Small biz how to : Starting in surface design Part 3 – designing repeats

Designing repeats for surface patterns:

Hi there! And welcome to part 3 in this series on getting started in surface design (find part 1 here – it’s all the basics of editing your images ready for uploading, and part 2 here – it’s all about how to deal with colour when you’re printing. There’s lots to know!)

 

claudia owen

claudia owen – (l) ‘stars’; (r) ‘iron bars’

(read more about Claudia Owen here)

 

So, there are a few more technical and practical issues to cover for the basics of using digital files. There’s no real theme overall, but each of them is important.   Let’s start.

 

How big do I need to make my repeat?

There are two aspects to this question : the first is the size of the motif you’re using, and second is the end user of your design.

When your talking about the size of the motif, it’s an obvious question of size. For instance, the one used by Claudia Owen (above) is small and quite regular, so the repeat would be relatively small. However, the motifs used by CJLdesigns (below) are quite complex, and the repeat would need to be a fairly large to bring out its full beauty.

 

cjldesigns - garden at twilight

cjldesigns – garden at twilight

(you can read more about CJLdesigns here)

 

The second aspect comes down to whether you’re designing it just for your own use, or whether you’re designing to sell. Obviously if your motif is small, a prospective client doesn’t want to see just one motif, they’d like to see a reasonable amount of repeat. If your repeat is super-large, showing them an entire repeat may also be unwieldy. Michelle Fifis of Pattern Observer recommends this: “If you have been hired by a client to develop an original print, then I recommend working within an 11” x 17” (27.94 x 43.18cm) artboard. There is no point in wasting your time or your client’s money developing an excessive amount of artwork if they are not going to approve the concept. That size is plenty of artwork to convey the motifs, layout and color usage of a pattern.

“Alternatively, if you are developing prints to sell through an agent, print studio or directly to manufacturers, then I recommend developing at least 13” x 19” (33.02 x 48.26cm) of artwork. As with any industry, you’ll find variation within the market -some studios require more artwork and some require less.

“And if you are just starting out and want to create artwork to sell, then try working within a larger artboard, such as 13″ x 19″. If your business is up and running, ask your customers which size they prefer!”

 

How do I create variety within my repeat without drawing a million different elements?

The solution is simple as! When you are drawing individual motifs to put together at a later stage to create your repeat, don’t feel like you have to make oodles for it to work. Any image-making program, from PicMonkey to Photoshop and Illustrator will allow you to flip, rotate and resize your elements. I used it in my process to create this Bloomsbury-style repeat, using only a few different styles of borders and 4 different paintings of poppies. FLIP, ROTATE AND RESIZE. (If you’d like to read about my whole process, join Pattern Observer and check out the tutorial here).

 

Bloomsbury inspired - Julie Gibbons

Bloomsbury inspired – Julie Gibbons

 

 

What image-editing program should I use?

If you just want to do just basic things and experiment with your own designs, then you can probably manage with something like PicMonkey – it allows you to upload your own elements that you can layer on top of your base image, and it will allow you to resize, flip and rotate to your heart’s content. And of course you can adjust brightness, colour and contrast. It is relatively flexible and easy to use, but there are limits to what it can do, although you can purchase more sophisticated elements and tools which can give you more usability options.

If you would like to get a bit more serious, then Photoshop and/or Illustrator are the industry standard. I have a stand-alone version of Photoshop on my computer that I got several years ago, but these days it’s only available by subscription through their Creative Cloud (which can be a bit pricey, depending on what you want). However, it also means that you always have the advantage of being able to work with the latest version of a high-end product. You can find out more about your options on Adobe (the manufacturers of Photoshop and Illustrator) here, and you can test out whatever you want for 30 days for free.

Photoshop is highly sophisticated and incredibly flexible for its ability to work in editable layers, and for its blending options and filters. Although its focus is working with images based in pixels, it also has the ability to work with vector graphics. Conversely, Illustrator’s focus is working with vector graphics, but it also has the capacity to work at a pixel level. You can easily switch images between the two, if you want even more editing flexibility.

The basics of Photoshop and Illustrator are easy to grasp, so don’t feel like you have to be a technical whiz before you start. Whether you choose these, or a simpler, less expensive alternative, depends entirely on how serious you wish to get about a career in surface design.

 

I’m serious. What’s next?

There are several online courses out there offering learning at basic level right through to advanced skills, on many different aspects of surface design. You can check out places like MakeItInDesign or Skillshare, but of course my favourite is Pattern Observer (because I write for them!). I’ve worked my way through a few of their courses, and have found them excellent.

There’s lots more to know about the study aspect too, so I might leave that until the next post. As I noted at the beginning, if you missed the first two posts in this series, and want to know the ins and outs of what file formats to use and ways to deal with colour, you can check Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

 

See you next time with some more juicy surface design goodness!

