Joanna Miller is the talent behind Bespoke Verse, an award-winning poetry business specialising in personalised poetry, rhyming speeches and framed poetry gifts.
Joanna discovered she had a talent for rhyming verse after writing her own wedding speech. It wasn’t long before she was inundated with requests from others and Bespoke Verse was launched.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to start the business…
A. It all began at my wedding. At the time, I was an English teacher and pretty adamant that a bride should have her say. I wrote a funny Roald Dahl-inspired rhyming speech about my new husband and commissions from friends rolled in. It was only after the birth of child number three, and a well-received speech at my fortieth birthday party, that I decided to make Bespoke Verse a business-proper.
Research showed me there was a demand for witty, well-written personalised poetry and there wasn’t anybody offering a design-conscious framing option. A range of generic framed poems on topics such as marriage and friends followed later. You can see me in action reading one of my poems at my sister’s wedding in the short video at the end of this interview.
Q. Where is your business located?
A. I work from home in Berkhamsted in an office that used to be our dining room, with a dog at my feet. I did not set out to create a local business, though word of mouth has created a local market.Orders come in from all over the world; Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, the USA. I have to discipline myself to write for at least five hours every day and not get distracted by household tasks.
Q. Do you use any specialist techniques or equipment to produce your goods?
A. Good old green biro is how I start each poem. It has to be a Staedtler Stick 430 and the paper has to be ring bound, narrow ruled! I guess the specialist technique I have is the ability to be able to rhyme words quickly and relevantly.What took me twenty hours in the beginning to write now takes two and fortunately the quality of my work gets better as I get faster. I like to think my rhyming muscle is very taut (probably the only part of me that actually is, I sit writing far too long!)
Q.What are the most popular products in your range?
A. Our best seller is a bespoke rhyming poem by a bride about her groom. It’s a popular product with brides who want to surprise their guests with something unexpected and witty.
Poems are easy to remember and deliver and this takes the stress out of giving a speech when you’ve other things to think about. All my poems are basically funny character sketches based on the background notes I receive from clients. This makes them suitable for milestone birthday gifts too and each one is completely unique.
A poem is the ultimate in personalised gifts as it requires a real commitment from the person commissioning the poem. I use their words and phrases where possible to reflect this and I don’t make anything up; the quality of the writing is what differentiates us from our competitors.
Q. What’s the best thing about what you do?
A. The feedback when clients read their poem for the first time or after their event is a huge boost. Making something that moves people and makes their day memorable is incredibly satisfying.
Q. Why do you choose to make your products in Britain?
Q. What’s been your proudest moment?
A. 2012 was a great success for Bespoke Verse, particularly when we won the Ice the Cake wedding award for ‘Most Innovative Supplier’ and appeared in Vogue. I have worked hard to create a credible, well-designed product which dispels the impression that poetry for occasions has to be naff. Luckily, 2013 is shaping up quite well; I’ve been a finalist in the Wedding Ideas Awards 2013 and appeared on the radio.
Q. Where do you sell your products?
Q. Which other British producers inspire you and why?
A. My friend Natasha runs the fabulous Nevie-Pie Cakes and is making a name for herself with her amazing painted cakes (below left). I have worked with Emma and Andrew atModo Creative as a supplier for their beautiful and innovative prints (below right); the quality of their products is outstanding. Rhubka Design are very creative and we have worked together on branding and print-making. I adore their cards.
Q. Do you make an effort to buy British when food shopping?
Q. Where is your favourite place to holiday in Britain?
Q. And finally, what do you do to relax and unwind when you’re not busy working?