Don’t build your business with someone else’s product!

dont-build-business-someone-else-product

Hey pals!

I wanted to talk about a pretty worrying trend that I keep seeing in various guises, from social media to online marketplaces, and it’s even in the world of web design. People are building their entire businesses on the back of someone else’s product.

I don’t mean that they’re using someone else’s product to promote, improve, or grow their businesses, I mean they’re basing their entire business model on something that someone else controls. This is really, really fucking scary. Especially when you see what can happen when that product changes, it’s life ruining!

I’m going to talk about 3 scenarios where I’ve seen this happen lately, and the fallout that can occur when each of these platforms changes.

THE PRODUCT BUSINESS

My product based business, Finest Imaginary, happily runs on a few different online outlets. I have wholesale contracts with a few shops, and I sell at markets throughout the holiday season. Whenever I’m promoting my business online I’ll always, always direct people to my own website (which is hosted on Shopify, a tool I used to grow my business – if Shopify up and closed tomorrow, I’d be able to move my store to another ecommerce platform and still use my URL). I’ve spread my business around a bit, not too thinly, but enough so that I don’t rely fully on one marketplace more than another.

Earlier this year one of the marketplaces that I’ve sold through for quite a few years decided to make some rather drastic changes to their business model, removing many businesses from the site and shifting things around in product categories (which in turn meant that certain products were no longer getting the exposure that they once were!). There were a number of people who had built successful six-figure businesses on this platform, and they suddenly found themselves up shit creek without a marketplace! It’s sad, and frustrating, and my heart went out to those who were affected, but the business who built the platform have the right to do whatever they want with their product (whether it’s morally right or wrong is a whole other story…).

It’s easy to become complacent when your business is thriving on a marketplace, whether it’s Etsy or similar, but is it sensible to rely on someone else’s product for the main source of your income? Fuck no.

Is it sensible to rely on someone else’s product for the main source of your income? Fuck no. Click To Tweet

THE SOCIAL MEDIA PROMOTION

Here’s another one that everyone got their knickers in a twist over a few weeks ago. Instagram.

Remember over Easter when everyone was losing their shit about the algorithm changes, and posting silly images asking you to subscribe to alerts? Yeah? I’m just gonna stand here right now and call bullshit on all those antics.

I love Instagram. I’ve been focusing on it as a promotional tool for my businesses for the past few months, and have been steadily increasing my engagement and following. It’s awesome. I get a heck of a lot of referrals from it, and it’s been (probably) my most successful marketing tool to date. But here’s the thing. I don’t rely on it. I don’t put all of my energy into using Instagram as my only marketing tool, I also use Twitter, my newsletter, Pinterest, and I’ve even started experimenting with Snapchat.

When and if Instagram changes their algorithm and it starts to affect your business, then you change along with it. You evolve, you keep on your toes and you work out how to fill that gap. Don’t rely on someone else’s product for your entire business marketing, stay current and see what else is out there. Your business will have way more to worry about down the line than the changing up of a social media platform. Who knows, the next thing on the app store might be even more suited to you and your business!

THE WEBSITE CREATION TOOL

I come from a background of coding sites from scratch, before I even heard the word “Wordpress” I was creating shitty table based sites on geocities. Since then I’ve focused most of my energy on WordPress (and more recently Shopify), but have dipped my toes into Squarespace, big cartel, blogger, and Magento.

There’s a new breed of web designer around who can successfully drag-and-drop your site into existence. I mean, that’s great and all (and kudos to them for making bank on a relatively simple task), but it’s not something you couldn’t do on your own (given an afternoon and a help doc or two!). The scary thing here is that these designers have built an entire business around being able to use a drag-and-drop interface (on a product that wasn’t even available a couple of years ago!). I’ve long had these same worries about the WordPress “developers” who were using a popular framework package to make all their sites. They rely so fully on this framework that when there’s something that the framework can’t do… they’re stumped!

My advice to those who work this way is to expand, learn new skills, get dirty in the code and don’t rely on that single product that someone else made for all the income in your business. It might change next month, it might become even easier for people to use it themselves (in which case your client pool would get incredibly small!), or it might disappear altogether!

So, what do you think? Looking at your business, are you relying too heavily on someone else’s product? What would happen if that product underwent a huge change? Or closed? How would you recover? I think it’s time we started taking responsibility for our own businesses rather than blaming someone else if a change in their product fucks it up.