Julie x

 

Visual biz : Monday Mini Makeovers {part 6}

Monday Mini Makeovers {part 6}

DREAM BIG - TEST PATTERN

 

Welcome to Part SIX of Monday Mini Makeovers! That means we’ve covered quite a few shops, and helped them with a lot of business presentation issues, ESPECIALLY the visual. So if you don’t find the information you’re after in this post, I encourage you to go back through and check out the other Monday Mini Makeovers. I guarantee you’ll look at your shop with fresh eyes.

{If you want to find out more about what the Mini Makeovers are, check here.}

OK, let’s meet this week’s beautiful people and check out their shops.

 

Jenni from The Paper Lake

 

thepaperlake.etsy.com

 {ThePaperLake.etsy.com}

Jenni Tedman sells lots of bunting and stationery through her shop, ThePaperLake – bunting always looks so cheery, don’t you think?

First up, nice logo Jenni! Your shop banner is simple and clean, and I like the handmade feel conveyed through your choice of font.

Your photos are clear and bright; however I would say that for some shots you are too far away from the bunting – I know you’re trying to include more of the whole string, but this results in too much white space in your photos, and they end up losing the impact of your lovely colours.

 Your perspective angle shots are good because they also give an idea of the close-up (colours, patterns, textures), as well as the whole string of bunting. For those simpler shots, you could also create more colour and impact by having a double string of bunting; or you could take a closer pic of just three, or five elements, so there’s not so much white space in the image, and people can see the print/texture of the paper if there is one. When you’re stuck for styling ideas, always check out the competition! What images do you like/not like from other shops that sell bunting?

For backgrounds, I also think the pics of your paper sticker stacks work well – the grey circle adds more depth/interest to image, without being distracting – it’s a clean shape and fits well with your overall aesthetic.

Don’t hide your Custom Colour Matching item on the second page! It’s a real feature of your offerings, and should be on your front page (also, change the title around a bit so that ‘Colour Matching’ is visible under the thumbnail too – every bit of awareness of what you have to offer is helpful).

And it’s nice that you’ve got a bit of a back story on your About page; it’s also good to see a variety of pics showing your materials and space and what you do. However, PLEASE don’t squash your pics! A simple two-part image with the bridal party and one perfectly matched banner would be an excellent demonstration of your colour matching.

Your policies are good and clear. And I love that you’ve said “The benefit to this is a one-on-one buying experience. My banners are not factory made.” However, I would encourage you to include something more friendly to finish with – I know you’ve told people where and how to contact you, but in sales, it’s ALWAYS about the words and where you put them!! (I am SOOO still learning all about this…) – so in Seller Information at the end, you could finish up with a friendly, “Don’t hesitate to contact me if you’ve got any questions”.

 

Lauren from Gears and Gadgets

gearsandgadgets.etsy.com

{gearsandgadgets.etsy.com}

Lauren from GearsAndGadgets sells a variety of luxurious handmade bags and vintage accessories inspired by many eras.

First up Lauren, your “About” page is beautifully evocative of what you do and what inspires you! Your words totally took me to another place – you should try and include some of that in your Shop Announcement. While your SA kind of says what you do, in comparison it’s a bit vague, and it could be so much more inspiring. Because you’re appealing to a very particular group of people, be more specific and more evocative of what appeals to them – mention steampunk, magical, Victorian etc – otherwise you’re not connecting with them as well as you might. I’d probably avoid using the quotation marks on “different” too – it doesn’t need it. If you need to emphasise the quality of difference more, try some other words or phrases – e.g. for those who take the path less travelled, unusual, contrary, exotic, fantastical…. a thesaurus is your friend!

The most striking thing is – you need LOTS more products. This is especially important because you have such a variety in your shop – handmade items are only about 1/3 of your 20 or so items for sale. You must give your customers a choice; if they don’t find something similar to what they want, they won’t bother asking for a custom order – they’ll go looking in another shop.

I absolutely love all the rich fabrics and trimmings on your About photos. With the words, you could also give more of a backstory to where you’ve come from, and why you’ve chosen these areas – is it the romance? Is it just the love of rich fabrics? What’s your particular interest?

And again, like Jenni, your policies are clear and comprehensive, but perhaps make them more friendly?

Remember to always think like a customer. How do you make you customers feel when they visit your shop?? You want them to feel welcome? Use welcoming language!! 😀

 

Lolita from LolitaStas

LolitaStas.etsy.com

LolitaStas.etsy.com

Last for today, but by no means least is Lolita Staskevidiene from LolitaStas, maker of delicious felted accessories from Lithunia.

I think Lolita’s  shop is already very lovely! The items are well photographed – bright, clear, and consistent in styling, and it’s nice to see how she has grouped items by colour. Currently, she only has around 40 items – which is not an empty shop, but it’s certainly not overcrowded either. Put more items in! If people like your style, they also like to see choice. I’ve heard many successful businesses suggest around 3-5 pages or more (i.e. 60+ items), although this might vary according to your type of products.

