Prioritizing Where to Invest in Brand Development: Behind the Scenes with Hettie Joan

Melissa Wert

 Hettie Joan

 

This is a special treat, my friends. I’ve passed the blog baton to Shannon, Lucky Break’s Creative Director and the mastermind behind newly launched lifestyle brand Hettie Joan. I adore working alongside Shannon on Team LBC and I was especially excited to have a front row seat as she rolled up her sleeved to build this new company.  Today, she’s giving you a behind-the-scenes tour of her brand launch.  Take it away, Shannon!

 

Shannon Miller of Hettie Joan

 

I hatched the dream for what has become Hettie Joan more than two years ago. If you’re working on a brand launch of your own, then I hope you won’t let that timeline scare you – the majority of this pre-launch work was concentrated within one six-month time period. But having such a long timeline gave me plenty of runway to think about what was most important to me in a company, and among my biggest priorities was having an extremely solid, well-rounded branding.

 

Unfortunately (as I think is often the case with branding), I had a champagne taste on a beer budget. Furthermore, my husband and I run a very tight ship at our house when it comes to our finances, so for me – while I did have my sweet husband’s full support and faith in what I was doing – the idea of taking out any kind of loan, using credit cards, or borrowing against our savings was completely out of the question. I recall one very eye-opening Private Strategy Session with Lela in which I lamented this fact, but she reminded me that where there’s a will, there’s a way; and sent me off feeling inspired to figure it out.

 

I knew that if I wanted this new brand to perform at the level I envisioned, I had to make meticulous spending choices and do some mega-prioritization of where I’d spend my money, time, and elbow grease. After calculating what I felt was an appropriate launch budget (far more than I initially thought, but far less than I probably “needed”) I worked out a plan for saving up my pennies. From there, I laid one brick at a time to build Hettie Joan from scratch, which I’m proud to have finally unveiled last month!

 

As a teammate here at Lucky Break, I often hear Brick House Branding students asking questions about where to best spend their money. How do you know where to make the biggest financial investments? How can I possibly afford to outsource all of this brand development work? What’s the smartest thing to DIY? And while the answers are different for every brand and dependent on so many things – from your personal finances and commitments to your personal skill sets or your product category – Lela asked if I’d be willing to share how I chose to spend my buckets of time and money. I’m more than happy to dive under the surface of my choices with you to help explain what pieces I prioritized, where I compromised, and what I decided to pause until a later date.

 

Hettie Joan

 

Things I prioritized:

 

  • Putting in lots of hours of hard work on my brand development from day one. Starting with the Brick House Branding curriculum before I even finalized my product line or my logo was incredibly helpful. Doing so guided me to make a lot of decisions that I initially expected would go a different way, laying firm groundwork ahead of time meant that I made much smarter, more strategic, and more informed choices about the direction Hettie Joan would take – from the visual design and brand voice to making changes to my products in a way that better reflected the heart of my brand.

 

  • Getting my trademark. Because I work with so many small brand owners through my work at Lucky Break, I’d heard dozens of horror stories regarding trademarks (or the lack thereof). I’ve even run a few small businesses myself in the past, but it never occurred to me before how important it was to invest in a trademark up front. I toiled and researched on my own to develop what I thought was a protectable name, and then the very first thing I did with that small pot of startup capital I’d saved was to enlist the services of an intellectual property attorney, Andrea Evans.

 

  • Developing a killer logo. I’m a career graphic designer, so if nothing else, I knew how important a good logo design was going to be. Initially, I designed a logo myself that I liked well enough – but I quickly realized that for several reasons, it ultimately wasn’t going to work. I had to go back to the drawing board for a new logo, but anybody who works in a creative field knows that performing your service for other people is a lot easier than doing it for yourself; we are our own worst critics. I was getting so frustrated by the process that I decided to bite the bullet and make the investment to hire an illustrator whose work I loved, and who I knew would be able to help me create something really special: Dina Rodriguez at Letter Shoppe. It wasn’t cheap, but ultimately it’s more than worth it.

