Ecommerce business owner Lucy Estherby infuses her own infectiously positive personality into her breathtaking brand, Acorn & Pip. In this article, she shares her top 10 tips that have enabled her to grow from a pop-up shop to profitable online brand.
Acorn & Pip is an ecommerce brand marketing sustainable, organic and design-led children’s clothes, decor and toys.
Lucy is a teacher by trade. She wanted to sell children’s products as a side hustle but realised her business was going to be more profitable than that. One year in, she now runs Acorn & Pip full-time.
“My business started while I was on maternity leave. It’s a time when new mums and dads enter the world of parenthood and it actually gave me time to sit down and think about what was important to me. I was a teacher, so I didn’t get much time to think outside the box. Motherhood gave me a sense of freedom and time to explore ideas, and I was struck by the lack of ethical toys and clothes available.”
Based in Manchester, England, Lucy never saw herself as a ‘businesswoman’. She wanted to solve the problem of overconsumption in children’s toys and clothes.
“Small business usually springs out of a need. So many products are cheap, the majority ending up in a landfill after a few uses. It occurred to me I couldn’t be the only parent having this thought. I started trading at Altrincham Market in Manchester and testing some toys, without really thinking it would turn into an online store. Then it started to do really well, and I got a buzz from it.”
Lucy’s 10 tips for growing a successful ecommerce brand
1. Know your target audience
A key ingredient to success for any ecommerce brand, and businesses in general, is knowing exactly who your audience is. In Lucy’s case, it’s other parents just like her.
“My audience is made up of parents aged 24 – mid-40s, though it’s hard to gauge online as I don’t capture that data. I know that it’s mainly women based on my interactions. While I do have men come to my pop-up stalls, again I mainly get women. This is one of the reasons love doing the pop-ups because you finally get to meet your customers and have a face-to-face interaction. It’s like customer research!”
Acorn & Pip’s unique selling point is the combination of design-led children’s products produced ethically and sustainably. Such quality inevitably comes with a price tag that’s not within everyone’s budget.
“Most of my customers have a certain outlook. They are conscious or mindful buyers who don’t mind spending more to buy a quality product. They like to know their purchase is unique. Of course, mass-produced products do hold a place, but sustainability is about looking into the supply chain.”
People generally understand that quality costs more, but items can be kept in a family and passed down. It’s not about criticising people for making a certain choice, but providing another option.
Lucy’s business was so popular that she was able to take it online and sell more products than she could have running physical pop-ups.
2. Use the power of imagery
As she runs the business by herself, Lucy relies heavily on tools like Canva to help her market Acorn & Pip. When we asked to interview her, she confessed that she thought it was because she’d been using Canva too much.
The great thing about an independent creative business is that anyone is capable of launching one and these days designing their own marketing materials.
Lucy’s passion for design is reflected in her unique brand, and she takes inspiration from other brands on social media too.
“An online store is all about imagery because you don’t have a physical space. Instagram shows the aesthetic of Acorn & Pip. It’s important to put your brand out there as an experience for people to enjoy.”
Creating an ‘experience’ for your audience is not something that will come easily right away, but you can learn how to delight people online using the power of imagery and design.
Imagery is a huge part of a successful ecommerce brand and Lucy works with professional family portrait photographer Anna Hardy to achieve the Acorn & Pip look. Anna is renowned for taking informal shots of children and their families, so she’s the perfect partner for Lucy’s brand.
All businesses require investment, and you need to make the call when to partner with another professional to create that vital look for your ecommerce brand. Other times, your smartphone and the right software might be all you need.
3. Build a strong brand with quality marketing materials
“I’m in the middle of a project at the moment. I wish I had more of a design background and skills with Adobe Suite, but my prayers were answered when I discovered Canva. I could do stuff I had in my head, but lacked the technical abilities to produce. I could make all my banners, pictures and mail outs with Canva. It perfectly suits me and my capabilities.”
Lucy is a self-confessed Canva addict. She was dissatisfied with how long it took her to create marketing materials before she found Canva. Working with designers took too long, and she was struggling to express her creative vision.
