Selling Wholesale and Getting Your Products into Stores for the Holidays

Are you a handmade seller with questions about selling wholesale and getting your products into stores for the holidays? Emily from Wholesale in a Box shares tips on wholesale outreach for the holidays, creating holiday-specific items, and incentivizing retailers to place their orders by a certain deadline.

Emily Kerr-Finell from Wholesale in a Box is back to answer more of your questions about selling wholesale and getting your products into stores for the holidays.

She’s previously shared her advice here on our blog on creating wholesale line sheets and whether you need a wholesale website.

Recently, Emily joined us in our creative business owners’ Facebook group to answer questions about the best timing for wholesale outreach for the holidays, creating holiday-specific items, and incentivizing retailers to place their orders by a certain deadline.

Topics covered:

  • When is too early or too late to do wholesale outreach for the holidays?
  • How can I give myself the best chance of success for wholesale growth this holiday season?
  • How to make it easy for retailers to place an order
  • When to start pitching for Valentine’s Day
  • Creating holiday-specific products
  • Updating your line sheets for the holidays
  • International wholesale orders
  • Incentivizing retailers to order by a certain deadline
  • How many items do I need to be a desirable wholesale partner?

Full transcript:

Arianne: Hey there everybody, I am Arianne Foulks, and I run Aeolidia, which is a web design studio for creative product based businesses. And you are here in The Shipshape Collective, which is our community for business owners to help each other out growing their business and figuring out all of the crazy things that go into running a business. Today we are talking to Emily Kerr-Finell from Wholesale in a Box, who has helped hundreds of makers grow their wholesale business. I am so excited to have you here today Emily. And I can tell our audience is too because they have so many questions for you. So I would love for you to introduce yourself a bit more and explain what Wholesale in a Box is and how you know all of the stuff you know. And then we can get to everybody’s questions.

Emily: Yeah, thanks for having me. I love The Shipshape Collective, I think it’s the most useful business space on the internet for makers. If you’re new here, hang out and take a look around, because it’s positive and helpful.

Arianne: Thank you.

Emily: Yeah. So Wholesale in a Box, to give you the 20 second overview for anyone that doesn’t know, we help makers get their work into more stores. So we started about three years ago because we kept hearing from makers how time consuming and overwhelming going wholesale was, especially when you’re a one or two women shop and you’re doing all of it alone.

So we started really organically, working with a handful of makers. And then over the span of a few years ended up helping over 500 makers with their wholesale business, which has been so rewarding and so exciting to see the personal and financial transformations that come from that kind of growth. So the subscription is, you get handpicked store profiles for you to introduce your work to, a system for how and when to contact stores, and one-on-one wholesale coaching and support every step along the way.

You can … I wanted to mention for anyone that is going wholesale this holiday season, we’re actually opening the doors to this free program today called the Holiday Wholesale Jumpstart. So that’s at WholesaleInABox.com/HolidayJumpstart. I’ll put the link in the thread for anyone that wants to check it out. And I know we have a lot of questions today, so if we don’t get to something or you want a clarification, always feel free to reach out either on the Facebook thread or directly to us at team@WholesaleInABox.com, and we’re happy to help. But I know we have a lot of questions, so should we jump right in?

Arianne: We do. That is great Emily. That sounds like an awesome service. And it sounds like you work with people who have not done any wholesale before, and also people who have been doing wholesale but want to improve it, is that right?

Emily: Yeah, we work with the whole range, from never sold to a store before, to I’m already in 150 stores but I want to grow.

Arianne: That’s perfect. So I see some people commenting that they’re excited and they want in on the Jumpstart, which is great. Sadly you guys, I cannot in my software see your names right now. But I’ll check it out later, so I hope not to seem impersonal, but the Facebook API is not letting me be personal with you right now.

So, number one most important question. When is the best timing for wholesale outreach for the holidays, and is there a time that’s too early or too late and you just shouldn’t even bother?

Emily: Yes, it’s a good question. Now is great. Generally, with holiday wholesale outreach, people end up doing it too late, not too early. So July, August, early September are optimal times. If someone comes to me and they have their stuff ready to go or they have the ability to get their stuff ready to go now, start now, start early.

On the other hand, if it’s October and you feel like you’re way behind the 8-ball and you just can’t get it done, that’s valuable too. And ultimately it’s about taking the long view of cultivating relationships. But if you’re really trying to make the most of this holiday season, the summer is the time.

Arianne: The time to reach out to wholesale buyers.

Emily: Yep.

Arianne: I have a little side question that I thought of while you were saying that, which is I know for instance the NY NOW trade show is happening in August. Do you find that it is better to try to beat people to the trade show, or contact people when they may be in trade show mindset and thinking about what they’re ordering? Do you have any thoughts on that?

Emily: It can be either. I think in terms of timing, right before or right after, pinpointing the trade show timing, I haven’t really found a really strong pattern around that. If you reach out before, sometimes people say that they’re waiting to see what happens at the trade show and they’ll circle back. On the other hand, sometimes you catch them before they buy at the trade show. So I wouldn’t worry too much about the timing precisely around the trade show.

Arianne: Yeah. But it is good to know that people are definitely in that mindset right now of shopping for holidays.

Emily: They’re in the mindset, yeah. Also, if you’re planning to be at the trade show, combining a trade show with other kinds of outreach can be really effective. So I mean, you’re reaching out … sometimes people reach out through Wholesale in a Box, but then they’ll say, I’m gonna be at NY NOW in August, I’m at booth X, come by and see me. Or they’ll reach out afterwards and follow up with people that they met. So it can be a good combo kind of approach.

Arianne: Okay. So my next question here, and again I don’t have names but I promise I’m thinking of you all very lovingly. One of our shipmates asks, how can I give myself the best chance of success for wholesale growth this holiday season?

Emily: Yeah, I think there are a few pieces of it. Probably it depends whether you’re brand new to wholesale and you’re using the holidays as your time to jump in and get your feet wet, or whether you’re already really well established. The fundamentals are the same as any kind of wholesale growth, with the addition of timing. So we already talked about the timing piece, early is good. The other pieces are looking at your outreach materials and making them as good as they can be, as efficiently as you can so that you can still work within this period.

Probably now is not the time for overhauling your line if you’re trying to grow this holiday season. But doing things like line refinement, like removing products that aren’t working well or updating a handful of photos that aren’t working well for you, those kinds of … I would say this is a great time to step back, review what’s low hanging fruit in your outreach materials and your line, and then as quickly as you can, start prioritizing the piece of connecting with stores and building those relationships for the holidays.

Arianne: Yeah, that is good advice, especially not trying to do everything at once. We were having a conversation in the group a few weeks ago from someone who wanted to do a trade show but she also wanted to overhaul everything about her brand, and rebrand, and all these crazy things. And we were like, I don’t know if you have time for that, that’s a lot.

Emily: I get it though. I feel like as business owners we feel that way so often. It’s like a never ending list of things that we want to do and they all feel like top, urgent priority. But you know, write them down and pick the top couple. Doing something and finishing it is always so much more worthwhile than getting stuck and trying to overhaul everything.

Arianne: Yeah, and I find that getting the experience of just trying, even if things aren’t perfect, you’re going to learn so much that you’ll know what to do when you’re working on making things more perfect.

Emily: Right, yes, absolutely.

Arianne: Yeah. So let’s see, we have a question here. What would you recommend is the easiest format for retailers to place an order? A password protected page on a website, and editable form that is emailed, or something else?

Emily: Yeah, and Arianne if you … so we did a great collaborative article together with Aeolidia a couple months back on this exact topic of do I need a wholesale website? Do I not? Can I send people to my regular site? Do I need a line sheet? How can they order? So check that out, we’ll link to that in the thread below the video.

Arianne: Yeah.

Emily: Short answer is any of the above can work. Go as simple as possible for you. So usually the simplest thing, especially if you have less than 80 to 100 stockists that you’re selling to, which is probably many of the people on the call, is to accept orders via email. Have a strong place where people can review your products online, whether that’s a PDF line sheet or your regular retail website. And then let them just go ahead and place orders via email.

You can also use your regular retail site and do a wholesale coupon code. I know that sounds a little strange, but it’s becoming more and more popular. It works if you have 50% wholesale to retail markup across the board. And then there are some shipping and minimums things that can come up with that, but if you can deal with those three variables, that can work well.

Or, if you feel like, “I just switched to Shopify, it looks great…” Maybe Aeolidia helped you build the site and you’re really proud of it and you do just wanna setup a situation where wholesalers can login and place an order, that’s good too, as long as the ordering process is super, super simple. And this is my take on it, as long as people that you’re reaching out to don’t need to create an account just to view your line. Because when you create a situation where they have to create an account to see your products and pricing, it ends up being just too high of a bar for many store owners to jump over. And it’s too big of an obstacle and they don’t end up looking at the line at all.

Arianne: Yeah, that makes sense. So if they just want to browse and are not necessarily ready to commit, it’s good to make that easy for them.

Emily: Yeah. You can think of it like, imagine if you were window shopping and the store owner made you create an account or put your email down just to walk in the store. You’d be concerned probably. I would.

Arianne: Right, you need to signup for a store card first.

Emily: Exactly.

Arianne: I have a question live right now from somebody asking about the Wholesale in a Box subscription. They want to know if you’ll take a look at where her business is at and provide feedback about her product mix and that kind of thing?

Emily: Yeah, we love to do that.

Arianne: Are you guys that hands on?

Emily: Yeah. We have a ton of training materials that people love, but we’ve also found there’s no replacement for one-on-one collaboration and feedback and advice. So all of our makers have a scheduling link to place a call, as much as they want, for a coaching call. Or we get back within one business day to email questions. So yes.

Arianne: That is great. And I have another person here who says yes, with many exclamation points. “I just signed up for Wholesale in a Box last week and it has already been so helpful,” all caps.

Emily: Oh yeah, oh good. We don’t know who you are, but good.

Arianne: We’ll know who you are once we’re done with the call, thank you anonymous commenter. I have another good question for you about the holidays. As retailers deal with the holidays, what’s the best time or approach to start pitching Valentine’s Day?

Emily: Oh I know, this can be so overwhelming for people. It’s like, I’m not even done with the holidays, I’m not even done with holiday production, to send off my store orders, and I’m already behind for Valentine’s. So it’s hard. Obviously this applies to people like paper goods or really gifty kind of lines that have a specific holiday offering … I mean, sorry Valentine’s.

Arianne: Jewelry.

Emily: Yeah, right, that have a specific Valentine’s Day offer. Yeah, jewelry. I think there are two ways you can go about it. One way, if your Valentine’s collection is more or less ready to go already, one thing that you can do is basically promote both your holiday stuff and your Valentine’s Day stuff from now until the end of the year. So that’s a simple way to do it. They’re both in your line sheet, they’re both there, maybe you mention both of them when you’re reaching out to stores.

Another way that you can do it, because I think for a lot of people it’s like, yeah no, my Valentine’s Day collection is not ready yet, I cannot do that. So if that’s the case, I would just in terms of pure timing, just make sure to not wait until January to start promoting your Valentine’s Day stuff, A. And B, don’t reach out to stores during the two week period directly around Christmas. They’re too crazy. You can reach … I know it is a busy period, but you can reach out to them between Thanksgiving and December 15th let’s say. That’s not an exact number, but you can to introduce your Valentine’s line. So just stay away from Christmas, don’t wait til January, consider promoting Valentine’s and holiday at the same time.

Arianne: Yeah, I think that makes sense. And you might get Valentine’s orders at the last minute, but that doesn’t mean you want to hold off on promoting it until the last minute.

Emily: That’s right. Yep, exactly.

Arianne: So while we’re on that topic, is it advisable to create holiday specific items?

Emily: It depends who you are. I feel like I most often get this question from people who are just starting. And if you’re just starting my answer is probably not. Okay, first let’s divide everybody into two groups. Your group is the people that we were just talking about who have paper good lines or very, very specifically holiday linked lines. Yes, you need holiday stuff. You can’t be a card company and not have Christmas related cards for instance.

For other people, let’s say you make home goods. And let’s say you’re pretty new. In that case, to do all of the product development, product photography, line sheet creation, to do all of that well right now, to add holiday themed items, is usually not feasible or worth it. It’s usually better to focus on the line that you already have, especially if you’re newer, and focus on framing and promoting that line in a holiday context. Maybe pulling out individual pieces that you think could be great for the holidays, even if they’re not specifically holiday pieces.

So speaking to that piece of things, for stores, without having to launch a whole new product is usually the way to go unless you’re like, “I’ve been selling this line for 20 years, it does great, I have the bandwidth to launch something new…” In that case, that could be good. But for most people it’s about framing and speaking to the line you already have in the seasonal context.

Arianne: Yeah, that makes sense. So I have another live comment about your services. I think these ones are good to take while we really have you here to answer them directly. This person wants to know if you offer email templates or phone scripts to reach out to buyers?

Emily: We … so email templates yes-ish. So we’ve found that when you’re reaching out to stores when it’s in your voice, when it’s in your tone and your writing style, it works much better than if you’re using a cut and dry template from somewhere else. So what we give is a guide, a checklist, examples of great emails and not so great emails. We’ll even rewrite or copy edit your email for you or with you. But you’re ultimately the one that’s drafting that email with our input and guidance.

Phone scripts we don’t do. Very, very rarely will a store owner prefer phone as their contact method. Usually they prefer email, sometimes snail mail, very rarely phone. So we don’t focus on what to say on the phone, although there is a post on our blog, on our website, on if you do need to call a store, because sometimes they do prefer that, what could you say, and how not to panic if you do need to call a store. So that’s free and on our website.

Arianne: How not to panic as a business owner is always a good thing.

Emily: Yeah, I feel like I want to title every blog post, How Not to Panic About X.

Arianne: Yeah, I think we just need a whole page on our websites, how not to panic. I can write a page about how not to panic when selling eCommerce and you can write a page about how not to panic when doing wholesale.

