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.
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.
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
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.
“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.”
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
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?
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.
Arianne: It’s really good.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Arianne: Okay, that is great Joey. Thanks so much for joining us.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
Find a way to succinctly and temptingly convey that on your website.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 Sugar + Spruce seal on muslin bags
Product packaging using the new brand details.
Cheeky gift card design.
A Character for the Brand’s Personality
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.
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.
Are you interested in hiring Aeolidia to design or redesign a Shopify website for you? I’m so glad! There’s nothing quite like having a team of experts on your side for an important project like this. But what about web design ROI? Is hiring a professional web designer worth the cost?
We’d love to talk with you, but before doing so, maybe you’d like to think about the possible return on investment? Business owners often come to me to figure out if they’re ready to hire us. And over and over, we are brought on late in the game, to fix a neglected website that hasn’t been pulling its weight. Let’s think about when and why to make this investment in your future.
Aeolidia: A Shopify Conversion Optimization Team
Hi, we’re Aeolidia. THE designers for creatives. We’re the best in our niche since 2004. Sounds boastful, but it’s true—try finding another full service agency that uses data to boost your numbers and truly cares about and understands your business, with knowhow from hundreds of projects like yours.
We’re a team of designers, developers, content creators, marketers and strategists. We build Shopify websites for design-oriented business owners who are ready to take their business to the next level.
But what does “taking your business to the next level” mean, exactly? We’ve found that the business owners we work with have vital things in common.
They sell creative, well-designed products, and they’ve built a following around their business… but it doesn’t have to be a huge following.
They have a track record of sales, either on their own website, on Etsy, in person, or they have a strong wholesale game… but their online sales numbers aren’t as high as they could be.
They know they’ve taken their brand or online presence as far as they can take it on their own, and they’re ready to hire a professional… but they’re not sure when paying for a professional redesign will pay off.
We also often work with people who have just started a new business… but they have past experience and know professional design will take them far.
Do any of these descriptions fit your business? Are you wondering when the right time to invest is, and what results you can expect? Let’s go!
How Does Improving Conversion Rate and Average Order Value Pay Off?
When you work with Aeolidia, we design with your sales goals in mind. So you’ll not only be getting a beautiful website, but one that’s designed to retain, engage, and convert the visitors you work so hard to bring there.
This means that when we redesign your website, we aim for at least a modest increase in conversion rate and average order value. Watch what happens when we use our sample numbers to boost conversion rate and average order value with a strategic redesign.
Example business, one year:
Website traffic: 96,000 visitors
Website conversion rate: 2%
Average order value: $58
Yearly website sales: $111,360
Example forecast after redesign:
Website traffic: 115,200 visitors
Website conversion rate: 4%
Average order value: $62
Website sales: $285,696
Total additional sales after website redesign: $174,336
Wow, right? That shows a 20% increase to website traffic the next year, a 2% increase to conversion rate, and improved order value. A healthy business usually gains traffic year over year, and our work has helped capitalize on it.
Our team of experts can help you boost sales dramatically.
Forecasting Your Own Return on Investment (ROI) For a Web Design Project
The cost of a website redesign or branding project can feel intimidating if you’re not sure yet whether your business is ready for the expense. What’s the return on investment for a strategic website redesign? Luckily, we can do some calculations to forecast. Let’s take a look at your own numbers in our guide.
You’ve been reading a bit of our guide to forecasting ROI on your website. Download the whole thing for free here:
Download our PDF to learn what to expect when you hire Aeolidia. I’ll show you how to forecast using your own numbers, how much additional money you can expect to make when you hire us, and what happens when you delay.
Who We Are, and Who We Work With
The Usual Path to Hiring Aeolidia
A Formula to Help You Predict Success
What Does Improving Your Numbers Look Like?
What If Your Sales Numbers Are Lower?
What Happens When You Wait
Why You Need to Take Your Website Seriously
Is It Time For Your Business to Invest In Strategic Design?
