pattern and a simple sans serif font to offset it, captured everything Judy had hoped for: the modernity and aesthetic of the clothes, combined with a fun spirit that’s not too feminine but still playful and youthful. After some slight tweaking in subsequent design rounds that included the addition of color and a new shade for the wood grain elements, the new 5 Junes logo was finalized. Christine could now incorporate this new identity into the line’s necessary branding materials, such as business cards, letterheads, and hang tags for the clothes. From start to finish, the new name and brand told a story that is full of fun, energy, and enthusiasm—just like a 5 Junes tween.

choosing a business name with a story 5Junes logo and identity designed by Aeolidia

Ready to start telling your story? Contact us to begin discovering (and embracing) your brand’s unique identity with the right name and imagery.

Aeolidia is Hiring a Shopify Developer

Ahoy, matey!

I am hoping you have a moment today to help me out. I know it’s unlikely that you’re the Shopify developer we’re on the hunt for, but it seems very likely that you might know someone who is.

One of the things that makes Aeolidia special is our in-house development team. Our developers are knowledgeable, cheerful, punctual, great at explaining things, and really care about our clients.

If you know of an awesome Shopify coder who you think would make a great addition to our team, please let them know that we’re looking!

The link to our job listing is here:

Dream Job for a Freelance Shopify Developer

I would be so glad if you would pass this on directly to that special someone you know, or share it online with your community. Thanks a million!

P.S. Hey, we are not actively hiring web designers right now, but if you’d like us to be aware of you if the time comes, you can say hi here: graphic design job inquiry

Selling Fabric Made Easy: Duckadilly Redesign

DuckaDilly is a boutique fabric studio, which specializes in Liberty of London fabrics. Lesley came to us last year, ready for a new logo and website. She told us:

We would like our website to reflect the luxury of Liberty of London fabrics. We also need our website to be easy to navigate and to sort through fabrics by color, season or motif. The entire shopping experience with us should feel special from beginning to end: from ordering on the website to the beautiful package that arrives in the mail.

Duckadilly website redesign by Aeolidia

The studio is named DuckaDilly, after the sweet nickname that Winston Churchill called one of his daughters, Marigold. The marigold was part of the old DuckaDilly logo, and Lesley was originally planning to keep it:

I would like to continue using the marigold as an element of the logo, but would like it to be redesigned to better reflect our company. Graphic Inspiration: Marigolds, Teapots, English Cottage Gardens

Judy on our team began by creating a few logo options which included marigolds, but also showed Lesley another option which was more inspired by gardens and the icons of London. She told Lesley:

I wanted to play with different shapes, styles and colors, and combine some fonts I’ve chosen. I wanted to give a fresh, happy, natural and also “repetitive” style, to get closer to Liberty of London Fabrics soul and to the world of patterns.

Lesley loved this direction; the new DuckaDilly logo and identity is fresh, modern and very London-inspired. She told Judy:

Thank you so much for all of your work and creative ideas! The brand identity and print materials are amazing. I can’t wait to see everything come together on the website and with packaging. You created such a wonderful group of graphic element, colors, and patterns––there is so much to work with now!

duckadilly-quick-brand

Our photographer Jen worked her magic to create some gorgeous “hero” images for the new DuckaDilly website. These large, styled images can make a huge impact on the overall look and feel of a website. Having great photography is always a worthwhile investment.

DuckaDilly website photograpy by Aeolidia

DuckaDilly flowers photography by Aeolidia

DuckaDilly jellyroll photography by Aeolidia

With the new photography and brand identity in hand, Christine on our team got to work, creating a fresh new website for DuckaDilly. When she showed Lesley the initial concept, she told her:

I kept in mind your desire for a whimsical but refined website. The concept is consistent with your beautiful, sweet branding—including illustrative details and pops of light, bright color.

duckadilly-home

One of the most important aspects of our work on the new website is seen on the item pages. Selling fabric yardage can be difficult to set up on your own. When Lesley originally wrote to us she told us:

Our current Shopify site does not allow us to sell in fractions, (for example 1.5 yards). At the moment one unit = .25 yard. So if you purchase 1.5 yards, you must enter “6.” This is confusing and I would love to have this fixed. We also need a checkbox, which would allow the customer to let us know if they would like their fabric cut as a “Fat Quarter.”