Emily: Exactly.

Arianne: I think that sounds like a much better service to me than having email templates because you guys serve so many makers that you wouldn’t want retailers to start getting the same email over and over again from multiple people.

Emily: Yes exactly.

Arianne: You want to get different things from different people.

Emily: Right.

Arianne: I have a good question here live about shipping. When is the best time to ship holiday product? She says, I may start reaching out to shops with my holiday products in August, but I may not actually have the product yet. So when do they expect to get the shipment?

Emily: They expect to get the shipment according to the turnaround time that you set in your wholesale terms. So this is me being an advocate for one of my other things, which is have very clear wholesale terms that are present and clear from the first moment that you contact the store. And part of those wholesale terms should be, what’s your turnaround time, how do you ship, how long does shipping take. And then you just stick with that. If a store owner wants something different, so if they see your turnaround time is four weeks and we’re only in August and they don’t actually want the shipment until November first, they can feel free to let you know. But otherwise you should just adhere to what you promise in your terms.

Arianne: Yeah, that makes sense. And I have a similar timing question here. Someone asked, I’m considering offering an incentive to retailers to place their holiday orders before a certain date. Is before September 30 too early, too late, too weird?

Emily: Yeah, no this was a good question, I remember seeing this one. I think that if you have the margin for it, which this question asker actually clarified she did have the margin for it, an incentive could be great. It’s a nice to have, it’s not a must to have, it’s not something you need to do to be competitive. But if you can do it, offering free shipping or offering 10% off can both be wonderful. And I think it does help for a store owner to be like, I was debating between these two lines, but then one offers free shipping, I’ll go with this one. So it’s a nice thing to do.

In terms of the timing of it, September 30th I think would be a little late for an early bird incentive. You might want to do … for the holidays you might want to do something more like latest mid-September, maybe even September 1st if you were gonna say, “if you’re ordering early you get this incentive.” Because by late September it’s already kind of normal ordering time.

Arianne: Okay, that is good to know. I have somebody asking about packaging. It sounds like she’s going in person to some stores, and she wants to know if packaging is important. “I do have a matte black box and a faux suede pouch for it.” Is that something stores look for as well? And she clarifies that prices start at $149, so she knows it won’t be sitting on a “twirly rack” or anything like that.

Emily: She didn’t say what kind of product she has, did she?

Arianne: Not yet. But commenter who’s going to the coastal town, if you could pop back in and let us know the type of product, we could be more specific. And I can just fill in for a second saying that we have definitely heard from retailers that packaging can be one of the most important things about your product. In fact, somebody once told us that the packaging matters more than what’s inside it in many cases. So I would say that in general that is important to think about.

Emily: Yeah, I agree. I agree 100%. I think that if you’re a maker who doesn’t have great packaging, it doesn’t need to be an obstacle. And if your product is gorgeous and the price is good, and you have the other pieces in place, you can still succeed at wholesale. And we see people do that every day. But if you have great packaging and you can offer it affordably, it’s a wonderful … it’s just one more … it’s kind of like what we were just talking about with free shipping. It’s one more great thing that you can offer stores that lowers the risk for them and lets them know that once this is on the shelf this is gonna move for me and they’ll have that confidence in your product.

Arianne: Yeah. Our original commenter is running off to get a picture. I am not 100% sure I’ll be able to see a picture here in our video broadcasting software, so just a type of product could be pretty cool. An example I like to use for packaging is bath and body products. If you have lotion, the lotion really isn’t anything to your customer until you package it. It’s just a blob of goo to me. To be a little rude to lotion. I mean, if you had three different kinds of lotion sitting in plain white packaging, I feel like customers wouldn’t even know what to do there. But once you add that packaging and you decide if it’s illustrated, or if it’s classic and luxurious, they start to understand if it’s for them or not. So depending on your product, packaging can really make or break it.

And then if you sell anything that is at all not self-explanatory, it’s really helpful to have packaging explain how to use it or who it’s for. One example that comes to mind, we have a blog post about this so I should stick a link in there for you. We had a client – HipCity Sak – who created a little kid’s, it was like a waist pouch, like a small bag, kind of a fanny pack sort of thing. But it also clipped on and off and it had all these different features that weren’t apparent by glancing at it. So it was really important to make packaging that first drew people in so they would understand what it was, and then when they flip it over they can learn a little bit more about what age of kid it is for, or how you use it, how you snap the accessories on and off.

So your packaging can be a good stand in for you, when you’re not able to be there to explain it to the customer, especially if you’re used to doing things like craft fairs where you get to talk to people about how it works. You just don’t get to be there when your stuff is in the store, so it’s nice to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.

Let’s see here. Okay, I’ve got some comments happening. Okay, I have somebody asking about candles. She says, candles are very popular for holiday season and most of the potential stores I’ve been reaching out to told me they already have candle lines. How can she make a difference when she’s reaching out?

Emily: Well, it’s tricky. You know, I think when a store owner says that they already have enough of X category, sometimes that means that they just couldn’t … they love your line and they couldn’t possibly buy more of that thing. And something like candles you can only have so many of in the store without feeling like the lines are hurting each other, for sure.

Other times, it’s a polite way of saying that your product is not a good enough fit for them to effectively replace a different line that they have, or add it to the store. Because if a store owner’s crazy about what you’re doing, they will often either add or replace to something else that they have, because it’s … for them when they add something new, that’s a draw to bring in new customers.

There are categories that are more crowded than others like candles, jewelry, stationery. They’re all product categories that are more competitive than others because there are just more makers in those categories. And so when you hear store owners say that, if you’re getting overall orders, orders are coming in and people are excited about what you’re doing, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. That’s just part of the process.

If you’re really not getting any orders and you’re just hearing that over and over again, I would personally take the risk of trying to dig a little bit deeper with this store, if it’s a store that you think could be a really awesome fit. And just say, I so respect your time. Also, would you be open to giving me some brutal feedback about what you could see being more useful or better in my line for this store (outside of how many lines you already carry). And asking a handful of stores, that can be really helpful if you’re starting to get the feeling that it’s every store you reach out to that already has enough candles.

Arianne: Yeah, that is great. And I love the advice for getting brutal feedback just in general.

Emily: I know.

Arianne: Brutal feedback can be so helpful. If you are able to separate yourself a bit from your business where it doesn’t feel so personal, I’ve just been writing an article about this. I like to think of my business as a lifetime science experiment. And I have finally gotten to the point where I don’t take things super personally if somebody’s upset about something we’ve done, or some way that we have communicated something. I like to try to just think to myself, how interesting, I hadn’t thought of it that way. I wonder what I could do differently next time.

So if you’re able to just really brace yourself or gird your loins or whatever and ask somebody for brutal feedback and then actually, instead of getting discouraged, take that feedback and do something new and different with it, you can really do amazing things with your business.

Emily: I think that is so well said and so important. And some people get really lucky from the start and they pick just the right product, at just the right time, and just the right packaging. But most of the rest of us need to experiment and need to get that feedback, feel the sting, and then make the changes to make it even better for sure. So I love that. I can’t wait to read the article.

Arianne: Even after 14 years, we ask every single one of our clients, what was a pleasant surprise about working with Aeolidia? What was an unpleasant surprise about working with Aeolidia? And then instead of just reading it and weeping, we try and act on everything that we get, and it’s really been so helpful in growing our business.

Emily: I love that.

Arianne: You guys, we have a million questions here and we definitely are not gonna be able to get to them all. Some of these questions are really good. If we’re not answering your question it is not because it was a bad question, it’s just because we have an overwhelming amount of questions here. And they’re popping in all the time. I love you guys, thank you.

I saw a few people ask this one, so we’re gonna try to answer it. How many items do I need to be a desirable wholesale partner? Although I’m certain the answer is it depends on the type of business you have, but maybe just a little guidance for some types of businesses you see regularly, Emily.

Emily: Yeah. Probably fewer than you think. One to two can be a challenge, but if you’re somewhere in the three to 15 products range, you’re probably good if the products are amazing. Usually people are good in terms of this, and need to focus more on the products themselves being amazing, more so than having a really extensive line.

Arianne: Yeah, and I think there are definitely types of businesses where that’s different. I’m pretty sure stationery businesses need to have quite a few more cards than 15 for example.

Emily: Yes, good point, yes, yes.

Arianne: So think about what people do in your industry and maybe see if there are any guidelines for things such as trade shows and things like that, to sort of get the idea of what makes sense for you. I happen to know for stationery for example, it’s really important to have not only quite a few types of cards, but there’s specific types. They’re really looking for a variety and you need thank you cards and birthday cards. You can’t not have cards for certain holidays.

Emily: Right.

Arianne: So it’s important to consider what stores want to carry.

Emily: Perfect, yes. Thanks for drawing out the stationery, yep.

Arianne: Yeah, I think that one’s maybe a little bit of an odd ball. Okay, I’m trying to see if I can pull out one final question or … oh, this is an interesting one. On the topic of competing or overcrowded categories, would it help to include numbers to prove sales? So is it helpful to indicate to wholesalers that you do have a large following and people really want to buy your stuff?

Emily: Yes, it is helpful. You have to do it subtly. So a little word-smithing there can go a really long way and we can help you with that if you’re somebody that already works with us. But yes, saying something along the lines of, the stores we currently work with have found X and Y. It’s flying off the shelves. It’s selling $1,500 plus a month, month over month. So pulling out some of those evidence pieces can be really helpful if it does sell really well.

Arianne: Yeah, and if you phrase that in the way where you’re giving them some advice on what’s a great thing to buy from you. You’re not bragging, you’re helping them make their order.

Emily: Yep, exactly.

Arianne: Okay, so for some reason I have scheduled all of these videos to go on garbage day in my neighborhood. So if you hear a lot of clunking in the background, the garbage truck is coming past right now, I apologize. Let’s do one more holiday question and then wrap up here. So someone asked if it is best to add a holiday themed page to their line sheet, which is currently about seven pages, or send the line sheet and a one page holiday themed mini line sheet? So a little addition.

Emily: Yep, you can do either. I’m usually a proponent of having one attachment, one thing that people need to open. Because if you attach two things, you risk that they’ll only open one of them. So probably put it in your main line sheet, unless you’re really just trying to get … unless your holiday line is amazing, spectacular, and you really want people to order that, then I might separate it out to really put a spotlight on it. But usually it should be in the main line sheet.

Arianne: Yeah, that makes sense. Okay, this has been wonderful and so helpful. What if we each offered a last minute “don’t panic” piece of advice. So I think my don’t panic piece of advice would be, things don’t have to be perfect. I think what’s more important than perfection is just your enthusiasm about your own business and excitement about what you’re doing, because that will translate over to the people you’re talking to and they’ll get excited too because excitement is contagious. So don’t be perfect, just be really into what you’re doing.

Emily: I love that advice. That’s probably … we could have just said that and the whole video would have been worth it. That’s great.

Arianne: Forget the details, just don’t panic.

Emily: I would say my piece of advice is similar. Which is, take the long view. You’re trying to grow your business over two and three and five and ten years. And so look at it, as Arianne said, as a process of experimentation and growth. And even if this month or next month you don’t grow in the ways that you want to, try to process what you’re learning so that you can grow in following months and years in the ways that you want to.

Arianne: Yeah, you don’t have to get it right all at once. That was a great answer, and I just sprung that one on you. Quick thinking on the feet. Okay, thank you so much Emily. Where can people find you if they want to learn more about you? Can you remind us too about your offers today for people who joined us midway through, and where people can find those?

Emily: Yes. So generally you can find us at WholesaleInABox.com, we have a ton of free resources on our website. We have a free wholesale training center, and there’s a lot of stuff on our blog. So go poke around there. There’s a free email course you can sign up for that people rave about, thankfully.

The thing that we’re launching today, which is gonna be so fun and is gonna be really helpful is called the Holiday Wholesale Jumpstart. It’s at WholesaleInABox.com/HolidayJumpstart. Check it out, it’s totally free. So if you’re really looking to grow and to focus, it might be for you, and we’d love to have you.

Arianne: That is great, I love it. And we will pop some links into the comments here to direct you towards some of the stuff that we had more details about, like product packaging, and I know there were a couple other things that you had, Emily.

Emily: Perfect.

Arianne: And to find me, anybody who has joined us from Emily’s group, you can go to Aeolidia.com, which is A-E-O-L-I-D-I-A dot com. And we also have a ton of free resources for people on The Shipshape Collective page. So if you click over to resources you can join our mailing list, where I send a weekly email that usually has some actionable advice for you to use to grow some aspect of your online presence. And everybody’s favorite thing is the 30 page PDF that I wrote recently about how to get more traffic to your site and then get more sales out of that traffic, which is what probably 80% of people ask me every day, so I put it all together for you. So I hope you will join us both and grow your businesses. And good luck everybody who is reaching out to wholesalers this summer.

Emily: Yes, thank you so much Arianne for having us.

Arianne: Thank you Emily.

Emily: Okay, thanks everyone.

Arianne: See you guys later.

Emily: Bye.

Arianne: Bye.

Shipshape Collective Freebie

Get more traffic to your site and make more sales

Learn what you can do as a shop owner to drive more traffic to your website and make more sales. Subscribe to our weekly emails and get this PDF:

Consumer Product Safety Compliance For Small Businesses

Among the many legal issues facing artisans and small businesses is consumer product safety compliance. What is it and what should you know if you’re selling physical products? Learn more in our expert Q&A with Misty Henry Consulting Services.

Among the many legal issues facing small businesses is consumer product safety compliance. In the United States, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates how products such as children’s toys and textiles are manufactured, labeled, and tested for safety.

Misty of Misty Henry Product Safety and Consulting Services, LLC teaches artisans and small business owners how to officially say, “Meets CPSC Safety Requirements” by helping them navigate the requirements surrounding labeling, testing, tracking, and record keeping. Her favorite part of what she does is brainstorming about an artist’s new designs and what safety concerns they may come up against.

