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Interview with the Design Trust

Interview with the Design Trust

“How I use email marketing” by surface pattern designer Fiona Leighton of Particle Press

When did you realise that you were creative?

“I have always been creative. Neither of my parents are creative, but they really nurtured and encouraged me. My dream was to be an artist, and I followed a path to Grays School of Art in Aberdeen and then on to the Royal College of Art in LondonI always wanted to sustain a living selling my work, and I always knew after working in various jobs, that I wanted to be putting all of my efforts into myself and my work. A move south to Cornwall pushed me to set up a business which I could run alongside being a mum. It took a while to find the balance, and I am still juggling!”

Fiona Leighton of Particle Press in her studio

“I was already running a very stripped down version of Particle Press when I had my first child. I never really had any business focus or goals as such.

After having my second child, I found a resurgence, and a new purpose. I started painting again after 20 years. A simple Instagram challenge to paint 100 paintings in 100 days kick started a new direction, which had focus. I used these paintings to create repeat patterns, which I taught myself through online learning.

Around that time I also saw an advert offering 15 Cornish creatives a space at [giftware trade show] Top Drawer in London. This was a turning point for me. My business stepped up to a new level, and I came back from London with a big pile of orders, and a newfound love and enthusiasm for my work and creating a business.

I found a rhythm that I hadn’t known before, and I found that planning came more naturally as I started to learn about my customers and retail customers.

What was your Word of the Year?

[This is one of the key exercises in our Dream Plan Do planner journal to help creatives focus on a special word in that year.]

“I chose this word on my train journey to London, as I headed off to my second Top Drawer show.

I am terrible at leaving my children, and in all aspects of my life I am a control freak. Being around for my children is important, but equally, so is the importance of being a role model to them.

The word ATTENTIVE came to mind. Firstly, to my family and my well being, but equally, I wanted to be attentive to my business. I wanted to take it seriously, and really focus on what was working successfully and being responsive to those aspects.

I think it’s really important to know what is working, and what is not, and without really knowing, you cannot make clear pathways.”

cushion and lampshade by Particle Press (c)

What marketing has worked very well this year?

“Email marketing has worked very well for me this year, and following on from the ‘Get More Sales’ online workshop with Patricia, I have managed to collect and grow my mailing list to over 550. This was through an email pop-up, collecting details at events, and referrals through social media. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but I am very happy that so many people are willing to give me their email address!

Having an audience waiting to hear from me was quite daunting, but I’ve thoroughly embraced email marketing.

The difference between email and my Instagram posts (which can sometimes take me nearly an hour to compose) is that I am not competing with hundreds of other photos and captions on someone’s feed.

I’m not hoping customers will just stumble upon my website.

I am communicating directly with an audience that WANT to hear from me.

When someone signs up for my mailing list, I have an automated email that sends straight back.  This email contains a ‘thank you’, a product shot, a short introduction to my work, along with a photo of me in my studio. 

I try to make my emails very image rich, with key information, and I try and keep my sentences short, so it is easily digestible, and to-the-point.

One week later, I send another email. I thank them again for signing up, and I share some information and images about my location and my studio. I talk about where I make and manufacture my products, with information about how I use recycled packaging. I show images of my screen printed envelopes and gift wrapping, and link back to my shopwith a product image.

I feel like this helps to create trust with my audience if they place an order with me, and can start to engage my audience.

I send a final email a week later where I talk in more detail about my inspirations, the themes in my work,  more studio shots, and a link to my blog, where they can read about how I create my paintings.

Creating a link to the blog, means that the customer can click back through to my website,without asking them to buy anything.

My aim with these introduction emails, is to educate my audience about me and my work,so they feel like they are getting to know me, without coming across as being to sales-y.”

Particle Press tea towels in box

“I don’t send monthly emails, but I create campaigns 5 or 6 times a year to keep my audience engaged.

They will coincide with events I’ll be attending, new collections or leading up to special events such as Mothers Day or Christmas.  This year, I found that my most successful campaign was around Mothers Day, when I designed a hand printed tea towel gift box. I sent an email out a couple of weeks before, reminding my audience that Mothers Day was approaching, and I shared some gift ideas, along with a first look at a screen printed gift box that I had been working on. 

A few days later, I sent out another email, with links to the beautifully wrapped gift box, which I could send out directly on my customers’ behalf. 

This targeted those customers who didn’t live near their Mum. It also proved very popular with my male demographic.

I realised that creating a product that was ready to give took the worry out of present-buying and gift-wrapping for the customer, so it was a huge success.

I think its really important for your customer to feel like they know you, and that you are there to help. One of my favourite sayings from Patricia, is that ‘People only buy from people they know, like and trust’, and I really believe this is true.

I have this written on a post-it note at my desk!

“One exercise that I found really helpful, was to sign up for emails from 10 businesses that I admire. Some companies that were in a similar position to me, and some with very different products and budgets. I started to look at email marketing in a different way. I took note of the content that they shared, how they delivered their information and how often they sent emails. It was really helpful in helping me structure and collate ideas to plan my campaigns.

I’m still learning so much about marketing, but I really enjoy it, and getting emails back from customers is my favourite!”

 What is your biggest achievement of the year?

“After completing some ‘finance’ homework for a course that Patricia was teaching here in Cornwall in June, I was very surprised to realise that my turnover/sales for wholesale and trade for the first part of this year, was comparable to my financial forecast for 5 years time, which I was very pleased about.

I have also been asked to illustrate a book this year, which was something that was on my bucket list in the 2019 Dream Plan Do Planner.”

 What advice have you got for other creative businesses?

“My advice would be ‘just to go for it’.  All the fears and insecurities are just in your head, and if you overthink things, you can put yourself off. Sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t, but learning is key!

The opportunity to show at my first trade fair came as I had just got my first collection together. I never knew anything about wholesale, trade fair logistics, pricing or buyers. I had 8 weeks to get everything ready, and if I had overthought it, I wouldn’t have grown my business to where it is today.Sometimes you have to go out of your comfort zone to succeed. Ask lots of questions, do lots of research, and listen to podcasts.

We are so lucky to have all sorts of information at our fingertips. So, take every opportunity that you are given, believe in your creativity, don’t undervalue yourself and make lots of business friends, as they are invaluable!”


Thanks so much for sharing your real life tips with us Fiona! What did you learn from Fiona’s real-life story of ‘How I use email marketing’ that you can use in your creative business? Did she inspire you to start creating more effective and creative marketing campaigns? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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