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How I Prepare my Handmade Business for Christmas

how-to-prepare-business-for-christmas

I’ve been thinking about Christmas for months, as is the life of someone who makes and sells things for a living. The Christmas sales period (mid October to Christmas Day, and then the New Year’s sales period in January) usually accounts for around 35-40% of my product based business’s annual turnover. It’s a ridiculously busy period and I start preparing for it months in advance.

I don’t do many special products for Christmas, besides some personalised Christmas tree decorations that’ll hit the shop towards the end of this month, so the majority of my preparations are to do with keeping my business running smoothly during the Christmas period.

Here’s how I prepare for Christmas…

1/ Take Stock

The most important thing to stop me burning out and going completely insane during the weeks leading up to Christmas is to make sure I have plenty of buffer stock on hand. I’ve been making lots of my most popular designs over the past few weeks, and will continue to stock-up during the coming weeks.

It can be hard to figure out how much of any one thing to make, especially if you’ve released new products or haven’t had a festive period before, so take a look at your sales over the past year and see what was selling best. If you’ve got anything that’s going to be featured in the press during the run up to Christmas, then definitely stock up big on that product!

2/ Book fairs and markets

All of the fairs and markets I’m attending over the festive season have already been booked and paid for, my accommodation and travel has already been sorted, and I’ve got a list of dates and details in my google drive. Most festive fairs start booking during September and October, so you need to think well in advance to be in with a shot of booking them.

3/ Order packaging & other printed items

I place a big order for packaging and other printed items (return labels, business cards, promo cards) during September/October in readiness for the Christmas rush. This usually keeps me going until March or whatever, but it means I’m not having to reorder during the busy periods!

4/ Pre-buy postage

My items are sent by Royal Mail large letter rate, which means I can just fix a regular postage stamp to the majority of my parcels (except the international ones, or ones weighing over a certain amount/requiring insurance). I don’t have the volume to use a business pick-up from Royal Mail, so instead I’ve started bulk buying (by the hundreds) royal mail stamps. I can then just drop them off at the post office or pop them in a post box.

5/ Release new items well in advance

Trust me, you don’t want to do a product launch in December! You’ll be rushed off your feet with orders for your current items. I’m probably going to be launching the last of my new items towards the middle of November (due to lead times). However, do use the Christmas period to highlight your newer items to your mailing list and previous customers – they might not have seen the initial launch, but will be more receptive to gift advertising at this time of year.

6/ Get on the PR wagon

I’m currently sending out product samples and emailing back to press requests like a demon! Everyone’s compiling their Christmas gift guides RIGHT NOW so it’s time to keep an eye out. Follow your favourite bloggers on twitter, keep an eye on the #journorequests hashtag & be ready to send out hi-res images and samples.

7/ Warn Relatives

Social events are pretty much off the calendar for me during November and December. My weekends are taken up with fairs, and Adam & I usually end up marathoning Netflix while packing up orders on an evening. My friends and family are pretty used to this now!

8/ Slow up on other work

I try and restrict the number of web design projects I take on during the busier times, freeing up that bit of time gives me way more headspace! If you’re able to reshuffle your work priorities like that, then do it! If not (and I’ve been there, when I had a 9-5 too), then it might be worth booking a day off here and there throughout December so that you can get everything up to date.

9/ Clean & organise my equipment

Giving my laser cutter a good clean, making sure my pliers are all in working order, and cleaning up my workspace- all these things make sure I stay organised and (usually) don’t have any bumps in the road during my making process.

10/ Give my social media a once over

This is something I do periodically anyway, but I make sure my profile images, descriptions, URLs etc. are all up to date and working correctly. If I do have any Christmas items I want to promote then I’ll make sure I’m putting them front and centre on Facebook.

11/ Give my website a once over

Similarly I’ll make sure my website’s all in good working order, and I’ll start to make some curated gift categories to make Christmas shopping even easier for my customers.

12/ Order presents and goodies for my customers

I’ve been popping sweeties in with my orders for the past few months, so to make things a little more festive I’ve ordered hundreds of tiny candy canes! I have a few other tricks up my sleeve that I’ll be popping in with customer orders, too.

13/ Get my accounts up to date

I generally do my accounts on a monthly/bi-monthly basis (or when my accountant shouts at me!). My year-end if actually at the end of October so it’s a good chance for me to make sure everything is 100% up to date with my accounts. Over the busy festive season I try and do my accounts a little more regularly so that I’m not left with a huge number of things to input during the new year!

14/ Load up on healthy food

At this time of year, where colds are rife and work is pressing, I make sure that I’m eating properly and taking some additional supplements if I feel a bit icky. Anything to ward off a cold!