What is consumer product safety compliance, anyway, and what should you know if you’re selling physical products? We interviewed Misty, and she shares some of her knowledge below.

What type of businesses need to register with the CPSC?

All businesses that create or import a consumer product should register at SaferProducts.gov. This website is the contact point for any safety concerns that may come up.

While you can report without registration, the online portal makes it more streamlined. Safety concerns submitted to you from your consumers should be reported within 24 hours and investigated immediately. Safety concerns submitted to the CPSC will be sent to you through your account and/or email linked to the account.

There is a secondary registration that is for qualifying small batch manufacturers. These are businesses that create, or have created for them, less than 7,500 units of any given product per year or gross, in total, under $1 million (the exact dollar amount is on the Safer Products website and may change year to year).

At what stage of business should a new business owner begin looking into consumer product safety compliance?

At the brainstorming stage is best. Because much of compliance is based on the components of the products as much as the product itself, it is a good idea to at least start looking into what safety compliance is and what it means for your chosen product lines.

Think of it this way, would you rather purchase a ton of flannel to use for scarves and clothing just to find out that you need to send them in for flammability testing yourself, or would you rather know that need ahead of time so you can search for suppliers that already have the testing?

What are the risks of not registering with the CPSC?

Registration is actually optional as long as you are able to still report your safety issues within 24 hours of receiving notification of an issue. Registration is free and if you never end up making or importing a CPSC-regulated product, then it doesn’t hurt you at all; you just let it expire at the end of the year. Registration, though, is also what allows a small batch manufacturer to utilize some testing reports on components to limit or eliminate the need to test their own products for things like lead, flammability, and phthalates (BPA).

Legally, there are financial risks to not being compliant with the regulations. The fine amount can be in the thousands per violation depending on the circumstance and situation. There is also the financial risk should an injury occur. Between the CPSC investigation and the potential for court and hospital compensation, the financial burden can be outstanding.

Above the financial risks are the conscience risks. The majority of the regulations are in place to protect children from undue harm. Having a product that is not compliant can create an increased risk for safety issues. Do note that a compliant product does not necessarily mean a SAFE product. A product may be deemed compliant by following the required regulations, but simply may not be safe by design. For example, a new product design for a child’s bag may comply with the required lead levels, but may have studs that come off posing a laceration hazard (see the recall on children’s jeans March 7th, 2018).

How do you determine if the materials you’re using are compliant?

By reading the Code of Federal Regulations. Don’t worry, I’ve actually made it really easy and have created a couple of flow charts for those that make children’s products or clothing products.

Flow chart showing lead requirements for children’s products (12 years old and under)

Flow chart showing lead requirements for children’s products (12 years old and under)

Typically, we are worried about lead (children’s products) and flammability (clothing products). For lead, pretty much any fabric without a painted design or non-fabric addition will be exempt from lab testing, aka, “compliant”. With flammability, we are looking at if it is raised (fuzzy like flannel, velour, fleece, terry, etc.) or if it is plain (knit, cotton woven, etc.). If it is raised, then we look at the fiber content. If it is made of one or any mix of polyester, nylon, acrylic, modacrylic, olefin, or wool, then it is exempt from lab testing. If it is plain, then it is exempt from lab testing no matter the fiber content.

If you are a registered small batch manufacturer, then if you have something that requires lead testing (for example), you can contact your supplier to see if it has already been tested and use their statement as your own. Keep in mind that lead and flammability are only two of the more needed tests that may be required of a product. Some tests depend on the finished product as a whole such as toys requiring “Use and Abuse” testing on the finished product. In the case of finished product testing, we cannot rely on a supplier’s statement.

How do you track components and finished products?

The hardest part is setting up a system that you love AND that works with your creative flow. You need basic information on your components and finished products and some of it actually overlaps with what you should be recording for your tax compliance needs.

Remember the ‘5 W’s’ from elementary/primary school? We are going to basically want to track that information: Where (or who) did you get it (from)? When did you get it? What is ‘it’?

If you are using a spreadsheet system, you’ll want to give it a reference code. Some components have a SKU or Style Number already and many utilize that for ease. The idea is that we can list the exact components (or ingredients!) in the finished product tracking. That is, we need to know that you used Material A purchased in May 2017 vs Material A purchased in August 2017. The finished product tracking notes what ‘it’ is, lists what components were used, when it was finished, and what code you put on the permanent tag (if required). The idea is that you are able to answer questions from just that code on the permanent tag, conduct a recall based on a component recall, and a customer will know if they are involved in a recall.

Booties from EG Baby Design; Teether Toys from HABA USA and The Beaded Muse

Handmade infant booties from EG Baby Design; Teether Toys from HABA USA and The Beaded Muse

What type of labeling is needed for products?

This greatly depends on the product. All children’s items require Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) tracking information for the manufacturer or private labeler name, city and state of production of the product, date of production, batch or run number, and “any other information to facilitate ascertaining the specific source of the product” like a website or email.

Clothing requires fiber content and care labeling from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), country of origin from US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP), and, if it is for children, the tracking information. Toys should have age grading on the tag (0+, 0-6y, 14+, etc.) for CPSC compliance. Bath and body products should have an ingredient list to comply with CPSC or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations.

What is a statement of compliance, and where should it be posted?

A statement of compliance is your official word that your product complies with the required CPSC regulations. You may also include any voluntary standards and/or required international regulations followed. This statement is created by you and can be done in a word processing program saved to your computer, cloud, and/or printed off as desired. This statement is only required to be accessible by retailers or any business reselling or redistributing your product and must be furnished to the CPSC immediately upon request.

You are not required to provide this document to a consumer, though a short statement indicating your compliance is always welcome; “Meets CPSC Safety Requirements” is official wording for labels and online listings. Note that only products directly under CPSC jurisdiction will be required to have a statement of compliance. Other agencies such as the FDA may not require such a statement to be kept in your records. For the CPSC-required statement of compliance, there are 7 parts that describe what the product is, what regulations it must abide by, who manufactures the product, who maintains records of compliance, when and where the product is manufactured, any testing done, and any exemptions from testing allowed.

Could you give examples of the type of testing needed for bath and body products? Jewelry? Handbags?

For some items, there won’t be any testing required. For example, adult handbags don’t actually require any testing under the CPSC nor do they require labeling under the FTC!

Children’s jewelry requires a number of heavy elements testing, but adult jewelry doesn’t. Bath and body testing depends on if it is covered under FDA or CPSC.

What concerns might a maker/handcrafter have that may be different than a business owner who has their product manufactured? What should each business owner look out for with product safety?

Both must follow the same steps; the difference between the two usually comes down to eligibility of being a small batch manufacturer. Those who are eligible as a small batch manufacturer can register and then utilize component part testing done by their suppliers for things like lead, flammability, and phthalates.

Those who import finished products typically are not eligible for this testing relief as they are not considered a small batch manufacturer due to the factory creating more than 7,500 units of that item in a year. When importing, I highly suggest watching testing reports very carefully. Many have come back as incomplete, outdated, or with incorrect test results. I always recommend spot testing at a lab every year or so to make sure things are still in compliance.

When having products manufactured domestically, it is like a middle ground between handcrafters and importers. Handcrafters have the benefit of being so familiar with their products and their customers, that tracking and recalling are usually simple and quick. When having larger amounts manufactured, tracking is a bit more tricky and recalls can be less effective. Even large companies complain about their recall efficiency! Once a product leaves your facility, you don’t have much control over what a consumer chooses to do, or not do, with it when faced with a recall decision.

Misty Henry and her family

Misty Henry and her family

Misty Henry wakes up every day ready to encourage and support small businesses like yours so that every person has the tools they need to support their families the best way they can. To work closely with her, you can join one of her membership levels at MyProductSafety.com or join her Product Safety Course. If you aren’t quite ready to dive in with the added personal assistance, she offers digital mini-books and digital tracking templates to still provide you with the tools you need to succeed. If you have any questions you can always contact her at info@MyProductSafety.com. To follow Misty and her quick tips, you can find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Join the Shipshape Collective

join shipshape collective aeolidia

Do you run a creative product-based business? You’ll get a lot out of our community, with access to our free Facebook group, plus weekly emails with tips for making a website work, pricing your products, building a brand, and more. Let our helping hand lift you up. There's no need to do this alone! Sign up for our weekly business building emails and access to our Facebook community:

Custom Art Print Mockup Photography For Stationery Brands

Have custom "stock" photography styled for your art print business.

I have something cool to show you if you sell stationery or art prints. Custom art print mockups! Taking photos of your artwork can be a chore, and it’s hard to do well, unless you’re a photographer. There are lots of options for stock photo “mockups” that allow you to drop your art into the photo using Photoshop. Once you’ve used these for a while, though, you’re bound to come across someone else using the same photo, and feel unoriginal. And even worse, maybe your customers have seen the same photo before, too, and it makes you look like a copycat business.

Having custom photos shot and styled for every one of your products can be daunting, though. Especially if you have a lot of inventory or are regularly designing new artwork. Custom mockup photos to the rescue!

Jen, our photographer, does these sometimes for our logo and web design clients. Just another perk of hiring a team who can take care of all your website content for you! We just need to know what dimensions your artwork uses, and what applications you want photos for, and we then take our vast knowledge of your brand, customers, and vision, and design photos you can easily use over and over for your website. And we can shake it up a bit so your customer doesn’t see the exact same photo repeated up and down each page.

Here are some photos Jen styled for Adoren Studio. Aren’t these lovely?

Custom art print mockup flatlay photography

Custom art print mockup photo

One of two options Jen provided for a single art print flatlay mockup. Artwork can be added in Photoshop.

 

How custom stock photography works

Here’s the second option with Adoren’s art prints dropped in, and optional props added.

 

Art print mockups for Etsy shops

A custom styled tabletop scene to add matted or plain artwork using Photoshop.

 

Styled wall art product mockup photos

Styled custom art print mockup photography

Jen styled a dresser scene using props that will appeal to Adoren’s target customer. The shop owner can drop her photos into the custom art print mockup using Photoshop.

 

Drop in art print photography

Here is the same photo with Adoren’s art dropped in.

 

Custom hero photo mock up stock photo for art prints

Here is a “hero photo” feature for the home page of Adoren’s website, using the stock photography. Artwork can be rotated for each new collection.

 

Product photo mockup for nursery wall art

Hero photo mock up

This simple styled photo of a nursery can be adjusted and added to to display wall art for sale.

 

Custom hero photo mock up for stationery

Here is the same photo with artwork, graphics, and text added. The color of the dresser was changed using Photoshop.

Tiffany, owner and designer at Adoren Studio, told us, “I love that you left me a blank slate to create the scenes that make sense for the products. We actually saw a full 1% increase to the conversion rate of our bestselling animal set when we a/b tested our lead photo with Jen’s mock up of the set of 4 against our current one – that’s a big difference! Photos really matter so much and it’s a great reminder to always be tweaking and testing new mock-ups to see how they resonate with our audience.”

View all we did for Adoren Studio in our portfolio »

Visit the Adoren Studio website »

Hiring a photographer to create custom product mockup photos

When you hire Aeolidia to design your logo or website, we can include a photographer, copywriter, marketing consultant, and even help you out with your web stats and MailChimp setup. We aim to make your website highly successful, and that involves a lot of content and marketing strategies.

We would be delighted to do this for you. If you’re curious about the investment, please grab our rate sheet to help with the decision.

Forecasting Return on Investment

Forecasting return on investment ROI for a web design project

How long will it take for your new website to pay for itself? Entering your email address gives you access to our PDF to help you decide if it's the right time for your business to invest in design, as well as our weekly business building emails.

From Brick and Mortar to Online Flagship: How Sugar Paper Gained a Third Store

A custom Shopify redesign for a stationery shop

When you own a thriving brick and mortar shop, it can be easy to think of the role of your website as a supporting player in your business. But what happens when you consider that your online presence can be an extension of your IRL store that is equally important?

We worked on a new web design for Sugar Paper, a Los Angeles-based stationery studio providing luxury, custom letterpress products for all of life’s noteworthy moments. The handmade nature of Sugar Paper’s products lends itself very well to an in-person experience. At their two brick and mortar locations in Brentwood and Newport Beach, customers stop in to browse their collections, hold the paper in their hands, and create custom sets of invitations in their studio.

To keep this experience fresh, co-founders Chelsea and Jamie regularly redecorate and reconfigure the space. By “turning” the store to showcase new products, themes, color stories, seasons, and occasions, Sugar Paper reminds customers of the many things in life worth celebrating.

Sugar Paper brick and mortar location. Photo © Sugar Paper

Sugar Paper brick and mortar location. Photo © Sugar Paper

Sugar Paper production. Photo © Sugar Paper

Sugar Paper production. Photo © Sugar Paper

Sugar Paper's two retail stores. Photo © Sugar Paper

Sugar Paper’s two retail stores. Photo © Sugar Paper

Creating a Blueprint for Your New Online Flagship

Chelsea wanted their new site to have a friendly customer experience that made shopping more joyful. They also hoped to find ways to incorporate storytelling into the customer experience. This story—that their custom stationery is made in-house with a meticulous eye for detail—would be instrumental in inspiring customers to purchase on their site, something that they previously did not have the capability to do.

Before we got to work on the look and feel of the new Sugar Paper site, we carefully planned how it would function. Over internal meetings and lively discussions about which features would most benefit the Sugar Paper business model, we created a wireframe that outlined what exactly the website would do.

To make it easier for customers to make a purchase, our designer Do-Hee shifted the site’s navigation from an informational one to a shopping-focused navigation. Key features included a category that highlights what’s new at Sugar Paper, a main shop menu that features the most relevant collection so that customers can easily find what they’re looking for, and a new Collections feature that helps them shop in a more curated way. This is especially useful during the holidays or a time of year when the shop might want to feature products based on a seasonal theme.

