Understand Your Business: JillianMaddie Paperie


JillianMaddie Paperie is a new paper, packaging and party supply business. We worked to help differentiate this brand with a unique selling proposition, and to define a target customer profile.Last week we talked about the importance of differentiating your brand, and shared some tips and resources. We recently worked with one of our clients to help her better define her target customer and unique selling proposition. JillianMaddie Paperie is a new paper, packaging and party supply business. When we began working with the shop owner, Holly, she told us:

Unique Selling Proposition: We are a complete paper, packaging, and party boutique.  We love ALL beautiful, whimsical, and fun paper products. We will carry not only amazing party products, but also a HUGE variety of wrapping papers, gift bags, and all the embellishments that go along with having a beautiful package (bows, ribbon, and twine).  We will also carry several gift cards, notebooks and cardstocks. We want to be a one stop shop for all your paper needs.

Target Customer: We believe that women between the ages of 18-50 would be our biggest demographic. JillianMaddie has a wide variety of products and price points, all our shoppers and customers will be able to find something amazing that piques their interest. Our party products will most likely pique the interest of moms and dads, but our large gift wrap inventory will be intriguing to every shopper!

This information is fine, but isn’t specific or distinct, so we asked Holly to dig deeper. We worked with Holly to think about what sets her shop apart from her closest competitors and asked her to describe her target customer, her perfect customer. After working with our marketing consultant, Holly was able to give us the solid, targeted information we needed to create a strong logo and identity for her business which will reach her target customer, and allow her business to stand out from the crowd. After digging deeper, she told us:

Unique Selling Proposition: JillianMaddie Paper offers a hand-picked selection of high quality paper products for crafting, packaging and parties. A one stop shop where customers can find everything they need to make cards, wrap beautiful gifts and put the extra special touch on their celebrations.

It’s a creative business for creatives, serving crafters, card-makers, event planners and DIYers who are looking for a more stylish selection and better quality of materials than they can find at JoAnn or Michael’s or another big box store. Our customers value shopping at specialty retailers like JillianMaddie, where they know they’ll be able to find just what they’re looking for.

Target customer: Ashley, is a hip, fashionable and creative mom of two young kids who loves to DIY and will go out of her way to make her kids’ parties as special as possible. Spending quality time and creating lasting memories with her family is ultimately what matters most to her; that’s why she values the convenience of being to shop online at JillianMaddie for all the best, highest quality paper products she’s looking for, all in one spot. She’s brand loyal and loves that all her favorites, plus new ones she hadn’t discovered yet, are all here in our shop.

Her style is an eclectic mix of high and low (wearing a Vuitton bag with a Gap tee) and of classic meets modern. She appreciates vintage and classic styles, things that are always on trend, and finds beauty in the smallest little details. She loves and appreciates all the details and attention that the JillianMaddie brand puts into product selection, packaging and service- it’s all just impeccable and thoughtful, and that resonates with her.

JillianMaddie Paper is a stylishly curated paper boutique for crafts, parties and gifts.


Christine on our team was then able to design a logo and identity for JillianMaddie Paperie that will help the business reach its goals. When sharing the initial design, she told Holly:

This logo mark is simple, but charming. The typography is vintage inspired but unfussy. The brand mark, a paper flag, represents both celebration and DIY. I imagine Ashley has strung her fair share of paper bunting or topped many a cupcake with darling little flags!

The alternate marks feature a more compact version of the logo, along with a circular badge version. You can also see the brand mark, which is the flag with a JM monogram.  These marks are perfect for those spots where you do not need the entire brand name, such as a sticker or in the footer of your website.

Together these elements read fresh but timeless, fun but not fussy, positioning JillianMaddie as the go-to paper boutique for stylishly curated crafts, parties and gifts.


We are working now on creating the website design for Jillian Maddie, and we know that “Ashley” is going to love it!


See all the details for this project in our portfolio.

If you understand your business (or want to dig deeper!) and are ready to create an identity or new site design that will better reach your target customers, come talk to us!

“IT’S OK” – Secret Holiday & Co’s Big Little Business Strategy

This interview is with Ashley Brown of Secret Holiday & Co., an artist and maker who has found her own way to be a "big little" handcrafted business. She has a product that resonates with people, is memorable, and which transcends trend. I think you'll be interested to hear about the choices she's made along her path.

This interview is with Ashley Brown of Secret Holiday & Co., an artist and maker who has found her own way to be a “big little” handcrafted business. She has a product that resonates with people, is memorable, and which transcends trend. I think you’ll be interested to hear about the choices she’s made along her path.

Questions are in bold, Ashley’s replies are not. Enjoy!

What do you create and what makes it so darn special?

I spend most of my days making Affirmation Banners. I created the very first ‘IT’S OK’ Banner back in 2010 because I needed the reminder for myself. I had been researching images from the Women’s Suffrage Movement and was really drawn to the banners & flags they created for protest marches. I had grand ideas about using their straightforward ‘black text on white ground’ to create banner-like quilts, but I was working 4 part-time jobs to make ends meet and I couldn’t find the time to bring any of my ideas to fruition.

One afternoon I created the very pared-down minimalist ‘IT’S OK’ banner as a small reminder to myself to keep with my plans, to keep moving forward, even if it was slower going than I wanted. I put the same care and attention into that one little banner as I had been intending to put into my project quilts – trying to replicate the incredible handiwork of the late 19th century. I posted an image of my banner on Flickr and it just took hold. I think my dedication to fine-craftsmanship and the simplicity of the statement is what draws many people to my work.

Secret Holiday & Co. it's ok banner Secret Holiday & Co. be kind banner

Is your product entirely handmade? Could you describe who makes your product and how? How has that changed over the life of your business?

Currently my products are 100% handmade by me. Each banner is carefully cut, stitched, assembled, and finished in my home studio. I have tried outsourcing production in a couple of different ways: hiring a part time sewing assistant in-house, and also sending out piece-work. While both options offered a bit of relief on the production end of things, I didn’t enjoy the added job of being someone’s boss.

Operating as a one-person business can be hard and overwhelming at times (and I tend to work more hours each week than I would like), but having an employee brought up other challenges that I quickly learned I wasn’t interested in overcoming, at least for the time being. I may try piece-work again in the future, but for now, I truly enjoy making in a small batch capacity. Part of what keeps this business going, even when it feels overwhelming, is that I still get an incredible feeling of satisfaction when I complete a banner. I’ve made nearly 5000 Affirmation Banners in the past six years and I get that special feeling every single time. I like to think that those good vibes end up in each piece.

How long have you been in business? What can you pinpoint as a turning point to your business’ popularity?

I’ve been selling my handmade work since 2005. I was on Etsy in the early days – when it was easier to stand out and selling art on the internet still felt new and incredibly exciting. For the first few years I sold small plush creatures that I called Fern Animals, and did pretty well with it. I graduated art school in 2007 and felt confident at that time that I’d be able to cobble together an art career of my own design. I participated in many indie craft fairs, made connections with lots of other makers, and built a comfortable reputation online as the “maker movement” was beginning to gather steam.

I bounced around a bit with my work – – selling Fern Animals, then custom Love Birds as wedding cake toppers, and occasionally some small quilts or other textile pieces. I felt pretty successful, but was also always willing to have various non-career part time jobs and live pretty poor in order to prioritize my creative work. In 2010 my Affirmation Banners were born and everything came into focus. They became popular pretty quickly via Flickr, Pinterest, and then Instagram, and by 2012 I was able to quit my day job and create full time.

I got my first large wholesale order from Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. around then, and it felt like a huge turning point. I think that was about the time I felt like I’d “made it”, or at least I had a bit more security in my work. That being said, it’s pretty easy to be hard on yourself and never think you’ve truly succeeded. If you told me seven years ago that I’d be producing exclusive products for Urban Outfitters and struggling to answer all my wholesale inquiries, I would’ve been blown away, but once you’re in it it’s easy to still think you could be doing better.

Secret Holiday & Co. have you found what you're looking for banner Secret Holiday & Co. affirmation banners

How often do you release products, and how quickly do they sell out? Is your shop ever empty?

Over the years I have tried out a number of ways to sell my product: having scheduled updates consisting only of items ready to ship, scheduled updates selling pre-order listings, or having my shop generally always “stocked” on a made-to-order basis. All ways have worked well, and it’s exciting to build hype with a scheduled update and then sell out really quick. But fielding the many emails that tend to follow about why the shop is empty or when the next update will be has always felt like too much extra work.

I’m pretty consistently terrible at email (or anything involving sitting at the computer) because I’d rather be working in my studio, so I’ve gotten comfortable having my shop always on pre-order. Sometimes I will make a limited run in a special colorway, or host a scheduled sample sale, and both of these events tend to sell out within an hour or two. It works well for me to make the “classic” designs as they sell, and create new special pieces a couple times a month to keep my customers – and me – excited about my work.

How have you adjusted pricing, process, and methods as demand outpaced supply, and how did that affect inventory and sales?

