Vianza Blog

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profitable tips for designers + indie retailers

by Tara Swiger

Online Promotions That’ll Have Customers Cheering


This is a guest post by Piper Toth. Piper happily traded the corporate world for the online world when she opened her online boutique, one sydney road. She authors the blog of the same name where she waxes poetic on the crazy roller coaster ride that is entrepreneurship!


I don't know about you but I hate being "sold" to. Just about as much as I dislike having to "sell" to customers. I'm sure they go hand in hand but all I know is that I want to run screaming anytime I have to venture foot inside a car or phone dealership. It's such a hard sell - and let's be honest - not very pleasurable for the customer (ahem, me!)  Which gives marketing & selling a bad name...and causes us indie biz owners to want to avoid "selling" or "marketing" like the plague.



It doesn't have to be a hard sell.


That’s the beauty of owning your own business – you get to decide what feels right for you. In fact, it doesn't even have to feel like you're selling at all! (okay, yes, you are still "selling" but you can take the ickiness out of the word!) One of the best bits of advice that I received as I was starting my online boutique was this..."how are you helping your customers?"


Well, that certainly changes things, doesn't it? 

If we look at marketing as a way to help our customers, doesn't that take all the pressure off? (Not to mention, the icky factor?) 



To help you start thinking outside of the box when it comes to marketing, I'll share with you an event I did for my own online store over the holidays. I created an online event called "60 Days of Wanderlust" where the mission was to provide my customers a chance to "travel & find gifts from around the world all from the comfort of their own home". Sounds pretty cool, right?  Guess what though?  It’s marketing & selling!


I didn’t start with marketing and selling as my end goal.


I started with a simple question: “What would my customers like & find helpful during the holidays?”


A bit of brainstorming led me to a couple things... customers are stressed during the holidays and in need of help with finding unique gifts. Well, that I CAN HELP them with!


So I created a way to provide them with an escape during the frantic pace of the holidays (dreaming of far away places) and a solution to their gifting needs (unique items from artists around the world)


By getting bloggers & artists from 8 different cities around the world to participate by sharing their city with us through pictures and places they’d take us, not only did it create buzz from customers but the bloggers & artists got into the spirit of it as well! Buzz was generated through social media without me constantly prompting it. Customers loved seeing the new city guide each week and getting to know more about each artist.



Is it marketing & selling?  Sure, absolutely - but in a way that actually benefits your customers. You're just helping them (again back to that word "helping"!) find that gorgeous pillow from Cape Town that’s perfect for their Mom and giving them a much needed escape to that city as well!


So indie biz owners, I challenge you to start thinking outside the box when coming up with ideas for marketing. Don't think of it as "how am I going to market this bowl?"  Instead, think to yourself "How can I help my customer?" 


Feel free to share your “outside the box” thoughts & ideas below!


passport design: we heart paper



by Tara Swiger

Top 10 Articles for Design Business



You don’t have to have an MBA to run a smart, scalable design business.


What you need is a little simplicity. The smoothness of a big company’s supply chain, at a scale that works for you, your suppliers and your retailers. Less time managing orders, more time making  something great. Collaboration, co-creation, sustainable sourcing. These are your next growth points.


We’ve been writing this blog for one year (today’s our anniversary!) with that in mind, with you and your growing business at the center.

In the last year we’ve collected a range of advice to help you do just that. But with 5 posts a week, some of our best work has drifted deep into the archives. Today, let’s revisit the best.


Top 10 articles for your design business


1. Define Success


2. Scaling Production


3. Growing Past DIY: Part1, Part2


4. Three Steps to More Purposeful Online Marketing: Part1, Part2, Part3


5. Are You Self-Employed, or an Entrepreneur?


6. You Get What You Measure: What Metrics Should An Indie Business Track?


7. How to Write Your Own Press Release


8. Taking It To The Next Level: From Competition To Co-Creation


9. Break the bootstrapping cycle:: to make more money,quit cheapin’ out on your business


10. Sell Your Work To Boutiques: Free eBook


What have you learned in the last year?

Share it in the comments!



by Tara Swiger

How to get featured on blogs: 10 full surefire tips for your pitch


This is a guest post by Jen Wallace. She shares her indie life over at Indie Fixx where she writes about making, creating, cooking, learning, playing, loving, and pretty much anything else that strikes her fancy.


Every independent designer knows that a mention on a big name blog can be a make it moment, but how to get bloggers to notice your shop?


You could wait around for bloggers to come across your shop while they wade through the Internet, or you could reach out to them.

It's called the “pitch”, and the most important thing to remember is that pitching your shop is just like dating—you wouldn't go on a date in curlers, so don't pitch as if you were in curlers.

Here's a few ideas for how to send an email pitch to bloggers that will stand out from the cacophonous amount of submissions they receive.


