It started as a hobby, and grew organically. But now, business is picking up, time is getting scarce, and you’re starting to realise that you don’t have a roadmap or a clear destination.
Where are you heading? How are you going to get there? Have you got the right stuff for your trip? And how are you going to tell people about your journey now that you have less and less time to devote to storytelling?
Join me and a fellow group of committed, passionate, enthusiastic, and supportive creative biz owners just like you for a 30 day virtual roadtrip of learning, planning, clarification, and motivation to help you focus on what matters, what works… and what you need to let go of.
Yes, time is almost up to register for the inaugural class of SHIFT!
Registration closes in less than 24 hours (there’s even a handy-dandy countdown timer on the site so you don’t miss the cut-off).
I know you might not be ready for SHIFT yet – if you’re just starting out or still running your business as a hobby – so if that’s you, never fear! The next class of Set Up Shop – which is written just for you – will be running in October, so keep an eye out for that.
The other contributors and I share our own thoughts, experiences, and lessons learnt here on the blog every week. It’s all hard-won knowledge, because you know what?
We’re JUST like you.
We’re all indie makers. Solopreneurs. Learning as we go. Risk-takers. Dreamers. Do-ers. We don’t have all the answers. We haven’t figured it all out yet. We’re just sharing what we HAVE learnt, what we DO know to work – at least for us – because we want you to figure it out sooner than we did.
There is nothing extra-special or super-important about us that sets us apart from you. We’re all in the same boat.
With that in mind, I wanted to tap into the wealth of wisdom that exists here in the Create & Thrive community. So, a few weeks ago, I asked you:
Below is a compendium of those answers – which I’ve dubbed the #CTWordsOfWisdom.
Look out for many of these on our Instagram and Facebook page over the coming months – Megan E’s been hard at work turning your words of wisdom into inspiring and motivating shareable quotes! I’ve taken your comments from the previous post and broken them up into concise snippets of advice. Feel free to tweet and share these – just use the hashtag #CTWordsOfWisdom and link back to this post if you can!
Before we immerse ourselves in your wisdom, though, I wanted to extend an invitation.
This is not a static document.
I want YOU to share your tips, ideas, lessons learnt, aha moments with us in the comments. Let’s keep the bank of wisdom growing and flowing and help each other figure things out!
Now, it’s over to you.
What would YOU tell people just starting out in handmade business?
Making clear times to do your craft (especially if you’re doing it around work) will help ensure that it doesn’t take over your life. Make sure that you include pack up time into that too! ~ Macramake
Believe in yourself and your craft. After I quit my day job to follow my dream, people say to me, “What are you doing now that you don’t work?” Well actually, I do work. More than I ever did. Now I can proudly answer that question. “I’m a jewelry designer”. Don’t let people trivialize your work! Believe in who you are, your talent and your creations. Because no one else will believe it until you do. ~ Tracey Atkinson
Always have your “end game” in mind. Is what I’m doing today in line with how I envision my business down the road? Is the way I’m running my business scalable and sustainable long term and at a higher level? Can I make enough money doing my handmade business full time? ~ Cortney Nichols
Don’t stock up wanting to “save money” on items that you visualize you are going to need when your product “takes off”. Get the information you need to order, what you need in bulk, so that way when the time comes you can have it when you need it. Otherwise you will end up with a whole bunch of “stuff” that you may or may not use within your lifetime, because you are so over the product you were creating when you stocked up on that item. You tie up your money thinking you “save” and then you don’t have the working capital when you need it. ~ Miska Black
One thing I found I missed out on was as soon as I had a business name was not getting it set up in all the different social media options. Even if you aren’t using them to begin with, get registered and be consistent with your name. It will help with branding and customers being able to identify. Don’t do what I did and be ‘frightened’ of all the options out there. People use social media differently so you need to cover all the bases even if you don’t like them yourself! ~ Tricia
Just keep going but go like water in a stream. If you can’t move the rocks in your way, you have to be flexible to go around them. ~ Allison Dey Malacaria
Unless you are one of the very fortunate few to suddenly be “discovered” after making and listing a few items for sale, you have to really work hard to figure out who your customers are and then find them. Who you are, how you dance with the music of business is more telling of your future success than anything else. ~ Allison Dey Malacaria
Temper the initial passion for your biz. When I started I thought everyone would love it so I overbought and money I could have used for other things got tied up in inventory for years. ~ Wendi Unrein
Be careful who you get ideas from and pay attention to what you are needing/asking. When I started I got inundated with the “You should..” people with good ideas but not the ones I needed. That is very important. ~ Wendi Unrein
Show up, each and every day. Do something for your business every single day. ~ Barb Lieberman
Bookkeeping from day one. Real cost of each item, inventory, sales tax, sales, shipping, everything. If you don’t have the time to do it right now, today, you won’t ever find the time. The task grows exponentially if you do not do it as you go along. ~ Barb Lieberman
Research events before you do them. Not all handmade? Might not be a good fit. Talk to others who are vending about the event. Most are happy to share their opinions. ~ Barb Lieberman
Network! Find other handmade businesspeople and get together to commiserate and celebrate. ~ Barb Lieberman
