I’ve been a fan of 91 Magazine since I first laid eyes on it back in 2017, when I worked in super stylish Bristol based homeware shop, Mon Pote. The pages were full of gorgeous interiors inspiration and lovely independent businesses – it was the perfect magazine to flick through during a customer lull, and I spent my wages on taking a copy or two home too.
Our own workspace at Studio Cotton was featured in volume 9 of 91 Magazine back in Spring 2020 – I remember a copy landing on my doorstep and brightening up a lockdown day quite significantly, though it really made me miss this parquet-floored, plant-filled, pink-walled place of work.
Since then, Studio Cotton founder Aime has contributed to a couple of articles for the 91 website – 7 transformational tips for marketing a creative workshop and Love What You Do: Aime Cox of Studio Cotton, a lovely Q&A kinda like this one you’re reading, but different.
And speaking of the 91 Magazine website – Studio Cotton built it. A big task was presented to us – to create a website that was optimised for selling the magazine, but also felt like a magazine in itself, with all the brilliant articles perfectly organised – and I reckon we bloody smashed it. Just take a look at the 91 Magazine website for yourself.
Anyway, enough about us. Here’s what Caroline had to say about her small business journey.
1. Why did you start 91 Magazine?
I’ve always loved magazines, but had never imagined it would be a possibility to start my own. I studied photography at university, but when I came to the end of my degree I knew I didn’t want to become a photographer but that I wanted to work with images, ideally in publishing.
I worked in the industry for around 7 years (some of that as the picture editor on the Financial Times Weekend House & Home supplement) and during that time I got into blogging. Immersing myself in the world of interiors, as this is what my blog focused on, I started to get a little bored of the mainstream magazines that had previously inspired me.
I felt there was a gap in the market for a magazine that showcased creative interiors that were attainable to people like me on a small budget, but who wanted a stylish interior.
I discovered a few American and Australian online magazines, and realised that perhaps that could be an option for me – to create the first UK online interiors magazine. My plan was always to produce a print magazine, but starting online was a great way to test the water and grow a readership.
2. How did you come up with the name of your small business?
It’s not really that exciting a story if I’m honest – 91 was the house number of the first home that my husband and I owned. The first property I was able to put my own design stamp on, and it was where I launched the magazine from – working on it every evening from our tiny spare bedroom.
3. What is your personal favourite product and why?
I absolutely love our Special Anniversary Edition that we put together (during the pandemic, might I add) to celebrate 10 years since I started 91 Magazine. It was a bumper issue of 200 pages, and had a gorgeous fold out cover with gold foiling.
I’m sold out of print copies of it now (although I think you might find a few floating around with some of our stockists if you’re lucky) but it’s still available on our website in digital format. It was an absolute joy to put together and I feel it encapsulates everything that 91 Magazine is about.
4. What’s your bestselling product, and why do you think it’s so popular?
Our magazine bundles have started to become a firm favourite. You can buy a few different editions together and it makes it cheaper per copy, and also makes the postage fee slighter cheaper too. I think perhaps people come across the latest edition in a shop for example and then come to the website and buy up the last few issues that they’d missed.
5. What’s the loveliest thing a customer or fan has said about 91 Magazine that still makes you smile now?
I have readers tell me that 91 is the only print magazine they buy these days and that really means a lot. I too had stopped buying as many magazines as I used to, as I just didn’t feel inspired by them anymore. To hear that 91 Magazine compels people to buy print magazines again is really wonderful. Keep print alive 🙂
6. Tell us about a significant turning point that positively impacted 91 Magazine
Definitely taking the leap from being online only to print, which, at the time, seemed like the opposite to what most mainstream titles were doing.
91 Magazine was initially free to read when I started it online, but I soon realised it wouldn’t be a sustainable business in that form, so I started to charge for downloads. The readership dropped off a cliff, people just weren’t keen to pay for digital content, so it wasn’t until I decided to take the plunge and go into print that it really became a ‘proper’ business.
7. What’s a terribly unlovely thing that you’ve experienced that might have had unintended positive consequences?
For around the first 8 editions that I printed, every time the order arrived from the printers, there would be a problem with them – marks on the cover was a regular one.
I changed printers numerous times and it was a steep learning curve. I learnt so much though, and it helped me to be more considered about who I chose to print the magazine. I’ve been with the same printers now since 2020 and it’s always worked out well.
8. Sing the praises about an organisation or professional that helped you on your small business journey (and let us know how)
In the very early years of 91 Magazine, I was freelancing a bit with Immediate Media in Bristol, particularly on Mollie Makes magazine when Lara Watson was the editor. She was hugely supportive of me, along with one of the publishers at Immediate – Katherine Raderecht.
They commissioned me as a guest editor on two Mollie Makes bookazines, and even let me include a mini ‘sample’ of 91 Magazine in the second one. It was amazing experience and exposure for me, and they’ve both given me loads of valuable advice over the years.
9. Tell us about a step you’ve taken to make 91 Magazine more lovely
I’ve recently had a wonderful new website created by Studio Cotton of course, which I absolutely love and has made our archive of content much easier to navigate.
This year, I also signed up with Work For Good who help businesses donate to charities in a really straightforward way. I’d wanted to support a variety of charities through my business for a while, and I love how you can run a fundraising campaign for one charity for a period of time and then you can choose another charity to support.
Earlier this year we raised money for Bowel Cancer UK, after my mum was diagnosed with the disease in March. At the moment, we are fundraising for Mind, the mental health charity, donating 50p of every print sale of Volume 14 until the end of October.
10. What’s a lovely thing you have planned for the next 12 months of running your small business?
We’ve just started up our Creative Sessions again after having a bit of a break this year. These are online workshops, generally covering small business topics, hosted by industry experts. They are broadcast live initially but then the recording is available to purchase at any time afterwards.
We have had over 700 students attend the previous sessions since 2020, so I’m really excited to get these up and running again.
11. As recommended by you
We asked Caroline to recommend 3 podcasts, blogs, or Instagram accounts that she’d recommend to other small business owners…
I recently worked with Georgina to improve my email marketing and she was amazing to work with. She focuses on telling authentic small business stories and has a really gentle approach to marketing.
I’m a big fan of Emma Gannon’s podcast, books and Substack emails. She’s a great writer with a focus on work, wellbeing, joy, and creativity.
I love a snoop round the homes featured on The Modern House – they have a great blog with lots of lovely content.