When I first started, I was greatly underselling myself, as I think most artists and makers do. You just want to get your work out there and you’re not really thinking in terms of profit or sustainability. Once I started gaining traction with my Affirmation Banners and realized that I absolutely could not afford to wholesale them with the low retail price I had set, I started gradually raising the price to a more practical amount.

It’s funny how needing to hire an assistant and wanting to be a good employer who pays a living wage helped me realize that I was being a terrible employer to myself. I was working insanely long days, often 7 days a week, to keep up with the demand for probably less than minimum wage. And while my higher prices have allowed room for numerous businesses to pop up and sell a similar-looking product for a fraction of the cost of mine, I believe strongly in “you get what you pay for” and that you have to value your own work if you expect anyone else to to value it.

Secret Holiday & Co. be brave banner Secret Holiday & Co. studio

Have you found ways to sell or share your work in a more widespread way? How is that working out?

I’ve tried out a few things here and there over the years, but it always felt like I was trying to get away with something. Like everyone would see through the product and know I was just searching for a way to make more money with less work. I’m probably over thinking that one. But I’ve always felt very strongly about not selling something that I couldn’t stand behind 100%. Prints, notecards, etc., have just never felt like the right product for me. But I do have a special secret thing in the works right now that will hopefully be a sort of meeting-in-the-middle. Still a bit of work on my end, still a high quality product, but not as time-consuming to produce or expensive to buy. We’ll see if it works out! :)

Where do you promote your work most? How do you sell it? How much time do you spend on marketing or promotional work?

For the past few years I have been using Instagram pretty exclusively to promote my work. I’ve never bought advertising or put much time or money into promotion, besides a handful of blogger trades or discounts. I have benefitted greatly from the simple fact that my banners stand out in a photo – even if one is hanging in the far back corner of a shot, you can still see it, still read it.

Because each piece has such a bold, positive statement on it, many people will share photos of my banners hanging in their homes just to spread the sentiment, or set the tone of their Instagram update. And I am truly lucky that I have so many customers with beautiful homes! I repost my favorite customer-shot images onto my own feed, tagging the photographer, which in turn brings more people to post and tag me. I like to think we’re all promoting and encouraging each other :) Maintaining a visually pleasing Instagram account has been my great promotional effort.

In addition to Instagram, I use MailChimp to send out brief updates to my mailing list. Typically this is when I am having a big sale, or have a new product or workshop to promote. I sell most of my work directly, through my online store. I use both Instagram (on a daily basis) and MailChimp (generally bi-monthly) to link customers to my shop. I also sell a range of banners through about a dozen online and brick & mortar retail shops.

What do you like about how you sell your handmade goods? What about your selling process is not ideal for you?

I like keeping things small and being directly connected to my customers. While it is a lot of work and can be stressful at times, maintaining close contact keeps me feeling grounded and reminds me why I do what I do. At the end of the day, these are real people who want my work, and I’m spreading positivity all over the world. That’s a good feeling!

The thing I struggle the most with is letting go enough to accept help when it’s needed. I particularly loathe basically all aspects of the “business” side of things. I just want to be making the work! But I have to do the administrative stuff to keep the business running, so I do it (begrudgingly). Hopefully there will come a day in the not-too-distant-future when I can find someone I trust enough to take over all the little admin jobs that make me cringe…

Is your business financially sustainable?

I think I can say yes to this question. I’ve been a professional maker for more than a decade, and while my income is always fluctuating, each year I get a little better at preparing for those fluctuations. I’m proud and humbled that this little banner-making business of mine supports my family. We are far from wealthy and still have tough months some times, but we’re comfortable and doing work we both love (my husband is also an artist).

Secret Holiday & Co. studio Secret Holiday & Co. let it go banners

How do you see your business growing in the next few years? Do you intentionally keep it small? Would you like to expand? If so, how?

When I see many young indie businesses building up around me, growing and expanding and outsourcing, it is tempting to think that I want that for my own business, or that I should want that. But really, at the end of the day I am an artist, a maker. I simply love to make things with my own two hands. I don’t want to be the CEO of my business, whether it be big or small. I like sitting at my sewing machine every day, I like having a hand in every piece I send out the door. For me, my little business is about creating beautiful, high quality work and spreading positivity.

I do intentionally keep my operation small. I am very happy with where I am at. The only thing I would like to alter is to find more time to explore my other creative interests. I think the biggest challenge of staying small and not hiring out production of my current product line is being too busy fulfilling orders to create new designs. But I make it work! I carve out a bit of time here and there. It’s like a fancy dance. I just need to make it a priority to carve out a little bit more.

What advice or encouragement would you give to other hand makers?

Be true to who you are. If you are making a product you believe in wholeheartedly, and making it to the best of your ability with the best materials you can find, it will be easy to sell your product because you’ll know you are offering your very best.

Ashley is such a hard-working business owner! Shop Secret Holiday & Co. at secretholidayco.com and check out her Instagram: @secretholidayco


Trade Show Booth Tips From Lovewild Design

Trade show booth tips for the National Stationery Show / NSS, NY NOW, the Atlanta Gift Market. How to get started, and what you should know.

The National Stationery Show is a big deal show for anyone in the paper and gift industry. Many businesses have been launched there, and many rely on the yearly show to stay in touch with their retailers, find new ones, show their new product lines, make connections for future collaboration, and get press for your business.

For those of you planning to exhibit at the NSS next year, or who are building up to showing at the NSS or any other trade show, such as NY NOW, the Atlanta Gift Market, or your own local trade shows, you might be wondering how to get started, and what you should know.

We asked NSS exhibitors how the show went for them, and what tips they could offer. We got a lot of replies, and I’ll be sharing these posts for a few weeks building up to summer’s NY NOW gift show. These trade show booth tips right from show exhibitors about will be helpful if you’re doing any kind of in-person selling or setting up a booth, so read on for National Stationery Show tips and expect more in the future.

This interview is with Sierra Zamarripa of Lovewild Design. We’re working with her on her website right now! So fun, because her products are so well thought out and her photography is beautiful. My questions are in bold, Sierra’s are not.

Lovewild Veggie Dinner Dice © Stephen Wilson Photography

Lovewild Veggie Dinner Dice © Stephen Wilson Photography

Lovewild bath © Stephen Wilson Photography

Lovewild bath © Stephen Wilson Photography

How many years have you been in business?

We started with our first retail market (Renegade Mini) in May 2013 and launched our wholesale side of Lovewild at the January 2014 NY NOW.

Roughly what percentage of your business is wholesale vs. retail?

We’re currently about 80% wholesale however we’re working on expanding our direct retail.

How many years have you exhibited at the NSS?What did you learn? Will you attend next year?

This was our second year exhibiting at NSS and third year walking. We’re debating as to whether or not we’ll be exhibiting next year. While I love doing shows and seeing all of our wonderful stockists and friends, it feels like the Stationery Show shrinks a little every year. Another big factor for us is that booth costs are essentially the same as much more profitable shows. 70% of the orders we write at the show are reorders, so while it’s great that our products are selling, those are orders we would have received whether exhibiting or not.

Do you do any other trade shows, markets, or craft fairs? Which ones, and how do they compare for your business?

Yes! We love markets and craft fairs. We found the most success at Renegade. They have a large following and the shoppers are so enthusiastic and there to shop! We always pick up quite a few wholesale accounts at Renegade so we’re always sure to remember our catalogs and info. We also have a permanent booth at Artists & Fleas in Brooklyn. People go in search of Brooklyn products or made in Brooklyn goodies – so it’s perfect for us! I would love to try some of the craft fairs we’d have to travel for. West Coast Renegade is something I’ve had on my mind for a while but we’re definitely wary of it. With local markets we have the luxury of running back to the studio to stock up on whatever sold out, but when you’re traveling it’s kind of a gamble!

Lovewild Blooming Confetti © Stephen Wilson Photography

Lovewild Blooming Confetti © Stephen Wilson Photography

Lovewild Blooming © Stephen Wilson Photography

Lovewild Blooming © Stephen Wilson Photography

Would you like to share a mistake you’ve made or a problem you’ve had at a trade show, and/or your smartest tip or best moment?

We definitely think more about layout after doing a few shows. I loved our booth for our very first trade show, but it was a little awkward. We had my beloved mid century couch centered in the back of the booth and displays on either side. It looked great (we went for a groovy living room look), but when it came to talking about our products while struggling to squeeze in between the end of the couch and a 60s credenza, it was completely awkward. We now know the importance of corner displays and accessibility. Every show, we take a lot of care coming up with a completely different theme. We’ve done 60s living room, winter cabin, 40s kitchen, Coyoacán (think Frida Kahlo’s house) & backyard! It really pays off when a ton of people stop by to appreciate the booth even if they’re in the market for something we don’t offer.

One more important tip would be to not hold your breath when it comes to leads. I see a lot of new exhibitors get really excited when they meet a potential buyer. While most of our leads turn into something, it can sometimes take a year or more to get the ball rolling. You may also have to go through a vetting process with larger companies, so don’t count on an immediate chunk of change.