Your online shop has great potential, but I’m willing to bet it’s underused right now. The problem is figuring out how to get more website traffic to make your ecommerce shop more profitable.
I’ve found that the answer to this problem is straightforward:
You need more people to visit your website
You need a higher percentage of those people to buy
Get more website traffic, then make more sales.
Because the solution is simple doesn’t mean the process to get there is easy. It’s one thing to say you need more traffic and a higher conversion rate. It’s another thing to get there.
Getting more website traffic and increasing conversion rates are both long-term, ongoing projects. I’m here to help you get started with both: get more visitors to your website and get more of them to buy something.
Website traffic is how many people visit your site.
Calculate your conversion rate by finding the percentage of those visitors that purchase.
2 sales divided by 100 visitors equals a 2% conversion rate.
First, I want to explain how powerful combining more traffic with a higher conversion rate is.
Get More Website Traffic and Improve Ecommerce Conversion Rate
Many growing businesses neglect their website, because it’s working “well enough.” But have you considered that if your website is only performing half as well as it should, all your marketing efforts will be half as effective?
At a healthy 4% conversion rate, instead of 2%, every Facebook ad could make you twice the money. Every influencer mention would double in value. All your social media efforts would pay off twice as well as they are now.
Imagine you get 4,000 visitors a month at a 1% conversion rate. That’s 40 sales, and you want 200 sales per month. Here are three things you could try:
Drive more traffic: at a 1% conversion rate, you need 20,000 visitors.
Improve conversion rate: at 5%, you only need 4,000 visitors.
Do both: 20,000 visitors are now 1,000 sales at a 5% conversion rate.
Option A and Option B each increase sales by five. If you do both options (Option C), you go from 200 sales to 1,000 sales by multiplying traffic x conversion. Optimizing both results in 25 times as many sales.
To seriously boost online sales, you need these two things working in partnership. Yes, you need more traffic. But you also need to increase your conversion rate.
That’s the formula for success. So, are you ready to get started?
How Much Traffic Can You Expect?
The sky is the limit when it comes to traffic. But how do you know what is reasonable to expect?
Now that we’ve learned a bit about conversion rate, we can use that information to see how much traffic we need. Let’s assume a 1% conversion rate for a new business that hasn’t optimized their site or grown a customer base yet. How many sales do you want per month? If you want 30 sales, you’ll need 3,000 visitors in a month.
To figure out how much traffic you need, work the equation this way:(Sales you want) ÷ (Your real or expected conversion rate) = (Visitors you need)
30 sales ÷ 0.01 = 3,000 visitors
If you have a 1% conversion rate, you can’t expect ANY sales until you’re getting at least a couple hundred visitors to your site per month. When your traffic is very low, it’s often a result of a poor (or no) marketing strategy, which means your random visitors aren’t likely to become customers.
No fear, though, we’re going to get to the bottom of how to get visitors who are excited to be on your site, and ready to shop!
Get the Guide
You’ve been reading the first two chapters of my new PDF download – a document about getting website traffic, and then improving your ecommerce conversion rate to get more sales. After over 15 years of making online shops for creative businesses, I have a bird’s eye view of what works and what doesn’t. I’d like to get you on the track for success!
Included in your free downloadable PDF:
Why You Need to Consider Both Traffic and Conversion Rate
How Much Traffic Can You Expect?
What Kind of Conversion Rate Can You Expect?
Should You Focus On Traffic First, or Conversion First?
5 Ways to Get More High Quality Traffic
5 Ways to Get Press and Publicity That Leads to Sales
This thing is a meaty 31 pages, and if you’re confused at all about how to get more sales on your site, it will be enlightening. I haven’t seen advice quite like this from anywhere else. Please grab it, read it, and get in touch if you have any questions about your traffic or sales.
If you plan to apply to a juried craft show, fair or market, we’re here to answer all your questions! Our friendly friend Nicole Stevenson of Dear Handmade Life joined us in the Shipshape Collective Facebook group recently to help out.
