10 THINGS I LEARNED FROM 13 YEARS OF BUILDING A SMALL BUSINESS
It has been 13 years since I began to pursue a professional career in the arts with the hope of making a living from my craft. In those 13 years, I have both failed and succeeded and I have learned many things along the way and not just about running a small business but about myself as well. There are things that I wish I knew when I started and things I would have done differently had I known better. After closing my brick-and-mortar shop in May of 2020 as a result of the pandemic, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, and as I approach some new decisions, I want to make sure that I take with me the lessons I’ve learned into this new chapter. I also hope that I can pass them on to those who may be in the early stages of running a small business or who feel stuck where you are.
1. HOW TO SAY 'NO'
I am starting with this because it truly is the most important. I used to think that every opportunity was a good opportunity and that if something presented itself I had to say yes in order to gain exposure or make a sale. I have now come to realize that when it comes to building a business I have to do things that are right for me and will contribute to my long-term goals. When I was saying yes all the time, I was spreading myself too thin, the quality of my work suffered, and I lost money as a result. This goes for all of those ideas floating around in your head too, learning how to edit them and let go will make all the difference in the world. Even if they are good ideas, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will contribute to your long-term goals or the future success of your brand. Take the time to examine them and ask the right questions before committing to something that may not be right for you.
2. HOW TO HEAR 'NO'
Hearing 'no' when it comes to your work can hurt and it can be incredibly discouraging. As an artist, you will hear no more times than you hear yes. It’s tough out there and there are a lot of other talented people looking for the same opportunities. Having a thick skin is essential and will be the difference between enduring and picking yourself up and trying again or deciding to quit. Use the no’s as inspiration and look at your work objectively to figure out why the answer was no or why they weren’t the right fit for you.
3. IT'S OK TO TAKE A DAY OFF
This is so important. I used to feel guilty about taking a day off since there is always so much that needs to be done when you’re doing it all on your own. But taking a day or even two to rest, relax and do something unrelated to your craft is probably the most effective thing you can do. You will be surprised by how inspired you are when you come back after some time away.
4. NOT TO FEEL GUILTY FOR GETTING PAID.
In the beginning, I was just happy that people wanted to buy what I make and I was basically willing to give it away at any price they felt it was worth. What I learned is that if they don't want to pay the price I am asking, then my work is not for them. Just because someone else doesn't value what I do doesn't mean it's not worth the price I am asking for it. You have to be willing to let those people walk away and wait for the right people will come along because they will. I have learned to be more confident when people ask me how much something costs knowing that I am worth it. It is also ok to explain to people why your work costs what it does. Just because it is out of their budget doesn’t mean it is out of everyone’s budget. This is an incredibly liberating and powerful feeling.
5. EVEN THOUGH I KNEW IT WAS GOING TO BE HARD, I HAD NO IDEA HOW HARD IT WAS GOING TO BE.
Yes, really. People will think your life is easy. Some of the things I heard on a daily basis while running my shop were; “You’re so lucky, you get to make things all day long.” And “OMG, You’re living the dream! I would love to be able to do this” Just because I'm doing something that I love doesn't mean it's easy. Until I was actually in it, I just didn't know how hard it would be. I never expected it to be easy, but I had no idea it was going to be this hard.
Whoever said, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” obviously never ran a small business as an independent artist. Of course, I love what I do but I have never worked harder in my life. And even with all the joy and reward that comes with it, it has to be your first priority, you have to feed it and change it and give it every ounce of love and attention that you have. You will have to sacrifice things that were once important to you and make compromises you never even thought of. But it’s all worth it.
6. I WOULD WANT TO GIVE UP, ALMOST EVERYDAY
Because it's harder than I ever imagined it would be. But I will never give up, I don't know how. This is who I am and the only thing I know how to be.
7. NOT EVERYONE WILL BELIEVE IN YOU
What is most important is that you believe in yourself. Even people closest to you will sometimes have a hard time supporting you and believing in you. They may tell you that you will never be successful or that your idea will never work but if you truly believe in what you are doing then you have to let that go and you have to be willing to fight for it, even with the people that you love the most. What you do need to do is find supporters, they are out there and they come in many forms and when you find them, hold onto them because they are essential.
8. TRUST YOURSELF AND FIND YOUR OWN UNIQUE VOICE.
About a year ago, I decided that I wanted to try using wax casting to make metal jewelry. It was something I wanted to try for a while and I am so glad I did because I learned something incredibly important from that; I am a polymer clay artist and I'm really good at it. It is my material, it is what I love and what I have spent the past 13 years perfecting. Of course, it’s always fun to try new things but knowing who you are and what makes you unique is priceless. Find that thing that you love and are truly passionate about and be the best that you can be at it and keep working at it and keep improving your skills. I realized that there is still so much that I haven’t perfected with this material and that is where I want to focus my attention.
There are moments when I still find it hard to trust my own voice and think that I should try something else, but somehow I always come back to that thing that I am truly passionate about and that’s how I know it's right. I always try my best to trust my intuition and let my instincts guide me.
9. HOW TO ASK FOR HELP
As much as I would like to think that I am superwoman with incredible superpowers, the fact is that I can't do it alone. You have to let go of that idea especially when you begin to grow. It’s ok to ask for help, it’s ok to let other people work on your actual craft. This terrified me the first time I let another set of hand works on my jewelry but it gave me so much more freedom and I was able to produce much more work and I actually felt more relaxed and less stressed! It doesn’t make it any less yours or any less authentic if you have people who help you with aspects of your business.
10. WHEN ONE DOOR CLOSES ANOTHER ONE OPENS.
With all the struggles and challenges that have presented themselves these past 19 months, I have never been more sure of my place in the world. My passion for my work is deeper than ever and I am confident that the progress that I have made is moving me forward and when the time is right the next door will open. Success does not happen overnight but we must trust that everything happens for a reason and that we are on the path that is meant for us. Nothing about this is a streamlined process, there are many bumps in the road, there are hills to climb and valleys to navigate and nothing happens overnight but if you want to bad enough, you can do it!
Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to read through my post! I hope that this is helpful to some of you out there no matter where you are on your journey. Does any of this resonate with you? Do you have any insights or advice to add? I'd love to hear from you! Be sure to like, comment and share!