Creative Business Gems Love list

Look Who Made The Love List….

Over the years that I have been running Milly Inspired I have met some truly amazing entrepreneurs, read books that have changed my whole outlook on running a business, and attended events, workshops and meet-ups that have helped me to reach the next level. What and who these amazing sources of inspiration are is just the type of information I want to pass onto you guys so my aim is to keep a list of my top resources, my CBG ‘Love List’.

This list will change and evolve as I find new resources so do keep coming back to view the most up-to-date list.

The List:

Books & eBooks

1.Shape up your Business by Sophie Cornish and Holly Tucker

One of two books written by the founders of notonthehighstreet.com. Personally, this is the one I found more useful, mainly due to it’s insights and tried-and-tested small business lessons. The book is full of case studies from notonthehighstreet.com Partners, so it is the perfect read for anyone aspiring to sell on their site.

One of two books written by the founders of notonthehighstreet.com. Personally, this is the one I found more useful, mainly due to it’s insights and tried-and-tested small business lessons. The book is full of case studies from notonthehighstreet.com Partners, so it is the perfect read for anyone aspiring to sell on their site.

2.How to Style Your Brand: Everything you Need to Know to Create a Distinctive Brand Identity by Fiona Humberstone

This beautifully stylish book takes you through the branding process, from the conception of your business through to communicating to your audience as an established company.

This beautifully stylish book takes you through the branding process, from the conception of your business through to communicating to your audience as an established company.

3. Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert.

A self-help book for creatives. This is perfect for anyone wanting to live a creative lifestyle who is fearful of taking that initial big leap. Gilbert draws on her own life experiences as a creative, and other well-known creatives, to inspire you to take that first step. Personally, I find hearing other people’s stories gives me confidence that I am on the right path, so I often have the Audible version of this book playing in our studio.

Blogs

1. Handmadeology

A hub for all things Etsy. Started by Timothy Adams, this blog is packed full of useful Etsy advice. Plus. you can connect with other sellers via their social media pages.
2. UK Handmade

An advocate and supporter of all things UK craft. I have used their forum numerous times, and their ongoing support for creatives always motivates me.
3. Female Entrepreneur Association

Started by Carrie Green, this lady has created an online meeting place for business women from all over the world. I joined their Members Club a few years ago and love being able to communicate to other female business owners. Plus, the themed monthly information packs they send out to their members are very useful.

You don’t have to join their membership site to find useful content. Have a listen to Carrie’s weekly podcasts over on their blog, or have a read of their ‘She Means Business‘ magazine.

Training – online and offline:

1. Paperfest

Originally a yearly event bringing together people from the world of Paper Goods, Paperfest is now part of the London Tradeshow, Top Drawer. Top Drawer runs in January and September each year, and both events are FREE to visit if you run a small business. Paperfest hosts talks throughout the three-day event; these have included speakers from major retailers like Waterstones and Selfridges.
2. Nicole’s Classes

Personally I have completed their Photoshop, Illustrator, Photography 101 and Table Top Photography courses (wow, I didn’t realise I’d done so many). The courses are affordable, practical and some of the most useful I’ve taken. You simply purchase the course you want from their website and select the date you want to start the 4-week course. Once purchased, download their software. When the course starts you sign in and that week’s notes and videos are ready to go. You can also upload any work you have done, so your teacher and coursemates can add notes.

Nicole has kindly set up an offer for Creative Business Gems readers. This will allow you 15% off all her courses with the discount code ‘CBG15’. All you have to do is add the promo code at checkout.

3. Start Small, Dream Big

From the owners of the blog, A Beautiful Mess, these sisters have written several ecourses. I have friends who have purchased different ones and all have enjoyed them. For small business start-ups I’d pick the ‘Start Small, Dream Big’ course. Again, it is affordable and easy to access. The courses are self-study so you can work at your own pace.

Specialists

1. Holly Booth

Owner of Holly Booth Photography. Holly has been our product photographer for many years. She is now one of the photographers notonthehighstreet.com recommends that their Partners use. Holly creates quality, on-trend photos. Based in Derby you can visit her for a day or a half day shoot. Alternatively, you can now post her your products, and she will photograph them for you and post everything back. Plus, she is one of the most cost-effective photographers I have found.
2. Jenny Hyde

Owner of Copper Boom Studios, Jenny and I used to work together at notonthehighstreet.com. Now she offers mentoring, courses and workshops for notonthehighsteet.com Partners. Plus, Copper Boom Studios is available for e-commerce product descriptions and photography.
3. Claire Yuille

Owner of Indie Retail UK, a website and ecourses to help launch your wholesale collection.