Celebrate! Every sale. Every new lead. Every new product. ~ Barb Lieberman
Organize your workflow. Organize your packaging flow. Organize for events. Organize inventory. Don’t waste time looking for things. ~ Barb Lieberman
Ask questions. Try new things. ~ Barb Lieberman
Look for inspiration. Add new products or twists/improvements of your regular items now and then. Give customers a reason to come back. ~ Barb Lieberman
Say “I” when you talk about your business. Be your brand. ~ Barb Lieberman
Do not give away your products. Do not discount their value. Charge what they are worth. Place value on “handmade” and all it offers. ~ Barb Lieberman
Enjoy what you do. LOVE what you do. If you don’t, it’s a job. If you do, it’s a blessing. ~ Barb Lieberman
PLAN!!! What your long term plans are, what do you want out of this? When you are going to make, market, book keep, supply shop- organise your time. ~ Sue Bertozzo
Trust yourself to be capable of learning the skills you need as you go along. ~ Alison Comfort
Don’t be afraid of the many hats you will end up wearing as you grow your handmade business! ~ Alison Comfort
Start where you are, do your best, and don’t be afraid of stepping up to learn each new skill as you go. Your handmade business will grow organically, and you can grow along with it. ~ Alison Comfort
Make peace with the seasonality of your business. Your year will likely be dominated by the busy season and the slower season, so take advantage of each while not getting too attached. ~ Alison Comfort
Have what I call a ‘complete concept’ – a confirmed aesthetic, unique selling point, ideal customer profile and keyword collection. ~ Penny- Elizabeth Neil
Treat it like a real business with intent to profit, and to get used to that idea. And get used to the idea of doing it 24/7 for the first…. 10 years. ~ Penny- Elizabeth Neil
Having a set visual concept (brand) is incredibly important – it helps you figure out what to call yourself, how to design your calling cards and social media graphics, who your customer is, where to find them, how to sell to them, what kind of photos to have and how to make sure the stuff they’ll make is something that will actually sell. When you figure out those three facets, half the work is done for you. ~ Penny- Elizabeth Neil
You really need to love what you do. Not only because you will be doing it, taking about it, living it and breathing it for the rest of your days…but because your love for what you do needs to show in your product and also in how you present it to the world, to make it special. ~ Margeaux
Create systems that you can replicate & stick to them. Alter if needed but if you have to do it more than once: determine a way to make it consistent & efficient each time. ~ Robin Ritz
Enjoy the Process. “When we take care of the Process, the Product takes care of itself.” ~ Robin Ritz
Learn from ‘trials & errors’ and be persistence, tenacious & determined. Keep trying. ~ Robin Ritz
Be kind to yourself & give yourself credit for all your bravery, courage, effort and hutzpa. ~ Robin Ritz
Listen & Observe. Ask customers for feedback, find out what’s working & do more of that. ~ Robin Ritz
Trust your Intuition. Stay True to Yourself & remember the reason you began creating to begin with. ~ Robin Ritz
Really nut out whether you’re doing it as a hobby or business. ~ Jewel Divas Style
Decide if you have the time or energy to put into a business and the hours it will take and the energy it will suck out of you. ~ Jewel Divas Style
Do you have the ability to sell at markets, or don’t have any near you at all? ~ Jewel Divas Style
Is social media something you are already into or want to go into? Because you will need to, and then spend time updating and using it. ~ Jewel Divas Style
Embrace social media, if used correctly it will be a great friend. ~ Tania
Do you want to set up a website straight away, or start selling on shops like Madeit or Etsy? ~ Jewel Divas Style
Do you have the money for set up costs or will you have to hassle with bank loans? ~ Jewel Divas Style
Do you need to do short courses to learn about the aspects of running a business, or perfecting your craft? ~ Jewel Divas Style
Do you have any support system around you or are you doing it all yourself? ~ Jewel Divas Style
Maybe start of as a hobby for a year or two until you fully understand how it’s going to work… and then decide whether you want to turn it, (or it’s become successful enough to turn), into a business. ~ Jewel Divas Style
If you start a business you will need to register the name and get an ABN (or equivalent in your country) and make sure you put in a tax return even if you make NO money (something I was not told and did not know). ~ Jewel Divas Style
When you make a sale note it down in your ledger/ excel doc… and make sure you have a day set aside once a week, or once a month to jot down all your expenses for that period. It seems like hard work in the first couple of months but soon it will be second nature, and come tax time it will make life SO much easier. You may need to write down all the steps you need to take (and frequency you are going to do them, daily, weekly, monthly etc) and refer back to it until you get used to it… but you won’t regret it! ~ Imogen Wilson Jewellery
It’s bloody hard work!! ~ Tania
Good photos are everything. Take the time to ensure your products are photographed in the best way possible. This doesn’t have to mean spending money on professional photos. There are lots of great photo taking tips out there so read up on them and also make sure you edit photos after taking them. ~ Tania
In the beginning, there is so much work, so many new learning experiences, so many first offs and much time spent working out how its done… but once you do these all once, the second and third are easier and take less time. ~ Fluid Ink
Try not to judge your business by looking at others and competing with others that are in the middle (time wise) of theirs. Things take twice as long at the start and it feels like you are a mouse on a treadmill, but gradually things take less time once you have worked out systems. Feeling competitive or trying to compete with others in the same industry is heartbreaking and mentally exhausting. ~ Fluid Ink