“I tried to think about the different ways that customers shop for stationery and home goods, and presented them in logical and varied ways,” Do-Hee explained.

Custom Shopify design for a stationery store

 

Make Your Invite Space Inviting

With the wireframe in place, Do-Hee shifted gears to design. Her goal was to elevate the sense of storytelling and bring in analog elements to communicate the handmade and human aspect of the brand, all while keeping the vibe of the existing site. This would help new and existing customers alike forge a deeper connection to Sugar Paper.

“Overall, the homepage has a warm, contemporary look and feel that introduces your customers to the world of Sugar Paper and invites them to stay a while,” she said.

The large feature spot below the navigation is where the hero photo truly shines. It showcases a beautiful campaign image, supporting text, and link to shop THE strongest thing Sugar Paper has to offer at any given time. This feature is easily updated so that (just like the brick and mortar shops) the online shop can be regularly “turned” according to seasons and occasions.

It doesn’t stop there. Following an intro that gets to the human element of the brand with brief, but effective copy, we included a section for two “flex marketing spots.”

“We imagine the Sugar Paper team using these spots flexibly to link to the range of content on your website,” Do-Hee said. “You’d be able to swap out the images and text to best suit your content marketing needs.”

Sugar Paper Custom Shopify website for stationery designers

Sugar Paper Custom Shopify website for stationery designers

Now Open: An Additional Location

Take a stroll through Sugar Paper’s new online space to get a feel for how inviting it is. Even with more than 500 products available, the site does not overwhelm. Rather, it intuitively presents visitors with options so they can easily find what they’re looking for, and inspires them to continue browsing along the way.

Sugar Paper inspiration board. Photo © Sugar Paper

Sugar Paper inspiration board. Photo © Sugar Paper

Also inspired? The Sugar Paper team.

“We were so moved by how cohesive the site looks that we have decided to consider it a third store that will be ‘turned’ as well. You have put so many lovely elements in it that we realized pretty quickly that we couldn’t look at it as just a sales site, it is a store and it needs to nurtured and maintained as one. So now, as we move forward with marketing, we will be considering that and keeping that in mind to bring the best we can with content and design to this lovely little spot on the internet.”

View this project in our portfolio »

Are you ready to transform your little spot on the internet into a functional, inspired place that works to drive sales 24/7? Contact us about your new flagship site design!

 

Forecasting Return on Investment

Forecasting return on investment ROI for a web design project

How long will it take for your new website to pay for itself? Entering your email address gives you access to our PDF to help you decide if it's the right time for your business to invest in design, as well as our weekly business building emails.

Trademarking Your Business Name and Other Legal Issues For Small Businesses

Trademarking your business name, and other common legal questions for small businesses

Joey Vitale of Indie Law joined us in our creative business owners’ Facebook group to answer questions about trademarking your business name. Watch the video below to learn more!

Topics covered:

  • An overview of what trademark is and isn’t, and what you can and can’t protect locally and federally
  • What to do if your trademark lapses
  • Why it helps to have an attorney assist with your trademark
  • When to switch from being a sole proprietor to an LLC
  • Liability issues for allergies to products and weight limit testing for handbags
  • What to do if someone copies your website content

Full transcript:

Joey: I’m super excited to be here. I’m an attorney for creative small businesses. I created my law firm, Indie Law, about a year and a half ago, really from the ground up with creative small businesses in mind. We work on the foundational pieces of protection for most small businesses, which is contract language, trademarks, copyrights, LLCs, that kind of thing. So, any questions that you guys have, I’m happy to answer. Real quick disclaimer right out at the beginning. I am a lawyer. I’m not your lawyer, unless I am, which means that I can’t give any legal advice during this and by legal advice, I mean that I can’t really apply the law to your specific situation and tell you what I think you should do with that specific situation. What I can do is try and pull out the general question that you might be asking and answer that as generally as I can so that it helps most of you guys.

Arianne: That is great, because I feel like what we’ve seen with creative businesses is they often get into business because they’re really interested in the products they make or, you know, whatever their particular talent or skill is in designing things and then all of the business stuff kind of comes next. So, figuring out the legal stuff is something that I know is stressful for a lot of people and it’s great to have somebody who not only knows what they’re doing, but understands creative businesses in particular. I feel like, you know, I’m not going to say “special needs” because that sounds a little derogatory, but they’re a little bit different. You know, it’s nice to work with people who totally understand your business and don’t think it’s unusual.

Joey: Yes. For sure.

Arianne: What are the most common things that you feel like creative businesses get stuck on or have questions for you?

Joey: When I have these discovery call sessions that I have a lot of with creatives, usually we talk for a while and then their first real question (and maybe they don’t voice it this way) but it’s, “What will I start with?” Because there are so many kind of layers to the law when you get started as a business. What I like to do is to provide a general framework for, here’s kind of what matters first legally in your business. And then once you get that legal layer covered, then you can move on to the next layer because I think sometimes we tend to get ahead of ourselves and trying to protect parts of our business that haven’t really become assets yet.

Arianne: Yeah, that makes sense and we find that same thing too. There’s so many things that you need to do as a business owner, especially if you’re a sole proprietor, that sometimes you feel like you should do everything at once, somehow. It’s hard to figure out what order to do things in. So, yeah, that’s a good thing to be able to figure out. You know what? This is so cute. I just changed the branding on these videos. I used to have a little A up over my head and now there’s a little crown and if I slide to the side, there, I’m the queen.

Joey: I’m so bummed. I can’t see that from my view.

Arianne: It’s really silly. I think you’ll be able to see it on the replay.

Joey: Okay, good. That’s awesome.

Arianne: Okay, so I notice you talk about this a lot in your Facebook group and Stacy has asked us a question about protecting phrases. So, they have a product where they put phrases on the product. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but for example, maybe a mug that has a saying on it and since they have so many products, it’s going to be expensive to register for a copyright for each one, she says. She wonders if she can just put a TM mark after the phrase and could you tell us a little more about a common law trademark and what we should know there.

Joey: Okay. Okay. So, let’s … I’m going to back up a few steps with that question, because it’s a really good question.

Arianne: Yeah, it’s a big question.

Joey: Just so that everybody who is listening is on the same page about what’s going on here. So, when it comes to phrases that you want to put on an item, the two types of laws that you can think about are copyrights and trademarks. Copyrights protect works of artistic expression and trademarks protect more of the branding side of things. Some people ask, “Can I protect this phrase as a copyright?” Like if I have a … if I put together some type of an image that I put on a shirt and maybe it’s just a plain black background, but it’s like a phrase. At the end of the day, you can’t protect a phrase with copyright law. Copyrights can protect things like books or longer form posts or writings, but they’re not meant to protect really short phrases. That being said, you have to make sure on the copyright side, that you’re not using a phrase that is part of a larger copyrighted work.

Let’s say that you wanted to borrow a line from like a song lyric, you’re starting to enter into a gray territory of whether or not that’s copyright infringement because you’re taking that phrase from a copyrighted work.

And so that’s the copyright side. I didn’t want to ignore that, but let’s go into the trademark because this is where it gets interesting and fun for me, but complicated.

Anything can be a trademark, which is pretty cool. So, what a trademark is, is it’s a source identifier. What I mean by that is when you observe that thing then you think of a specific business behind it. And so, like Starbucks, Target, those are kind of big examples of you hear that brand name and you think of a specific business, but anything can be a trademark. And by anything, I mean it doesn’t have to be visual, so like the … is it like the MGM lion intro with the roar?

Arianne: Yeah.

Joey: That roar is a registered trademark. So, a sound can be a trademark. A smell can be a trademark.

Arianne: You can trademark a smell? That’s fascinating.

Joey: Yeah, it’s very very rare, but Verizon is trying to do it right now. They are applying for a certain scent that they’re starting to put in their stores, so that when people go into the store, they immediately realize that they’re at a Version store. And so, they can …

Arianne: “Smells like Verizon.”

Joey: Weird, right?

Arianne: So weird.

Joey: I say that to really highlight the point that it’s a brand identifier and so when it comes to using an item on … are you putting a phrase on a shirt? The question is, is it existing as a trademark as a source identifier or is it just what the trademark offices calls, ornamental use? And so, something looks more like a brand, for instance, on a shirt if it’s like up here and it’s little and it’s a little slogan or a logo of a bear or something like that and so you think it’s, you know, an Abercrombie shirt or whatever. I don’t know the logo for Abercrombie, so I made up the bear, but that’s more of a brand. If it’s just phrase that’s on a shirt or a mug, there’s less of an argument there that it’s source identification.

And so legally, you putting that phrase on that thing, you’re not really using it as a trademark. Does that make sense?

Arianne: That does, and Stacy has just added that she is interested in trademarking her product names. Is there some quick little bit of advice you can give about that?

Joey: Yeah. Yeah. Let me put a little pin in that and I’ll come right back to it because let me finish where I’m going with this because I want to make sure everybody understands where I’m talking about phrases and then we can talk about common things that seek trademark protections.

The question about can a phrase that I want to make sure that I can use on a mug. You can put a phrase on a mug. Legally, it’s probably not a trademark and I wouldn’t even put that TM there, which shows that you’re trying to use it as a common law trademark. We can talk about the symbols of trademarks in just a little bit. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself here, but there’s a difference between legally what’s a trademark and practically right now what people are thinking are trademarks and so the two things you have to think about are, am I obeying the law or doing things that are giving me legal protections? And then on the other hand, am I entering into a minefield of people who can get upset with me?

The unfortunate reality right now is there are people who are trying to register for trademarks that they are using ornamentally. For whatever reason, they’ve been able to kind of, sneak by with the reviewing attornies at the trademark office and so maybe they just have an application for a trademark, maybe they have a registered trademark and they’re now using that mark to prevent people from using phrases ornamentally. Legally, there’s not really merit to that argument, but practically, you know, it can just be a real headache for a creative business owner to be inundated with Cease & Desist letters and infringement reports.

It becomes less of a legal question and more of a business question of, “do I want to enter or continue to be in this space where there could be all of these legal battles?”” Where it might be a strategic business decision to pivot away from phrased based items.

Arianne: Yeah, I’ve heard that people try and get each other’s Etsy shops shut down and all kinds of crazy stuff like that. You know, being on either side of that doesn’t sound very pleasant. Being the person trying desperately to protect a phrase that you can’t protect or being the person trying to use a phrase somebody else is trying to protect.

Joey: Exactly. Some people are trying, and I get it. You come up … maybe you come up with a phrase that you think is cool and kind of trendy and so you apply for a trademark on it and all of a sudden it does, you know, trend and maybe there are hashtags around it. It’s really really difficult to enforce and maintain the rights to a trademark in a popular phrase because the more popular it becomes, the less, the weaker your argument is that there’s that source identification.

Arianne: Right. That makes sense. Okay. How interesting.

Joey: Yeah. It is interesting. So, back to the question about product names. When people ask me, “Hey Joey, I’m building, you know, some type of a retail business, what do I trademark?” Typically, the order is first, you want to get a registered trademark for the name of your business because you don’t want anybody to tell you, you know, “Here’s a Cease & Desist letter. I have already been using this name before you. You have to change yours.” It’s really helpful to play defense with registered trademarks to, kind of, put a stake in the ground and say, “I don’t want anybody else to ever tell me that I can’t use this name.” So, generally, I recommend getting a registered trademark for your business name first and then either a slogan associated with your business or like Stacy said with product lines, product lines are a big way to seek trademark protections. Again, the goal there is you’re doing it because they’re source identification there. When people hear about that product line, they think that you’re the business behind it.

Arianne: Okay and then how do you feel about Stacy instead of officially trademarking it, putting the TM next to it and hoping for the common law trademark? Is that a really risky thing to do?

Joey: Yeah. So, let’s … yeah, great question. When it comes to the symbols, you can … there’s the circle R, which is reserved for a trademark that’s registered and then there’s a little TM symbol you can use to show common law trademark rights or if you’re not actually selling a good, but you’re selling a service, technically, you should be putting a little SM instead of a TM because you’ve got a service mark not a trademark.

Here is the issue with common law trademark rights is that the moment that you start using a brand in commerce or the moment that you start having source identification for anything in commerce, you have a common law trademark, which means that you have exclusive rights to use that regionally.

The problem with that is that most businesses right now are selling across the US.

And so even with that little TM or that SM, that might be helpful to practically minimize the chance of other people using it, but without a registered trademark, you don’t have federal exclusive rights to use it, which means that another company in another state or even within the same state, but far enough away from you can use the same or a similar mark.

Arianne: Okay and even if their business is a competitor and people could be confused, that’s all fine if they’re in a different state?

Joey: Correct, with a common law.

Arianne: Okay, but not if you’ve registered it?

Joey: Yeah and so let’s back up a little bit because some people will tell me, “Hey Joey, I want to work with you because I want to trademark my business name.” I understand what they’re saying there, but I want to unpack and kind of be a little annoying fifth-grade grammar teacher here because you don’t trademark your business name by having it registered at the federal level. A trademark exists as soon as you start using that brand in commerce, as soon as you start selling a good or a service associated with that brand in commerce. Again, the common law trademark applies right away. You don’t have to do anything for it.

So, when you’re wanting a registered trademark, you’re not wanting to trademark your business name, you’re wanting to get exclusive rights on a federal level for your trademark.

Arianne: Okay. Okay, that makes sense. I have one related trademark question, then we’re going to move to something else. Jaime says she trademarked her business name in 2004 and she accidentally let it lapse last year. What does she have to do to get reinstated?

Joey: There’s not an easy answer to that. There might be some things that we can do, but I would talk with an attorney because yeah and that’s another … let’s talk about some reasons why it’s helpful to have an attorney help you with this. Reason number one is there are the application is not really beginner friendly and there are questions that they’re asking and a lot of red font and in all caps saying, “Are you absolutely sure that what you just wrote down is correct?” So, it can be kind of scary and there’s just a lot of room for error in it and so an attorney can help you do it the right way and in a strategic way.

