‘Tis the season to be selling

If you are reading this, I am sure you are taking a quick social media break from frantic making and selling in the run up to Christmas!

For most fashion or creative start-ups, this is the busiest time of year – makers are keen to capture Christmas trade to break-even for this year so far, but also for the inevitable lull of January and February to come. The New Year post-sales slump will soon be upon us, after all.

But amid all this late autumn flurry of work, do make sure to consider your brand’s position.

It is tempting to sell what you can where you can. You may want to find extra markets, Christmas fairs and events to sell at; you might want to slash your prices and promote discounts online. Lower prices will affect your margin, but, you could argue, a higher volume of sales will increase overall turnover.

Most designer-makers are high-end or premium priced brands, where your product is promoted as being distinctive or unique (differentiated) in some way, and a higher price tag reflects that. It is what sets you apart from the ten-a-penny high street. So selling too cheaply now can seriously affect how customers may view you later. Likewise, the wrong venue or show where other brands are literally flogging their wares can force you into bringing your prices down to beat the competition. Remember always that you are competing and promoting your brand on quality and desirability, as something special.

And if a customer has seen that you can afford to sell your throws or scarves or footwear at a bargain price, why would they want to buy from you again at full-price in the future? I write as a canny Scot who is always on the look-out for a bargain myself, rather than being loyal to any particular brand!

A tip is to use this time (forty-five days and counting) to develop smaller, more accessible pieces that have a lower price point, not to slash your more expensive products. Customers are buying presents with different budgets – from luxurious gifts to stocking fillers. Think about producing smaller prints or cards using stock that you already have, or perhaps smaller jewellery pieces that you can make with existing materials. Ensure that these can be pulled together quickly so they are not labour intensive at a busy time, but are good quality and also tie in with your brand identity and existing product range.

Think also about how you present your products – can you offer a special gift set, or a free gift with purchase instead? Perhaps ‘three for the price of two’? This way you are avoiding discounting but are still adding value to the customers’ experience. And hopefully increasing sales too…

Another great tip that was mentioned in The Design Trust‘s guest blog from Sinead Koehler of Crafty Fox Market on Christmas markets, is to have some online promotional codes to drive traffic to your website (and hopefully sales) on the day. You could have these printed on fliers or business cards.

Remember, after Christmas all brands offer promotions and sales, that is the acceptable time of year to roll these out.

So, over the next few weeks, ‘tis indeed the season to be selling, but selling creatively.

If you have any questions after reading this, or would like me to work with you on your fashion or creative business, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.

Thanks to Christkindle Market in Leeds for the pic!

Promotion Shinjuku-style, Tokyo

Easy Ways to Promote Your Business: Part 2

The Fashion Exchange has again been hosted by Enterprise Nation. It was a buzzy, creative, exciting platform for fashion startups and small businesses to meet faces from the industry, tec innovators, and the media.

Two common themes which ran throughout the day were the importance of ‘pushing the brand’ for fashion startups, and really knowing your customer. These points were recommended by many speakers – from small, successful fashion businesses, media gurus and PRs, to high street giants.

So, given that previous blog posts have covered getting to know your customer, plus the basics of promotion, pushing your brand now should be simple for you! But just how do you do it the easy, step-by-step way, and which method is right for you?

Tips on easy promotion

There is an array of low-cost promotional options open to you. A good way to approach this is thinking about how you will communicate with your customers. Consider also who and where your customers are and what exactly it is you want to tell them. Keep it appropriate to your brand and relevant to your customer. In the sections below, I have tried to keep your costs to a minimum so this doesn’t include marketing brochures or catalogues or paid advertising.

One-to-one communication

These can range from emails and phone calls to face-to-face meetings to networking events. Here, you need to know your pitch and what you aim to achieve from the exchange. Be prepared for it (business cards, samples or brochure, thirty-second sales pitch etc), fully research your ‘targeted’ people, and don’t be deterred – it gets easier and everyone finds it hard! Be sure to research the networking events and target those that will suit your business the most. Remember, everyone you meet is now a future contact, whom you can follow up again at a later date – relationship building!

Some good advice I have been given in the past is to have three ‘core messages’ and, like we see politicians do, repeat, repeat, repeat! Your core messages – which make you stand out and are true to your brand DNA – might be ‘quality and affordability, innovating with upcycled materials, funky and original clothes for kids.’ Etc…

Publicity

Generally, publicity is achieved through the media via local radio or TV, magazines and newspapers, or online from bloggers or reviewers. Always specialise here so that you are targeting the right medium for your offer, and that they are a good match for your customer – you are more likely to achieve coverage this way. So if your offer is childrenswear or hand-crafted ceramics, research blogs, newspapers and supplements suited to these. Local media tend to be interested in local businesses doing something new or novel, or with a touching human interest story, preferably a triumph over tragedy, phoenix from the flames hook! Also, all media want to focus on a current news story, so if your offer can piggy-back onto something happening in the news, push this angle!

