Small Business Life

Studio Cotton annual report: biggest wins of our 8th year

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Aime Cox
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This article and all others on the Studio Cotton blog are written by humans. Please enjoy our opinions, expertise, advice, experiences, and typos.

Happy birthday, Studio Cotton. 8 years and one day ago my small business was officially incorporated with Companies House, marking that date as our business birthday.

Without fail, I’ve always intended to make our anniversary a thing, and I always fail miserably. A real highlight was in 2020, when I very almost booked a pottery painting afternoon and was so proud of myself for sorting it out in early March. And then, ya know, 2020 happened…

Anyway! This year, I am still yet to rebook that pottery painting expedition, but I am at least finding the time to write up a new annual report. Or I guess, an octannual report.

It’s a little insight into Studio Cotton with our wins, losses, thoughts, predictions and probs some gossip too. Now, I fully intended to make this a single blog post, but alas I am one wordy lady.

So for now, enjoy my seven biggest wins from our eighth year, and I’ll see you in the next post for the darker side of small business life.

 

 

Hiring our client manager, Cai Burton

Last Summer was a bit of a season of change. Our long time freelance business manager (and close friend of mine) Jodie of Sunshine for Breakfast, wanted to give more time to her wonderful creative coaching venture.

Of course I was selfishly very sad because I love being in the same room as Jodie, but ya can’t ever begrudge someone for following their own path.

At the same time, I was struggling more than ever staying on top of client communications, website amends and those recurring jobs that always get swept to the bottom of the to-do list.

So we put out an ad for a client manager who could take over Jodie’s responsibilities and lighten my load, as well as being our first ‘proper’ PAYE hire.

We we inundated with applications from incredible candidates, and I’ll be honest – I was beyond flattered that so many incredible, talented, experienced people wanted to work at Studio Cotton.

Cai stood out from the start as a calming, organised presence who not only had a solid foundation and a buttload of relevant experience, but also the drive and desire to learn as much about small business websites as he possibly could.

I have joked with Cai a few times that we kinda kept trying to trip him up and find his weaknesses during the recruitment process, and failed miserably.

This meant I had mega high expectations for Cai joining the team, and the toerag only went and ruddy exceeded them at every opportunity.  Ok, apart from blogging. We did find a bit of a weakness eventually.

I’m literally writing this post right now as Cai is 2.5 weeks into a 3 week holiday, and I’m wondering how I ever coped without him. So growing our team and finding such a superstar has to be one of the biggest wins of the last year, and defo in the top 10 ever.

 

We became a Living Wage Employer

One of my business goals is to compensate my team generously, and be known as a company that pays well.

We’ve been making steps towards this for a few years, like implementing our minimum freelancer rate, campaigning against spec work, and rejecting suppliers that sell services at an hourly rate under the living wage.

With the hiring of Cai, we thought it was a great chance to make things official and become a Living Wage Employer.

This accreditation shows we’ve committed to paying all current and future team members the Living Wage, as well doing all that we can to ensure contractors are also able to receive a Living Wage.

The downside is that the Living Wage Employer badge is not on brand, so it really sticks out in our website footer. Maybe they’ll release a cute pink one in the future.

 

An 'before' shot of the exterior of our Old City studio at 63 Broad Street, Bristol BS1 2EJ. Studio Cotton is photographed straight on. It has white walls and large windows at the front of the building.

Securing the lease for 63 Broad Street

Another one of my business goals has always been to have an office with cute retail frontage, and we achieved the heck out of that goal in our eighth year.

As we neared the end of the lease for our previous studio – a whole 2 minute walk away – a chance conversation with Jonny, one of the owners of Full Court Press, lead us to getting an inside scoop on this incredible space in probably the best spot in central Bristol.

Previously the home of the Full Court Press coffee roastery, Jonny and his team literally couldn’t fit a big enough coffee roaster through the front door.

Luckily our laptops are much smaller, so as they secured a new spot just outside the city centre, we swooped in and are slowly turning 63 Broad Street into our home.

“But does it small like coffee?” – I’ve been answering this question a lot. Weirdly, roasting beans smell wayyyy more like toast that coffee, and yes – it did take at least 3 months to get rid of that interesting odour.

PS. We’re a bunch of coffee shop lovers at Studio Cotton, so check out our local favourites (including Full Court Press) in a rundown from our content producer, Lyzi.

 

Best month ever: March 2024

The pandemic was terrible for a buttload of reasons. It was very much not-terrible for a web design company with a reputation for getting small businesses online swiftly and effectively.

Business calmed down a lot post-pandemic, until March of this year – just a few weeks ago – when we hit a totally unexpected record monthly income.

Now, I will say that it was a big coincidence that a lot of clients happened to have some instalments and balances due, but we also saw a flurry of new enquiries and bookings, especially for SEO blog content.

It’s definitely not sustained, but my golly gosh I appreciated the high of seeing a big number in our client tracking system.