So that is our first ‘Love List’. Do you have any suggestions you think we should include in the future? Maybe you run an e-course or host a networking event that would be perfect for our list; if so, then please get in touch.

Gender Reveal Trend

Gender Reveal Moodboard – view Pinterest Board for photo sources.

Gender reveal parties are a new trend, straight from the US. Just like baby showers, this is a rapidly growing trend within the UK, with couples looking for fun ways to reveal the sex of their baby to their family and friends. For more inspiration, take a look at our gender reveal Pinterest Board.

The Million Dollar Blog

The Million Dollar Blog Book Review: if you are starting a blog or perfecting the one you have, then this is the book for you!

The Million Dollar Blog by Natasha Cournney-Smith is one of those rare reads that encapsulates not just the general information you expect to find in any book on a specific topic, but also endeavours to include fresh new content unique to its pages.

There are a number of extra aspects of blogging that Courtney-Smith chooses to include, but for me, the numerous unique case studies from some of the most well-known bloggers out there are what make The Million Dollar Blog the most practical book on blogging at the moment. There is at least one case study per chapter. Two of my favourite are:

1.Elise and Emma from Craft and Lifestyle Blog, A Beautiful Mess.
2. Carrie Green of the Female Entrepreneur Association (FYI – all female business owners need to follow this lovely lady’s blog).

I have read far too many books on blogging, and comparing this to others I have read, I can safely say that the reason this book works so well is because of the author’s personal background. Originally, Natasha started blogging to grow her PR business. That meant she took a business-minded approach to blogging. She watched and analysed the posts that generated the best response. It is this process she shares with the reader.

The book starts by introducing the vast blogging options open to the reader, from ‘mum blogs’, like the famous Mumsnet, to news blogs like the Huffington Post, and specialist blogs such as Simple Green Smoothies (all of whom are included as case studies in the book).

As the book progresses, Natasha talks first about the initial creation of your blog, through to the launch, growth, and then the all-important monetisation.

I truly loved this book, and found it very inspiring. Natasha writes with the kind of genuine enthusiasm that motivates you to get blogging right away. If you only want to read one book on blogging, this is the book for you… enjoy!

Have you read this book? If so, let us know your thoughts in the comment field below.

Main photo by – Get the Gloss

Holly Booth

Photo by Jo Crawford

Today we are speaking to Holly Booth, who creates all the product photos for Milly Inspired. Holly specialises in product photography for small businesses and is now one of the very few photographers notonthehighstreet.com will recommend. I believe she caught their eye because of her beautiful trend-led style, lovely crisp photos and pricing that small businesses can afford.

Good product photography is a key factor in the success of an online retailer. Holly has been our photographer for five years now. When we replaced our then product photos with Holly’s, sales improved immediately. Several months later and with the help of her photos, Christmas sales increased by 188%.

We both joke that we cannot remember how we first met, but I know at the time I was looking for someone who could create ‘Pinterest-friendly’ product photos, I found Holly’s work online and things went from there.

So grab yourself a coffee and a little sweet treat and enjoy our chat with the lovely Holly…

…So Holly, why don’t we start by you telling us a little something about yourself:

“Well, I’m a freelance photographer based in Derbyshire, specialising in creative product photography, which means I get to work with super talented makers, designers, crafters, and shops across the UK. I live with my fiancé, our French bulldog Remi and a tiny cat called Juno. I’m a fan of documentaries, antique shops, and David Bowie.”

“My love for photography blossomed at around the age of 13 when I started taking photographs of the things and people around me. My dad has always had a keen interest in photography, so he passed his knowledge onto me and I found I had a real passion for it. Skip forward a few years, I studied art and design at college (specialising in photography) and then enrolled onto the Commercial Photography (BA Hons) course at the University of Derby. I set up my business in my final year, with the aim to go straight into being freelance once I’d graduated.”

What attracted you to product photography over other forms of photographic work?

