C&T Q&A – How do I manage multiple product lines? To combine or not to combine…

how do I manage multiple product lines?

This week’s question is from Kelly, who writes:

Hey Jess!

What’s the best way to include multiple lines (which aren’t necessarily a similar product to your dominant line) in your business? For example – mainly selling watercolour paintings, but also wanting to sell t-shirts. So the two lines are both arty (and could overlap to a point), but are still considered to be separate.

Are you better off creating a new ‘name’ for that line, which could be a business name I guess, and using a ‘made by _____’ under that logo, or is it still an option to just sell it under the same business?

Possibly not the best example ever, but hopefully enough for you to go on!


Thanks for this one, Kelly, I know it’s one many of us ask ourselves, as creative types are notorious for coming up with new ideas and trying new things constantly!

The answer to this one really boils down to one thing – do the multiple lines have enough in common to be branded the same?

In your example listed above – if you’re selling watercolour prints, and it’s those same pieces of artwork on the t-shirts, then absolutely they can be in the same shop. In this case, the product is actually the artwork – the prints/tees/cards/stickers etc etc are simply the medium on which people can purchase the product.

So long as your branding/photography is consistent and complimentary across all the different product types, this can work really well.

However, there are times when the product lines are so disparate that it is better to completely separate them.

I’ll give you an example from my own life.

I’ve been running Epheriell since 2008, and by around 2010 I had developed a defined brand and product type. I make and sell eco-conscious, simple, contemporary sterling silver jewellery. Within that overarching brand, I can play around with a number of different product lines… but in the end, they all reflect this overall brand message.

So, when I decided I’d like to play around with vintage-style jewellery because I’d been wearing a lot of vintage clothes, I deliberately decided to create a completely separate brand and shop – Vintette.

This was a pretty easy decision to make. I knew the jewellery style would be completely different. It would have a different price-point. It would be more assembly jewellery rather than handmade from raw materials.

In brief – I did not want to dilute my Epheriell brand by mixing Vintette-style jewellery in with it.

By doing things separately, I was able to develop 2 completely different and distinct brands… despite the fact that both were jewellery.

Of course, I still talked about both brands on my blog and on my single twitter account. In other words, as you mention above, Kelly – they were both brands ‘made by Jess Van Den’.

If you have an existing brand/product line, and you have an idea for a new line, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my new idea have anything in common with my existing brand? {For example: yes, both of them are jewellery}
  • Will incorporating my new idea into my existing brand compliment and improve my brand/shop overall, or dilute it? {Vintette is a vastly different style, a different price point, and incorporating it with Epheriell will dilute the Epheriell brand}
  • Do I have the time/energy to manage two separate brands/shops? {At the time, yes, because my business was still growing. As you can see if you visit the Vintette shop now, I’ve closed it to focus on my more successful brands. You can only do so much!}

Don’t make the mistake of turning your shop into a ‘little bit of everything’ brand.

Be the person who makes ‘_____________’. You’ll have more success building a business (at least in the beginning) if you have a very strong brand focus.

Have you ever come up against this question? How did you handle it?

What do I blog about? 15 ideas to get you started

15 blog post ideas

Have you decided to start a blog and committed to updating it regularly but not sure what to write about? You are not alone!

I’ve been blogging for a few years now but there are still days when I feel that I wish a had a list of ideas to refer to, just get me writing.

Thus, I decided to put one together and share it with you!

Firstly, let me mention that the most important things about blogging is not only the content but also the consistency of the updates.

Establish the schedule that you have time for – 2-3 times a week is a great start. The time when to post is important too.

Posting them constantly in the morning or in the evening  is great as the readers know when they will find a new post to read.