Do keep it short

Bloggers are not going to read a long email. 2-3 short paragraphs tops.


Do get to the point quickly

Again bloggers are a fickle bunch and if you don't grab their attention in the first sentence or two, you will lose them.


Do offer suggestions on how bloggers can make a story out of you.

Do you have a unique story? Work as a chemist by day, but feel the call to letterpress by night? Do you use a  unique material or process? Did you study your craft at the hands of an Italian master? Share this!


Do make sure to include a link to your online shop.


Do include 1-2 small images of your goods with your pitch

Make sure the photography is stellar though. It does not matter how wonderful your products are in person, bloggers will not feature them without fantastic photos.


Do not send out a pitch to every blog in your feed reader.

Instead, do take the time to choose a handful of blogs that really fit the aesthetic of your products and approach those blogs only.


Do take the time to learn the blogger's name 

and make sure to show that you are familiar with their blog.


Do offer to share a guest post on the blog, if appropriate.

Many blogs feature guest bloggers and are looking for DIY and tutorial projects, studio tours as well as other posts. It does help if you have a blog to offer up as an example.


Do make sure to include an about page or bio section in your shop.

If a blogger decides to feature you based on your email pitch, they may need more info as filler. It's possible that they may decide they need this info at 3 in the morning for the next day's post. If you don't have additional info available, the blogger may move onto shop that does. Most blogs do have an editorial calendar, but you might be surprised at the number of posts that are written at the last minute.


Finally, do not get discouraged if you do not hear back from a blogger you have sent an email pitch to...they may be saving your shop for a rainy day.



Share your tips in the comments!


Image: mambol



by Sarah Von

Snapshot:: House of Shakti


Lubna was born in the US to Palestinian immigrants. At the age of 14, she moved to the Middle East where she lived for almost 10 years.  After crystals helped her recover from health issues in her twenties, Lubna wanted to share their beauty and healing properties with other women - and House of Shakti was born.  You can follow Lubna’s adventures on her blog, Facebook or twitter.


What is your more prized creation - the coolest thing you've ever made, with your own nimble hands?


My scarf necklaces are probably my coolest creation because they are such stylish and versatile pieces that can convert any outfit.  I was fiddling around with designs that would combine my love of scarves and jewelry and voila, the scarf necklace was born.  There is nothing like it on the market at all and I’ve gotten such wonderful feedback from customers that it just makes me proud.


Scarf Necklace by House of Shatki


What is the worst piece of business advice you've ever been given?


I’m not sure if it could be characterized as “bad” business advice but quite a few people have told me to do my manufacturing in China.  All my products are handmade and I am fundamentally against sending my designs to a factory in China.  I prefer to have my products made here in the USA.


Necklace by House of Shatki


Give us your top 3 indie artisans/designers to watch.


Rami Kashou,  Nina Cortes and Kara Janx.  Can you tell I watch Project Runway and Accessory? ;)



What's your best tip for strengthening your relationship with your retailers?


I just try to make myself as accessible as possible to them and keep the channels of communication open.  I always inform them when I have a new design coming out so that they can be the first to order it if they like.


Necklace by House of Shatki


If you could offer one sage snippet of wisdom to aspiring designers, crafters & artisans, what would it be?


 Don’t compromise your creative self or your business principles.  The more you are true to art and your value, the more people will respect your work in the long term.  There is something out there for everyone, keep at it until you find your target market that simply loves what you do and is happy to pay the price that you have valued it at.

Sarah Von is a Vianza contributing columnist and interview wrangler.  If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll be privy to all sort of tweets about small business, good ideas and, um, cheese.

by Tara Swiger

Masterlist: Marketing with Pinterest


As the Community Concierge, I’m always interested to find out what tools our community is using. I’ve been on Pinterest for months, but have only been using it as a note-taking tool (to collect images I like). It didn’t occur to me that it could be a marketing too, until I saw people pinning both my product photos and their photos of what they've made with my yarn.


The most obvious way to use Pinterest to market your work is to make  your items easy to Pin by including a Pin It button in your shop. Megan Auman created a very thorough video, teaching how to do just that. 


  • If you want to take it further, Copyblogger collected 56 ideas for using Pinterest to market your work .


  • QuickSprout created the most thorough guide for marketing with, including 9 reasons to use it. For retailers and designers:


"Connect with the visual segment of your audience - Pinterest is visual. So it attracts an entirely different crowd…those who may have an appeal for an image over written words."


  • If you're still not convinced, check out  KISSmetrics's post with traffic stats and tips on using Pinterest to improve your SEO.


Follow Vianza on Pinterest and share your favorite trade show booths, retail spaces or designers with us.


Are you using Pinterest to connect with your customers?

