easy marketing tips

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.

 

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Consumer paradise in Tokyo, Japan

The competition and staying ahead – do easy competitor research

I’ll be honest with you, in all my work with creative clients, I would say competitor research is deemed the least important, or urgent, area of setting up and running a small business. And that’s understandable – once you know your product, your customer, your market and you are beginning to think about where to stock it (or already have stockists)… well, that’s enough, isn’t it?

Yes and no. I think just getting your offer out there and getting the money in is vital to launching and keeping your business afloat. But I think it is hugely important to keep tabs on what your competitors are doing, and to learn from their successes and failures. Ultimately, a competitor is someone who YOUR customer (now or in the future) is spending their money with instead of you. And we all want our customers or clients to spend money with us, and to keep on spending it even in tough economic times.

But what if you are just developing your business and you are taking your first steps to finding stockists or tweaking your offer or service? Then the steps below are ideal for you. In marketing, we have long referenced the 4 or 5 Ps – product, price, place, promotion and, latterly, people – as any brand or individual’s ‘marketing mix’. This is how you should develop your product range or service, how you price and position it against competitors, where you promote it, and how and where you retail it. So you can see that competitor research is beneficial to, literally or metaphorically, setting out your stall.

But… I don’t think I have competitors…?

Yes, this is something I hear a lot. Everyone believes passionately in their product or their business, why it is genuinely brilliant, and will do, or is doing, well for them, and that others aren’t quite in their league. And this may be true, but, if we’re honest, there are also a lot of other really fantastic, innovative, astounding creative businesses out there. Take a look any major high-street in the UK (or world) – it’s saturated with established, often global, names in fashion or design or retail. All the stores are designed by incredible, visionary designers and architects, kitted out with exceptional, beautiful merchandise.

I can say with certainty that ALL these brands invest heavily (from mighty budgets) in promotions to attract, engage, and maintain customer loyalty, and research into what their customers want and where else they buy. They also keep a close eye on what the others in the high-street (and online) are doing – both long-standing and newcomers like you – using this to inform their own marketing mix, and how they interact with their customers. And these are very well-known brands, with years, decades, of success behind them and with very loyal customers. These brands don’t just want to compete; they have to stay several steps ahead. And, as a small creative business still building your brand and customer base, so do you…

Who are my competitors?

You may be promoting and selling your products or offer: online through your own website, through an online host platform, through a larger retailer (online or offline), in your own shop or studio, in pop-ups, sales events, fairs or markets. Or perhaps you work to commission, or a mixture of both or several.

In all cases there are four basic variables that remain the same:

  1. Offer

Brands or individuals who sell the same product (or service) as you. This may be broadly speaking e.g. interior products or menswear, or more specific e.g. porcelain bowls or bow ties. The price range may be similar, or may be cheaper or more expensive. However, the closer the price point, the closer the competitor. If you are a bespoke milliner, Topshop or Debenhams can still be a competitor. It’s not just brands similar in scale to you.

  1. Location

This is where you sell or promote your product or offer. If you sell online e.g. Notonthehighstreet.com or John Lewis, then customers will search and shop by category, brand or price. So you can also research other brands (your competitors) by similar category or price. If you have a physical retail presence, be it in a departments store or market stall, you can check out their offer easily by just having a nose around.

  1. Motivation

This is why customers buy your product. So, you might (through your carefully conducted customer research – see my earlier blog post, Creative Planning Basis 3) know that weddings are a prime motivation for the customer to buy, or gifts for other people, or interior products for first-time buyers or students. The motivations are endless, and possibly varied. But if you know one of the main reasons your customers buy, then you have an idea of who else might offer this, and therefore who your competitor might be.

  1. Customer

As you have already done your customer research (of course), you will know who your customer is. You will know approximate age, gender, spending power, motivations (above), shopping frequency, lifestyle/occupation, what blogs/magazines they read, what other shops they visit and even the brands they buy. So, if your customer is a middle-aged, affluent, media bod with a penchant for quirky cufflinks, then that will help you pinpoint where this type of person may be likely to also shop. Hence your competitors…

So what should I look out for?