 

  • Making sure my colors matched across my printed matter, custom fabric, and other raw materials.  I spent a lot of time and dollars to ensure that the colors I used in my designs looked as much the same in every medium as possible. For example, the navy blue I used needed to look as close as possible when comparing the computer screen and my notebook covers to my custom fabric, my bags’ woven labels, the thread colors, the dye color on my zipper tape, and so on. It was tedious and painful at times, but I know that paying attention to details like is what takes a product line from “good” to “great.” This required an investment of time and patience as opposed to money, yet still: dishing out the cash for brand new Pantone color books, then cross-matching with a printed Spoonflower color map and its associated digital swatch library, purchasing a complete color sample card from my zipper manufacturer… the list of the investments I made related to this task goes on, and it wasn’t an inexpensive undertaking.

 

  • Ensuring that the zippers on my pouches were of the highest quality. This is another oddball priority, but I went through the very painful experience of having one completely custom order go bust after realizing that, for several reasons, the quality was just not good enough. These zippers had been made in a specific length, color, teeth size, and pull style, so I couldn’t return them. The only option was to make a whole new order. I was so disheartened at the time, but now I’m pleased as punch with the quality of the zippers on my pouches. I have had so many comments on them from friends and customers about how nice they are – beautiful, well-made and smooth like butter – and I feel like they really set my pouches apart in quality.

 

Hettie Joan

 

Things I compromised on:

 

  • I settled on a semi-DIY website. I strongly value great web design, but I simply couldn’t afford custom development – not by a long shot. However, I do have some web design and a touch of coding knowledge in my background. So instead of investing in thousands of dollars in outsourcing my website, I went with a trusted e-commerce platform (Shopify) and invested $180 in a pro theme. From there, I was able to tweak a few things to customize it to my liking. I have lots more I want to do in the future, but so far, I’ve been able to handle it – and for that, I’m very proud and grateful!

 

  • I have bigger dreams for my packaging and unboxing experience than what they are right now. It was important for me that I made a good impression on my first customers without going broke, so I used my design skills and brand concepts to the best of my ability, spending money where I could get the most bang for my buck. For example, instead of custom mailers, I found affordable white boxes and mailing envelopes in low quantities, and purchased a big custom stamp of my logo from Lumi, which I imprint on each shipment with a deep navy ink. I use matching navy crinkle shred filler, and stash a small freebie or two inside each box (think: a small branded pencil sharpener for customers who buy pencils). So while it is lovely as-is, I know it can be better. I haven’t created any kind of branded package insert yet – like a branded postcard with a call to action for my customers. But that was a much smaller priority for me at launch time than some other things, and it’s something I’ll be able to easily add in when I’m able.

 

  • I paid for professional photography, but I had to make the most of a brief shoot and DIY photo styling. Photography is another aspect of branding that I’ve seen done both so right and so wrong through our work with independent makers and product designers here at Lucky Break. I knew I couldn’t afford to make a bad impression with bad photography. I had to make a decision about how much money I could afford to spend with my photographer (the lovely Kamin of Spark & Arrow). I was able to keep costs at a rate I could manage by…

1. Only booking a half day shoot.

2. Traveling to my photographer, who lives a couple hours away (instead of asking her to come to me).

3. Doing all the prop shopping and shot planning myself in advance.

4. Prepping for and organizing the photo shoot within an inch of its life.

5. Prioritizing what kind of shots I needed to make sure I walked away with.

 

  • I launched with a very limited product line, and I’m doing all of the sewing production myself right now – even though that’s not my long-term plan. I wanted to have a three or four-pack of pencils in multiple designs, but I could only afford one. I wanted completely custom packaging, but I am using as many affordable “off the shelf” options as possible right now. I ultimately want to contract my sewing out to individuals or a US-based factory, but that has a few more dollar signs attached to it than my bank account balance. All that to say: I’m happy with where I am, but it took some real digging to find enough self-confidence to accept that things will probably never be exactly where I want them. I had to bite the bullet and JUST LAUNCH ALREADY instead of waiting for everything to come together in the exact fashion that I wanted. My daily mantras became, “Done is better than perfect,” and “Everybody starts somewhere.”

