Life & Business

Life & Business: Marketing Can Be Beautiful By Michelle Fifis

by Sabrina Smelko

Marketing Can Be Beautiful by Michelle Fifis

After leaving her corporate textile design job in 2010, Michelle Fifis wanted to keep her momentum going, stay up with the trends and industry news and keep track of her inspiration and resources, so she created the blog Pattern Observer. Today, Michelle is a successful textile designer who has worked with such clients as Lucy Activewear, Columbia Sportswear, Jantzen Swimwear, Pendleton and P&B Textiles. On her blog, she continues to write about business and textile design and her membership community, The Textile Design Lab, offers learning and networking opportunities to hundreds of designers worldwide. She’s chatting with us about that seemingly icky word that doesn’t have to be: marketing! –Sabrina

Marketing… ugh. Just the idea of marketing used to make me squirm and think of the times I scheduled marketing time in my calendar only to end up deleting or ignoring every reminder as it popped up.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Marketing can be beautiful. Stick with me…

Marketing my textile design business just felt awkward when I was starting out. I wasn’t sure what steps to take. I didn’t know how to really be effective. I wanted to avoid the whole thing and just let my “good work” speak for itself in the market. Can you relate?

I made marketing too complicated instead of realizing it’s just a cycle based on winning and keeping customers. It’s about building relationships with people over time. I learned marketing is just a series of simple steps repeated over and over as I grow my business.

It really is easy — as long as you don’t over-think it. Let me show you what I’ve learned.

Step 1 – Know your customer.

Great marketing starts with knowing your customer. Knowing who they are, what they like and how they look for people like you is just the start. My clients, for example, are interested in artwork that reflects the latest trends in unique ways that speak to their customer base. It’s important for my work to offer several unique interpretations of trends I see in the marketplace. When I do, I set my work apart from other designers.

Take a moment and evaluate your work through the eyes of your customer. What things are most important? Challenge yourself to move past the basics to the issues that really motivate him or her. Imagine you are inside his head if you can. What will get her attention? How can your work impress him and meet his needs?

The answers to questions like these are marketing gold, and you can use them to attract the right customers for your business.


Step 2 – Be visible.

People have to find your business before they can buy your work. Seems obvious, right? Being visible is a very important component of marketing. In fact, much of the marketing advice you’ll find in books and online is all about this one step.

Listen, simply launching a website isn’t enough. As a business owner, it’s your job to make your website welcoming and easy to find. That means finding ways to market that work and get your website in front of those customers you now know so well.

You don’t have to spend hours on tweeting, posting or following in social media. You don’t have to read books on the latest trends for SEO or hire a marketing consultant. You just need to experiment with a few marketing actions at a time and see what works best for you.

Blogging is a very effective marketing tool for designers and creative businesses. I recommend it for two reasons. First, according to our 2013 Pattern Industry Survey, 61% of buyers said they find new designers through blogs. Wow! That tops the results for print shows or Google searches or other platforms.

Why do buyers prefer finding designers through blogs? Blogging allows us to share our work with potential buyers in a way that is easy for them to use and review. It also allows them to get to know a bit about our personality and design philosophy before they ever contact us directly.

The second reason to blog is related to SEO. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is about making your website visible when someone searches for your type of business on Google or Bing. People search for designers and creative professionals every day. Blogging is one of the best ways to move your website to the top of the results list.


Step 3 – Stay connected.

You know your customer. You’ve created a great website to showcase your work and welcome potential buyers. Now you need to offer the people who visit your site simple ways to stay in touch with you.

Just because a potential buyer is drawn to your work doesn’t mean he is ready to buy right now. Maybe they have an upcoming project in mind. Maybe they don’t. Give them a way to stay connected to your business until the time is right. Remember, marketing is ultimately about relationships.

There are lots of ways to stay connected, but I’ve found creating a newsletter to be the most effective. Here’s why I love newsletters so much:

Buyers are busy. A newsletter allows a buyer to review a new collection easily between meetings, while traveling, or in short little moments when they don’t have time to “surf the Net.”

Newsletters are reliable. I don’t have to pay for visibility on Facebook or Twitter. My work is delivered to the buyer right in his or her inbox.

Newsletters are easy to share. My buyers can share my work with other people in their organization (including decision makers) with just a few keystrokes.

Sending a newsletter is a pretty easy way of staying in front of your potential customers, giving you an opportunity to contact them on a regular basis after they visit your site.


Step 4 – Expand your reach.

Steps one through three are about reaching potential customers, attracting them to your business, and staying connected with them until they are ready to buy. If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve built a stable marketing foundation for your business.

Take a minute or two to celebrate your achievement. You’ve got a system in place that works for you and your business. Yay!

Now it’s time to start taking small steps to expand your marketing reach. Your goal here is to make connections in person and online and draw people into your business. There are lots of ways to do this effectively. The best methods are the ones you enjoy.

Networking, for example, is a great way to expand your reach. You might love connecting with potential customers and fans in person at an event or show. Or, you might prefer connecting with people online in a Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn group or during a Twitter chat. Be authentic and do what feels comfortable for you.

Challenge yourself by exploring new ways to connect with people. Purchase some advertising space in a trade publication. Write an article or guest post. Reach out to the media for press coverage. There’s no wrong way to reach new people. Experiment.


Step 5 – Listen, innovate & inspire.

