Ten lessons I learned about being a small Business in 2016
During 2016 two big things happened in my life; I suddenly had three small children as well as a small flourishing business, and postnatal depression. You might wonder why or how these two could be linked to this article, but my actual original plan was to suddenly have my small business and my three small children and return to work within three months. This didn't happen for obvious reasons, which meant just one thing; I could only watch and observe for most part of the year. So here are some of the things I learn from 'watching'-and some of the things I learnt from'doing' once I returned from maternity leave, in 2016.
1.) You need to decide early on whether you want to be a 'discounter' or more 'niche'
There are always seem to be two types of businesses; the slightly niche business that rarely offers discounts, or doesn't. As a mass consumerist I am the kind of shopper who shops around so I have a tendency to like both,but if I tend to like the products from a more niche brand, I will buy from there loyally anytime. However, if I know someone constantly discounts, I won't ever buy from them when something is full price. I will just wait for the discount. Its not a reflection of how much I love that brand's stuff, its a reflection of the current financial market and my own purse strings. I have watched allot of small craft businesses start out thinking that they need to constantly discount and offer giveaways ALL THE TIME. If you are comfortable with this, great. Even better if your price margins allow it easily. I'm not saying don't discount by the way-just make sure you choose early on how often you do as it will be tricky to revert to full pricing eventually if you fall into this cycle.
2.) Don't price too low
I hold my hands up to this, I think all new businesses do when they first start. The fairest way to price-if you don't want to price as per a craft calculator where you add up everything and multiply twice or whatever for profit-is to set yourself an hourly rate and stick to this. It needs to be above minimum wage because you have unique skills and additional overheads. If you don't price sensibly your business just won't sustain. I am currently in a pretty saturated market and I just don't understand how people can be offering a framed, hand cut family tree for £20 without their fingers falling off because of the amount of work and how they can sleep at night without worrying about their bills!
3.) Be clever with discounts
Like I said, don't feel you can't EVER discount. But be clever about it. You could add-on a low-overhead product for free with a big purchase for example. Or offer five cards for the price of four etc. Find a business you really like online, one that perhaps doesn't discount often and look to see how they do it. People get excited about creative discounts that make them feel like they have to have it.
5.) Let your business grow organically'
This advice was offered to me by my jewellery making friend Jenny Sunday when I first started out and almost three years later it makes allot of sense. Ultimately, this is one of the things you will really need to have some patience with. As humans now, we often to look to social media as self-validation, this is especially true to creatives who make and wear their hearts on their sleeves. Just because many people don't know about you yet,doesn't mean your products aren't any good, and its very tempting to gain exposure for your crafting business by paying Facebook for'likes' but once you start, that Facebook algorithm will sure know when to halt showing off your page organically so you are forced to pay again.
6.) The right customer
Furthermore, you want the right customer. This means a customer that is happy to pay for your work. 'Likes' are great but allot of them are often empty meaning they randomly like it. The more 'likes' you have, the harder it is for your work to be seen due to the algorithms. So you want people who genuinely LOVE your work and are excited by it, to 'like' and comment because WORD OF MOUTH, and the likelihood of people they know and trust seeing it, is more likely to get you sales long term.
6.) A certain website is NOT THE HOLY GRAIL.
I'm not going to mention their name here, and I don't dispute that they are fantastic for small businesses, nor am I going to say I don't love the website or shop there, because I do. But they aren't the holy grail and it doesn't mean you can't do it on your own.
I have seen some fantastic people in Etsy Networking groups consider changing their entire business structure to be on there for example a great print illustrator prepared to go into Childrens wear with no back knowledge just because it is what they have told her they are looking for. Great for the website-as its what their customers are searching for at the moment-but a massive risk for the illustrator who has no experience in childrenswear. After I was rejected the first time, I was gutted and my aim was to try again to get into this club like a girl trying to get in with the cool, popular gang. I've always been okay not being in the cool, popular gang until then, but the second time I got rejected it didn't feel so bad because I have learnt and enjoyed so much on my own and in the two years since the first application.
7.) Pictures are KING.
The hardest part of the jigsaw for me personally was pictures. Thankfully, I gave the Makelight for Makers photography course as a Birthday Gift to myself and was able to improve them dramatically. It isn't as simple as standing by a window to take a photo-although this is a good start-but I know a well lit picture with beautiful colours and accessories draws me in more than a dark one. If you can't treat yourself to a Makelight course, check out my Pinterest for some great tutorials. I also have lots of other wonderful business articles on there though, so you might need to scroll down!
8.) You can't do EVERYTHING
Having a craft business can be life-consuming especially if its just you. Its hard to keep your eye on the ball with everything. Ask your customers what they think of things, for example 'what background colour looks better'-great for engagement too!- or buddy up with another small,growing craft business and offer each other advice and help (I would advise a different vein of products here ie you do jewellery, they do crochet). I look forward to the day I can delegate my accounts!
9.) Don't give up the day job- yet!
Dream about it, manifest it, work towards it, don't do it until you have at least a years steady income from your business and you have a product you can easily sustain making/will bypass a trend or fad and you know it INSIDE OUT. Yes I know its tempting, but so is running off to Paris when my children are being pickles!
10.) Prepare for it to be your life
At least for the first three years anyway. If people gave up in the first year, JK Rowling would never have had Harry Potter published and what a loss to the world that would have been! Having a business is everchanging from you, your work, to the economy. Start minimally, see what you sell best, hone in on that, try and multiply what sells best in different ways/categories and watch it grow. It doesn't work unless you do and Its hard, but its harder to lose a dream you only worked at half heartedly.
What were your business lessons for 2016? Care to share?