Website & New Server

Hi there, currently I’m in the process of editing this website, along with modifying the images of the products available on offer.

There’s a couple of reasons.

  1. The site needed a new fresher and cleaner look

  2. Redeveloping the site is easier than transferring all the data to a new server, especially as numerous plugins are no longer required.

Apologies for the inconvenience, the site will be up and running with full functionality in the coming days.

Best Time To Start Your Biz

Deciding to start a business is far from a small decision, there are umpteen factors which all have to be considered, from how you’re going to name your business, where it is going to be based, in what format is your business registered, how will it be financed, and even more importantly what your business does or is going to do.

But then there is another small factor to also consider.

Timing. 

So why should you consider timing as a factor?

Here’s an example, lets say you want to set up a retail store which will sell gift type items. When would the best time to launch be?

The January sales, the short month of February, March you might catch the easter market, the same with April. By May things have started picking up a bit, money is more free flowing and most of the christmas debts have been paid off. Your customer base however is starting to save for their big summer holiday, the same will run through June, July and August. Then September comes and it’s the panic over buying the new school uniform and extra school supplies. October sees the launch of the christmas gift market which runs right through to the panic buying the night before christmas.

Last year (2014) Asos reported a 38% rise in profits over the christmas period. That is a huge chunk of profit. The funds a retail business raises in this period are highly important, they fund the quieter months of January and February.

It also means there’s no surprise that retailers want to try everything they can to extend the christmas season.

So if you were to set up a retail store, you wouldn’t be likely to launch it in January or February due to those being quiet months for retail spending and by the same token you also don’t want to launch into a mass of advertising around the christmas season either.

They trick is to launch at a time where it’s busy enough to sustain your business and create a presence in the mind of your customers. This also gives you the opportunity to create a relationship with your customer base. Having a good relationship with your consumers leads to more loyal customers and to word of mouth recommendations one of the most powerful methods of advertising.

Deciding the month to start your business is only half the battle, the second crucial part is in regard to your life, in particular financing.

Finances

Do you have the finances to back up your plan? Are you old enough to get a bank loan to start your business? Are you young enough to be able to access grants?

We’re told we should have three months to three years worth of savings in the bank to be able to pay all of our bills.

We’re advised to reduce down all of our spending to reduce the reliance on those savings.

And it’s also suggested that we start our businesses whilst in education, living with parents, or working.

By this token it would suggest that you need to be in an age bracket that allows you access to grants and loans, young enough that you still live at home with your parents and have a job to help sustain you.

Unfortunately not everyone has that luxury, nor even the desire to start a business at that age.

Redundancy, disability, unable to find work after education are also other reasons that people want to set up their own business even when their finances suggest it will be a challenge.

Limited funds however do not mean you can’t set up a business.

It simply means you have to get more creative.

Finding ways to reduce your outgoings, and cheaper way to produce your goods and services.

It also means that you look for other ways to reach your target audience. Through craft fairs, Sunday markets, car boot sales, pop up shops, space sharing, social media groups and so forth

Additionally limited funds also means you have a greater understanding of how fragile a business is and your growth will be slow an manageable. You’re also more likely to have a financial plan in place for what your profits will be spent on and when. Every decision will be purposeful and thought out.

Age

We’re told you need experience to set up a business? Along with needing the finances as mentioned above.

But at what age should you start your own business? Is there an age limit to starting your own business?

Well in all fairness it doesn’t matter. Experience you learn from doing and if you can’t get a job directly out of school how are you supposed to gain that experience.

Equally if you’re 10 or 100 and have a fantastic business idea why not set it up. It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t work.

Okay so the 10 year old probably has more time to learn from mistakes than an 100 year old but still you get the gist.

The only suggestion with regard to age is the assumption that in your older years you have some finances to support yourself and are more likely to take advice from someone else.

Support

There’s a couple of issues regarding your age is the access to professional support, mentors cost money, some you can get on a grant basis, others want to be paid out of the success of your business and others just want paying upfront.

