This is a guest post by the lovely Brooke McAlary.

One cold afternoon in August 2010, I drove to my parents’ house in tears.

I had everything to be happy about – a wonderful husband, a beautiful daughter and a baby on the way, a lovely home we were renovating and a flourishing independent jewellery label. Yet there I was. Struggling. Teetering. Going under.

By the time I got to my parents’ house, I was done. I closed the doors on Trove the next day.

My jewellery label, Trove, had grown over the previous three years from a hobby to a full-time job. I had exhibited at Australian Fashion Week, was being mentored by an international fashion designer, had made a five-figure debut at my first trade show and had my work being sold by over 60 stockists. It was good. Really good.

But I was miserable. Strung out, worn out, burnt out. I had painted myself into a corner with my business and I could not see a way to make it work for me any longer.

Today, I am still an enormous supporter of independent businesses and want to see everyone who has the talent, drive and ambition succeed.

For that reason, I want to share with you the 5 lessons I learnt during that difficult time – in order to save you and your business from the same fate.


1. Back Yourself From the Start

Regrets are not my thing. But if I had one regret, it’s that I didn’t back myself earlier and quit my full-time job sooner.

It would have given me more time to establish the label, employ one or two staff and have systems in place that allowed me to manage the business while spending the majority of my time with my family.

(One caveat: Before even considering this, you need to KNOW your stuff is great. And that people love it.)


2. Keep Creating. Always.

Your well of creativity is endless. Really.

When it feels as though it’s running dry, get out of your box, explore another medium – sculpt, paint, draw or write poetry. Just create on a daily basis and keep topping up that well.

You will never run out of your best ideas. They regenerate time and time again.


3. Pay Attention to the Boring Details

In business, as in life, the high points, the creative breakthroughs, the moments of overwhelming productivity are countered by the mundane – paying bills, ordering supplies, chasing payments, writing invoices, replying to emails.

Don’t, under any circumstances, ignore this stuff. It is the business.

Sure, you may be selling jewellery, or crocheted hats or macramé owls wearing moustaches, but you will only find stockists, receive payment and find the best price for supplies by paying great attention to the boring details.


4. Know When to Compromise

You started out as a one-person show. It made you proud. You were and still are against unethical outsourcing, against mass-production, against faceless big box stores.

I was exactly the same. But in the end, I decided I needed to outsource production. And the only way to do that profitably was to work with studios in Thailand and Bali. These were studios I was in close contact with and would visit before signing contracts. I needed to know I was supporting businesses that supported its workers.

Unfortunately, I started down that path too late. (See point 1).

To you I say, if you want to make a sustainable living from your business, you need to know when and how to compromise. Because that will allow you to scale your business when the time comes. Know your core values and do not be swayed from them.

But be prepared to look outside your comfort zone and consider ideas and solutions you may have previously cast aside.


5. You Can’t Do It Alone

This was the biggest mistake I made in my business, and it played a huge part in its eventual closure.

Like most solo-creative entrepreneurs, I designed, made, finished, quality-controlled, packaged and shipped my products. I also represented the label at tradeshows and markets, was the buyers’ contact, the warehouse, despatch, tracking and sometimes courier.

Not to mention BDM, marketing officer, bookkeeper and receptionist. In part, this was to save money. But to a large extent, it was also about fear of letting go. Relinquishing control.

My advice, design your business intentionally. Understand that if you grow in the way you want to grow, there will come a day where it is impossible for you to do it all.

Research potential production studios, look at wholesale agents, develop a support network of like-minded creatives – you will need all this information at hand when the time comes to expand. And if you don’t have it, you may spend 6 months gathering the information, only to find that the time has passed and you missed the opportunity.

(But don’t be disheartened, there will be other opportunities. And the next time, you’ll be ready for it, right?)


I will be the first to put my hand up and say, feel free to ignore the advice from the woman whose business folded.

But, as the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20,” and now I can clearly see the mistakes I made with my business.

You and your business will hopefully benefit from my hard-earned hindsight.


mltqm2p4mau5qjtr6q0n-300x300Brooke McAlary is an aspiring minimalist, blissful gardener, frequent swearer, passionate writer and inappropriate laugher. She is also a happy wife, busy mum and slightly weird Australian. She blogs at Slow Your Home and is on a mission to help you slow down, brighten up and love your life.

You can find her hanging out on Facebook and Twitter multiple times a day.

{images both by Andrew Bannecker}

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