To contact the media and bloggers you will need to: build a database of contact details such as job title/responsibility, copy deadline, issue date etc. Email a press release with images (low resolution included, high resolution on request) and include this in the body of email, not as an attachment, and make sure you capture attention in subject line. All information that the journalist (or blogger) needs should be in first two paragraphs as this is where they will cut off.

Ensure your contact email and phone number is included along with social media links. Ask yourself: Why is this NEWS? Why is this of benefit to them? If it’s possible, be brave and phone to pitch the ‘story’ then send it in and follow it up. Again, don’t be deterred – build a relationship with the media, and repeatedly contact them with new stories, images, angles – why not conduct a small survey to produce a relevant and new finding in your area of expertise?

And always, always return any phone call from the media immediately, or to any request to send information or images. Otherwise they will find someone else!

Events

Here you might be giving talks or demonstrations, or co-hosting an event, or have a stand at a trade event. First, research some existing events and ensure they are appropriate – think about budget, attendance numbers, location and if it’s really the right audience. Be prepared to pitch yourself, your product/technique etc for a slot at the event and send the organisers images, links, video, testimonials, or details of your experience etc. If you have booked a stand at a trade event where you are hoping to attract buyers, make contact beforehand and invite them along or make an appointment.

Or you can network locally and find partners to create an event with – local crafts people and designer-makers, you all want to raise your profile and build sales! Ensure you have a photographer there and invite the press to come by sending out a (targeted) press release.

Think of events as opportunities to extend your network, find new partners or customers, and also to generate content (behind the scenes photos and video and quotes) for your website and social media.

Social media

I would bet that you are all pretty familiar with social media by now so I will just add a few pointers. Pick the platforms that you know your customers like using, post regularly (several times a week as a minimum) by sharing and commenting on relevant content that comes into your own news feed. Find and follow relevant people and organisations, try and build a relationship with them through a direct contact to say hello and compliment a post/their website etc.

In terms of preparation, have a content library ready in advance, where you have prepared posts ahead of time and ensure you have strong low resolution images of your work. Think about whether you could use video to illustrate a unique process of your work, and if your offer is visual, Pinterest and Instagram are a must. Link all these platforms to your website and set up free Google Analytics so you can track traffic.

Tips from Topshop at the Fashion Exchange included keeping the content short, sharp and shareable, use behind the scenes images and tailor this to different platforms, not just repeating it. Plus be original, but do piggy-back onto trends.

If you are newly online and trying to build your up communities, Topshop suggested to use Twitter to @ and other media to tag celebrities in their feeds, even send them products to endorse! Plus approach bloggers and identify influencers relevant to your brand and your customer, and build these relationships.

Blogs and e-newsletters

Could you be an expert in your field? Consider blogging, even brief posts, about the area that your work is in, commenting on items in the news or observations that you have made. Aim to do short, tight and edited posts once a week or so with, once again, those good quality low resolution images.

Start out by researching and following blogs relevant to your offer and area of expertise e.g. handcrafted in the UK, and start to post and ‘seed’ into these comment feeds. Provide helpful information with a gently placed link back to your own blog. Build up interaction, and always, always respond to comments on your blog. Blogs are surprisingly easy to set up using free platforms such as WordPress (as used by yours truly) and Blogger to name but two.

Lastly, think about e-newsletters. I have clients who use this successfully to update their previous customers (a good opportunity to capture their email addresses) on new ranges and events or recent successes. Keep your copy tight and show those lovely images! Issue these monthly or quarterly, whenever you have enough to say.

With all social media, blog, newsletter and website work, build up a content library – always have a camera with you, jot down ideas and quick notes as you have them, perhaps on your phone, then you are ready to post!

So, now that you are armed with this easy, step-by-step guide to pushing your brand out there, I look forward to seeing you take the media, and the fashion industry, by storm! Good luck!

If you have any questions after reading this, or would like me to work with you on your fashion or creative business, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.

 

 

 

 

 

Branded skyline in Tokyo, Japan

Easy Ways to Promote Your Business: Part 1

Already, it is May, my favourite month. Spirits are lifting; sun-drenched holidays, or even just lazy days in parks, filter into our collective consciousness. Creativity abounds with Handmade in Britain, Clerkenwell Design Week and Graduate Fashion Week showcasing the UK’s finest emerging talent. May is abuzz with colour, innovation and loveliness! But how can your business be part of it? How can you make your work stand out?

Promotion for small businesses

This post and my next post will explore the basics of promotion for your fashion or creative small business. This will help you if you are promoting your business before its launch, for a launch event, or to reach existing customers and those who have lapsed. These posts will take you through the initial considerations, your promotional objectives, different types of promotion you can use, developing a promotional idea for maximum impact, and planning your promotions. But first, you need to do some thinking.

Consider the questions below. Too many times I have had conversations where these are still unknown. For your promotion (and business) to stand the best chance of being successful, you need to know these inside out. Otherwise you risk wasted time and money, two things in very short supply for a creative small business!

Promotion considerations

What is your product/service/experience? Do you know your exact offer? Can you describe it in one sentence?

Who is your customer? This is your target market or target audience that you will aim to reach. Think specifics about age, gender, location, income type, frequency of purchase etc.