Watch the video below, or read the transcript immediately following the resources on this page.
Why Your Craft Show Application Was Rejected
Grab the top ten reasons your craft show application was rejected that Nicole mentions right here:
Prepare For Success With Craft Shows
Nicole teaches a workshop that will get you all set, and has shared some blog posts as well:
Craft Show Success is an online workshop that gives you the tools, resources and confidence to prepare for and make the most of your time at craft shows so you can make money, build your customer base as well as your creative community plus get exposure for your brand. Whether you’ve never sold at a craft show before, have done a few, ever got that dreaded rejection email from producers or are a veteran vendor looking to sharpen your skills Craft Show Success gets you there.
Arianne: Hi everybody. We are here, live now, with Nicole Stevenson of Dear Handmade Life, and she also puts on an awesome conference called Craftcation. She has a ton of experience with crafters and craft shows and things like that. Nicole, I’d love for you to just share what your experience with crafters and craft fairs, to start off. Can we get a little back story from you?
Nicole: Sure. I, myself, am a crafter. I don’t make my living as a crafter anymore, but at one time I had a clothing line, and had a product line. I sold at hundreds, I would say 3 or 400 different craft shows during the life of my line. So I have a lot of experience as a vendor, but I also have been producing a large-scale craft show for, I think this year was our 10th anniversary. So, with my partner Delilah, who’s also my aunt, called Patchwork Show, that’s our show. We’ve produced over 60 of those shows, and then I’ve also juried art shows and all kinds of things, so I have a lot of experience from that side, too.
I work really closely with our jury for Patchwork Show. We get 1000 applications every season, so I’m the one that’s going through there, teaching our jury how to make judgment calls, what to look for, helping them formulate decisions, and coming up with the criteria for which the makers will be judged.
Arianne: Yeah. That’s great. So you’ve been the jury and you have also taught the jury. I feel like that really helps me understand something better when I’m trying to teach it to somebody else. It all starts making more sense then, so I would say you’ve got a lot of experience in deciding whether an application is a good fit or not. So, I’m curious, when you’re deciding who gets into a craft show, about how long do you spend on each application deciding if it’s a good fit or not?
Nicole: It depends on the application. One of the things that I do teach our jury is to trust your instinct, so that gut reaction. That’s the first thing.
If you’re looking at an application, usually the way that we do it it’s digital, so there’ll be a link. So the first thing we would look at is their website or Etsy shop. Right when you go there you’re going to have a gut reaction. That reaction is definitely going to be based on your personal tastes, which as a jury it can’t really be all about your personal tastes, but it’s important to take that into account, of what you think. If you’re looking and you’re thinking, “Ew, what is that?” Or “Ah, cute.”
Then once you have that initial reaction, then you need to go in and start to separate your personal opinion from the criteria that you’re looking for. So, for example, me personally, I’m not a huge beaded or precious gemstone, kind of, gold and silver jewelry person. So when I see that I can tell right away, “Yes, this is a possibility. It’s not my style but I can see that for what it is, it’s high quality.” The photos are clear, well taken. I can tell what it is. There’s a clear brand. I can see the aesthetic of the line is clear, the price point fits, etc. So those are just some of the criteria that we’re looking for. But sometimes there’ll be something that I am in love with for my personal taste but I realize the people who are coming to our show, I don’t think this vendor’s going to sell as well at the show because the guests that are coming are not 4000 Nicoles. So it might be something that I’m in love with but it’s very, very specific to someone like me.
Arianne: That’s a good thing to keep in mind. So when you’re putting on a craft show, you have a target audience there for the craft show. You know what type of people are coming, so that’s something that really needs to align with the vendors you’re selecting too. So people who are applying for a craft show, they shouldn’t be applying to every possible craft show that exists, because there are different styles of craft shows and different audiences coming. I’m sure you’re trying to see how that target customer syncs up with the target customer of the people who are going to be vending there. Because you want them to have a positive experience at the show, I’m sure, and you want the customers to have a positive experience, so that all matches up.