If so, tell us how!



by Sarah Von

Building Philanthropy Into Your Business


Counter intuitive as it seems, building philanthropy into your business model makes great financial sense. You get tax breaks, add a feel-good sheen to your brand and - most importantly - contribute to the world around you.  I believe that’s what they call a win/win/win!

There are lots of ways you can incorporate giving into your business and most of them are significantly more interesting and engaging than an asterisk at the bottom of your sales page.

Use a ‘buy one/give one’ model

Popularized by Tom’s shoes, this business model is becoming increasingly popular and for good reason!  ‘Buy one/give one’ is an easy concept to grasp and it feels much more generous than vague phrasing about ‘a portion of proceeds.’  This model works best for products that address a physical necessity - blankets, glasses, shoes.


Donate your skill set

If you’ve been running a successful small business for ten years, you probably know a thing or two about book keeping, setting prices and customer service.  Wouldn’t it be nice to help a newbie learn the ropes and avoid some of the mistakes you made?  Sign up to be a small business mentor on, teach a class at an adult education center or offer to share your knowledge with a non-profit you know is struggling.


Have a ‘Day O’ Charity’

Why not celebrate your birthday or your business’s anniversary by donating that day’s sales to charity?  You can honor a loved one by donating to one of their favorite causes on their birthday or celebrate a holiday by donating to a related cause.  Of course, you should make sure your customers and friends are aware of this by promoting the event across social media, through your newsletter and on good old fashioned flyers.

Clear out your inventory with a ‘Pay What You Can’ day

If it’s the end of the season and you still have piles of lush sweaters and cute necklaces or your 2012 calendar is gathering dust on the shelf, clear out your backlog and create some goodwill with a set-your-own-price day.  Be sure that patrons know the product’s original price and realize that all proceeds are going to a specific charity.  This will (hopefully) prevent people from trying to give you $1 for a $75 item.

Donate $1 for each new social media follower

Set a time frame, send out a big email and get ready for heaps more Twitter and Facebook fans.  Let your friends, patrons and clients know that if they’re kind enough to follow you, you’ll donate a dollar to specific cause. And inform the organization you’re donating to; they’ll probably help promote your efforts!

How do you incorporate philanthropy into your business?

photo credit: Josep Ma. Rosell

Sarah Von is a Vianza contributing columnist and interview wrangler.  If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll be privy to all sort of tweets about small business, good ideas and, um, cheese.


by Sarah Von

I LOVE :: Proud Mary


Now that the holiday decorations have been put away and the sheer curtains of summer are still a few months out, it’s easy to fall into mid-winter decor malaise.  A frightening malady to be sure!  My favorite treatment is a few new throw pillows.  They’re a cheap, easy way to change up the look of a room without a big commitment.  I’m particularly into these lovely numbers from Proud Mary. The design is modern and fun without being twee.


Pillows with a modern design aesthetics from Proud Mary


Pillows with a modern design aesthetics from Proud Mary


Pillows with a modern design aesthetics from Proud Mary


Pillows with a modern design aesthetics from Proud Mary


Pillows with a modern design aesthetics from Proud Mary


Even better?  The products are handmade by artisans in developing countries and Proud Mary is committed to creating long-lasting, sustainable relationships with these talented men and women.  Lovely!


Sarah Von is a Vianza contributing columnist and interview wrangler.  If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll be privy to all sort of tweets about small business, good ideas and, um, cheese.


by Sarah Von

Indie Boutique Guide: Melbourne, Australia


Vanessa is a lifestyle blogger who is batty about fashion, thrifting, cupcakes and cats.  You can visit Vanessa’s blog, Nessbow or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.


Melbourne is a city brimming with quaint shops and awesome eateries.  The best bits of this sprawling city aren’t located on the main streets, but are tucked away, waiting to be discovered.  Here are five of my favourite hidden treasures in Melbourne.



Shag is the perfect destination for an afternoon of grown-up dress-up.  Located in the Centerway Arcade at 259 Collins Street, Shag is stocked with a dazzling range of vintage goodies.  It’s an ideal place for any eccentric fashionista to find a fabulous addition to her wardrobe.

Shag,  An indie boutique in Melbourne, Australia



Garnishing the corner of Johnston Street and Smith Street in Fitzroy is this delectable vintage store.  Friperie specialises in sweet vintage and retro pieces, with everything from floaty dresses to cute-as-a-button jewellery. They also stock an excellent range of handmade clothing and accessories. Prices are reasonable and the staff are friendly.


Friperie,  An indie boutique in Melbourne, Australia


All Star Comics

A haven for geeks and nerds alike, All Star Comics can be found at 1/410 Lonsdale Street.  All Star has all the latest comic book releases, as well as toys, collectables, artwork and even jewellery.  The owners are the friendliest guys going round, and are happy to help you to find what you’re after.


