LAUNCHING - How did I get here?
Hello! I wanted to share with you all a breakdown of each and every step as to how I got my Wedding stationery business up and running. I thought this process would be a great insight into how I work creatively and also to understand why I set this up in the first place! I also thought it may be interesting or useful for anyone else who is thinking of starting up a small business.
So! The first step for me was to understand why. Why in the bloody hell would I want to set up a small business alongside my full time job and regular freelance work? Well....I just love designing Wedding stationery! It was the one design job in a pile of un-inspiring website designs that I looked forward to the most, and I figured the only way to be able to do more of it was to let the good people know all about me and my designs. A strong portfolio of work and a well designed website was the key for me. At this stage I only had two stationery designs under my belt and I knew I would need more to launch a full site. I could have waited for more orders to come in but I was quite impatient! Once I have an idea in my head of what I want to do I simply just can't sit on it until it's done (A trait that is sometimes more of a curse than a blessing) SO I simply started to create designs that could be used as templates. This way I got to showcase my design skills as a Wedding stationer as well as filling out my portfolio - excellent.
Step one: Designing the templates
How many templates would I need? What will they look like? How am I going to print them? How much should I charge? I had sooo many questions! And to be honest it was all a bit overwhelming. But I figured if I was going to do this then I needed to start with what I knew best. Making a list. I love lists, everything about them, from writing them to ticking off the tasks one by one. I planned out my entire process, from the invitations themselves, to my branding, website, promotion and advertising.
Looking at the lists I realised I had A LOT to do. But if I took it step by step than it should be achievable within a few months. Even for the impatient me a few months seemed like a good and realistic time frame. In order to get my huge list of tasks into some kind of order I prioritised what I would need last and worked backwards from there. Luckily for me the bulk of the planning was in the designing which of course is my favourite part of all - and the whole reason why I decided to do this in the first place!
With my template designs I knew I wanted to have a real variety of styles and designs in order to target a wider market and also to show my different skills as a designer. There are common themes within Wedding's that I knew I could utilise and base some of my ideas around. For example, Nautical and Vintage Weddings were hugely popular in 2015. It was great for me to have some designs that were pretty certain, and others that only started to come to life once I started playing around with them on the computer. With each template I needed to have a main invite, an evening invite, RSVP and Save the Date. With four designs within each set I set myself a target of completing at least two sets a week. This enabled me to finish all of my templates within four weeks.
I tried my absolute hardest to record the development and process of each template design to write in this post but it is just one of those things that I just sit down and do - I can't really explain it how or why it just happens!
Step two: Printing & Photographing the templates
Now. Out of all of the stages I thought this was going to be the easiest and most straight forward. All I needed to do was send my templates to the printers, get them back and photograph them with some nice lighting and jobs a good'n. Looking back I was most definitely being optimistic! For some reason the cost of having four different sets of artwork printed within each template design didn't cross my mind as something that I would need a lot of money for. But I did. Without panicking too much I just realised that I would have to send my templates to the printers in different stages. With them being sent off in packs of 2-3 at a time this actually made the process of photographing them a bit easier to manage as it meant we could do a couple sets at a time.
I was very lucky and still feel eternally grateful for having my friend Mikey create my photography for me using his skills and equipment at Capture Factory studio in Brighton (check them out here for any product photography you many need, they have the BEST equipment.) I really loved and enjoyed the whole process of photographing my invitations, from planning what props and coloured backgrounds to have, to spending hours at a time playing around with the layouts and taking the photos themselves. The studio is a nice place to be (felt very calming) and made even better when Purdy and Ozzy the pugs were around!
One of my favourite parts of this stage was prepping the props I wanted to use in the photos. With each template being a different style it was important to me for the props to enhance the templates. Some of them were easy to get hold of and were things I had lying around the house (flowers, string, envelopes etc.) Others I had to get a bit more creative! My Art Deco & Vintage Floral templates were the perfect excuse for me to spray paint everything gold, something that I had wanted to do for ages!
Each set took a good two hours to photograph. With eight templates in total we racked up over 14 hours in the studio in the evenings and weekends - way more than I thought it was going to take! But the quality and professionalism of the images that I now have would never match anything that I did myself at home.
Another part of the photography process that I hadn't planned into my schedule was editing. Not being from the photography World I didn't realise how long it can take - something now of course that makes total sense! With over 100 photos to edit I knew it would be worth the wait.
Seeing all of my template designs together photographed and edited for the first time was a real treat! It was one of those times where I realised just how far my ideas had come from being simple scribbles on my notebook. Even now I never get over that feeling of seeing something I've designed out in the real World or having the physical item in my hand to hold. Now that this step was complete I could get cracking with the branding and website design - The step which I had been dying to get stuck into since the beginning.
