Before I get into my “dear reader” letter, I wanted to share a video series I am a part of. It’s called “Finding the Quiet“, offered by my friend and amazing artist and designer, Jeanne Oliver. She’s rounded up some very inspiring creatives to share their experiences on listening to what God has to say to them…
In my video, I shared about some of the fears I had early in my business and how God nudged me out of my comfort zone. This video series is free and you can register HERE. Click on “Listening | Finding the Quiet” and then the +join button on the upper right side of the page.
On a pretty regular basis, I get e-mails from women who either want to start a business or have started one and are seeking some advice, encouragement or pointers. Here is one I received a few weeks ago…
Hi Marian~ Question for you….b/c I love reading about your business experiences. When you first started, did you ever feel like, “everyone is doing this…how could I ever stand out and be successful?” I’m asking because I’ve been painting furniture for a very long time, but only in July did I put together a FB page and at my friends and family’s urging, started to dabble in selling. My excuse up until now for not doing it has always been, “everybody’s doing it…,” but things have actually been going pretty well. The biggest thing that gets in my way is my own self-talk~ and lack of confidence in why someone might choose my pieces over someone else’s. It does sometimes feel like everyone on the planet is now throwing paint on everything, and I try to make my things unique- and as I said, things are really going quite well considering I work full time elsewhere….but I just was curious how you got over that hump, or if you ever even had that conversation with yourself. I keep telling myself, “there’s room for everyone…,” b/c I really DO believe there’s room for everyone, but I just would like it not to “freak me out” so much.
Feel free to charge me for the therapy session 🙂
Dear Susan (and other small business owners with big dreams),
Yes, it seems like small, women-owned, creative businesses are all the rage right now and it’s so easy to feel lost in the crowd. A part of me is thrilled to see creative women in their hay-day, getting recognized and becoming a real force to be reckoned with. It’s exciting and a fun movement to be a part of.
But, there is the flip side. When something is popular, it’s profitable, AND when something is profitable, a lot of people jump on the bandwagon. Understandably. But then it hits you personally when you take your stuff to sell at an antique store or a market and it looks pretty much like the stuff in the booth next door. And maybe that stuff is even better? Or the prices are better? And the comparison game starts to choke your dreams, drain your creative energy and make you doubt everything.
“Why bother?”, is the phrase that echoes in your head repeatedly.
I know. I’ve heard that voice before and it can sink your heart like a stone. It’s stifling enough to make you want to quit. It has made some quit, I’m certain. And it has made some not even start.
So, what do you do? How do you set your business apart? How do you push through those times of discouragement?
I’m sure there are hundreds of good answers to these questions, but since I was asked, I’m going to throw out my two cents…
Competition is good!
This is why antique malls, co-ops and antique fairs work so well. We’re better if we all team up and make it easy for customers to find us in one place. I remember feeling very intimidated when I was first a vendor at Lucketts. So many veteran vendors had amazing stuff and I sometimes felt like my stuff would look amateurish or inferior. But, you know what? My inventory was well picked over almost every week, just like the other vendors. Selling my stuff among other great vendors made me grow a lot and I learned that I didn’t need to feel threatened by how awesome they were. I just needed to do “my thing.”
Even subtle differences can make your business special and your customers loyal.
Yes, there are a lot of us who sell painted furniture, antiques and home decor. I know it’s overwhelming! But, there are thousands of ways you can set yourself apart and make your business unique. Maybe it’s in the hardware you use, the color palette, the paper you use to line the drawers, the combination of paint techniques, etc. Maybe it’s the way you style your pieces or combine elements from different decorating styles.
Whatever it is that makes your business “you”, it’s really important that you create hallmarks for your business with strong branding and a signature look that can be recognized easily by your customers and followers.
Sometimes it’s helpful to have a branding specialist or savvy friend “audit” your business to ensure what you’re putting out in the world is sending the right message.
Be intentional about being unique.
Some people do this naturally. If something is a trend, they will drop it so fast and never touch it again. Others can’t resist a trend and jump on the bandwagon. In the business we’re in, we can’t ignore trends altogether, but I think there’s something to be said for peeking at them now and then and then putting your blinders back on, so you’re not influenced too heavily by others. For example, I love grain sacks and have for a long time. I’m not going to stop using them because they are a trend. But, I’m not going to start painting my dressers in chevron and mustaches just because they are. That’s just not me. Being aware of the trends and being intentional about making decisions based on what I like will keep my look (and yours) somewhat distinct.
Take your business seriously.
I am very guilty of focusing of the “fun stuff” like shopping for antiques, styling photo shoots and painting furniture that I sometimes don’t spend the time on business-y things, like setting goals, formulating strategy, analyzing the trends of my business, etc. I tend to go on gut feel, but that doesn’t work when you’re growing and have people working for you who need something more specific to act on than your gut feel. When I do take the time to set out goals and put together a plan, I’m amazed at how much more focused my business is and how much better I feel about my direction. So, do your creative thing, but remember this is a business and it really helps to treat it like that!
It’s a big world (and a small one).
Lastly, I just want to agree with you, Susan. It’s a big world and there is room for everyone. I even think by collaborating with and supporting those who do what you do can be beneficial for everyone. I know it feels you need to watch your back and protect your customer base. Maybe you’ve been burned by someone you tried to collaborate with in the past. I think you can be cautiously open, though. Some of my very best opportunities have come from partnering with other women entrepreneurs in my field. It’s rewarding and beneficial all around, so I suggest keeping an open mind.
It’s a big world, but it’s also a small one. The antique/furniture community is a pretty tight-knit group, so be gracious, professional and kind. That goes a long way with your competition and your customers.
So, Susan, and other small business owners or hopeful entrepreneurs, don’t be discouraged by the crowded room you just stepped into (or one you’ve been hanging out in a while). There are many who will welcome you and cheer you on and there are enough customers for everyone.
Go get ’em!