Okay, it’s unpleasant, but wouldn’t we – just occasionally – love our competitors to slightly less well, because then there are more customers for us? Mean-spiritedness doesn’t get us terribly far (or keep us very positive), but we can look for indicators of their successes and challenges.  Some of you may be familiar with the term S.W.O.T.  – this is where we would review their strengths, their weaknesses, the opportunities they take, and the threats they face.

How do I do it?

So, if I was an interior designer who worked with hotel commissions, I could nose around other hotel chains and find out who the interior designer behind the refit/new decor was. From the designer’s website, I could discover more about their business, their client list, their previous projects, their forthcoming projects. I could then explore this further online by searching for publicity about them, and other mentions of them online. If I was a childrenswear designer, I could explore online by searching under ‘boutique childrenswear’, for example, identifying other brands or bespoke makers, and follow the same process.

Your research will show you:

  • what the competitor’s offer is and how much they charge for it (or you can make a guess from knowledge of cost prices and the type of place they sell/clients they have)
  • where they promote themselves
  • what appears to be working well for them and what they are good at
  • what opportunities or trends they are more skilful in exploiting
  • if there are physical products, what is marked down in price (and presumably not selling)
  • what areas of their business they are NOT taking advantage of that you could do in yours
  • what threats or negative trends are facing your industry/sector and so this competitor also faces, and is better – or less well – equipped to deal with

I probably should also mention here that you don’t just want to focus on one competitor. Sorry! Thorough competitor research – that you might need for a business plan, or just to take the temperature if you are an early stage or pre-start up, or established – will require at least three.  And, to run a viable and sustainable business, you should really know who your three main competitors are.

To make this process easier, with some clients, I structure this around WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY AND HOW – in terms of identifying the competitor and their promotional and selling activity. But be sure to also look for their opportunities and weaknesses…

So now you have done this research, you will have at least come away inspired, with more ideas of what you can do to develop your own offer, what pitfalls to look out for, and realise where you can’t compete – you have other strengths instead. Which is just fine, by the way.

Ultimately, you will be better placed to use your own creativity more efficiently and grasp chances when they come your way, and effectively build your brand to reach and maintain more customers who keep spending their money with you.

Good luck!

 If you have any questions after reading this, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.

Tourist shop in Kyoto, Japan

How to do customer research to get more sales right now

As a creative marketer, a lot of my time spent researching, teaching and working with clients is talking about product, brand, customer loyalty and sales. Well, my clients talk about sales, we talk about that less in academia… Not much time is spent talking about WHO the customer is.

Our poor customers are further neglected – mostly my clients talk to me about their ‘target customer’ and it might go something like this:

Me: “Okay, so tell me who your customer is…”

Client: (Mulls this one over awkwardly /jumps in immediately with PR blurb) “someone on a good to high income, someone who is design led and edgy, likes good quality pieces and something a bit different, someone who is aspirational, maybe a bit quirky. Ideally, it would be ———- ———- from that show on the telly. We love her”.

I continue the conversation by asking who ACTUALLY is buying their product, where their sales are actually coming from. Unfortunately, this is almost always an unknown answer.

Yesterday, I met with one of my menswear clients and we chatted about the apparent gap between the academic focus on research and strategy in teaching design students, and the desire among fashion and creative start-ups (and larger organisations) to learn about how to achieve sales. And sales right now.

I absolutely believe that if your business is struggling to achieve sales, this is because there is a problem somewhere – often an easily rectifiable problem. This could be an issue with the design, the price, how and where it is promoted or sold, OR that you are trying to sell it to the wrong customer.

Knowing your customer, and knowing what they think of your offer, is understanding the problem, which is a major part of achieving sales right now. It is also a fundamental part of building a brand through long term customer loyalty. And in the digital age, the power of the happy consumer is high – they take to cyberspace in review forums, Facebook and Twitter et al to laud (or lambast) products and experiences. And where good reviews flow, customers and sales will follow.