Nicole: For sure, and that’s a big thing that we take into account is we try to predict how the vendor will do at our show. Which is impossible in many ways, but it’s definitely part of the criteria that we take into account. Just for example, we have a craft show in Long Beach, which is a beach area, and then we have another one that’s in a downtown location, inland. Somebody, for example, that maybe does photographs of beach scenes, or does some kind of found object thing with shells or something like that, we probably wouldn’t let them into our urban location, where we may let them into our Long Beach one. We’re not only taking into account the general demographics of our show, but also the specific one per location.
Arianne: Yeah, and that makes sense. So if you get rejected with your craft show application, it doesn’t mean that there’s necessarily a problem with your business or even your application, maybe it just wasn’t a good fit with that show. It doesn’t mean you need to get discouraged, you just need to check the fit a little bit better. Are you, I feel like the answer to this is probably “no,” especially on a bigger show, but are you guys able to respond to people to give them tips about why they got rejected, or that’s just, they have to figure that out themselves?
Nicole: We’re not able to respond. Well, yes and no, actually. Over the years, over the ten years that we’ve been doing this show, I have basically compiled a list of every reason why anybody’s ever been rejected, and it’s about ten different things. I send out a form rejection letter with these ten things, and I say, “If you were rejected, 99% of the time it’s for one of these things. So, take a look at this list and see which one applies to you.” Then, I do offer a personalized review of the application, but not while we’re in the season of the show. So, I say, “If you would like specific feedback on your application, please send me your question after the shows are over, so it would be after this date.”
Arianne: That is very generous and helpful of you. So is there anything that stands out as a must-do thing for makers that want to get into a craft fair? Like, what always stands out positively when you’re looking at an application?
Nicole: Well, great branding. I know that I’m talking to the branding guru here, but your website or your Etsy shop, which includes the photographs you take of your stuff, your actual products, your branding, the aesthetic, everything, is kind of like putting on your clothes and taking a shower and brushing your hair before you go outside to meet somebody. So, if you just imagine that your website, online shop, all of those things together, that’s how we’re seeing you. So when somebody’s branding is off or their photographs are … There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking photographs with your iPhone, as long as their clear. I mean, iPhones are great now. You don’t need a DSLR anymore. But, make sure they’re clear, they’re not blurry, you’re not taking a busy background that I can’t tell which thing is your actual product.
So if all of that stuff is off, it’s like going to a job interview in your pajamas, with unwashed hair, and unwashed face, and unbrushed teeth.
Arianne: Yeah. And that’s interesting, right. The first thing you guys are looking at is the website and I feel like a lot of people get frustrated with their website. They just go, “Oh, it’s good enough.” But that’s the first thing you’re going to use to decide if it’s a good fit. So it’s definitely something … Spend a little time brushing that hair on that website.
Nicole: Yeah. And if you don’t have a website, that’s fine. I would rather have somebody not have a website and send me a link to their Etsy shop, and have a really well curated, well laid-out Etsy shop, than to have a website that says, “Under Construction.” Or you can tell that it’s their old blog and nothing’s been done to it since 2002. I would even rather have somebody just send me to their Instagram, to their business Instagram than to be looking at an out-of-date, unprofessional website.
Arianne: You want to see a well-curated collection and know exactly what you’re looking at at the start. Not digging through somebody’s blog posts.
Nicole: Yeah, and along that same line, one of the things that I’ve found has been really helpful to our jury is having a link to what a vendor’s booth looks like, set up. When the jury first goes through, vendors are categorized immediately into the following categories: “yes,” “maybe,” “no.” Then “maybe” gets expanded into: “maybe yes,” “maybe,” and “maybe no.” So anybody that’s in that “maybe” category, they’re getting a lot of attention on everything. We’ll be together looking at products and everybody’s kind of on the borderline and then we’ll hop on their Instagram and see that they happened to take a picture of their booth at a craft show, and their booth is awesome. We’re on the fence about their product but their booth is so professional, looks so great and inviting that everybody’s just like, “Yeah. Yeah. Yes.” So, if your booth is awesome, it’s helpful to have a picture of it.
