Craft Fair and Trade Show Tips From Experienced Sellers

Hey, it’s holiday craft fair season! I’ll be heading out to Seattle’s Urban Craft Uprising this year, and I’ve been admiring everyone’s booth displays on Instagram, after each of the big trade shows and craft fairs hits.

I thought it would be nice to get some tips from creative businesses who have done it before – so if you’re thinking of attending your first show, or if you’d just like some trade show tips on upping your game, get some advice here from a variety of different businesses, about a variety of different shows.

Some of the shows mentioned in this article are:

Trade shows:

Retail shows:

Of course there are many more. I’d like to hear what shows and fairs you attend in the comments! Read on for advice from creative business owners who’ve attended some fairs and shows and can let us learn from their mistakes and triumphs!

Be over prepared and remember how to sell

Tips from Amber J. Favorite A.Favorite Design

A.Favorite's booth at the National Stationery Show

A.Favorite at the National Stationery Show

A.Favorite's booth at NYIGF

A.Favorite’s booth at the NY International GIft Fair

I am very fortunate and have done the following shows: National Stationery Show, New York International Gift Fair (now called NY Now), Renegade Craft Fair.

Retail shows are a little different for me than trade shows. I’ll be speaking to trade shows mostly, since that is fresher in my mind and personally I find them more stressful.

Preparing an application

Make sure your website is up to date with your most current products. Look through your photos and reshoot any you are not happy with before hitting send on the application. If they ask for a booth layout and you haven’t built it yet, be as descriptive and detail oriented as possible. Don’t be afraid to tell them who you want to be by. Location can make or break a show for you.

What to pack

This list is very lengthy… I have an ongoing Excel sheet I use to prepare for each show with several categories. Here’s a brief overview:

  • there’s the pallet list – everything to ship to show i.e.
    • booth
    • furniture
    • decorations
    • signage
    • office supplies
    • giveaways
    • tool box
    • product, etc.
  • the pack list – what to bring on the plane i.e.
    • binder with all paperwork
      • plan-o-grams,
      • certificates of fireproofing,
      • order confirmations,
      • travel reservations
      • receipts
      • tracking info, etc
    • extra master deck
    • some catalogs
    • business cards and order forms in case pallet doesn’t make it you’ll have something
    • map
    • clothes
    • shoes, etc.
  • here is a list of my show tool box:
    • stapler
    • pens
    • 2part order forms (one for you, one for customer to take)
    • clipboards
    • catalogs
    • business cards
    • tape (packaging, carpet and double sided)
    • xacto
    • zip ties
    • tape measure
    • etg tape gun (& extra rolls of tape)
    • small level
    • scissors
    • fishing line
    • hammer
    • pliers
    • couple screwdrivers
    • surge protectors and extension cords

Booth setup

Pre-planning makes all the difference. I spend months designing my booth and have a plan-o-gram in Illustrator of each wall that I rearrange cards on until I’m happy. Once all furniture, lights, displays are set on the plan-o-gram we start creating the actual booth. I’m very fortunate I have a large studio and we usually set it up in the space to do a dry run. We don’t typically hang all the cards but we do try out adhesives, flooring, hangers, furniture spacing, pretty much anything we can to make sure it’s going to work how we imagine. Once our dry run is done and we’re feeling mostly confident we start loading the pallet. Besides the plan-o-gram and dry run I would suggest set up early. I know travel is not cheap but peace of mind and a good night’s sleep (or a comfy bed to lay awake and obsess in) before the show can make all the difference. If your pallet is set to arrive 3 days before, try to get there then. Things often take a little longer than you think. Dress comfortably for set up, it is often hot in the summer and cooler in the winter before show time, the dock doors are wide open so dress accordingly. Bring snacks and water for set up too, food can be a challenge to find especially if you’re working late to get your booth done.

How to sell

My first trade show was NSS in 2010. I am a huge researcher and honestly had prepared for 24 months before my first show. I had a booth I was proud of, I had created products I loved, I reserved a space near businesses I admired and aspired to be like, I had helpers I vetted on all my goods and processes, I had beautiful catalogs, order forms, business cards and super cute totes; I thought I was over prepared. Then the first customer came in and I froze. All that preparation and it never crossed my mind how to start a conversation or what my spiel would be. It was terrible. I smiled and said hi. When they left I felt like an idiot but was determined to not let that happen again. After that, I was a pro. Greeted everyone that came in, told them a very brief, who I am, what I do and what I sell. Let my failure be a lesson to anyone wanting to sell… Don’t get so wrapped up in the logistics you forget what to say.

How to follow up

Try to get a business card or contact information from anyone that takes your card or catalog. Afterward I always send a little note whether they ordered or not. And I add them to our email list. We’ve had several customers that saw us at a show but didn’t actually order until months later.

Any surprises that you wish you’d known about?

The giant Starbucks line at the Javits Center! And read about the shuttle schedules. Some run on set up days too… I spent money on cabs that weren’t necessary the first show.


Don’t skimp on your catalog

Tips from Erin Hung of BerinMade

Berinmade craft fair booth setup

Berinmade craft fair booth setup

We just did our first trade show in the UK and the one tip I have is: Don’t skimp on your catalogue!

We put a lot of effort into our styled shoots, making sure our look book is stunning, and that our product shots show off our work in the best angle. We also printed the catalogues in a saddle bound booklet (as opposed to a line sheet which a lot of other vendors used). The reason for this is that a lot of shops (especially the big department stores and national stores) do not buy at the show, and they see a LOT of stores in a few days, so the catalogue is the only way for them to really remember your work—so make sure it represents the brand in the best way possible.


Make everything visible and don’t be a pest

Tips from Wendy Bryan Lazar of I Heart Guts

I Heart Guts' NY Comic Con retail booth setup

I Heart Guts’ NY Comic Con retail booth setup

I Heart Guts' NYNow wholesale booth setup

I Heart Guts’ NYNow wholesale booth setup

I’d break up my advice into two areas, since a wholesale trade show is a very different beast from a retail sales show.

Retail advice

(Renegade, Comic Con, etc.)

If they can’t see it, they can’t buy it — make sure all your goodies are visible and attractively displayed around eye-level if possible. Use crates, props and display stands, hang stuff up so it can be seen. Also, make sure all your stuff is clearly priced. Sometimes people fall in love with stuff and MUST HAVE IT, but that’s rare — most of the time people shop by price.

Even if you are bored in your booth — don’t look bored! Find a way to have fun and enjoy interacting with your customers. Think of how you feel when you walk into a shop with a sullen employee with her nose in her phone. Everyone is interesting and interesting to talk to. You are the face of your brand and a smile goes a long way.