One of the speakers at Marketing Week Live! at Olympia this June told of his research into his customer’s preference for word-of-mouth referrals: online reviews are now replacing family and friends as trusted sources when deciding whether to buy. And for start-ups, growing a social media community full of post-purchase satisfied customers that talk about how great your product is (and how it has met their needs) is gold dust. N.B. See suggestions below on how to do this through your research…

So, research and knowing who your customer is = more sales. Simple!

Step 1: gather some info – background research

Hang on, before I start – don’t I have to do hundreds of questionnaires for research to be valid? How will I analyse all that???

Here I would say you are undertaking a sample to take the temperature of your customers. I suggest that you read through all your responses and work with really significant comments or any trends and themes that come up. Just do as much research as you can time-wise and leave the mega-research to the large scale corporates!

So, how do I know who my customer is?

Your customer is who is buying your product, currently or recently. And by customer, I mean end customer or person. Unless your customer base is trade and you sell business to business.

If you sell online from your own website, you will have some data on your sign-up form. What – no sign up form??? Okay, more on that later…

If you have physical (as opposed to digital) stockists, visit the store and find out who is buying or not buying your product. Also, note if people are not looking at your product. But don’t just observe, speak to customers in your stockists – this is the best opportunity, and better than speaking to staff although this is also useful. But you have to ask the right questions. Again, more on that later…

If you have digital stockists, you will need to speak to them about how they can help you with your data. They –hopefully – can arrange some reports, if you are not able to access these directly yourself.

Back to the sign-up form. Many start-ups think they have clients’ details on Facebook or perhaps Twitter through likes or shares. You want to capture their email addresses and find out more about who and where they are, and to keep in touch with them – social media doesn’t tell you this, and they may move or close accounts, or just be infrequent users. On your website you can easily include a sign-up form and ask questions about email address, gender, location, postal address, age if you wish and an opt-in (legally required) to receive emails. On social media, you could run a genuine competition to drum up interest (e.g. new product launch or Christmas etc) and part of the entry process is filling in a form with the above details and again the opt-in. You would then publicise the lucky winner back on Facebook etc. This will give you social media content, and the forms give you necessary info, but also… a mailing list!!!

How do I know if they are buying my products?

On your own website you can follow your click-through and analytics data (for example free Google Analytics) – you can see where they have come from (e.g. your Facebook page, or from online publicity), what part of your website they explored, and also if they have visited you but not bought several times or stalled on a specific page– this suggests there is an issue, we will explore the buying process later. With stockists, visit the store and speak to the staff and buyers – it is good practise to be checking in very regularly to see what is selling and what isn’t. You want your stockist to keep you on if sales are low, and a good relationship where you can offer an alternative product is important.

How do I know what they are buying?

Again, online, you will have a record of sales and products sold. You will see what’s selling and not selling. Not selling is an issue. In stockists, from your observation or staff and buyer feedback from specific questions.

How do I know what they are not buying?

Here, the question really is “how do I know WHY they are not buying?” Presumably you are aware of what customers like and don’t like – this is evident in what is selling and what isn’t. But make sure you do keep track, and not just assume…

When I was studying my Masters degree, I worked part-time for a small womenswear designer in Glasgow. From my desk in the office/workshop overlooking the store, I was developing a marketing plan. For this, I explored with the designers who their customer was, how often they shopped, how much they spent, whether they were repeat customers, what the best selling products were etc, etc. Then, just to be sure, I conducted – very basic –research through a simple questionnaire and chatting to the customers about these same points. The difference in answers was incredible – these really lovely, talented and hard working designers who were in the same place as their customer were completely wrong about who their customer was, what they liked or wanted or what they were willing to spend. The designers were still thinking about their target customers and how they would like them to be. They weren’t asking the right questions…

Step 2: customer research – ask the right questions

What you really want to know is:

  1. why are they not buying my product
  2. why are they not buying more of my product more often
  3. how can I get them to buy more of my product more often

Of course, you can just come out and ask these questions on your website, via social media, face-to-face at the stockist or your own store. But a more softly, softly approach is recommended. With lots of thanks at the end! You can even turn it into content for your social media – Instagram photos of happy shoppers showing products they like (or have bought if online) with a ‘why they like it caption’.