Get the look with this Grey Minimalist Baby Announcement Facebook Cover template on Canva.
Professional designs are an essential component of any marketing strategy, but it can be a struggle to get it right if you’re producing everything yourself. Lacking any formal training, you can end up with results that are less than satisfying.
“Using Canva is really easy. It allows me to be creative without the stress of troubleshooting everything I’m doing. With Canva, the pictures are good enough quality and pixel size is correct. It’s even good enough to print out marketing materials, which is a huge plus. I just use an iPhone to take most photos and they’re not pixelated. I use different editing software and then import my images into Canva.”
For busy ecommerce business owners, ease and efficiency is essential.
I worked with a digital agency to produce my designs at first, but then I discovered Canva, so I brought my designs in-house.
“The current photos I’m using are from a shoot with Anna when we did an Autumn Winter lookbook together. I use Canva to overlay the text and my set templates.”
While professional photo shoots are essential for any serious ecommerce brand, you can also just use a top of the range smartphone for your regular social media images. Import your own images into Canva, or choose from the gallery images, for a creative and varied look.
“Canva is better for Acorn & Pip as I need to have creative control over my website, rather than spending days sending emails back and forth with an agency. I can easily create exactly what I’m seeing in my head instead of trying to explain it to someone else.”
Canva empowers its users to take full control over their designs without investing a lot of time and effort learning how to use complicated software.
The Canva interface is intuitive and easy to use, something even the most tech-phobic among us can master in a matter of minutes. This enables any business owner to become a designer and express their creativity.
4. Maintain consistency in your social media strategy
“Every business has a social media strategy and if you stick to it, it really does pay off.
“I enjoy social media, and I love taking pictures to put on Instagram to see the reaction. I like that creative side of it. Over the years I’ve been doing Acorn & Pip, I’ve realised how different the social media channels actually are. Twitter is great for promoting new blog posts but not much else for me.”
“My customers mainly hang out on Instagram and Facebook, where you can also promote your brand values. My most successful channel is Instagram for showing the aesthetic and values of Acorn & Pip, while Facebook is good for marketing the basic product.”
No one can post something on Instagram and expect their brand to take off instantly. The key to success on social media is committing to a long-term strategy.
The social media landscape is also constantly changing. If you love your business, you’ll enjoy being creative with the various platforms, and seeing what works for you.
5. Understand what drives engagement on your social media channels
“Its been easier for me to get my brand out there on all the social media channels other than Pinterest, which is a totally different social media channel.
“It’s good to be able to reinforce what products you’ve got and why you’ve chosen them. I am my own customer so I can speak from my own point of view. I buy products from the brands I value and I’m able to share that passion.”
It’s more than just posting on social media and wishing for engagement. Your true passion and authenticity will be what drives engagement from your growing audience.
“It can be quite exhausting to be 100% on top of the world in every post. Sometimes you want to post about being a bit tired or grumpy, and that’s fine too. That allows the personal side of your brand to come out, because it’s a one-man-band, just me in my dining room. This is what business looks like in the modern day.
“Instagram allows you to show how authentic your business is, and what it means when people buy from you. It shows how people are supporting a different level of society when they buy a product.”
6. Take inspiration for your posts from other businesses
“It’s a constant challenge to think of new content to share, and to produce original designs. I keep an eye on what other businesses are doing to make sure I’m on trend. I then combine this with looking at other industries to create my unique look.”
Lucy creates a signature visual style for Acorn & Pip that is both aesthetically-pleasing and memorable. It’s defined by monochrome, strong pastels, stripes and minimalism, perfectly showcasing the products she sells.
I read a lot of different blogs and magazines to find out what’s relevant. Inspiration for photo shoots and Instagram posts come from being part of the community.
“Bookish Bronte is an Instagram account I follow. You can take some really cool ideas from other industries and how they portray their photos of books, for example. It helps you stay original.”
You can dip your toe in other industries outside your core area of business to keep your ideas fresh and unique. Be as authentic to your own brand as possible.
