We’re almost to the final day of our series with Weebly and we’re breaking down all of the hurdles that exist on your way to starting a business. If you’re not familiar with Weebly or missed our earlier posts in this series, Weebly is a great platform where creative entrepreneurs and small business owners can easily create beautiful, powerful websites and online stores, plus get tons of marketing, business and even product photography support. You can see some gorgeous sites created with the platform here.
In week one we talked about finding the inspiration and motivation to turn your idea into a business, and last week we talked about all of the nitty gritty details you need to have in place before launching your business. This week we’re taking a break from lawyers and financial advisors and copyright searches to talk about something that’s near and dear to all business owners’ hearts: defining your voice and telling your story. Your story isn’t just about key selling points and how to best express them through words, visuals and user experience. It’s also about how to capture people’s attention quickly through your story (which can be told instantly on your website) and keep them listening and invested over time. Because although your brand’s voice will always grow and change over time (just like you), starting in a place where your decisions about that story are intentional and honest about where you are in your business life will help your business thrive in the long run.
For those readers joining this series after the publication month of May 2018, you can find Parts 2 – 4 at the following links:
- PART 1: Finding Inspiration + Motivation To Start!
- PART 2: What To Do (And Know) Before Your Launch!
- PART 4: What To Do After Your Business Is Live!
Today I’m talking with Weebly customer and candle maker, Hannah Turner of Wax & Wane Candles, about how she found her voice online and what helped her shape her business’ voice online, both in text and visual form.
How do you hone your voice and story online?
There are so many ways to approach brand storytelling online, but I find it most helpful to hear from real people with real businesses who know how tricky it can be to take something that’s lived entirely in your head and turn it into a message for other people online. So I asked Hannah from Wax & Wane how she got started.
“I first started Wax & Wane when I was living in a tiny dark apartment in New York and wanted to mimic scents from my home in Oregon. I wanted to create something that didn’t take up too much visual space and seamlessly blended into anyone’s home, including my own. So I think we tried mirror our product in our online voice. We don’t want to create too much visual clutter anywhere.”
Looking at your brand’s aesthetic and seeing if there’s a way to reflect that in your brand’s voice online is a great place to start. If, like Hannah, your company is about things that are simple and uncluttered, embracing a voice (and sales copywriting style) that mimics that look and feel can be helpful. But be gentle on yourself and your company and allow for growth, change and missteps.
“I think early on we were really trying everything out and absolutely had some funky looking [branding] that I made, catering to our imagined customer,” Hannah explains. “I think what I realized is that keeping your brand authentic to yourself and what you love is the best way to develop your business and online voice. I think we’re still developing our brand’s voice today and still learning from our mistakes and successes.”
No matter how you start, remember that there will always be moments where you’re course-correcting and figuring out what language (and product photography style) is right for you. Here are some simple keys to remember:
1. Start simple: Do you have an idea of who will be talking? Is it you, as yourself? Will you be using a “royal we” voice? Will you have a mascot or brand representative (even if they’re make believe!) that represents the tone of your company? Think about all of these options and decide on what feels right to you.
2. Practice + Share: Start writing some product descriptions and sample social media copy. And then show it to your trusted friends and support group. Take their feedback to heart and course-correct if it’s feeling too salesy or too dry. It’s always good to keep trying and playing with branding language and stories until they feel good to you and to the people who know you best. Hannah mentioned missing out on this component earlier on in her business’ life. “I think I missed a huge opportunity when I first started out. I didn’t have a strong creative community and was working a more traditional job. Makers love to support other makers and collaborating and bouncing ideas off of other creative types is invaluable. Once we had wholesale accounts we started getting great feedback and ideas.”
3. Compare Your Photo Skills: Once you have some product description samples you’ve written, practice your photo skills by taking some product shots yourself. Put aside $25 to have the same product photographed by a professional service. Weebly offers pro product photography at a very reasonable price. Right now Weebly’s professional product photography pricing is only $10 for 3 product shots. See details here.
4. Pick a Site/Store Website Theme That Resonates With You Most: Now that you have a sense of what your business voice sounds like and how you’ll present your products, it’s time to choose a site template that looks and feels like that voice. Keep in mind you’re not looking for the perfect template — you’re looking for one that feels right at the get-go knowing that you can easily customize most of the elements of the template as you design your site and add your photographs and copy. Weebly gives you drop and drag tools to rework your site pages so that they best reflect your business and your products. Designing your site as you explore a template is a free-flowing, helpful way to make notes along the way of what’s working and what’s not while you’re designing. Take those notes offline and make sure they’re still relevant and prioritize what you decide are your top three to-dos if you had to launch your site next week. This helps you to not get lost in the design process and really focus on what you need to rework or adjust to open your online store. After taking a day away from your site, visit it as if you are your customer and count the steps it takes you to purchase a product. Remember, depending on your level of comfort, you can soft-launch your site, do some advertising tests and see what site design tweaks might help to optimize your sales. It doesn’t have to be perfect because you’ll make small changes easily along the way that help you maximize sales.
5. Add a blog: Not every business has time for a blog, but if you do, consider starting one to attach to your business. Even a small update every week is a great way to keep customers coming back and learning more about your work AND your story. *Weebly has easy blog platforms you can plug into websites to make for a seamless customer experience. They’re a fun way to share personal stories and behind-the-scenes looks at your business without cluttering up the main shopping section of your website.
