Author: MSG Team

Jason & Cinnamon Miles founded Make | Sell | Grow as a resource for sewers, crafters, and artisans. The goal is simple - give tools, tips, and training in a simple to understand way.

10 tips for Pro Photography

10 Tips For Pro PhotographyHi everyone,

Let’s talk photography. This post will be about the ‘how-to’ stuff. The next post will be about specific equipment recommendations.

Intro: In some ways it seems silly to write about picture taking skills, because it’s so commonly written about on the internet. But sadly, lots of folks selling doll clothes have decided not to focus on this important part of the presentation, and we believe that’s a big mistake. So, we have a few things to suggest. Our top 10 tips…

1. Google, “taking great pictures” or something similar, and then read 10 articles, with a note-pad at your side.

2. Take notes and make a collection of all your favorite ideas.

3. Take 100 pictures trying out the various techniques. When it comes to photography, like with any other art, practice makes perfect.

4. Natural Light! Go outside! The best pictures will be in warmly lit, (but not harshly lit). Obay this rule and your pictures will improve tremendously. We never use a flash, and you should avoid it too. Our lenses allow us to operate this way, (read the post about our equipment). Natural light with no flash! It’s best.

5. Want A White Background? A simple way to shoot on a white background outside, (if you want to have a white background), is just to use white foam-core board from the art supply store. Use one piece for the ground, (setting your doll on it), and one piece immediately behind the doll. We use our patio table for this all the time. The effect will be a fully ‘white’ background, but shot in warm light. (I realize this can be a bit hard to visualize, so I’ll take a picture of it sometime soon and insert it in this post).

6. The Golden Hour! Take your pictures an hour, or so, before sun-down. This is well-known to be the absolute best light of the day, and photographers call it ‘the golden hour’. You can shoot outside earlier if it’s overcast, but if it’s sunny, shoot during this specific time. There is a reason it’s called the golden hour. Photos come out amazing! Glowing, warm, beautiful.

7. No clutter! More important, (almost), than the item you’re shooting, is the background. Remove all clutter. Find a solid surface, ideally one that people won’t recognize, and use it as the backdrop. Place your doll 4 or 5 feet in front of the backdrop, (not right up next to it).

8. Get closer to your doll, (or outfit)! Why do so many Ebay sellers take their doll, set it against the kitchen cabinets, and then back up 10 feet and take a picture, (just one of course). You can do better. Get close, and then get closer! You don’t need to take a picture of the entire outfit every shot. Some can b extreme close-ups.

9. Crop and saturate. If you open your pictures in Windows, (desktops anyway), you can generally edit the images. Crop them. Then saturate them, (but not too much). Saturation warms up the image. Just be careful not to affect the color too much. You don’t want it to be an inaccurate representation of the original.

10. Take a lot! There is no substitute for taking a lot of pics. For any given outfit we are going to sell, we usually take over 100 pictures or more.  We sort them into “good ones” and save those as a separate folder, (our folder structure ends up looking like this – “Spring 2010” then “U.K. Holiday” then “Good Ones”. Then we look through those for the absolute best 5 or 6.

Okay, next post will be all about the specific camera we use, and the lenses, and the software. Stay tuned…

Tips For Creating A Brand Name


Hi everyone,

Let’s talk branding! This is something I’m super passionate about, so if you ever have any questions, comment below and we can chat about your issues. In this article I’ll outline 10 techniques you’ve got to know about. Here are my top 10 branding building techniques.

1. Unique. When choosing a potential name consider using your name, (or a unique proper name), that when Googled, doesn’t have too many similar results, if any. In other words, choose something unique, and use Google to confirm it. It’s not impossible. Keep trying. If you fail to do this, you’ll be sorry. Wouldn’t you be horrified if you found out later your fun new name was already associated with something yucky, or gross, or morbid, or totally inappropriate. Finding a unique name is rule #1. The best book resource for this topic is Branding for Profit (Audio Business Course) by Trump University, (please don’t hate me, leave political comments, or get upset, just trust me when I tell you that this is the best resource I’ve ever found on this topic – and no – Trump isn’t even the instructor, it’s an amazing marketer named Jon Ward).

2. Abstract. If you’re not going to use a proper name, then instead of trying to be ‘cute’, go for something rather meaningless. (Example Nike). This is counter-intuitive, but you don’t want a brand name to have very much mental or emotional ‘baggage’ when you start your business. That way you can convey the deep meaning of your brand elements over time, and in peoples minds those elements will become the prominant memory, instead of any built in implications. If you use generic words, it’s like trying to stake a claim on a spot in your prospects mind that they’ve already assigned to someone else. You cannot have it. Think unique, like, “Smith & Hawken” or “Nike”. The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding is the best book I’ve found on this topic. This is what we did when we worked to create Pixie Faire! Avoiding generic or pre-positioned words is rule #2.

3. Avoid using the category as a default portion of your name. “so and so Doll Clothes”. If you use that name, you’ve used 2 generic words in your name, and you want to avoid generic words because they’ll never be associated with you. You cannot have them in your prospects minds, they are permanently muddled. They are associated with the concept, or the category. Not good. As a side note, lots of the mommy coupon bloggers are getting this all wrong right now. They are tacking on the category words in the hope that they’ll be remembered, but just the opposite happens. The entire category is growing, and some will be winners, but it will probably be the ones with the strongest brands. For example, as I’m trying to think of an example right now, the one that comes to mind is (uniquely named) “Northern Cheapskate”. No “Mommy” or “Coupon” anywhere in there. And that is part of why I remembered it. The best book about this is Positioning by Al Reis and Jack Trout. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. Avoid the category words is rule #3.