I’m no expert in mentors, I don’t have one, however I have found another way in which I can gain important insights and learn more about business without a mentor. Those resources are blogs from likeminded people who have walked the entrepreneurial road before me. Sites like Olivia.co and ByRegina.com are two which I recommend and use myself.

The key advantages to having a mentor is the specific advice you will get for your business and the accountability measures you also have.

Using online support you have to create your own accountability and find the advice you need, which sometimes can be difficult if you’re not exactly sure what you need.

Recession or Growth

In an ideal world there would never be a recession, but unfortunately this is part of the financial cycle.

So out of these two which is the best time to start a business?

Recession

Your customers don’t have as much spare cash to spend

Due to a lack of funds you learn how to reduce costs without cutting corners

Reductions in the number of businesses means more units are available for hire at reduced rents.

Your suppliers are cheaper to try

Access to loans is tougher but they also have lower interest rates

You will be more stable than a business started in growth during another recession

Growth

Customers have more spare cash to spend

High demand for units raises the rental prices

More options for suppliers but costs are also likely to increase

Loans have become more expensive from increased interest rates

You will also have more competitors for the same customer base, equally you can team up with some of your competitors who are similar but not exactly the same with your marketing efforts

Final Thoughts

Essentially the best time to set up a business is when you are ready, there are opportunities and challenges no matter when you start your own business. Age is far from a factor as successful businesses can be owned and run by anyone of any age who has an understanding of business.

And finally

If you are considering setting up a businesses I have a handy and very helpful printable business planner which includes pages for a business plan and many other useful sheets to help you run your business.

How To Use Stock Graphics

In an ideal world we would never have to use stock photographs. I’ll explain why in a moment but first I want to tell you what to expect from this article.

Using stock photographs has some really good points but equally they can be just as bad, and I want to explain to you why and how you can avoid some of the pitfalls which can come with using stock imagery.

Newsletters, internal communications within a business, sample layouts for a website, images on blog articles (much like this one). I’m not afraid to admit that I use stock photography. There are also other times where you can use stock graphics again these are very similar circumstances to stock photography.

There are numerous sites out there which hold libraries of stock images, all ready to be found with a few keyword searches. Stock libraries have been in existence for decades well before the invention of the internet. How else would we be able to find images from the past.

Making matters even more complicated these sites all have different systems in place, pay for the image you use, pay for a license depending on how many people will see it, pay for a licences for a set period of time or the royalty free copyright free images.

Let me tell you there are some great photographs on some free stock libraries but you can always find better quality when you pay for the stock images.

So what are the plus sides of using stock images?

  1. For me it’s the diversity of images, from people to places.
  2.  I can have photos of places I’ve never been to and simply can’t afford to go to.

For every plus there’s always a down side.

  1. Anyone and I mean anyone can use the exact same stock image as you (in other words if you want something unique for your brand get the image yourself)
  2. The quality of some stock images are poor

How do you overcome these downsides.

For the first option if you pay for the stock images it reduces the chances of someone else using the exact same image, not everyone wants to pay or can pay for the images they use.Secondly and this is where you need to check the terms of the usage agreements, if you can edit the image in some way do it, make it look slightly different, give the image a treatment, place something within the image which is unique to you.

Here are a few examples of how to edit a stock image correctly and how not to edit the images.

Personally I soften the image, add bold text to the image along with my logo. A logo alone is not enough to define an image as yours. Even though the above options are simple even when using basic editing software it is worthwhile creating a style which is unique to your company, some styles will look similar to other brands, this is something which you truly need to try and avoid.

As for quality, you get what you pay for or decide to download, where there is an option to grab a selection of sizes always go for the largest one possible, equally never resize the image to be bigger than it actually is, that’s a sure fired way to ensure you loose quality.

If you can afford to get a photographer, illustrator or designer to create the images for you I recommend always doing this as it will cut down on the number of edits you have to do to maintain the brand message within your content.

Two areas where you should never use stock images.

  1. Your logo, it should be unique to your business / organisation etc, no one else should ever be able to use this image with the exception of the designer who created it and even then only for display in their portfolio never to sell on.
  2. Staff images, using stock images of people and displaying them as staff can make your company look untrustworthy. Why would you want to do business with someone who exaggerates their business with fake employees

Pre made branding and logo options are not stock imagery unless you can purchase them many times over in which case I would recommend you not buy them at all.