Zoe on our team was able to set up the item pages to make purchasing yardage very simple for customers to understand. Customers can see exactly how much yardage they are purchasing, and the amounts are also seen (and can be edited!) at checkout.

duckadilly-item

The graphic elements Judy created for the new DuckaDilly brand were fun to sprinkle throughout the site – details like this make otherwise simple pages such as a contact page really special.

duckadilly-contact

We asked Lesley about her project with us and she said:

It’s beautiful! I love how you tied the logo, graphic elements, and photos together. The (home) page is so lovely–it is sweet, refined, and has a touch of whimsy. It’s perfect! I love the clean titles that you designed for the informational pages. You have done such a lovely job creating a clean, sweet design, while also letting the fabrics look their best. I love it!

Ready for a before & after of your own?

We would love to talk with you about a website redesign, get you started with a marketing plan, or get your logo and packaging ready for the big time. Contact us at Aeolidia!

Do You Have Solid Systems for Your Business?

Creative business owners: join me this summer to shape up our businesses! I have written an eight part series that will help you:

  • Increase efficiency and focus,
  • Enjoy your work more,
  • Reach your goals,
  • Learn to quit trying to do every darn thing that goes into running a business yourself!

Previously:
How to Build a Successful Creative Business on Limited Time
How to Easily Find Time For Your Creative Business
How to Reclaim Your Time and Get Help With Your Business
ONE Thing to Do to Make the Rest Easy
How to Grow a Business: Future You Will Thank You!​
How to Make Time & Enjoy Your Work by Hiring Help

Creating systems for your business

When time is limited (and when isn’t it?), you need good systems in place. You can’t do things differently each day or for different clients. You can’t answer the same question from scratch every time, write up a wholesale invoice starting with a blank page, or create a new process for each custom order. Creating systems for your business is a step you shouldn’t skip. Everything that can be systematized, templated, or automated should be.

You can use form letters but still have a personal touch. You can start from a template and adjust it to fit your work. You can structure your work day in a way that is consistent from day to day and week to week. You’ll find yourself saving time by not repeating your work over and over, but instead re-using it. Instead of having to figure out how to do a task each time it comes up, you can follow a system you developed the first time.

Why do you need systems?

As a sole proprietor of your business, everything is in your head! That means that without you, business screeches to a halt. You have no good way to go on vacation, recover from an illness, or deal with a family emergency.

If you have well-documented, repeatable business systems, onboarding will be a piece of cake.

If you can get your systems out of your head and onto paper (or Evernote, or a training video), you can get help. You can do anything from get a friend or family member to fill in when you need a break to hire a team of employees to manage everything. Systems can leave you free to grow your business.

When it’s just you, you need systems to work more efficiently. It is always faster to batch similar tasks. Your chance of making a mistake during production is high without a system. You won’t have to worry about missing a step when shipping orders if you have a checklist of tasks to use each time.

If you have documented, repeatable systems, it will be much easier to hand these jobs off to a new employee. If you don’t have systems in place, hiring someone is the perfect time to create them. I wouldn’t recommend delaying hiring help if you need it. Instead, hire your help and work with her to create and document your systems.

Teach your new employee what to do, work with her to create systems where you have none, and have her write down the steps to make them repeatable. It will feel like a lot of extra work this first time. However, when you’re ready to hire again, onboarding will be a piece of cake.

Evaluating your current systems

One way to start creating systems is to imagine you’re going to go on vacation for a couple of weeks. Come up with a set of instructions for your replacement so she could run your business while you were away. If you could write these instructions up easily (or they’re already documented), you’ve got great systems. If you couldn’t describe to someone else how to do what you do, your method needs some work.

What processes could you systematize?

In an ideal situation, you would have a system for everything you do for your business. If you’re just starting setting up systems, consider these as good places to start:

  • Product creation/production
  • Product packaging
  • Photographing products
  • Adding product info to your website
  • Fulfilling and shipping orders (wholesale and retail)
  • Customer service
  • Social media and marketing
  • Blogging and promotion
  • Tracking inventory of products and supplies
  • Managing wholesale invoices and orders
  • Tracking finances and bookkeeping

Often, as you look into these things, you will be able to find software to help you automate part or all of the job.

How do you begin documenting your process?

You likely have a repeatable process for some or all of the above, but haven’t documented it. For those processes, you can take some time to take notes as you go through the set of tasks needed to accomplish the job. You’ll want a simple list of ordered steps that someone else could learn to follow. As you’re doing this, see if there’s a way to do something more efficiently or cut out unnecessary steps.