“In all honesty, product photography was sort of something I fell into! I’d dabbled whilst at university, but I’d always been focused on fashion work and so it hadn’t really crossed my mind. However, back in 2011 I was approached by Abigail Warner to photograph Pearl Lowe’s stationery collection and of course said YES without much hesitation. I was also regularly shooting styled bridal photo shoots for blogs and met a lot of independent designers during that time. It all kicked off from there, and as I started to work with makers, designers, and shops, I realised how much I loved this area of photography and how much I enjoyed working with the people I was getting to meet. I feel like I’ve found a bit of a niche in terms of creative product photography that is also affordable; something that I think a lot of start-ups will appreciate. I also feel like it’s really ‘me’ and that’s a pretty ace feeling to have about your work.”

What is the best photographic lesson you’ve ever learnt?

“I’m not sure of a photographic one specifically, but the best lesson I’ve learnt since becoming self-employed is to trust your gut instinct. I’ve had plenty of learning curves in the past few years, and I’m sure there are more to come, that’s just part of running your own business! It seems like a simple lesson, but when you first start out I think you have this overwhelming pressure to do any job that comes through – rather than listening to what YOU really want to be doing. Since narrowing my market and finding a niche, I’ve become so much happier in what I’m doing, and I really feel like I’m on the right track. That’s a very rewarding, not to mention exciting, feeling!”

While working with you I have admired how in control, confident, and stress-free you are during your photo shoots. How do you think you achieve this?

“Oh, thanks so much, that’s really lovely to hear! I generally try to stay in control and relaxed during most situations in life, but I guess doing a job that I love so much makes that even easier while I’m working. I find product photography really allows me time to think and work through the set-ups, which I find quite therapeutic. As for the confidence bit, I’m not sure where that comes from. After growing up very quiet and shy, sometimes my own confidence in situations does surprise me.”

What would be your ideal day at work?

“That’s a difficult question! I receive emails occasionally from students wanting to do work experience with me, and whilst that’s SUPER flattering, I always find it amusing as it seems a lot of them think being a photographer must be really glamorous and that I’m out shooting all the time. Whilst I’m sure life is like that for some, mine is perhaps a tad more casual… Days swing between shooting either on location or in the studio, catching up on admin and emails, or editing for hours. I guess my ideal day at work would be to have a really brilliant shoot with a great team of people, and finishing in time to spend my evening at home drinking tea and hanging out with Remi. Rock ‘n’ roll, huh?”

Other than your camera, what items can we find in your camera bag?

“Hair ties! Long hair and leaning over the camera to get those ‘from above’ shots of products don’t mix. I also carry around chewing gum, some spare change, batteries, a cleaning cloth, and my keys. I’m starting to think I’m going to need a bigger bag soon.”

Do you have a favourite photo by yourself that you could show us? Please tell us why you like this photo so much.

“I think this is relative to what I’ve been working on recently, as new work will always become a favourite, only to be replaced again by more new work! I’ve worked with stationery designers since the beginning of my career really, so here’s an image from a recent shoot for Eliza May. I loved getting to style LOTS of flowers to enhance the beautiful designs.”

Eliza May Prints

Photo by Holly Booth

Similarly, could you show us some photos from your favourite photo shoot? What made this photo shoot so special?

“Similar to the previous question, my favourite shoot changes all the time. Recently I worked with Jo Want of Hello Sunshine to take new styled photographs of her current collections (and brand new ones!) I’ve been working with Jo for a few years now and we always have a real laugh on our photo shoots. This time Jo tasked me with creating a mini garden set-up – such a fun challenge!”

Hello Sunshine

Photo by Hello Sunshine

What made you decide to become self-employed?

“I was working three jobs at the time I graduated, all part-time, and although all in creative fields, none of them were photography based. I just became frustrated with the situation, and after studying for three years it felt like a waste to not pursue what I loved so much. My parents always encouraged me whilst I was growing up to follow a career path I was passionate about and not just settle for something that paid the bills. So after a lot of deliberating, I made the leap and quit all my jobs. Pretty scary, really! I was already working in photography in the little spare time I had, so it wasn’t as if I was going in cold with no clients or idea about how to run the business, but I definitely wasn’t as prepared as I maybe should have been.”

How did you feel the very moment you became self-employed?

“It was a mixture of being really excited to be working for myself and doing what I love, but also anxious for the very same reasons! Luckily I’m quite self-disciplined, so I find it easy to be working for myself from home and just cracking on with things. If anything, running my own business makes me work harder than I ever did in my previous jobs (sorry, ex-bosses). I have a love/hate relationship with the fact that when you become self-employed you become your whole team, not just the photographer but marketing, admin, tea maker… the lot. It’s definitely been a learning curve, but I don’t regret making the leap for one second.”

