Maxine France has two children and two jobs. And not a lot of time. By day she’s a graphic designer, by night – and sometimes that means a late one – she’s running a small business called Little Love Notes, a personalised gift service based in Milton Keynes. And did I mention she’s on a school fundraising committee too?
As part of my research into small businesses and if/how they use content marketing, I spoke to Maxine about websites, training, juggling orders and ideas…
What is your biggest concern as a small business?
Time is my biggest issue so if I need help with something then I’ll try and get help, and yes, sometimes I’ll pay for it. I’d have to weigh up whether it’s cost effective for me to use someone else or learn/try to do it myself. It’s also about ideas, I always like to run things past someone to get a different viewpoint. It’s easy to think your own ideas are great but other people always have useful contributions and might suggest something I haven’t thought of. You open yourself up to personal criticism as a small business owner as I always feel more confident when other people like or help me develop my ideas.
Confidence is an issue too, not so much for products that are now selling well, but new stuff. If you’re on your own it’s just you saying what might work and what might not. My idea might just be good in my head and no one else will think so.
I can’t write about myself…
If you’re buying a picture from John Lewis, it’s John Lewis. They’re not a risk, they’re a known brand but as soon as you buy online from a one-man band or crafter, you’re asking people to give you money before they’ve received anything and for something they’ve probably never seen in the flesh. They know nothing about you, about what you produce and a lot of the time, what I do is an emotional thing, people put their feelings and sentiments into the artworks, they’re telling me about themselves or their loved one and they need a person at the end of the button they’re buying from. So, it’s important to tell them about me and make them feel comfortable that I’m going to deliver and take care of the information they’re giving me. Because it’s personal to them they need to feel a bit personal about me, I’m marketing me as well as what I do. And that’s why I do it, I started this when I was pregnant with my daughter to keep a sense of self as well as being a mum and people can relate to my story and it shows I’m more than a machine.
A website, Facebook page etc is very important because people will want to find out more about you online before they buy anything. I can’t write about myself, I have no idea where to start. My ‘about’ pages are tiny, I don’t talk for a living and certainly not about myself and I’m not a marketeer. I know why I do it but it’s hard to translate that into something that someone else will understand. Knowing how to pitch me, and me having some with the experience to understand if the bits I’m picking out are right or if I’m missing something, would be useful. It’s really hard to write about yourself and promote your own ideas without sounding wrong so this is something I’d need help with, sometimes you need someone else’s creativity to help with that and to make you realise what’s possible.
Who helps you promote your brand?
For my website, I didn’t have enough of an idea about how to do it myself, I needed to be separate from it as it’s an area that’s not my expertise. Design is my expertise but not web design so I was comfortable buying in expertise because it’s important to get that right. You invest a lot into a website but if it was something smaller, I might look online and try to do myself but a website is a big thing and I didn’t want to damage my reputation with something that wasn’t right.
I use Facebook a lot, especially if I’ve got a new design so I can pit it out there, and I always ask for feedback there. I go to my followers to see what they think, and sometimes people approach me with ideas about new products, they feel comfortable coming to me to suggest something.
To train or not to train? Online or offline?
Christmas is a busy time for me and I’d potentially pay for marketing advice to help in the run up to that season. I need to think about that way in advance, Christmas is a biggy for orders, so I’d be interested in training to help me sell myself better and promote my products over that period. Marketing myself well at Christmas is so essential and I wouldn’t want to miss my window of opportunity with any training so I’d prefer a set time and date so I have to do it and if I have to be physically present then I’m more likely to do it.
I’d be happy to try other things online, sometimes just looking things up and having a go myself. Online tutorials about how to use Instagram, for example, might be useful as I don’t know enough about how it can be used as a sales and marketing tool but I might be interested in dipping in and out of a training course for something like that, it’s not time sensitive and I could fit it in between orders, when I have time.
So, yes, I would pay for training it it helped me develop a skill that was useful for the business.
Is local important?
I’m an online business so working with local businesses isn’t something I’d focus on, but I did use a local web designer for my website and if I needed specialist printing, for example, I’d want to use someone local so I could quality check, as its my brand on the line and it would be easier to do this with someone nearby.