Lolita’s Policies page is concise and friendly, and I definitely like how she finishes up with a friendly reminder that if customers have questions to contact her.

But Lolita! One big area I would pay attention to is your About page!! People ALWAYS want to know about the maker – how/why you started, what inspires you, what your creative space is like, why you like living where you do, other interesting hobbies, what you do for a living (if you’re not making a career out of being a maker) – anything quirky or crazy or downright beautiful about you is great. Include photos of your workspace, your materials and tools, you doing your favourite thing… who are you???

I think your shop is already doing very well even though you’ve been open only for a few months, and with a few more little tweaks, it will be absolutely ace.

*

ALL the very best to today’s participants, and I thank them very much for allowing me in for a little poke around and a prod. And I KNOW it’s appreciated by my readers too, especially those of you who have shops of your own. Thanks for all the feedback!

 

 

But you know what? After taking a look at so many shops over the last few months, it is becoming more and more obvious that lots of folk struggle with the same things.

So I’ve decided to put it all together for you.

If you’re struggling with how to brand your shop; if you don’t know how to convey your vision and mood; if you have no idea what your business personality is… I’ve put it all together in a BRAND SPANKING NEW WORKSHEET.

If you’d like a quick reference sheet OR like to have a good hard think about your shopfront, you can get it here. It’s hot off the press.

 




So that’s it!

 

AS ALWAYS, if you would like a Monday Mini Makeover on your biz, you can join in too – all you have to do is follow the instructions over here.

Catch you next time!
Julie X

Visual biz : Monday Mini Makeovers {part 5}

Monday Mini Makeovers {part 5}transformations - this way - photo - lulus thai noodle shop - RedHedgePhotos etsy

{image – Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop by RedHedgePhotos.etsy.com}

 

Welcome to Part 5 of Monday Mini Makeovers! I hope you’re enjoying this series, but more importantly, I hope you’re learning some great stuff too! I know I am – the more I figure out what works and what doesn’t work for others, the more I learn about how I can improve my own biz. AND I get to meet some wonderful people and see some great products too!

So, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock or something and wondering what this is all about, this segment is aimed at showcasing the websites of creative micro-businesses just like yours, and giving them the once-over. For each biz I feature, I will give my honest opinion about my initial impressions of their site, with the idea that not only do these lovely people benefit from having a fresh set of eyes over their online presence, but that everyone who reads this can also get tips on how to charge up their own websites and shopfronts.

Would you like one for your biz too? You can! Monday Mini Makeovers are open to the public, so if you’ve got any sort of creative small biz and you’d like me to take a look at your online shop or website, read more about what to do here.}

OK, let’s meet this week’s lovely folk!

 

Belinda from Bell Designs

belldesigns.etsy.com

belldesigns.etsy.com

 

Hi to Belinda from BellDesigns.

Belinda has a beautifully crafted range of jewellery that she makes in her home studio on a rural property just outside Adelaide. She’s got some lovely work, and her shop is doing OK so far (excellent reviews with a 5 star rating is definitely admirable). I think just a few little tweaks will help her shop to really ‘pop’!

Most of Belinda’s work is in silver, and she has styled her product shots with various backgrounds to present a generally monochromatic theme to her whole shop – a range of white, grey or black stones, with the occasional hint of wood. This is fine, but it’s important to make sure that lots of greys don’t make it all too dark.

Starting with her shop banner, I would lighten and brighten the image; I would probably also turn up the colour saturation a little to show off the gold and make it seem a bit ‘warmer’. In the same way, several of her product images would also benefit from being brightened up a little – some of them are a bit dark, and/or need a bit more contrast to show them off.  I would probably also limit the backgrounds to two or three types – consistency makes for a neater looking shop.

‘Bell Designs’ is a lovely name, evocative of bell-like sounds and everything lyrical and beautiful. It would be great if the shop banner reflected this a bit more – think of the flowing curves of many of the jewellery designs. Inspiration might come from the flowing lines of nature, using plants like lilies and ferns as a starting point.

With regard to her Policies page, the Welcome message could be improved. Don’t send your customers elsewhere for information – it doesn’t hurt at all to repeat your happy welcome and brief intro. Customers like to see friendly and happy! There are also a few typos and grammatical errors that should be fixed. If you’re stuck for what sorts of things to include or change, go to some of your favourite Etsy shops and have a read through their policies; after reading half a dozen or more, you are bound to get a better idea of what does and doesn’t work!

I love Belinda’s photo of the country on her About page! And it’s good to include general shots of the workshop and jewellery display. Cute puppies are also always a winner in my books – but I’d suggest getting them out and about in the countryside being happy – grab a great photo of them there, to re-emphasise the rural/handmade setting and convey a sense of how much you enjoy where you are.