Trade show advice

(NY Now, Stationery, Toy Fair, etc.)

Make your booth look beautiful, but also easy to pack up. Getting your stuff in and out of a convention hall costs a fortune. So when you design your gorgeous and amazing display, also think about how it will fit in your car, or how it will load onto a cart or how it will pack down to be shipped.

When it comes to follow-up and sales, trade shows are a lot like dating. If they like you, they will call you. Don’t be a pest. I’m not saying to not follow up, but your stuff just might not be right for their store. Or maybe I’m just lazy.

P.S. Megan Auman has posted some really helpful trade show tip videos.


Set your booth up like a small shop

Tips from Laurie Johnston Two Trick Pony

Two Trick Pony booth setup

Two Trick Pony’s National Stationery Show booth setup

I’ve exhibited at the National Stationery Show eight times with three different companies and also attended as a buyer. There is so much to know, so I think it’s great you are gathering tips for newbies. Here are my thoughts:

What to pack:

Start your packing checklist as early as possible so you have time to add items as you think of them. Mentally go through all the steps of your set up and sales process so you can write down all the supplies and tools you may need.

Don’t be afraid to over pack! Anything you think you might need, bring it. Even if you don’t end up using a flat head screw driver, your neighbor might and will love you for coming to the rescue.

In addition to your booth supplies, be sure you are well stocked with healthy snacks and plenty of water before the start of each day, especially if you are on your own. Selling all day is exhausting so you want to be as alert and focused as possible.

Booth set up

If you can, set up a mock booth at home or in your studio. The set up will go quicker if it’s not the first time you are doing it. You may discover that something you planned doesn’t actually look how you expected and you can make adjustments beforehand.

Keep in mind that the venue will likely have certain requirements and restrictions regarding what materials you can use (non-flammable, etc.) and what tasks need to be performed by professionals (electricity, etc.). So be sure to read your contract thoroughly and ask questions if you are unclear.

Try to think of your booth as a small shop, you want it to be inviting yet spacious. Don’t place furniture or other objects that will impede buyers from easily entering and exiting your booth. No one wants to enter a booth if they feel they can’t get out quickly if they want. And like a shop, signage is key! Yes, you want buyers to engage with you, but you also want them to be able to get the info they need if you are with another customer or they just don’t feel like chatting.


Get your product in customers’ faces, and tell your story

Tips from Lisa DeMio Red Staggerwing

Red Staggerwing's event booth design

My displays were custom built and this is the second edit – I changed the tabletop pieces.

Red Staggerwing's event booth design

I have been doing shows since I started my business in 2009. I started out with a small local fair and have built up to larger, exhibition hall types and some national shows. Here are my tips, in no particular order:

What to bring

If it’s an outdoor show and you are bringing a tent, make sure you have weights for your tent! Minimum of 25 pounds per leg but 40 is better. Many shows require this now but not all. Protect yourself and your neighbors from accidents. All it takes is one gust of wind. Weights can be found on Amazon or other retailers that sell canopies, but you can make your own with PVC and cement, bags and gravel/sand, or purchase kettlebells and use ratcheting straps to attach them to the tent frame. The important thing is that there is tension on the weight. Very hard to secure with ropes since you can’t really get them tight enough. Rubber bungees work well, too.

For all shows, have a ‘kit’ – doesn’t matter what you carry it in but I use a really cute vintage cosmetic case. Another friend uses a vintage tool box . I have sunscreen, hand wipes, extra tags, business cards, a variety of sizes of zip ties, velcro straps, pliers, screwdriver, tape (both duct and masking), pens, markers, snacks and a first aid kit. I try to keep some feminine supplies with me as well.

Booth display

Regardless of where you are displaying, the display itself is almost as important as your products! I have seen some really cool products that are displayed poorly and are easy to walk right past. If you have room, set up your display at home to get an idea of how it will work. Mark out your booth size so you know it will all fit and then make sure it’s shop-able! Boost tables to counter height, especially if your items are small. You can use bed risers for that. You want your product literally in people’s faces!

There are many boards on Pinterest with craft show display ideas – try not to literally copy other vendors but you can find some great inspiration there. Simple and clean is best if your product is large or colorful. If it’s small or simple, try to add some visual interest to draw people into your booth. With a large market, like Renegade Craft Fair or American Craft Council, there are literally hundreds of vendors, so if you don’t draw people in, they are likely to walk right by. Also, visit the show website if there is one and see how vendors are displaying their products. Again, it’s not a good idea to blatantly copy another display but you can find inspiration. Generic display pieces like gridwall or hanging panels are certainly not proprietary so don’t be afraid to use them or any other commercially available pieces.

How to sell

Remember that you are representing your brand. People make quick judgements at shows and this is a place where first impressions really count, so make sure you are welcoming and approachable. If you are selling fashion items, look fashionable! If possible, be wearing something you have made. Nothing will make shoppers turn away like a poorly presented vendor slouching at the back of their booth. Be honest with yourself and if you are not great at the in person sales piece, bring someone who is. Some really talented artists are terrible at selling their own art work! And you have to sell – there will be markets where it seems like all you have to do is stand there and take money, but it’s far more common to have to actively sell your goods.

Get your introductory speech down: ‘Hello. Everything is handmade by me, so just let me know if you have any questions.’ I say that a million times every show. :) Try to keep them engaged without being pushy and if possible get the products into their hands. People are much more likely to buy something they have held and examined. Encourage them to touch/smell/try on. Be observant of facial expressions and other non-verbal cues to make sure your customer isn’t becoming uncomfortable. It takes practice but you will be able to tell eventually.

And don’t forget to smile! Even if sales are slow, smile and act like you are enjoying yourself! Bad energy will keep people out of your booth. Be yourself, but have the story ready – handmade is generally more expensive, so you need to show people why it’s worth it to buy your item. I love what I do and make sure that people know that! When they compliment the fabric choices, I tell them that’s my favorite part – choosing the colors. Just try to be ready with your story – do you have a cool studio? Do you have something unique about how you make your products or source your supplies? The story is a large piece of what makes handmade appealing to people.

Encourage visitors who don’t buy right away to take a card and take a picture of the product they were looking at – I know some artists are protective and don’t like photos taken, but there are great photos on my website if someone wanted to copy my work, so I assume the best and encourage potential customers to take a photo so they remember what they were looking at. If you do run out of cards, tape the last one somewhere convenient and encourage customers to take a photo of your card to keep your information.