 

Launch of Inspos: a new blogging format for our clients

For a lot of small businesses – especially service businesses – blogging can be the easiest and most reliable way to positively impact search engine optimisation.

It’s a topic we blog about all the time, and can totes vouch for it, as a tiny business with around 5 million search impressions a year from our blog content.

However, blogging is time consuming, and our web design clients would have similar feedback that as much as they want to blog, they really struggle to finish (or even start) their posts.

In response, we made our creatively named Inspos. Ok, the real story is that ‘inspo’ was the working title, and we never got round to finding something ‘proper’ instead.

In short, an Inspo differs from a standard blog post (like the one you’re reading right now) by fully leaning in to the list format.

Instead of crafting a juicy story, Inspos are designed to be a longer list of snappier entries that almost write themselves.

To compare, check out that coffee shop rundown I mentioned earlier, a list of the technology we use to create our websites, or 41 content ideas for your listicle – which is an article I wrote to sell our Inspos package to our clients.

As it turns out, our clients can’t get enough of Inspos. We’ve had feedback that they’re so much quicker and easier to write, fun to update, and lend themselves better to being creative with blogging topics.

Here’s a selection of our client Inspos if you wanna check them out too:

 

Launch of podcast website design service

Back in 2023, we launched websites for Nikky Lyle Creative and Resilient Retail Club – two wonderful independent businesses from founders who also host their own podcasts.

As part of those projects, I built a custom WordPress set-up with some cool features like styled player buttons, pitching guidance, sponsor call outs, toggled transcripts, and a way to ‘bank’ podcast guests so that if the same people were on multiple episodes, our clients wouldn’t need to copy and paste the same data over and over.

Long story short (but here’s a link to the long story which I’ve also blogged about, of course) I decided to further flesh out these features into a full website platform that is optimised to grow listeners through bangin’ SEO, and monetise the heck out of podcast content.

I cannot emphasise enough how proud I am of this product, because it’s so so so so much better than anything I have found on the market.

The downside: nobody has bought it yet.

I have faith though – so much so that next month, you’ll find Studio Cotton at The Podcast Show in London. It’s our first ever exhibition, so here’s hoping that it appears on next year’s wins list.

 

Companie Sessions #1: the first small business event in a series of 1 (so far)

I love running events and being on stage. Basically, I love attention. All eyes on me, babbbbyyyyyy.

Companie Sessions #1 was a roaring success (which massively exceeded my ticket sales expectations) with a glorious panel of Beck from Prior Shop, Therese of Small Business Collaborative and my bestie, Emma of Stitching Me Softly.

We had in in-depth talk about due diligence, risks, and our own experiences.

I am gagggggging to continue the series. The original plan was to move the event from Prior Shop to our Broad Street studio. Alas, we haven’t been able to do that. Yet.

 

Giving the “best SEO talk” at Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement is a bi-monthly marketing meet-up here in Bristol, organised by the glorious Shonette Laffy. I attended their event in November 2023, and thanks to Cai’s incredible ability to strike a conversation with everyone, found myself booked give a talk on SEO for their March 2024 event.

Now, like I said a moment ago, I love being on stage. This is my element – except on this occasion, I was (to put it v. professionally) shitting bricks.

For a bit of background, a few years earlier I had poo-pooed networking within Bristol’s marketing community.

I’d attended an event held by Bristol Media (now Bristol Creative Industries) where their chairman, a man who I had previously worked with, made some unsolicited belittling comments towards me and my business.

I left that network then and there, as it was most certainly not a behaviour or attitude with which I wished to be associated. And, even though I knew that kind of interaction was not appropriate or warranted, it still totally knocked my confidence.

See, my biggest insecurity as a business owner is an imposter-syndrome-adjacent worry that I’m just ‘playing’ business.

The comments of this peer – someone I thought was a friendly professional acquaintance, a leader of my community – were basically the exact right (or wrong?) thing to say for kinda exploding that worry within me.

Rules of Engagement are not associated with Bristol Creative Industries, but I was still worried that I was walking back into a room through a door I’d chosen to shut years before.

I nervously powered through 15 minutes on how to master SEO, soothed a little by the audience laughter at my silly jokes and sickenin’ PowerPoint animations – enter the Q&A, and the first question, which began with…

“Firstly, I just want to say that was the best SEO talk I’ve heard…”

I cannot tell you how much that meant to me. It genuinely felt kinda like a monumental personal achievement – or as my Pixar-loving PT would say, it created a core memory.

Big thank you to Ash of Rebellious Co for that comment, I appreciate it so so so much.

 


 

And that’s all I have to kick us off. Come back soon to find out about our biggest losses, my predictions, and our goals going into our ninth year.

In the meantime, send me a DM on Instagram with any questions you think I should cover in this short series – my 8-year tired brain would love your ideas and input 🙂

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