It’s great that you give information about caring for your jewellery in your Shop announcement, but perhaps this info could also be included elsewhere? e.g on your policies page somewhere, and most certainly in a little info sheet when you post their order.

Now to the DESCRIPTIONS of items. I’m glad you give the definition of what gold-filled jewellery actually is, and how thick the gold is. Lots of customers still have no idea and might think that it’s actually filled with gold!!

Two other things would be helpful in each product’s description.

  1. Your first paragraph is the most important one – give them a beautiful reason to want this item! If they like it, they will want to read more about it. For instance, your intro could read, “This is my most popular bracelet – called the ‘jingle-jangle’ because it makes such a wonderful sound when it’s worn!”

  2. While you give the actual measurements of each item (and note, it would be helpful to list these in both cm AND inches), we all know that bodies come in many shapes and sizes, and so a link to proper measurement guides would be very helpful. Direct them to size charts somewhere, either on the web, or offer them as a printable PDF so they can figure it out for themselves. I have also seen useful pictures that show you how low different length chains hang around your neck .

 

Phew! I know that might sound like a lot, but really, each one is a general tweak. It’s the little details that add so much to the overall finish and professional presentation – for your items AND your shop.

 

Justine from Yarn for Baby

yarnforbaby.etsy.com

yarnforbaby.etsy.com

 

Hello and welcome to Justine from YarnForBaby.

Justine makes a very cute range of clothing and accessories for babies and small kids – I encourage you to check out her Giraffe set, or the Elephant suit!

Generally speaking, this is a very lovely, fresh looking shop. The product photos are good – clean white backgrounds, and colourful, bright clear images. One thing I’ve noticed though is that there are very few images of babies wearing the items. I know it’s not practical to have photos of your items being worn for EVERY product, but think about doing it for some – especially those items that are reproducible, and are made specifically for photo shoots. It could be a good investment in your business to collaborate with a photographer and get some great shots of a few different sets being worn (perhaps set on a pale background so they fit in with the rest of your photos). Do you have friends with small children you can borrow? Previous local customers that you can contact? Having the occasional picture of a worn set interspersing the ‘standard’ images will make your shop look more interesting and add some reality/depth to what you do.

Your shop banner would benefit from a little more consideration of your shop’s style. Certainly, it’s good to see some sets being worn here, but the images should be better than just snapshots – the lighting and styling is inconsistent. Think about what the feeling is that you want to convey. A professional looking banner will have consistent styling and colouring, and will convey a mood and say something about your shop – the logo and product images for a discount store are very different to that of a boutique. Spend some time looking around other online stores in your niche, and take notes of what you do and don’t like.

Justine’s About page gives an excellent description of who and what she is, and how much crochet means to her. If she could add the same enthusiasm and passion to her Policies’ “Welcome” section, that would be awesome! It doesn’t have to be more than 1 or 2 sentences, but it would really lift it.

Getting yourself noticed is not just about having a good-looking shop either (although it’s certainly part of it). When you use Social Media, really USE it! Share things from around the internet that interest you; ask questions (not just about your products) – get your customers to talk about themselves, and get a sense of community happening. There are lots of other ways to connect with customers online too – I talk about a few here and here.

fabric dot

Now it’s over to you readers again!

How did YOU go with all of that?

Can you think how the suggestions I’ve made today could be applied to your biz? What would you change? What would you keep the same? Have I still not solved your problem for your biz? Maybe the previous Monday Mini Makeovers  might help. And as always, if you’ve got a specific question let me know in the comments below. – I’m more than happy to help anytime!

AND, if you would like a Mini Monday Makeover on your biz, you can join in too – all you have to do is pop me a line at info@tractorgirl.com.au, with a link to your shop. If you want more information about how the MMMs work, you can read about them here.

See you then!
Julie X

Small biz how-to : Monday Mini Makeovers {part 4}

Monday Mini Makeovers - caterpillars and butterflies

{undergoing renovations – photographer unknown}

 

Welcome to Part 4 of Monday Mini Makeovers! This is where I showcase some websites of creative micro-businesses just like yours, and give them the once-over. {And hey, I know it’s Tuesday’n’all, but life’s sometimes messy… ha! so apologies 🙂 }

For each biz I feature, I will give my honest opinion about my initial impressions of their site, with the idea that not only do these lovely people benefit from having a fresh set of eyes over their online presence, but that everyone who reads this can also get tips on how to charge up their own websites and shopfronts.

{And if you’d like to get involved yourself, you can! Monday Mini Makeovers are open to the public, so if you’ve got any sort of creative small biz and you’d like me to take a look at your online shop or website, read more about what to do here.}

OK, let’s meet this week’s lovelies!