Marketing Your Film Through Design

Recently a close friend of ours sold his film to a distribution company. Within the distributions companies contract they included the costs of re-marketing the film.

Within the film industry there are many levels of marketing, each changes as the process of creating the finished product.

Initially you will have a concept of the film, along with a synopsis, a script and from this you are likely to require various marketing materials to encourage investment, sponsorship or fan-funding. These marketing materials will provide the essence of what your film could look like. They will be an insight into your vision for the project.

During the pre-production, fundraising stage what marketing materials will I need for my film?

Synopsis

Short description of your film, this should not give away too much of your story but should be enough to capture the imagination and reveal what your film is actually about.

Script 

Investors and companies who pay for product placement will want to know what happens within the scene their product will be featured in and how it will be featured. Equally investors may wish to see the full script, certain investors will ask for elements to be changed to increase the marketability of a film.

Poster

Having a film poster is probably the most obvious part of your film marketing efforts, even though this poster will be changed once your film gets picked up by a distribution company or even a sales agent, you need to ensure your poster looks like a finished piece and not just a concept. Early film posters will not require the block text at the bottom of the image for the most part this is because not all the required roles will have been filled and are subject to change.

Project Website

Having a website helps with keeping your investors unto date. Equally it is a great place to put more information about your film, such as newly acquired cast members, and key crew members. The added advantage is that your website will make your production look more professional especially if it gets updated often. Plus people can contact you about your film through the website. Even if you don’t have the funds for a project website go for a production website to help promote your projects.

Production Company Website

Having your own production company website also helps with the professionalism of your project. The advantage to a production website is the ability to promote all of your projects and you can have segments of your website dedicated to different projects. Displaying more projects which your company is involved with may also help with gaining more investment especially as you will have a track record of projects.

Social Media

Facebook pages, twitter, periscope, youtube etc, which ever social media group you feel most comfortable updating regularly will help promote the film. Even in the early stages of your film it is a good idea to promote it. Simply because you’re raising awareness of the project and the more people who know about the project could mean you get a better investment deal or distribution deal.

Social media can also help as method of finding actors for the roles, along with casting websites. Always do a live casting session in person.

Cast

Obviously you will want the best cast you can afford in your film, unknowns may not bring in the viewers but they can be great actors. Ideally you should seek a balance between unknown and the more known actors or even more known people who want to dabble in acting.

Using more well known people opens doors for investment, backers and marketing opportunities. With radio, TV and magazine interviews and hopefully a more engaged social media audience.

During filming what marketing do I need to do?

Social Media
Ideally you would have already set this up during the pre-production. Throughout the filming phase you want to be making those interested aware of how far through the production is. There’s a few advantages to this.

1. this interested have the feeling that they themselves are involved, it creates a form of investment and this becomes an ideal way to find out what your potential viewers will think.

2. Updating in real time shows the lengthy process of film making, yes the actors may only be on set two hours a day acting but they’re spending another hour in prep, plus you have to organise the shoot too.

3. For independent filmmakers social media provides you with the opportunity to ask for assistance if something isn’t quite working to plan. This also increases the investment people are making into your film, becoming it’s own community.

Posters

At this stage your posters can start to change, you are no longer seeking investment and your posters will be moving on from the concept stage. Admittedly it does sound odd that your poster has changed but new actors, locations and even things you hadn’t envisioned yet can make for some amazing poster designs.

You can get away with having featured screen grabs and released images of locations and behind the scenes if your budget doesn’t allow for a full updated poster. These updates should ideally also feature on your projects website or your production companies website depending on which is the best option for you.

Post production marketing

Pretty much this is the same as what you are doing through the filming stages, this time round your screen grabs are coming direct from the editing time line and are hopefully colour graded to show the quality of the final pieces.

Again keep your investors and backers even those supporters updated as to what stage you are at. Small snippets of ‘unimportant’ scenes can be released as small teasers and this also becomes the ideal time to make any music video for the theme songs which accompany your film.