The second kind of hidden reason, but a lot of people don’t realize this, if you apply for a registered trademark on your own without an attorney helping you, then your contact information is made public on the database. And what happens is you will start receiving spam mail from people who now have your contact information and they’ve gotten really good and what they’re now doing is they’re sending you letters that look like it’s coming from the trademark office telling you that you need to pay them more money for your application or for your mark. I’ve actually had clients who are now coming to me because they’ve fallen victim to those spam traps.

Arianne: Oh, no. That is no fun.

Joey: Yeah, so that’s kind of the hidden and really once you realize that that’s an option, you know, having all that spam mail come to me instead of you can be a really kind of peace of mind thing. But going back to her concern there, yeah, a lot of people maybe they get through the application process and they get their registered trademark, but they don’t … maybe they actually did the application wrong and it’s not protecting what they think it’s protecting or they don’t understand there are enforcement and maintenance requirements. It’s really really important to understand how to maintain it, how to enforce it because you can lose it and if you lose it can typically be a long an expensive process to get it back.

Arianne: Okay. Yeah, that doesn’t sound fun. Sorry about that Jaime. I hope you can get some good help for that. Okay, so shifting gears quite a bit here. Lisa is wondering when she should switch from being a sole proprietor to an LLC to protect her business?

Joey: Great question. I get that question a lot and I have a different perspective on it than I think other attornies and I’ll tell you why. I went to a small business associate meeting a couple of months ago and there was actually an attorney that was speaking on the issue. I was just there, and somebody asked that same question, they said, “I’m a sole proprietor. When should I form an LLC?” And he said, “Well, the first thing you have to do is think about, you know, the type of business that you’re in. If it’s pretty low risk, you’re probably okay as a sole proprietor.” He kind of gave that piece and then a business mentor spoke up and said, “Hey, if I can just, for a minute, kind of respond to that. I, as a mentor, have given that advice to businesses before and I’ve heard back from some of them that they have still gotten sued and so I, as a business mentor, have learned the hard way that there’s really no such thing as a low-risk business anymore.”

Arianne: Okay. That’s good to know.

Joey: So, my response is as soon as you can budget doing it … I don’t want to get too salesy on this call, but we do have two different ways that we can help clients get an LLC. One is a full, kind of, LLC formation package where we do everything on your behalf. We have a light version of that package, which is half off where we tell you what steps you can do yourself and then we come in and do the remaining steps. So, that’s a really great option if you are kind of leaning toward the direction of wanting to form an LLC, but there are certain steps to it that aren’t rocket science.

We’re happy to do it for you, if you want us to, whether you’re busy or you’re just aren’t too comfortable with technology and what it’s asking, but we really have enjoyed our kind of half-price offering because then we can steer people in the right direction and then make sure that they’ve got everything set up the right way moving forward. The other important thing about an LLC is, you know, legally, it separates your personal assets from your business’s assets, which means that knock on wood, if anything ever happened to you, if anybody sued you, they would only be able to go after the assets that are owned by the business. So, your car would be safe, your house would be safe, that kind of thing.

But, I’ve actually found that forming an LLC goes beyond just that legal separation because as you can probably attest to Arianne, having a separation between business and personal is super super important. And just a mindset shift of my business is a completely separate thing than myself is a really healthy thing to start doing. So, having a separate bank account, being able to turn off for the day, which is something that I still struggle with.

Arianne [joking]: Is that possible?

Joey: Right, but it’s just a really really, you know, as businesses that are growing, it’s just something that I think that every business should do and it’s something that I think that people should be really honest with themselves because sometimes people come to me and they’re asking for a more high-end service offering that we offer, like a trademark or something. And then I’ll ask them, “Hey, have you formed an LLC?” And they’re like, “Oh, no. We’re not really like there yet.” And I’m like, wait a minute. If you think that you’re there to get a trademark protection, but you don’t think that you are needing an LLC yet, we might want to revisit what these priorities are for you.

Arianne: Yeah, I agree. We became an LLC so long ago, I don’t remember anything about it, but I don’t remember it being super daunting. I don’t think it’s as hard or scary as people think it is. It’s a pretty straightforward simple process, especially if you have help. And having my business completely separate from my personal stuff is my favorite thing.

Joey: Yeah.

Arianne: It’s really good.

Joey: Yeah.

Arianne: I have two questions that are somewhat related. These are both kind of about liability issues. We have one person who sells lotions and massage oils, and she is concerned about allergic reactions and then we also have somebody who makes bags, and she says that they carry up to 30 pounds, but she’s wondering what her liability is if one of her bag straps breaks or something like that. A whole lot of issues there.

Joey: Yeah. So, interesting questions. There’s not a whole lot that I can respond to there, except for that some of that you can address in contractual language. Whether you are having your customers or contract actually sign a contract with you or if you’re in this group it’s more than likely that you have like a terms of use at the bottom of your site. You can have terms in that terms of use that addresses the situation. If they agree to certain things under a contract basis, then you can say, “Hey, you agreed in the contract that you either waived liability in this sense.” Or whatever.

There are other sets of layers of protections for your business that go beyond the law that I can’t really speak to. When it comes to things like safety and compliance, that’s really outside my wheelhouse, but there are some really great Facebook communities, if you guys are interested that are all about product testing. The big name that I’m seeing everywhere is Misty Henry Product Consulting.

Arianne: Okay.

Joey: She has a really large group called US Safety and Compliance.

Arianne: Okay, that’s good to know. And then when you said that a contract might be helpful, would that also work for an eCommerce site if it was in the terms of purchase or do you need to be more direct and right in your customer’s face about something like that.

Joey: Sure, sure. So, yeah you can have it in terms and this is probably something where you can kind of educate me a little bit on Arianne, but when it comes to sites like Shopify, to an extent Shopify has a set of terms that people agree too. You can also have your own additional layer of terms that you’re saying that your buyers are agreeing too.

Arianne: Yeah, you can write your own terms and I believe you could also set it up so someone has to check a box to agree to specific terms, so if you were concerned that could be an extra thing that you did there.

Joey: Yeah. The check a box function … if you can’t get it in writing, you really want to make sure that they can never argue that like stuff was hidden in the fine print. Any step that you can take to where they say that they agree that they’ve read it and reviewed it, even if they don’t. We’ve all been there. We’ve all downloaded, you know, our phone download that said like, you have to agree to these before we give you the new release and we don’t actually scroll through it.

Arianne: Okay. Okay, cool.

Joey: When it comes to insurance, that’s outside of my wheelhouse really, but whether and to what extent your business can and should get insurance is something that I found you can get a pretty good answer through by going to score.org and getting a free score mentor and then telling him about your business.

Arianne: Okay, that sounds like a good idea. We have just a couple of minutes left here and a huge meaty question that you don’t have time to answer.

Joey: Okay.

Arianne: But, maybe you could very quickly speak about what to do if somebody copies your photos on your website?

Joey: I do have a blog post on this that I can link up to. You want to be careful. There’s a set of steps that you can take. The first thing you want to make sure is that all of your communications with that person, if you do reach out to communicate with them are in writing in some way. No phone calls. You want to play good cop before you play bad cop. They might be new business owners who don’t really understand the fact that what they’re doing is wrong. Yeah, there’s … I’ll attach the blog post because it’s easier for I think me to just give you guys that list than to try and walk through it now because it is kind of a case by case situation.

The one thing that you want to be careful of, people don’t realize this, but I wanted to highlight it is don’t get too Cease & Desist letter sending happy. Because what a lot of people don’t realize is if I sent a Cease & Desist letter your way Arianne, to tell you to stop doing something, yeah, my letter that I send to you might say like if you don’t stop this, I’m going to sue you. But, me sending you a letter like that, actually gives you the right to start a lawsuit.

Arianne: Oh, yeah.

Joey: And so, you can file a lawsuit in your state, meaning I have to then have to come to you and you start what’s called a lawsuit for a declaratory judgment

Arianne: Oh, that doesn’t sound fun.

Joey: Yeah. So, don’t get too legal happy on sending out these accusations of things because it does give the other person the triggered right then to start their own lawsuit. Before you send that Cease & Desist letter officially, you might want to chat with an attorney to just kind of, get a sense of your situation. What they think you should do.

Arianne: Yeah. That makes good sense. I’m a big proponent of going is as good cop in pretty much every situation, first. No reason to start out as bad cop.

Joey: Yeah.

Arianne: Okay, that’s great Joey. It looks like we did it. Can you let us know where we can find you in case we have other questions?

Joey: Yeah. For sure. You can go to indielaw.com is my website. I’ve got a number on there that you can call or text if you’d like. I also have a Facebook group called The Friends of Indie Law and it’s an interesting group. We do a lot of legal talk in there, but I understand that for a lot of creatives, you know, the law is only one of the many plates that you’re juggling and trying to think about and so I’m trying to use this group as a way of collectively maintaining momentum for the members. So, asking questions, prompting conversations that are allowing everybody to kind of focus on what matters in their business because as a creative, it’s so easy to get sucked into the fun stuff of the reason why we started and sometimes we have to be real with ourselves about, is the time that we’re spending even though we are enjoying it, is that really what’s the revenue generating part of the business?

Arianne: Yeah. That’s so good. I’ve been in your group for a little while and I really love it. You posted something a couple days ago about is this a ten times activity I’m doing or a ten percent? And that’s just what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I sent that out in my newsletter this morning.

Joey: Yeah, I saw that too in your email and I, you know, it’s actually been amazing. I had a 10x meeting with my team yesterday and it was awesome. We spent an hour … if anybody who has a team, even if you just have a VA, I highly recommend this. Put aside an hour and have some type of icebreaker that just kind of gets their creative juices flowing and then for a half an hour, just have everybody write down as many ideas as they can that might help the business.

Arianne: Yeah. That’s great.

Joey: And then you just go through them one by one and say, “Is this a 10x idea or a 10% idea?”

Arianne: Right. I love that so much. I feel like I need a reset on that a lot because sometimes I’ll be in 10x mode and months will pass and I realize all I’m doing is 10% stuff.

Joey: Right. Well and it’s such a … I’m really glad that it resonated with you because, you know, somebody sent a similar message to me and it got me thinking. You know, we as creatives, we have limited time to work on our businesses and I think it’s a really really powerful reminder to think about what you’re doing and really being honest with yourself about is this something that is going … that should be something I’m prioritizing right now.

Arianne: Yeah, make every moment count.

Joey: Exactly.

Arianne: Okay, that is great Joey. Thanks so much for joining us.

Joey: Thank you guys. This was great.

Should You Offer a Discount as an Opt-In Incentive?

Should you give discounts in your online shop?

So we’ve been talking a bit on our blog about getting people on your newsletter, getting them to shop on your site after finding you on social media, etc. It’s all about your call to action. Danielle of the The Merriweather Council joined us in our creative business owners’ Facebook group to answer questions about to talk about adding value rather than offering discounts. We talk about why discounts aren’t always the best option for opt-ins, what can be used as a value add instead, and why what you offer matters to your future relationship with your customers.

Topics covered:

  • What the heck is an opt-in?
  • Why people start with discounts
  • Timing your opt-in offer
  • Nurturing customers who will pay full price
  • Why big businesses can get away with discounting and you can’t
  • Making your customers feel like VIPs
  • Limiting availability of offers
  • The right reasons to do a sale
  • Thinking of more creative opt-ins

Full transcript:

Arianne: Hi everybody. We are here this morning with Danielle of the Merriweather Council, who has lots of great info on helping you with your Etsy shop and getting a handcrafted business up and running and playing with the big boys. And I’m going to let her introduce herself a bit and explain a bit more what Merriweather Council does, and then today we are going to be talking about your opt-in offers and why maybe making it a discount or percentage off is not your very best option. So Danielle, tell us a little bit about yourself, and we can get rolling.

Danielle: Well, thank you for having me, first of all. I’m so excited to be here. I’m Danielle from the Merriweather Council. I am the Chief Bossypants/Head Honcho over there. At the Merriweather Council, I have a product-based business and a service-based business that run side by side. So I’ve been a maker in business for the past eight years, and I also am a supporter of makers in business through my blog and podcasts, and I work to achieve my ideal world vision, which is that arts and craftsmen and artisans are not a novelty, but just part of everyday life for us, and the more people that I can empower to share their work and sell their work with confidence, the closer I get to my ideal world vision. So I’m so excited to be able to help people move past some of the hurdles that I experienced in my business, and just share best practices and training to get more people to do what they love and modicize their crafty tendencies.

Arianne: I love that. Small business world domination. Let’s do it. I am totally with you. We are going to take questions during the live video, and if you’re watching this later, it’s always fine to leave a comment or question, and we will go ahead and follow up whenever we can. So let’s talk about opt-ins. First of all, what the heck is an opt-in?

Danielle: An opt-in, I feel like product sellers get confused with words like “opt-ins” and “content” because they feel very like for bloggers or service providers. But content is really just anything you’re publishing, and opt-ins are basically incentives to get people to do something. To join your group, to subscribe to your list, or whatever. You’re going to give them … You want to give them something that makes it so they want to do it. They’re just like, “Oh, I can’t miss it. I’ve gotta join, opt-in, whatever,” and a lot of times we see this in the service space world with bloggers and infopreneurs that have free worksheets or free eBooks or something, and then product sellers are like, “I get it, but what am I going to offer?” And the first natural thing to think of offering to get people to take that action that you want them to is, “Oh, I’ll give them a discount on my product.”

Arianne: Right. Seems simple enough.

Danielle: It’s a very natural thought process, and like I get it. But if we really unpack it, it maybe doesn’t make as much sense as we want it to.

