Small Business Life

Studio Cotton annual report: it’s the low lows & losses

Close up of Studio Cotton founder Aime with her blonde hair tied up, wearing a brown dress and holding her hand to her mouth
Aime Cox
Founder of Studio Cotton
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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.

Howdy, partner. Welcome to the second part of a short series I’m writing for a bit of an annual report on my web design co, Studio Cotton.

If you didn’t catch the first entry – a rundown of our biggest wins – I’m recapping our eighth year of business. There shall be ins and outs, there shall be gossip and peeks behind our red velvet curtain, there shall be a candid look at my goals, and hopefully there shall also be some insight into small business trends, web design trends, and cheeky predictions to boot.

But before we get back to the good stuff, it’s time for the bad stuff. The very bad, crappy shitty turdalicious stuff.

I hope you’re earnestly anticipating a pretty depressing blog post, because you are in for a treat. In the words of the great Mario Mario, let’s a go.



A very quiet end to 2023

Our web design enquiries have always been quite seasonal and cyclical. February and March almost always mark a full inbox or Dubsado calendar, which I’m totes putting down to business owners like me thinking, “ok, I need to sort this pish out this year FOR SURE”.

The Summer holidays can also be a quieter time, as stakeholders are picnicking in the park and/or downing tapas, rather than dreaming of a glorious new website.

And, up until the end of 2019, November and December would also be quiet months. Ecommerce brands would focus on dispatching orders from the Christmas rush, and service businesses would be making the most of wind-down mode.

I chatted a little about how the pandemic impacted Studio Cotton in the first part of this series, but one thing I didn’t mention is that it totally threw off our business seasons and cycles.

This was almost certainly caused by the lockdowns and lack of predictability. A lot of our small business clients needed to get online fast and get online well, in order to make the most of online shopping and replace income from IRL activities.

The slow winter period went ‘poof’ with November becoming one of our busiest months through 2020 – 2022, and December wasn’t too far behind.

2023 however, that slow season came back. Our inbox was rather bereft of interest, and Dubsado remained thirsty for enquiry submissions.

I was extra embarrassed and worried too as this happened just after we’d just hired Cai. I both wanted to give the impression that we were mega popular, and ya know, have enough work to actually fill the studio. Thankfully things swiftly turned around after Christmas, but it was a tense end to the year.


3 massive ghosts and my best/worst losing streak

We’ve always been quite lucky that most enquirers who reach the stage of a project consultation end up booking in for a new website. Ok, I know it’s not just luck and we try very hard to market and deliver an excellent product, but I do want to admit/emphasise that I am a pretty terrible saleswoman.

However, over late Summer and early Autumn 2023 we received 3 enquiries for very large website projects, including two double-website projects. One was a bit of a dream brand for me, and they had some really unique website challenges that I was itching to get my teeth into.

And then, ‘poof’.

All three disappeared into the ether.

I think this is a good spot for a quick tangent into how ‘dead’ enquiries can impact a business like Studio Cotton.

Every open enquiry is something we need to manage, discuss, and follow up on – not including the actual time spent on the phone, in meetings, and travelling to meet potential clients.

I know it’s part of doing business so I can’t really complain, but it’d be so much easier/quicker/money-saving to just get an email that said:


“Hey Studio Cotton,

Thank you for your time but we’ve decided to go in a different direction.

All the best,

Nice Person

PS. Aime is the best”


The last line is optional. I guess.


Struggling & closing small business clients

Working predominantly with independent small businesses means that we probably see more businesses come-and-go than your average web design company.

This last year has felt particularly cruddy though. I literally started writing this blog two days ago, and since then one of our longest standing clients has let us know they’ll be closing their business too.

I won’t pretend like I’m not sad that we lose out on revenue from cancelled retainers and return business, but with all sincerity, the biggest low low here is empathising with what these business owners will be going through.

As a small business owner myself, I know that our business is personal. Tough decisions weigh heavy on the soul, and the affect on emotions are akin to that time I went HangTime in Knotts Berry Farm, and discovered that I now (rather terrifyingly) white out on intense rollercoasters.

It’s shit. I don’t like it. Boo. Hiss.


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.


Failing to secure the vacant property grant after ~7 months of waiting

At the moment, if you lease a new commercial property in some areas of Bristol you can be eligible for the vacant commercial property grant.

The stipend of up to £10k is intended to fund renovations, making it easier for small businesses to open and expand.

When we signed the lease for our new premises at the end of last Summer, almost the very first thing we did was apply for the grant. Whilst the location of our new studio is incredible and there is endless potential, we also have non-optimal features, like:

  • A lack of kitchen, meaning we do our washing up in the loo sink
  • The wonkiest floorboards with no flooring atop
  • No heating and single glazed retail frontage, a classic combo
  • Salad bowls instead of light fixtures. Seriously.