What are you trying to promote? Is this for a new product, an event or launch, or nurturing an ongoing relationship to maintain their loyalty?

Where is your customer? Are they local? Market stall or boutique? Which social media platforms do they follow you on? Have they bought from you before?

What are your competitors doing? How and where do they promote their offer? Why are they different to (or better than) you?

What level of market are you? Value or luxury, high street or niche?

What is your budget, timeframe and ability to do or to outsource this? Does this match your personal strengths or is it better to find someone else who can?

Now we need to explore your promotional objectives – the reason for your promotion. ‘Sales, income, money!!!’  I hear you cry. Yes, all promotion ultimately leads – we hope – to income, but sometimes it is more of a soft sell than a direct sales push. We need to win customers, build and nurture our relationships with them – existing customers are more likely to buy from you if they are happy than new ones. Plus, it takes time to find new customers… Either way, how do we capture their attention and encourage them to buy?

Promotional objectives

I think there are three main areas that your promotional objectives fall into: the launch of your business or a new product range; building the relationships with your customers for long term sales; and short term sales. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Launching your business or product to create awareness

Obviously, this is when you are setting up the launch event or new product launch… But I always also recommend doing pre-launch marketing – getting a buzz out either locally or on social media (more later) before you start. This might be speaking to people and building up a following, asking them to spread the word. The goal here is to catch the attention of the event or opening and build footfall or traffic to it.

Building relationships for brand loyalty

Here you have your very lovely customers that you should nurture, thank and reward. Keep them close to you by promoting the benefits of the relationship – which might be VIP treatment or exclusive discounts or access – and attentive rather than being drawn instead to your competitors. If the customers are lapsed, try and win them back with the above suggestions – they valued you once and can do again! Here, you are in it for the long haul with a loyal group of customers who will, hopefully, recommend you online and off again and again…

Boosting short term sales

This is the direct sales push, probably discounted, to generate income, the go-to action of all small cash-strapped creative businesses. Bear in mind, however, that too much ‘shouting’ about money off and competing on price can dilute your brand when you are small, differentiated and niche. Here, I recommend only promoting the limited edition or exclusiveness of your special (discounted) offer, and piggy-backing onto appropriate seasonal promotions such as Christmas or St Valentine’s Day or, as one client has successfully done, the birth of a new Royal baby!

In all these options, I have emphasised the uniqueness and exclusivity of the promotion. You can’t compete on price with the big brands, but you can offer something different and better, more unique, so try not to get into discounting as a habit. Try and offer free gifts or extras etc rather than discounts. These should cost the same to your business as the discount and, conveniently, can be good quality stock that you need to clear…

One last tip here, use a different voucher or offer code for each promotion. This will help you keep track of what promotions are successful and which less so. You can add this on website, your social media or flyers that you distribute at your launch event.

Planning your promotions

Each year or season every business will need to mark down stock, to sell it a reduced profit to the business. Plan this in advance and don’t wait until you need to boost your cash-flow. You will get to know which are the busier periods and which are the slack, before and after Christmas for example. Develop a promotional calendar, to map these out and plan ahead. For this, remember to piggy-back onto national, local or seasonal events as I suggested above.

You can find out about events by Googling for different templates of promotional calendars or by visiting websites such as www.teachingideas.co.uk Think laterally, what else can you take the opportunity of joining in with that you know your customers like?

Measuring the success of your promotions

Now, thinking ahead to next season or year (yes, already!), you will need to record what has worked well, or disastrously, for you this time around. So, remember to monitor and track the success of your promotions (as outlined above) so that you optimise the time and money spent on them in the future. There is no bullet-proof way of ensuring a high return on your investment that is affordable for start-ups, so be prepared to test and try out different approaches on a small budget. And anticipate that some of these will be more successful than others…

So, remember the soft sell as well as the hard push. Know your customers and where they are, what they like and value. Keep tabs on ideas that you can ‘emulate’ from the competition, and trends that are around you. Devising promotions can be creative in itself, and as creative thinkers that you all are, the concept behind them should come easily, but do keep it relevant.

This will be the subject of my next post Easy Ways to Promote Your Business: Part 2. We will look at the different options open to you to promote your business and step-by-step tips on how to do these.

If you have any questions after reading this, or would like me to work with you on your creative business, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.

 

Brand devotion to Nike in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Easy Marketing Strategy

At last the winter gloom is retreating, along with the withdrawal of shop window ‘sales’ signs and the recycling of Easter egg boxes. In spring, brands large and small can harness their promotional calendar, seizing the season’s many events and bank holidays as opportunities to promote their offer and grow sales. This all must stem, of course, from a carefully honed marketing strategy…

What is a marketing strategy?

In this post, we will explore how your fashion or creative start-up can develop an easy marketing strategy. In laymen’s terms, this is how you – consistently, across all platforms – promote your products or offers to your consumer to entice them to buy. This ensures all your marketing and promotional activities are in sync, cohesive and with a consistent brand identity and tone of voice reflecting your brand so your customers come to recognise and trust it. Not, as we are all – unfortunately – familiar with, a rushed and regrettable scatter-gun approach which didn’t achieve what we wanted…

This blog post will take you step-by-step through three stages – identifying your business’s marketing mix, understanding the objectives of a marketing strategy and, going forward, considering your business’s direction.

