Can you believe we are already in April, and the first quarter of the year has already whizzed by? It’s been a tricky start to the year hasn’t it, as we tentatively come out of both Winter hibernation and lockdown.
Looking back over the last 3 months, and as we move further into the year, I can feel my work gathering speed and developing along with the changing seasons.
A Spring shift is hatching.
There’s lots of movement happening and some of my reliable stead-fast habits have set the solid foundations to allow me to take the next step. In some ways this feels scary, as do all big steps forward, but it’s also about recognising what shift needs to happen to make way for the new projects.
Remember, there is only so much time in the day and so it’s time to get super focussed to achieve what I want to this year. So, for example, I haven’t been as prolific at writing these Blogs, and that’s not because I don’t want to, it’s simply about navigating the time and juggling my work priorities.
For the past few years, I’ve been building to this point of launching as a fledgling creative small business and due to the new things I’ve developed this year, it’s finally going to happen. I am both thrilled about this and also know it’s a giant leap of faith into the unknown, which always ups the heart rate a little!
But it does feel good that the hard work is paying off, and that The Curious Creative Club is heading into the next stage, including supporting people more on a one to one basis.
As I look back from the start of the year, it hasn’t been easy to get into a regular working pattern, due to the restrictions and to ensure I’ve not got frustrated about this, I’ve been working more at night. This is one way I’ve needed to adapt, and it’s allowed me to start my own regular creative writing club on an evening, which I absolutely love doing.
These are now running well and fit perfectly into the creative support ‘service’ side of The CCC, along with our Accountability Membership programme – WOW Wednesdays.
WOW is also growing as we get close to its 2nd birthday, we are providing more support and specialist sessions than ever, and celebrating the results with our members.
Added to the service side, the art product creation is also naturally growing, in a direction I never fully anticipated. You may have read at Christmas I sold several needlefelt pictures at a pop-up shop in Holmfirth, purely because I had some spare and mentioned them on the off chance to the owner. As it happened, they sold well, and this shop will be opening up permanently in a few weeks’ time and they have asked me for more stock to sell.
Also, a new coffee shop has opened where we launched WOW Wednesdays. Similarly to the previous owner who supported us back then, the new owners also want to support the community and asked for local businesses to share their products to potentially sell in the cafe. I got in touch and they also loved my needlefelt pieces and art cards. These are happily now for sale there too, @joys_coffee_house
I’ll be honest, re art designs, I never imagined I would be focussing on needlefelt, but I have to admit, these work in the rural area where we live, as great unique gifts or designs for homes in this area. And I do love doing them, choosing the colours and the little unique elements of each design.
However, I am still very much experimenting, so it won’t be the only direction I go in, I’m far too curious for that, BUT it is satisfying to know that I’ve found a product that people like and want to buy (I hope that doesn’t jinx it!). Watch this space as I create a ‘needlefelt commissions’ page on this website too.
Why am I telling you all this I hear you ask?
Well, as creatives, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the joy of the work, and that’s exactly how it should be, especially if what you do is more on a hobby basis. But if you are wanting to dip your toe in the selling / service side and create your own small business, then there is some challenging (but also fun) work ahead, that doesn’t always come naturally to creative minds!
So, here are my 8 Top Tips I’ve learned over the last year; a whistle stop tour that I hope will enable you to start thinking about the steps you need to take, before you launch.
1. Creating your strategy – ask an expert to take a look.
If you do find this side tricky, I highly recommend accessing a specialist strategic brain! By this I mean speaking to someone who does this as a job or their business. If you have several ideas, then this will really help you see the wood for the trees, and get all your plans into one simple strategy.
They will look at your plans objectively and ask the specific questions that you need to answer to refine your strategy, plus I found it an enjoyable and interesting process!
It’s almost like they create a simple road map to get you from A to B, without you thinking along the way ‘Ooo, look at that beautiful sunset over there, maybe I should go see that instead and paint it’, and getting very easily distracted!
Since I did this work last year with my friend Michelle Cowan, who uses her expertise on this in her consultancy business, I swear something subconsciously has happened, because it seems to be naturally going down the route we planned out together, without me overthinking it!
I also have my strategy plan to refer back to, (in multi-colour, I had to request that as I knew I’d never look at it if it was grey!), it’s such a useful document to check in with.
Once you’ve tapped into this kind of help, there are many more areas where you can gain great advice…
2. When it comes to numbers, don’t freak out, ask a bookkeeper.
I think this is fundamental, especially for creative businesses because if you are anything like me, spreadsheets and numbers will be your kryptonite.
If you have no experience in this area, it is easy to feel slightly terrified. Within our WOW membership we are lucky to have Angela Proud of Proud Bookkeeping, our financial hero, who keeps all of us creatives on the straight and narrow and very patiently answers our questions.
Many bookkeepers, like Angela do free initial consultations, to discover what you need help with and point you in the right direction or offer their own services. They can also set you up with easier spreadsheets to use, so you don’t get in a knot trying to create one!
Whilst this is a bit of a cost, this kind of service is worth its weight in gold to avoid the stress and hours of precious time which could be spent doing what you do best instead.
They can also help a little with questions about how you want to register your business for tax purposes, such as becoming a Sole Trader, if you are at that stage.