Arianne: Yeah, that’s great. That’s a good idea. I feel like sometimes people get so caught up in what they’re doing that they forget to take that picture of all their hard work making the booth. So even just taking the picture so you have that for future shows is a great idea.
Arianne: So Erin is asking us what the ten things are that you send people as the 99% of reasons why they get rejected. I don’t think we need to go through all ten, because I have a bunch of questions to get to here, but maybe you could mention your top two or three that are just like, “Absolutely not. Next.”
Nicole: Photographs. That’s really what we see, photographs.
Price point. If somebody’s doing, let’s say for example, super fine jewelry that the pieces are $500, the customers that come to our show, that’s not going to work. At the same time, prices that are too low. So somebody, maybe, that’s a hobby crafter, that they’re not pricing their products according to, they’re not making a profit and they’re undercutting and underselling other vendors. Someone, for example, that’s making this coffee mug for fun and they’re like, “Oh, I’m just going to sell it for $5 because that’s what I pay for a coffee mug.” Then we have a vendor on the next row who’s making a coffee mug, who’s actually making a living at it, selling it for $15. So, prices that are too high, prices that are not properly figured out.
Not following directions.
Arianne: Yeah, that’s a big one.
Nicole: That’s super frustrating, and that can be an automatic no. Not taking the time to get to know our show and see what our aesthetic is.
Arianne: Yeah. You need a good match.
Nicole: Yeah, or to see what our requirements are. Like, we don’t accept vendors that sell, what’s it called, like a Mary Kay or a LuLaRoe or something like that where you’re reselling something that somebody else is making or designing.
Arianne: Right, like the multi-level marketing thing?
Nicole: Multi-level marketing. Yeah. So, a lot of people-
Arianne: That’s not a craft fair item for you.
Nicole: Yeah. But I would say photos. Photos, branding, researching to see if they’re a good fit, and then, I’m sure there’s one more but I can’t remember it right now.
Arianne: You probably have something about this on your blog, right?
Nicole: Maybe I can share a link after this. I don’t, but it’s something I should add. Let me see because I probably do have something on there, reasons rejected. I look it up and try to send you something to share.
Arianne: Nicole’s going to dig something up for you guys. So I have a couple questions about getting started with craft fairs. So Erin asked, “I’ve never attempted a craft fair or any live selling events,” but she’s very interested. She wants to know how you find craft fairs to attend.
Nicole: Erin, I would love to know where you live, first of all. I feel like you probably live in a pretty small place if you’re not sure where craft shows are. There’s pretty much, most major cities have a craft show. The best way to find out is Googling. I would just put in there, like let’s just say you live in Cincinnati, Ohio. So, “Cincinnati, Ohio craft show,” “Cincinnati, Ohio craft fairs,” “Cincinnati, Ohio craft festivals,” “DIY markets,” and just try a bunch of different Google terms and see what you come up with.
Oh, Sequim, I don’t know. That feels like it might be a small town.
Arianne: Sequim is out on the peninsula here in Washington, so you’d probably want to travel over to Seattle and go to the Renegade Craft Fair, which they’re doing once or twice a year now, or Urban Craft Uprising, which is the really big one we do here. I know a lot of people who will travel back and forth to Portland craft shows, as well. They’ll drive down.
Yeah, Portland’s got Crafty Wonderland and probably some other good stuff going on. So that’s a load everything into the station wagon situation I think, and see what’s going on.