All Star Comics,  An indie boutique in Melbourne, Australia


Circa Vintage

For genuine vintage pieces in excellent condition, Circa Vintage is the place to go.  Situated at 109 Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, Circa offers a vibrant selection of gorgeous vintage pieces.  Circa boasts excellent one-on-one service and the staff will take wonderful care of you.


Circa vintage,  An indie boutique in Melbourne, Australia


Vicious Venus

Punk and rockabilly lasses will go bonkers for the clothing at Vicious Venus.  If you’re in the market for a crinoline petticoat, an elaborate corset or a pair of killer heels, pop on down to 155 Sydney Road, Brunswick.  Vicious Venus also caters for men and children, so you can outfit your whole family in rockabilly garb.


Vicious Venus,  An indie boutique in Melbourne, Australia


So there you have it, five gorgeous little indie boutiques that make me weak at the knees.  Please pop in and visit them the next time you’re in Melbourne. 

by Sarah Von

Snapshot:: Allem Studio


Since 2009, friends Mitali Seth and Lovisa Shergill have been adding personality to boring bedrooms around the world with their gorgeous linens and pillows.  Additionally, Allem Studio is both karma and design-driven, using products manufactured by socially responsible vendors and collaborating with SEWA, women's only co-operative based out of India.  You can follow their adventures on their

blog, facebook or twitter.

What is your more prized creation - the coolest thing you've ever made, with your own nimble hands?


Our company. We built it out of our own personal savings of $500 each and we’re both really proud of our creation. Since its inception it has grown pretty much by itself, and sustaining itself. What’s cool is that we have not taken a penny from anybody else –family/friends/bank to make it where it is now. It all began with $1000, a dream and two very stubborn women.


Aqua Splash Table runner by Allem Studio, US


What is the worst piece of business advice you've ever been given?

To rigidly follow market trends.

This is actually both good and bad advice. If you follow blindly, then you can never be a leader. But if you do not follow, chances are that you could be pushed aside. It is a very thin line that has to be balanced. One needs to be exclusive in their creativity while at the same time keeping a commercial and keen eye on trends.



What was the biggest entrepreneurial epiphany of your career?


For the launch of our product line, we were very sure that we needed to work with a big setup because that would provide us with a better support, professional commitment and assured quality. We got burnt bad and realized it’s actually not the set up but the attitude of the people running the show. That realization made us work with a very small factory where we decided to go with our gut after a very basic phone interview. We liked the owner and her zeal and passion and decided to place our manufacturing with her. 

Sometimes it’s very important to listen to your heart and ignore those figures on paper. It makes you want to take risks which subsequently end up being the better business decisions. That provided us with confidence to start supporting other small manufacturing set ups and now a women’s only co-operative.


Samarkand Quilt by Allem Studio, US


Give us your top 3 indie artisans/designers to watch.


Kanika Bahl of Anek Designs, India – She creates beautiful, unique colorful items.

Elizabeth Prince of Prince Designs, UK –Her ceramic creations are adorable.

Stephanie from Desserts for Breakfast – She is a food blogger and photographer. Love her website, pictures and of course her recipes.



What's your best tip for strengthening your relationship with your retailers?


Give them great service. Keep the communication gates open and constantly seek feedback on products and prices.


Viking round pillow by Allem Studio,US


If you could offer one sage snippet of wisdom to aspiring designers, crafters & artisans, what would it be?


There is an amazing quote by Ira Glass. It expresses our thoughts very well.


“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”


Sarah Von is a Vianza contributing columnist and interview wrangler.  If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll be privy to all sort of tweets about small business, good ideas and, um, cheese.



by Tara Swiger

Masterlist: Prepare for Growth


Earlier this week, I asked if you are ready to double your sales. In Anything You Want, Derek Sivers encourages entrepreneurs to be prepared for more sales...but how do you get prepared? Here are some tips from around the web:
For retailers,

“Your sales figures are entirely contingent on the merchandise sitting on your sales floor.”

Read more about being prepared with enough merchandise in this post from Abby Kerr.
The cupcake girls recommend being prepared:


"We were also prepared to grow quickly, if we had to. I think you have to be conservative in your forecasting, but be able to scale up quickly and take advantage of momentum."

Keep your business lifecycle in mind (I like this explanation, by Charlie Gilkey) as you think about growth.

Where are you? Where are you headed?


How are you preparing for growth?


Could you double tomorrow?



why do so many product lines fail? Too many designers, indie retailers, & suppliers rely on creativity alone—and guesswork. This blog is all about taking the guesswork out of making what you love, so you can make a living. With tips! And checklists! Read more about our not-so-covert mission.

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