 

Sonia from Happy Spirit Handmade

MMM - happyspirithandmade

 

Hi to Sonia from HappySpiritHandmade.
I’m glad that you’re a happy spirit! The world needs more of it. But your shop banner needs to shine and express that too.

Your shop banner is your “Welcome to the shop”. What kind of feeling do you want to give to your customers when they step in the door?

Use some more bright, fun colour, with radiating lines, like sunshine! I think your banner feels a bit blank at the moment. I would also try some more inventive fonts. There’s oodles available for free on the internet – just have a poke around and see what you like!

Your product photos would benefit with a bit more attention. Your lovely signs don’t look at all natural sitting on a chair. If they’re intended to go on an outside wall, then see if you can find an outside wall to hang them from. Or even prop them up on a wooden fence. Spend some time shifting them around your yard and house to find the most appropriate backdrop and the best lighting. In most cases, in the shade outside in daylight is best.

Several of your photos are too dark and suffer from colour cast (they all look a little blue to me. Use Photoshop or one of the many free online image editors such as PicMonkey or Pixlr to lighten and brighten your pics. (It’s something I do to pretty much ALL of my pics – brighten them, up the contrast and then tweak the colour balance to get more realistic colour). {Jess at Create & Thrive has some AWESOME photography tips, including a case study.}

I also think your prices are too low! As makers, we often get trapped into thinking we have to ‘compete’ in the marketplace by providing our wares at the lowest possible price. This is SO wrong. You are not a sweatshop, and you are not competing with bulk-manufactured goods. By pricing your goods too low, you are also doing other makers a disservice, by reinforcing the expectations of the consumers that that is how much they should pay for handmade. Increase your prices!!

You not only have to think about how long it takes you to source the fabrics, how much the materials cost and how long it takes you to make the item, but you also need to consider the other ‘hidden’ time and effort – things such as styling and photographing your item, time spent writing descriptions and listing on Etsy; then the time spent packing and posting your orders, doing your accounts and all the rest of it. It’s a whole business that the product is only a small part of.

I’ve seen a few useful guides to pricing around the interwebs, so feel free to google around and see what others have to say. Pricing can be a very complicated and difficult part of the biz for small creative biz. Create & Thrive got several makers to say how they dealt with pricing; and Ink & Spindle gave an excellent discussion of the matter, and proposed a simple formula for the basis of figuring out your price.

 

 

Melissa  – Sweet Never Endings

MMM - sweet neverendings

 

Hi to Melissa from Sweet Never Endings. {Melissa lives just down the road from me in Griffith, NSW!}

Firstly, your logo is lovely! Pastel-y and sweet, and reminiscent of childhood treats.

But the very next thing that strikes me is your product photos. Your choice of a wooden table as background is very dark and heavy and doesn’t really suit your light and happy logo – a plain white background would probably be better. I also think that part of the problem is that your products are photographed at all odd angles, and it makes your shop seem a little untidy. Perhaps you could photograph all your products from directly above, so that they are all square? Or, you could make your products look more inviting by styling up your pics – e.g having a small bowl of the sweets next to the packets (if the branding of the sweets is important to your product). And you need MUCH more information about your products! I couldn’t even see a size for your peanut brittle.

Looking at it a bit broader, having your own .com says HEAPS about your professionalism. We’re dealing with perceptions here – and so if you include the .bigcartel.com extension which everyone knows doesn’t cost anything – well, it says something about your biz. Domain names are cheap, and web-hosting is very reasonable (and defs, shop around! There’s lots of providers out there, with varying levels of service).

I noticed you said you stock pinatas and party supplies – well, you definitely need to put these up too! Some photos of happy customers would be awesome, as would some written testimonials. It’s all part of sharing with your customers what makes you a special place; what you do that is different to everyone else. Go check out some other sites in your niche and have a good hard think about what YOU like reading on other people’s web sites; I know I always love to go straight for the “About” page.  So spruce it up! Tell a great story, and half your battle is already won.

Getting your name out and about should ALWAYS be part of your strategy.

There are lots of different social media platforms,and you need to figure out which one is best for you. Where are your customers mostly likely to hang out? Concentrate on one or two, as nobody has time to do all of them (and it’s not very productive either). Certainly, on your contact page you could include links to your Facebook page and other social media, as well as your normal email address (not everybody likes using the contact form), and your postal address, if appropriate.

Another EXCELLENT method for getting your name about is to do a few guest blog posts. You can expose your name to a whole new audience! Find other blogs in your niche, and write about some aspect of the biz that you’re involved in – a tutorial, some aspect of the biz that bugs you, something that inspires you, or even a roundup of other people’s work you admire. Also, spend time commenting on other people’s blogs – and not just naf things like “awesome!” or “love it”. Provide thoughtful feedback, and the bloggers as well as other readers and commenters will come and check you out. If your comments are interesting enough, you will have a whole new tribe of adoring fans reading your comments and  visiting your blog.