Nicole: But I also think if you’re just starting out and you haven’t really done craft shows yet, and you do live in a smaller town, there might be holiday things at a local church or arts community center for you to kind of get your feet wet and get in there without having to fork out a really big booth fee, application for a larger show like Crafty Wonderland or Urban Craft Uprising, or something like that.
Arianne: That’s a good point. Even in my neighborhood in Seattle, we have the Phinney Neighborhood Association that does a little craft show in an old school house. It’s not a huge thing, but it’s a great place to get started.
Nicole: Or if you know other makers in your town, you might want to do just like a little thing at a house or something. I’ve definitely done all of those thing before. And then the other thing is you’re lucky to be in Arianne’s group. So reaching out and asking in there and just saying, “This is where I live. What are your experiences with shows? What would you suggest to a beginner?”
Erin, I’ll put a link to, we have some posts for early craft show people on our website. Oh, shoot, I forgot, I also did a whole workshop called Craft Show Success. It would be perfect for. So, I’ll make a discount code and I’ll send it to you for that. It’s really inexpensive, it’s like $45 or something.
Arianne: So, related to starting out doing craft fairs, Yolanda asks us, she says, “I’ve done several fairs last year, big and little, and I’m still perfecting my booth and methods. How many fairs are too many?” She’s worried she’s spreading herself thin, there.
Nicole: There’s never too many. I think you’ll know when you’ve done too many. One of my busiest years as a craft show seller I had three or four different people working for me, and me, all doing craft shows at the same time. So, it’d be a Saturday and my stuff would actually be at four different craft shows all over southern California. I was kind of done after that, needed to take a break, but I think the ones that you’re making money on, continue, or where you’re getting some other kind of ROI, some other kind of return on your investment. Whether it’s maybe you don’t make tons of money at a certain show but the booth fee’s only $30 and it’s only five hours, and it’s in an arts community center and they serve you free sandwiches while you’re there and everybody’s super nice, and 10% goes to charity or something, you have to look at the bigger picture and decide which shows you really want to do.
I have an evaluation thing that I go through. So after each craft show I look at, “Okay, how much money did I make? How much did this cost? What are my other returns on my investment that I got? Did I meet fellow makers? Did I connect with wholesale accounts? Did I get some press? Did I do this, did I do that?” And kind of go through there so that the next season I can whittle down that list into the ones where my effort is going the furthest.
Arianne: Yeah, that makes sense. We’ve had clients who, they’ll just do the circuit, they’ll do every Renegade Craft Fair across the country and it’s like one of their biggest income streams. Some people love doing that, and some people absolutely hate it. When I did my course this fall, the main goal of one of my students was to get out of the outdoor craft fairs and never have to sit outside in a tent again. So it also depends on your personality. Do you enjoy going out to craft fairs? Do you get energized and have a good time selling, or are you just sitting there like, “I hate my life?”
So, let’s see, I have got some good questions here about once you’re actually at the show. So Erica wants to know about show discounts, would you advise them or not advise them? She says, “The retail cost mark-up should be covering my expenses to do the show,” so of course she’d prefer not to do discounts and she doesn’t want to decrease the value of her products, so she is wondering how you feel about offering people discount at a show.
Nicole: I feel the same way that she does. She basically answered herself. I think she probably has some experience definitely doing craft shows. I think she just wants us to say that that’s okay. But I totally agree with you. The right customer isn’t going to need a discount. So just keep that in mind. The way I think about it is discounts and sales are there for a reason. If you think about a department store, they’re not just randomly like, “You know what, it’s a Sunday and it’s raining outside. Let’s just do 25% off underwear today.”
Arianne: They’re not.
Nicole: Everything is very, very, very well planned out there. They’re doing it for a reason. They’re doing a discount or sale because it’s last season’s stuff and they need to get it out of there to make room for summer bathing suits or winter coats, or whatever it is. This does actually happen in department stores, but things that are imperfect. Maybe somebody returned something and there’s a snag on it. For a maker with a smaller business, that might be you’re screen printing your T-shirt and one of the prints was a little bit crooked and it’s not perfect. Well, you can have a sale bin and have that there. I just don’t believe in random discounts. I feel like they should be strategic and planned out.