Why do I need a marketing strategy?

Having a road map and plan for what marketing activities you will do and how and where you will promote these lessens the risk of wasting money and time, and missing – or worse, confusing  and alienating – your customer. Thinking your marketing through gives you the opportunity to keep a tight focus on your message, your visual identity, the tone and message of communications, and the objective – the goal – for either brand awareness or short term sales. All this ultimately leads to an ongoing and financially rewarding relationship with your customers = sales!

The Marketing Mix – the 7Ps

Right at the heart of any marketing strategy sits the Marketing Mix, or 7Ps: product, price, place, promotion, people, physical evidence and process. The 7Ps is a very simple and easy to use theory; in essence, it’s a framework for getting all your business’s ducks (or Easter chicks) in a row. I cut my marketing teeth on this some fifteen years ago from David Jobber[i] and still use it with my fashion and creative clients whether pre-start or more established SMEs. It’s that easy!

According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, this is: “Successful marketing depends upon addressing a number of key issues: what a company is going to produce, how much it is going to charge, how it is going to deliver its products or services, and how it will tell its customers about this.”

So, any marketing mix must ensure offering the right product (or service) at the right price point, in the right place(s) for the customer, with the right promotion, with trained people (staff/after sales), considering all physical attributes (store, packaging, logo), with ease of consumer process.

This all serves to build that better relationship with your customers. So, in practice, this means getting to grips with:

Product – What is my product? Does the customer want it???

Price – How much will the customer pay? And how much do competitors charge?

Place – Where does the customer shop? Online or local?

Promotion – How will it be promoted and where? Is this relevant to my customer and will they see it?

People – Whether its trade fairs, pop-ups, galleries or department store concessions, who will be selling?

Physical evidence  – Spanning appearance, packaging and brand identity – this is the first thing your customer sees.

Process – Quick, convenient, easy, secure, and with good after sales/returns options. Remove the barriers and give them a good experience and reason to return!

Planning an easy marketing strategy

Now armed with a clear understanding of your own mix or offer, you can develop a simple strategy or guidelines from it. I would recommend my ‘what, who, how, where, when, why’ approach – your marketing objectives:

What – what is it that I am selling or communicating? The offer or product in your 7Ps.

Who – who is my customer? What do I know about them – age, gender, spending power, spending frequency etc?

How – how will I reach them? Through events, pop-up shops, or regular host website or stockist (the ‘channel’) – direct or indirect distribution strategy?

Where – where is my customer, are they local, online or reached via a catalogue, are they actual end consumers or stockists and retailers?

When – when will this start and how long will it last?

Why – why am I doing this? What am I trying to achieve? The marketing objectives – sales, new customers, brand loyalty building etc.

How (again!) – how will I measure the success of this? Customer feedback, sales and turnover, Google analytics, or feedback from the retailer, etc.

For your overall marketing, the above provides an overview and a guide to refer to. However, you should break this down further so that with each promotion that you undertake, you set out these objectives too – whether this is a social media competition campaign, or invitations to an event or pop-up. We will explore this in my next posts Easy Ways to Promote Your Business: Part 1 and Part 2.

What is vital in both instances is that you thoroughly know your offer (yes, this sounds obvious, but often this can be easily diluted when desperate for sales), you know your customer, and you are keeping tabs on your competitors’ activities. In my earlier blog posts on market research, customer research and competitor research, I have explored these issues, but this knowledge is again necessary to make sure your marketing really hits home. If you want to undertake more rigorous and full research, then take a look at The Design Trust’s [ii] recent post The Design Doctor: How can I do market research which is a helpful guide.

But what if you are a little further down the line with your business, or are just more confident in your marketing? Perhaps it is time to refocus and rethink, to reach out to new customers and expand into new markets, or develop your product range? Where should you begin? This is where Ansoff’s Matrix comes in.

Ansoff’s Matrix

Over sixty years old as a theory and practical guide for marketing, Ansoff’s Matrix[iii] from 1957 shows that no matter how you might develop your business, ultimately there are only four simple directions that you can go in. I always use this with my clients as it is great for clarifying direction and focusing, plus highlighting areas of risk – crucial for start-ups and SMEs.

Ansoff’s Matrix

ansoffs_matrix-1

 Source: business-survival-toolkit.co.uk

This means you develop your business in one of four ways:

Existing products in existing markets

Here, you don’t spend money on developing any new products or investigating new markets (regions or customers) but instead focus on promotion, perhaps in new ways to pique existing customers’ interest. This is the lowest ‘risk’ as you are sticking with what you know but you still need time and money spent on promotion.

New products in existing markets

You might introduce a new prints or homewares line to your current customers and overall market. You will have spent time and effort on product development and have built up inventory – you need to be sure to sell these products, will your existing customers want them? This carries some risk financially, and also risks potentially alienating customers.