Preparing for surprises

As for surprises, there will always be some. If the market is outdoors on grass, the ground could be uneven. Bring shims or something else to level your display. Sidewalls are a good idea and are necessary for overnight outdoor shows to protect your display and/or products. If it’s indoor in a large convention hall type venue, find out what is being supplied in your vendor fee. Most provide pipe and drape but not all. My second show I didn’t look and so didn’t know they didn’t provide booth flooring. All I had was a small little area rug that I use for my outdoor shows. The next show, I made sure to look and found an inexpensive solution with vinyl flooring from home depot. Lighting is key for indoor shows so I recommend purchasing electricity if available, but you can also use a portable battery if necessary. The easiest solution is to rent a crossbar or purchase one – this goes across the top of the pipe at whatever spot makes sense (usually the front, but jewelers tend to need more than one) and attach track lighting (also from Home Depot/Lowes) with zip ties or velcro strips. Again, very easy – see examples of this online. If possible I try to visit the show or talk to a vendor who has done it before to get the scoop.


Prepare icebreakers, shop at home

Tips from Cathy Pascual of Catshy Crafts

Catshy Crafts craft fair booth

I like using a mix of vintage pieces and store-bought pieces. I made the signs and banners/garlands as well as all the small price signage.

It was one of my business goals early on to be in a craft fair, but it seemed so daunting. From the amount of preparation and set-up to the hours interacting with people to the fears of not selling anything, I was pretty overwhelmed. The first one is always the hardest. I prepared for months for my first one. To this day, each one is still stressful for me, but I believe it is worth the time and effort. The customer feedback and interaction (which is probably what I feared most as a shy introvert) is probably what is the most rewarding. I have never had amazing sales at craft fairs, but I still see the value in them. (And I guess I still have hope that I will have amazing sales one day!)

Here are a couple of the posts I’ve written about my experiences with craft fairs. My last one was from the perspective of a shy crafter:

A Shy Crafter’s Guide: Selling at Craft Fair
One of my favorite tips from my article is this one: Prepare icebreakers or questions you can ask a visitor to your booth. I don’t know about you, but small talk is not one of my strengths. Taking a few minutes to think about some questions or icebreakers for your booth visitors could help alleviate some of that small talk anxiety. After all, she is taking time to visit your booth, make her feel welcome with some friendly conversation. For example, compliment her on something she is wearing OR ask her how she’s likes the craft fair so far. If she is looking at a particular item in your booth, tell her something interesting about the piece or what inspired you. But if your mind goes blank or you get a little tongue-tied, a hello and smile never hurts. And who knows, maybe she is shy too! And here’s a link to my very first craft show experience. Read more…

10 Tips on Surviving Your First Craft Show
Tip #3: Shop at home. Before you head out to the store for items for your display, take a look at what you already have at your home. Chances are you can find many things to use in your crafty display.

For example, do you use props when you photograph your items? I have a wooden tray that I love to use for my product photography. It is carved. It has a richly stained patina. It has scratches and is well-worn from use. If you read this blog, you may remember when I picked it up from one of my favorite thrift shops last year. It continues to be my go-to photography prop. Not only is this item doing double duty, it will tie back to your online shop. It’s nice to have continuity between your Etsy shop and your craft show presence. Read more…


Take your lighting very seriously

Tip from Eva Jorgensen of Sycamore Street Press

sycamore street press nss

sycamore street press nss

Sycamore Street Press’ booth at the National Stationery Show

My number 1 tip for the National Stationery Show is to not skimp on your lighting! I’ve written several blog detailed posts with NSS tips, including this one:

Top 5 Tips For Your National Stationery Show Booth
If you plan on exhibiting again in New York — either at the NSS or another NY based trade show like NYNow, the most economical thing is to store your booth with a local freight and storage company. (Although, our first year doing the show, we just packed everything into our car and drove it back and forth. Always an option if you live close enough.) Pack your entire booth (walls, displays, product, etc…) into a crate or onto a palette, and get the freight company to ship it to the Javits for you. When the show is over, they will then pick it up and store it until the next show comes around. It’s definitely cheaper to go this route than to ship it back and forth from New York to wherever you live every single time. Read more…

P.S. Sycamore Street Press have put together an online course for people who want to start a stationery business (or who could use help with a struggling one): Stationery Business 101.

Next, let’s talk booth design

I’d like to do a followup post that shows off some beautiful booth design and shares some tips about that! If you have seen some amazing booths at fairs, please let me know about them by posting the business owner’s URL here in our comments. I’ll get in touch with them and see if they’d like to share some photos and tips with us. If you have some booth design and setup tips for our readers, email me to let me know.

P.S. what events have you attended for your business, and how did they go? What did you learn?

Creative Business Podcast: Posie Gets Cozy and Aeolidia

Hey there, we’ve got something new today! Instead of clickety-clacking away on my computer keys, as I usually do, I am talking about creative businesses, websites, and branding with my actual voice, which you can listen to with your actual ears.

Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps aired a podcast this week which is a chat with Alicia Paulson of Posie Gets Cozy and me. Please check it out! I’d love to hear what you think about it. I discuss a lot about our process and share some good tips.

Click below to go over to Abby’s site to get the scoop:

While She Naps podcast with Posie Gets Cozy and Aeolidia

Listen to the Podcast

Abby wanted to talk about how a small business knows it’s time to invest in a custom website, and I thought Alicia would be a good fit, as we redesigned her website this year, and Abby’s audience of softie makers would be thrilled to hear from Alicia, who has been running her business her own way for nearly 15 years.

It was great to get some insight into Alicia’s business, how she keeps things humming along, and how it’s evolved over the years.

Do you listen to podcasts? I don’t usually, because my work involves a lot of reading and writing. However, I’ve recently found myself busy with some manual labor tasks (preparing and packaging welcome kits and thank you gifts for our clients), and doing a bit of sewing for fun, and podcasts are nice to listen to while doing this kind of mindless work.

So far, I’ve listened to Abby’s chats with Robert Mahar, Lilla Rogers & Lisa Congdon, and Mimi Tsang & Jahje Bath Ives, and enjoyed them (you can find these in the While She Naps podcast archive).

Happy listening! Do you know of any other creative business podcasts I should listen to?

Growing a Handmade Business: Queen Bee

This is an interview with one of our clients, Rebecca Pearcy, who runs Queen Bee, a shop selling handcrafted accessories for your home and life. Rebecca shares her insights on growing a handmade business.

Interview with Rebecca Pearcy of Queen Bee

rpearcy

How did you get your business idea, and what kind of market research did you do when starting out?