Having said that, when I was selling at craft shows I always had a two-fer discount. So, on my T-shirts, if it was, I can’t remember how much they were at this time, but if they were $25 each, they would be $25 each or two for $45. That worked out really well for me, but-
Arianne: Yeah, that makes sense, and it’s also giving you something. You’re getting people to increase their order when they might not have otherwise. Another thing I’ve seen is if somebody’s traveled a long distance, maybe they don’t want to bring all their inventory back home with them. Maybe towards the end of the show they might do a discount. That’s serving them, there’s a purpose to that. But for me as a craft show attendee, usually it’s like a one-time event that’s just happening just once per year, I’m not expecting a discount. I feel like it’s a special thing already happening for me.
Nicole: Well, and they’re saving on shipping…
Arianne: Yeah. There’s that too. Right, not only did they save a bunch of money to ship to their home and they’d have to wait. That’s great. So, let’s see here. Erica has another question. She wants creative ideas to entice her booth visitors to join her email list. She says she’s seen some interesting approaches like having a raffle for all email joiners at the end of show for a gift product. Have you seen anybody do anything interesting there?
Nicole: Yeah, I actually love the raffle idea, and I have seen people do that and that was something that I did back in the day. I definitely did the raffle thing. But I think when we’re thinking about newsletters, you have to think about why would your customer want to sign up for your newsletter. Although we are not our customers, it is helpful to think about why you sign up for a newsletter from a brand with a product line. Maybe it’s because you want to see behind the scenes, and you want that peek at that behind the scenes. Or maybe it’s because you want to see what their new product is that’s coming out. You want to be the first to see that, or you want to be the first to know about sales.
Or, one of the ways that was really helpful to me when I was getting people to sign up was, “Sign up for my email list if you want to hear about other shows like this.” Because people are at the craft show, and they’re having a really good time there. Sometimes they randomly found out about it, and I always would let people know the frequency of the emails. So, “I send out an email once a month with behind the scenes peeks, sales or discounts, or whatever, and any other local craft shows like this.” That worked really well for me and I didn’t even have to give them anything. Plus it was a very honest approach, which I think people appreciate.
Arianne: That makes sense, and I think it helps people stay on your list. Because if they only joined because they wanted something for free, you now have a list full of people that want free things, which is maybe not the best way to sell things online. So, it’s not that you should never do a raffle, but you should know that a lot of those people are probably going to unsubscribe from the list once they realize they didn’t win the freebie. They may not be interested in hearing about your upcoming show schedule or anything like that. So the more you can tie your offer to what they’re actually getting, the better.
I feel like the first step to getting people on your mailing list is first figuring out what’s fun and interesting about your mailing list. If there isn’t anything fun or interesting about your mailing list, it’s going to be really hard to sell it. Then once you do have some fun or interesting reason for people to be on your mailing list, then it’s easy to talk about it.
Nicole: Yeah, I fully, fully agree with that, and the kind of authenticity in advertising of, “This is what my newsletter is about. This is what you can expect.” Because you’re trying to build a relationship with that customer, you’re not McDonald’s where you’re just trying to get people in, get them to eat, and get them out. It’s not a business of convenience, you’re trying to build this lasting relationship with this person. So, how are you going to build that relationship? You’re going to open that conversation. You’re going to talk about yourself. You’re going to invite them to talk about themselves. You could even do things in your newsletter where you have, “Pick our next product,” and you have three products that you’re going back and forth, and really involve your customers in that creative process.
Arianne: Yeah, that’s a great idea. I’m even thinking, like for instance, if you sell scarves, you could offer people that you have 101 Ways to Wear Your Scarf, or something. That could just be an automated email they get the second they sign up for your list. Then they’re so interested and intrigued they’ll stay on there. Now you’re talking to people who are interested in scarves and fashion and it all makes sense. They’re happy to be there, you’re happy they’re there, and they might buy another scarf because now they have 101 ways to wear it.
