A Conversation on Building Your Brand with Jen Olmstead of Tonic Site Shop

Career Development

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I am so excited to be sharing my conversation with Jen Olmstead, Lead Designer and Creative Director at Tonic Site Shop. Jen is someone who I have come to know and love and who has become a mentor to me. Jen is one half of Tonic and she built the custom Wit & Delight website, which is a completely new experience that was launched in April.

In this conversation, Jen and I talk all about how to build a brand online. I’ve long admired the way Jen puts tangible action behind a lot of the issues that entrepreneurs and business owners have. She really helps people understand the importance of trying out ideas rather than worrying about the precise strategy or having a *perfectly* crafted idea.

I hope you enjoy our conversation and get a bit of an understanding of both how we work together and how you can work with Jen and Tonic to get your website up and running in a fraction of the time it would take to build something custom. Read a few highlights from our interview below, and listen to the entire episode on The Wit & Delight Podcast!

Founders of Tonic Site Shop, Jeffrey Shipley & Jen Olmstead

Name: Jen Olmstead
Occupation: Lead Designer + Creative Director
Website: Tonic Site Shop
Instagram: @jenolmstead + @tonicsiteshop
About Jen: Jen is a Virginia-based brand + website designer, visual storyteller, and type nerd. She specializes in creating uniquely-tailored brand experiences for creative entrepreneurs and in building online spaces that people love to explore. In 2013, Jen and fellow designer + friend, Jeffrey Shipley, founded Tonic Site Shop and launched their first collection of cocktail-inspired, “completely customizable websites for the modern, stylish creative.” Jen runs her business from her mountaintop home in Virginia where she lives with her handsome husband, three sweet kiddos under age four, terrible wi-fi, and a much-beloved espresso machine.

Can you tell us a little bit about Tonic and who you are?

Jen Olmstead: I’m the lead designer at Tonic Site Shop, which is the business that I co-own with my creative partner, Jeff Shipley. We sell customizable websites for the modern, stylish, and creative. We basically sell templates for people who don’t think they liked templates.

When we decided to start Tonic, we saw this gap in the industry as custom designers for people who knew they loved great design but didn’t want to spend the time or couldn’t invest as much as it would cost to hire a custom designer. They still wanted all the strategy and little details that people have come to expect from a fully custom-built website. And so five years ago, Jeff and I launched our first collection of website templates.

Can you talk about some of the misconceptions that you see from people who think they need a custom website when often the solution is really something that you can provide with a template?

Jen Olmstead: I think as creatives and entrepreneurs, sometimes we like to give ourselves these levels for our business—almost like obstacles or roadblocks—that we have to overcome before it’ll be “real.” Some people will think, Someday, after I’ve worked for five or six years, I can afford this $10,000 website and then my brand will be legit. And I think that’s one misconception that people have—that you won’t be legitimate until you’ve reached these levels. And really, all you need is a great tool to showcase your brand.

(Ed. Note: Tonic Site Shop offers payment plans, which means you can snag a website for under $200 today and launch it this week.)

I think a template allows you to do that. It’s something that’s a bit more simple and that doesn’t require as much of an upfront investment, and it still tells your brand’s story while allowing you to focus on the business of doing the work you need to be doing.

Martini template from Tonic Site Shop

How do you find a balance between standing out online and making a good user experience for people?

Jen Olmstead: YES. There’s such a balance between being creative and having a framework that allows for a great user experience. Sometimes people think, What if we just put this menu on the bottom left? That would be so cool and interesting. But then if your user gets to your website and they don’t immediately know what to do, you’ve lost them.

All of our templates very much approach design from a standpoint of wanting people to get to the website and immediately realize, This is what I was looking for. In order to do that, I think the website has to both be stunning and immediately have a narrative and a voice. The design needs to be super clear in pointing the user toward what you want them to see first and what you want them to do next.

Vieux Carre from Tonic Site Shop

Do you have any tips for finding the bravery to be unique while also avoiding the comparison trap? How do you coach your clients through that?

Jen Olmstead: I think if you start out with that imitation mindset, you’re going to end up with something along the lines of replication or recreation. You don’t want to recreate an idea. You want there to be a specific voice.

There’s this great book by Austin Kleon called Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. And he says that you don’t want to look like your heroes; you want to see like your heroes.

Ask yourself this: What’s my unique value proposition? What is the thing that sets me apart here? What is my unique brand narrative that I’m trying to convey? If you have those two things in place—what makes you different and what you like—you’re able to transfer those ideas into a unique package that you can convey online.

So, for example, when someone comes to Wit & Delight and they love your website and they love your brand and they love what it stands for, what they should be asking is: What do I love about this? What is it about this design that speaks to me? Is it that it feels spacious? Is it that it feels layered? Is it the interactivity of it? Is it the honesty and the tone of voice? What is it about this brand that I identify with?

Write that down and then ask yourself this: What’s my unique value proposition? What is the thing that sets me apart here? What is my unique brand narrative that I’m trying to convey? If you have those two things in place—what makes you different and what you like—you’re able to transfer those ideas into a unique package that you can convey online.

(Ed. Note: Tonic has a Brand Interview Worksheet to help you discover your own unique value proposition here.)

Hear more of our conversation with Jen Olmstead here:

And please share with your friends and subscribe to the Wit & Delight Podcast wherever you listen!

All images courtesy of Tonic Site Shop

BY Kate Arends - October 30, 2019

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