What does your business get out of attending the NSS?

Wholesale accounts, press & custom work! We write orders for new stockists, catch up with our older accounts, show them what we’re working on and link up with businesses looking to collaborate. We’ve also started to meet people that work on licensing agreements (for use of our illustrations). NSS, along with other shows, serves as a one stop shop where we meet people that we wouldn’t normally know how to get in touch with.

So interesting and helpful, thank you, Sierra!

I have a bonus for you today! 14 stationery companies shared their own trade show packing lists with us, and we’ve compiled it into a master list. You can also peek and see each business’ exhaustive list, with things like how many catalogs they bring, etc. The one thing everyone agreed on was to bring at least four different kinds of tape! Want this? Sign up and nab it below:

Ultimate Trade Show Packing List

Download our ultimate trade show packing list and be totally prepared

The Care that Goes into a Text-only Logo: Wishbird

Designing a text based logo for an upscale paper brand

Christine Burns wanted to create a company and brand built on the power of the written word. She created Wishbird, a box of quotes or sayings that make the recipient feel special, cared for, and understood during good times, difficult times, or everyday times. Each set of cards arrives in a beautifully packaged box, and is meant to be put someplace, like a desk or nightstand, where the words can be seen and felt.

“Wishbird gets back to the written word, instead of emails or texts. It’s the perfect way to say the right thing when finding the right thing to say is hard,” Christine said. “My business personality is fresh and simple, thoughtful and smart.”

Inspired by the simple beauty of words, our designer, Christine Castro, decided to explore a text-only logo in which the typography creates a refined mark and the letters themselves evoke visual interest. Creating a text-only logo is truly a labor of love and detail; each curve, each serif (or lack of serif) and space between the letters is intentional and has a job to do. Though Christine C. explored many directions and ideas ranging from traditional roman typography to a sleeker modern type, she finally landed on a marriage of classic and modern for this initial lowercase concept:



Together, these elements read upscale but not stuffy, positioning Wishbird as the go-to for special, thoughtful messages of encouragement, love and laughter. A subsequent logo concept explored similar elements in an uppercase-based logo. Still present were the varying line weights and subtle curves to elevate the mark to something more special:



The result? A simple and casual type-based logo with a sense of classic refinement. It appeals to the upscale, high-quality taste of Wishbird’s dream customer, drawing her in to ooh and ahh over its contents. Equally important, it brings the Wishbird experience, which is all about evoking emotions through the written word, full circle by delighting the recipient from the moment she sees a Wishbird box to the moment she’s finished reading its heartfelt sayings.


See this project in our portfolio.

Do you need a fresh new logo that connects emotionally to your customers? Contact us to get started.


14 Businesses Share Why Differentiation is the First Step to Success

Today I've gathered some thoughts and resources for you on how to differentiate your brand and products from everything else in the world out there. It can be a challenging task!

Yesterday, we talked about what to do next when you’re seeing success with your product-based business, and you want to increase your online sales. What if you’re not yet seeing success? What if you’re feeling unsure about your product, your brand, and who your customers are? If so, now is not the time to throw money at the problem. Now is the time to reevaluate what you’re doing, and make sure that you’re on the right track.

Today I’ve gathered some thoughts and resources for you on how to differentiate your brand and products from everything else in the world out there. It can be a challenging task! I think about this all the time, and my attention to this was recently sparked by Kristen from Worthwhile Paper’s post on the topic for her business.

“When I began the process of starting my own design/product-based business I got stumped by a question I saw somewhere: “What makes your products unique?” I didn’t have a definite answer for that question on the spot, and that was a huge problem for me! I quickly started thinking about what makes my products unique. They are screen printed, but that isn’t the only thing I have that makes them totally unique. We use recycled paper, but so do a lot of people. My designs are hand made and hand lettered, but I’m not the only one making hand made designs. I decided that while the combination of those things make my products special, what really makes them special is the intention behind the design, alongside my personal aesthetic style.”

You can read her whole post here: Creative process + cultivating brand meaning.


•   •   •   •   •


Three adjectives to define your brand

Kristen linked to an oldie but very goodie by Emily McDowell on defining your brand:

“My three adjectives are: Insightful, Relatable, Colorful.

You have to be willing to kill even your favorite ideas if they don’t fit the adjectives, because if an idea doesn’t fit, it’s not right for your brand. I’m not gonna lie, this hurts, like finding a pair of pants that make your butt look awesome and leaving them behind in the dressing room. But ultimately, “because I like it” is not a good enough reason to add something to your line. If you’re going to build a cohesive, successful brand, you’ll need to consider your product ideas more strategically.”

You can read this one here: On having ideas: start with your brand.


•   •   •   •   •


Who are you selling to?

Stacia and Robert Guzzo were struggling with their brand when they realized that the people who were buying from them were not the people they’d been trying to sell to. They shifted everything and re-branded their business to appeal to the people who were actually shopping.

“The customer that we had been targeting this whole time was decidedly not the customer that we had actually been serving. Because our understanding of the customer was flawed, the problem that we were solving for that customer was very different from the problem we thought we were solving.

Our current brand was failing to resonate with the customer we had targeted, but it was also failing to effectively serve the customer we were actually reaching.”

Read more here: But baby, I can change: why rebrand?


•   •   •   •   •


Start narrow and grow wide

Shopify shared an interesting post about this:

“There’s a common myth that crafting a successful niche marketing campaign is all about finding as small of an audience as possible and then creating a strategy that only serves that audience.

In reality, the secret to building an effective campaign is uncovering an underserved niche market and then creating a strategy that makes everyone want to be a part of that niche. It’s about creating a vision of your ideal customer and then motivating your audience to take ownership over that identity for themselves.

Read this one here: How to use niche marketing to build a business from the ground up.


•   •   •   •   •


What if your product is the problem?

Abby Glassenberg notices that people are reluctant to advise others when a product isn’t going to be viable.

“We’re so lucky to have a tremendously supportive online community of makers today. When someone expresses disappointment that their product isn’t selling on Etsy we’re eager to help, pointing them to resources for improving their product shots or writing better listings or improving SEO. And of course all of those things are vital to having a successful handmade business online. But there are times when the crux of the problem is the product itself.

Some handmade items are incredibly time-consuming to create and have to be priced higher than the market can bear. And sometimes the handmade item itself is not made in a quality way or with quality materials. I think there’s a market out there for almost everything, but that market might be so small that it can’t sustain a business. Or it might be very difficult to reach.”

Read more here: When the product is the problem (the comments are very helpful, too)


•   •   •   •   •


Who is your product for?

And another great one, an interview with Brandy Davis of Pigsey Art on Academy of Handmade:

“If you ever find yourself answering the question “Who is your product for?” with “Everyone,” or the similar “Everyone with a baby/wedding/skeleton.” Full Stop. Aside from Death and Taxes, nothing is for everyone. […] Customers who feel like your product is for just anyone don’t feel the urgency to purchase. They need it to feel that this wood journal was MADE for their lifestyle, as if I was in their head giving them something they didn’t even know they needed or wanted but by hell if they’re not gonna have it.”

Read this interview here: Finding your niche: Pigsey Art finds her ideal customer in an unexpected place.


•   •   •   •   •


Discovering your unique selling proposition

Kristen also mentioned my post that helps you dig into the nitty gritty of your brand:

“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.”

Make magic for your business with a unique selling proposition.


•   •   •   •   •


Listen to what people really want

Tara Gentile explains that this is all about your customer, not about you:

“Don’t stop until you know how your differentiating factor leads your customers to more money, more time, better relationships, better health, etc… If you can’t boil it down to a simple, tangible benefit like that, you’re not done. What your customers truly care about is quite simple.

You have to listen to what people really want. You need to use their words, not yours. And, when the benefit they really want (more money, more time, better relationships, better health, etc…) sounds like what “everyone else is offering” push past your discomfort with that. In many ways, what you’re offering is the same as what everyone else is offering. Embrace that. Then use your unique process, point of view, voice, or advantage to differentiate.

When you push past the discomfort that what everyone else is selling is exactly what you’re selling too, you can finally get to a place where leveraging your difference really comes in handy.”

Read the rest here: “Look at me” versus “look at you”


•   •   •   •   •


Creating something worth talking about

Seth Godin breaks it down – why differentiation isn’t what you want:

“Remarkable has nothing to do with the marketer. Remarkable is in the eye of the consumer, the person who ‘remarks.’ If people talk about what you’re doing, it’s remarkable, by definition.

The goal, then, isn’t to draw some positioning charts and announce that you have differentiated your product. No, the opportunity is to actually create something that people choose to talk about, regardless of what the competition is doing.

Read the whole post here: Different or remarkable?


•   •   •   •   •


What could you be famous for?

Mei Pak explores the difficulties surrounding handmade or Made in the USA products, and how to avoid them by differentiating your business:

“Another deceivingly simple exercise you can do is to find out what one thing your shop can be famous for.

Famous actors, musicians, chefs, politicians and athletes are known for one specific thing that they do well at a genius level.