I am a real fan of a short questionnaire. If you are face-to-face with your customer, you can ask these questions in an informal, chatty way. Online you can do a short poll, or ask for open feedback in a post. If you want more information you can create a form with a hyperlink. Look at Survey Monkey or Google Forms amongst others.  Any of these ways, encourage people to answer your few questions by offering them a thank you – a small discount off their next/first purchase, or a free gift. You would need to provide them with a promotional code that they then give at the time of purchase (and that you remember to apply!).

I would suggest you ask questions similar to the samples below, in your own words. You will need to create a couple of multiple-choice options, options to select yes or no, and also leave space for the customer to explain:

  1. Please tell me your gender: Male/Female
  2. Please tell me your age from the following brackets: 18-24, 25-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79, 80+ You might want to adjust these brackets and make smaller or larger. Be careful not to overlap numbers!
  3. Are you likely to buy from (your brand)? Yes/No. If no, please tell me why not.
  4. If yes, which product(s) are you most likely to buy?
  5. If yes, what has encouraged you to buy?
  6. If yes, is there specific occasion or purpose for buying our products?
  7. If there was anything we could change about the design of our products, what would it be and why?
  8. What do you think of the price of our products? Too expensive, about right, could charge more (multiple choice option). Please explain why.
  9. Have you found it easy to find and explore our products? Yes/No. Please tell me why or why not.
  10. Is there anything we can do to make this process easier for you? If yes, please explain.
  11. How did you hear about (your brand)? Please tell me where.
  12. What newspapers/magazines/social media/blogs/review sites/other media do you normally visit? (Here you can do multiple choice for each and include an option for ‘other’, or ask it as an open question).
  13. Where do you normally buy (similar products) from? Please tell me why.

These questions will tell you what customers like about your product and don’t like, what is encouraging them to buy or will encourage them to buy, what’s working well online or instore for them, and where the barriers are. This will help you make changes to build more sales.

I would recommend you ask all these questions, but you can edit this list if you wish. However, questions 1, 2, will tell you who your customer is, and questions 11, 12 will tell you where you can promote your products more successfully. Question 6 will tell you the type of products that are selling e.g. workwear, weddings etc, and also so you can promote these somewhere suitable. Question 13 is worth asking because these are your competitors, and once you know who your customers are buying from as well as (or instead of) you, then you can make changes to build more sales.

All this research stuff might sound like a bit of an effort. Perhaps you don’t want to hear negative views? Or perhaps you feel slightly awkward asking questions?

But let’s imagine what happens if you don’t do your background research on your customer, or you don’t ask them for feedback: you won’t know anything about them, where they are, how to reach them, what they want to buy, how much they want to pay for it, and, crucially, why you are not making enough sales. Most likely, you will continue to not make enough sales right now…

So here’s to sales! I wish you the best of luck with it.

If you have any questions after reading this, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.

Next Creative Planning Basics post: Competitor research: Competitors – yes, you do have them, and why you need to know all about them.

Street market in Bangkok, Thailand

Do your research: the market

“What is your market?” Do you know the answer to this? If not, does it matter?

If you have been working creatively and so far have been receiving commissions and referrals, you probably haven’t needed to think about ‘what next?’ and promoting yourself out to new clients in the market. Or maybe you are just starting out and not sure where to start selling. Well, what comes next is market research…

This doesn’t sound terribly exciting, maybe doesn’t sound like it is relevant to you, and possibly is conjuring memories of dodging clipboard wielding researchers in the street. But I believe market research is vital to helping you grow your sales, and your business. And it is easier to do than you might think (with no clipboards).

Essentially, a market is where you sell your product or service. Your market might be based on the product, so fashion, ceramics, childrenswear, jewellery, millinery etc, or service – photographer, jewellery resetting, interior design or architecture. It might also be based on geography, so, locally in your own neighbourhood, your city or region. This might be online. Or this might be overseas, either if you have been successful e.g. in the UK and are planning to expand, or if you have had some sales from e.g. Japan and China and think there could more sales from these areas.