Once you’ve established the amount of days and time you post, start brainstorming the ideas:

Idea #1 Post a little tour around your studio/creative corner

I LOVE posting and looking at the behind the scenes shots of other creatives. Nothing like a little nosey around the creative space! This topic is awesome as you can post updates when you re-decorate or tidy up the space and send new readers to see your space every now and then on Facebook. Please don’t get shy that it’s just a kitchen table or a part of the living room. It doesn’t really matter as that’s where your creations are born. It doesn’t have to be super tidy either, all creative spaces are messy so you can also post before and after shots, show what it’s really like during busy times!

Idea #2 Post behind the scenes shots

It might be because I am a curious creature but that’s what excites me even more then seeing the finished item – seeing it coming to life! There is nothing like building the excitement, showing what you are making as it happens.

If you prefer to keep item a secret before the release, post “How it was made” post after, no problem. Just remember to take the pictures.

Idea #3 Participate in Linkin parties

So, you are blogging about your space and what you make. This topics are endless really as you make things regularly and have new creations to blog about. However, the blog comes to life when you inject a bit of you in it. What you like, your interests and your life. The Linkin parties are great as they give you a topic to write about so all you need is to go with it.

Another great thing about those parties is that you leave your link on the blog that hosts the party so other readers will come in to check your post out. You also need to stop by and comment on other post as it’s primarily sharing and discovering new blogs which is always fun!

Here are some of the parties I attend or going to join:

Wordless Wednesday, held at The Jenny Evolution – share a picture of your garden, new creation, a dog/cat or a flower something that is cute/inspiring/celebrating everyday moments.

Sunday snippets, held over at  The Beetle Shack – It’s a new one that I am joining this month. You need to post a couple of pictures from your week, little moments that made it memorable. Very easy theme and I love looking at all the pictures, very inspiring.

Photo a day challenge at Fat Mum Slim – if you like Instagram, this one is for you. I am yet to join this one… next month!

My creative space at Villagevoices – show what you are working on and see other creatives in action! Great theme that I’ve been joining in for years.

Idea #4 Review an event/book

Did you go to a craft show, sew together, crochet class recently, then tell readers all about it! You can always spot a blogger as we take pictures of everything so don’t forget your camera.

Write about a book you are reading, why you bought it and how you are liking it so far. Great way to share you interests and ask readers to recommend you a next book to read.

Idea #5 Write a recipe

Do you baking or cooking? Why not share your best recipes every month?

Idea #6 This is how I store my paper/fabric/beads/stamps…

Storage is always a problem so show how you store your craft supplies, it might be very helpful to your readers or ask for tips if you are struggling to find ways to store certain things.

Idea #7 What I’ve Pinned this week 

Round-up the most popular pins or your favourites ones, maybe some seasonal items or colour coordinated inspirations. This will tell your readers what your like, your taste, and send them to your Pinterest page.

Idea #8 A month on Intagram roundup

I fell in love with Instagram as soon as I started using it! Great way to connect and see what others are creating. It’s a wonderful collection of pictures ready to be arranged into a post.

Idea #9 Lovely day out

What did you do? Where did you go? What did you see?

Idea #10 Blog about your kids.

If you are comfortable with sharing pictures of your kids in the blog, do so once a week. Funny or sweet moments of your everyday routine is a great way to capture their growing personalities!

Idea #11 Gift ideas

Every holiday season needs one of these posts!  I love putting together gift ideas at Christmas/Easter. It can be something from your store matched together in bundles or items made by your fellow sellers on Madeit/Etsy. Don’t forget to let them know that you featured their item.

Idea #12 Interview a crafter that you admire

Who doesn’t like getting to know new handmade designers and their stories? Great way to network and get to know them better. You can even exchange interviews, why not?!

Idea #13 Write a DIY

I find these type of post to be the hardest to write but the most rewarding! They get the most clicks on my blog and I love seeing items created by following my tutorials. DIY doesn’t have to be complicated, I find the easier the project the more popular it is as it can be made quickly.