Arianne: Yeah. So, my pet peeve lately is when we’re setting up the site for a client and we ask them what they want the newsletter opt-in to say, and they’re like, “I don’t know, sign up for news and discounts?” And I’m just like, “Oh, no no no no.” At least do something more specific, and hopefully do something more interesting. So I’d love to hear some ideas from you. Well, before we think about ideas of how to do it right, let’s talk about the dangers of doing it wrong. I’d love to hear more about that.

Danielle: Sure. So of course, everything, all advice, should be taken with a grain of salt, obviously, and filtered through the lens of your own business. So this isn’t like a blanket statement, this is just things to think about, things to be aware of before you make a decision. From my perspective, a small business offering a discount opt-in is usually more detrimental than it is worthwhile. What happens is, someone’s on your site, and you’ve probably done a decent amount of work to get them there, because that’s the thing that people always want to know, is how do I drive traffic to my site. So you’re out there hustling to get people to your site, and then bam, as soon as they get there a lot of times the timing is off, too. As soon as they get there, they’re faced with the option to discount your product.

Arianne: Yep.

Danielle: Immediately. Before they’ve even seen it, usually, or before they’ve even explored it. They maybe saw it from Instagram, just like a still shot or whatever. They haven’t read the description, they haven’t seen all of your hard work that you put into your site, probably. So right off the bat, they’re faced with the option to discount your product. So to me, that doesn’t make a lot of sense at all, because you’ve done all this hard work to get people there and to put your product together and to create a product that makes sense and is marketable and profitable, and now you’ve gone ahead and discounted it. Whereas, the people who’ve made it to your site are like the most likely to purchase something. If they’ve come from somewhere else, they’re like already on the right track to purchasing, and you’ve put this hurdle in front of them for you. I mean, for them it’s like, “Okay, great.” But for you, it’s like all that hard work you did to convert a customer has just been like reduced.

Arianne: Yeah.

Danielle: So yeah, it bothers me when I see that, because like I said, a lot of times people, the timing, especially, is off because it’s immediate. The pop-up comes up immediately or is across the top of the site. It’s like one of the first things you see because people sometimes even prioritize those opt-ins over sales. But for me, I think we should let the people who have arrived as the result of our hard work explore our items and make decisions about whether they want to buy them at full price before we go ahead and start offering all these discounts up front. It just doesn’t make sense, if we think about it that way. You know, we’re all out there hustling really hard to get people to our site and to make sales, and then we go ahead and reduce our own value right off the bat. For anybody. For anybody who lands on the site.

Arianne: Let’s talk about timing a little bit, because I think people got so used to just being slapped in the face with a pop-up whenever they hit an ecommerce site now that it’s like you’re almost ready with that fly swatter the second you go to a new site. Sometimes you don’t even read what the opt-in is. I’d love to hear more about what you think about when people should ask people to opt-in.

Danielle: I think that it’s usually best to have some sort of stagnant opt-in, you know, join our newsletter or like, get updates or whatever. Something that’s always there, but maybe not the first thing that you see. Let people sort of naturally come about it in a place where they’ve already seen a decent selection of things or they know they want to subscribe and know more rather than it’s the first thing they see, and it’s like, they don’t even have any context for what this might even be.

Arianne: I know, it’s like I don’t know if I want a discount yet. I’m not even sure where I am.

Danielle: I don’t even know what you would be sending me information about right now, you know? So if there could be like across the footer or even in the header, just something really general or that offers some other type of value rather than the discount. But for me, even there’s a lot of … on Etsy, you can do this. I’m sure there are apps that you could do this with Shopify or WooCommerce, where after someone places an order, they get an automatic coupon to apply to their next order.

Arianne: Oh yeah?

Danielle: Which also doesn’t usually make a lot of sense, because the person hasn’t even received their first item yet.

Arianne: They don’t know if they’re happy.

Danielle: Exactly. It’s almost like, “Oh, I could have had this for a discount to begin with, almost.” You know, it’s like I just paid full price, and now I could have had it for a discount, and also, the person who paid full price is like the ideal person, but we just deteriorated our relationship with that person who paid full price by offering them a discount. Why would we not want that person to come back and pay full price again, or at least follow along with us and wait for any promos we might do throughout the year, to be an engaged member of the community and to be following. You know, there’s a difference between someone who’s consistently following along with you, who purchases, who follows along and engages throughout the year, and someone who purchases and then grabs their discount.

Arianne: Yeah. And you know that person is like they understand your value and they’re willing to pay for it.

Danielle: Exactly.

Arianne: Why go ahead and ruin that?

Danielle: We want to nurture those full-price payers, not deteriorate our relationship with them.

Arianne: Let’s talk a bit about the kind of people that you start to see on your mailing list if you do offer discounts.

Danielle: I’ve never offered an opt-in discount, so I can’t say for absolute sure, but I’ve been the person who opts in for the discount, and then usually from bigger chain stores like Express or Gap or whatever, you know? And then I just wait for the discounts to come, because I know they’re coming. So some of these businesses have established themselves in like sort of this cycle of every Tuesday and Thursday, we’re sending you a coupon for something. Whatever it is that you want to buy, just wait a couple days and it’ll be on sale. So as a consumer, I’ve definitely been the person who’s like, I’ve opted in for the discount, now I’ve established that I don’t have to pay full price here, so I won’t. I will wait until the next discount for the next thing I want to buy.

Arianne: Yeah.

Danielle: There’s really, in some ways, you could argue that it’s fine to have people who will consistently buy at a discount, but how many of us small scale businesses are creating that many new products that people can come back to buy over and over at a discount to make it worth our while? You know what I mean?

Arianne: Right. It’s hard for a small business to be a discount business.

Danielle: Exactly. And some businesses certainly do operate on volume to begin with, like people who sell soap or cards, that is a volume-based business, but how much does a person really need that often? And you know, you really want to weigh the factors of your own business. Which is kind of why I said in the beginning you definitely want to filter all of this through the lens of your own business, but it’s really something to think about. Can you consistently be putting out fresh things over and over that people have a reason to buy? Especially if you’re going to be doing discounting. To me, it’s more valuable to run a few sales to your followers, to your list, to the people who are engaged with you throughout the year than to just put out these blanket coupons to everybody who comes through the door.

Arianne: Right. And Erin says, “That’s interesting. I think big brands have conditioned small businesses into this mode of thinking,” and that reminds me of a conversation I had with, I believe Nicole from Dear Handmade Life, and I talked about this. When you see big retailers doing discounts and sales and that kind of stuff, they’re not just doing it willy-nilly. They’re doing it because they have stock to get rid of, or like a particular reason that it makes financial sense for them to discount something. They’re not just doing it because it’s Wednesday or because it’s Sunday or anything like that. They have a real reason to do it, and usually it’s stuff that they were thinking was going to be hard to sell anyway.

Danielle: Exactly. They have the infrastructure to support running these sales consistently. Like, I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty positive that all these bigger businesses have teams of people who are operating research and development and customers and all this stuff, and they know what they’re doing because they have this infrastructure to support all of that that goes into the thought process. But most of us, it’s just us and maybe one other person. So we’re just kind of looking for clues from around our environment, and obviously as small businesses, we want to look at big businesses for clues about what to do, but also about what not to do or sort of how we can switch things to work for us better in our small business capacity. But these big businesses like Target and Amazon, they have infrastructure that supports their pricing. It’s like part of the thing, it’s just part of what they’re doing. And for most of us, that’s not what we have.

Arianne: Yeah. And I like to think of this from a branding standpoint, as well, because if the main thing you’re competing on is price, that is just a race to the bottom and it’s going to get frustrating really quickly. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find something about your business that is more valuable than things are cheap. Things are cheap isn’t the thing you want people to know about you. Let’s kind of shift around and talk about the right way to start doing an opt-in, or how you could think of something more creative, better for your business, better for your relationship with your customer. What do you see out there that is a good solution?

Danielle: I’ve definitely seen some examples of people being able to offer an increase in value rather than a discount. Nobody feels that things are overpriced to begin with, unless the whole experience feels like it was out of whack. You know, like if I’m paying full price for something, but every step of the way it was easy and enjoyable, that’s great. I feel almost like I got a bargain in some ways, if the experience was really great, and the price was reasonable. Right?

Arianne: Yeah.

Danielle: But for people to incentivize opt-ins, I think first, just having your product and your storefront and your brand really cohesive and on point and easy to navigate, people will naturally go ahead and be like, “I’m into what I’m seeing here. Let me go ahead and ask for more of it.” If you can offer extra of what you’re already doing, or let’s stay in touch. For some people, that’s enough. Because we’re so inundated with information streaming through every outlet, sometimes it’s nice to be like, “Oh, I’m selecting this one entity that I want direct, they come to me. I don’t have to go to them.”

Arianne: Yeah.

Danielle: For some people, that is enough of an incentive.

Arianne: And I prefer that you spend your time and effort making your business seem worth it than spending time and effort just crumbling down what you’ve been building.

Danielle: Yeah. Convincing you to buy something because it’s finally on sale, you know, whatever. And then I’ve seen people, like you know Abby Glassenberg. Her newsletter is basically like news. It’s like an old-timey newsletter in the sense that it’s basically an aggregation of what’s going on in the industry related to the people that are subscribed to her list, things that people would be interested in knowing about. So it’s almost like Abby did the work for me. I get to have my news aggregate come to my inbox, and then of course she works her own products in there, her own podcast, blog, whatever. So it’s almost like there’s definitely ways to provide value without discounting.

I’ve also seen people do VIP groups or VIP newsletters so you get access to something first, you get password protected content, or things like that. Depending on your business, obviously. Some people do have like an educational tie-in, so they do workshops or patterns or things like that, and that’s usually an easier convert, like an easier way to sort of see the connection.

Arianne: Yeah. We have clients that will let you see the new collection before other people get to. Or you get to shop some limited edition something, something like that.

Danielle: You can offer different colors or a special stone or whatever related to your business. Or if you have … I know one of my students, she does collections, and she releases them like you said, first to the list, and sometimes there’s none left by the time they get to the public.

Arianne: Right.

Danielle: So that’s incentive, too. It’s like I want to have first dibs at something.

Arianne: That fear of missing out.

Danielle: Yeah. There’s lots of ways to generate FOMO, and increase the value of staying in touch, but it really, I think starts with putting something out that entices people to begin with.

Arianne: Yeah.

Danielle: If people are enticed enough to come to your site, then on your site you can just entice them even more to want more.

Arianne: Right. And we’ve seen people have good success with things like offering free shipping or like a free gift that comes along. So you’re adding something or you’re discounting something that’s not your product. You’re making shipping free. That’s not a shocking thing to do, and it doesn’t devalue your product, but it does get people excited, especially if there’s a limited time that you’re offering free shipping or the free gift or extra add-on product, or whatever it is you decide to do.

Danielle: Yeah. I think that’s a huge part of it is limiting the availability of whatever. Either it’s time-wise or quantity-wise, because free shipping is a really good incentive. But if you’re always offering free shipping on everything, that sort of takes that incentive off the table for holidays or whatever. You know, usually people will do free shipping at like Christmastime or whatever. So you want to consider that, too. If you’re constantly offering one thing, that really makes it harder to offer something in the future limited-time.

Arianne: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, it might be good as you’re deciding how you’re going to structure your pricing and your shipping and all that, you might want to think, “Am I tying my hands for my future offers, or is this something that is a good idea to do year round?” And it’ll be different for different businesses. Like, a lot of people will have a free shipping threshold. Like it’ll be free over $50.00 so then you can offer free for any type of order. You can offer that to your mailing list.

Danielle: Right. No minimum purchase, yeah.

Arianne: Right. So what kinds of sales and promotions and things do you see on social media or Instagram that you think maybe are not such a good idea, and then maybe we could come up with some that look like a good thing to do. I guess I’m thinking, how do you get people, aside from when people are on your site and you know they’re interested, what kind of offers do you want to give people who don’t really know who you are yet and maybe just happen to cross you on social media? How do you get people interested?

Danielle: I think that I’ve definitely seen really creative promotions that people run. Just like “Oh, this week I’m doing a special” or whatever, and I don’t usually have a problem with occasional sales. I think the bigger issue for handmade people is that they’re underpricing to begin with, their pricing needs work, but if you want to run just like a temporary or traditional, we’re having a sale this week, I think the important thing for the seller is obviously to make it enticing to the person, but to make it mutually beneficial.

So, if I’m going to run a sale, it’s because I want to make a certain amount of money fast or I want to get rid of something fast or get something, just move on from it, or use up supply on something. And that’s beneficial to me, even if I’m not making as much money. Obviously you’re not because it’s on sale, but you’re freeing up brand space or physical space, and that has value to me, right? So I think it just has to be mutually beneficial for the seller and the buyer when there is a sale. Even if the sale is really big and it feels like, “What am I doing, here?” But it’s going to give you freedom or money or time or space back, then that has value to you. But in terms of getting people interested, I’ve definitely seen some creative things.

One thing that people I’ve seen do a few times is like scavenger hunts, where you have to go looking. I feel like that kind of takes too long … Like, to send somebody, I know most of the people in this community use Instagram pretty heavily, and to send someone off Instagram, usually from their phone on a scavenger hunt is like it’s too cumbersome. You really want to think about how people are accessing, where you’re posting it, and the process that people go through to access that. Is it mobile? Is it desktop? What are the inconsistencies of those things or the conundrums of those things, because that really changes how people are … people get fatigued after like four clicks, you know?

Arianne: Yeah.

Danielle: So you really want to make it easy for people to take advantage of what you’re offering.

Arianne: I think if it was hard, you’re only going to get your super-fans to do it, anyway, and if you’re trying to attract a new audience, you don’t really want to make that hard.

Danielle: Right. You want to make it as easy as possible. Even on … I mean, maybe you know actually, because you know more about Shopify than I do, but Shopify doesn’t ask you for that coupon code until the very end of the process. Like, if you’re paying with PayPal, you’ve already put in your stuff and it shows you a different total and it throws people off. So I’ve stopped offering coupons and just reduced the price upfront to whatever it is, because people got so confused by like it’s not taking my coupon.

