School of Side Hustle Lesson 1: Building a Brand Online


An astounding 83% of Create & Cultivate followers want to start their own business. They want ownership over their careers. They want the ability to take their goldmine of an idea to the next level. What prevents them from moving forward? The tools. (And at times, the willpower.) Which, is where the Create & Cultivate x Weebly series for side-hustlers comes to the rescue. We’ve prepared four amazing Lessons to walk you through the steps you need to take your side hustle to full-time gig.

Aided by the advice and lessons from women who have paved the way, we are going to walk you through the “how” and “what” of it all -- from the tip to tail of launching an online biz, starting with entrepreneur Emily McDowell who is going to take us through the process of building a brand online.  

So let’s start at Emily’s beginning, which like many of you, began in her bedroom where she was writing and drawing back in 2011. (Nod along if this is the position you find yourself in now.)

Again, like many of you, her first online store was through Etsy. “I started out by selling illustrated prints on Etsy in 2011,” the founder of the Emily McDowell Studio shares. “I added my first cards to the shop in January of 2013.” However later in 2013 after launching the Emily McDowell wholesale card line the company, “launched the e-commerce site and began to drive traffic there.”

This is a natural jump for many online sellers. And it’s something we discuss in our new series with Weebly. In the below video Create & Cultivate Founder + CEO Jaclyn Johnson is breaking down the most topline basics of brand building.

Watch:  Lesson One

 Building a Brand Online


For entrepreneur Emily McDowell, the core of her brand is bolstered by what she calls the defining characteristics of her company’s identity. (In the above video, refer back to the “This Not That” exercise.)

“In my mind,” the entrepreneur explains, “a brand is the core characteristics of a company’s identity: its personality, its story, what it stands for, what differentiates it, what customers experience when interacting with it. Taken together, these brand characteristics are responsible for the emotional connection between company and customer, and that emotional connection is what makes a customer choose one brand over another.”

Since her foray into ecommerce in 2013, her business has grown. “People needed help knowing what to say in certain situations, and our cards do that, the founder explains. “If you can solve a problem with your product, it’ll be a lot easier to stand out.”  

From a super practical perspective, Emily shares that, “In order to be taken seriously by retailers and sales reps, my experience is that you need to have a minimum of about 40 styles in your line, half of which should be birthday cards.”

But that is incredibly card specific. If you’re wondering how to build a “you” company, Emily breaks out her process.

AKA, do what Emily did. Take it from the living room to the boardroom.


“When you think about the brand you’d like to create, what are the three adjectives you would use to describe it?,” she challenges you to ask yourself.

“This exercise distills the brand you’re trying to create into three words that represent it. The descriptors can be anything, but choose them carefully, because moving forward, a very simple way to create brand cohesion is to ensure that have everything you create or offer embodies those three words.”


She furthers, sometimes you have to kill your darlings. “You have to be willing to kill even your favorite ideas if they don't fit the three words (not one or two, but all three), because if an idea doesn't fit, it's not right for your brand. I'm not gonna lie, this hurts, but ‘because I like it’ is not a good enough reason to add something to your brand offering."

"‘Because I like it’ is not a good enough reason to add something to your brand offering.”

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As your company grows, as Emily’s has, you can always refer back to those words. Think of them as your port in a storm, when orders are coming in too fast or you’re having trouble keeping up, go back to the words and remember why you started and what your brand is about. This process has helped the Emily McDowell Studio expand. In January of 2018, the Studio joined forces with fellow Southern California-based, women-owned companies Knock Knock and Sisters of Los Angeles to become the Who’s There Group.

Now, if you’re sitting there thinking, but I already have a side-hustle, this doesn’t apply to me. Au contraire. Emily encourages women already in business to, “ask five people to describe your products or business using three adjectives. Are the words consistent from person to person? Do any of them resonate with you? Are they in line with what you’re trying to communicate? If not, where’s the disconnect between what you’re doing and how people are perceiving it? That’s your road map to what needs to shift, because a brand is only as successful as consumers’ perceptions of it.”

What you should take away from that whether you are new to branding or have been trying to build your biz for a minute is that consistency is key.

As Jaclyn mentions in the Lesson One School of Side Hustle video

“The who and the why of your brand matters."

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"This is where using a platform like Weebly has immense value add over a site like Etsy. You own your story. You’re not simply plugging it into a pre-existing template. This is all about you. So get ready to tell them what you’re about.”

People want to see original.

This is also something that Emily inherently understands. “In a world of recycled quotes and memes, I think it’s refreshing for people to see original writing. It’s pretty easy to make work that looks like ours, but writing is harder, and the longer we’re around, the more important it’s become to our identity.”

She adds, “We also don’t try to be everything to everyone. First, it’s impossible, so you’ll make yourself crazy trying. But you’ll also end up watering down your brand so much that you’ll lose your identity. I’d rather have 100 engaged followers, who are on board with us and what we stand for, than 1,000 followers who scroll past our posts. As a company, our values and political beliefs are important to us, and I think having the privilege of a platform also comes with the responsibility to post about issues that disproportionately affect people whose voices are less easily heard. Does that mean we sometimes lose followers and get the occasional nasty message? Yes, but it also shows what we stand for, which helps us stand out.”

Have more questions, drop us a line below and we’ll get them answered!

Be sure to look for what knowledge we’re dropping next with WeeblyLesson 2: From Concept to Commerce | Lesson 3: Don’t Just Build a Website, Build a Business & Lesson 4: From Market to Marketing.