Sure, you can become famous for a few different things, but we all start with just one.

Do one thing better than everyone else in the market.”

Read this one here: How to find what makes your brand unique + why handmade and made in the USA is no longer enough


•   •   •   •   •


One company can not be everything to everyone

Kristen Ley of Thimblepress examines how to do something special for your own customers, and provides worksheets:

“The final thing I want to talk about is standing out amongst a sea of competitors that already do the same thing as you, well, at least on the surface. This is not a moment for you to go look at all your competitors, cry, and tell yourself you are not good enough. SHUT THAT DOOR, DUDE. This is a moment for you to be a smart business owner and realize that if you don’t take a minute to analyze your competitors because you believe you have none, you just may not get to where you want to grow your business.

If you know me, you know I am very open and share. The statement I always use is that there is enough business for everyone, and that is beyond true. There are millions upon millions of people in this world capable of buying 1 million different stationery companies’ products. I view my competition as people to learn from, look up to, and position around.

One company can not be everything to everyone. Look, even Apple can’t. SHOCKER! There are those dedicated PC users that WILL NEVER switch. The reason I bring all of this up is because look at your competitors, what key features they are providing and ones that you are providing? How can you stand out? I have a competitor analysis sheet in the worksheet to see how you can figure out key buying features to promote that maybe your competitors aren’t and help position yourself in a more unique way!”

You can read this full post here: Biz tip Tuesday: positioning and target markets


•   •   •   •   •

Avoid bargain pricing with a value proposition

Erica Gellerman explains:

“When scouring the Internet, it can look like everyone is creating the same thing you are. Competition is fierce and differentiation is difficult. When you’re busy comparing yourself to others, most people often default to comparing themselves on price. But by focusing on price, you’re missing the bigger business-building picture and you risk turning your well loved brand into a commodity. And nothing can kill a business faster than a race to the (pricing) bottom.

What can we do to avoid this bargain basement pricing scenario? Keep a clear focus on the value you are providing to the customer by creating a value proposition. A value proposition isn’t something you explicitly share with the customer, but is a guide for you, the business owner, as you continue to create, innovate, and grow your business. It keeps you focused on what matters to the customer and how you are meeting or exceeding that need with your business.”

Learn more on Design*Sponge: 3 tactics to create a foundation for business growth


•   •   •   •   •


When others zig, you zag

Ramit Sethi explains why you can’t afford to be doing what everyone else is online.

“When you’re the same as everyone else, you might as well not exist. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man, a woman, a life coach, a stylist, an analytics guru, or a language tutor. Whether you’re trying to get a date or start an online business, if you’re the same as everyone, you’re doomed.

No matter how beautiful your website is. No matter how exceptional your guarantee is. No matter how much you care.

This is where the concept of ZIGGING and ZAGGING comes in.

Where others zig, you zag.”

The rest of this one can be found here: The Zig/Zag Technique to finding an online business idea


•   •   •   •   •


Finding your winning difference

Shopify have some solid beginner information on this topic:

“However, after some market research you realize that a potential consumer has dozens if not hundreds of other online destinations they could choose instead of you. So, then why would they buy from you? That’s the question you need to answer as you start formulating your unique selling proposition.

There’s got to be something about what you do that helps you stand out from the pack, otherwise, how are you ever going to stay in business? Call it “positioning”, “differentiation”, “mission statement”, “vision statement”, or insert any other business terminology in there and it all comes down to the same thing. Why would a customer choose you and not a competitor?”

Read the rest of this post here: Why your online store needs a unique selling proposition (USP) to thrive


•   •   •   •   •


Watch a video presentation about this

With a puppet show!

“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?”

Building the Story of Your Brand

Subscribe to watch the video

How can you do this right?

What makes a promising product or concept for an online shop?

  • You are solving a problem for your customer
  • You provide something your customers can only get from you
  • Your product is recognizable as yours, even if customers see it out of context
  • A standard of quality and price point that allows your business to be financially sustainable
  • There is a market for your product, and you know who it is
  • Your products and brand are consistent and make sense under a single umbrella

What did I miss? Please comment here with your thoughts!


Two Changes to Skyrocket Your Online Sales

These two big changes to what you're doing now will increase online sales and make everything easier for your business.

It’s so easy, especially as a creative business owner, to concentrate hard on the design and the product and the customers, and ignore your numbers. I sent an email to our Aeolidia club members last week about how to increase online sales that really surprised some people. Here is a response I received:

“Thank you. Just in this email alone, asking me these questions, has been the biggest moment of realization I’ve had in my business in a long time.

I don’t know why I have never  focused on these numbers before. I don’t know why I thought this sort of  data didn’t apply to me. That my business was different. What have I been thinking!!??”

Today I have a real chicken and egg problem for you, one you’re probably super familiar with: do you create an awesome website first, or do you work on building your audience and traffic first? Ordinarily, I recommend focusing on the thing that will bring you the most results first. Or maybe there’s one thing that’s a preliminary step before the other. Today’s topic, about getting sales on your online shop, is one area where if it’s possible to make two big changes at once, both projects will pay off better than if you’d done them one at a time.

Get realistic about how many visitors will become customers

First, a story. We are talking to a jewelry business owner about transforming her online business. One of her goals was to get 100 visitors to her site per day, which I told her is an extremely modest goal. I shared with her,

“Let’s talk about what your best next step might be at this point. You’ve been in business about six years, and you’re doing well at in-person events and with wholesale accounts. Online sales have been eluding you – it’s a whole different skill set, for sure.

You know that being able to capture those potential online fans and turn them into customers is going to be huge for your business. You have a proven product that people love. They just haven’t heard of it online yet.”

Her reply:

“After reading some of your links, I realize that my traffic is so low and hence it’s no wonder I’m not selling online! I know I need to be blogging and doing more social media. I just haven’t figured out my “angle” and how to create compelling and engaging content. Maybe I’m overthinking it?”

If this sounds like you, read on!

Increasing your ecommerce sales – on Shopify or any other online store

One area where it makes a lot of sense to tackle two problems at once is retail sales on your ecommerce site. You could just up your marketing game and try to double or triple the amount of people who are visiting your site, but if your conversion rate is low, you’re going to be struggling to push a very heavy rock up a hill.

To explain what I mean, here is a little math experiment I did with a real life business whose sales are lower than they could be. This business has been around for almost ten years and they are quite well known. This shop’s wholesale and brick and mortar sales are thriving, but ecommerce hasn’t been a big part of their business so far. They built their business on Etsy, but when Etsy sales plummeted, they didn’t step up by marketing their own site hard. Instead, they just focused on what was working at the time, letting the online shop stagnate.

Here is what I told them after looking through their stats:

“I’ve taken a quick look at your Shopify stats, and I see that your traffic is low, your sales are low, and your conversion rate (the percentage of visitors that convert into sales) is quite low. An average conversion rate for any old ecommerce website is about 2-3%. Yours is less than 1%, which points to problems with the site. A well-loved brand like yours is capable of seeing a higher conversion rate (I’d love to see 5% for you).

You are currently getting about 30 sales a month from about 3,500 visitors.

Let’s imagine you’d like to get 200 sales per month from your online shop. At your current 1% conversion rate, you’d need 20,000 visitors a month to get that many sales. To get those 200 sales, you’d need to drive almost 6 times the traffic to your site that you are now.

With a well performing site and a healthy 5% conversion rate, you only need 4,000 visitors per month (which you almost have now) to get these 200 sales, not the 20,000 you need at the low conversion rate. That would be much less marketing legwork for you.

And let’s say that at the same time you improved your site, you put a smart marketing strategy into place. You actually get those 20,000 visitors, who will now bring in 1000 sales per month at a 5% conversion rate.”

I share this example to show how great it can be when you can tweak BOTH numbers (amount of visitors and amount of visitors which convert to sales).

Here’s a chart to illustrate:


On a phone? Tap here to see a mobile-friendly version.

The first thing to notice is how small even a 5% rate is. It looks teeny next to the amount of visitors you need to get, right? So that shows you just what a whopping huge amount of traffic you need to get to your site to expect a decent amount of sales. It’s a lot of work.

As you can also see, without that preliminary work on your website’s conversion rate, you’re essentially throwing away a big amount of the visitors who would have purchased from you had your website been more compelling and less confusing. In this example, improving the website without increasing traffic has you missing out on 800 sales a month. Increasing traffic without improving your website has you missing out on those same 800 sales. Only with the great website and heavy flow of traffic do you see those amazing 1000 sales per month.

Is this for real, or just for “big” businesses?

If these numbers sound crazy to you, let me assure you that they’re not. I am viewing one of our past clients’ stats right now, and she gets about 60,000 visitors and 3,000 sales per month. Her conversion rate is about 5%, and that gets her $100,000 – $200,000 in gross sales per month. Just on Shopify! We’re now working on a third aspect of this math puzzle for her: increasing her average order total, to bring the dollar amount up without needing to add more traffic.

