Four Tips When Starting A Creative Biz
You may have heard this from me once or twice (or 14 billion times), but the biz just turned the big ZERO ONE! This is a BIG DEAL, people!! 366 whole days in biz! (Ya know, cause it's a leap year.)
It's been a year filled with "holy cow this is amazing"s and "holy cow WTF am I doing"s. And while that might just make it seem like I'm just a big ball of emotions to most people, any creative and/or biz person will tell you those two thought processes pretty much sum up what it's like to live a life that's divergent from the (actually-not-so-normal) societal norm of high school > college > job > marriage > kids > ??? (honestly what comes next? That "first comes love" rhyme from elementary school didn't talk about this stage??!)
To sum up the past year in the simplest way, I'll just say this: I learned A LOT. Starting and running a creative biz kinda looks pretty chill from the outside. One might say... easy peasy lemon squeezy. But lemme tell you: it's difficult difficult lemon difficult FOR SURE. But it's also one of the most fulfilling and magical things I've ever done FOR SURE.
On top of everything else, it's also been a year of "hey girl! I was wondering if you could give me some advice on XYZ"s. These messages were funny to me at first. Like... first of all, I barely know what I'm doing. And second of all... messages that start with "hey girl!" literally make me want to throw up. (Srsly pls pls PLS don't send me messages that start with that!! WHOOPS I SAID IT.)
But then messages like that kept coming?? Like people actually wanted MY advice? Okay, so..... I guess even though I FELT like I didn't know what I was doing 94.67% of the time, it LOOKED like I knew what I was doing 100% of the time. (Fake it 'til you make it, I guess??) So I figured a year after opening my biz would be the perfect time to share all my best tips for starting a creative biz. :-)
FULL DISCLAIMER. Many creatives and business owners choose to keep all their creative/biz knowledge to themselves and that is 100000% OKAY. In fact, I'm only sharing the MOST important things I wish I had known when starting my biz. There are SO MANY pillars to learn when owning a biz, and the brutal truth is this: YOU have to put in the time and effort to learn those things. Business owners and creatives spend hours upon hours upon hours researching, making mistakes, trying again, attempting to perfect everything. I know most requests for advice are well-intentioned, but please think twice before asking someone "where they source [x] from" or "what process they use for [y]" or "how should I do [z]".
Ask yourself: "how much time and effort did this person put in to figuring out the answer to this question?" Unless the answer to that is less than 30 minutes, maybe don't ask it. Or at least preface your question with "I understand if you don't want to share, but can you point me in a good direction to begin my research?" This is a hard pill to swallow, but the truth is this: harmless questions like that come off as you not having respect for the time and effort that the person on the other side put into learning everything they know.
So now that we're past that tough conversation, let's dive in.
I seriously can't stress this enough. There are aspects to owning a biz that no one else will understand EXCEPT other biz owners. When days are hard and you feel like giving up, other biz owners are there waiting to encourage you with their stories of "this happens to all of us." When you launch new collections, they're excited with you! When you need some advice on new items, they're ready and willing to give their two cents! Honestly, it's like friends with benefits but much more PG.
Start on Etsy, but PLEASE don't stay there.
Look. If you're someone who loves buying handmade items and loves supporting small businesses, Etsy is great. But on the flip side: if you're that small business who is selling the handmade items, it has some SERIOUS downsides.
Let me start with the good: it's easy to launch and learn. Plus it has an established market. But (IMO) that's where the good stuff ends.
Here's the bad stuff:
1) Etsy is constantly changing. I've only been on it a year, and the changes they've made since March of 2019 are pretty drastic. 2)They charge extremely hefty fees. In a year when I made right under 15k, my fees added up to $1200. 3) There's no way to collect the emails of your customers (which, BTW, is huge). 4) There is little opportunity for customization of shops and there's pretty much no way to build brand awareness. ("Oh thanks! I got it on Etsy!!")
All of that stuff alone might not sound that bad, but once it combines, it becomes v problematic for shop owners.
And to play devil's advocate for a sec: you can't be mad at Etsy. They're a business. Just like any other business, they have to make money. Honestly, a lot of what they do is incredibly smart. But at the end of the day, it's truly bad for established business owners.
Yes, start on Etsy, but please don't plan to stay there forever. This sounds dramatic, but you will truly be at their mercy. There are willing buyers outside of Etsy, you just have to put in the work to find them. (And this is what I'm currently working on! By 2021, KYBI products definitely will NOT be on Etsy. I'm expecting it to happen much sooner though!)
Accept the fact that you can't do everything.
I'm saying this both in terms of learning things and in terms of marketing. (But TBH, it applies to all things.)
Repeat after me: "I AM ONLY HUMAN." *loud indistinct roar of the crowd chanting that back.* K good.
So what's that mean? It means you need to take on one thing at a time. Want to build your online presence? Great. Choose ONE social media platform for your biz and master that before moving on. Want to do ALL THE THINGS for your biz? That's fine. Create a list of all the things you want to do and allot a month where you will put a TON of focus into that one thing. Similar to New Year's Resolutions, you're going to get the urge to try to do everything all at once. But I'm here to tell you that you can't do that. (Trust me, I've tried.) You will get more accomplished by focusing on one new thing each month than you would with trying to focus on 12 new things for an entire year. (And guess what: once you use an entire month to work on *just* learning one thing, you'll be a pro, and by the end of the 12 months, you'll be able to do it all twelve things!!)
When you're in doubt of anything, GOOGLE IT. (Literally can't stress this enough.)
Don't wait until it's perfect
Finally, the most important thing of all: DON'T WAIT UNTIL IT'S ALL PERFECT (bc you will literally be waiting forever). Be willing to make mistakes. Show up for your people, even if things are messy. Be super awkward on IG (@ me). Take some crappy product photos. Write blogs even if no one is reading. (Heyyyyyyyy my four loyal blog readers!!)
One of my favorite people on IG has this tweet: "you have to get comfortable with writing when no one is reading. creating when no one is consuming. putting in the hours when you know no one is clapping, no one is listening, no one is watching. that's it. that's the big secret."
And folks, she could not be more correct. The best way to learn is by doing. And I wouldn't be here with a one year old business if I had tried waiting until everything was perfect. I still struggle constantly: with my brand messaging, with my business mission, with my long-term goals, with what products to offer, with BASICALLY EVERYTHING. But I'm learning by doing, and you can too.
Cheering you on. :)