Existing products in new markets

You might export your existing menswear accessories range anew to Japan or India, or to new age groups or genders in the UK. Here, you don’t develop new products but the market is as yet unknown (cultural differences, export taxes, exchange rates etc), so is still risky and costly.

New products in new markets

Here you would combine new products and expansion into new geographic or customer markets. This is the most risky and unknown combination. Be sure to fully research, take advice and build financial contingencies in here.

So, back to strategy and promoting your products or offers. To sum up, you will now have understood the different components of your own marketing mix and ensured that they are in sync – this creates a cohesive package that is more identifiable and less confusing for your customer.  You will fully understand who your customer is and where and how to reach them from your research, and also know your competitors and their activities inside out, again from your earlier research. You may even know your new direction – developing new products, or venturing into new markets.

Now your next steps are to start planning some promotions! And this I will cover next time in Creative Planning Next Steps 6: Easy Ways to Promote Your Business, Part 1 and Part 2 where we will look at the different types of promotion that are right for your business, where to get ideas, and how to plan them into a promotional calendar.

Until then, enjoy spring!

If you have any questions after reading this, or would like me to work with you on your creative business, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.

 

[i]Jobber, D. (2012) Principles and Practices of Marketing, 6th Edition, McGraw-Hill

[ii]www.thedesigntrust.co.uk

[iii] www.business-survival-toolkit.co.uk

 

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Selling hill-tribe childrenswear in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Easy Distribution Strategy

With social media giants Facebook and  Pinterest moving to retail products through gift feeds and online shops, this opens other sales channels for social designers and makers. This must, surely, be good news for small fashion and creative businesses? After all, as much as you love making and designing, you want (and need) people and stockists to buy them. Where and how you will sell is basically your distribution strategy, and that’s what we will look at in this blog post…

Sales, sales, sales

Often, small creative and fashion businesses are understandably desperate to recoup costs, or (wrongly) feel surprised and grateful that somewhere would want to stock or present their offer! Retailer or stockist opportunities are grabbed and rejoiced – perhaps they are local to you, perhaps online, or perhaps overseas. Negotiations begin, price points and margins are squeezed, and deals are (sometimes reluctantly) struck. And then on to find the next stockist… However, many times a scatter-gun approach can start to appear. Your range might be sold cheaper in a tourist stockist, part in a small, unfrequented gallery, some (marked down) at sales events. I think it is fantastic to get sales – and any sales! – it is a sign that your product is working. But this can negatively impact on your ‘brand’.

You do need sales to survive as a business, but your brand positioning – how your consumers perceive you in relation to other brands – needs to remain intact. Too many sales and discounts online or in-store and it dilutes a higher-priced, high-end brand, as does selling in the wrong place. You need an approach to follow and stick to so that you ensure consistency in your brand positioning and customers’ eyes.

Some distribution questions

In my last post, The Right Strategy For Your Business, we explored your strategic approach and I explained that most small, creative and fashion brands I work with are differentiated – they offer something additional of value that customers will pay extra for. Sometimes, the product offer is niche – exploiting a new and narrow gap in the market, bringing an innovation to customers. David Jobber, in Principles and Practices of Marketing]i[, proposes that there are two types of distribution strategy – direct and indirect, and three main types of distribution approach – intensive, selective and exclusive distribution. But before we explore this, Jobber poses the following questions which I suggest you answer:

  1. Who is the consumer? Where are they? How much will they pay? Do they want delivery or to browse and buy?
  2. How will costs/time/brand position be affected? Does brand want volume sales or exclusive positioning?
  3. Will channels be mixed? How can these be integrated and managed…?

What is distribution?

Now you can answer the above questions, let’s review distribution. Direct distribution is where you sell directly, through one or more channels, to reach your consumer. So, you sell from your own website, own store, or market stall or a mixture of these, There are no middlemen and associated costs, and you are fully in charge of how your products – and brand – are portrayed and retailed to the customer, including your price points and how and when you mark down. This is, perhaps, more work, more monitoring and pushing of sales, dealing with returns etc. But here you also have the benefit of knowing and having a direct relationship with your customer – you can gather data for newsletters and social media to encourage repeat custom. Your control is greater.

Alternately, you can sell indirectly, through retailers, or through a wholesaler who then sells to retailers. Either way, if this is a wholesale arrangement, you get paid for the entire order – this clears your inventory and secures you payment earlier rather than waiting for the individual sales to come in. However, the more links in the chain between you and your customer, the less control you have over how your brand is priced, perceived and even displayed. Also, you don’t know or work with the end customer to exploit opportunities.