Your market might also be a specific market level or area. By this I mean luxury, mass market or bespoke commissions. Perhaps you have worked in the mass market and have been retailing to small pieces to high street chains, but now feel you want to produce a more upscale range for independent boutiques. Or perhaps you want to move into the ethical design or crafts market with sustainable and eco products or services.

And your market could also be trade. You might be selling your products via retail to the end customer – the actual customer who will be using it – or you might be selling your product to interior designers who work with clients, for example. Maybe jewellery setting services to jewellers, or embroidery services to fashion designers or crafts people.

Once you know what your market is – and you may have more than one, which is fine – then you already have a head start on how to grow sales by understanding:

  • the type of stockist or clients or end customers that you can work with
  • trends and opportunities for growth that you can capitalise on
  • the aspects that are in decline and best avoided
  • the new challenges that are arising and affecting the market
  • the type of successful businesses that are working – and competing with you – in this market
  • what it is that your clients, stockists, or customers want and how much they will pay for this

But why does all this matter to you? You have a product or service that either has been selling well enough, or is surely going to sell well enough, if not brilliantly! Isn’t it easier, quicker and a better use of time to just start trying to sell where you can rather than undertake any market research?

I think jumping in and trying to sell anywhere to get your business off the ground (or keep it afloat) makes sense and may bring you in short-term sales, which is important. But in the longer-term i.e. the following weeks, months or years since your recent sale, having more of a strategy and a focussed means of selling your product or service will be more time efficient and more lucrative. And hopefully will also give you the much needed sense of knowing where your business is going!

If you are just starting out, and you have samples or prototypes, or just single pieces of your product so far, then you would need to do initial market research. If you have already been selling and are expanding into a new market, such as one of those discussed above, you would undertake something more substantial, as there is a greater financial risk to it. In both cases, you need to do this in stages.

This will involve accessing the internet or library with notepad or iPad. Plus, if you are exploring your geographic market quite literally on foot, take a camera and a map so you can see how the shopping areas are laid out.

First, set some time aside for this and schedule it – think about whether you will visit a library, or you might want to try the internet first. But give yourself a goal of a couple of hours or one afternoon a week for a few weeks to work through this. Put it in the diary; this is also your work too, not just making or designing!

Then identify your market – look at the list above, which of these applies to you? There may be more than one.

Visit a business library – in London there are City Business Library, the British Library’s Business and Intellectual Property Centre, and Westminster Reference Library to name a few. All of these places will have librarians who will be happy to get you started and show you (either ad-hoc or if you make an appointment) their resources, databases, periodicals and reports relevant to what you are trying to find out, and they cater for small businesses – for free! Other cities will also have a good business section in their libraries. Often, once you have visited a library, they can set you up as a member so you can then explore their resources online from home.

Then read reports on industries, trends and market growth – these reports include Mintel (Market Intelligence), Keynote, Datamonitor and Verdict. And also Cobra (Complete Business Reference Advisor), and EBSCO business resources to help small businesses. At the British Library Business and Intellectual Property Centre, there are industry specific information guides such as fashion, or jewellery etc. In these reports, look at data for sales, turnover, numbers of companies, and indicators of growth and decline etc.

Now analyse what you have read and noted down – what are the trends and growth areas? How is the market structured and divided up into smaller markets? What areas or sectors have declining sales? Who are the main players and market leaders? How saturated is this market? – e.g. mass market womenswear will be more saturated with lots of similar brands than luxury accessories? What looks stable to you? What looks like a new and emerging area that you could capitalise on?