Queen Bee really came out of a life-long love of making things with my hands. I was making clothing, accessories, and jewelry throughout high school and college and would sell at fairs & bazaars. So it is hard to really know how I got the initial “idea” – it is as if I was always doing it. But our official start date is when I actually got a business license, which was May 1996. I honed in on making bags because while I love clothing, designing and making apparel is a lot harder and more complicated than accessories. And I like that with accessories, people are often willing to be a bit more colorful, playful, and adventurous, so I could really express my love of color through my designs. And I just love to create things that are functional and really useful on a daily basis.

I didn’t do any market research. I was 23 years old, didn’t know anything about business. I just had a lot of ideas, creative energy, and loved to sell what I was making to others. I was essentially making things that I loved and wanted, and other people started to respond to that.

How many people currently work with you?

I have a staff of 7 worker bees who do a whole range of things including sewing & non-sewing production work, helping customers online & in our shop, bookkeeping, screen printing our textiles line, ordering and managing inventory and running our wholesale business.

queen bee staff

How long did it take before your business started making a profit?

Oh I don’t remember – I didn’t keep the best books back then! But I don’t think it took very long. I started really really small, had a very low cost of living, and didn’t have anyone else to take care of in my life.

How are your products created? What have you learned about this along the way?

First: idea. I have lots of ideas. The challenge is finding the time and resources to make them happen. Next, working out the design through prototyping and sample making. I do all of the design work and I do it all by hand – no computers. I love this part- cutting, sewing, experimenting, seeing what works, seeing my idea come to life. I get feedback from staff to help edit and adjust to arrive at the final design. Once I’ve finalized the design and all the color combinations that we’ll make it in, we write up instructions for production.

Sourcing materials & hardware is a BIG part of design and bringing a design to market, so there’s always time spent finding the right materials to work with. I price out all the materials and labor costs and work out the wholesale and retail pricing. We sew up the final samples to be photographed for the website and sometimes also do a lifestyle photo shoot with a model. Once we have the photographs we can build the product pages on the backend of the website. In terms of actually making the products, we either make them at our studio in Portland, or our production partner down the road makes them for us. When they’re finished, we inspect for quality and get them up on the site and on the shelves of our shop!

Some things I’ve learned: a design that I love will not always be the best-seller. I’ve learned that people always love flowers (me too). Everything takes longer than you think it will. Production sewing is really challenging and there will always be something going wrong & lots of problem solving along the way. There is always more to learn and ways to improve processes.

growing a handmade business with queen bee creations

growing a handmade business with queen bee creations

How do you handle shipping and customer service and organize the back-end of your business? What tips do you have for newbies?

We ship most packages through UPS but do ship smaller items via USPS because it is more cost effective. We use UPS Worldship software and Dazzle for USPS. One staff member is mostly in charge of handling customer service questions and issues, and she is the main person that also helps me manage the back end of the website. Our lovely website built on Shopify by Aeolidia is pretty darn easy to use so the two of us can manage it pretty smoothly.

In terms of tips, well, like a lot of small businesses, we all have to do lots of different tasks. In an ideal situation, I would be able to hand off more of the backend website management, but the reality is that I am still pretty involved in it. I recommend trying to delegate as much as possible so that you can really focus on the heart of your job. For me, that is design & overseeing the business. Customer service is a hugely important aspect of running a business, and it applies to every business, not just those that sell product. Answer queries as quickly as possible. Be kind, generous, and appreciative. When things go wrong, try your best to make them right. Understand that in today’s social media-heavy atmosphere that word travels extensively, so make sure that your customers are walking away from their experience feeling happy and satisfied. Of course, that isn’t always possible, so remember that it’s impossible to please everyone, all the time. Go easy on yourself.

queen bee bike

How does a standard day of running Queen Bee go?

Most days I ride my bike to & from work – this gives me about 7 miles of time to myself, to clear my head, think through ideas, get breaths of fresh air and what I call an “Oregon facial” (a.k.a. RAIN). I check in with staff and check messages and email. I try to take care of any meetings or admin stuff in the morning so that I can focus on design and creative ideas in the afternoon. This doesn’t always happen, though, especially in the 2-3 months before the holidays, which are just sheer madness.

On any given day I’ll have meetings with staff, a business advisor, a fellow business owner, or any number of people. I am always playing catch up with emails (Unroll.me really helps with this!), I may have to run errands to pick up fabric or materials, spend time pricing out a new product, or work on a new design idea (the best part!) or redesign an existing product to improve it. You can also find me taking out the trash or trying to figure out how to help a squirrel or bird that has made its way into the shop find their way out.

Basically, being a small business owner naturally involves wearing LOTS of different hats on any given day. That said, I am always striving to bring my focus back to my most important jobs: design & running the company from a big picture point of view.

queen bee window

What mistakes or setbacks have you had, and how did you learn from them?

Too many mistakes to list here, especially when I was first getting started. I tried to do too much: learn Quickbooks and manage our financials, run payroll and taxes, none of which are anything that I excel at. But I didn’t really know what else to do and who to turn to. I wish I had sought out a mentor or business advisor earlier on. Over the past several years I’ve been taking some business classes and worked with a business counselor who has guided me through many challenges.

I have also gained so much from tapping into my fellow business owner community. I love talking with other creative business types – we share so many similar experiences and I always learn so much from them, as well as feel more connected and supported.

The biggest setback we’ve experienced is the Great Recession. That hit us toward the end of 2008 and we are still working to adjust to the new landscape. That is, far and away, the biggest challenge I’ve faced since starting Queen Bee in 1996. I have learned that even when I (always) try so hard to make the best decisions I can with what I have to work with, it may not work out. I have learned to be nimble, flexible, and not get too attached to the way things have been. I have learned to reinvent myself and the structure of my organization.

queen bee products

How did you promote your business initially, and how has that changed?

Given that I started Queen Bee in pre-internet times (yes, I’m that old), my options were more limited for how to promote. I started out by making a crude but awesome little black & white xeroxed catalog that I cobbled together in the computer lab at my college, Evergreen. I would send that out to interested folks and they would send back (yes, via the postal service) their little order form and payment. I saved all of those. I would also set up outside my college buildings and sell stuff that I made that way. I went to Riot Grrrl gatherings. And a lot happened by word of mouth. Now, it is a whole different universe and frankly, it can be pretty overwhelming. Marketing, social media, advertising, and PR combined is a full time job – it is a whole heck of a lot to stay on top of, which sometimes makes me miss the days of yore which seem simpler. There is so much that is exciting and possible with all the technology and internet development, but there’s a downside to that, too.

queen bee retail store

How did you know it was time for a new website? Was it a task you were dreading?

Our previous website was totally custom-built and it worked fine for us for a while but over the years it became bandaid on top of bandaid fixes. We also lost our web support person when he took a full time job. Through researching, I found that it was hard to find available developers that knew Ruby on Rails.