Step three: Brand & Website Design
I'm one of those designers that is never happy with their own branding. I've had my personal portfolio website for five years and I am constantly changing the design and layout of my site to fit in with what I'm currently loving design wise. I try not to get sucked in to trends but sometimes they are just too nice not to! At the moment I am loving everything blush pink and gold (I just had some gold business cards made up and they are amazing!) So in order for me to be happy with this Wedding stationery branding I knew I had to keep it relatively neutral so it can be kept for a long time. This is always a good way to go as it means I can dress it up with other design elements such as colour, patterns and fonts that can be updated every once in a while to keep it looking current.
Below shows my brand guidelines which is a necessity for any designer to refer back to when they are designing something for their brand or business.
With my website design I knew I wanted to use Squarespace - I've been using them for a couple years now and I love them! The templates are beautiful, the platform is SO easy to use and they have the most convenient and helpful support I've ever used. (I promise this post is not sponsored by them I just love using them that much!) The first step for me was to decide on a template - I searched for a design that had nice big product images, social integration and clear product descriptors. My only hang up was not being able to use a E-Commerce platform with the add to cart functionality turned off. As each of my products are bespoke to each customer I couldn't simply have an add to cart feature within my site - but I still wanted it to function like a regular E-Commerce site. I came across this beautiful template but after doing some research and speaking to one of the Squarespace advisors I was told I would still have to pay for the full E-Commerce template despite not using the checkout features. BUT I could utilise a brochure template with the content block features within their software.
After a good week of playing around with the designs I settled on the template called Five. I loved the full banner image on the home page with the changeable content blocks underneath.
My favourite part of designing the whole site was designing the buttons and additional feature information blocks to be used on products that had more elements to them. This is what makes a regular template more bespoke to you and your business and you can get really playful with how they look. Referring back to my brand guidelines at all times ensured it all tied together.
Writing the content for the website was another thing that I hadn't thought would be that hard - oh but it was! What to call each design? What to say about it? How can I get across how I feel about it without sounding too much like a sales website? I've obviously been writing stuff for years but getting the tone of voice is really hard and something that I'm still working on. I feel this part of my branding is something that will evolve and adapt over time so I'm trying not to beat myself up about it.
With all of the content and images in I needed to set up social media channels and start uploading posts so it didn't look lonely and bare when the site went live. There are so many theories to social media, what time to post, what to post about, what companies you should like and follow, what you should hash tag, how many times you should post a week... every one has their own way of working out whats best for them - for me this was another thing that I didn't want to get too caught up with worrying about, because I know its very easy too. At first I was confused how one post would get more interaction than another when I felt this post was better, or how I would loose followers for what seemed no reason?! I soon became aware of Robots within Instagram and just thought you know what? Who cares! Sometimes this attitude is not appropriate, but when it comes to worrying over how many likes one of my posts gets I think this is OK.
So the website is populated, the social media channels are up and running and I have set up my emails ready and waiting. All that was left was to actually put the bloody thing live!
Step four: Going live!
This was it! Finally! I was about to put my website live and show my designs to the Internet World! When I started planning this whole site I thought about some cool Go Live event or making a video - but to be totally honest at this stageI knew nobody was really invested. So no better way to share the good news then on good old social media.
From the very first list I made about this website to the go live day it had been 9 months! 9 months??! How had it taken this long?!! WELL to make it easier to digest and also because I am aware of how long this post is (sorry to anyone still reading) below is a round up of what took the longest and what I could have done better in my favourite list format:
- Getting the templates printed - I should have researched how much it was going to cost me to print a minimum of 10 for each set - this way I could have started to save a lot sooner and ultimately had them all printed on the first day of photographing.
- Photographing the templates - to be fair I don't think we could have done this any quicker - with it being outside of office hours we had to ensure we were both free and also not taking up too much free time (nobody wants to go back to work Monday morning feeling like they haven't had any time off) But I should have estimated this better into my time frame.
- Designing the website - I started this as early as I could, but having to wait so long for each template to be printed meant I couldn't populate the site as soon as I would have liked. Leaving an early stage to the last minute has a knock on effect on the rest of my steps which I realised when it was too late!
- Posting on social media - I only had one post up before the site went live - I REALLY wish I started posting teaser images or just general updates on the photography sessions and website as I was going along - this would have meant more interaction on my channels leading up to the go live date.
Looking at this list I see I shouldn't be too hard on myself, I am the first to admit this whole business thing is new to me and I never considered or saw myself as a business woman. I'm a designer first and foremost so to have to think about profit, revenue, tax (Who knew tax for small businesses was such a pain in the arse?!) and general business stuff is all totally new to me and I'm learning as I go - despite some of it not being as smooth as it could have been I am so totally over the moon with my website and designs, and more importantly I just bloody LOVE designing it all! I've had such great feedback so far and landed a few new bespoke design jobs which would not have come about without this site - so far so good!