A reader told me,

“I’m still interested in staying relatively small. Relying on Etsy less and gaining more sales in general is definitely a goal. But I’m not interested in having the same growth as some of your success stories – warehouses and dozens of employees and $100,000 in sales every month. I like the quiet days and flexible schedule that my business provides me, as well as the ability to work at home as I raise my family. This probably makes me sound so unambitious, but I thought it would be important information for you to have as you think about my next best step.”

This was so interesting to me. At Aeolidia, we’re all about businesses being as big as feels comfortable. There is definitely such a thing as too big. But you can have quiet days and a flexible stay at home schedule with your kids while also making big money and having employees – in fact, the employees make that possible. Aeolidia is a team of 18 and I emailed this reader from my back porch with my feet up and my kids visiting grandpa’s house.

Making more sales and making more money doesn’t mean that you can’t control your life and your day. But it is a valid concern: there has to be a phase of some pretty serious work to get to the other side where it can be calm again.

One way to avoid burnout and feeling too busy is to delegate. Hire experts like Aeolidia to do this for you. Sure, it’s a monetary investment, but when your time is as precious to you as this woman’s rightfully is, you want to make monetary investments whenever possible, rather than time investments.

Best next step: Hire Aeolidia to tackle both sides of this problem for you

If you feel like your online shop is having a little tea party in the sandbox, I invite you over to where the big kids are playing (I don’t know, the zip line?). Let’s improve your website AND drive some serious traffic to it and see what happens for your business.

Aeolidia is now offering marketing and SEO services along with custom ecommerce design. We are working with two agencies who are standouts in their fields, so we can be sure these important aspects of online sales are being taken care of correctly for our clients. I am EXTREMELY excited about this.

Maybe you’ve been delaying contacting me to work on your site because you’re not confident you’ll be able to drive traffic to it yourself? Worry no longer!

Contact us today if you’re ready to take your online sales to the next level. We’ll work on some real results for you.

What about your business?

Not sure if you’re ready? Let’s figure it out together. If your online shop is not getting as many sales as you’d like,  you’ll want to check in on these three things:

  1. Do you have a product that people love? Do you sell something that people are clamoring to buy, or is it possible that your product is the problem, and you’ll never be able to drum up excitement for it? You can validate your product with in person sales (craft fairs, markets, pop up shops), wholesale relationships, or sales on online marketplaces. If your product sells like hotcakes everywhere but on your own site, that tells you that cracking the online sales nut is going to be important for your business.
  2. Is your website performing well? Calculate your conversion rate by dividing your sales by the number of visitors to your site (this post on our site will help), and see what your percentage is. If it’s much below 3%, your website is letting you down, and it’s time for a change. You don’t necessarily need to hire help with the website design – it could be your photography, your copywriting, your logo, your shipping rates, or something else that’s causing people to leave before buying. It could even be where you’re promoting your site.
  3. Are you getting enough traffic to your site to achieve the sales numbers you want? You have to do a bit more math here – figure out how many sales would make your business comfortably sustainable, then figure out how many people you need to visit your site at your current conversion rate to make those sales. Now calculate how many visitors you need by taking the number of sales you want and dividing it by your conversion rate (this post will help again). Are you getting enough visitors? How many more do you need to get, and how will you do that?

It really is that simple. When 1, 2, and 3 are taken care of, you can quit focusing on the frustrating work of building a business, and instead enjoy the phase where you’ve gained traction and now you can fine-tune, get creative, and work on the improvements that make your business enjoyable.

All you need to hire Aeolidia and expect a great return on your investment is:

  • A product that people love.
  • Success in at least one area – are you on track to make at least $100,000 in gross sales this year, but not impressed by your online retail sales? You’re exactly where we can help you.
  • A willingness to make a monetary investment now and put in the work needed to see it 5, 10, or 25x your sales.

I am dying to hear about your business – let’s talk!

If your business is not yet at the point where an investment in this kind of help can be made, I suggest you get serious about improving your website, driving traffic to your site, and making a strategy for your business. Shopify also has a thorough post about improving your conversion rate.

You should see your online sales growing, just like a garden, when you put work (or money!) into it. If your work is not bearing fruit, it’s time to reevaluate your strategy.

What Makes a Custom Shopify Theme Worth the Investment?

With so many beautiful and effective Shopify themes available ready to plug and play, you might be wondering if there is any reason to hire a designer. What's the point? Is a custom Shopify theme worth the cost?

It used to be, when you wanted to set up shop online, you were either stuck with the supremely ugly designs that the ecommerce software offered, or you had to hire a designer or learn to code so you could make your shop look halfway decent. Things have really changed, and now you can choose from many well designed and beautiful pre-made design themes for your shop. The themes in Shopify’s theme store are all rigorously evaluated by the Shopify team, are flexible and editable, and cost between $0 – $180. This is a wonderful thing for businesses just starting out, without the budget to do anything special.

With so many beautiful and effective Shopify themes available ready to plug and play, you might be wondering if there is any reason to hire a designer. What’s the point? Sure, the site may be more polished, but is that really worth the four months of design and development and the five figure price tag that comes along with an Aeolidia project?

I know why Aeolidia does what we do, and I’ve seen it work over and over. It’s not always easy to explain the value, though. I was so glad to work on a project this year that is a perfect example of what a custom site design will do for your business. The fun thing about this one is that we can show a “before” an “interim Shopify theme” and the knock-your-socks-off “after.” Peek:

A side by side comparison of the three phases of Handcrafted HoneyBee's website

A side by side comparison of the three phases of Handcrafted HoneyBee’s website

Handcrafted HoneyBee came to us ready to completely transform their brand. They had been struggling with their own DIY design for so long. They had gotten negative feedback about their product packaging from interested big name retailers, and they knew that to take their business where they wanted to go, they needed to tag in an experienced design team.

We began their project with the foundation: the logo, brand identity, product photography, packaging, business stationery, and marketing materials. While all this was happening, it didn’t feel right to stick with their old look on the old site, so Stacia and Robert chose a theme from the Shopify theme store, did their best to incorporate the new branding, and started selling on the interim site.

Here is some of the work we did on their brand:

Handcrafted HoneyBee product packaging design

Product packaging for lip gloss, deodorant, face masks, and kits

Handcrafted HoneyBee business stationery

Business stationery design, including business cards, stickers, postcards, and kit and packaging inserts

Handcrafted HoneyBee deliverables

Here is the Handcrafted HoneyBee all together, including website (shown on an iPad), packaging, and stationery design.

Some people would have stopped at the branding and been satisfied with the pre-made theme. Stacia and Robert completely understood the value in having a custom site for their one of a kind business, and invested in the website design. Here is what we did and what they got out of it.

Starting a website project with goals

Stacia and Robert were dream clients, because they understood the importance of every page on their site, and didn’t need us to talk them into caring about anything – they cared about everything to do with their brand, which a truly passionate business owner just naturally does!

Robert explained,

We sat down with our team (virtually over Basecamp, of course), and we discussed goals. Each member of the team would play her part in helping us to achieve those goals.

Our short-term goal was improving our online sales conversion. We needed streamlined navigation, a clear, coherent value proposition, strong visuals, & simple, secure checkout.

Our long term goal was a bit more complex: strengthening our customers’ relationship with the brand. As the owners, Stacia & I were in charge of content creation, but each member of the Aeolidia team would be able to contribute to the story we were trying to tell, the value we wanted to deliver & the connection we wanted to forge.

We took the analysis one step further and established the goal of each page on our website. Every. Single. Page. We asked ourselves: What is the one action we want the user to take when she is done reading this page? How does each page contribute to the overall customer experience?

A one of a kind business needs a custom-designed website

Rather than trying to cram their content into a Shopify theme that was designed for a basic fill-in-the-blank type shop, Handcrafted HoneyBee needed something special. What they do and sell is a bit different. Sometimes customers will shop based on the product info alone, but more often than not, they need to have the value of the product explained to them visually in a way that compels them to add it to their cart and makes it hard for them to abandon that cart. That’s what we do!

Here is the brand new custom Shopify design for Handcrafted HoneyBee. This was designed completely from scratch, and is not based on pre-existing theme or template:

Handcrafted HoneyBee custom homepage design

Handcrafted HoneyBee custom homepage design

Our designer, Sarah, explains the choices behind the Handcrafted HoneyBee custom Shopify theme, scrolling from top to bottom:

I really care about how your website looks and how it works. Your audience’s experience is so important and the way the site looks now tells a story as they scroll.

Up at the top they are introduced to Handcrafted HoneyBee with your awesome banner. BIG Impact!

Then they are nudged towards 3 super important aspects of your business.

  • The Heroines puts the focus on the daughters. As you mentioned, it’s important for mothers to see their daughters as the heroes here.
  • Our Dream speaks about why your business is here – the journey you guys have been on and where you want to take HHB in the future.
  • How STEAM Empowers Girls again brings the focus back to your Mothers. Here’s how you are empowering your daughters by giving them STEAM toys instead of a simple lipgloss.