7. Adapt to change and be flexible
“Being a small business owner has so many challenges. You’re small, so you often get overlooked in favour of big brands, and it can be hard to gain traction on Instagram. I’ve noticed recently that the adverts showing up on my Instagram feed are only for big brands.
“Small businesses used to have more organic exposure on channels like Instagram, but now brands with more money have an advantage. My reach is dwindling because Instagram wants you to pay, and we don’t have that sort of money. That’s a challenge because Instagram is community-based and I really love it.”
Get the look in Canva with this Photo Birthday Instagram Post.
Social media platforms are almost inevitably going to be monetized, and all social media marketers have to stay on their feet. Lucy belongs to a support group of women who regularly discuss how to overcome these sorts of challenges.
“We’re adapting how we approach our social media strategies, because social media platforms are changing the way you need to run your business. Having more followers gives you access to certain premium features.”
But at the end of the day, it’s not about having the most followers. It’s about engaging with your community.
“Cash flow is also a challenge in small business, as is the need to wear so many different hats. On a single day, I will go from website design, to stock buying, to marketing and finance. On the other hand, that’s also a huge perk as well.”
8. Find product inspiration on social media
“Social media is really good for inspiration. Instagram means you can message people to ask about their products. I get to vet people and where things are made.”
Product-buying is one of the key parts of running Acorn & Pip, as Lucy’s business is a portal connecting conscious parents or gift-buyers with design-led ethical products for children. Lucy spends a lot of time researching the products she stocks, as she has to make sure every single one is sustainably and organically produced.
“Pinterest is good for discovery and inspiration and it’s so much more visual than other mediums. It’s an overload for the senses. When you find something you like, you hunt for who made that product. You can even search Pinterest on your phone while you’re cooking lunch. It’s the perfect way to combine product research with looking after a family!
“I also go to trade shows, but that takes more time, and most of them take place over three days. These shows target independent businesspeople who are trying to get their own name out there, so it’s more like a partnership. You’ve usually seen those brands on Instagram already.”
Sustainable and visually-appealing children’s products are Lucy’s passion, and she lives and breathes Acorn & Pip. Inspiration can be found anywhere you look, whether that’s on an ever-present smartphone, in local shops, or more formal industry events.
9. Remember to enjoy the journey
Anyone interested in building an ecommerce brand has to be prepared to work very hard.
“Acorn & Pip is full-time but I supplement my income with exam marking. I can’t remember those nights that I used to just relax in front of the TV, as running your own business takes over your whole life.
You just keep on going even when you feel tired, and you don’t necessarily have time off. I came to realise that it’s not about the money, but having enough to live comfortably.
When it comes to running your own ecommerce brand, it’s not a race to the top. Everyone’s path to success will be different, and if you keep comparing yourself to others, that will be the death of joy.
“I’m only in my fifteenth month of business. It’s good to take it slowly because it’s not a competition, and you need to make sure you enjoy the journey. It’s a learning curve. Everyone on Instagram could be seen as your competitor, and you have to be disciplined not to feel that way.
“You will find your customers and it will be worth the wait. It’s hard to reach your target audience due to the financial investment at first, but remember they will find you. It’s like showing up and a party and expecting everyone to know you straight away. It doesn’t work like that.”
10. Understand that your ecommerce brand is more than a website
“It’s an interesting game and I don’t know if I know enough to give my opinion. My online store runs well but it’s important not to overthink it. If you want to break into the industry then you need to understand it’s more than a website.
“Once you’ve got your product and service offering right, there’s so much more work to do. When you’ve got your own website and channels it becomes about the brand. You have to develop all your channels and put the time into it.”
It’s more about the brand and building your own customer base rather than relying on a third party seller. Make sure people understand who you are, what you do and why. It’s so rewarding when people contact you and love what you stand for.
“Success is to do with your mindset. It’s hard but worth it. ”
It’s notoriously difficult to launch an ecommerce business, but Lucy shows that it can be done, and well.
Acorn & Pip demonstrates how, no matter what background you have, or whether you feel you have the right ‘skills’, anyone can run a successful ecommerce business.
We hope you take Lucy’s fantastic tips away and use them to create something amazing yourself.