Shopify was recommended to me and so I looked into it. I really wanted to switch to a platform that we could mostly manage in-house and not have to constantly have a developer be working on it. I also liked that so many people have been using Shopify and they have a good track record for making improvements. I got bids from three different agencies, and Aeolidia was the clear choice. To some degree I was dreading having the website redesigned because it is so much work to take on a project like that. And it is a risk and investment, so there is always some anxiety with that. But as soon as we started working with Aeolidia, any fears subsided. The process was so smooth, professional, friendly, and organized! Plus, I love the results and I can rely on continued support.

What were the three biggest differences the Aeolidia-designed website made to your business?

Updating the look of the site to reflect our evolving aesthetic, putting more managing and control of the website into our hands, and having a reliable and professional team of folks to turn to for any web or design needs.

See this project in our portfolio.

Can we help you grow your business with a professional website?

Sometimes it is just time to start over with a smart and modern website. Come tell us more about your business.

Surface Pattern Design & Licensing: Laura Wooten Studio

This post is part of our Best Next Step series, where you will hear from creative business owners like you, who are wondering what to focus on next. The background stories and questions are from all kinds of businesses in various stages of growth, and I share my ideas for how to proceed forward most efficiently and ambitiously. I hope you’ll enjoy these! Today we’re hearing from Laura Wooten Studio.

Laura Wooten Studio

Business: Laura Wooten Studio
Owner: Laura Wooten
Site: http://www.laurawootenstudio.com
Etsy shop: https://LauraWootenStudio.etsy.com/

Below are screenshots of Laura’s current website and her Etsy shop.

surface pattern design and licensing

Laura Wooten Studio website

surface pattern design and licensing

Laura Wooten Studio Etsy shop

About:

Laura WootenI create surface design and illustration for fabric, home decor, and paper products. My work has a hand-drawn style that retains the touch and texture of traditional media, while combining digital techniques. I love to draw from nature, landscapes, and gardens. I specialize in floral, food, and travel imagery.

Challenges:

I have been drawing and painting for over 20 years, but just in the last year have been trying to make a business from my creative work. I spent two years studying surface pattern design and worked very hard to develop a portfolio. I got a print studio agent last spring, and have just started to sell my work to the fabric and paper industries. While I plan to continue developing this side of my business with my agent, I would also like to diversify my income streams. I’d love to one day license a fabric collection, get freelance illustration work, and also sell some retail products (art prints, cards, tea towels?) through my own website. I have a neglected Etsy shop with old work that needs refreshing. Or maybe I want to abandon Etsy and have a shopping cart on my own site. My website is set up as a simple portfolio site, not a shop, so I would like to change that to better showcase design services and products. My target customer base is both wholesale manufacturers/art directors and maybe also retail customers if I can develop some products to sell directly to my tiny fan base!

I also have a separate website for my “fine art” which has all my old paintings from the last ten years. I am bothered by this brand confusion and wonder if I should integrate everything somehow, keep it separate, or even take down my old painting site and just work on my new surface design and illustration site.

Objectives:

Develop retail products for sale- art prints, cards, tea towels. Get a shopping cart on my website. Develop my illustration portfolio. Start a newsletter. Learn to use social media to develop a following. Identify my target customer base- both wholesale buyers, art directors, and retail customers. Learn how to get freelance illustration work. Develop licensing collections. I am doing a drawing-a-day on Instagram and thus have a large amount of source material that can be developed into illustrations, art prints or patterns. (I am on Day 95.) By Christmas of this year I want to have a group of 12 illustrations that can be sold as art prints and also serve as an illustration portfolio to attract freelance work.

Promotion:

I post to Twitter, FB, and Instagram, but would like to plan and coordinate more effective social media strategies. I attended Surtex last spring, where I was represented by my agent and this was a very valuable learning experience. I would love to learn how to get blog features and/or press. I am unclear about how to begin communicating more with my target audience and potential clients. I would like to learn how to grow my newsletter list and begin gradually building a following.

Thank you for the generous give-away contest and taking the time to read my story!

surface pattern design and licensing

surface pattern design and licensing

surface pattern design and licensing

Laura Wooten Studio’s Best Next Step

Hello Laura,

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

Quit offering the things you don’t plan to do in the future

You mention your second site that has your fine art with your old paintings. It sounds to me like you’ve moved on from this, and it doesn’t factor into your plans for the future. If you don’t intend to have customers commission fine art or buy finished paintings from you, there is no reason to have this additional website. I know you want to honor your old work and show people the breadth of what you can do, but if you don’t want to do that any longer (at least not as a business), your instinct is right to drop it and quit confusing people. People who are interested in your pattern work are not going to care one way or another about your oil painting.

Approach selling from multiple angles

I also think it’s a great idea to not put all of your eggs in one basket. Develop products to sell with your patterns on them, for sure! Create a shop website that showcases your patterns, allows people to purchase products directly, and make it obvious that your work can be commissioned. Approach potential wholesale customers – being able to show them that your products are selling on your own website will reassure them about selling your products in their shops.

Start a newsletter

Start the newsletter right now! It is never too early to start a newsletter, and the earlier you set it up now, the more people you will have on it next year and the year after. This is one of those things that takes some momentum and some steady build up. Don’t just gather addresses and allow people to forget about you, though! Come up with some updates to send out on a regular schedule. They don’t have to be mindblowing, but they should offer something of interest. New patterns, updates on your progress developing your business, “best of” what you’re posting on Instagram, that kind of thing.

Prioritize your objectives

All of your objectives sound smart and worth doing. Remember there’s only one of you! Prioritize this list. Which things on the list will help other things on the list happen? Which will take time? Which will have the most immediate helpful effect? Plot out the steps you need to take to do each thing and chip away at them all regularly until you make it.

Good luck pursuing sales avenues and meeting  your goals!

Thanks for giving me a chance to learn more about your work. I hope this all makes sense, and I encourage you to keep going on all of these steps to success. You sound like you have a reasonable and well thought-out list of goals, and I see no reason why you won’t reach them if you put in the work. Develop the products, and take your newsletter subscribers along for the ride, while continuing to work on licensing, manufacturing, and wholesale deals.

Keep in touch! I would love to hear how it all works out, and help out if I can.

Are you ready for the next step?

We are currently offering a special service for businesses that would like a hand getting started with ecommerce:  our Guided Shopify Setup service, a crazy bargain at $600! This is the first time in years that we’ve had such an affordable option, so please do check it out.

If you’d like the power and experience of the Aeolidia team behind you, please get in touch! We would love to untangle your business priorities and take a few tasks off your hands so you can do your work.