What is important to note here as well is that at this point you haven’t launched into BUY BUY BUY. So many kids’ toy websites really push sales at the top of their websites and just like how your audience is desensitized to specific words / phrases – they have also become desensitized to pushy sales techniques. So far we have told them why these toys are so awesome, how they are different and how seriously excellent they would be for their kids!

NOW we get to selling! By this point they are hooked and want to see these kits for themselves. Here’s the main event – Shop For Create-Your-Own-Kits! With this flow to your website, your sales conversions should do really well!

Under your feature products you remind our mums – why they are looking at these kits again? Ohh yeah, thats right, I want my daughter to be a freakin’ ASTRONAUT! Having a bit of animation here and a bit of fun is such a great idea.

By this point – we are hoping most parents have clicked deeper… but for those who are still feeling a bit like, “what’s this all about?” we take them to a bit of a “more information” stack where we give a little more detail into what Handcrafted HoneyBee is – with that juicy hook, “The journey to a Big Dream starts with small, smart steps.” (eee, doesn’t that just get you excited!)

It’s likely your blog snippets will be mostly viewed by repeat viewers or people who already know about Handcrafted HoneyBee. That’s awesome, that’s exactly the eyes we want looking down here as they are the ones more likely to read your blog and sign up to your newsletter if they haven’t already done so.

My point is – your website tells a story. A really rad story that I want to read!

A graphic designer’s eye sees things you won’t

You may feel fairly design savvy, but a graphic designer who lives and breathes ecommerce design is just naturally going to think about things you won’t – she’s thinking about ecommerce every day, and has been doing so for years!

Here are just a handful of the insights our designer, Sarah, brought to this project:

A note on colour

color scheme

Something you will quickly notice is that I limited the colour palette in this design. I KNOW we love your full colour range but I worry that having them all used together will create a bit of a rainbow.

I have limited most elements to use either only your Yellow or Powerful Purple (for hover states on buttons mostly). The reason for this – it’s going to make the colours in your products REALLY catch your eye! Especially on internal pages.

Another reason is that the yellow and muddy black we use are “science” colours so it reminds your audience that these are STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math] toys, not just makeup kits for girls. This is important!

The reason I used your Powerful Purple instead of any of the other colour options was because purple is the complimentary colour to Yellow so purple will attract maximum attention when we need it to.

A note on fonts

font choices

Something you might notice that I am doing differently with this design compared to the temporary design you have up now is that I am limiting where I use the Smoothly cursive font. There’s a reason for this.

The less I use it, the bigger impact that font has when I DO use it. This means that even though your logo is smallish, it’s the only place “above the fold” that uses that cursive typeface and therefore it draws attention without being HUGE or in your face. It’s subtle eye manipulation.

Another reason I have gone light on the Smoothly font is to help the balance between looking Arty and Scienc-y. This Raleway font being used the way we use it in your brand has a really strong “science” feel to it without being masculine (it’s so perfect!) so when I want to draw attention to the “arty” side of Handcrafted HoneyBee – thats where I will use the Smoothly font.

A great example of this working is your banner. The image takes good care of the arty look and feel, so I didn’t use any cursive font to bring a bit of the science look into the design. And because I haven’t, your logo is eye catching against everything else going on up there. Eye catching – yet not distracting.

Featuring the blog

featuring the blog

You are putting too much love into your blog for us to feature only one article on your homepage. PLUS it’s an excellent opportunity to get a couple more keywords on your homepage to appease the all mighty Google!

When your audience hovers over a blog article container it will change ever so subtly: the container turns white, the thumbnail image displays in full colour and the blog title link changes to purple. They are small changes but once everything is built and you’re interacting with the site, you want things like this to be subtle. Little details go a LONG way in web design, it’s what makes a website look polished and loved.

Newsletter subscribe

newsletter subscribe design

I have included another newsletter signup stack – JUST in case people don’t click the icon in your sticky header. You gotta prepare for all kinds of users :)

Something I have done with your newsletter is not actually use the word “Newsletter.”

The reason for this is because your users are constantly bombarded with advertising and people shoving “SIGNUP NOW” call to actions in their face. People have become desensitized to the words “signup”, “newsletter”, “become a member” and a bunch of other super common hooks.

The problem is, we can’t stroll too far from them common terms because they are recognisable and descriptive. We have to be clever!

By using the hook “bee part of the club” and having the email link named “signup” we toe the line between being unique enough to catch attention and descriptive enough so people know they are signing up to a newsletter. Having the exact description of what they get helps a lot as well.

Why custom instead of a Shopify theme?

I’ve pinpointed five things that Aeolidia’s work can do for you that you’re going to have a hard time accomplishing on your own.

1) Completely remove the “amateur” elements of your website

Stacia and Robert really care about what they’re doing, and they can see how cool their product is. But for their customer to see it, a lot of work has to go into polishing up every corner of the site, and telling their story in a strategic way.

Even if your customers don’t know why your site doesn’t feel as trustworthy to them as the other sites they shop on – even if they aren’t design or internet savvy – they are going to have an instant “first impression” of your business based on what they see, and if it’s not totally polished and well-designed, they will click away. Society as a whole is much more design-aware than we used to be, and expectations are high.

You know those places on your website that feel half-done, awkward, or you’ve put content into just to fill a hole? All that will be gone when you create your custom site with us.

2) Build a shop for your target customer

Pre-built Shopify themes necessarily cater to a wide range of businesses with a wide range of customers. This is great for Shopify and the theme designers, because there’s a better chance you’ll find something that will work and choose one of their themes. But it’s not as great for your business or your customers, as you’re trying to shoehorn your content into boxes that you didn’t ask for.

Your new site will tell your story in a way that makes your customer want to get involved, rather than just displaying your products and hoping they’ll care.

3) Make the site work in the way you need it to

We build in the features your particular business needs to sell to your particular customers. Whether this be creating a smooth product customization process, telling your story in an interesting way, catering to your wholesale shoppers, or eliminating tons of busywork from your internal tasks, a custom website can save you and your customers huge amounts of time and hassle.

4) Simplify admin tasks

We use Shopify (that’s an affiliate link, my friend), and we set everything up so that you can easily make your own updates to the content and products, while letting Shopify quietly make updates and improvements to the software behind the scenes.

5) Create a “sales funnel” that maximizes conversions

Your website will be designed to lead visitors from your social media posts or Google to your home page, right to shopping, and off to the cart, without missing a beat. We know how to eliminate distractions, attract eyes to what’s important, and move your visitors to a sale.

The result

What all of this does is establish you as a serious business that is willing to invest in your brand and customer experience.

The business owner’s perspective

I could talk about this all day, but since I’m the one selling this type of work, I’m sure you’d prefer to hear from the shop owner on the other end of the equation – the one investing in the work. The temporary site looked pretty darn good, especially with the brand graphics and guidance from Aeolidia. Robert knew they needed more, though, and shared,

Plenty of people saw the transitional website and asked what more could possibly be needed. I’ll share the reasons why we wanted to go with a custom site.

A custom design places the customer’s online experience completely in your hands. You can include small, subtle touches that can increase customer confidence in your brand. You can integrate the various elements of your online presence (your shop, blog, newsletter signup, member site, wholesale site, etc) in the way that will resonate best with your ideal customer.

With a custom theme, the website’s design & functionality are precisely suited to help your business accomplish its goals, rather than fitting your goals to suit the template.

Here are some special elements that just couldn’t have been pulled off well with a pre-made shop theme:

scientist in the making

A rotating graphic with the phrase: “I’m a __________ in the making and I’m all about the __________ kit.” was one of several elements designed to spark a girl’s imagination & connect her story with our educational skin care kits.

handcrafted honeybee site details

Each of the major pages on the site have eye-catching and informative banner graphics right at the top. Even the store locator has an integrated design that’s consistent with the rest of the brand.

handcrafted honeybee gallery

The “HoneyBee Heroine Hall of Fame” encourages the audience to help shape the brand by submitting pictures of a girl with her kit creation.

handcrafted honeybee members' page

A secret page offering exclusive access for kit creators is not accessible directly from the website. We needed it to look distinct, yet still part of the rest of the platform—special but connected to the place where they got the kit in the first place.

And how about this blog? One complaint we often hear about Shopify is how boring and simple Shopify blogs look. Maybe theme designers just don’t put much love into these sections. Here’s a great example of a Shopify blog at its full potential:

Handcrafted HoneyBee Shopify blog design

Is it your brand’s time to shine?

Aeolidia provides a lot of advice and support via our blog, newsletter, and Facebook group. But the heart and soul of who we are as a business is a design team driven to bring your business the results that you’re looking for. We design thoughtful and compelling brand identities and strategic, sales-driven Shopify websites. We’ve been doing it for over a decade, and there is no other team who knows your creative product-based business like we do.

Let’s hear from Robert Guzzo one more time:

You want to know the single biggest mistake we made with our original brand identity? Thinking that we could do it ourselves. Or rather, I should say: thinking that we couldn’t afford to hire a professional.

We were looking at our brand visuals as an expense. As something that could be “good enough” if we did things ourselves.