 

  • I did all of my own copywriting and marketing, but I had to make some major concessions in the interest of time and money. I launched Hettie Joan alongside working a full-time job (hi, Lucky Break!), plus a part-time job, plus my local volunteer commitments, plus running around with my two very busy children. So while in my head, I dreamed of this massive ramp-up to launch, the most amazing social media marketing plan that ever existed, and some killer guerrilla marketing… that just didn’t happen. Not only did I have to make peace with the sheer lack of hours in my day, but I was also on a calendar deadline to provide the USPTO with proof of my mark in commerce in order to get my trademark. There was no way I was spending any more dollars on that than I had to just because I didn’t launch in a timely manner, so I pulled the ripcord and here we are!

 

Hettie Joan

 

Things I paused completely:

 

  • Blogging. Ideally, I would have launched with a handful of blog posts in the hatch – but that didn’t happen. I have, however, been working on a content plan for what I’ll blog about (thanks, BHB!) and I know it’s forthcoming – and will be awesome. Is it necessary? Long-term, yes. But was it a must-have for simply getting into commerce? No – which is how I made that decision.

 

  • A few products that I thought would be part of my premiere line. I really would have loved to have had a few more core products ready for purchase – I thought for sure they would be. But since money and the time were running low, and I had a perfectly fine selection ready for launch, I let them go. They’ll come when they come.

 

  • An email opt-in for new subscribers. I know how important having a great email opt-in incentive is and would have loved to have launched with one much sooner. I’m sure I could have focused on building my email list more in advance of my launch. However, I felt like it was something I could pause, so I launched without an opt-in, although I did ultimately implement one a couple weeks ago that I’m really excited about. And now, I’m glad I took a little more time to work on that piece because releasing it post-launch gave me something great to engage with my new followers about besides “Hey, look at my new website!” over and over again.

 

  • Wholesale. I fully intend to take on the wholesale by force, but I’ve completely paused that for the time being. I just wasn’t ready right off the bat, but I’m working on implementing how I can get there, sooner rather than later!

 

Hettie Joan

 

I’m a firm believer in the power of learning through shared experiences, so I hope this behind-the-scenes look at my pre-launch brand development choices has been helpful! I couldn’t have accomplished nearly as much without Lela’s guidance, through our BHB curriculum, Private Strategy Sessions, and the support of our LBU Alumni Coaching Community. Branding is one of those things where its hard to grasp much you don’t know until somebody introduces the deeper concepts to you – and I’m so grateful for the education I’ve received through Lucky Break for helping me see the light.

Hi… it’s me again, Lela. Isn’t Shannon lovely? I’m a lucky girl to have her on my team! If you’d like to share a cocktail with Shannon, then I invite you to join us at Craftcation, April 4-8 on the beach in sunny Ventura, CA. It’s our favorite business conference of the whole year and I firmly believe that half of the reason that Shannon stays on the Lucky Break team is because I take her to Craftcation.  It’s the friendliest business event on the planet and you can learn to sew a blouse in one session and sit in on a social media workshop in the next session. The Lucky  Break team will be there this year- it’s our third year in a row!- and I *might* just be the closing keynote.  Come play? Craftcation tickets are available right over here.

About the Author

Melissa Wert

A native New Englander, Melissa delights in brilliantly colored leaves, tabbed spreadsheets, and vintage Wu-Tang Clan. Having earned an MBA from Bay Path University, she splits her time between the public relations department at Bay Path and breaking down Lela’s big ideas into manageable action steps. A successful business owner herself, Melissa launched a stationery company designed to support women in their most vulnerable moments. She lives in Connecticut with a rambunctious-but-brilliant toddler and their sweet pup, Sawyer.

6 responses on “Prioritizing Where to Invest in Brand Development: Behind the Scenes with Hettie Joan

  1. Amy

    Shannon, thank you for your openness in sharing your story. As someone who is about to embark on a BHB journey in January 2018, I read this with great interest. What a wonderful story and beautiful brand you have created. You’ve inspired me! It will be wonderful to watch your business grow. All the best to you!

  2. Rolande Sumner

    Loved this article. I’ve been making hard decisions lately pertaining to higher price point for 2018, what brand items need my immediate attention and what needed to be crossed all together or just placed on the back burner for now. Thank you for being so open and upfront with your journey. This helps me place my fears in the right place.

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