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

How to Join Notonthehighstreet as a Partner

Website graphics by Notonthehighstreet.com and Milly Inspired

‘How can I join Notonthehighstreet’, is a small Business question that we hear all the time…

A lot of people want to know how to join Notonthehighstreet as a Partner. If you believe that you offer products that will appeal to their demographic, then I would definitely recommend applying. For many small business owners, working with Notonthehigstreet.com has been transformative, and allowed them to finally leave their 9 to 5 and build a business that they love.

Official Notonthehighstreet ‘Sell With Us’ video. Created by Notonthehighstreet.

Before launching Milly Inspired, I used to work for Notonthehighstreet, so I’ve seen the acceptance process from both sides. Based on my own experiences, I cannot emphasise enough how important each of the following points are:

1. Innovative and unique product ideas

Notonthehighstreet is just what it says on the tin. They don’t want to be stocking items available in large retail chains, so the first thing I would say to anyone wanting to sell through Notonthehighstreet is that innovation is key.

These days, the company have a Curation Policy in place, which actively encourages individuality. If you can show that you’re innovative, this will really help you to get through the doors at Notonthehighstreet.com.

Unusual products have always been a key selling point for Notonthehighstreet. They want all of their Partners, old and new, to stand out from the crowd. There are several ways that you can approach this. Where possible, my team look to design items that are not yet available on the site. Others refresh their offerings with trend-led designs and photography, while others offer notonthehighstreet.com exclusivity to some or all of their range. If you are an independent boutique, make sure you present them with your more unusual offerings.

2. A minimum collection of ten products

To join, Notonthehighstreet will ask you to complete an online application. The team view a high volume of applications every day, so first impressions count – you need a good-sized selection of well photographed products to be able to do this. Generally, Notonthehighstreet suggests this is a collection of ten or more products.

3. Excellent Product Photos

In my opinion, this is one of the most important factors, because when you’re shopping online you are buying into the image of an item first, and the physical product second. If your budget is small, this is where you should be spending your money. I have heard about numerous products not making it to the site due to bad photography.

4. A good brand presence

The team at Notonthehighstreet are looking for small businesses who understand how important it is to provide an all-round exceptional customer experience. In your application make sure you tell them about your branding, the beautiful gift-wrapping you offer, and your excellent after-sales service.

Notonthehighstreet love a good backstory too, so do tell them a bit about yourself, how you started your business and any obstacles you’ve had to overcome.

5. Desire to grow your business

For some Partners, selling on Notonthehighstreet will boost their sales overnight. Others may see a slower, but still very satisfying, increase in sales. As there will be so much opportunity for growth, Notonthehightreet naturally wants to work with companies who are enthusiastic about this. Don’t worry, you are not going to be pushed to do anything you are not ready for, so don’t let that put you off!

To conclude

I cannot stress enough how important joining Notonthhightreet was for our business, and I would whole-heartedly recommend this route to others.

To finish this post, I thought I would show you the results of a quick survey I carried out. The aim was to find out which factors other Notonthehighstreet Partners believe are important when applying to sell on the site. You can see that they agree with just how important ‘uniqueness’ is. They also said that being on-trend and offering quality products is important, with strong product photography being the fourth most important factor.

Facebook Competition

Factors that existing Notonthehighstreet Partners think they consider when assessing potential new Partners

If you want to apply to join Notonthehighstreet and would like a few specific pointers before contacting them, we’re happy to offer you some guidance.

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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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