Five Things I Wish I'd Known When Starting a Business
This feels like quite a premature and ‘know it all’ post but I felt it was important to share what I have learnt so far on this roller coaster of a journey. I think it is easy to sit back and look at someone’s pretty Instagram posts or flawless products and assume they have it all figured out. I am certainly guilty at looking at others and feeling as though they are in a whole league of their own when it comes to smashing this small business world.
What I have to remind myself however is that I have achieved an awful lot in what is a fairly short space of time and I have certainly learnt a lot with that too. If I can share this with others and help them achieve their goals, even if it’s just one person, it’ll all be worth it. So here are my top five things I have learnt since starting my small business…
This sounds fairly obvious but creating a brand that you are proud of and passionate about is key. I think one of the perils of ‘falling’ into the small business world in the way I did was that everything was fairly rushed. The day after I had made my first ever ‘custom’ designed embroidery hoop, I had made a ‘sale’- granted just to a friend but I felt as though I had to make it look professional so I hand stamped a name onto the felt backing of the hoop and just rolled with it. That inadvertently became my business name and was for over a year. Looking back it definitely didn’t have the same appeal as my brand does now but there was no way back then I could have known what I was in for over the next twelve months or more. I guess what I am saying is don’t feel pressured to start selling straight away and be seen as more than what you are. In an ideal world I would have built up a group of ‘guinea pigs’, created designs and fine-tuned my skills before launching a business. There’s certainly a lot to be said for playing the long game.
This is probably the part I feel I have learnt from the most from during my journey. As I have mentioned previously, I definitely look back at my first lot of photos and cringe. The lighting is all off, the arrangement is poor and often it is just plain rushed. I have certainly found a style that I am happier with but it’s still an area I would like to work on more in the future. I guess I never realised just how important natural light was to good quality images or how much I would regret not taking the best photos of my work. I have reached a point now where I will hold onto pieces longer in order to take the perfect photo in the best lighting possible rather than shipping them off, never to be seen again. Not only does this help my social media posts and listings but it also prevents multiple, unnecessary trips to the post office unless it is an urgent order.
This has been the steepest learning curve for me and something that I still struggle with. I hate this part of the ‘job’. From day one my aim has been to create beautiful home décor that won’t break the bank. Sadly it isn’t as straightforward as making up a price that sounds reasonable and hoping for the best. There are all manner of costs to consider outside of the usual supply vs profit margins. What about time? How do you charge for your time? I have seen a number of calculations for this in the past including charging an hourly rate but for me that just doesn’t work. The fact I work insanely quick is the main issue there but just because something takes a long time to make doesn’t necessarily mean it is difficult. I also think that my job is made harder by the sheer amount of designs and hoop sizes I offer- how do you put a price on that? However I have decided to be a lot fairer to myself and rather than charging what I hope people will pay I now have a system of charging and although sometimes I make a piece and think ‘man, I really ripped myself off there’ it is all a learning process and hopefully will help me get it right the next time. That being said I still have a lot of work to do in this area and I can honestly say, hand on heart, it is hardest part of the ‘job’.
No one quite tells you (or if they do you don’t believe them) how much running a small business will take over your life, particularly if like me you work full time on top of that. For me I sew whenever I have a spare second. I work 8am-4pm Monday to Friday but add into that travelling time and the usual mundane household chores as well as eating and sleeping and that really doesn’t leave a lot of time to actual sew. It got to the point where sewing was taking over from Friday evening’s right through to Sunday night. If I went out at weekends I felt as though I was losing valuable sewing time and felt pressured to make orders in record time. The reality of it is that I get so many orders in that I will never be ‘on top of it’ before I have another wave of orders and you know what, that’s okay. I think not having an empty order book for well over a year now has made me realise that it’s a good thing and that the majority of my customers aren’t expecting it the very next day or even that week. I had to stop putting so much pressure on myself to be ‘perfect’.
So I have tried to adapt my business slightly, not only in the actual ‘making’ side of things but also in terms of my own free time. Sunday’s now are my finishing up day of any hoop that is close to completion and then the afternoon is spent packaging orders ready for my weekly postal day on the Monday. While I am in the ‘office’ I also try to get my designs made for any upcoming projects and check my stock. As for Saturday’s I try to do some of the things I want or need to do before I start sewing, whether that’s cleaning the house, baking a cake or nipping out for a while. At least that way I have spent one day doing some of the other important things in my life and treating myself to a bit of self-care. During the evenings in the week I try and work on a little bit of an order while I am sat on the sofa but don’t pressure myself to get it all done. If I can finish stitching some writing or filling in an area, then I’ll be happy. Every little helps!
I think there is an overwhelming assumption that if you own a small business, you must be instantly rolling in money. That is completely wrong, in fact sometimes it is the total opposite. When I started my prices didn’t reflect the cost of the supplies nor pay me for my work so I didn’t necessarily start ‘making’ any money for a while. You also have to consider that there will be times of the year that you just won’t get many sales, sometimes none at all. Take January for example, it is a pretty miserable month as the festivities are over, everyone has gone back to work and no one has any money as the countdown to pay day starts. Now I actually did fairly well this January, but it was totally unexpected but something I felt very grateful for, especially as I had closed my shop and order book early due to event commitments in December.
The fact of the matter is, your sales will go through peaks and dips all year long which is why so many people like myself don’t take the plunge into running their business full time until they feel there is an ideal balance between sales. That is why getting your prices right and keeping your expenditure low is so important. I guess what I am trying to say is, don’t just assume that a small business owner is making millions because quite often they are selling themselves short and working themselves into the ground but saying it’s okay because they love what they do and it makes other people happy.
We are an odd breed, a very odd breed indeed.