November's Site of the Month Mrs L Cards can certainly help you out in this regard, with its colourful range of cards and prints for all occassions. We spoke to the titular Mrs L, designer Carol Lewcock, about how her business came to be, what challenges she faced and, of course, CHRISTMAS!!!
In the first few seconds of viewing Carol's website and online shop you can tell it's been a labour of love but also that careful consideration has been taken into what to leave out as well as what to show.
Naturally, it's a very image-driven website, built to show off Carol's creations with very large images of her products. The sparse, white design really helps make these images jump out at the visitor.
In pride of place on the home page is the widely-known #SBS winners badge from Theo Paphitis' 'Small Business Sunday' awards on Twitter. It's a great idea to make prize badges really clear and visible on your site. If you have a lot, consider lining them up along the bottom of the page.
A strong factor in what makes Carol's site so easy to use is the clear-as-day Card Categories side column menu, from which any visitor can get right to where they want straight away. The Blog, Press page and About page, too, are highlights of the website as they give a great insight into the personality and vision behind the brand.
After achieving her childhood dream of becoming a graphic designer, Carol started working on Mrs L Cards as a hobby in her spare time in 2010, developing a small range of cards for family and friends. After joining Not On The High Street in 2011 she soon realised that she would need to to create her very own website in order for it to reach its full potential.
"Whilst still working full time I continued in my spare time to design, produce and fulfil any orders that came in," says Carol. "I built my own website using Create and set up a Facebook page and Twitter profile to help promote the company."
"Once I tweeted a photo of a card I'd made my husband for our wedding anniversary. The card drew immediate attention which resulted in a flurry of orders! I could see this design had a great deal of potential so I designed a birthday card and print using the same principles. To date this design has been my best seller and has also resulted in several one-off commissions of a similar vein."
However, in early 2012 Carol was made redundant from her full time job. "I knew I wanted to pursue Mrs L Cards full time but was also aware that I need more financial stability before I could do so. I took on a new job working 4 days a week which gave me one whole full day to work on Mrs L Cards. This extra time proved invaluable."
Some would buckle at losing their job and focus all energy on getting a new position, but Carol ploughed on with the successful work she was doing with Mrs L Cards. By the time she was made redundant again in late 2012 (what a year!), she was in a position to look on this as a veiled blessing.
"I took this redundancy as a sign to go for it with Mrs L Cards," she says. "I had used the time between February and October to save some money so this time I knew I had something to fall back on financially. My goal was to succeed with Mrs L Cards as my main source of income.
Carol is just approaching the end of her first year of being her own full-time boss and she couldn't be happier with the way things have turned out. "I've just employed my first freelance designer to help out with some of the personalised orders when things get extra busy and I've also taken on a little help with admin and accounts a few hours a week."
For a business that somewhat relies on seasonal gift-giving and celebrations, Carol tells us that what you would imagine to be quiet periods, such as Summer, are actually just as busy!
"One of my best sellers is my personalised anniversary card and print, so during the summer holidays, when there are no key occasions, a lot of people are celebrating their wedding anniversary - so what could potentially be a quiet time is in fact the opposite."
Like any good online shop owner Carol has Christmas all wrapped up way before the season officially begins. "This will be Mrs L Cards' third Christmas so I can learn from the past two years as to what to expect," she tells us. "Anything that isn't personalised I am prepping right now. Cards are prepacked, envelopes are stamped, tags are made and all stock needed is already ordered. I have also completely tidied my little office so that everything I expect to need is easily accessible!"
But that's not all! Carol has a tip for those who find themselves particularly time-poor on the busy run-up to Christmas: "My husband and I are starting to cook food in bulk and freezing it for when cooking from scratch is just not an option. It's important to continue to eat well when you are busy as there is no time to be ill when you work mostly on your own."
Once Christmas is over, you'd think it would be time to put your feet up. Wrong! It turns out that for a greetings card designer and seller like Carol, Christmas isn't always the busiest season:
"After Christmas I do a small January Sale, but about a week or two into January things start shifting towards Valentine's Day so I make this the most prominent thing on my website. In the past, Valentine's Day has been bigger than Christmas so it is a great thing to concentrate on in the new year."
You don't find yourself inundated with work, even in the 'quiet' periods, without representing your brand well on your website and fully promoting it online. This is something Carol clearly does, and her fabulous and funny 'About Us' page (as seen in the above screenshot) goes a long way to showing new visitors that she's a talented, independent person brimming with personality.
"I want my customers to feel like they are receiving great customer service when they place their orders. One of the key ways I can offer this is by showing people who I am as a person on my 'About Us' page and also in the way that I communicate with them via email," she says.
"I want my customers to know the passion and hard work that goes into their products and that they are produced by a person and not a production line. I also personally know how I feel about things like automated phone calls and responses and don't ever want to remove the 'human touch' from the service I offer. My aim is always to offer a friendly, approachable and professional service."
That certainly comes through in your website, Carol, and we're sure your customers appreciate your service! Thanks for talking to us and being our Create Site of the Month!
If you'd like to see your Create website featured as a future Site of the Month, or if you'd like to nominate one, share your story and get in touch! If you've won or been nominated for an award, we'd love to hear from you! Send your awards stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.