For anything you do haphazardly, inefficiently, or differently every time, develop a system. Consider the final outcome you want, and work backward through what you’d have to do to get to that point. Try out your process a few times to see if it feels right.

Once you’ve written down the steps and instructions for each system, try following them to the letter. This will help you see if you missed anything. Create checklists, and if you find yourself doing something that wasn’t on the list, adjust your list. If you find that there’s a step you keep skipping, it may be something you don’t need to do.

As you’re testing out your system, you may notice missed steps or mistakes. You may find yourself going back over and over to look up the same information. When problems arise, add in a step to prevent the trouble. You want your systems to be foolproof. You want to know that you could entrust this documented system entirely to someone else. No part of it should live solely in your head anymore.

You want your business systems to be foolproof. No part of it should live solely in your head anymore.

Want some specific examples?

When planning this article, I asked the smart business owners in the Aeolidia Facebook group about their systems. Below are a few of their systems:

I have a calendar, and a binder with 31 tab dividers (numbered 1 – 31 for the days of a month) in it. Orders are filed in the binder by the promised shipping date. I use the calendar to mark when I ordered supplies (and quantity) so I know that was done. I also put other appointments in it for reference.

It’s a pretty simplistic, non computerized method, but I don’t like not being able to access info when the power / internet is out (this happens often unfortunately). And I can carry the binder to places like kid’s practices or the park during the summer so I can flip through orders and make pertinent notes.

I keep the calendar at the front of the binder. It also helps me plan when I know I need to schedule dead time for an appointment, etc.
— Leeanna Prejean of Lemon Lime Creations

We just got Stitch Labs to help us with our inventory system! I’m pretty big on accounting systems right now too! I’ve been setting up lots of Excel spreadsheets with all the equations and I feel so smart!

I have a checklist system for our quarterly product launch so that I know when everything needs to be done, sent to the printer, photographed, listed, emailed to wholesalers and then promoted direct to consumer! I put the checklist on a calendar (digital and paper) so I cut down on my stress by being planned and prepared!

I also set up lots of Photoshop actions to save time on repetitive editing! I think I’d even call our scheduling a system. Every Monday my husband and I meet in my studio and go over who is working on what each day so we are efficient and held accountable. We also have habit forming scheduled things like going over our accounting once a week to make sure quick books labeled everything right etc so we make fixing things manageable.
— Kaitlin Phillips Goodey of Goodey Studio

I use paper because my product is so labor intensive and customized I try not to have more than 8 in the works at a time, so spreadsheets and inventory apps don’t really work for me. I use Apple’s Pages and make an order sheet for each Etsy order, with standard drag and drop place holders for photos, notes, due dates, etc.

I have 8 clipboards on the wall behind my sewing machine and one order is clipped to each. Since my dolls take 6-8 hours a piece, I do not have more than eight “active” dolls going at once. If I’m wondering what color leggings or hair flower a particular doll had I just swivel around and check that clipboard.
— Lisa Press of Phoebe & Egg

I hired a virtual assistant to help me get my products uploaded. It took a long time to get the system set up, but now I don’t know how I lived without it.

I use a combination of Asana and Dropbox. For each product type I set up master tasks with subtasks starting with creating the templates, writing the product copy and getting it translated (my tasks) then creating photograph mock ups, uploading the products to my store, my Etsy store and any other marketplaces, scheduling pins, tweets and a facebook post and setting up a blog post.

It has exponentially increased my velocity to get products live. She and I are like a MACHINE!
— Eleanor Mayrhofer of e.m.papers

Fascinating! If you’d like to read more, we’re discussing this in our Facebook group today! Aeolidia Facebook group. Please join – I approve product-based creative businesses right away.

Your homework

This week:

  1. Choose the most important or least-systematized of the regular jobs you do for your business.
  2. Consider the desired outcome, and plan steps backwards from there.
  3. Test out your documented steps to see if the system is repeatable.
  4. Either move on to documenting the next job, or get some help for the first one.

Ready, set go! Then, when you’ve accomplished this, let’s celebrate and support each other in the Aeolidia Facebook group!

To make sure you don’t miss any steps, sign up for our newsletter, where I’ll be sending out a link to each week’s thoughts (along with other insights, info, and resources to help your business be its best).