Arianne: I think that’s just a PayPal process. I think if you offer direct credit card payments, the coupon is a little more approachable.

Danielle: I think so, too. You really want to think through the customer process, too, because again, four clicks and people are like, “I’m over it.” Especially on a phone or they just want to get back to their Instagram scrolling or whatever. So I think making it as easy as possible for them to take advantage of what you are offering is probably the number one thing to make sure. Unless it’s like a real big, big incentive.

Arianne: Yeah. I like the idea of … It seems to me like if your first thing you want to do is discounting, that’s just sort of a desperate move there. I would rather than discount, I would rather just take some time to get creative and think of ways to just drive more traffic to your site, make your site more appealing, make sure you’re showing your product off with beautiful photography. You don’t want to talk your customers into buying from you, right?

Danielle: Right.

Arianne: You want them to be so excited they’re just like, “I have to add this to my cart. I have to buy this right now.” So discounting doesn’t really go along the path there unless, like you said, it’s mutually beneficial.

Danielle: Yeah. You always want to make it like, “Okay yes, I’m offering a discount, but I’m getting something out of it. But also, it’s not forever and ever.” It’s not like a never-ending discount can apply to anything. But on your terms, this is what we’re doing this week. Take advantage of it if you want. If not, that’s fine, but these are my terms for this.

Arianne: Yeah. Do you have any thoughts on a more creative newsletter opt-in for a product-based business like for example, if you sell jewelry having some guide to gemstones or something like that. Do you find that if you give information to customers, is that something they want, or would you really prefer to just have them in the shopping mindset, not the learning mindset?

Danielle: Well, I think that some products definitely could benefit from educating people up front more about them, and that could potentially influence sales. So like, if you have a product that maybe could benefit from some kind of durability video or show people how strong it is or how it works if people aren’t sure what to do with it, anything like that. But sometimes those things are best like on the site to begin with.

Arianne: Yeah.

Danielle: There’s nothing saying you can’t repeat yourself, you know. Sometimes people need that, where they’re not going to see it on your site for whatever reason, so it’s nice to put it in an email. But I think, depending on the product and the audience, there’s definitely ways to create little opt-in freebies that wouldn’t be a huge hassle. I like to think of things that are complimentary to the product. So, if you offer I don’t know, let’s say like little kid toys, maybe you can offer some kind of like complimentary item that goes with that that you can print and use with the toy, or it’s like a little play set. Something complimentary to the product is usually good. Or something that, like you said, educates them about the product before they buy it so that they’re more likely to buy it. Anything like that, and it really depends on the product. But I think that there’s a lot of pressure on product sellers to create these opt-ins, but maybe they don’t even really necessarily need them.

Arianne: Yeah.

Danielle: It’s just about making everything so interesting to begin with that people just want more of it. But it could be a video behind the scenes, like more about the product or the business. I think it depends on who you are and what you’re selling, but there’s definitely other ways to do this than just offering discounts.

Arianne: Right. Ten things you didn’t know about embroidery. Sign up now.

Danielle: Yeah, it really depends who’s reading it and what kind of people do you want to nurture. Not necessarily who do you want to reach more of, but who do you want from the people you reached, who do you want to nurture from that group of people?

Arianne: Yeah. So I think we’ve got some people wondering, if I can’t say “discounts” on my opt-in, how in the world am I going to convince people to enter their email address and click submit? Right?

Danielle: Right.

Arianne: We like to think of a more specific offer. So, what do you think, what have you seen that you really feel like, “Oh yeah. I definitely have to enter my email address here.” What do you think works really well for a smaller product-based business?

Danielle: Well, I’ve seen a ton of product-based businesses, obviously more so maybe than the average person because I work with them. And I think for me, it’s really like I’m interested in the person and what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, or I just want to know more about maybe even the materials they’re using. Why are they using these materials instead of those materials, or how did they get into this in the first place? Or this is a really interesting product, how could it apply to my life? Like, I want to buy this, but I don’t really know what I’d use it for.

Arianne: Yeah, so you might want to sign up for behind the scenes sneak peaks, or in the studio information, or maybe even upcoming events or shows?

Danielle: Yeah, events for sure, or if the person has that sort of educational spin or aspect of their business, sometimes that’s encouraging to me. Even though I work mostly with finished product sellers, I do have several supply sellers who I work with, and they are pretty good with that educational spin or like, “Here’s this project you could use this item for.” Or sew-alongs. Anything like that is really fun and engaging. I think you want to think about yourself as a consumer, too. It’s really easy to forget that we are consumers and we are engagers in the world. Like what do we like? What do we react to? And you don’t have to get married to this thing. You can change it. It’s not one and done.

But I think really, some people it is enough to offer them that direct access. Like, I will come to you. You don’t have to wait for Instagram to show my post to you. I’m going to come to you on this day at this time, and you’re not going to miss a thing. I’m going to always keep you in the loop, like that promise of exclusivity I think is a really good one. Especially right now, because there’s so much content floating around and coming at us all the time. I mean yes, even in your inbox, but I think people are more selective about what they allow in their inbox as to what they allow in their feed.

Arianne: Right. Which is why we don’t just want to give them a lame dud of a call to action. We want to give them a reason to commit to letting us into their inbox.

Danielle: Right. And it’s also more like quality versus quantity, too. You can have 8,000 people on your list, but if only they’re ever going to do anything when you give them 50% off, what good is that?

Arianne: Right. You’d rather have a smaller list.

Danielle: You’d rather have them on the list and then eventually give them a discount, rather than they’re just on this list waiting for a discount. But you know, it does depend who you are and what you’re selling.

Arianne: Yeah. Erica says she often opts in because she can’t buy right at the moment, but she doesn’t want to forget about the brand. So that’s a good thing to keep in mind.

Danielle: Exactly. Yeah, that whole like I’m going to come to you.

Arianne: I like that. We’ve got a couple articles on the Aeolidia blog that give ideas for your newsletter pop-uping, call to action stuff, and I’m sure you have something you could share, too, Danielle. So we’ll post some links after to just kind of follow up with more info. And then, Danielle, where can people find you?

Danielle: I do have a couple of podcast episodes on this topic, so I’ll link those for people.

Arianne: Great.

Danielle: But people can follow up with me at merriweathercouncil.com. And my group, as well, CLHL.club. Those are like my two main places right now.

Arianne: Alright.

Danielle: But I’ll come back and link those episodes that are related to this topic.

Arianne: Wonderful, and I’m going to throw some links in, too, and we would love to continue answering your questions on this topic in the group, so thanks for being here today, everybody, and thank you so much, Danielle. That was very helpful.

Danielle: Thank you.

Arianne: Nice to see everyone. Bye.

Danielle: Bye.

Sculpting Passion into a Brand: The Making of Vesselry

Creating a logo and visual brand identity for a ceramicist's business.

Artists may spend years and decades honing their craft before they officially launch as a business, only to find themselves beginners again when it comes to building their brand. Luckily, at Aeolidia, our expertise is crafting beautiful, timeless brands for makers and artisans like Nona Kelhofer, who came to us when she realized she was ready to transform her passion into a business—but wasn’t sure where to begin.

Nona needed a brand, starting with a business name and visual identity, for her handmade, heirloom-quality pottery. A ceramicist with decades of experience, she wanted her new business to reflect the thoughtful, minimal aesthetic of her pieces. Connectivity, creativity, and organic mindfulness in ordinary moments were central to her brand, so we began by brainstorming business names that would evoke these same qualities.

Tall Tumbler, photo © Vesselry

Yarn Bowl (using new brand mark!), photo © Vesselry

Round Stem Vases, photo © Vesselry

Defining the Intangible in a One-Word Name

In describing her pieces, Nona said they are, “designed to be timeless, to blend and leave space yet also engage.” It’d be important, then, for her name to be abstract enough to leave space for people to wonder and imagine what it means, while also maintaining a sense of accessibility.

Inspired by the physical shape of Nona’s pottery, I brainstormed names rooted in the word “Vessel” and combined it with allusions to her creative process. Beginning with sketches and measurements done entirely by hand, she uses the twelve-thousand-year-old technique of pinch pots to create pieces like bowls and cups. The suffix -ry hints at her precise and intentional craftsmanship. The two concepts were fused into one single, minimal word: Vesselry.

vesselry secondary logo for pottery business

The simplicity of the name gives it a confident, elegant, and timeless feel, while the literal meaning of “vessel” hints at the giving nature of a vessel, how abundance flows from it.

In connecting to the name, Nona loved the use of a single world and how it “seems to elevate the simple vessel, in a similar way serving food on hand made dishes elevates the dining experience. It also conveys an air of elegance that relates to the sculptural quality of my forms.”

A Mark Worthy of Setting in Clay

Our next task was to translate the simple elegance of the brand’s name into its new visual identity. For this, Jess drew from the literal shape of a vessel and blended it with the natural element of a leaf to create an organic mark. She utilized negative space to draw the eye out, engaging the viewer, while giving the mark an ancient yet modern feel that makes it timeless.

To showcase the thoughtful, handmade quality of Nona’s work, Jess paired the mark with uppercase lettering that she drew by hand. Like each of Nona’s pieces, which bear her fingerprints from her physical touch, the hand lettering was meant to be completely unique to the Vesselry brand.

brand style guide for pottery business

 

Nona loved the organic simple feeling of the mark, and how it beautifully balanced an elegant aesthetic with a handmade feel. With the logo set, Jess began focusing on ways to extend this new visual identity to all aspects of the Vesselry brand, mocking up how the logo would look on the bottom of a ceramic piece, on an advertisement, on a simple website, and even at a booth at an art show.

In choosing a color palette, Jess went with, “charcoal and white to maintain a really nice clean and elegant look. Then I added in some lovely neutrals like the taupe, warm grey, and sage that will help to give some pops of color.”

Nona adding the new Vesselry visual identity to the side of a vase, photo © Vesselry

The Vesselry logo on the bottom of a cup, photo © Vesselry

The Vesselry stamp on the bottom of a cup, photo © Vesselry

The Vesselry underglaze stamp on the bottom of a cup, photo © Vesselry

Visualizing the Brand’s Future

At every step, design decisions were made to further underscore the brand’s timeless, organic elegance. Even small touches, like patterns for tissue and wrapping paper, gift tags and care cards, and templates for the brand’s email newsletter, came together with this message in mind.

Vesselry cards

This not only helped Nona begin to see her brand as a living, breathing entity, but it helped set a strong foundation for her brand’s direction going forward. From these initial steps taken during our project, Nona was able to build her own website using a Shopify template. The website design, photography style, and social media content she’s built for Vesselry have all tied back to the brand expression that we discovered during our work together. It’s all served to strengthen her brand.

“As I developed the content for my website, each decision helped to refine a more clear sense of Vesselry beyond the name, logo, and palette,” she says.

vesselry packaging design for a pottery business

You can see the results on the newly-launched Vesselry website. Simple headlines like One Vessel At a Time reiterate the brand’s commitment to filling everyday moments with joy. On her Instagram feed, Nona’s choice of neutral colors, like this white against white image of a carefully-arranged row of porcelain cups, showcases her pieces’ beautiful, one-of-a-kind shapes and how they elevate the ordinary.

View this project in our portfolio »

Can We Do This For You?

Nona’s business is now poised for success. If you’re interested in learning more about our schedule and rates, please get in touch today. We would love to show the same care and strategy for your brand.

Forecasting Return on Investment

Forecasting return on investment ROI for a web design project

How long will it take for your new website to pay for itself? Entering your email address gives you access to our PDF to help you decide if it's the right time for your business to invest in design, as well as our weekly business building emails.

Whether You Need a Wholesale Website (And How to Do it Right)

How to set up a wholesale website to get started taking wholesale orders online.

This is a post we wrote in collaboration with Emily from Wholesale In a Box. More info on them below.

When makers are at the earlier stages of their wholesale journey, the structural issues can feel overwhelming. The makers we work with get stuck on anything from wholesale minimums to how to package their line for wholesale. Products and production? They’re all over it. But these more logistical and operational elements can be challenging to wrangle.

The question of whether a maker needs a wholesale online shop is one of these challenging items. While it’s probably not make-or-break for your business, setting up your wholesale ordering system can be a way to remove obstacles to growth. By making it simple, streamlined, and on-brand for store owners to place an order with you, a lot of obstacles are removed.

Ultimately, most makers will end up with a wholesale shop as part of their website. But the timing of whether and when to prioritize that is important. So in this post, we’ll look at the pros and cons of wholesale websites… and how to decide if and when you need one.

What is a wholesale website?

A wholesale website is usually a separate online store on (or connected to) your website that allows retailers to look at, and purchase, wholesale products. It may be close to a “clone” of your retail shop (but with wholesale pricing and quantities), or it might work quite differently. People structure their wholesale sites in different ways, depending on their needs and goals.

Pros and cons of a wholesale website

When done right (more on that below), a wholesale site can be better than the alternatives in multiple ways. It can be a simple ordering process for store owners. It allows you to update and change products, descriptions, and pricing much more easily than with a document like a line sheet. And, it’s often simpler to keep branding consistent across your retail website, wholesale website, and other online pieces of your presence.

That said, wholesale sites do have some disadvantages. It can be costly (in time or money) to build a wholesale website, especially in a way that is on-brand for you. Also, some makers can veer into a territory that feels generic if they don’t find a way to weave their story into the website.

You should consider creating a wholesale website if:

  • You don’t have a great way of taking wholesale orders currently.
  • You’re reaching out to independent boutiques as a key piece of your wholesale growth.
  • Creating and updating a line sheet has been time consuming for you.