If you had to impart one nugget of advice to someone newly self-employed, what would it be?

“I always find this question really difficult to answer as, looking back, I’m not sure I was really ready for self-employment at the time I made the decision, but if I hadn’t have made that leap, who knows where I would be now. I guess I’d go back to my previous answer of ‘trust your gut instinct’. Also, work hard, don’t compare yourself to others (you totally will, but it’s not helpful) and remember that it’s OK to take time off now and again – you deserve it.”

We hope you enjoyed our Coffee Break chat with Holly. If you want to ask her any questions, then please add them to the comments bar below.

What Makes a Successful Designer-Maker?

Designer-maker: those who both design and make their own products. Who bring together their creative ideas and making skills in the individual production of their designs. Designer-makers also represent designers involved in the small-scale batch production of goods. – Maker’s Yard

Having specific skills will help you to succeed as a designer-maker. I have compiled a list of what I believe those skills to be; you will find you have some, but maybe not others. That is normal, so don’t worry. It is always a good idea to be aware of your weak areas and, over time, bring people into your business who can provide those skills for you.

Someone who is creative, who also has a head for business (and what I mean by ‘head for business’ is that you have to work out your prices correctly, understand that marketing is key, identify how to grow the business etc.).Ali Millard of Milly and Pip

So what skills do the Creative Business Gems team think designer-makers need…?

  1. Creative: a successful designer-maker needs to create commercial products that will attract a customer base. To do well you need an eye for what sells; plus, you need to be able to think creatively to make items that match consumer needs.
  2. Originality: too many designer-makers copy other people’s work. This makes no sense, as you will never do well if you just mimic others. Instead, find your own style and make something unique and different (plus, it goes without saying that copying is plain bad). Yes, be inspired by other craftspeople, but have the confidence to forge your own path. Austin Kleon has written a brilliant book on this called Steal Like an Artist.
  3. Relevant: creating items to sell is very different to creating items for fun. If you want to make money from your makes then the question of relevance needs to be asked daily. Most craftspeople make items they love. There is nothing wrong with that, but if you want to sell your items, consider what your customers will buy. What is the demographic you are selling to? What styles and items do they like?
  4. Business-minded: having even a small interest in this will make the daily running of your creative empire more enjoyable. You don’t need to know everything, and there are many areas where you can employ people to help. Still, it is a good idea to try and learn as much as you can.
  5. Change-maker: the world of small business changes all the time. Adapting and reacting to these changes is something a smaller company can do much faster than a larger organisation. People can find change stressful, but it is likely you will need to continue to adapt, so try and learn to enjoy the process.
  6. Shows up: a simple but crucial factor to being a successful designer-maker is showing up and being present. Be there for your business every day, work hard, and the pay-offs will come.
  7. Customer service perfectionist: small companies need to strive for customer service that compares to the likes of Harrods and John Lewis. Try and find ways you can go over and above. Could you give your customers a free gift with their purchase, or a discount code for their next purchase?
  8. Social media fan: designer-makers are selling themselves as much as their products. These days, people want to know as much about the person behind the products as the products themselves. Social media is the perfect way to do this (plus, it’s free). This is another area where you can bring in help, but I would suggest trying to give it a go yourself first. Over time you will build a direct relationship with your customer, enabling you to ask them questions and get their feedback.
  9. Teacher and student: being self-employed means you end up learning something new each day. Those lessons keep on coming and coming, you can’t avoid them. After a while, you will become both student and teacher. Once you have learned those lessons, you will find yourself passing that knowledge on to your team.
  10. Trust your instincts: trusting your gut instinct and knowing when an idea is a good one is one of a designer’s most important qualities. These flashes of inspiration are always right, so when you recognise one, hold onto it, write it down, and develop it. Your best ideas will most likely come this way, so it is a good skill to develop.

Do you agree with my list, or would you suggest acquiring some other skills first? If so, I would love to hear what they are, so please add them in the comments bar below.

I’d say it’s a mix of passion, determination, flexibility, commercial realism & great support from family & friends. – Joanna Miller of Bespoke Verse

Photo by Lubos Houska, on Pixabay

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Welcome, I’m Gemma

If you are a Craftsperson, an Artisan, Design-Maker or Micro Manufacturer, looking for product design inspiration then creativebusinessgems.com is a blog written for you.

I have run my own Designer-Maker Business, Milly Inspired, for over 7 years now. Today our six-figure company is still growing at 50%. Learn how to get the same results right here!

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