Idea #14 A week on Facebook, round-up

Have a look at your Facebook updates and see if you can make a summary of your week in one post, it’s a great way to record a week of happenings and refer your newsletter readers there. Even if they follow you on Facebook, they will appreciate a quick sum up so they don’t miss out on what’s coming up or a special offer.

Idea #15 Contribute to other blogs

When you feel comfortable with blogging and writing, consider contributing to other blogs as being a guest blogger is fun and it opens a new audience to you. Blog owners always on the lookout for contributors, including me *wink*  but make sure you send a ready to cut and paste blog post with relative content for a better chance to get featured.

Finally,  Allocate topics to the days of the week so you have a routine to follow. 

I’ve changed my routine recently after moving to a new website but I am slowly getting back to it. I used to love allocating approximate topics to each day of the week as a guideline (can be as many topics as you like per day, this way you can pick the one you feel like blogging about with plenty of a variety for your readers too), for example:

Monday – what inspired me recently (magazines, colours, new fabric collections…)

Tuesday – giveaway or a post about what I am making for my home

Wednesday – wordless post, sharing a beautiful picture that made you smile.

Thursday creative space or a new collection release

Friday – guest posts, DIYs or a shop update

Saturday – Crafternoon in the studio, what I made that day (I used to have Saturday in the studio full-time)

Sunday – fabric stash (new arrival, colour coordinated bundles of my favourite prints – great chance to re-organise the stash and see what’s hiding in there)

When you look at the days and topics allocated, blogging is not as scary, is it?

If you still think that there is nothing you can blog about in your day, take a moment and write down what you did today. Everything from laundry to quick coffee with a friend and you’ll see that there are plenty of moments that are worth capturing and sharing.

Even just a picture of your messy and wildly creative space is interesting to the reader as that’s what they want to know.

It’s all about sharing who you are, what you do, and why… and that you are a human being behind a handmade business.

Last but not least, every now and then, after your routine is set up, experiment, find new things to blog about to keep it interesting for yourself and readers. You don’t have to set everything in stone, we are creatives after all – spontaneous people!

Do you have a pool of topics that you use to help you keep your blog rolling? Share them with us in the comments.

Success Stories ~ Polli

Maja and Tess in Studio_crop

Maja and Tess of Polli

I love finding new handmade companies that make me stay on their website for nearly an hour oohing and ahhing over their products.  Polli grabbed in me a few weeks back and I knew I needed to contact them so I could share their advice on running an extremely successful business with you!  Maja and Tess were sweet enough to agree.  You’re going to enjoy this interview on how these two ladies went from full-time jobs in design consultancies to full-time jobs for themselves.

Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?

Maja and I studied Industrial Design at UTS in Sydney. We loved working together and collaborated at uni and became great friends. After graduating we were both lucky to secure full-time jobs in design consultancies, mine from a part-time job during uni and Maja’s from a prize we’d won from the Design Institute of Australia. The only problem was that they were competing consultancies with strict confidentiality. So we started a hobby on the side, with the vision that we could make things for our demographic, that were fun, usable and affordable. Polli grew for about 4 years very much as a weekend hobby while we worked-full time. It was a great luxury as we could reinvest any profits back into the business as we had full-time jobs. In 2007 Polli had grown into such a demanding hobby we had to choose between it and our day jobs and we took the plunge into full-time Polli. It was an exciting and liberating experience and in our first year we went on our first international trip to a trade show in NY and we had a team of friends working part-time. In 2008 we moved into our studio in Stanmore where we are today, still designing and making products with a great group of friends.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?

In 2012 Maja moved to the US with her family and we’ve been working long distance ever since. It’s tricky running a small business this way but we’re intent on making it work as we feel we have a unique partnership with great complimentary skills.


Sweet Polli Babushka Pendant

What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’/successful moment for you so far?

Probably moving into our studio in Stanmore. It was a huge achievement to move ‘out of home’ and really love this space. It’s a converted ginger beer factory with lots of great salvaged timber, exposed brick walls and polished concrete floors. It feels like a creative little oasis amongst the busy inner west.

Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?

Brands do need to evolve their aesthetic and we’re in the process of exploring new materials and products. It’s a really exciting time to think we can do something new but it’s also been strange to start a blank canvas with no knowledge of different industries.

Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?

Certainly I think that happens to all designers but we’re lucky to be in a partnership and have a great team around us to bounce ideas and bring new inspiration.


Australiana Tape

How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?

Having children has really changed our work / life balance. (Tess) Generally we start the day early (like all mums), we’re often walking our dogs or enjoying a family breakfast. I’m at the studio just after 8am and the rest of the team arrive within the next couple of hours which gives me time to catch up on emails and plan my day. We have deliveries daily of new stock or samples so we’re often reviewing them over a cuppa. Chatting with suppliers and customers. Designing something: either a new product or something simple like a newsletter. We’re always busy on facebook and instagram, sharing our story with our lovely customers. I’m always home by 5 to start the kids’ dinner and catch up with them before bedtime.

What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?

Two words: Pistol. PR.

Kate does an amazing job promoting Polli to the press because she really understands Polli and has worked with us for a long time.


Wooded Hexagon Beaded Necklace

What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?

Don’t try to wear all the hats. It’s often good to know when to call in experts like photographers, book keepers, web developers so you can get the best results and focus on the things you love and are really good at.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Still here in our sunny studio, working side by side on new and exciting products. Travelling the world to promote our collections and visit customers and being inspired all the way.

You can find more of Polli’s work online in their shop

On Instagram

And on Facebook

Introducing my Mentee – Stacey from Max & Me Designs


Today I have a special someone to introduce to you all!

When I ran the inaugural session of Set Up Shop, I let it be known that I would be choosing one of my students to mentor for 3 months. When the course came to a close, I set about the tricky job of picking one person from my 75-strong class of wonderful women to work with one-on-one. It was a difficult decision, because so many of them are passionate, hard-working, dedicated, and giving.

In the end, I made my choice… and today I am very pleased to introduce my new mentee to you all – the lovely Stacey from Max & Me Designs!

Stacey makes wonderful and unique art from vintage postage stamps, as well as postage stamp jewellery and a few other bits and pieces. I am impressed by what she’s managed to achieve in the short time she’s been in business, and I reckon she’s just going to go from strength to strength.

I asked her if she’d be happy to share her journey over the next few months while we work together, so today she’s going to tell you a little bit about her business and how it began…


How did Max & Me Designs begin?

Like many businesses in the handmade community, Max & Me Designs began by accident. I was cleaning out the cupboard in our new nursery/old junk room when I came across some stamps that I had collected as a child. After spending a few moments looking through the pages of the album and reminiscing about my childhood inspiration struck! I decided to use some of the stamps to create a piece of art for my new little baby boy, Max. I loved the idea that I could take something special from my own childhood and upcycle it into a keepsake gift for him. Little did I know that this very moment would set me on a path to creating my own business.

Fast forward a year down the track and Max & Me Designs is now a successful small business featuring a unique range of art, jewellery and giftware which have been handcrafted using upcycled postage stamps from all over the world.

I love being able to take something so small and insignificant as a postage stamp and reincarnate it into something truly beautiful and unique that will be treasured by its owner.

Every piece is a one of a kind and I often have customers who buy them as keepsake gifts to celebrate birthdays, christenings, Christmas, wedding anniversaries (1st anniversary is paper), Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or the arrival of a new baby.

What was the motivation for starting your business?

Like many new mums I found the first few months of maternity leave very isolating. While I loved being at home with my new little baby I was used to talking to people all day long and being busy, busy, busy! Suddenly I was at home by myself and I missed the mental stimulation of working and being around people.

Several of my friends had commented on Max’s artwork and suggested that I try selling the designs online. I figured I had nothing to lose and set up online shops on the Etsy and Made It sites. I also set up a Facebook page for Max & Me Designs which is where I discovered the AMAZING community of handmaidens!