In the end, you may have a mixture of direct, and indirect – many of the small fashion and creative businesses and start ups I work with do this. Invariably, they build up varying distribution channels and after two or three years need to review how and where they sell as there are some channels less cost effective and time consuming. But that is really common, almost a rite of passage for a new business. And it’s actually positive, it shows business has been good…

Intensive, selective and exclusive distribution

Upon deciding whether you will go direct or indirect, let’s consider the approach. First of all, intensive distribution is where your pieces are, literally, everywhere – you produce a higher volume of cheaper priced products that is retailed in a wide number and variety of stockists and this risks over-exposure. This is also known as saturation coverage. For this, you need a high production capacity to churn through these and meet orders. This means you are more mass-market in your offer, and often your product is more standardised and quick to produce. One example of this might be stationary or interiors products or small gift items where you outsource the production, perhaps overseas, and secure deals with several high street retailers, plus online (your own website and others’), and you may also sell to trade e.g. interior designers and through events.

In a selective approach, you are more choosy with where you sell (yes, you can be choosy!).  The considerations here are how many different outlets, what type of outlet, and how much of your range you sell. This way, you are not over-exposed, running the risk of customers losing interest in you, and you retain a more exclusive brand positioning AND price point. You are producing less, and charging more so this needs to be suited to, and reflected in, your product design and brand. Here, you might be a jeweller or menswear designer and you stock your range in a selection of mid-high end galleries, concessions in upmarket department stores, or independent boutiques. In addition, you will retail on your own website (without visible mark-downs – instead think ‘VIP sales events’) and carefully selected platforms alongside similar level of brands where you will be visible.

Lastly, you might secure an exclusive deal with one stockist. This one stockist is your only stockist and they love your work and want to sell it – perfect! Here, despite the fact that they should be trying to win your sole custom, as a new brand you can often be squeezed on your margin so you need negotiation skills par excellence! This common occurrence is well described in Porter’s ‘power of the buyer’.  So, if it isn’t working out – the sales aren’t good from a smallish order, the margin is too low, the relationship is bad, etc – then you are tied to them alone for the duration which is risky. For guidance and information on navigating this, I recommend Toby Meadow’s How to Set Up and Run a Fashion Label[ii] –not just for fashion brands, but all higher end designer-makers.

Some considerations

Within these considerations are further issues. As I mentioned previously, you need to be realistic about your production capacity and also your desired cashflow and sales – The Design Trust have done a great blog on how to forecast this for the first time, so do read their pointers. You need to think about where you want to be seen, and who else is stocked alongside you; if you are selling on different online host platforms you need to ensure visibility from searches and also consider the commissions you will be charged.

Another consideration is the type of sales arrangement – perhaps wholesale, where your products are bought and paid for upfront – what, you might think, could be better than this! However, the risk here is that you have less control over what end price the products are retailing at and when products are marked down – both of these can affect brand positioning.

Or perhaps it will be a sale-or-return arrangement where you end up with stock that isn’t selling and is returned to you after a period of time when, by this point, you might also struggle to sell it. Both of these have pluses and minuses… So, in summary, the key word here is strategy – think strategically about how and where you want to sell. Think beyond the need for short term sales and covering costs. Expect to learn the hard way, to have disappointments and unexpected triumphs, for relationships to become less desirable. And remember, you have great products that will be in demand so you can be choosy!

Happy selling!

Next time, in Creative Planning – Next Steps 5: Easy Marketing Strategy we will be exploring your marketing and I will suggest some simple tips for you to follow. If you have any questions after reading this, or would like me to work with you on your creative business, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog


[i] Jobber, D. (2012) Principles and Practices of Marketing, 6th Edition, McGraw-Hill
[ii] Meadows, T. (2009) How To Set Up And Run A Fashion Label, 2nd Edition, Laurence King

The journey towards home in Tokyo, Japan

The Right Strategy for Your Business

Strategy can be a bit of a scary word, I am told. 

It sounds ‘businessy’, probably not creative, possibly not relevant, and certainly daunting. It is one of those words which creative marketing people (such as yours truly) and less comprehensible business die-hards and textbooks bandy around. It has the air of the unachievable about it for most mere mortals, and is much, much easier just not to think about.

Not so! I view strategy as simply taking stock, taking control and making do-able goals for your business – in short, knowing where you are going. And the good thing about strategies is that they get you from A to B, step by step, how you want to do it. Oh, and it’s actually quite easy…

So, in this post, I will take you through how to define a strategy (or approach) for your business, that will underpin everything you do and how your customers or clients see you. This year, I am sure you have promised yourself, is the year you will make the business work, move it forward, and see the financial rewards.

Let’s get started.

What is a strategy?

There are different types of strategies, but they all aim to be solutions to existing problems and overcome challenges in the business. They are an approach for you to follow. They can be specific to functions of your business – perhaps distribution, marketing, sales, social media and so on. This is so that you can really focus on each area, come up with a way to manage it, and then follow it.

Also, the good thing about strategy is that it helps you be competitive in your direction. What this means is that you do well, if not better, compared to your competitors, and see sustainable profit and business growth as a result. In real speak, this means you can keep making and creating and designing and earn a living from it, plus branch into areas you want to go into because your customers or clients or buyers get it and want to come with you. For this, you first need clarity about how you want to operate – your business direction.

Overall, there are three main ways that you can operate, compete and grow as a creative business, whether it is fashion, ceramics, interior design or sculpture. Porter[1], in 1985, presented these as Cost, Differentiation, and Focus (or Niche, as I call it) Strategies. I mention this here, because I believe this knowledge about the direction of your own business will help clarify the next steps of developing individual function strategies. Many businesses I work feel they need this clarity to do this.