Screening

A private screening for cast and crew and those who have funded the film, it all helps when it comes to seeing errors. So far you’ve probably been working on smaller screens and taking something to the big screen just amplifies any minor errors, the major ones should have been spotted, occasionally there will be a few major errors if time isn’t on your side. 

Word of warning
If you want to get distributers on board do not hold a premier, this is for your distribution company to organise and holding a premier can affect any potential distribution deals. 

Distribution

The so called easy option is to get a distribution company or sales agent to deal with the distribution and marketing side of things. A big thing to look into is what you will require legally to get the distribution deal along side the more creative elements. Talk to distributers and sales agents and get their take on what you need.

Ideally you need to do this in the early stages of your production, so there are no nasty surprises once you’ve completed your masterpiece.

The distribution company or sales agent will take over the marketing of your film, modifying posters, designing the DVD covers and producing all the necessary artwork.

Do it your self distribution

A greater challenge but if you have an active social network which engages with your audience your job has just been made a little easier.

Even though you’re distributing yourself it is worthwhile speaking to distribution and sales agents to see what legal aspects need to be completed, alternatively you can speak to an entertainment lawyer for some advice.

It is also worthwhile to keep updating your social media to maintain the interest whilst the film is out of your hands.

If you do decide to self distribute where are you going to sell your film?

Through your own website – you’ll have to be active on social media, attend related film festivals, perhaps even ask some film festivals if they can show your film or at the very least a trailer to your film. 

Through a large company such as amazon – you can use amazon to publish your work, there’s potentially the option to stream and download the movie obviously these sites will take a cut of your percentage but you won’t be out of pocket with thousands of DVDs going nowhere. Again you will need an active and engaged social media network.

You could also make contact with the supermarkets and other outlet shops such as book shops where they sell films as well. This is where the legal stuff will be more important as the stores will want to know they are protected if you’ve infringed on anyones copyright. There is also the challenge of getting through the doors of the sales team.

Going the self distribution route means you have to recreate the posters, the trailers, the DVD covers and the internal booklet of information. You also have to source who can cost effectively provide you with blu-rays, DVDs, and your printed materials.  All marketing is down to you, and often the marketing budget is far greater than the budget of the film.

Final thoughts

There are no certainties when it comes to film making, you are not guaranteed to make money even if you sell your film, you may even loose money. It is one of the riskiest businesses to invest in but it is also one of the more exciting industries. Things are ever evolving and capturing the audience at the early stages is paramount. Retaining and growing this audience relies on visual cues showcasing the ever changing progression of your film. Design can help provide these cues without giving away the story of the film.

Taking Your Hobby To The Next Stage

 

You have a hobby, whatever it is for the sake of argument we’ll call it needle felting but in all honesty it can be anything, and you want to go from hobby needle felting to earning an income from needle felting.

You’re products are beautiful, friends, family and even random visitors to your home compliment your wonder works of art, maybe some have even asked if they can buy one or two off you. Perhaps you said yes and then freaked when they asked how much because you didn’t have an answer. It could even be they wanted your favourite piece for five pounds but you know the amount of felt that went into making that piece was more like ten and thats even without the hours labouring over it.

As with any piece there is a value attached, this value is based upon how much you want to be paid an hour for your efforts and how much it has cost you to actually make the item.

Now as a hobbyist you can probably afford to sell that ten pound decoration for 5 pounds, but you want to run a business so it’s time to get serious. Sorry about that.

Research

Ideally you need to make products for many price points, you also need to know who your target market is and how much this market would truly want to pay. It’s time to start asking questions.

Avoid family for this, with the exception of those who are brutally honest and I mean so honest it is practically a personality flaw. Complete strangers will tell you the truth for the simple reason they don’t know you and really don’t have to care about hurting your feelings.

From how much people are prepared to pay you can either

1. Find a way to make items at that price similar to what you showed you target market, remembering to include both your time and your profit in that price.