You probably don’t realize how important this last step is to marketing your business. In fact, it’s often overlooked when people talk about marketing and sales and yet it’s essential.

Listen to your customers and fans. Listen to your colleagues and design friends. Most importantly, listen to your heart. Then take action and switch things up in your marketing and in your business.

Listening helps me determine what works for my life and my business. I’ve shared the marketing ideas that work for me but they might not be the perfect fit for you. Try them out for a while and pay attention to your results. Keep what works and change what doesn’t fit as well.

Listen to your customers and respond. Set yourself apart by being willing to learn from feedback and improve your business. Look for new opportunities to serve your customers and deliver more of what they need and want. Innovate in response to customer feedback and you’ll inspire loyalty for your business.

Relax. You can do this.

Will you make mistakes? Sure. You’ll try things that don’t work. Some of the opportunities you ignore will cause you regret later. That’s okay. No one gets everything right the first time. We all learn by taking risks.

I might never be a marketing expert, but marketing for me is simple and beautiful. I am not awkward or pushy. I am confident and authentic as I build relationships with the people who are interested in my business. You can be, too.

Interested in creating artwork for the design industry but not sure where to start? Let me help you Turn Your Artwork into Textile Designs that Sell. It’s my free gift to you.


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  • Very inspiring! This is just what I needed to read today to give me a little boost and nudge in the right direction for marketing my own textiles. Thank you, Michelle :)

  • We’ve all read lots of articles on marketing, right? Well, this one is so fresh. I think it’s two things. Well, THREE things. First, it’s such a unique, conversational voice. I feel like I’m listening to Michelle rather than someone bleating the “10 of this” or “5 most important that”.

    Second, It has accessible and implementable advice. She’s not saying “do everything”. And she’s a fan of the newsletter – I love writing mine and speaking to a self-selected audience. It’s much more personal.

    And finally, how clever to have something of value to give away (the link at the end).

    Enjoyed it. This quote is great:

    “I might never be a marketing expert, but marketing for me is simple and beautiful. I am not awkward or pushy. I am confident and authentic as I build relationships with the people who are interested in my business. You can be, too.”

  • This is just what I needed today – a reminder of what I do already know but often forget in that search for “being exceptional.”

    Like you, Michelle, I worked in the industry(though fashion accessories, not textiles) and left to pursue my own creative efforts. I WAS a designer, after all, and it was bowing to the dragon of forced productivity that had left me disenchanted with the work.

    Marketing my own collections IS fun for me, but I often seem to be working too hard for too small a return. I think it is because I have “big ideas”(guerilla marketing style) but don’t have a developed foundation to support them yet. Back to basics me for, while I build on that base. Thanks for your post!

  • I have taken Michelle’s marketing workshop at Pattern Observer and it was great! She really does teach you how to take the anxiety out of marketing and actually makes it seem like fun. This is a great article and I am so happy to see her showcased here. The convergence of two of my favorite blogs!

  • Wow! What an inspiring article. Marketing can be so intimidating but this article helped dispel some of my fears!

  • Really great post! I’m breaking out of my regular social media bubble and trying out a newsletter (again). I gave up my first time because I didn’t “get” it but now I have a better idea of how to keep people engaged so I’m looking forward to seeing how this works out. Thank you Michelle!

  • Wonderful post! Michelle turns the chore of marketing into something fun and productive for surface designers. I have taken many courses at The Textile Design Lab / Pattern Observer and her online workshops offer inspiring in-depth tutorials to help designers with all aspects of the surface design business.

  • Thank you Michelle for your great post.
    You really pointed out what matters to me : being authentic and listening to yourself.
    I often feel frustrated when classic questions are asked : how many followers ? how many like ? etc… It is not the main point !

  • Thank you Michelle!
    I really enjoyed your perspective on marketing and for breaking it into managable pieces. Authentic marketing makes it beautiful and fun!

  • Great message Michelle! I particularly liked “relax, you can do this!” My Buddhist meditation instructor reminds our class of this all the time. It is much easier to be in alignment with your message, your intention and your work when you relax and flow into the process. Nothing forced, contrived or desperate. I will pass this article on to my coaching clients! ❤️

  • I am one of Michelle’s followers on Pattern Observer and Textile Design Lab. I have taken some of the courses, they are very good, and the community on her website and blog is always encouraging. It is from her blog and courses that led me back to my 1st love textile design after doing interiors for a dozen years. I just launched a new line of t-shirts for moms and daughters. All of that came from listening to Michele. She always says you have to listen and mostly listen to your heart. Her ideas on marketing are fresh and so much more tailored for designers. I was really pleased to see her here on Design Sponge, nice to see we are all reading the same blogs!

  • GREAT article – thank you Michelle and Design Sponge! May we discuss newsletters a little more – sounds like they are hard copy until I read “share with just a few keystrokes”. If online, what is the difference between a blog and a newsletter?

    • A newsletter is sent directly (via email usually these days) to a list of people who have opted in &/or shown interest in your business/products. It is usually created specifically for this purpose on a monthly or a weekly basis. A blog is online for anyone to see. I hope that helps

  • Thank you Sabrina!!!
    Your advice is about to help me TREMENDOUSLY! I’ve loved it so much that I’m going to save it for reference.
    I was desperately in need of this advice for my current role as a Social Network Manager.
    I’m going to put it to good use! Again, thanks!

  • Its is great post to help all those textile professionals to how to market their own pieces. Authentic marketing makes it really fun.