Which business strategy (approach or direction) to adopt

Cost strategy businesses operate on a low-cost (not necessarily low price) basis. They drive and keep all costs down, and produce products or service that can compete on price and/or large volumes and availability. Hard to do in a crisis-stricken economy and, as we tragically saw in Bangladesh, hard to do ethically. This isn’t for exclusive, high-end or quality orientated businesses – the main goal with these businesses is keeping costs low and mass production, quality is less of an issue.

A differentiation business is literally different, they innovative their product or service in some way. They have an added value, a unique benefit or feature perceived by the customer who is willing to pay a premium for this – they can’t get it elsewhere. The business can be more original, exclusive, more quality or luxury focussed, their offers aren’t available everywhere, but perhaps in selective outlets or bespoke and one-offs. Quality brings with it higher costs for the business, but be mindful that small designers’ higher sale prices can be undercut by better known and larger scale competition.

Lastly, a focus strategy business, or a niche business. This is where a designer or maker spots a narrow gap in the market and targets it. Products and services are developed for this new area – it might be a specific product like ties and pocket-squares, or interior floor tiles only, or a specific type of customer – over 60’s only, or babies. All the marketing of the business will be targeted to this particular customer or client segment.

How to work with Porter’s strategies

Obviously, the three different strategies above need to produce and market their offers in different ways, in different volumes and to different customers. The creative businesses I work with tend to fall into the latter two camps. I think as a creative business you have to offer something different or specialised – the high street is full of mass-market ‘me-too’ products. You need to stand out to gain awareness and build custom.

So, if you are a differentiation strategy business, exploit it! Know your market and customer, and be clear that the work you are producing is always unique and original, high quality and higher-priced, and build a brand identity around this. This business will be more selective in distribution, or even exclusive to one or two outlets.

Or are you a focus strategy business (niche)? Where perhaps you have a limited and very specialised product range or demographic, and push and promote this. You need to know your customer well, and target all your energies onto reaching them and not dilute this specific approach by moving into other products which might also suit other people. The costs here will also be higher, as your production runs may be smaller. But try it, stick to your guns and develop it as you go. And make sure you market and promote the product or service’s features.

Strategies to address business problems

Once you have decided what type of business you are (i.e. differentiation or niche), you then start to build individual function strategies, as mentioned before, from this. At this point of discussion with a client, I usually mention the five steps of strategy: you start with an external analysis, then an internal audit (yes, you’ve already done this!), before beginning to map out your function strategies for marketing or sales etc, then implementing them, and then, lastly, reviewing and monitoring.

If you want to be super-rigorous and do an external analysis, then this is a market, competitor, and economic review. But I think this level of depth is best left to the professionals, rather than hard working small businesses and entrepreneurs.

What I recommend you do instead is browse online and in the shops, see what other makers/designers are producing, how much they are charging for it, and how widespread they are selling it. Note whether stores are having lots of sales (i.e. consumers not buying full price products). Have an awareness of trends and shifts within your specialism, opportunities that may be developing, and likewise, areas that interest is dying off in. This way you can take the market’s temperature easily.

From the business review we looked at over the last two blog posts Taking Stock of Sales and Costs and Reviewing Your Business, you have – and congratulations once again – thoroughly got to grips with your own business, its strengths and weaknesses and areas for development. Armed with this, and your new market knowledge, you now know the areas you need to tackle, refine and improve internally. You also know the trends, gaps and opportunities that are out there, and what to avoid. Next, all you need to do, one step at a time, is develop your strategies.

I think that for businesses at your stage and scale, generally this will fall into distribution and sales, marketing, and social media strategies, and I will cover these in my forthcoming posts.

For your creative business, these are your next steps.

In my next post Creative Planning – Next Steps 4: Easy Distribution Strategy, I will guide you through different approaches to how and where you sell your work.

If you have any questions after reading this, or would like me to work with you on your creative business, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.


[1] Michael Porter’s ‘Three Generic Strategies’ in Competitive Advantage: Creating and sustaining superior performance, 2004, Free Press

Flower market stall in Bangkok, Thailand

Reviewing Your Business

I am sure your business and sales will fluctuate with the seasons (and the British weather). Most of the creative clients I work rush through autumn, in a manic flurry of making and promoting for the pre-Christmas gift market, to then find spring slow; buyers and clients are less willing to spend money. It can be hard to be positive when sales are thin on the ground. However, this down-time is ideal for planning!

But the outlook isn’t bleak! No! This year you are focusing and streamlining and moving the business forward. Like many of my clients you are probably using this period as reviewing or thinking time. And my Creative Planning – Next Steps blog series can help guide you.

So, last time, in Taking Stock of Sales and Costs we looked at your Revenue Streams and Cost Structures and now, tax return behind you, you are on top of the financial side of your business! Let’s continue to review the other areas of your business. This post will now help you audit all of your business and develop action points. But do refer back to my last post if you need to.

