I have to tell you a funny story that relates to this post. When I was at the breakfast event in Houston, I had the chance to speak with many women about how my business started and grew…how it’s dramatically exceeded every expectation I had. When I finished telling the story at one table, the woman I was sitting next to look at me with a puzzled face.
“So, when did you do the counter tops?”
“My counter tops?”
“No…the counter top business…”
It suddenly dawned on me what she was referring to and I started to howl. When I said my business started out as a “counter top business”, I meant that I was painting ornaments, using my kitchen counters as my work surface with little babies at my ankles. She thought I installed counter tops! So funny.
Anyway, so…where to begin when you’re beginning a business like mine. I get asked this a lot and I’ve written a lot of posts about it, but I’m not sure if I’ve written one like this. I did write some posts about the beginning or getting into the nitty-gritty details of taxes and things that aren’t fun, but this one is going to be about the creative side of the business. You have your tax ID and your EIN and fictitious name and web domain and now you’re ready to go. Now what?
Well, it depends a lot on the kind of person you are and the stage of life you’re in. When I started my business I didn’t have a nice lump sum to put into it. I had a 4 month old and a 20 month old. I couldn’t dive in head first. I had to do a little ankle-wading first. Since I have never started a business with a stash of cash, I’m writing this post for the ankle-waders like me.
1.) Start where you’re comfortable. I think starting a business sounds like a huge, overwhelming thing, but it doesn’t have to be. You can start small. I started with projects that were a minimal monetary investment and heavy on the time investment. I had time (well, some time), but I didn’t have money. I started out painting wooden ornaments and then started taking mural and decorative painting jobs.
I initially painted furniture that I already had, pieces my family and friends gave me or pieces purchased for less than $20. I painted pot lids, 1980’s furniture, thrift store lamps…whatever. If your dream is to own a shop, your first step doesn’t have to be signing a lease and buying $20k in inventory. Your first step should be exciting and low stress.
2.) Sell wherever you can. When I first started, I couldn’t even imagine having to pay monthly rent for a booth space in an antique mall. That seemed totally beyond me. I was very fortunate to find a woman who let me consign my stuff in her shop. I gave her 30% of my profit, but I didn’t have to stress about a monthly rent. If you can’t find a place to consign, here are some other options…
- Share a space with a friend. Rent is less stressful when you can split it with one or two other people. Just make sure it’s someone who shares your style and someone you work well with.
- Sell online. You can list your pieces on your local Craig’s List, on E-Bay or Etsy. Start a FaceBook page and list them there. Start a blog and list them there, too! You can sell a lot by just getting your pieces onto the world wide web.
- Rent a space at a flea market, antique fair or craft show. This is a one time investment and if it doesn’t work out, you don’t have to do it again. If it does work, you can sign up for more!
- Set up a sale in your own front yard if all else fails. That was my plan when it looked like I was going to be space-less after the consignment shop in Gettysburg closed. You can even collaborate with other antique dealers/furniture refinishers/crafters, etc. Advertise it as a “Tag Sale” and make sure things are priced, staged and professional-looking, so people know this isn’t an average yard sale. (Make sure you have a sales tax license if you’re hosting these regularly, though.)
3.) Give yourself time to grow. I am so glad I didn’t become a vendor at Lucketts in the first year of my business. I really needed time to grow, learn the market and nail down my “look.” Well, I knew my style and what I liked, but it took me a while to figure out that’s also what sold best. I painted a lot of things I would never have in my home before I learned that I could charge more if it was hard for me to sell because I loved it so much. You may have a “goal retail space”, but give yourself time to get there.
4.) Don’t allow small failures to discourage you. The first craft fair I did was a failure. I knew it wasn’t me right from the start. Imagine me setting up an 8′ table under florescent lights in an elementary school wedged between some guy who sold “crafts” mass-produced in China and a lady who made dolls out of clothes pins. I didn’t make money and it was a waste of time. I learned a lot, though, so I guess it wasn’t a total waste of time, but it felt like it! I felt like quitting, but my family encouraged me to find another place to sell.
5.) Don’t compare your business to another. I know that’s so hard to do, but you need to let your business be your business and the steps you take and the direction you go might be different from another business. You might arrive at the same place, but it takes you longer. You might take the same steps and end up in an entirely different place. I think this can discourage people more than anything else. They see all of the other people doing what they want to do and it feels overwhelming and impossible. Remember that they put lots of tears, sleepless nights, hard work, sacrifice and failures into where they are now. It may look like “overnight” to you, but it wasn’t for them.
So, if you have the dream to start a creative business, you can go for it. I started my business with no money and when my boys were very young. You just have to be okay with starting where you are and growing from there. And I had no idea when I was sleep-deprived, bent over my counter painting those ornaments, that I would be where I am today. NO IDEA. I just felt like it was the right thing to do and I took a step of faith…