We have planned to fix all of this – and so much more – but the reality is that will come with a cost. I would much rather spend that money on hiring one or two more employees, over improving a space that I am only guaranteed to occupy for a few years.

Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in our application, and never received clarification as to the exact reason why.

The real kicker is that this rejection came like 6-7 months after applying, leaving us stuck in reno limbo. If we had been successful, the grant wouldn’t be able to be applied to any works that came before the approval, so we couldn’t risk starting too soon.

Alex, our technical director (and my husband) spent hours chasing the council during this time, including providing additional documents and information as requested. Bristol City Council are very much in my bad books for not just rejecting us straight away, and saving us oodles of strife.


Rejected as a speaker for The Podcast Show

Maybe this one isn’t a low low, more like an elbow to the bicep than a kick to the ovaries. At the end of next month in May 2024, Studio Cotton will be exhibiting at The Podcast Show London to promote our highly refined podcast website design package.

Here’s a description of the event as cheekily nabbed from The Podcast Show London website:


The Podcast Show is an international festival and showcase of the global podcast industry – welcoming over 10,000 people across the show’s day and nighttime activities in this fast-booming sector – from industry pros and independent creators, major talent, to business leaders, brands & advertisers.


It’s definitely the most expensive risk we’ve taken in the business (excluding our office space) so I’m seriously hoping a tonne of podcasters fancy using a lovely new website to monetise the heck out of their content and grow their audience.

Anywhosie. As well as booking the exhibition space, I put myself forward to host a talk on my fav topic of monetising an independent podcast using a website, as well as joining any panels to chat about my specialist subjects.

Alas, I was unsuccessful. It’s a lil knock to my ego that I didn’t want before the show.


Burnout, again

The good news is that I don’t suffer from burnout as often as I used to. The bad news is that I am, as of writing literally right now, kinda recovering from another serious bought of the burnies.

I have a rather unhealthy relationship with work, and can be almost obsessive about being productive.

However, when I work relentlessly and try to maintain maximum productivity, it’s totes inevitable that my mind and body just break.

It’s that feeling of the perpetual spinny rainbow fella that appears on my Mac when I have too many apps open. Or just running Photoshop on a bad day. What is Photoshop’s problem anyway?!

And to make it worse, my current strategy for ‘defeating’ burnout is currently just powering through, which is likely why I never feel like my brain is reaching it’s full potential.

Either that, or I’m just obscenely hard on myself. But that’s only what my friends, family, and medical professionals have said.

Burnout is one of the reasons why Studio Cotton runs a four-day week, and why I’ll be making some serious changes going into our ninth year (which you’ll have to read about in one of the next entries in this series).



Utterly disastrous branding project

Oh golly gosh to betsies, where do I even start with this one. I could write an entire blog article about how utterly bizarre and calamitous our recent attempt at rebranding went.

I’ve also debated not writing about it at all as I am most certainly not looking to open a she-said/she-said situation, or start another small internet beef, which – if you’ve followed me for a while – yes, I will be chatting about that Instagram post in a future article.

However, the experience has lead to some major reflection and changes I need to make, so it felt like too important a story to skip over.

This Spring was the right time for a rebrand – we needed a tonne of graphics and illustrations for shop signage and our podcast show exhibition, and I wasn’t enjoying how much we were blending in with some of our competitors.

So the rebrand started by when I spied an incredibly talented designer on Instagram via a recent branding project they’d completed.

The designer had a bangin’ portfolio, and I providing a thorough brief with annotated examples of what we would (and would not) want, as well as checking all the small business boxes with boring stuff like checking contract terms before we booked in.

Unfortunately, we just never seemed to be on the same page.

The designer provided some ideas that were totally outside of the briefed direction, and repeated rounds of illustrations based on concepts that we had specifically ruled out as not being relevant, or being culturally inappropriate.

From my point of view, our feedback wasn’t being taken into consideration, and I think from their point of view, my feedback wasn’t good enough.

I had put this friction down to a clash of communication and working styles. When the designer voiced their deep frustrations, I suggested we open a conversation about parting amicably.

And in response, they booted me off the project management system, and ghosted us.

Oh golly gosh to betsies, how I wish we’d ended there. Alas, having an open contract with an absent supplier isn’t a risk I’m willing to accept. All I needed was something in an email to say the project was over, and a mutual agreement of what should be exchanged.

So I popped an email over, and in response I got a whole heap of petty grievances, hurtful comments, and an opinion that was so mindbogglingly unsavoury it couldn’t be read out loud.

It has now officially ended, it’s just a very expensive and time-consuming low low that I hoped I would avoid in my eighth year of business.



Well there ya have it. I hope you got the depressing article you expected 😅

We’ll get on to more positive bits and bobs in the next installment in my annual report series, and if you haven’t read it yet, maybe treat yourself to a palate cleanser with Studio Cotton annual report: biggest wins of our 8th year. See ya next time.

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