So we designed our own packaging & labeling. We created imagery for social media posts. We used off-the-shelf fonts and stock graphics. Then we worked it over some more and a little more…and a little bit more, tinkering and fiddling to make our homemade designs better.

We tried our best. But our best wasn’t good enough.

If I’m being totally honest, our attempt at design was all over the place. We were failing to curate a single coherent identity. People didn’t know what we stood for or what they could expect from us. We were confusing people more often than we were connecting with them.

All of that changed when we started thinking about our brand identity as an investment in the future of our business, instead of an expense to minimize.

By working with a professional design firm, we had a lot at stake financially. We had to get things right the first time, and the design visuals needed to be built to last. No more tinkering.

The other big benefit of working with professionals was that we purchased our freedom. We could focus on the parts of our business that absolutely required us, and leave the rest in the hands of experts. We gained back precious time to focus on making our business the best it could be, rather than wasting time over-working for “good enough.”

Quit messing around and do it right with Aeolidia

We are currently accepting new projects for our September-October design block. You could have your new logo and packaging before the holidays! Websites designed in fall will be developed in the new year for a February 2017 launch.

Get in touch! If you’re ready, we can make a solid plan for you. If you’re not sure if you’re ready, we can talk about your visitors, conversion rate, and sales numbers, and think about what your best next step might be.

Further reading

Loving this story? Find much more in these places:


Free Video: Building a Stellar Customer Experience

"The difference between a website or a brand identity that's executed at 90% and 100%, the difference is not 10%, in my eyes. It's another 100%." I talk with Lela from Brick House Branding about how to plan for a stellar customer experience for your online shop.

I have two useful things for you today! One is free, and one is such a wonderful investment in your business that I hope you’ll consider it. Keep reading, I have exclusive free access to paid video content for you.

Today’s post is about Lucky Break Consulting. This isn’t an affiliate or sponsored post, I just really like what Lela Barker is doing for creative entrepreneurs. She offers a class, Brick House Branding, to teach just what businesses need to build a brand identity and strategy that aims them toward success.

Lela focuses on the core of your brand: the vision, values, and story behind it. Her work is amazing prep for hiring Aeolidia to make it all happen.

Brick House Branding graduates

We worked with two standout businesses last year who were Brick House Branding graduates, and both were completely prepared for the process of working with us, and their two projects are among the best we’ve ever done.

product packaging and photography

Our brand identity and packaging design for Aimee Flor of Azalia Spa Goods, BHB graduate

Handcrafted HoneyBee - brand identity design for a skin care company

Our brand identity and packaging design for Stacia and Robert Guzzo of Handcrafted HoneyBee, BHB graduate

Brick House Branding expert interview

I was tickled pink to be invited to chat with Lela for module 5 of her course, Building a Stellar Customer Experience. That’s what we love to do here at Aeolidia! I think you’ll be interested in this interview. Here’s a short clip to give you a taste of what we talked about:

Lela: The difference between a website or a brand identity that’s executed at 90% and 100%, the difference is not 10%, in my eyes. It’s another 100%.

A lot of brands will go to 90%. They’ll do pretty good photos. But it’s the brands that have knock your socks off photos that really get your attention. It’s the brands that have really taken the time to craft that brand story and build a really welcoming About page that’s a rallying cry to join them in whatever they believe about the world. Those are the ones that get our attention.

Wow, we covered so much in this hour long chat!

  • How important is an e-commerce site for a product-based brand in the modern era?
  • A well-styled, smartly-developed website is often a big investment for a new brand. If we’re short on resources, how do we prioritize this piece?
  • What about relying on third-party venues like Etsy and Amazon?
  • What are your favorite platforms for web development? What are the pros + cons of those platforms?
  • What are wireframes and why are they important?
  • What’s the difference between a web designer and a web developer? Are those ever one and the same?
  • What are some of the key decisions we need to make before diving into a new web project?
  • What are some of the key questions that we should ask a potential web designer/developer to ensure that the project is ultimately successful?
  • What are some of the big trends or best developments you’re seeing in modern web design?
  • What are some of the biggest mistakes you see product-based brands make with their websites?

Get this video for free

This video was only available to paying Brick House Branding students. But now you can get it! Lela has given her blessing for me to share this video exclusively with my subscribers. Want to check the rest of this out for free? Just sign up below, and I’ll email the video link directly to you:

Crafting Your Customer Experience

Sign up to watch the free video on creating a stellar customer experience online

Interested in gaining clarity about your brand?

I’ll let Lela explain the value of her course to you. From her site:

How much more profitable + sustainable will your business be when you’re deeply connected to the core of your brand and have the clarity necessary to make your products stand out in densely competitive marketplaces?

How much more effective + efficient will your work be when you’re able to create products + marketing strategies that act like a magnet, drawing your target audience right to your doorstep?

How incredible will it feel when the development of your next product, blog post, editor pitch, and Instagram photo are painless + intuitive, because your finger is so firmly on the pulse of communicating what your brand is all about?

How proud will you be when you’re able to confidently price your products + command the sums they truly deserve because the value is crystal clear?

You can learn all about Brick House Branding and sign up here: Brick House Branding 2016. Enrollment closes in just a few days, on the 16th, so get in there!


5 Methods to Get More Sales on Shopify

Today we're talking about how to get more sales on Shopify - or how to get any sales on Shopify! Shopify doesn't have a built in search engine like Etsy, because it's not a marketplace. It's your own independent shop, which is great, and what you want. But with your own shop, you are responsible for every customer that comes through your virtual door.

I love to hear from my newsletter subscribers: where they’re at with their businesses, what they’re excited about, and where they’re feeling stuck. Sometimes I send a quick reply with a link to previous blog posts, and sometimes I get more in depth with my reply, to share here on the blog. Become a member! It gives you direct access to my inbox.

Today we’re talking about how to get more sales on Shopify – or how to get any sales on Shopify! Shopify doesn’t have a built in search engine like Etsy, because it’s not a marketplace. It’s your own independent shop, which is great, and what you want. But with your own shop, you are responsible for every customer that comes through your virtual door.

That’s a very different feeling for some Etsy sellers, and this Q&A from an Aeolidia subscriber sheds some light on the difference, and what to do.

Relying on Etsy leaves you vulnerable

I recently heard from an Etsy seller who is feeling worried about her declining Etsy sales:

Hi Aeolidia, I make 100% of my income from Etsy and that is a scary thing given my business is now down 70% from only a month ago. I need to make changes but not sure what. I CANNOT afford to throw money at the wrong thing as I am barely scraping along as it is with my declining sales. I am thinking of building a Shopify site that more or less will duplicate my Etsy shop but am concerned that having a duplicate web presence will hurt rather than help. Also, generally speaking what is the difference in overall monthly sales I can expect from Shopify over Etsy – all else being equal as far as product, pricing, etc…. thanks so much for your time.

– Kelly

How to build a self-sustainable business

Hello Kelly,

Good to hear from you! My “tough love” answer to your question is coming your way!

You are correct that you don’t want to duplicate content, but that is solved by giving your products different names and writing new descriptions, something that could help you with your search engine strategy. With as many products as you have, that could take you a bit of time, but it takes work to make money online. I’d just do it.

Please note that you can’t expect any sales when you set up your Shopify site at first. They will not send you traffic the way that Etsy does. Part of what you’re paying for at Etsy is the benefit of being listed in their internal search engine. Creating your own site on Shopify is an important part of a long-term strategy, but it’s not in any way a “quick fix” for sales that are dropping on Etsy.

The problem with relying entirely on Etsy is that you’ve built a business without learning how to market a business. Knowing how to market your business is crucial to longevity.

5 ways to bring traffic to your site

There are five main ways to bring traffic to your website.

  1. Having a strategy for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and getting ranked highly for your most important keywords on Google.
  2. Posting on social media and making sure the content on your website is eminently shareable.
  3. Gathering online press and publicity by pitching your products to influencers and/or paying for advertising.
  4. Bringing in return visitors by making good use of your mailing list and providing a great customer experience.
  5. Creating general brand recognition by promoting your business offline, in print publications, at in-person events, and/or your own brick and mortar store.

Having a business blog is an enormous help in accomplishing #s 1, 2, and 3.

Promoting a busy business is a full time job! Believe me, I know, I do it all day every day. It can be very rough in the early days or years of a business, when it’s only you, one person, trying to design, create or source the products, build the business, and market it on top of that. That’s why Etsy is such a great way to begin and to test the waters. After too long, though, it becomes a crutch, and you don’t learn to walk on your own.

First steps to business independence

If you want to build a business that can become something more than it is now, I’d urge you to begin learning now how to attract your own audience, encourage repeat business or word of mouth, and driving traffic to your shop.

Purchase a domain name and point it to Etsy, for starters. Then promote your domain name online.

The next step would be to build a simple site, possibly without shopping, to drive traffic to. This simple site would link to your Etsy shop, but also share more about your business and allow people to sign up for your mailing list.

A more advanced step is to set up your own shop on Shopify. You send all the traffic and press that you can to your own site. Let Etsy send you customers from their search engine.