You probably don’t need a wholesale website if:

  • You’re focused entirely on trade shows for your growth.
  • You’ve recently invested a lot in a great line sheet.
  • All the wholesale growth you could want is coming through a platform like Etsy Wholesale.
  • You have a simple way to take wholesale orders that is working for you.

Considering creating a wholesale shop?

Here’s what Emily from Wholesale In a Box says is crucial:

  • Don’t make the store owner log in to see your wholesale products. It can be wise to have a login, but not if the only way for a store owner to see your wholesale offering is by creating an account/login.
  • Consider “out of the box” options. While a separate wholesale site can be great, another option is to have store owners shop on your regular website but with a coupon code that gives them the wholesale price.
  • Make sure your wholesale checkout process is easy. Go through it yourself (all the way through purchase) and take notes on where it seems slow, confusing, or frustrating.)
  • Make your “about” page visible or accessible from the wholesale shop. Shop owners often only visit one page, so make sure that they can easily learn about you and your products.

And here’s what Aeolidia recommends for getting your wholesale website’s design and branding right:

  • Create a slightly different version of your logo or header graphics for the wholesale site so that it is easy for customers to tell which website they are on. This could be as simple as the addition of a “wholesale shop” tagline.
  • Decide what is most important for wholesale customers to know about your business and adjust your content to match. This may mean making changes to your home page, adding informational pages specifically for wholesale customers, etc.
  • Add a wholesale contact form to your retail website so that potential wholesale customers can contact you, and you can gather the information you want from them in order to decide if they are a good fit for your business.
  • When you set up your wholesale website, go through the process of becoming a wholesale customer yourself so you can see exactly how it works. Write up clear instructions for your wholesale customers as you go through the process.
  • Your wholesale store allows for more specific wholesale policies—things like your payment and shipping options. Make sure you update your policies, terms and conditions on the wholesale website.

Here’s our information on the different ways to set up wholesale ordering on Shopify.

You certainly don’t need to rush it, but starting to plan for your wholesale shop can be a smart investment in your wholesale growth. If it’s not the right time for your business, that’s absolutely fine—but these are dynamics that you can keep in mind so you’re laying the groundwork early.

We collaborated on this post with Emily from Wholesale In a Box, a subscription service that helps handmade businesses grow wholesale. Until May 11th, you can sign up for their free 5-day program to give your wholesale a boost. Find out more at wholesaleinabox.com/5tinystepschallenge

How to Develop an Email Marketing Strategy For Ecommerce

Developing an ecommerce marketing strategy for ecommerce

The funniest thing happened recently… I popped in to offer my help with each of our current clients’ email marketing strategy for ecommerce, and I am finding out how nerve wracking the whole thing can be! One woman apologized that her answers to my questions were “disappointing,” and another said she knew she should have set up a mailing list five years ago, and that she was sick to her stomach over it.

If you’re feeling shaky about your email marketing (and let’s try to get away from calling it a “newsletter,” because that word tends to lead people to write uninspired emails), I have some foundational tips for you here today, based on the many conversations I’ve been having with our awesome clients, and students in a class I recently taught.

Why you need an email marketing strategy

Your own website and your mailing list are the two things that you will absolutely own and that no one can take away from you. Etsy can shut down your shop and Facebook can change the algorithm to stop showing your posts, but with your own domain name, website, and email list, you can weather any changes that other companies foist on your business.

Imagine that Instagram or Facebook or Etsy or Amazon deactivate your account today. How do you feel? Now imagine that you have a mailing list of tens of thousands of fans who are eager to hear from you. Feeling a lot better now, right? You can let them know where to shop, what you’re up to, and no one can take that from you.

So if you don’t have an engaged email subscriber following, I encourage you to get to work on that. It’s a great thing.

How often to email your customers

I’d recommend keeping consistent, so people don’t forget about you, and so you don’t forget to send emails! 1-4 times a month is usually a good range to aim within for a small business.

If writing a marketing email feels difficult, start with once a month (but no less). Check your stats to see how many sales the mailing list is sending you. Once you see how much money your monthly email makes, you may be inspired to begin sending weekly.

Create a welcome email for new subscribers

I’d like you to think about what you’d like to tell a new subscriber who is a bit curious about what you do and has just joined your list. Your “welcome to the list” email is a great place to share a photo of you and/or your products, explain briefly what your brand is and what makes it special, and set expectations that make people want to stay on the list.

Use what you know about what makes your business special and who it’s for to create a great welcome message that lets people know they’re in the right place and that you really understand them.

I’d encourage you to add a thoughtful and strategic message that goes out to each new member. If you use MailChimp, this can either be your “welcome message” or you can set up an automation with as many emails as you’d like, dripped out over time.

Mailing list signup call to action

One of the most important little snips of copy on your website is going to be the text you use to entice people to join your mailing list. Let’s be honest: no one wants a “newsletter” and no one’s excited to have more email in their inbox in general. And every other ecommerce business out there is begging them to jump on their mailing lists. It can be hard to get past these barriers and get your best customers to join.

So, slapping “sign up for news and updates” on your website by an email subscribe field is a tragedy to me!

One of the best ways you can grow your mailing list is to:

  1. Think hard about what valuable thing you can offer to your subscribers. Something that will make entering their email address in your signup form a “HECK YEAH!” for them.
  2. Find a way to succinctly and temptingly convey that on your website.
  3. And then, of course, deliver on that promise by maintaining a consistent schedule and sending valuable emails.

What to email your mailing list subscribers about

Some people get stuck on figuring out what to say in a marketing email. There are no rules here! It’s all about what will be most interesting to your readers and what will help you make a sale. Your emails can be words, photos, videos, animated gifs… whatever makes sense and gets you excited to communicate with your biggest fans each week.

Are you already blogging or posting to social media? Then your job is half done. An Instagram post can easily be made into an email message. A single photo and few lines of text with a link to a product is a marketing email! Three paragraphs about why you do what you do is an email. A fun graphic with a code for free shipping is an email. Showing some process shots and story from your studio is an email.

If you’d like some ideas (how about 260 of them?), visit: 260 Blog Post Ideas For Creative Businesses

Then, if you’d like to be able to set up a schedule of upcoming posts, visit: How to Erase Blogging Headaches With an Editorial Calendar

Both of these reference blogging, but you can do the exact same thing for your email marketing strategy.

If you freeze when you try to write an email because you don’t know who you’re talking to, you may want to take my course on figuring out who your target customer is, and how to tell her what’s so special about your business: E-Course: Branding Foundations For Online Shops

Reconfirming your stale email marketing addresses

If you go too long without emailing subscribers, your email will eventually be unwelcome. They will have forgotten who you are or why you’re emailing them. Permission to email people goes stale after a while, and the worst case scenario is you wait too long and then people report your emails as spam, which can really foul up your list.

What if you haven’t emailed your subscribers in months? If it’s been more than 4-6 months since you sent someone an email, you should reconfirm their interest. Instead of suddenly barraging people who have forgotten about you with regular marketing emails, you need to double check that they still want to be on your list.

Here is information about how to reconfirm your MailChimp subscribers.


I know this all sounds like a challenge! If you accept this challenge, though, your business will be all the stronger for it. And once you have a focused plan, the email marketing thing becomes an easy, familiar part of your business strategy.

Resources

Next step for your email strategy

What are you going to email people about, and how often? Learn how to create a marketing calendar with this free workbook:

Shipshape Collective Freebie

How to Create an Editorial Calendar

A step by step guide which will erase half your blogging headaches and make your blog twice as effective! Sign up for our weekly business building emails and get your free download:

Rebranding a Brick and Mortar Bath & Body Shop: Sugar + Spruce

Rebranding a brick and mortar shop: renaming and creating a logo for a bath and body business

Are you thinking of rebranding a brick and mortar shop? It’s possible to grow your brand so much that you, well, outgrow your brand. Before you panic, know that this a good problem to have. When embraced strategically and with an open mind, it can be a period of rich opportunities.

Such was the case with Crystal and Morgan Wellman, founders of the soap and apothecary boutique formerly known as Ladyburg. Originally launched as a brick and mortar in historical downtown Fredericksburg, VA, the company enjoyed deep ties to its local community. The common “burg” in both the name of the town and the brand helped reinforce this connection, but as the brand began setting its sights into online and wholesale spaces, Crystal couldn’t help wondering if it was time to rename the business.

“I am coming into this branding with the plan to transition from a local boutique to a brand that could easily be on the shelves of boutiques across the country or even a Target,” she told us when we started her rebranding project.

She also worried there might be a disconnect between the Ladyburg name and the fun, cheeky personality their brand was known for. With names like Bite Me and Queen Bee for their bath bombs, and luxuriously sweet Whipped Sugar Scrubs, was it possible they weren’t fully tapping into their brand’s potential?

We believed so. Their products were fun, approachable, and flirty with some luxury and indulgence thrown in. The brand’s ideal customer was more grown up and polished than “Ladyburg” seemed to hint at, but with a deep appreciation for wit and whimsy.

Time to Grow (and Glow) With a New Name and Identity

In-store display. All photos in this post © Remy Thompson.

We decided a complete makeover for the Ladyburg brand was in order, beginning with the name. Crystal wanted a name that would feel timeless and embody a professional, sophisticated image to stand apart from other handcrafted bath and body stores. She was hoping for a name that would evoke “a magnetic brand personality that customers can’t get enough of.”

As I brainstormed names, I kept thinking of irresistibility. What’s more enticing than sweet things like sugar scrubs and bath bombs and a relaxing soak? I began playing with the phrase “sugar and spice and everything nice.” This phrase is all about telling girls and women what they should do, whereas Crystal’s brand was all about embracing something girls and women want to do: indulge, take time to themselves, and enjoy sprucing themselves up. With a simple twist on this phrase, Sugar + Spruce was born. It caught Crystal and Morgan’s attention immediately.

“It was both of our first choice. We love that we can ‘spruce up,’ but also love how it plays into girl and boy. We can have fun with this one,” Crystal said. “We appreciate a clever pun, love a good rhyme, and never miss an opportunity for a double-entendre. We want to bring a smile to our customers’ faces and bring a little humor into their day!”

Sugar + Spruce co-founders, Crystal and Morgan

Sugar + Spruce co-founders, Crystal and Morgan

Before and after rebranding a bath and body business

With a sweet new name settled on, our designer, Ann, began exploring ways to bring out its fun cheekiness visually. She focused on conveying a personality with a modern and vibrant sensibility, avoiding any commonly-used typefaces and elements found in other apothecary-style brands.

“Your customers are design savvy,” she said. “Sugar + Spruce needs to feel luxe and more modern than the typical brands in your niche, which tend to rely heavily on antique and vintage design cues.” To tie into the sugary elements of the brand, Ann envisioned creating eclectic patterns inspired by candy, bakery, and soap packaging.

After playing with many different typefaces and treatments, Ann was inspired by the idea of a sparkle, which was rooted in the act of “sprucing up.” Since she knew a colorful and varied color palette would be best for the brand, she wanted to retain some simplicity in the logo. This would make it work better across all of their packaging and products.

It also helped create unity and consistency across custom patterns and textures that would continue telling the Sugar + Spruce story. A mod sparkle pattern, a subtle wave texture, a neutral stripe pattern, and a fun splash of confetti would each work together or separately in branded graphics such as blog posts, tissue paper, and shelf talkers.

The new Sugar + Spruce icon on products.

The new Sugar + Spruce icon on products.

The Sugar + Spruce seal on muslin bags

The Sugar + Spruce seal on muslin bags

Product packaging using the new brand details.

Product packaging using the new brand details.

Cheeky gift card design.

Cheeky gift card design.

Sugar + Spruce logo design for a bath and body apothecary

A Character for the Brand’s Personality

Sugar + Spruce custom illustrations for a bath and body apothecary

Our team, at this point, was having so much fun brainstorming all the new visual opportunities for Sugar + Spruce. It really felt like the brand was coming to life—so much so, that we imagined a mascot for it. This brand ambassador would encompass their vibes and values: vibrant, tongue-in-cheek, feminine, and whimsical. She’d be a mermaid, illustrated in a modern, simple style.

“I can imagine her making your customers smile when they spot her on the back of a bottle or in your store. Your ideal customer will appreciate the bit of mischief and subtle sense of humor,” Ann explained. “This type of character infuses a bit of whimsy to the Sugar + Spruce personality, without making it too silly or juvenile.”

The merlady was illustrated by Sarah, playfully winking and donning a bubble crown to bring out the irresistible nature of Sugar + Spruce bath and body products. With copy like “Get Dirty. Wash + Repeat.” and “Hey Sugar, there’s more where this came from” all of the visual and messaging elements were now working in beautiful (and fun) harmony.

Hello, World: Sugar + Spruce Makes a Big Splash

Sugar + Spruce’s new in-store experience using their new brand style

They painted the walls of their brick and mortar to match their new brand patterns

We love those dots! On the wall and a closeup.

We love those dots! On the wall and a closeup.

The brick and mortar rebranding is creating new opportunities for the business.

The brick and mortar rebranding is creating new opportunities for the business

Since Sugar + Spruce relaunched, both their brick and mortar space and their online space have undergone a complete transformation. These changes are not only cosmetic—they’ve set the tone for what kind of products Crystal and Morgan are creating next, and have steered them in an exciting new direction in terms of public relations and partnerships.

“We’ve worked with numerous lifestyle bloggers and influencers who are equally as excited for our new brand,” Crystal says. “Our new brand has opened up more avenues and we’ve loved exploring how we can continue expanding our brand awareness.”

Thinking of starting with a fresh, clean slate for your growing brand? Contact us about designing a total transformation that will let your business’s true personality shine.

View this project in our portfolio »

Visit Sugar + Spruce online »

Forecasting Return on Investment

Forecasting return on investment ROI for a web design project

How long will it take for your new website to pay for itself? Entering your email address gives you access to our PDF to help you decide if it's the right time for your business to invest in design, as well as our weekly business building emails.