So, okay, we have got another good marketing question. Trisha says, “I get quite a few buyers that come into my tent and ask for my card to purchase online later. What’s the best way to get the sale that day? 90% of them don’t end up placing an order.” Imagine that.
Nicole: Oh, yeah. That is such a pain in the behind about craft shows. It’s hard for me to say because as a shopper at a craft show, I’m like that too. I think you can always mention, “Sounds great. I’ll be here until five, and if you get it at the show remember you don’t have to pay for shipping.” Or just some little thing. I think the worst thing is trying to press them, like, “I’m only here today. Are you sure you don’t want to get it right now?” That’s not going to work out as well as, “Okay, sounds cool. Be here till five.” Just real casual about it. “Be here till five, you don’t have to pay for shipping if you get it here.” You know?
Arianne: Yeah. If they’re asking for your card, I would be tempted to see if they want to exchange cards. Then maybe you have a way to follow them on Instagram or be on your mailing list, or something like that, like just to keep the conversation going.
Nicole: Yeah, I actually went through a period where I didn’t have business cards on purpose. If somebody would say that I would say, “Well, I don’t have any cards but you’re welcome to sign up for my newsletter list and I’ll send that.” Or, “You’ll get a link to our website when we send out our newsletter.”
Arianne: That’s genius.
Nicole: If somebody really cared, they would sign up for it.
Arianne: Yeah, I like it. But I know what you mean, as a shopper myself, I’m often the perfect target customer for the businesses there. I see tons of things I want, but I can’t buy everything. Then I do feel like, at a craft show, you do just forge a personal connection there. So it feels bad to be like, “Oh, I love this. I love all this. Okay, but I got to go. I’m not buying anything.” So I do think you get a lot of people to make the request for your card or something like that, because there’s only so much their wallet can handle that day.
Nicole: Yeah, and it’s going to happen. I mean, think about your own experiences as … I’m talking to the person who asked this question. Think about your own experiences as a customer. When you go into a store there’s going to be stuff that you pick up, and you look at, and you like, but it doesn’t always mean you’re going to buy it.
Nicole: And sometimes there’s nothing that anybody can get you to say to buy it.
Arianne: Can you talk about Craftcation for one second?
Nicole: Sure, I love talking about Craftcation.What do you want to know?
Arianne: How about if somebody has not heard of Craftcation, what would you tell them Craftcation was all about?
Nicole: Craftcation is the annual business and makers conference that I produce with my partner Delilah in Ventura, CA. It happens once a year, every spring. Arianne will be there teaching. She’s amazing and we have over, I think, just about 200 different classes, business classes and hands on classes. Everything from how to do branding, to accounting, to finance, to website, to SEO, to any business topic, PR, that you could possibly think of. Then we have craft classes too, block printing and indigo dying and sewing, and jewelry making. There’s ten different classes happening simultaneously at any time, so you have a lot to choose from.
Then we have parties and lunches, and dinners. We have a dance party, and this year the theme is, “Thank you for being a friend,” i.e. the Golden Girls. We have yoga and meditation on the beach to feed your self-caring side, your woo side. I don’t know which side that would be. But then we also have crazy dance parties where people drink beer. There’s really something for everyone.
Our early bird registration ends, I think, February 1st. Or, it’s actually regular registration and then it goes into late registration. So if you’re thinking about coming, get your ticket before February so you can save some money. We have a private Facebook group where you can reach out and share hotel rooms to save money. We have a blog post on doing it on a budget.
Arianne: It’s just darn fun. It’s so much fun. Okay everybody, well that was really fun. If you missed the start of this you’ll be able to replay it in the Facebook group after we close out here. Thanks for coming and asking your questions. And thank you so much, Nicole.