2. Partially ignore the target market and charge how much the item actually cost you to make plus the profit you want.

3. Make numerous products from the larger more expensive and more intricate to the smaller and less detailed versions.


The story of a product

There is a trick to commanding a higher price. This trick is not to spend more hours working on the product, or adding even more fine details. No instead it’s adding a story to the piece.

Here’s an example, out of the two which would you prefer to buy

Option 1

A needle felted fox, which took two hours to make

or

Option 2

A needle felted fox, Inspired by a mother fox who gave birth to her six cubs in our back garden, this fox represents both her strength and her protective nature as she quickly huddled them into a makeshift den under the shed.

Having said that don’t create a lie about the origin of the piece, but equally being so brutally honest and simply saying I was bored and just felted until this happened won’t really help your sell it.

Basic costings

The horrible maths bit. I say horrible but I actually don’t mind it and if you’re spreadsheet savvy you can always get the computer to figure it all out.

Lets say the needle felted fox took you two hours to make, we bought a £20 bag of wool and can make four products out of this. We also want to get at least the minimum wage of £6.50 an hour.

Labour costs = How much you want to be paid per hour x How many hours it took to make

£13 = 6.50 x 2

Supply cost = Cost of materials / amount of products which can be made

£5 = 20 / 4

Total cost to make the product = Labour costs + supply costs

£18 = 5 + 13

Then you need to add on the profit, at this stage it’s worthwhile doing two, one for wholesale and the other for retail. It’s unto you how much profit you want to make from the product. But for the sake of argument lets say you want 20% profit for wholesale and 35% for retail.

Wholesale profit at 20%

Cost of product / 100 x percentage profit = amount to be added

18/100 x 20 = £3.60 needs to be added to the cost of making the product

This would mean at the wholesale price the product would cost £21.60

Retail profit at 35%

cost of product / 100 x percentage profit = amount to be added

18 / 100 x 35 = £6.30

So the retail cost of the product would be £24.30

Presentation

Presentation also helps increase a price point too, the more professional the display the more likely your customers will be thinking your product is a quality item, think in both terms of packaging, do you have a fancy box you can have the item hoping out of, will it have some padding and if so is it bubble wrap or tissue paper.

Even the way you showcase the price will also say a lot about the quality of your piece and your business.

Every aspect of this product, it’s packaging and story have to consider your brand. If your brand is earthy in nature a brownish cardboard box with shredded cardboard would be effective to display your products.

If you brand is more homely a box with a bow and filled with tissue paper or a padded cushion will be the better option.

The pricing labels have to match this brand too, as does your signage, even the outfit you wear has to incorporate the brand and it’s personality to truly start making your mark as a professional over a hobby.

Often at craft fairs there is a mix of the hobbyist who is selling items so they can make more because they enjoy making them and there are others who are there because they want to start a business. It is the branding which sets these businesses apart.

It doesn’t even have to be a craft fair, it can be a market, a stall at an event or even some shelves within another companies shop.

Perhaps you are selling online through the likes of Easy, Folksy or even your very own website, again these need to be branded in a way that means it is clear this is the same company you saw at this or that place. I know that Easy allows you to change your header image and your profile picture, and you can do the same on Folksy.

Equally you can host your own site, and have even more features without the need to redirect people to another website where they can quite easily find a rival who is possibly cheaper.

It is also worthwhile investing in some form of social media which links to your shop, website your contact details. Social media is also a good way to connect with people and help spread your brand and your products through shares. It takes hard work and determination to do this but when it works it can be worth the effort.

Your key thing to remember when turning your hobby into a business is you need to charge for the hours you put into your work and your business also needs profit in order to grow.

If you need or want an illustrative element to your logo it defiantly worthwhile hiring a professional to do this for the simple purposes of ensuring the image can be scaled up or down without any loss of detail or quality, equally a professional will also know how this visual element can work with the rest of your logo concept and how the target market will perceive your logo design.

Over time your brand will develop even more and you may have to take on the additional help of a graphic designer to help your brand reflect this through all of the available ways in which your customers can interact with your brand.

Your designer will or should know exactly how to capture the attention of your potential customer base. They will be able to advise you on marketing opportunities which will hopefully pave the way for you to go forward and grow into an even more profitable business.