15/ Take an early season break

If you can, try and take a few days off just before everything kicks-off in ernest. I’ll be popping over to New York for a week this month to recharge my batteries and make sure I’m fully rested (yeh, right, as if I’ll be resting in NYC!) before I turn into a making machine!

16/ Connect with Stockists early

Connect with your stockists in October and ask them if they want to place their Christmas wholesale orders with you. Getting those out of the way early will free up your time for buffer stock and packaging all your customer orders. They’ll be just as busy as you at this time of year, and will appreciate the chance to cross that off their list early!

Do you have any top tips for Christmas prep? I’d love to hear them!

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Are you a consumer or a creator?

areyouaconsumeroracreator

Guys, I am drowning in business advice posts.

Drowning.

It seems like everywhere I turn there’s a “How to brand your business authentically“, “10 reasons you should be using periscope RIGHT NOW (or your business will fail – seriously)”, “I did THIS and I lost 5 clients, don’t make my mistake” clickbait style posts.

I follow quite a lot of people in my market, that is: people who want to serve the creative community and want you to buy their products or services. One of the most successful ways of doing that is content marketing, giving away their knowledge for free and keeping you coming back for more. I mean, that’s what I do with this blog.

But jeez, I’m seeing so much more regurgitated content on blogs and over the past few months the whole thing seems to have blown up!

The thing is, every time I see a retweeted, pinned or shared blog post, I automatically think I need to head off and read it. There’s probably some piece of information in there that’s going to change my entire business. Right?

Are you a consumer or a creator?

I’m totally at risk of being hoisted by my own petard here, I want you to read my blog posts after all, but I’m also not in the market of peddling bullshit. If you’re reading something here I want it to be actually valuable to you and your business. I don’t want to waste your time.

There’s are too many blog posts for you to read. Too many.

You and I won’t read them all, and yeah, you might learn a little something from each post, but is that tiny little snippet of brand new information worth the time you spent trawling through the post? Is there something you could’ve been doing instead of learning the top ten ways to increase your instagram following? (I dunno.. like, taking some instagram photos and connecting with people on there?)

There comes a point where you’re so busy consuming blog posts that you forget to create stuff of your own. You can get so caught up with the idea of business development through learning new information, that you don’t have the time to put that in to practice.

Quit the knee-jerk

How do we get around this addiction to consume information without losing out on actual, valuable tips and advice that could benefit our business?

Firstly, let’s set aside some time for consumption, an hour or so each week to read through a consolidated list of interesting posts that we’ve collected over the past 5 working days. I don’t know about you but Fridays in my office are generally a time for sending out invoices, tidying up my inbox, and generally just putting my business “house” in order. Setting aside an hour on a Friday morning and visiting the links I’ve saved over a coffee sounds perfect! I like to use Pocket to save links that I’d like to read later, if I see a post shared somewhere then I’ll click on it, check out the blog itself (if it’s not one I’m familiar with), read the first paragraph and decide whether to save it to pocket for later.

Secondly, take notes. Don’t just idly read blog posts, your brain is pretty much as useful of a sieve at retaining information by just reading through the 500-700 words that a blog post includes. Actually use the information that you’re learning, take notes, extend the notes into how you’re going to make this work for your business. I really love to take notes during Amy Porterfield‘s podcasts, which I can have on in the background when I’m making jewellery.

Thirdly, beware the blog-xpert. That is, the blogger that professes to have a level of expertise with what they’re talking about, but not much to back it up. I sometimes used feel a bit weird when I posted about business stuff, was it really my place to be sharing this information? I blog about small creative business, I’ve run my own “side gig” since I was 21, and I quit my day job over 4 years ago. Before then I worked for 4 years as a web developer in a studio environment. I’ve tripled my income, worked with upwards of 50 clients around the world, and I still really fucking enjoy what I do. Still, all I can offer is what’s worked for me and my business. I can offer advice on what I’d do in certain situations, and I can give strategies for social platforms that’ve been working for me. It really grinds my gears when I see people peddling advice and “you must do this” type posts when they’ve only been in the game for 6 or so months. Just because you have a business and a voice doesn’t make you a fucking expert.

Finally, remember that you will not develop your business through osmosis. Reading blog posts, books, listening to podcasts and watching Youtube videos will not magically improve your business. It is way more valuable to your business if you read ONE high quality blog post a week and put into practice the things that you’ve learned than to read 15 blog posts and do nothing. Don’t confuse consuming information as actually working on your business.

PS. I went ahead and made my own brand new personal lifestyle blog, which you can follow along with over on adventurish.com – hope to see you there!