 

Enormous thanks to today’s participants! Thanks for putting your neck out there, and thanks for the opportunity to share some of your solutions.

Now it’s over to you fabulous readers again – how did you go?

Can you think how the suggestions I’ve made today could be applied to your biz? What would you change? What would you keep the same?

Have I still not solved your problem for your biz?

If you’ve got a specific question let me know in the comments below.

AND, if you would like a Monday Mini Makeover on your biz, you can join in too – all you have to do is follow the instructions over here.

Catch you next time!
Julie X

 

Small biz how-to : Monday Mini Makeovers {part 3}

closed for renovations - combustionglassworks

{image from CombustionGlassworks – here}

 

Welcome to Part 3 of Monday Mini Makeovers! Here I’m showcasing more websites of creative micro-businesses, and giving them the once-over.

For each biz I feature, I give my honest opinion about my initial impressions of their site, with the idea that not only do these businesses benefit from having a fresh set of eyes over their online presence, but that everyone who reads this can also get tips on how to charge up their own websites and shopfronts.

{And if you’d like to get involved yourself, you can! I am opening this up to the public – so if you’ve got any sort of creative small biz and you’d like me to take a look at your online shop or website, read more about what to do here.}

 

OK! Let’s get stuck in.

 

Erin Hayley of KiddieCreate

MMM - kiddiecreate

www.kiddiecreate.com.au

 

Erin and her partner have been running Kiddie Create for two years, but she says that sales haven’t picked up and neither has traffic, and they’re not sure why.

Let me start by saying that this isn’t a bad website already. It’s easy to find your way around, the branding is colourful and bright, it’s fairly easy to see what the product is. So Erin’s query made me put my very serious thinking cap on.

KiddieCreate have a slide show on the landing page; this could be used better, by showing off a variety of things that kids have made, add in some more happy faces and little hands proud of their achievements. Make it sing with their joy! Think about who you are actually appealing to as well (the busy mums, of course!) and so you could include something about what problems your product solves (e.g. how to keep thinking of new stuff to keep kiddos entertained). I would also suggest that on the slide show, all the slides should be crisp – make sure images are big enough so they don’t have to be stretched, pixelated or blurry.

One of the slides mentions Fundraising, and yet I can find no further information about it anywhere. If it’s something you do, let people know what it is, otherwise, get rid of the slide!

I couldn’t find anywhere to subscribe to a newsletter – is there one? A newsletter is an excellent way to keep in touch with previous customers, and/or keep potential customers informed about new products and developments in the business.

Add in some free printables – for instance pictures for colouring, a face mask or simple origami, to encourage more traffic to the site.

I would add more information in the “About” section – I can’t even see your names! Just some excellent photos, which demonstrate you both have children. What are your backgrounds? Do either of you have any professional experience in working with children? More importantly, why and how did you start KiddieCreate?

Tell a great story, and people are much more likely to trust you, like you, visit you and buy from you.

To generate more traffic, you need to think outside just tweaking your website. KiddieCreate are using Facebook well, with frequent postings and engaging photos, as well as Instagram and Pinterest. They could also try a variety of other strategies to get themselves out there, including guest posting on blogs in their niche, and approaching magazines and blogs to feature their products.

Your website is only one part of your overall strategy for publicity about your product. Do some research and discover what else is happening in your niche and the most likely places your customers hang out. Then hang out there with them.

 

Susan Fowler – About the Place

MMM - about the place

etsy.com/shop/abouttheplace

 

Susan has a fascinating shop full of vintage from many eras, as well as a selection of handmade cushions and other items made from vintage fabrics.

As I’ve noted in previous posts for the MMM series, when you have a shopfront on Etsy, there is a lot of Etsy’s branding which takes up the screen space, and so Susan is limited in what she can do. Having said that, I think she has done OK – her shop banner and backgrounds of the photos are fairly consistent in their use of soft greys, and she has chosen her featured items well so that they fit in with this colour scheme too. The only tiny thing I would suggest is that her shop banner looks a little blurry! – a very minor detail overall.

Her product photography is very good – I really like how she has arranged her items with a few very well chosen props – a flower here, a succulent there – great for adding a splash of colour and/or texture contrast.

I also took a look around the rest of the shop. She has written a good shop ‘About’ page – we get a solid sense of who she is, what she likes and why. Her shop policies are clear and reasonable, and she seems friendly and approachable.

If Susan is concerned about traffic to her shop (which is why she contacted me), like KiddieCreate above, I would suggest that she needs to get outside of Etsy more and find other avenues to communicate with her customers. Susan has a Facebook page, but she doesn’t use it frequently enough to be useful to her business.

Even though we all say we love to hate Facebook, we all still end up there – I know I do!! It’s a great way to connect with customers when you use it well.