Contact Aeolidia – we never bite!

Business Name Ideas for a Free Spirit: Wildbox Flowers

I’ve always thought business name brainstorming is a bit like shopping for a pair of jeans—you start by trying on the business name ideas that strike your fancy. Maybe you like the sound of one name, but you’re not sure it fits your business perfectly. Maybe you see potential in another, but you’re worried about the size—will it grow with your business goals?

It can get overwhelming, which is where I come in. Think of me as your personal shopper. To help you discover a business name you love, I start by asking about and listening to your wants, needs, inspirations, and target audience. Where do you see yourself going with this pair of jeans/name? Who are you hoping to attract? This way, when I bring you that first set of names to try, you’re not flustered but invigorated by the possibilities.

We brainstorm more names, we make adjustments along the way. We make sure this is a name you can feel great in, a name you and your business can wear daily for years and years. We mix, we match, we accessorize, until we get to the one that feels just right.

Naming a new floral business

I recently worked on a naming project for Vivian Mak’s new floral arranging business. Since she hadn’t launched yet, Vivian already had a name, Dixie Belle Flowers, but she knew it was more of a placeholder; she wanted a name she could fall in love with. I was thrilled to learn about Vivian’s business because her ideas were rich with possibilities. In a market saturated with structured bouquets and floral arrangements that stick a little too close to romantic traditional design, Vivian wanted something bolder. Her floral designs incorporate unexpected elements, like hat boxes instead of vases, to give her arrangements a modern, refined feel.

“I like the luscious, wild flower designs which are rare to find in Hong Kong,” she said. “I am looking to cater for a more sophisticated, acquired taste… perhaps sophisticated but not snooty would be good.” Vivian wanted a business name that reflected her personality—something quirky, smart, elegant, feminine, and “a little bit fun and free.”

For her first round of names, I took all this into account, and also thought a bit about Dixie Belle Flowers: what was the initial inspiration behind that name, and was there a way to take those first ideas in a new direction? Vivian had expressed a love for all things Southern, like the French inspired belle. I combined this with the idea of free-spiritedness and submitted business names like Belle Chapeau Flowers, Luscious Blushes Florals, and Wildbox Flowers.

Vivian’s initial thoughts:

“Thank you Natalia! All great names! Let me give it a think some more – but I do love the use of the word “chapeau” at first glance.”

Vivian then gave feedback on each of the ten or so initial business names I’d submitted, which helped me get an even better idea of where she was coming from. One name that caught her eye upon second glance was WildBox Flowers. “I like the simplicity of it, and it grows on me as I look at it more.” She also expressed a desire to explore names that had a delicate connotation, and was interested to see more names reflecting the word or concept of “Wild.”

I loved this creative direction because it gave me two very different ideas to work with, and sometimes it’s great to look at opposite ends of a spectrum so we don’t get tunnel vision in our inspiration. The next couple of rounds of names varied widely—from The Blushing Bouquet to Wild Bloom Florals—with Vivian’s love for Wildbox Flowers continuing to grow. It’d been a personal favorite of mine, too, so I was thrilled when Vivian chose Wildbox Flowers “for its simplicity, short and easy to remember name, and good roll of the tongue.”

Designing a wild logo

Shalon then worked with Vivian to come up with a brand new logo for her brand new business name. Here’s where the original inspiration of Vivian’s love for all things Southern came in, but with a modern edge to it. Reflecting the hints of “fun and free” in the Wildbox Flowers name, Shalon’s design speaks to Vivian’s love of luscious wildflowers and the non-traditional with a bold, yet feminine twist.

wildboxflowers-logo

Need some help with a new business name?

If you would like help naming your business, please check in with us! Natalia, our copywriter, is astoundingly good at this. She will come up with a big list of names that you may like, based on the story of your business and your preferences, and they will all have an available domain name. Once you’ve decided on your new name, we can also help you trademark it.

Starting a Business Accidentally

At the Nearly Impossible conference, some of the (impressive!) speakers confessed to starting a business ‘accidentally,’ and I talked to many business owners who didn’t intend to have a business when they were pursuing what was a hobby at the time.

A nicer way to describe this is to say that a business sprouted up organically. It’s a story that seems common with our favorite kind of businesses. The business owner had a talent or an interest, and before they knew it, they were running an actual business.

I have just started thinking about this, and I’m interested in your opinion. I’m going to ask people this at conferences: how purposefully did you begin your business?

Starting a Business Without a Business Plan

There are pros and cons to starting on accident, without a business plan or a goal. It seems that if you were doing something personally enjoyable which became a business, you’re likely to continue to enjoy your work (or have you experienced a decrease in enjoyment when play becomes work?).

There is so much boring business-y work that goes into a business (especially when it’s new and you can’t afford help), that someone who wasn’t out to start a business could get easily overwhelmed and burnt out.

I’ve talked to many people who just want to create and then find themselves saddled with materials sourcing, shipping, inventory management, coordinating with manufacturers, creating website content, marketing, accounting, hiring, and they feel like it isn’t what they signed up for!

Conversely, there are those of us (such as me & Sam on our team) who find ourselves enjoying running the business more than we enjoyed the making. My gut tells me that this is going to be the more sustainable scenario, but you tell me:

  1. Was your business accidental or purposeful?
  2. Do you enjoy the “boss” work or the creative work more, or is it about equal?
  3. If you could wave a wand today, and have a perfect staff to take care of your to-dos, what part of your business would you remain in charge of?

And then a #4, just for yourself: What could you do today to take a step toward a goal of #3?

Thank you for doing this exercise with me! Please share your answers in the comments.

12 Little Buttons: From Sketch to Logo

It is always such a pleasure to work with clients who have big dreams and a clear vision for their small business. Pichamon’s whimsical handmade doll business in Bangkok needed a logo that would capture the interest of customers and she knew exactly how the logo should make them feel:

My desired logo would give the feeling of sitting on a cosy-flowery armchair in a small house of the little red riding hood’s grandma, listening to the fairy tales and folklores. During the story-telling, you will hear the sound of birds, the wind blows and maybe the giggles of wood nymphs and flower fairies. (And, she is a good story teller as she can keep you focus to her story while knitting at the same time!) By looking through the windows, you will see rabbits, deer, squirrels, raccoons and skunks playing together. Then, grandma invites you to join her afternoon tea break in the backyard garden full with wild flowers. You are sitting under the walnut tree and excited to see some foxes passing by.

From sketch to logo

12 little buttons logo sketches

Sarah was inspired by Pichamon’s love of woodland animals to create a warm and friendly mascot for the new 12 Little Buttons logo.

