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where to begin…


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…

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  1. Thank you so much for this. You have this knack of writing just what I need to read. I have been postponing my business dreams far too long. You are so inspiring. Thanks again.

  2. This is such good advice and I appreciate it as I work toward figuring out how to sell the furniture pieces and misc. garage sale re-do’s that I’m beginning to store up. I think I’ll join in a French Flea Market in the summer as my first test! Thanks much Marian. Patti

  3. Linda A. McDonald says:

    Thanks again for how honest you always are.Could you explain how to start a blog and how you know what company to go with. I feel really dumb in this area. Even after reading all the how to I still very confused

    • Linda, I just starred my first DIY blog on Jan. 1st and have already had almost 700 views! Far more than,y expectations… I visit a lot of blogs, make comments, and join link parties each week. I just take photos of my work and write about each project. Give it’s go. I don’t know everything yet, but most blog hosting sites have free tutorials you can read. Good luck!

  4. You do not KNOW how this has helped me out with my hearts desire. I started my own interior decorating business a little over a year ago. It went well and I LEARNED so much in the first year of business. Things have been a bit slow for me starting mid December until now. Client’s that I had lined up for January and February called near the end of December and pushed the schedule dates back to February and March. You know the feeling of wanting something so terribly bad that it hurts. It felt just like when I really grasped things and became a little comfortable, things hit a halt. It has given me time to rethink things, start work with a designer on my web site, update and create new business cards and rack cards, set up meetings with other people who own their own businesses and learn how to grow my own and learn from them. Yes, currently I am in the state of “Am I doing the right thing” or did I totally miss the pathway God laid before me? I am slightly discouraged. However, I do keep hearing keep on keeping on. Others I know in the industry are a bit slow as well right now. I am receiving encouragement from others and my word of mouth advertising is really well, but the jobs are slow in coming in. It has been a wonderful evening reading your post, knowing that everyone seems to hit these bumps in the road. It is not the bump, but how you recover and proceed after the bump. Thank you for your words of encouragement and inspiration. May your business endeavors continue to lead you onward and upward. May your blessings be abundant.

    Thank you dearly from East Tennessee… Lisa M. Cline with L M Cline’s Interior Decorating.

  5. Great advice, from top to bottom. I’m on my way, but it sure does get annoying when it seems to take longer than I want it to. Patience is definitely a virtue. :)

  6. Thank you for this! You have spoken words of life through this post. Thank you for your passion for the Lord and for being so sensitive to His leadership in the posts you write. Through this post, you have given me the encouragement to keep running the race and to keep my focus on whats in front of me! Thanks for being such a blessing…to me and to so many others.

  7. I love this information and encouragement and the step of faith! Thanks Marian

  8. Thanks for sharing. All your hard work certainly has paid off. I have a VERY small booth at an antique mall (4X4). It’s fun. I have it stocked with some collectibles I’m giving up such as McCoy, metal picnic baskets, linens, etc. I’m slowly painting a few small pieces and putting them in trying to ease that phase in not to feel too rushed. They carried ASCP which I invested in a few colors. That’s been fun. About 6 weeks ago they started carrying your milk paint! I look forward to trying it. Thanks for the encouraging words.

  9. Oh wow, Marian. This was just what I needed to read tonight. I do get so frustrated! I think I must be lazy or not motivated because I have not achieved my business dreams… yet! I am a single mom working in a very brain-cell intensive career. I needed the reminder to just be where I am, doing what I can. That’s all I can do! I won’t give up and as time passes and circumstances change in my life, I may see things get a little “un-stuck”! Thanks for the encouragement. You are my hero.

  10. Stephanie Hobson says:

    My favorite line in this post:
    “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.”

  11. Thanks for sharing. I just closed my booth, because working 10 hour days and trying to find just the right thing to paint on the weekend was taking to much time away from my family. My boys are all grown up, but I still enjoy spending time with them and will paint the things I have been meaning to get to around the house. I needed to take a step back and start slow. So far I have enjoyed working with my husband on the house and I am spending quality time with him. I enjoy your stories and paint. I have received so many great ideas just by you sharing.