Do your own thing and stick to it. If you get a random request for ‘do you do this’ if its out of your range and its going to take more time effort resources than you have, say no. In saying that, sometimes, accepting a customer directed request, can force you to experiment with something you hadn’t though of and can be refreshing (although often un-profitable!) ~ Fluid Ink
Pay yourself!!! Just because someone else is selling a similar product for cheap, doesn’t mean you have to! When I compared my sales to others that were selling cheaper, I found that I had MORE sales for HIGHER prices! Don’t short yourself. ~ Yarned Together
Don’t procrastinate! Just list your items on whichever platform you have chosen and let the buyers out there be the judge. Don’t go by what your family and friends say, just get it out into the marketplace and gauge the response. And if the marketplace does not respond well then what have you lost? A few listing fees and a bit of time and material. What have you gained? The knowledge to alter your product so it better suits your buyers ~ Leanne Hewens
Create a brand and carry it through all you do. ~ Barb Lieberman
If you’ve never seen this video, you’ve definitely seen quotes from it floating around the internet. It’s become something of a legend in creative circles. You might have heard it called the ‘Make Good Art’ speech.
Here’s one of my favourite parts, which I think will probably ring true to anyone making a go at actually making money via their creativity:
“The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It’s Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.
In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don’t know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn’t consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don’t have to make things up any more.”
“People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”
This whole speech is littered with gems to ponder. Watch and listen carefully…
This is one of my favourite TED talks of all time. If you think it’s just about body language – think again. It’s about facing your fear – showing up – ‘faking it till you make it’ AND about how some seemingly small tweaks in your body language can actually change the chemistry of your body – and therefore how confident you feel.
This year is just flying by for me personally, and subsequently, time seems to be getting away from me in business as well.
It’s all good though. As we enter the summer season in the states, it is usually a slower season for sales, and for life in general. A good time to relax a little bit and rest up for what is traditionally a very busy time: fall and winter, and then, the holidays!
In previous years I have been very dedicated to meeting a monthly sales goal. It was realistic but a bit ambitious some months.
This year, I knew that because of everything going on, I would have to be a bit more flexible, and not so hard on myself with meeting all these goals. I had consistently met the sales goal 10 months of the year the previous years. I felt confident though that even if I eased up on myself, I would still have fairly successful months. I had worked so hard the past three years – to get my business to a place where it could run on autopilot if I was needing to focus on something else from time to time –and not like I had much of a choice – but, I went for it.
Perhaps some people are wondering – what is it that I was making room for in my life that business had to slow down a bit?
Let me fill you in. In January, my husband of four months got the news that he would be starting his career as an officer in the United States Navy in February with a three month training and bootcamp program. Basically this meant he would be away for three months with very little communication. I would be taking care of things at home and prepping out household to move to his new duty station upon graduation from his training. So that was a bunch to deal with, and it did require that I spend less time working.
It wasn’t a wildly off the charts successful season, but I stayed afloat and I even attempted to launch a new collection!
I did launch the collection, and I loved the new pieces, but I was not able to launch all at once like I had planned – in fact, it took about a month for me to get everything up and for sale. It wasn’t how I planned it, but I got caught a few days without internet, had to be away from my studio more days than expected, had other more urgent work to do… etc… Overall, I felt good about the work I was able to accomplish while I had so much other stuff going on.
It was nice to have to make room for other things, actually, and honestly, I probably worked a more regular schedule and less crazy hours than I normally would’ve.
To see that at the end of that period of time, nothing fell apart and everything was okay, was actually really wonderful.
I could’ve just taken the time off, put my shop on vacation, and come back to it when things were calm again. But I realized that, for one, I still needed and wanted to have my business up and running and also, was it ever really going to become ‘ideal’ for me to ‘reopen’? I might’ve gotten distracted and stayed away for a long time. It was better to do some, even if I couldn’t do all I wanted to do. So that is what I did.
It’s hard when you are the life force of your business and your life forces you to do other things that take away from your focus.
In the end, I would still rather have this job than any other, and I feel lucky that I am able to make these adjustments and decisions – and that I have the freedom and flexibility that I do.
So as I take stock on business this year so far, I know that my numbers are down all around, but I feel good about what I have been doing within the confines of the current situation. And now that we are settled in, I am eager to get back to creating new work and doing more work in general.
If you’ve ever had a similar experience, where you had to adjust the overall approach you take to running your business – short or longer term – please comment and share you experience. I am interested to hear how others navigate these tricky situations where the dual focus is more pronounced and is not part of the usual day to day!