From Etsy to Brick and Mortar: a Fabric Shop Transformed

Kristen Suzuki was ready for a completely new business name and identity after operating her fabric shop on Etsy for nearly a year. With countless stashes of beautiful fabrics piling up in her home, she knew it was time to set up shop as a brick and mortar. The only problem? She wasn’t in love with her current name, Stitch or Stash.

“It’s a kitschy name, but I’m looking for something a little more sophisticated,” she told us, adding that she wanted a name that was both modern and rustic.

Hanging store sign: Circa15 - from Etsy to brick and mortar

Kristen envisioned her brick and mortar in Kirkland, WA, as much more than a fabric store—she wanted it to be a space where sewing enthusiasts could take workshops, find community, and be inspired.

“I want to create a social environment that allows people to share and foster their creativity.”

She needed a name that captured this.

As I prepared to brainstorm names for Kristen, she shared a Pinterest page with me full of images of shops, interiors, and fabrics that encompassed the style and feel she was going for. It reminded me of woodsy, rainy days, and of what would happen if Anthropologie were a fabric shop; right away, I could tell Kristen’s new shop would be a fabric lover’s dream: not just a place where you go to pick a fabric, but a place meant for discovery and inspiration.

Kristen mentioned she really liked names with a ___ & ___ structure, and since she’s in the Pacific Northwest, she wanted to explore names that alluded to the weather.

Some of the first names I came up with included concepts like Needle & Mist, Pin Cushion Studio, and Raindrop Stitches. Kristen liked the names that evoked rainy days, but also wondered if we could go a little edgier. Of course, this was music to my ears. What writer doesn’t love going edgier?

Modern Fabriculture came to mind. But so did this idea of creation. Kristen’s new shop was definitely about fabric, but it was also mainly about artistry. It made me think of timeless art pieces, how their dates of origin are usually preceded by one word: Circa.

And so, Circa 15 Fabric Studio was born: An abstract name that signals beginnings, creations, and timelessness. The 15 represents the year when Kristen opened her studio, a year exactly after her Etsy shop opened. Because it has a story and significance behind it, the number will always feel relevant, no matter how much time passes.

Retail space before: Circa15 - from Etsy to brick and mortar

The retail space in Kirkland, WA, before Kristen moved in

Retail space after: Circa15 - from Etsy to brick and mortar

Circa 15 today!

Class in progress: Circa15 - from Etsy to brick and mortar

Circa 15 with a class in progress

Now that Kristen had a name, she needed a logo that would bring her new identity to life visually. Our designer Meg got to work right away on branding concepts with a modern yet rustic feel. With these kinds of identities, she told Kristen:

“… it’s really important to bring in warmth and texture while presenting a highly clean and minimal overall concept.” Because of this, Meg presented Kristen with concepts that were not too ornate or complicated. Instead, they were warm, inviting, and had a breath of life. The concepts were not overly feminine, but they did bring in some light, ethereal qualities.

Right away, Kristen gravitated toward three specific logo concepts—all had design elements that worked together as a whole. After some minor tweaks based on Kristen’s feedback, Meg came up with a Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary for Circa 15. The primary is ideal for situations when it can be viewed larger, such as signage and printed items, while the secondary is recommended for the website and/or packaging. Finally, the tertiary brand mark works well as a stamp or watermark, or for use as a social media avatar.

circa-15-brand-guide

Logo and hang tags: Circa15 - from Etsy to brick and mortar

Hang tag: Circa15 - from Etsy to brick and mortar

We asked Kristen for feedback about her project with us and she said:

When starting a business, your name and logo are two of the most important things; it’s the way people identify you. You better be sure of both, because you are going to be stuck with them forever. I knew I didn’t have the creativity or marketing background to effectively come up with a name and logo. After researching companies, I knew immediately my style meshed well with Aeolidia. From day one, everything went very smooth. They kept me on a schedule, and didn’t allow me to be the procrastinator I usually am. Fortunately for me, both ladies I worked with just “got me”. I felt the back and forth of ideas was productive. They were receptive to my feedback, and made adjustments accordingly. The whole process was so easy. Circa 15 Fabric Studio is the perfect name for my shop, and my logo is amazing! I’m so happy I was able to collaborate with Aeolidia.

Love how it all came together to move from Etsy to brick and mortar store? Contact us about branding or rebranding your business to get it ready for something special.