Maker + Made is a graphic design firm working out of downtown Spokane, specializing in brand identities, websites, and print collateral. Co-owners Brittany Stodgelland Millie Schnebly chatted with us about how to have a killer marketing plan for your creative business—and why it matters.
What inspired you to work as a team instead of solo—which is more traditional for graphic designers?
The two of us were already working side-by-side on little projects here and there. In the evenings, we'd get together and work in tandem while gabbing over our 3rd iced latte of the day for fun (plot-twist, we're also best friends). Brittany, at the time, was a partner at a local design firm and I was running my own freelancing business. We would spend the evenings together collaborating and asking each other for feedback on what we were working on. Over time we realized we should be making an impact on our city together instead of apart.
As time went on working side-by-side, we found ourselves questioning our less-than-traditional perspective on what a design firm "should be" and wondering if we could thrive doing what we loved in a way we truly enjoyed. So when the opportunity arose to start a micro-firm together, we owed it to ourselves to give it a shot. Cue all the excitement and nervous "what if it doesn't work?!" feelings, right?! We just kept our heads up, celebrating every little detail as a win, and thought audibly, "but what if it does?!"
What do you look for in a graphic designer when you want to add to your team?
We think it's really important for small business owners (especially solopreneurs who are looking to make their first hire) to not focus on cloning themselves, but instead looking forward and beyond their own genius point to add someone to their team that will bring additional value (and revenue) to their business. That's what we've done and so far it's working out beautifully!
Maker + Made specializes in assisting small businesses with their marketing plans, is there any general advice you would give to a creative entrepreneur who is just getting started when it comes to marketing their new business?
Take people along for the ride. The normal days, the good days, the extra awesome days, the "what the hell am I doing" or silly mistakes — all of it. We're in the middle of an advertising age where audiences are privy to transparency — we want to relate to the people and places we loyally buy from time and again.
People love a story, and taking them along for yours is the easiest way to market yourself in a genuine way. We always suggest "giving it away for free". Not your services specifically, but your expertise.
Build trust with your target audience and your peers by sharing what you've learned; everyone comes out better for it. By sharing your ideas, you may find your peers and your audience trying to "do it on their own", and that's a totally valid fear, but remember what they don't have is your secret sauce; you. In time, the right client will come to you after trial and error because you're the one they trust.
Why is it important for a creative business to have a marketing plan?
Marketing plans are important for creative businesses just as much as others. We've consistently interacted with our audience enough to let them know how to find us, what we do, and how we do it.
Without the effort, our audience wouldn't grow organically beyond the little network of people we see and interact with on a regular basis, and therefore the word of mouth marketing we heavily rely on would also fail. In creative fields, it's often hard to find a way to get our ideal audiences to notice us.
Many will create a website and hopehopehope their ideal buyer will somehow land there. Without a marketing plan, there's no way to ensure the people you're trying to reach will follow through and actually see what you have to offer or how they can apply your skillset to accomplish their needs.
Keeping your name top-of-mind with people in your community is a great way to create word of mouth and referral-based business, and that's something we've always tried to focus on. Marketing budgets go the longest mile on social media.
It's important to show the world what you're creating even when you're busy — even if it's just to inspire, as well as stay relevant and top-of-mind. As with many marketing efforts; consistency is key, and social platforms are no different.
With that said, so often, the only time we see creative businesses be active on social media is when their client work has slowed and they have free time, or they're eager to fill up some open space for the following week. It can come across as desperate and insincere when social media advertising happens sporadically or the messaging is "buy now" versus something genuine and interactive.