The way Facebook works is that they have algorithms to sort through the most ‘engaging’ stuff (i.e. the most commented and liked) and put that into people’s feeds. So the more you interact with your customers, the more you get seen. You also are more likely to be seen by those customers that interact with you the most. So, I see posts from Colossal because they’re incredibly popular, and also from Middlemost, because I ‘like’ her posts frequently.

Susan could also do a bit of research and thinking in order to get quite specific about who her ideal customer is, then figure out where they hang out, and go there and meet them. She could find some good blogs in her niche, and then write a blogpost or two on how to look after vintage wares, what her favourite era is and why, or even how to identify various eras. There’s lots to write about vintage!

 

Sue Flewell-Smith – Ivy Rose Design Studio

 

MMM - ivy rose design studio

 etsy.com/shop/ivyrosedesignstudio

 

Sue designs and makes a range of dresses, from casual right through to the very glamorous, formal gown end of the spectrum.

She has some beautiful photographs of her more formal dresses being worn by women in the open air, and I love the natural backdrops with open skies. However, there are other photographs with a variety of backgrounds and lighting – outside against a brick wall, on the catwalk in artificial light, indoors, in a studio with a white backdrop, with and without models. The result is a real mix, and doesn’t convey a clear message about who Sue is and what her style is.

My first suggestion to Sue is this.

 

Be consistent in your photographs, in their lighting and their backdrops – it helps to create a tidy-looking shop. Your photographs are another opportunity to confirm and enhance your branding.

 

If she has easy access to the country, then take images in rural settings – they look fantastic. If that is not always possible, then in the studio as much as you can, with consistent lighting.

Looking at her garments, I would suggest that Sue’s style is more elegant and formal than casual, and that her branding and shop approach need to reflect this. You can have a very lush and beautiful looking shop, and still sell casual clothing – but in my opinion, it’s a bit harder to do the other way around. Think about what upmarket shops you’re attracted to, and why. Research how they present themselves – colours, backgrounds, fonts… then relate what they do and how they style their clothes to your own shop. Show off your best pieces!

I have also noticed that Sue has several items in blue, and several more in black – I’m not sure if this says something about the colours she is naturally drawn to, but if it does, perhaps she could use these in her branding somehow.

In her shop policies, Sue needs to think more carefully about first impressions – her “welcome” section could be much more welcoming! And it only repeats information that is shown elsewhere. The Welcome section is another great opportunity to say hi to your customer and to let them know who you are and what you’ve got to offer. Imagine you’re the customer and then go through each of your policy sections, and think about how you would react to each one, and rewrite them where necessary.

 

fabric dot

 

Thanks to all of today’s participants! I wish you all the very best.

Now it’s over to you fabulous readers again – how did you go?

Can you think how the suggestions I’ve made today could be applied to your biz? What would you change? What would you keep the same?

Have I still not solved your problem for your biz?

If you’ve got a specific question let me know in the comments below.

AND, if you would like a Monday Mini Makeover on your biz, you can join in too – all you have to do is follow the instructions over here.

Catch you next time!
Julie X

 

Small biz how-to : Monday Mini Makeovers {part 2}

profound transformation underway

 

Welcome to Part 2 of Monday Mini Makeovers! This is where I showcase some websites of creative micro-businesses just like yours, and give them the once-over.

For each biz I feature, I will give my honest opinion about my initial impressions of their site, with the idea that not only do these good folk benefit from having a fresh set of eyes over their online presence, but that everyone who reads this can also get tips on how to charge up their own online presence.  {And if you’d like to get involved yourself, you can! Just subscribe, and follow the instructions here.}

Let’s meet today’s batch of creatives.

 

Tasha Chawner of tashachawner.com

TashaChawner.com

TashaChawner.com

I met Tasha online a few years back and have got to know her a bit over that time; not only that, but she’s also been a sponsor of this blog for the last few months, which has been great and it has meant that I’ve got to know her even better!

So firstly, I know she’s been planning to give her website tashchawner.com, a whole new makeover for some time. And it seems like she’s already on her way to bigger things! The new layout (above) looks much fresher, brighter and more colourful than the previous one. On the plus side I think it looks nice and clean, and the social media icons on top show that she’s easy to connect with elsewhere. However I would say that the header image still doesn’t convey what the blog’s about. I KNOW Tasha has some absolutely gorgeous photos, and I think she should incorporate one of them into the header to give it more personality.

There’s a whole lot more to this blog than what is suggested by the menu.  I would add a few more menu items, so people can find the various segments she has on her blog; for instance the wonderful “53 pieces of unsolicited advice”, as well as her own photography – and there are several other things she has listed in “what I write about” on her sidebar that could be included. As a wonderful web designer told me once, the ideal number of main items to have on a menu is around 6-8, and the rest of the items can be included in drop-down menus.

