This post is part of our Best Next Step series, where you will hear from creative business owners like you, who are wondering what to focus on next. The background stories and questions are from all kinds of businesses in various stages of growth, and I share my ideas for how to proceed forward most efficiently and ambitiously. Today we’re hearing from Verde Cosi.
Business: Verde Cosi
Owner: Suzanne Luby Ahrens
Below is a screenshot of Suzanne’s website:
Verde Cosi is a collection of originally designed textiles which are handmade into pillows, scarves, tea towels, and select handbags. We have a stationery collection of boxed notecards, wrapping paper, and gift tags based on my art. In addition, I sell my watercolors and photography which often integrates my textile designs. Customers can buy some of my products online. My latest products are available at the many juried shows that we participate in Paradise City Arts Festivals, SOWA Open Markets, National Stationery Show so far. We have been asked to do the Architectural Digest Home Design Show in March of 2015 – we are hoping to do that show! I have so many new designs that I have been selling at shows, a new printed catalog. I am just overwhelmed a bit with the upkeep of our website and the message/branding we are trying to convey. Our textile product needs to be channeled into a more upscale category because it is expensive to produce. Our paper goods aren’t as expensive but I feel are very beautiful and unique so I think customers would pay a bit more for what we have to offer. My work is very complex sometimes – it can take me a year to develop and then extend that design. Other work is very spontaneous and doesn’t take me as long. .
Keeping the website updated is a challenge. I also feel it needs to be updated to look more professional with more options for people to explore. I have the ability to create beautiful sets and visuals. I am a little confused as to how I want to brand myself. As a total business or more like an individual artist/designer. I have been thinking about a blog… not sure if I can handle the additional piece of that.
We got invited to do the Atlanta Gift Mart in January. Just around the corner. If we get accepted in one of the juried sections of the show my focus will be to prepare our booth, product, etc. for that show. However, we need to be selective about the larger shows because they are so expensive. We are trying to figure out our priorities. Most of our sales come from direct to public shows and from some wholesale customers.
We use Facebook, Twitter, Constant Contact, and our website. We also hand out beautifully printed cards at out shows with future shows listed on those cards. We were featured in the July/August issue of Victoria Magazine and in Stationery Trends Magazine so far.
Verde Cosi’s Best Next Step
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).
Capturing your spirit online
Goodness gracious, Suzanne! Your lookbook is beautiful. If you could capture that spirit online, you would have a website worth blogging about, and could use that to drive more traffic to your site. Once people are there, they will understand why they should be interested, and will be inspired to purchase.
What your lookbook has that your site doesn’t is mostly the beautiful photos. On your shop site, I just see two photos of bouquets up top, without your lovely pillows in them. Switching to a theme that features large photos, and then putting the lookbook photos on the site will instantly make things more appealing.
It sounds like you do a lot of shows – an Events page on the website with a list of places where people can go to see and touch your work in person may be beneficial to local shoppers – or at least show people that you’re out, about, and popular! Similarly, having a list of retailers on your site could interest people who just have to see things in person. And if the list of retailers is long or prestigious, it can serve as “social proof” that your goods are worth investing in.
You told me, “My work is very complex sometimes – it can take me a year to develop and then extend that design.” This is very interesting, and adds to the value of your work. This is the kind of personal, engaging information that is missing from your website. Information like this can be featured on the home page, about page, in product descriptions, etc. Lots of ways to infuse more personality and add a story to your site. Stories are what help people to decide to make a purchase.
Organizing your website
Your two websites are disjointed and confusing right now. My recommendation is to move your About and Contact page to Shopify, quit using the site that’s currently at your domain, and point your domain directly to your Shopify shop (using these instructions).
Once everything is in one place, you can then work on making the categories more understandable (“gift” and “garment” are so barren they should either be added to, or combined into one category – and whichever category is most important – I’m thinking Pillows, should come first), and adjusting your product photos so they all use the same dimensions – that way you won’t have some tall and some short, leaving gaps in your grid of photos.
Making shopping more appealing
Make each category more appealing by putting one of those beautiful photos at the top, and whenever you have a styled photo of a pillow, for example, make that a photo you can see on the product detail page.
Your product descriptions are currently boring, dry, and just-the-facts. Hiring a copywriter to make them come to life can help convince customers to click the “buy” button. We have a copywriter on our team, and I can share more info about pricing and process if you are interested.
Branding your business
You say, “I am a little confused as to how I want to brand myself. As a total business or more like an individual artist/designer.” Without more detailed information about your future goals or how you want to be perceived, I don’t have a solid answer for this, but my gut feeling is that you want to be an individual artist. The name Verde Cosi is just fine to use, and keeping your name close by it is a great way to let people know that there’s a talented designer behind the collection, not a faceless business. It’s also fine to leave “by Suzanne Luby Ahrens” out of the logo and just use your photo and name on the website. You don’t have to club people over the head with it, but do make it obvious that you’re a designer with an interesting story.
To blog, or not to blog?
You’re trying to decide if you want to have a blog or not. If it’s just you, and there’s no one else on your team to take on blogging duties, you first have look at your priorities and see if there’s a way to squeeze in a blog post once a week. If there isn’t, you can probably continue to focus on shows and wholesale accounts and consider blogging as a future addition to your marketing efforts.
If you do think you have time to blog, ask yourself if you like writing, or if photos are more your style. There are lots of ways to do a blog. You may just want to post a few photos with a short caption, or you may want to do full-fledged articles about your story, behind the scenes of your business, collaborations you’re working on, etc. Before starting a blog, sit down with a pen and paper (and maybe a glass of wine), and brainstorm as many possible topics that you can think of. If you’re having a hard time, visit the blogs of similar businesses and see what they’re posting about. Look around at the blogs you like to read and jot down the types of articles that you’re interested in. Think of ways to relate your interests to your work. You don’t have to be super salesy all the time, but you do want your blog to have a general topic to stick to. Once your topics list looks pretty beefy, it’s safe to give blogging a try.
When you’ve started blogging, stay consistent. Slow and steady is better than trying to post every day and then giving up or having big dry stretches. Once a week or even once every two weeks is good if you stick to it. When you post to the blog, promote it on social media and ask others to share it. Get the word out there so that all your work isn’t in vain.
Use your own voice, stick to topics that are interesting to you, and don’t worry too much about making each post epic or impressive. As long as you’re genuine and engaging, you’ll be fine.
Figuring out your priorities
This is a big question! Do you track statistics on the shows you go to? For instance, do you compare the cost of each show (including setup costs and travel costs) with the profit each one makes? Can you easily tell which shows are worth the effort and expense and which aren’t?
You don’t currently make money from the ecommerce website, but you’re also not promoting it. Remember that even if most of your sales come from in-person events, that people are viewing your website and getting an impression of you. Interested retailers will check out your website when they’re deciding if they want to start a relationship with you, and blog and magazine editors will take a look at your website when they’re deciding if they want to feature you in their publication. Having a professional, organized, temptingly beautiful website can improve your relationships offline as well as online.
Thanks for the chance to learn more about your Verde Cosi. I hope this all makes sense, and I encourage you to step back from all the busy-ness of in-person events and see what aspects of your brand and online presence could use some work. Then, you’ll have a cohesive public presence that makes people feel comfortable working with you.
If you would like any help with your brand, logo, or website, we would love to discuss these more with you and make a plan.
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!