4. Create deep meaning. Don’t just choose a name. Choose a name that conveys attributes that are helpful to your cause. Attributes that reinforce what you’re trying to convey to the world. Nike means champion. That’s cool, right?! “Northern Cheapskate” makes it sound like the writers aren’t New Yorkers or from La La Land. They must be from someplace cold, harsh, rural, and frugal. Deep meaning. When we were brainstorming the name for our little company, we knew that it needed to relate to American Girl in some way. We kicked around lots of names, then realized our daughters name fit perfectly, (at least we think it does). It conveys americana. It does that because she was born around 9-11, and we were feeling particularly patriotic back then, and we deliberately chose a name that felt ‘American’ when we named her. In fact, we considered naming her ‘America’ at the time. Years later, we were looking for a good brand name to support the American Girl ecosystem and the stars aligned around “Liberty Jane”. Deep meaning. Harry Beckwith has great information on this in Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing. Rule #4 is – keep thinking until you find a name that accomplishes rules 1,2, and 3, but also allows for deep meaning.

5. Clarify your brand attributes. What do you want people to remember about you? Boil it down. Boil it down to like 1 word. Then try to have that word reinforced by everything you do. But here is the critical part… the attribute must be available right now in the minds of the consumer. It can’t just be what you want to ‘be’ it has to be what your customer can appreciate, recall, and attach to your brand. Ideally what they want and cannot find. Our words are ‘trendy’ & ‘exclusive’. It’s our guiding light. Brand attributes don’t just say what you ARE about, they also say what you AREN’T about. If we’re trendy and exlusive, how could we compete on price, or sell on Amazon? Nope, not exclusive enough. If we’re trendy, how can we do historical outfits? Nope, not trendy enough. Al Reis’ classic book does a deep dive into this issue –  Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It. Rule #5 is clarify your brand attribute and reinforce it in everything you do.

6. You can always own a niche if you go small enough. If you’re still reading this, and you’re thinking, but all the good attributes are taken, then there is one simple trick you need to consider – think narrow and deep. In every category, (as you search on Amazon or Ebay for example), there are category leaders. But part of the power of internet marketing is that if you want to own a single attribute, and become known for it, there is almost endless open territory available for a good solid brand. This is so incredibly true, we’ve listed a few business ideas we don’t have time to do, but you could easily dominate under ‘cinnamon’s updates. The most interesting new thinking on this issue that I’ve found is from author and video blogger, Gary Vaynerchuk in Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion. Rule #6 is niche thyself.

7. Your biggest brand attribute is your price. New custumers have an amazing sorting function in their brain, and the first filter is price. You will either be thrown into the expensive or inexpensive bucket. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it, that’s how it works. Companies spend millions of dollars trying to manage their way aroud this, or convey deeper attributes of their brand, but most successful brands are very clear about this fundamental issue. They’ve chosen to go either high or low. Staying in the middle is a hard place to live as a brand. If you want to go deep on this issue, the best new book is Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It). It’s amazing. Rule #7 is choose high or low, and stick with it. (And as a word of encouragement, if you’re making items at home, think long and hard before choosing low.)

8. Be real. If you’re going to be an exclusive hand-crafted artisan, then don’t act bigger than you are, or overly corporate. People buy from people. Your brand, after getting a high or low price tag in the minds of prospects, will get a ‘cool’ or ‘uncool’ tag. And the single most important element in getting a ‘cool’ vote is authenticity. Be authentic. Tell your story. Have a really nice picture taken. Present yourself in the best light possible, (both for the picture and the overall message). You don’t have to be young and pretty to be considered cool. Just be yourself. The important part to understand here is that once people see your brand, and answer the ‘high’ or ‘low’ question, then they’ll start to judge you on the merits of what you’ve presented, and they’ll quickly make a determination about whether you’re ‘cool’ or ‘uncool’. In ‘Focus’ Al Reis and Jack Trout say that

“somewhere in the corner of the prospects brain there is a penalty box for brands they decide are loosers”.

Don’t be in that box. Rule #8 is be authentic, it’s cool. My favorite business book of all time has a great section on this. It’s Growing a Business by Paul Hawken, the founder of Smith & Hawken. It’s pre-internet, but so solid, it’s a must read for anyone interested in starting a successful business.

9. Polish it up. Now days, there is no reason you can’t have a professional looking website and logo. Check out our Get Started page for our list of recommended tools. Remember your brand is your most important craft product (and ongoing project). Make your brand a masterpiece.

10. Don’t be afraid to change! This is outlined beautifully in the Trump branding book. It taught me a lot about the true brand equity. Bottomline, if you need to change your name because it’s not effective, don’t be afraid to do it. If you do it carefully and systematically so customers are along for the ride, you won’t loose anything – and you’ll gain a lot.

Have fun building your brand!

Branding and your User ID…

It is amazing how many sellers of hand-crafted, hand-carved, or hand-sewn goods seem to completely ignore the basic ideas of branding. How can you ever hope to foster popularity and loyal followers if your user Ebay ID is called jibs1242? (sorry if it really is, I was just making that up).

If you are an artisan, it’s in your best interest to develop and nurture a quality brand. If you’re not sure what brand to use, just use your name. That’s much better than some poorly conceived name that is ineffective. Think Picaso.

Here are some tips related to using your Ebay (or other) user ID as part of your brand strategy:


Signaling in an Ebay auction – what it is and why it matters

As a bidder what you do has meaning behind it. You don’t reveal your intentions publically. So other people can (try to) interpret your intentions by observing how you behave. Signaling is a term that describes how a bidder, (or auctioneer) reveals their intentions before during and after an auction. How they play out there strategy to be successful. What’s important to remember is that it’s not just what you do that provides information, but it’s also how you do it that gives helpful clues to your rival, if you’re the bidder, and to the bidders if you’re the auctioneer.