Because Pichamon makes cute bunnies, I got to work drawing adorable bun buns and had a lot of fun playing with their shape. I wanted to find something iconic without being cliched. When you think rabbits you think of their ears… so I kinda wanted to stay away from something so obvious. Rabbits have a beautiful shape to their bodies, and instead of focusing on their heads, I started trying to find ways I could draw their butts! Replacing a bunny cotton-tail with a button was my first big idea. It would be something unique, it would tie in with her business name and my head was swimming with the different ways I could use actual buttons sewn into her print work.

02_round01

Pichamon loved the idea of seeing a wild woodland bunny in her branding. Something sweet and curious. She didn’t want something too cluttered, and I knew it would have to look good when printed quite small as it would be used on tags for her products.

Whenever I send over my first round of design ideas I always keep them black and white so we aren’t distracted by colour and can focus purely on the composition of the logos. From the first set of designs, Pichamon loved the first 3 designs. She had the same thoughts as me, something unique, simple and sweet.

From there I took the first 3 options and refined them a bit more. I added some colours and texture and they started looking a bit more polished.

In the end, we had to cut it down to one, so Pichamon made the decision to go minimal with the third design. She loved the idea of having some flowers in the design, and loved the handwritten look of the text, but wanted me to explore it a little deeper in the next round to tighten it up. She also asked me to open up her bunny’s eyes so it looked curious and a bit more alert rather than like it was dozing in the sun.

12 little buttons logo sketches

Her final request was to go bold with her colours. We had talked about being unique and standing out and she thought we were almost there with the design, but the colours were too pastel. She wanted something bold but delicate, and was a bit unsure if this was something we could achieve. I told her, with risk comes reward, and dove in!

I brightened her colours up, opened her bunny’s eyes, changed the font to something a little sweeter and simplified the lines down to be thicker to match the new font. I added some sweet bell flowers behind her ear to bring back that wild and free feel and everything looked beautiful!

Twelve Little Buttons logo and brand identity

 

Twelve Little Buttons logo and brand identity

Pichamon’s response to her final logo

Sarah, I would like to tell you that…your works are OH-SO-PERFECT!

This is surely the LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT as you told me. You make me short of word to describe how wonderful I feel right now. I love every details presented in the style guide including the furry lines that you added. Actually, at first, I have a little concern as I am not sure that polka dot theme would go well with the woodland theme or not. But you have made it! LOVE LOVE LOVE.

Lastly, I am so sorry that I have to copy your words because I have the same feeling as you _…..You have honestly been such a pleasure to work with and I am SO thankful to Aeolidia that has chosen you as my designer. I think our styles were a perfect fit :)

Thank you very much for making me smile.

Sarah’s final thoughts

Pichamon’s feedback and helpful suggestions really made this project work. She told me what she loved and what wasn’t working for her. She gave me lots of visual direction and let me go a little crazy with my own style. It felt very natural and together we made the perfect team!

We have room in our schedule for logo projects right now! Please get in touch with me about your logo, and be ready to knock ‘em dead in the new year!

Search Results Page Design

There’s a page on your website that you may not have given a lot of thought to – your search results page. If you haven’t spent much time thinking about your search results page design, go check it out. Search for something using the search box on your site, and take a look at what results your visitors get.

  • Are the results accurate?
  • Is the list of results understandable?
  • Will people know which link to click once they’ve gotten a dump of results?
  • Do you include photos and excerpts to help guide searchers?

How smart is your search results page design?

I’ve gathered together some search result designs we’ve done that I think are particularly helpful to the searcher.

1canoe2's search results page design

1canoe2’s results help you shop

Ecommerce sites with no other content are the easiest to make a simple search results page design for. But what about improving upon that and letting people add items to their cart directly from the search results page? Chris set this site up so that you can buy what you were looking for with no extra steps.

 

Aeolidia's search results page design

Aeolidia’s results differentiate between posts and projects

On our site, I wanted to be sure searchers would be able to tell if they’d found a project in our portfolio, a blog post, or a page on our site. Shoshanna added little aqua colored boxes that tell you what type of page you’ve found.

 

Ann Kelle's search results page design

Ann Kelle’s blog archives are attractive and helpful

Ann Kelle’s search results page was a total mess before Zoe took a crack at them. Now they’re nicely organized with photos and excerpts that let you know where to go.

 

Cloud9 fabrics search results page design

Cloud9 mixes blog posts with fabric lines

Cloud9’s site lets you sort and filter, and Shoshanna also set up a clear search results page that lets you see a photo, a title, a date, number of comments, and sharing icons.

 

I Heart Guts search results page design

I Heart Guts has so much content!

The I Heart Guts site has products, blog posts, information about guts, and much more. The search looks through all of that content, and will give you all the info you need about the gut you searched for. Zoe spent some time organizing these results in a way that is informative and interesting.

How is your search engine results page looking? If you’re interested in redesigning your site, and  having all of these little details lovingly cared for by Aeolidia, please come say hi to me today!

Making Time for Business Development: Nik Naks

I have spent the last couple weeks enjoying a storm of questions from everyone who entered my “Best Next Step” giveaway. I have learned a lot! The questions were so interesting, and my thoughts and replies so universal, that I thought they would make a great series on the blog. So you will soon be seeing all kinds of businesses in various stages of growth, wondering what to do next. And you will be seeing my ideas for how to proceed forward most efficiently and ambitiously. I hope you’ll enjoy these! First up is Nik Naks Fused Glass.

Nik Naks Fused Glass

Business: Nik Naks Fused Glass
Owner: Trisha Nakagawa
Site: http://www.nik-naks.ca/
Etsy shop:
 https://www.etsy.com/shop/niknaksglass/

Below are screenshots of Trisha’s current website and her Etsy shop.

Nik Naks Fused Glass - making time for business development

Nik Naks Fused Glass current website

 

Nik Naks Fused Glass - making time for business development

Nik Naks Fused Glass Etsy shop

About: 

I create contemporary handmade fused glass home accessories and jewellery such as coasters, soap dishes, plates, pendants, rings, and earrings. I would say my business personality is a lot like me – simple with a bit of style. Customers can purchase my products in a few art gallery shops in Alberta, Canada (SAAG, AGA) as well as at the Whistler Farmer’s Market in Whistler, BC Canada.

Challenges:

I have been running my business part-time for the last 7 years. As it’s part-time and I still have a full-time job, I feel like the business has become a bit stagnant and stale. My website has had limited improvements over the last several years as I don’t have the time to spend on revamping it. I have started to create my own Shopify site in hopes of improving my website but finding the time to complete it has been difficult. I like having my Etsy site (it’s easy) but would like my website to have an e-commerce portion within it.

