Making Changes after the Portfolio Review
By Kate Marsden and Jehane Boden Spiers
I know you’ve all been clinging to the edges of your seats since last month’s post all about portfolio reviews! What did I do? What did Jehane actually have to say about my work and the way I present it? Well, here goes…!
I should reiterate that we were chatting for AGES and Jehane did cover off a number of things I already had in mind, but had done nothing about. My main takeaways (and most importantly actions!) from our meeting were as follows:
1. The name Made By Mrs M. Now I’ve struggled with this one for a while. Jehane thought it was perhaps a little too anonymous, I’d already been thinking that maybe it wasn’t that appropriate for what I do anymore – but as people know it I’ve been reluctant to change.
The anonymity was intentional as when I started out I still had a day job, and wasn’t supposed to do any other work without written permission, so I didn’t want to shout too loud! But that no longer applies and hasn’t for ages.
ACTION: I’m going to slowly move away from it and start using my own name (if you’ve exchanged emails with me recently you will have seen I’ve already changed my email footer – starting small!). This could be costly as it involves printing costs – change of domain name etc. so I’ll be taking my time.
2. A cohesive portfolio. Everyone says you should only add your best work to your portfolio – so I did (or at least thought I had). This did however include some things I thought were pretty good, but as Jehane pointed out, didn’t really fit with the rest of my work. I’m generally known for a graphic, mid-century style and for buildings – so the figurative works (and drawing of my cat) had to go!
ACTION: Look at every item in my portfolio – does it need to be there? Does it work with everything else, and is it really good enough. I did this and ended up with a VERY sparse set of work! This then led to a second action which I’m still working on, which is producing lots of new work for the purpose of strengthening my portfolio. Things that work and fit but that are new and different. I’m adding to it almost every week – here it is at the moment.
3. Who am I? Yes, I know I ask myself that all the time!! It’s back to the anonymous Mrs M thing a little, but Jehane felt that my website wasn’t really revealing much about me and who I am – that it needed a bit more personality injecting into it. A bit more about my why and how.
ACTION: Rewrite my about page and share more of myself. The about page rewrite happened a few weeks ago (let me know what you think, it's here) and those of you who follow me on Instagram will see I’m being a bit bolder and sharing my face a lot more often! I’m also working on some wordier blog posts, and a few more personal insights to share generally.
4. Showing off my work. My work tends to fit into two strands – fabric design and illustration (which sometimes cross over). Jehane and I discussed some possible ideas for alternative ways to show off my fabrics and to give potential customers ideas for what they could make with them.
ACTION: I’m planning more tutorials for my blog (and possibly reworking some old ones if I’m stuck for ideas – I’ve only managed one new tutorial so far!). Aiming to make some more things with my fabrics myself and also considering getting other people to make items which I can share.
5. Feedback. Jehane pointed out the lack of customer feedback on my website – in particular for my custom illustrations and house portraits (which incidentally I’m really not shouting about enough – I want and need to do lots more of them!). I’d been relying almost exclusively on my Etsy feedback, which if nothing else is risky (what if Etsy went bust…where would all of my valuable feedback go?).
ACTION: I’ve started harvesting some of my best Etsy feedback, and also going through old emails to find nice quotes to anonymously add to my website. I’m planning to do more of this and to scatter some general quotes across my site for people to see. I’m also planning to contact some of the customers who have placed bigger/more complex orders to ask them for longer testimonials to share.
Now this wouldn’t be a truly transparent, baring myself to you all kind of a process if I didn’t ask Jehane for her thoughts on how I’m getting on, and whether I’m heading in the right direction! Over to you Jehane…
It’s excellent to see how you have reflected on my portfolio review. You’ve done a great job at thinking it through and have made some really strong decisions as a result. It’s so positive to see that you have identified clear action points in order to take your work forward. It’s not easy to look deeper and it’s positive to see that you are approaching a potential “re-brand” with such an open mind and with a realisitic plan in place.
Whilst you have ended up with a lot less work in your portfolio, it’s great to see that you haven’t been scared to take a risk. Even better, you have turned this into something positive by creating new work to strengthen your portfolio.
You’re definitely on the right track!
I would encourage you to continue to explore the question of using your own name “Kate Marsden” versus “Made by Mrs M”. I think it will support future decisions about how to take your work forward. There is no wrong or right choice to make; it will depend on your own personal intent and dreams for your work.
Who is Mrs M? Indeed, who is Mr M? What does he think about all Mrs M’s making? What are their lives like? Could you expand on this narrative and play with it even more? How do you feel about Mrs M being a little anonymous herself because we don’t know her first name?
What can we learn about her? How can we explore and share her story and in turn create more interaction with your audience. This will all help to strengthen your brand message.
How would getting to know more about Mrs M impact on the visibility of Kate Marsden? Would you like Kate Marsden to be more visible?
Your portfolio naturally divides into two areas. Firstly, craft-based work and secondly, architectural commissions. The name Made by Mrs M seems to fit the craft based work nicely but be less appropriate for your architectural commissions.
How important is Mrs M to you? Do you want “Made by Mrs M” to have even more prominence or should “Made by Mrs M” be phased out totally or become a sub-brand? Would using the name Kate Marsden make it easier to promote and sell more of your commissioned work?
It’s great to see that you have created a new KATE MARSDEN graphic, on your email signature, using the same font as Made by Mrs M. It’s great to see that making the change has been easier than you might otherwise have thought. The change in your email signature has appeared totally seamless.
New tutorials for your blog are a great idea! Showing your audience how to apply your designs and products is great content marketing. Encouraging others to collaborate is an excellent promotional tool. It’s important to bear in mind how time consuming the tutorials might be, so it’s definitely worth considering how the content might be used across a variety of platforms whilst not being repetitive.
It’s brilliant to see that you are showing yourself in photographs more. My personal favourites are the photograph of you in Shoreditch against the coloured backdrop and the shot of you sitting in your living room.
They reference your design influences and quality of presentation and show how you carefully consider everything that you do. They show that you are ambitious and honest at the same time. Very healthy characteristics which will keep you moving forward with awareness and understanding of your goals and what you are trying to achieve. Great work Kate!
Thanks so much Jehane! It’s good to know that I’m heading in the right direction. If you’d like Jehane to cast her expert eye over your portfolio you can get in touch with her here.
Pop back next month for the final post in this series where Jehane will be talking all about licencing your work (in the meantime you can have a read of her chapter on the subject in Sarah Hamilton’s House of Cards book!).