“Testimonials” and “Journey Into Jewellery” should be corrected for spelling. Some people might think I’m a bit nit-picky about spelling, but I utterly believe that it’s important that you present your best self. Please check the spelling on all items on your site – people may forgive a typo in a blog post, but are much less happy to do so on main pages, menu items, and sidebar items.

Newsletters are a great way of keeping in touch with your potential customer base about new things you’ve made or done, and these can generate some good sales for you.

If Tasha would like to build up her mailing list (does she use it for a newsletter? Or just for delivering blogposts?), she could include her free blog planner as an incentive for signup.

If you would like to set up your own mailing list, there are several platforms you can use (like Mailchimp or AWeber). It’s important that you have a proper opt-in setup for collecting email addresses – don’t just put them on yourself (like someone I saw recently!) – it’s just plain old rude, and besides that you may be in serious breach of privacy and antispam regulations.

When I’m searching around a site, I like the search bar to be obvious, so I think this should be moved to near the top of the sidebar. I DO like that she has the “Pin It” rollover button on her images – something I need to get onto myself!

On Tasha’s “About” page, I think she should start with explaining what a “conservative hippy” is because it’s her tagline and therefore important (and intriguing!). It’s fun going through what it does and does not mean to her; and she can follow on with all the other important stuff about who and what she is.

 

Deborah Thomas of  Doe Leather

Doe Leather

Doe Leather

Overall, this is a well put together website; it looks good and is easy to navigate. Doe Leather‘s history is such a great story! Briefly, Doe Leather was started by Deborah’s great-great-grandfather, and grew to be one of the most important leather manufacturers in England. Sadly, it was undone by cheap imports in the 1990s and closed in 2002. Now, Deborah is setting about transforming and building a new business out of that heritage.

I love all the old photos of the original factory in its heyday. However, I think it’s important that Deborah includes her own bio in the “About” section, not just as a small link at the bottom of the history page – the site is about the NEW business more so than just its history (which is fascinating). I would also enjoy knowing a bit more about the current setup, for instance, when did Deborah start the new business; is it just a solo operation or does she work with a team, etc.

I would also enjoy knowing more about the process, especially about the process of printing textures onto leather – is that still done, or are only pieces from the archive used? Understanding more about the process of hand crafting leather adds to the story behind each piece and therefore adds value to the product.

 

Ruthie Gray of The Silver Forge

The Silver Forge

The Silver Forge

Ruthie Gray from The Silver Forge is a jeweller specialising in custom orders with unusual gemstones, such as beautiful drusy agates and jaspers.

The space on your landing page is precious! It’s the first glimpse of you that your customers get, so use it wisely.

For this reason, don’t double or triple up on the information in your headers. On Ruthie’s site, I would drop the written header at the very top, and perhaps include the information “Sterling silver jewellery hand crafted by Ruthie Gray” in the banner image.

I would also recommend moving the social media icons to the top of the sidebar, it lets folk know you’re easy to connect with. I would then probably rearrange those icons, by grouping all the popular social media together – Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram; then group all the shop icons together, etc. Try to be logical in the order of them, it feels neater. And PLEASE make sure all your links are up to date! I couldn’t find Ruthie’s Tumblr at all.

Next down the sidebar I would have “About me”, with a smaller photo. Importantly, it needs to be linked to your own “About me” page on your website – don’t send your potential customers offsite to a third party.

Utilise the full width of your sidebar especially in regard to images; either make your sidebar width smaller, or your images larger. Keep your image sizes at a consistent width.

Ruthie’s photos are generally good – clear, with consistent light, backgrounds and minimal props.  I LOVE the responsiveness of Ruthie’s site and images – the resize and rearrange is excellent. These days, if you have your own site, it is imperative that you choose a platform that is responsive, that is, able to be viewed easily on many different sized devices from mobile to tablet to desktop. To ignore this aspect is to cut your audience substantially; most people don’t have the patience to scroll from side to side on a small screen.

An integral part of her business is bespoke orders using gemstones from her large collection, and I think she needs to make more of this on her front page. One way this could be achieved is to include a slide show of say 3-5 images under the main banner; these could include text with more information and more examples of work.

Lastly, I only discovered that Ruthie has a monthly giveaway for subscribers when I was reading through her blog! Having a giveaway each month is an excellent incentive to get people to subscribe to your mailing list, but you have to let them know. It’s very, very easy to do this by saying exactly that in the signup form on your sidebar.

fabric dot

Now it’s over to you again!

How did YOU go with all of that?

Can you think how the suggestions I’ve made today could be applied to your biz? What would you change? What would you keep the same? Have I still not solved your problem for your biz? If you’ve got a specific question let me know in the comments below.

AND, if you would like a Mini Monday Makeover on your biz, you can join in too – all you have to do is subscribe here, and follow the instructions.

See you then!
Julie X