Objectives:

I would love for my business to be my one and only job. I believe that is my long term (5 year) goal. I’d love to revamp my website but need to find the time (and/or money) to complete this. I am planning to participate in a couple of Christmas shows this Fall in hopes of creating more publicity for my business and to also approach local stores.Besides updating my website, my main goal is to really organize my time better since it is so limited. I need to set aside specific evenings during the week to really work on my business!

Promotion:

I mainly use Twitter and Instagram. I’d like to start being able to collect emails to start email marketing campaigns but haven’t yet. That is another goal of mine! Is it best to focus on one social media platform to promote/market your business or should you choose many/multiple platforms?

Nik Naks Fused Glass business advice

Nik Naks Fused Glass business advice

Nik Naks Fused Glass business advice

Nik Naks’ Best Next Step

Hello Trisha,

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

Oh yes, running a business while having a separate, full-time job can certainly be a challenge! You’ve been running Nik Naks on a small scale for a long time, and as you can see, it’s going to stay small unless you make some big changes.

You can’t wait for time to work on Nik Naks to pop up – you have to make that time, purposefully carving it out of your schedule. You can’t expect to have as much free time as you used to if you’re working full time and trying to grow a business. For at least the first year or two, you will be spending nights and weekends on your business. If this doesn’t appeal to you, your choices are between dropping the business, dropping (or at least going part-time on) the job, or continuing at your current pace with Nik Naks. Or maybe hiring help?

Making time for business development

So, let’s say you decide you’re going to prioritize your non-job time to work on Nik Naks! What should your next step be?

With your limited time, you are going to want to think of all the things you need to do to make your business profitable and busy. Leave out the “would be nice” items and concentrate on the things that will make a big difference. You can break big things down into manageable chunks that you could get done in a weekend or at night after work. Either prioritize the list and begin chipping away at it in order, or you could try what I’m currently testing out – set aside a day each week for a certain type of business building, so nothing ever gets left out for too long.

For instance, my rough schedule right now is:

  • Monday: Inbox zero and catching up with what people need from me
  • Tuesday: Website improvements
  • Wednesday: Business improvements
  • Thursday: Take some time off!
  • Friday: Creative ideas and wacky plans day
  • Saturday: Write, edit, and create graphics for the blog
  • Sunday: Take some time off!

Nothing happens super quickly this way, but if I work away on improving our website every Tuesday, eventually it’s going to look pretty darn good.

Shopify setup and mailing list

So, you could break down the move to Shopify into pieces, and just do it until it’s done. The mailing list should be set up today – go do it now! The earlier you start collecting email addresses, the more you’ll have a year from now, and the easier you’ll be able to sell your work. We like MailChimp.

They will give you code to add to your website, and it’s just a matter of copying and pasting. Once you have the list, you can tell people about it on your website, on social media, and in person. Make sure you come up with a few things to email out to people regularly. You can’t just collect email addresses, ignore everyone for six months, and expect them to remember you when you suddenly start sending them email!

Social media strategy

As for social media, it can be overwhelming (and unnecessary) to try to cover all of the bases. Pick a program or two that you enjoy and that make sense for your business. Twitter and Instagram are plenty! Keep posting there, see what reaction you get, aim for high engagement, and add more followers. Here’s a program I like for monitoring how well you’re doing on Instagram: Iconosquare.

For Twitter, you can try Klout.

Once you feel like you’re rolling well on Twitter and Instagram, you may want to add another social media outlet – or maybe not. Spreading yourself too thin across multiple platforms and not doing well on any of them won’t grow your business.

Getting press and publicity

Pitching to blogs, magazines, and press is vital, and my best advice if you’re unsure of how to start is to purchase our Pitch Kit. Jena on our team created this for her clients, and the $44 will be the best money you ever spent on publicity once you start getting all the blog mentions and other press. You can learn more about that and purchase it directly here:

Go get the Pitch Kit

Good luck with your priorities and time management!

Thanks for the chance to learn more about Nik Naks Fused Glass. I hope this all makes sense, and I encourage you to make some time, decide on your priorities, and chip away at making Nik Naks your full time job!

Are you ready for the next step?

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

Naming a Business – Should I Use My Own Name?

I had one of my little, but longtime, questions answered during the Q&A session during Eli Altman’s talk at the Nearly Impossible conference: is there a downside to using my own name as my business name? We are asked this a lot (particularly by jewelers!). When naming a business, Eli feels that using your own personal name is usually not the best idea, for these reasons:

1) It is hard to remember peoples’ names. Lightbulb! Yes, it is. Do you have any trouble keeping names and faces together, or remembering the names of people you were briefly introduced to? Well, so do your customers.

2) It’s not future-proof. What if you want to sell your company in the future? I don’t think most handcrafted, creative businesses go into it thinking this way, but a lot can change over years of running a business. Do you want the new owners out there using your name without your daily input?

3) It’s not evocative. He didn’t mention this at the time, but I got it from his book. When you hear a person’s name, it’s usually meaningless, unless they’re famous or their name is particularly unusual. Does “Alice Malone” or “Jennifer Pierce” make you feel any particular way? Will your name feel differently to strangers than it does to you?

Overall, while he said it could be a good choice for people who are established in their industry and whose name has value (like when someone famous launches a product line), for new businesses created by non-famous folks, you’re better off coming up with a memorable biz name.

Naming a business: Don’t Call it That

Eli Altman’s book, Don’t Call It That, is a quick read, with big type. I wish I’d timed myself as I read through it – I think it took me about eighteen minutes! The book itself is beautifully printed and designed and a pleasure to have in hand, but I can’t help but think it would make a better ebook or even a long website article.

I was hoping for more nitty gritty, but it’s pretty true to the title – it mostly focuses on what not to do, and I was hoping for more what to do. There is also a lot of time spent convincing you to be bold and adventurous, something I don’t need a lot of convincing of. The last few business books I read felt like common sense to me, so I think I just know too much for my own good nowadays. If you feel bewildered and confused by how to come up with a name for your business, this book can definitely stop you from heading down a boring or stupid path.

I appreciated that one of his bits of advice was, “Get lost in Wikipedia looking at extinct sea creatures,” as my business is named after a (thriving!) sea slug.

naming a business

Check out Eli’s book, Don’t Call It That here.

Want some one-on-one help with your business name?

If you would like help naming your business, please check in with us! Natalia, our copywriter, is astoundingly good at this. She will come up with a big list of names that you may like, based on the story of your business and your preferences, and they will all have an available domain name. Once you’ve decided on your new name, we can also help you trademark it.

Read more biz name stories here.