Consider the impact on your current product or service offer. It’s not a nice thought, but are the sales of similar offers in decline or heavily saturated with competitors? If so, how can you modify or innovate in what you are doing (or where you are selling it) to take less risk here? Or maybe the data shows that no-one else is doing something similar to you? That could highlight an opportunity, but also an indicator that there is no demand for it…

So now you have the data, it is time to visit the market yourself – if you can afford it. Are you selling handmade accessories to your local neighbourhood? Head out with your camera and photograph what you see by way of other stores, craft fairs, boutiques and department stores. If you are a small scale jeweller or designer, head round the museum shops and jewellery districts, plus the boutiques and departments stores (but don’t take photos inside!!!).

Are you expanding overseas – e.g. Paris or Shanghai? Take a budget trip to familiarise yourself with the districts, the stores, how the department stores are laid out inside, what looks busy, what is near underground and bus stops and other main attractions. This way you get an idea of what the location is like, where you want to be in that location, what else is selling, what types of other stores or brands are there already – who looks busy and who doesn’t?

Or are you moving into online sales? Are you setting up your own website and promoting it on your own social media platforms, or are you going to sell through a host platform e.g. Notonthehighstreet.com, Etsy.com, Asosmarketplace.com, or Culturelabel.com etc. Browse all the similar host platforms, then within each platform look at all the individual brands similar to your business. Monitor them and see who is selling best where. Keep an ear out (and eye) for feedback on other businesses’ (negative) experiences with such host platforms.

So, what your time spent on this research will have shown you is:

  • what the trends and opportunities to capitalise on in your market are
  • what is selling well and are growth areas = potentially more sales and profit
  • what is in decline, or will be more challenging and risky financially
  • who the main stockists or competitors are
  • how the market is structured – lots of large chain retailers and only a few boutiques, or mainly online sales
  • how saturated by similar offers the market is – the more saturated, the harder for you to gain a foothold
  • geographically, where you want to be in this market – the wrong end of the right street can be just as unfortunate as the wrong end of town; you want to be where the customers are
  • again, geographically – locally or overseas – this shows you a little more about customers’ buying habits and what exactly is selling well

For your business now, this will give you more direction and focus. It will help lessen you wasting your time (and money) trying to sell in the wrong place, or trying to sell the wrong offer in the right place. Ultimately, this will help you begin to capitalise on opportunities to make more sales. Which is what everyone wants…

Good luck with it!

If you have any questions after reading this, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.

Next Creative Planning Basics post: Customer research – who are they and what do they want? And is your dream customer your actual customer – if not, does this matter? Hint: yes, it does…

Liliana K stall in Whistable, England

Reality: Your business now, your more profitable customers, and your cashflow

“Have you got a Business Plan?” is not a question that brings joy to the heart of early-stage creative micro-businesses. Visions of Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and alien, small-printed jargon arise; hours, days wasted, lost in unfiled paperwork only to create more unfiled (and unread) paperwork. Sound familiar?

Many of the fashion and creative start-ups I work with don’t have a business plan (it’s all in their heads), don’t do planning (ditto), and run their business like a freelancer. And why not? That way you can focus on the day-to-day must-dos, the making/constructing/designing, and the creative energy.

But planning your direction – whether it is building a strategy, a business plan, or identifying your goals for the next year or three – can be a creative process in itself. And like everything creative, planning is developmental and organic, it isn’t set in stone and can be adapted and improved, scrapped or redone. It starts with the first steps – and that’s what this and my series of Creative Planning Basics blog posts will explore.

These posts will help you focus everything that you already know or have dreamed about your work down into some kind of visual map. This will help stop the chaotic ‘washing-machine’ thinking and instead bring some colour-coded clarity.

Save your Business Plans and Strategy Documents for the bank and investors – you will get to this when you need to – and instead just begin now with how you want your creative business, and life, to be. So, with your old-school paper, Post-It notes, pens, pencils and camera at the ready, read on…

So, decide what time period – one year, two years etc – you want to focus on. Grab different coloured Post-It notes and find some wall space, or A1 paper, and pens and pencils.

This exercise will help you identify:

  1. Where your business is now.
  2. How to divide up your creative business into different customer bases for each strand.
  3. What work to spend more time on to generate more profitable leads and relationships.
  4. And start to recognise when the income is likely to come in and when your outgoings for the work are likely to go out = cashflow.

