I have folks ask me on occasion who designed my logo, who built my website, who helps me edit my photos, who helped me create my pattern style sheet. Because of some misplaced need to appear humble, I always feel awkward answering that I did it myself. It has taken me a long time and several iterations to land where I want to be, knowing also that I can and will tweak things again. It can be done.
Branding is a trick in the best of circumstances, with lots of artistic vision and trained folks to put together a master plan. HUGE companies fail and re-vamp their branding strategies all the time. But, when you are running an independent business, an “on the side”, out of your garage business, a cottage business, it can seem like an insurmountable challenge, something only the cool kids can pull off.
I am here to tell you: YOU ARE one of the cool kids. It can be done, with some good planning and time. And I want to help you through some of the first steps, if you’d like, in a series I’m going to call “Cottage Branding”. Cottage branding is all about the little guy (or gal) creating something that not only holds up in a large market, but provides the chance to stand out among the fray in the best light possible.
Over the next few weeks, I will focus on some really pragmatic matters, gleaning advice from some of the best out there along the way. We will start with the biggest ideas and questions to ask yourself, then work outward to all the fine details that unify your brand. For today, I want to focus on one make or break concept when it comes to branding your cottage business: AUTHENTICITY.
Authenticity is the single most attractive attribute any individual, group, or even business can have, in my opinion. It is the only thing you just can’t fake. You know it when you see it.
C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:
Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on people until you stop thinking about the kind of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without even having noticed it.
Authenticity is a trait worn on your sleeve, whether you want it there or not. I am always AMAZED when I am scrolling through my Instagram feed how painfully obvious it is when a perfectly curated, beautifully shot gallery of posts reads as overly polished, overly glossy, trying just a leeetle too hard. My feed is glossy. It is curated. It is carefully planned. And it is also a reflection of what I truly love, what I believe, and what is authentic about me. People can tell.
I’m about to drop a tough bit of truth on you: branding is effective when you make folks want to be who you are and have what you have. That may sound crazy manipulative, but that is just the truth. The trick of it is, are you trying to sell them an image that doesn’t really exist, or are you putting up for consideration a little piece of yourself in order to inspire and edify? I prefer the second option, and, in my experience, so do folks who are interested in buying independent.
Before you begin any type of brand planning, make a commitment to yourself to be as authentic as possible. This does not mean that you have to share shots of your dirty dishes or screaming kids. I mean, you can. But it is not required to achieve authenticity. In order to portray authenticity, what is required is to know yourself. You have to know what you like and don’t like, what appeals to you, what is important to you, WHY you do what you do.
I encourage you to consider the following three focusing questions as you begin the journey to develop your own unique brand to market your handmade pieces. I have provided my answers to these questions not to influence your thinking, but to give an exemplar to follow as you consider your own thoughts.
What personal passions do I want to share through my handmade goods? What about me is unlikely to change as my business evolves?
My answer to this question has three parts: my passion for living simply and faithfully, my commitment to motherhood, and my love of nature. My aim is to convey these passions in each point of contact I have with the Naturally Nora Crochet community of readers, followers, and potential buyers, including designs, photography, and writing.
How can I show my authentic self to the world as I promote my business?
I offer teeny bits of my somewhat offbeat, quirky sense of “humor”, quotes from favorite artists, authors, or poets in social media captions, and thoughtfully composed item descriptions included with my listings. I also offer photographic peeks into the everyday life happenings that reflect what the days really feel like for my family. These little offerings include things like playing with my son while I crochet, sitting down for a cup of tea while my daughters are at school, or squeezing in writing time after the lullabies have been turned on.
What style of items do I want to offer? Am I “borrowing” from another maker too heavily?
This is the trickiest question to answer, and it will evolve. I encourage you to ask it, however, because to “borrow” someone’s style or even specific pieces can happen scary fast. When I got my start, there were two makers whom I adored. I designed three or four pieces that looked like they could have come from their shops-they were not copied designs, they were my original pieces, but the FEEL was a rip off. Although there is no way I could have seen it at the time, I was imitating someone else’s authentic artistry. Sometimes, this is what it takes to develop your own eye, but learn from my mistakes and do your best to develop that privately. I have since pulled those designs from my shelves and replaced them. They did not reflect me, they reflected those whom I admired. Be careful of this design trap.
Over the next few weeks, I will focus on five additional topics: Purpose, Focus, Logo, Design, Images EDIT: and Packaging!. I will provide my own approach, as well as reflections from some of the best makers out there, a wealth of knowledge, experience, and success gathering to support one another and you, dear friends! Come back soon!