Running your own business is more work than working for someone else

It’s a lot of work. The businesses that I’ve seen make it to long term success are working hard on their businesses all the time. It’s never easy! If you’re ready to put the work into it, though, you can slowly begin to take control, and have Etsy be one of your many traffic streams, not your entire business.

I wish I had an easy answer, but the only answer to success in a product-based business is working really hard all the time until you get profitable enough to hire some help. Etsy is one of the few “quick money” types of things to do (and only for the lucky few that do well in Etsy search) and as you’ve seen, you can’t rely on it to work for you forever.

I’ve written about this before, but I think I didn’t go back far enough to the very basics. So thank you for asking the question. Best wishes!

Further reading for growing beyond Etsy

Etsy only? Instagram only? Protect Your Business by Diversifying

My Best Strategy For a Product-Based Business in 2016

Bonus! If you currently have an Etsy shop and would like to set up your own shop on Shopify, I’m sharing a plan specifically for you. This is the nitty gritty details of the steps you need to take to get your Shopify shop up and running, and you can get that here:


Read our guide to setting up Shopify for Etsy sellers

Ready to hire some help to get sales on Shopify?

I’d love to talk to you about the return on investment for hiring Aeolidia to design a custom Shopify site for you. In fact, I am sending an email to all of my newsletter subscribers about what we do to get you more sales, and what you can expect out of a project with us. Subscribe today and you’ll get that advice, as well as a treasure trove of other small business gold.

I rarely have time to read emails. But I’m NEVER disappointed when I read yours!
— Erin Wetzel

Update: here’s the post about how we can improve two huge aspects of your online sales and increase them by 25 times: Two Changes to Skyrocket Your Online Sales

Growing a Handcrafted Business Sustainably: Commonfolke

Here is one story of a maker who made her business too big, and what she did to satisfy her customers, her own creativity, and grow her business to support her family. Natalie and her team handcraft the sweetest, minimalist bears in Portland, OR.

I have always been interested in how to grow a handmade business while still enjoying it, and I’m particularly intrigued by those handmade businesses who have gotten so successful that making each thing by hand becomes unsustainable for one person. There are so many options when you hit this point: burn out and give up, seek a manufacturer, hire local handcrafted help, change your product type to something less intensive – what to do?

Here is one story of a maker who made her business too big, and what she did to satisfy her customers, her own creativity, and grow her business to support her family. Natalie and her team handcraft the sweetest, minimalist bears in Portland, OR. This is my interview with her. My questions are the bold text, Natalie’s answers are the quoted replies.

What do you create and what makes it so darn special?

I make stuffed bears (and occasionally, other animals). I think what sets them apart is that they’re not like anything else you can find in stores or even in the handmade market – the design of my bears is based on simplicity, minimalism, and comfort. I’ve never seen anything else that looks like them, and that sense of originality makes me proud.

How long have you been in business? What can you pinpoint as a turning point to your business’ popularity?

I’ve been in business since Fall of 2014. Commonfolke started out as Dainty Rags, a baby blanket shop. I made a bear one day for my son and posted it to my personal Instagram, and my friends encouraged me to sell them in my shop. In 2015, I changed my name over to Commonfolk, and then in 2016, I added an “e” at the end. As you can see, things are always evolving!

The point where I realized I was getting pretty popular was when I had almost ten employees and couldn’t keep up with orders, even with a 4-6 week turnaround time. My business grew bigger than I expected very quickly, and that forced me to learn everything I could about running a business while still sewing, managing, shipping, and doing everything else for the business as well.


How often did you release products before hiring help, and how quickly did they sell out? Was your shop ever empty?

Before I hired anyone, I would release about 20-30 bears a week. Every time I listed, they were gone within minutes. My shop was ALWAYS empty, and this confused a lot of my customers. This is when I switched over to pre-orders.

How have you adjusted pricing, process, and methods as demand outpaced supply? How did your seamstresses and any other changes affect inventory and sales?

Ohhh yes. This has been the toughest part of the business for me. I had to change everything. Pricing went up (it was easy to not pay myself for my work, but once I had help I realized my costs were very high!). Materials got more expensive and durable. Everything was made in a very specific process involving several people – my seamstresses, myself, and my embroiderers. Things would get delayed if one issue would happen with any of us.

It took months of trying to find the right team, staying up til 4am every night working (then waking up with my two kids in the morning), and desperately trying to do it all and keep customers happy. This period was tough, I spent most of my time sewing or learning about taxes, business licenses, trademarks, copyrights, etc and very little time creating.

I’m happy to say that after all that hard work and stress, I’ve been able to get to the point where my bears are ready to ship and I keep an inventory. I really prefer it this way, though I do sometimes miss the thrill of seeing bears disappear within seconds of being listed!


What changes did you make to get to where you are now, with inventory in stock? What roles have you hired for and why does it work?

There are six of us now, yes. Well, two of us that are Commonfolke (myself and my husband – but 99% of it is me), and four contracted helpers. We have one seamstress, two embroiderers, and one assistant.

I mainly ask other moms to work with me, and I love that. Right now I have a few of my friends and one nice woman I met when I moved to Portland working for me on each batch of bears. I have tried out a LOT of people though, and my team of contractors has dwindled down from many people (in many different states!) to just a small group. That was always very hard – either having wonderful people stop working with me because they misunderstood their tax obligations and were surprised, or because they moved away, or because they couldn’t quite replicate the look of my bears perfectly. Hiring people to help has been one of the most stressful aspects of owning a business. All the other small business owners I know have had difficulty with this, mostly because it’s hard to find people with the amount of passion you have for your own product.

When I first contracted everyone to help, it was very disorganized. The past six months have been spent figuring out everyone’s strengths, schedules, and then finding a way that everyone can be really efficient at what they do. Once that was done, I put everyone in crazy mode and we worked incredibly hard to do as much as we could to make more bears than we were selling, so we would have an inventory. Once I had hundreds of bears just waiting around to be sold, I closed the shop for a while, notified my customers that bears would be ready to ship at a certain date, and then worked on getting all the inventory entered into the website. I now handle all aspects of the business (bookkeeping, social media/marketing, website maintenance, ordering supplies, photography, etc), and I hand number every bear and ship them. I also can obviously do any other job – so I often machine sew or embroider as needed. My husband sews bears closed and helps with shipping. I still need to hire more help, but it feels good to have a pretty good team right now.

Have you found ways to sell or share your work in a more widespread way, or is this something you’re considering?

I’ve just recently gotten to a point where I have a great team (myself, my husband, and four others) who all work hard enough to where I can focus my energy on new ideas. I’ll be coming out with some printed fabric dolls soon, and I have plans for many more things to come.

Where do you promote your work most? How do you sell it? Do you need to do any marketing or promotional work anymore?

I do most of my promotion on Instagram. I’ve found a wonderful community of other makers that has been absolutely essential in my own success. We all work together to build each other up, it’s incredible. I sell on Shopify and via wholesale in a number of high end boutique shops. I find I have enough promotion through my own marketing efforts and those of my stockists to sustain my business. That might change, though!


What do you like about how you sell your handmade goods? What about your selling process is not ideal for you?

I like that I can reach customers directly. I think that’s important when your items are handmade. The connection is really special. My least favorite part though is probably the business side of things. When I first started I basically wanted to give bears away (and with my prices then, I nearly did!). Now I have to factor in so many costs that need to be covered, and it takes a little of the magic out of the experience for me. It’s necessary, but I don’t love it.

Is your business financially sustainable?

Finally, yes. It’s getting there. I am, by no means whatsoever, wealthy. But I am humbled and grateful to admit that Commonfolke has supported my family for months. I remember telling my husband that I would be happy if I just made a couple hundred dollars a month to have enough to cover my own personal bills. Now, I’m making enough to where my husband can work almost full time alongside me. It’s absolutely amazing.

How do you see your business growing in the next few years? Do you intentionally keep it small? Would you like to expand? If so, how?

I really hope that in the next few years, I can let go of some more responsibilities. I do love the “small” part of this small business, but the reality is that I have a very rare and severe, chronic migraine condition that causes an array of different neurological problems on a daily basis. My health has gotten in the way a lot, and I have found that I absolutely have to branch out and expand or my business will not exist.

I hired my first employee because I became unable to use my sewing machine without it making me very sick. Now, I can’t really imagine going back to the way it was with me sewing everything myself. It has been SO hard to let go of control, but I found people that are extremely passionate about my vision and dedicate their time to getting it just right.


What advice or encouragement would you give to other handmakers?

My advice is to just stay open minded. Your business will always change. Be open to going with the flow of what your business needs at that time. There will be good months and bad, and being able to keep up with it and stay creative is the goal for anyone who has a handmade business. Do things your own way, even if that means not working for a week or two and just cuddling with your kids or taking time away with your husband or friends. It’s important to maintain yourself and your happiness!

Natalie is such an inspiring business owner! Shop Commonfolke at commonfolke.com and check out her Instagram: @commonfolke