3. Insurance – do your research.
There are many different kinds obviously, but it depends on what you need it for, for example if you are trading at a market or country festival, you are likely to need public liability insurance. There are more specialised policies for creatives these days so have a good hunt around or ask a local insurance business for advice on what you need to look for.
4. Customer data and information – understand the rules.
Again, research about GDPR and make sure you are covered. Many website hosts (if you have a website), have prescriptive text that you can add to your site to cover you, but also think about how you use customers information and store it. The key is to be transparent and not send information to customers that they didn’t ask for or sign up to – such as salesy newsletters they don’t want.
5. Spend quality ‘getting to know you’ time with your brand and values.
This means almost having a meeting with yourself to get to the absolute nitty-gritty of what you are all about. I can’t stress the importance of this part of the process enough, and if you need extra help, check out my previous Blog on strengths to help you with this and this Blog on branding too.
For me, the branding and this deep work where you really unpick the unique things about your business, is an exciting part of the journey, but that’s because it was my previous career, so if this feels like a foreign entity to you, then find a branding expert to talk it through with.
Branding is NOT just a logo and pretty colours, it’s the whole personality of your business and so important to get right and appeal to the right customers for your business.
To start you off, you could do the following:
6. Marketing – do what you need to do, not everything at once
There are so many marketing avenues available now that this part can feel intense and overwhelming.
In order to transform from a hobbyist to a creative small business, getting your product or service out there is essential, BUT that doesn’t mean you have to cover all bases immediately. You can start off slow and build up, especially at the start or you’ll find that all you are doing is the marketing and not the making!
Many small businesses start off slowly on social media first, it’s the quickest way to get your brand and messaging out there, so that your customers know what you are offering and what your business is all about. You can build up your audience here, and then lead them to your website / shop later, once you have a loyal and engaged following.
Remember it is better to do small amounts well, than everything in a disparate or rushed manner. And if you are not savvy on social media, don’t worry there are many social media experts out there that don’t charge a small fortune or offer beginner ‘power-hours’ to get you started and so you can then do it yourself, such as my WOW partner Clair, @asocialnature
7. Structure your selling process – get your ducks in a row.
Customers will recommend you and give you repeat business, if, and only if, they have had a great experience with you in terms of service. It’s not enough these days to just have a fantastic product, if it doesn’t get to them on time to give to their mother-in-law for their birthday, they will feel disappointed, annoyed, and let down.
So, spend time creating an order process, which will make life so much easier, the busier (hopefully) you get.
Step into your customers shoes and think about the key things they’ll want to know, such as production and delivery times, what happens if something arrives broken, how will you let them know when it’s on the way, can you personalise items etc. Create a Frequently Asked Questions document with answers for you to quickly and easily send out or have on your website.
Thinking about all these things upfront, will save you lots of time in the long run, and customers will be grateful that they are dealing with someone who has thought about their needs.
8. Join an accountability group, not just a networking group.
Ok this may be controversial, but as a creative I know many others who feel this way – I do not enjoy networking! What I do enjoy is learning and building meaningful, solid connections with people who are of the same mindset. I want to be with people who are alongside me, inspiring me and cheering me on, not selling to me or saying how fantastic and easy everything is. I know not all networking groups are like that, but many I have experienced are, which is why myself and Clair set up WOW Wednesdays in the first place.
Our Accountability Membership is all about nurturing people and watching them grow through gaining confidence and learning from the group. It’s for people who want to use accountability to get things done and move forwards, not just sales chat. It’s about action and real personal growth.
Obviously, you could easily join us (It’s an online membership), but if you can’t right now, or would rather join a group in your local area, look for a group with similar qualities, or better still, create some accountability with your friends or other local businesses yourself and support each other.
Working on your own is hard going when you don’t have colleagues to chat ideas or issues through with, so belonging to a like-minded group makes it a less lonely and far more enjoyable experience. Plus, you can easily tap into the expertise of the group when you have those niggling questions.
So that’s it in terms of a very quick snapshot and obviously there are many more things to consider, but hopefully this has given you a good taster of things to think and get excited about!
However, If you have any struggles or challenges with mindset in all of this, for example, you may feel stuck with overwhelm, I recommend getting some extra support.
This can come through things like business coaching programmes (often more affordable in a group membership setting rather than individually) such as Nicola Rae Wickham’s Root & Rise programme or consider joining your local chamber of commerce, who can offer you access to a number of services such as insurance, legal, health, HR, marketing and PR to name just a few.
I know this may seem a lot to take in but there is no rush, you can work ‘on’ your business a little at a time, and spread out the costs, it’s taken me several years already so far! It’s been worth the effort though, I can honestly say there is nothing more rewarding than earning some money, no matter how little, from what you have built and created yourself!
I used to earn way more in my corporate career, but the pounds that I earn this way are worth so much more to me now. As Holly Tucker says, its all about ‘Doing what you love, loving what you do’ and I couldn’t agree more! See main image!
I may not be a millionaire any time soon (sorry kids!) but that doesn’t matter, I’m building a small business that I love, and I am very proud of, and I hope giving my children another avenue to think about as they grow up.
Until next time…enjoy the Spring sunshine and a bit more freedom,
Juliet, the Curious Creative x
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