June 22, 2015

Realizing Big Little Businesses for Craftspeople: Arianne Foulks of Aeolidia

Photograph © Jennifer Boyle.

Storyteller, idea-hatcher, yaysayer Arianne Foulks runs Aeolidia, a web and graphic design studio that has been working with creative handmakers and designers since 2004, helping them put their best foot forward online. Here, she gives her takes on finding a business and making it work.

Depicted in your “‘Big Little’ Business” tagline, I appreciate your focus on small businesses and setting them up for success for the long haul. “The Fortune 5,000,000” is a term I like a lot and use. How would you describe Aeolidia’s kind of clients? And why it’s your preferred kind of clients?

We wanted people to know they were in the right place right when they hit our homepage, so we have the text: “Helping Your Little Business Become a ‘Big Little’ Business.”

Aeolidia brand identity by Mariah DeMarco on the Aeolidia team. Photograph © Jen Lacey.

We work exclusively with designers, handcrafters, makers and artists—here’s a representative persona:
Our dream client came up with a wild idea of a product that she wanted to make, and maybe enlisted a friend to help out, and has been spreading the word about their little business ever since! She values her own hard work, believes in what she does, is willing to invest money when it makes sense, knows when to delegate tasks, wants to increase awareness and sales without getting too big, and has a fun time doing it all! 
She shops local and small internet businesses herself, pins design inspiration on Pinterest, would fit in at the Renegade Craft Fair or Martha Stewart American Made awards, and has an appreciation for things indie, quirky, silly, upbeat. She is optimistic, open, and friendly, feeling that similar businesses are more “colleagues” than “competitors.”
We prefer this type of client because we are interested in and support what they do, and after a decade in business, we have a solid understanding of their challenges and what will help them get where they want to be.

Sketches of Aeolidia client logos by Mariah DeMarco on the Aeolidia team. Photograph © Mariah DeMarco.

When and how did you arrive at the idea of Aeolidia? And how did you keep this idea? Did you write it down? Did you doodle it?

When I went to college, it was 1996, and the internet was finally starting to be something that regular people were using. I tried to use my name as a screen name on campus, but every variation that I could think of was taken. I was at school to study Marine Biology, so I finally tried the Latin name of my favorite nudibranch (sea slug): Aeolidia. It was available, and that’s the user name I continued to use for the rest of my online life. When I started a business, it just seemed to make sense to keep being “me” online with my business.

What were some of the first things you did in taking Aeolidia from an idea to a reality?

I am not a great business role model, as I mostly just let things happen and rolled with it. I started off by making websites for friends, and then friends of friends, barely charging anything. Through one of these jobs, I made a splash in the pre-Etsy craft business crowd, and it snowballed from there. So I didn’t really have an idea that I was going to start a website business, and I didn’t make a plan to make it happen. It all started happening, and I decided to go with it and turn it into a business.

What still feels raw, and this doesn’t mean bad nor good, from when you started Aeolidia until now?

I have never been a businessperson, and we’re missing a lot of that internal structure and business plan/profit goal type stuff. We just focus on doing great work for great people, and let the rest sort itself out.

In running Aeolidia, what are some bona fide “best practices” in working well—in working as best as possible?

Value your clients’ success as highly as you do your own; Value your employees’ time and skills as highly as you do your own; Strive to make something that will work well and be a tool for success, rather than just being pretty; Stay true to what is important to you, and make sure that all you do reflects your values and enthusiasm.

What software/web-based tools that you use and highly recommend?


Is Aeolidia’s “Dream Team” a distributed workforce? And how did find these people?

Yes! I am in Seattle, and my team is in New York, California, Philadelphia, Chicago, Australia, Spain. Mostly everyone either knocked on my virtual door and were a great fit, or they were recommended through my team by word-of-mouth. Personality, enthusiasm, and a willingness to learn are much more important than a particular skill set for me.

Wind & Rye logo and brand by Christine Castro Hughes on the Aeolidia team. Photograph © Laci Sandoval.

Pattern Minded logo and pattern by Margot Harrington on the Aeolidia team.

You made the impressive transition form a web designer and developer to a business owner. Do you miss those web-design-and-development days?

I do not. I thought I would, when I was making the transition, but I am seriously so relieved that I never have to stare down a blank white document for a client again. It is very helpful for me to have had experience in doing the work, because that means that I can have more meaningful technical conversations with my team and clients, but none of those skills are needed for my current responsibilities.

For people who are making a transition from one professional role/discipline to another, how would you advise them?

Don’t do what I did, I guess! Most every big growth move I’ve made has been made reluctantly, and it took a long time to move forward. Because I was so used to doing everything myself, it was hard to hand something completely off to someone else. Every time I added a new task, project, or idea to my plate, it had to compete with all of the other day-to-day work I was already doing. Even when I hired help, it took a long time to step out of the way, and realize clearly which things are a great use of my time versus which things someone else could be doing for me.

Posie brand identity by Mariah DeMarco on the Aeolidia team. Photograph © Jen Lacey.

How do you handle disagreements while you’re working?

I give my team freedom to do things their own way, and disagreements are rare. When there are disagreements, I listen, because I assume a designer or developer on my team is going to have a solid reason for disagreeing. Aeolidia is their company, too, and they always have our clients’ best interests in mind. I take all criticism seriously, and use it as a chance to adjust how we do things to work better.

How do you get the word out about you and Aeolidia’s work? How do you attract customers?

Word-of-mouth has always been our strongest marketing method. A couple of years ago, I began a blog that covers how to put your best foot forward when selling online. That creates a strong interest from new clients, along with our newsletter, which is full of information creative businesses can use themselves to improve their online presence.

Felicette logo and business cards by Sarah Connor on the Aeolidia team. Photograph © Lauren Quinn Ward.

Back to your business’ tagline: What was the process in getting this done? How many iterations did it take to arrive at the final version?

The “big little business” tagline sprang forth as a complete idea right away. But it was too long to be a proper tagline to go with the logo. Our logo tagline (Your Friendly Design Team) took a lot longer to come up with. We all got together as a team to think of a tagline, and spent weeks going back and forth, and considering multiple different words and phrases, and ways we wanted people to feel. We finally settled on a tagline that seemed just right (Your Friendly Design Team), and when I scrolled back to the top of our long message thread, I saw that I had suggested it as a guiding idea to get us started. This just proves that “keep it simple, stupid” will always be great advice. No need to try so hard or try to come up with something that will blow people’s minds. It should just make sense and get your point across.

Siamese Social Club brand identity by Sarah Connor on the Aeolidia team. Photographs © Kristen Cella.

Any other aspects of your company that would be interesting to creative practitioners and aspiring business makers?

My creative business newsletter is timely, helpful, and includes information you may not have thought of. You’ll find tips on making improvements yourself that are simple to take action on, and can improve sales and create interest in your business. Get free help from industry experts and see more of Aeolidia's work on Instagram.

• • •

All images courtesy of Arianne Foulks.

• • •

Read more from Design Feast Series of Interviews with people who love making things.

❤️ Donating = Appreciating: Help keep Design Feast going!

Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture for everyone through hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups. Please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Visit my Patreon page where you can view my goals and reward tiers—starting at $1 per month. Starting your patronage today matters—it’ll help Design Feast remain available, even grow.