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I need your help…

I’m struggling with a decision and I need your help.

So, this here blog. The one you’re on (or reading via a feed reader) right now. You like it, yeah? I mean, you’re reading it. What are you here for? My business tips? My quick witted banter? My charm? There must be something.

You see, recently, I think this blog has taken more of a turn towards business tips, advice & musings, and stepped away from being a place where I blog about personal things. I blogged about my adventure walking across the country, and I recently blogged about my skincare routine. I’ve also blogged about the books I’m reading each month, and various other bits and pieces. Part of me thinks they don’t really fit here anymore. I’m not 100% sure it’s what you come here to read.

Help me make this decision. There’s just one question (and a couple of follow up questions), and please answer in the comments so that I can get to the bottom of this once and for all.

Should I focus this blog purely on Creative Business and create an entirely new blog for my posts about fitness/hiking/my house/travel/my pets? Yes or no.

I’d also love to know what you’d like to see more of here (no matter whether you answered yes or no to the  main question), let me know which posts you’ve enjoyed most, what you’d like to learn more about, and any other content requests you have.

Happy hump-day guys! Bake-off tonight, UKers!

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Your About Page Sucks – Let’s Fix It!

youraboutpagesucks

Be honest now, how long did you spend writing the About Page for your website?

An hour? Two? Not even that?

The About page is one of the first pages a new user will visit when they get to your site. It’s where they learn who they’re listening to, find out what’s in it for them, and make their all important first impression.

You need to spend time on your About page. It’s really important.

Let’s walk through what should be on your about page.

You’re a human, not a machine!

You need to engage with your audience. They’re on your site for a reason, and generally that reason is a) what you’re talking about, or b) what you’re selling.

You are the defining factor. And the last time I checked… you’re human, not a machine. So why does your about page sound like the generic description of a kitchen appliance?

Throughout your About Page you must use your personality. Talk as though you’re talking to a friend, tell jokes, be sincere, be engaging. Talk like you’re trying to take your audience out on a second date. 

Once upon a time…

… there was a girl, fresh from university, with bright eyes and a thirst for business. For months she trawled to the ends of job applications, hoping to find her place in the dark and misty world of web design. One day, she happened upon the job of Junior Web Developer, and (armed with a Macbook Pro) began her long quest of making websites for the most courageous of people – the creative entrepreneurs. 

One of the most engaging copy writing or marketing tactics is to include stories in your copy. I really had you going with that snippet, right? You were with me, walking through Mordor-like hills and battling beastly Web 2.0 demons.

I’m not saying your stories need to be totally in the style of the Grimms, but have fun with them, eh?

Recounting stories of how you’ve worked with past clients, your experience in your profession, or your own endeavours really helps your reader connect with you. It gives them a much needed window into your world, and helps you stand out from your peers.

Who the hell are you?

At some point on your About Page you’re going to have to go into a little more detail about who you are, where you came from, and what you actually do. You can mix some of this in with the other copy, or create a separate area for that information.

Having already explained that I’m a web designer, and told my reader how I got there & what I can do for them, I tell them a few more bits about me towards the end of my about page…

I’m based in Huddersfield, UK, but don’t let that put you off – we still have the internet in Yorkshire. I live with 2 crazy cats, 1 hyper golden retriever and 1 astrophysicist. I design and make things under the name of Finest Imaginary, which I work on 50/50 with Kim Lawler Creative  (or, you know, sometimes 80/20, or 100/100 when I’m stupid).

I prefer whisky to vodka, have a serious relationship with gherkins, and leave a trail of shoes around my house.

Nothing too in depth, pretty brief, but it gives my reader a little more of a connection with me. Who doesn’t leave their shoes around the house?

Take them behind the curtain

Depending on your type of business it can be cool to show a little “behind the scenes” on your about page – photos of your studio, an idea of where you create your magic, maybe even a brief “day in the life”. Take the reader on a bit of a journey into how your business looks outside of your pristine website.

On my Finest Imaginary About Page, I often swap out photos from my making desk, showing half-finished pieces and a peek at how my jewellery comes together. These photos are often the ones that end up being used in publications (they’re pretty interesting!).

Now What?

Don’t forget your calls to action! After reading your About Page you need to direct your reader to what  you want them to do – is that visit your contact page? Your social media links? Sign up to your newsletter? Make sure you’re pointing them in the right direction!

So go, rework your stale copy, make your About Page fun to read, and connect with your audience!

If you liked this, you might be interested in a little something I’ve got up my sleeve. Make sure you’re signed up for my Newsletter to be the first to know. 

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