First, think about how many different aspects to your business you may have. For example, you might be an architect that does residential, commercial and the occasional profile-raising pop-up or collaborative work. You might be a jeweller that provides setting services for trade but are now branching into your own designer collections and bespoke commissions. Or a ceramicist beginning to get interior design wall commissions. Whichever way, you will have different strands of your business, different customer bases, and, importantly, different levels of income from each.

Using your Post-It notes, pens and pencils, colour-code each strand and divide it by income. So, if you are deep down someone who dreams of having their own pottery and shop, and meanwhile is beginning to do one-off wall commissions for interior designers at 15K a pop, but also hope to sell ceramics to high-street chains, plus take part in craft fairs with jewellery, picture frames, and general knick-knacks with your surplus materials, you would give a colour for each of these. Stick each coloured set on the wall, or paper, with a different sticky for each range or piece within it – and write down everything you produce within these strands that you do, or could, sell.

By now, you know how much each of these costs to produce, and you know, I hope, how much you might be likely to sell each piece of work at from your provisional market, customer, and competitor research (more on this in another post). So by totting this all up, it will visually indicate your more profitable income stream. How many of a, b and c are you likely to sell within the next six or twelve months? What if you only sell one 15K commission but get several of high-street orders for ceramic pieces? However, what if you already have one such commission lined up but are still just at the design/thinking stage on your retailer ceramics? Assess what is realistic to you for the chosen time period, factoring in how much work or progression you can realistically make in that time.

Earlier this year, I attended an event at the British Library Business and Intellectual Property centre – The Design Trust’s ‘More Than Making: Grow Your Creative Business’ – where entrepreneur Paul Sturrock[i] outlined a very simple business approach based on Osterwalder and Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas.[ii] Part of this discussion was identifying how much you need, or would like, to live on with a salary and all costs covered – 25K, 50K, 100K? Then you break that sum down into how many of each business strand you would need to sell to reach your goal.

So, let’s say you want to live off an income of 50K for salary and costs. If your wall commission is now looking (from Post-It note heaven) like your main income stream, you could find three commissions – one for each quarter – totalling 45K, plus another 5K of ceramic orders and craft fair takings to reach 50K. This additional 5K might be ten retail orders of £500.00. That would be almost one order a month, which is perhaps not realistic for this stage of your business. So re-adjust that to five orders of £500.00, then you can push the craft fair takings seasonally around Christmas gifts (yes, you will be busy!) to pull in the remaining £2.5K.

However, is this do-able for your workload at this stage? Could you bridge the income gap initially with a part-time job, or some freelance work using your other skills? Could you also sell some of your smaller pieces on online platforms such as Etsy.com, Notonthehighstreet.com etc? Do you have local shops, boutiques and galleries that might take some pieces on sale-or-return? Do you need to live off 50K? Could you manage on less for now? This is your creative business and life, so design it how you want it to be.

And finally… take a photo(s) of your hard work – don’t worry if you need to do this exercise in stages- and file or print for future reference (and to refer to for my next blog post).

So, what this exercise has helped you with is:

Where your business is now.

Maybe you have no contacts as yet with retail buyers, but do have several conversations regarding wall commissions, one of which is definite. You may really enjoy the buzz, banter and trading with your customers at craft fairs, but this can be a lot of work and time (even if it is in front of the telly of an evening) for a potentially lower return.

How to divide up your creative business into different customer bases for each strand.

You may have clients who are hotel groups commissioning you for wall pieces, or it may be an interior design small business with high-end clients, or a bigger design group. You might be aiming to target the highly competitive nationwide high-street chains for higher volume retail ceramic sales. This means you can identify additional interior designers for further commissions, or perhaps target smaller boutique interior stores with a good clientele who are willing to pay more for distinctive ceramics. A later post will look at how you find and promote to your different customers.

What you can spend more time on (yes, you can be efficient in time management!) to generate more profitable leads and relationships.

By now, you will know that it isn’t just the product or service itself that you spend time on, but also the research, the networking and the promotion (leg work) of it. So it makes sense to spend less time and earn more!