Pitfalls to Avoid
We all hit speed bumps and make mistakes along the way. Whether it’s catering to what you think your audience wants (like Hannah mentioned above) or going too far in the other direction and not paying any attention to audience feedback, we all will need to make some changes along the way.
When I asked Hannah about pitfalls, she mentioned a common one: the comparison trap. “There is always the game of comparing yourself to other brands and what they are doing,” Hannah admitted. “Should we be posting on Instagram 5 times a day? Should we be constantly changing our candles’ scents and containers? I think what has worked out best for us is letting things with our brand unfold organically and [sticking] to our original motivations and designs.”
Here are some other common issues to consider (and hopefully avoid):
1. Call-outs: Avoid call-out culture when it comes to your brand. Don’t name names, accuse people of copying or insult others as a part of your brand. There are very few brands who can make this sort of “voice” decision successfully, so it’s best to leave things professional and congenial online.
2. All sales all the time: People want to know that there is a real human behind a brand they love. So don’t be afraid to be real, talk about your real life and NOT “always be selling.” If you’re only ever talking about product sales, it’s harder for people to make a real connection to your company and brand.
How to tell your story in photos
Product photos are just as important as (and in some cases, more important than) the text that appears on your business’ website. So to get some advice from the pros, we reached out to Weebly’s internal Product Photography Expert, John O’Brien-Carelli, to get some feedback and tips on building a website with photos that tell your story well.
What makes a great product photo?
Obviously, the goal of your product photos is to sell your products. So while there are all types of technical answers to this, the truth is that the best product photos show a potential customer why they should buy whatever it is you’re selling. Whether your product is a well-designed mug or a tool with a very specific use, as long as you’re clearly and accurately demonstrating to your customers what makes your product unique, and why they should ultimately click the buy button, you’re taking great product photos.
Do you have to have fancy equipment to take a great product photo?
Definitely not. We tell our merchants to “use the best camera you have access to” when they’re taking photos of their products. With how great phone cameras are now, you can really do a lot with what you have on hand. In terms of lighting, we recommend a sunny room and two pieces of white posterboard – one for a backdrop sweep, the other to reflect sunlight onto your product. It’s a simple, easy, and cheap way to take great product photos with consistent lighting.
What are some pitfalls people should avoid when taking product photography?
Always retouch your photos! Just by opening up your images in photo editing software and looking at them carefully, you’ll be miles ahead of most DIY product photographers. While Photoshop might be intimidating, there are tons of tutorials online as well as free and low-cost alternatives that make retouching your images more approachable. At the very least, it makes you take a good, hard look at your photos and spot anything you might need to fix.
What are some trends you’re seeing in product photography that people should consider?
While companies like Amazon have made product photos on white backgrounds pretty ubiquitous, I’ve recently seen a lot of brands shooting their products on bright, colorful backgrounds. This is a great way to make your photos stand out and add some brand identity to your product shots. These types of images also do well on Instagram – which is a nice plus. I’ve also seen a lot more motion in product photos, whether it’s GIFs, 360-degree images, or video. This is definitely something that’s worth considering if you think it’ll better demonstrate what makes your product special. They’re also a fun, unique way to draw your customers’ attention.
What is the most important thing people should remember when setting out to take and post their business’ product photography?
Don’t get discouraged and don’t be intimidated! While product photography can seem daunting, there are tons of resources to help you achieve great product photos, no matter what your budget is. If you take your time, do your research, and remember that all you’re doing is trying to show off your awesome products in the best way possible, you can shoot product photos that help you sell without spending a fortune. On a much more practical level, when you’re posting your photos, make sure they’re showing up on your site with the highest resolution possible. There’s nothing worse than taking the time and effort to shoot great photos and then accidentally posting a grainy, low res version.
For today’s post I’m sending you home with a little bit of (fun!) homework to get you started on defining and imagining your brand’s story and how you’ll tell it online. You can download these questions here, or just cut and paste them from below.
1. What inspired your business? Write a few lines about the feelings you had when you thought about running your own business and what made you love what it is you do.
2. How would you — and your friends — describe you, your work and what you do? Write a few lines with descriptive language about yourself and your products. How would you describe them if you were writing product descriptions? Now ask a few of your friends and mentor/support group members to do the same — and to read yours. Compare notes and see if there’s refining you need to do in your brand language or if there are words and phrases that pop up again and again — those are terms to hold to and include in your company’s story wording.
3. Set aside 1-2 hours to browse other businesses’ websites to get an idea of what types of product photography are out in the market and what feels right to you and your brand. Your natural next step would be to take those ideas and inspirations and play around with some mock website/store themes that appeal to you on a platform like Weebly. You’ll be able to see exactly the type and quantity of product and featured photos you’ll need to create your shop.
4. Look at your budget and see what you can invest in for photography. If you can hire a professional, make a clear shot list and mood board to keep your shoot efficient and costs down. If not, you can follow the same shot list on your own. Weebly provides feedback and professionals (like John!) to help you hone in on your best product photography options, so don’t be afraid to ask them for help if you’re building your brand’s website with them! They also offer professional product photography at an affordable rate, so consider that cost based on the number of products you’ll be offering and see if this outsourcing resource is a cost- (and time-) effective option for you. (At the time we produced this post, Weebly’s pro product photography pricing was $10 for 3 product shots. See details here.)
4. Don’t forget a headshot! Whether you use a self-timer or hire a professional, a photo of you and your work is a great way to connect people to your brand. Look at other websites to see what sort of headshot styles exist and what feels right to you. Plan a few outfits or places to take the photo and get started on options!