Thursday, July 19, 2007

Anna Bella Stationery

Meet Dawn Marie Viola, the creator and creative director behind Anna Bella Stationery, an online design studio and stationery boutique offering its own brand of stationery and paper products, custom wedding invitations, birth announcements, and a casual collection of occasion invitations. Anna Bella was launched in January of 2006, first selling products for moms and kids, after which it expanded a few months later to include wedding and occasion invitations. Anna Bella is a home-based, woman-owned, indie business.

The Anna Bella Customer
“We’ve got a little something for everyone, so other than being mostly women, we don’t really have a typical customer. Every once in a while we’ll be pleasantly surprised by a helpful groom who is sending messages on behalf of his bride-to-be, but other than that, we mostly sell to women of all ages, all lifestyles – it’s wonderful.”

“I have a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and worked in advertising as a creative director and copywriter for 15 years before starting my career in stationery design. Although it was complete torture at the time, my previous business lessons really set me up for success with Anna Bella – the design part was always very natural and easy for me, but the business side had always a bit of a vague mystery.”

“When I first began Anna Bella, I worked full time as a designer and copywriter for Disney and ESPN. After about 6 months, I went to part time hours. Then in April, 2007, I was able to work for myself full time. I supplement with copywriting services and affordable mentoring services for women wanting to start their own stationery business, but for the most part, I rely on stationery sales.”

Start-up Challenges
“The idea of starting a business is simple, but when you really sit down and start to map everything out, it can become absolutely overwhelming. My biggest challenge, which I still struggle with today, is the best way to organize my products and web site so that it makes ordering as easy as possible for customers. I’m always moving products around and streamlining the ordering system to be better organized and make better sense to customers.”

“The other challenge I face is time management and staying focused. It’s super easy to get lost in answering emails – before I know it, I’m 10 pages deep into blog surfing because I opened a Google Alert email with a favorite key word. I had to learn to be my own whip-cracker and give myself time limits on breaks, surfing and research during my work day.”

“Owning your own business can be lonely at times, too, especially for a home-based or small business. I don’t see people (other than my family) very often because I’m so busy working at the computer or packing and shipping orders.”

“ I want everything to happen fast. But for things to happen fast, you need money. Starting out with no money and having a limited budget, makes things happen at a snail’s pace.”

Pricing your Work
“I first figure out my cost to produce the product – this includes paper, printing, supplies, and design time. I then compare that to retail prices for like products to be sure I’m not about to over price the item or under price it. If I notice a product is not selling well, I’ll change the price – and not necessarily to something lower. There is a good amount of psychology involved in pricing products and how consumers perceive the value of what they’re purchasing. Sometimes you just need to put the price up or down by a few cents or even dollars and see what the consumer accepts.”

Marketing on a Shoestring
“Marketing on a budget has become a way of life for me. I am a copywriter as well as a designer, which comes in handy when it comes to PR.”

“I literally send dozens of emails every week with product updates and information about our company. I utilize email blast campaigns to past/present/future customers and editorial contacts. And I send out a lot of samples to relevant trade and consumer magazines. The samples often result in free editorial – with advertising rates so high, I rely heavily on free editorial.”

“And again, there is no secret formula to this. I’m often asked how my products got onto a certain blog or how I was able to be on Martha Stewart Radio. I didn’t do any tricks or hoop jumping – I simply sent an email with a short (very short) proposal.”

Forecasting Trends
“People laugh when I tell them this, but if you want to know what the next stationery trend will be, look to JC Penny, Macy’s and similar department stores. The reason I say this is because stationery trends are dictated very much by fashion trends. Anchor department stores want to offer their customers the latest trends at relatively affordable prices, so they consolidate all of the high-end manufacturers’ design ideas and patterns into one dummied-down collection of clothing, hand bags, etc. The department store has essentially done all of the market research for you and placed it all, nice and neat, in the women’s sportswear or hosiery department.”

“I am constantly looking at style blogs and other stationery manufacturers – not only for trends in stationery, but also so I’m not duplicating efforts when I create new products. I’m also a big copyright advocate, so I like to be familiar with what other manufacturers are creating - kind of keeping an eye out for them as well as myself.”

An Artist’s Challenge
“I’m very critical of my work and very self conscious about it – I often second guess every new product I put out there because, essentially, I’m being judged on it. That’s a scary concept for an artist or craftsperson because the work is very personal and often an extension of themselves.”

Motivated By…
“The desire to help people…the love of graphic design and the entire collaborative design process…the need to do something good for people and with my life. Fame, fortune (kidding…sort of).”

Recommended Business Resources
“Anyone who is opening a creative business needs to read the following: How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less, The E-Myth Revisited and Creatively Self Employed.”

Words of Advice-Live, Love, and Learn
“Don’t start a business unless you love the work you’ll be doing. The beginning stages will consume you, so it really needs to be a labor of love. "

"Self education is so important. Learn absolutely everything you can about your craft, from concept to finished product. Then, learn everything you can about your industry. "

"Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and ask questions – the worst that can happen is you may not receive a response or they will say, “No” to answering your questions."

"Network, network, network! Join organizations in your area that will benefit you, then go to the meetings and talk to people.”


Dawn Marie Viola


Anonymous said...

Starting a business can be lonely like you said...women mentoring may be able to help balance both lives! It did for me =)

jhonblack said...

It was nice to see you in Ft. Lauderdale and i saw you smile, nice to see you having fun and giving one hell of a show. logo design

amhash said...

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mansaprints said...

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