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Decorator’s Notebook

Decorator’s Notebook is an online shop selling design-led home accessories made by social enterprises, fair trade groups and artisanal co-operatives around the world. Their aim is to show that beautiful design and ethical production can go hand-in-hand.

We spoke to co-founder Bethan John about her experience of starting an e-commerce business, including challenges she faced and advice for others in the same position.

What was the inspiration for starting your business?

I began writing a blog – the original Decorator’s Notebook – in 2011, while I was working as an interior design journalist. The idea for a shop that sold a collection of products with a similar aesthetic grew from there. My brother Joe was working in e-commerce development at the time, so we teamed up, enrolled on a startup business course and launched the Decorator’s Notebook shop in October 2013.

What was the first thing you did when starting your business?

After completing the business course, we started looking at the market and how we were going to reach customers. We already had the domain, logo and business name from the blog – it was a matter of turning the website into a shop. I researched a lot of e-commerce platforms and in the end decided on Shopify which is really user friendly. As the business develops you find you have to make lots of changes to the website, which is why we didn’t want to spend lots on a bespoke design when starting up.

How have you had to change the website as the business developed from a blog to an online store?

The blog still exists as a separate entity on the website but we have had to change the website to make our USP clearer. When we started up it was a little vague what we were about and for customers it wasn’t very clear what they would find when they came to the site. Decorator’s Notebook is about ethical design and highlighting stories about craftsmanship all over the world. We want our customers to know this so we’ve gradually improved our website to be clearer in our communication.

What is the biggest challenge when selling online?

Gaining online visibility for the business has been far more difficult than we imagined. You want to stand out from the crowd and get recognised by the right people, so we have had to work extremely hard on our marketing and PR. To help get our name out there we make sure that we communicate with customers using social media and have a presence at relevant events.

How do you go about finding products to sell?

We look for beautiful products with an inspiring story to tell. As we work with so many international suppliers who are often in rural areas, this can mean lots of research. We often find that once you’ve found one supplier, this can lead to you finding out about more through your supplier’s network.

What would be one piece of advice you could give to people thinking of starting an online store?

Don’t underestimate your photography! It’s your shop window and the pictures will be shared, so don’t skimp on your photographs. I would recommend that you invest in a good photographer if you have a physical product.

Published on 16 June 2016

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