When the income is likely to come in and when your outgoings for the work are likely to go out = cashflow.

So if you break your year down into quarters, you are then already starting to build a loose cashflow projection. Try breaking income and outgoing down further into months throughout the year. This will hopefully help you manage your finances and lessen the sting of overdraft charges.

But perhaps you really do still dream of that pottery and shop, and your business is to help you work your way towards that – maybe you don’t want to be the new darling of the retail ceramics or interior design world. Then these planning steps will help you maximise your income from less time giving more time to you to continue to do the making, creating and designing you love.

Any questions, feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.

Next post: Creative Planning Basics 2: Starting to research your market, your customer and your competitors. Really, it’s just chatting, and having a nosey around with a camera.


[i] Paul Sturrock – about.me/paulsturrock

[ii] Osterwalder, A, and Pigneur, Y, (2010), Business Model Canvas, John Wiley & Sons. Also, www.businessmodelgeneration.com

Japanese painting in Kyoto, Japan

New Model Marketing

Since the 1960’s, marketing theory has enthused about the 4 Ps, and any student, graduate, or practitioner will have cut their marketing teeth on the mantra of Product, Price, Place and Promotion. But in the Internet age, we are encouraged to think conversation, not marketing, and engaging not broadcasting. So how relevant are traditional models to fashion and creative micro-businesses’ digital marketing strategies?

In 2009, Brian Fetherstonhaugh[i]  authored a call-to-arms article for advertising giant Ogilvy and Mather consigning the 4 Ps to the past, to ‘fantasy’. The era of marketing as king, and audience as ‘obedient’ is ‘shattered’. Fetherstonhaugh declares: “consumers have seized control”.

He adds, “The new ecosystem is millions and billions of unstructured one-to-one and peer-to-peer conversations”. He proposes it’s time for a new framework and toolkit – replacing the 4 Ps and embracing the 4 Es is the future: Experience, Everyplace, Exchange and Evangelism.

Similarly, Lon Safko’s fantastic Social Media Bible outlines current theory on engaging consumers today. He cites Communication, Collaboration, Education and Entertainment as necessary approaches in digital marketing – get them talking with you, working with you, listening to your values, and having fun. Engaged consumers are happy consumers.

So far, so large-scale multi-national. But how does inspired theory work in practice if you are a time and resource-strapped fashion or creative start-up?

A recent social media seminar I attended with Adrian Swinscoe[ii] explored some current online thinking for micro-businesses: Create, Curate, Community, Converse and Context. Could new, micro-business friendly marketing theory – and practice – be the 5 Cs?

Adrian outlined the approach. Create only content that is helpful and relevant to your customers or audiences on the platforms that they use. Curate other people’s relevant content and share and comment on this. Build a community, and take part in other communities, where these issues matter. Converse with your customers, listen and respond, be visible to them. And, importantly, wrap all this in the context that that connects you to your customer. Remember that people want to buy from people, so keep the human touch within the 5 Cs.

In time-saving practice, I would also add to re-use and adapt existing words, images and video that are appropriate to your audiences and platforms. Build your community and network from scratch by regularly re-posting, commenting on, sharing, re-tweeting other relevant content to increase your own followers and visibility. Keep your social media platforms up-to-date and provide quick responses: start out small with whatever is manageable, test what works, and keep it up. And always think about the ‘why’ of what you are doing. Ask yourself: Does this reach my customer? Do they want to see or hear this? Will it get them to buy/to share/to recommend? Is it saying the right thing about me and my brand? Manage this in 15 minutes a day or one half day a week – keep it simple, put it in your diary and stick to it.

So from Ps to Es to Cs. The theory and practice of how we and where we do our marketing may be continually evolving, but our intentions remain the same. We will always ultimately be selling products – or services – to people, obedient or not.

If you have any questions after reading this post, or would like me to work with you on your creative business, then please do get in touch. You can either email me at hallandco@outlook.com or drop a comment on the blog.


[ii] http://www.adrianswinscoe.com