If you have armed yourself once again with the Business Model Canvas[1], Post-it notes, pens and a cup of tea, I will take you through what to review and some action points for you below, step by step.

How to fix your business problems

Customer Segments

You may have different groups of customers/buyers with different needs and relationships (more on the latter later). Some will be more or less profitable and price sensitive. Different segments may have differing distribution channels – where and how you sell. You may have distinct product or service offers for distinct groups e.g. private commissions vs. trade or retail.

Action point: Consider how you can cut back time, investment, and involvement on the less profitable and reach more profitable customers – you may need to put some customers or types of work on hold for now if they are not earning their keep. Plus, is there any way you can reduce your time and money on the profitable customers throughout all your activities without it being apparent?

Value Proposition

This is where you offer something different that the customer wants, your unique mix of elements catering to meeting their needs. This can be price based, or speed/ease of service, or design – perhaps the originality (or breadth) of your creative process or finished piece(s), or the customer experience of your offer.

Action point: Is there a part of your offer that deep down you know isn’t quite good or original enough, or needs a refresh or update? Is there a new feature or innovation that you want to build in? Do you know if your customers would want this? Try honing your offer, but ensure through some research that it is actually desired and also doesn’t dilute the brand or confuse the customer!

Channels (of Distribution, Marketing, and Sales)

As mentioned before, this is how and where you sell your offer to your customers, clients and buyers. You may sell directly to the end customer through your own website, stall or shop, or you may do this indirectly through other retailers, online or offline, or wholesalers. You may also have individual clients.

Action point: Do you have too many channels, stockists, marketing bumpff or not enough? Is it all manageable or taking up too much of your time for not enough profit? Do you need to simplify, or to improve your efficiency with each one? Perhaps wind down your involvement with less profitable and lower commission channels if your sales and income aren’t great.

Customer Relationships

This is where and how you acquire new customers and retain existing ones, encouraging them to buy again (and again) from you. Some customers you will invest more time in because they are, or you hope they will become, more profitable such as a new bespoke or trade client or a new department store buyer. Depending on how you sell to each group of customers, you may need to offer different service levels to each.

Action point: Consider each group of (or individual, if bespoke) customer. How can you better manage your time with them? Should you pull back from less profitable ones, and seek out new customers instead, and do you have time for this? Can you nurture the slower or lapsed customers to buy from you again – are they worth keeping.  How can your best customers be encouraged to buy more? Pareto deemed that 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your customers, so cull and spend time wisely!

Key Resources

These are the ‘assets’ that you need and use to create, distribute and reach your customers. These might be physical resources such as machinery, packaging, kit and stock, or intellectual such as your brand identity, copyright and licensing agreements, plus technological such as your website, e-commerce and social media platforms. There are also human resources – you, your co-director, your staff or ad-hoc freelancers. Lastly, there are your financial resources such as investment, grant funding, cash, capital, reserves and buffers, and credit. Without all of the above you would not be able to produce your work.

Action point: Is your money tied up unnecessarily in any of these? Can you sell or hire out your machinery or space? Can you re-work your existing stock and packaging rather than expend on new? Is your website hosting and transaction process cost effective for you? Can you afford to take on freelance staff to help you increase your productivity? Where can you secure additional funding from? Streamline those that are eating up your cash or capital and put on hold what you can to build up reserves.

Key Activities

The actions and functions that your business takes to operate successfully to create, distribute to, and reach customers. So, for example, design, production, distribution, marketing, PR, IT, plus outside teaching or consultancy, and networking etc.

Action point: Similar to key resources, what functions and activities can you trim or pull back on, what do you need to invest more in to improve your productivity or ability to reach customers? If you currently outsource some functions, or is it cheaper to have an ad-hoc freelancer or do it yourself? Do you actually have the skills to do in-house functions, or would it be more efficient and achieve better quality to start to outsource these?

Key Partnerships

These are alliances that are vital to running your business: your relationships with your suppliers and buyers, your reliance on your investor or partner. Perhaps also support networks and grant-giving bodies.

Action point: Are you engaged in networks and clusters with other similar businesses, and can you share knowledge and expertise? Do you attend networking events, to raise your profile and forge new relationships? Do you spend time nurturing your existing relationships to iron out glitches? Do you need to dedicate time to finding grant funding or gaining free/subsidised skills or business support? Likewise, what can you reduce or say goodbye to? Is it better to work at solving existing issues rather than moving on?

And here is where I congratulate you on having completed your review! Now, warm in the glow of accomplishment, you have your head firmly around your business, and have taken control of what isn’t working, and can plan to build on your strengths and successes and what areas to streamline. Now, you need strategies to focus this down and take it forward.

Over my following blog posts, I will show you where to start with creating strategy, then how to map this out through distribution strategy, marketing strategy, and social media strategy.

Next time: Creative Planning – Next Steps 3: The Right Strategy for Your Business

If you have any questions after reading this, or would like me to work with you on your creative business, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.


[1] Osterwalder and Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas, from their book Business Model Generation, 2010, Wiley and Sons.