  12. What a great post. Thanks for taking the time to write all that down for us.
    Liz @ Quirky Vistas

  13. Susannah says:

    Thank you Marian! I have always been drawn to your blog precisely because I feel like you are so much like me in situation and circumstance and belief in the faith of a mustard seed. Thank you for your inspiration!! And living out the dream!

  14. Alright…. I have to confess having the same misconception about countertops when I read your book. :). Than for clearing that one up for me!

  15. I just found your blog and this post is extremely inspiring. I have only begun to look thru many of your postings, but I love the blog already. Thanks for putting this out there for us.

  16. This is exactly what I needed to read today! You are very inspiring and it’s also comforting to read all the other posts from other women trying to make it.

  17. Thanks for all the info! but honestly my favorite part about this post is how perfect your hair is among all the chaos :) it’s just so pretty and shiny!

  18. Rebecca says:

    I have been just starting to get my toes wet in painting furniture. I may be ready to move forward. I have always been a artist but nothing so fantastic has come from it, but my paintings sure look nice on a piece of furniture so that is my new direction. Thank you for your blog I think I will have to read more.

  19. Janette Roquemore says:

    Thank you for this fabulous heartfelt information! I needed some inspiration. All I have heard is negative words from everyone in my immediate surrounding circle–but God keeps inspiring me through others–outside my lil world. Grateful today for finding the encouragement to keep my dream alive!

  20. Loved reading that and love your site! Your before and after pictures are amazing.

  21. Hi Marion,
    I started my business in 2006 by jumping in feet first by opening a small retail shop on a shoestring budget with the help of my husband. To say the least it has been a struggle from day one. The little shop was a difficult location so with stars in my eyes and dreams in my heart I moved to a larger store. I took out a loan. Big mistake. Two years later, broken hearted, I had to close my shop, due to high overhead, a tanked economy and lack of sales. For the past four years I have hopped around to different consignment shops and antique malls but nothing has been the right fit for me. I can’t tell you how many tantrums I have had, how many tears I have shed and how many times I have felt like giving up. I have had many pity parties, feeling like I STINK. I have wondered if I have somehow ended up on the wrong path, somewhere God just doesn’t want me to be. I have a difficult time digesting that though. God has given me a creative mind and an incessant love for decorating and painting just about anything I can get my hands on. Even as an adolescent I would spend hours rearranging my room. I found myself redecorating people’s homes in my mind when I visited them and decorating magazines always make me giddy. I have always had a passion for vintage items and living on a shoestring budget has made me a passionate upcycler.

    Right now I am working from home after yet another retail space disaster over the summer. I am focusing mainly on my online shop and blog. I went back to school to become an Interior Decorator when I closed my store 4 years ago so I am focusing on that aspect of my business as well.

    I am not where I want to be in my career yet and sometimes feel like a very small fish in a very big pond. It has not been an easy journey for me but I just can’t seem to give up, something inside me won’t let me. I know I have made progress since I opened that little shop all those years ago, I have learned so much along the way and know that I will get to where I am going eventually. Thanks so much for this post. I do hope to someday have my own retail space again but have been thinking about ways to sell my work locally. I love working on furniture but selling furniture online can be a pain. Tbe shipping alone can be stressful. I am currently looking at local craft shows and have thought about setting up shop in my own front yard one weekend. Reading this post has inspired me to keep moving forward.
    Thanks so much!

  22. Good Morning Marion,
    I was praying this morning for strength- my daughter and I just signed our first lease and truthfully I am terrified- also very excited ! I came across this post and it was very encouraging,and empowering. Thank you:)

  23. As usual…an Awesome post! No matter when you write these, people read them just when they need it! I want to start a blog, and yours is great…do you mind saying if it’s wordpress and what host service you use…I read so many good/bad reviews over hosts that it scares me! Any suggestions? Thank you and Happy New Year!

  24. Wonderful post!!!
    I am currently working a full time job that is not the type of work I want to be doing. The work is the same thing every day and very slow. I work on furniture and other items in my spare time. My dream is to make this hobby a business but without time and money it seems almost impossible. My partner believes in me but also thinks every single aspect of every situation out (which is great..sometimes) but I am the opposite and just want to prove to him that I can do this. I really enjoy reading your blogs it helps me believe that with patients and time it WILL happen.
    Thanks for the post. :)

    Happy St. Patty’s Day,

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