Max & Me market - web resolution

What has been your favourite part about the journey so far?

My favourite part of running a handmade business would have to be connecting with so many new people. It’s been wonderful getting to know my customers, Facebook fans and fellow small business owners over the past year. I love interacting with my fans on Facebook and find it to be such a beautiful, supportive community. It’s due to their support, and that of my family and friends, that Max & Me Designs is where it is today.

I have also met some very generous philatelists who have donated thousands and thousands of stamps! I have several people who regularly send me envelopes filled with exotic stamps from all over the world, including one lovely grandfather who regularly sends huge envelopes of stamps from his collection. I feel as though they are entrusting me with a part of their lives that is very important to them and I feel very honoured that they appreciate and value the designs that I create.


What do you think the future holds for Max & Me Designs?

Wow, this is the big question, thank goodness I have Jess to help me along the way!

With Jess as my mentor and the very generous business grant from Renata at Forming Circles I’m hoping to take Max & Me Designs to the next level by further developing the product range and spreading the word far and wide.

I would like to extend my social media networks and finally getting onto Twitter… I would also like to increase the number of retail outlets which carry my products and try my hand at some of the larger design markets in Melbourne and possibly interstate.

The key thing that I have learnt from the past year is that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, after all what have you got to lose?


P.S. Term 2 of Set Up Shop will run this July! I will, again, be choosing a student to mentor for 3 months. If you’re ready to craft an online business and shop that will rock your socks, make sure to sign up here to find out when registration opens.

Why Fear of Failure is So Funny

huge owl in living room

{Photo by Tim Walker}

I want you to ask yourself: What’s the worst that will happen if you fail at your business?

Be honest and write it out:

  • Deplete savings account

  • Have to go on food stamps

  • Have to sell the car

  • Have to move back in with your parents

  • Have to move to a smaller apartment

  • Have to go back to an old job/get a job

  • Have to take your child out of daycare

As you’re writing out your worst case scenario, are you realizing how unlikely it is that it would happen?  I’m betting you would come up with quite a few steps to take before phoning your mum to ask about the state of the basement.  Yes, you MAY have to move into a smaller apartment but if that’s your worst case scenario, you have it much better than most people in this world.

When we have a big decision to make and the fear of failure confronts us, we tend to overreact.  Sort of like how a chair with a coat on it becomes a short axe-murderer at night.  Suddenly that little voice in your head tells you you’ll never make as much money as you need.  You’ll sell one of your newest product despite all the time and money you put into it.  Or worst of all…you’ll never sell anything ever again.

So let’s get real about fear.

I’m going to be honest here and tell you something that most ‘successful’ entrepreneurs will never tell you: we all suffer from fear of failure and it’s definitely not a pretty time for us.  Every three months I fall into this pit of despair.  It’s always after a hugely successful week or sale or show.  I get this overpowering fear that I will never be able to replicate what I just did.  Then I’ll go two days without a sale and suddenly I feel certain no one will ever buy from me again.  I’ll have to live on the streets while handing out frozen yoghurt at the nearest TCBY.

It’s not till I say these fear out loud (usually amid sobs and a cuddle with a pillow) that I realize how stupid and unrealistic those fears are.  (Plus how silly it is to be crying into my pillow and not my boyfriend’s.)  Almost immediately I grit my teeth and come up with a dozen new ways to market my business.  I refuse to fail.  I refuse to give up.  The universe always seems to be listening because, without fail, the next day I’ll receive an email that knocks my socks off.

Fear of failure is an inherent part of working for yourself.  How you choose to confront that fear is what determines if you stay in business or close up shop.

If you do fail, at least you went down fighting.  Plus, there is nothing that says you can’t get right back up and start again.  If I had to go to work at TCBY, you can bet I’d be plotting out my next adventure away from frozen yoghurt almost immediately!


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