The process of starting a creative business has been such a ride so far (and my online shop has only been open for a few weeks!). Here's a few things that I've learned in the last 6 months, from first idea to first sale...
1. Take the time to research and brainstorm.
During the pre-production phase of my first collection, I spent a lot of time thinking about running my own business and what it would mean for me personally to commit to the daily work of crafting and making. I read a few inspirational books about creativity and start-ups (The $100 Start-Up was an eye-opener), listened to some podcasts about entrepreneurship, and spent countless "research" hours on the internet looking at other people's portfolios, shops, blogs, and creative lives. A mix of envy, inspiration, discouragement, and excitement ensued.
While there's so much to be said for just doing the work—the meat and bones of any enterprise—I can't tell you how important it was for me to go through this early brainstorming process. Some may call it self analysis, business development, or laying the necessary groundwork. In a way, it was all of those things. Devoting time to this exploratory work has made me a more confident business owner. I know why I'm choosing to do this work and I feel strongly about the investment I have made in myself and my business.
2. Give yourself permission and then go ahead and do it.
The most obvious tangible 'thing' that came out of this process was the formation of my career as a product designer and a writer. The act of committing to a creative project and putting it out there in the world has forced me to take my work seriously. That doesn't mean that I'm not having fun—I love this work that I'm doing now and can hardly call it that. But I'm taking it seriously in the sense that I am committing to doing my best work every day and to putting a product out there that I am proud of. If I hadn't moved forward and opened those virtual shop doors, I don't think I'd be motivated to design new products, share stories online, or even talk about my creative work.
3. Play around.
One of those bits of advice that I gleaned somewhere along the way is an oldie but goodie: don't put all of your eggs in one basket. Frankly, I think it would be impossible to carry a single basket full of the same old eggs for every day of one's life. You would get bored with that basket. You would wake up one morning and make a spinach and poblano pepper omelet with those eggs. You would smash an egg against the wall just to see what that was like. You get the idea.
So one of those other "baskets" is this journal of articles and ideas. The simple act of consistent writing has put my creative work and plans on a roadmap of sorts—ideas for new projects have emerged that I'm not so sure would have otherwise. A dear friend saw a few pictures of me and my daughter painting together, and rang me up with a fantastic idea for a project involving children and art. And now we're in the very early stages of fleshing out a pretty cool side project. I'm so excited to see where it goes.
4. Be patient.
Taking the pressure off by doing something just for fun is also a riff on being patient—it's a way to keep your own momentum and excitement going during those first weeks of a business launch.
But I'll be honest, being patient is a tricky thing for me. I now have a few sales under my belt. It's a fantastic feeling to see an order email come through, and I am so grateful to the people who are going out on a limb and trying something new! But part of me wonders… at this point, should I have had more sales? And that's my cue to call my awesome, old friend who always has my back. She always knocks some sense into me and tells me what I am now telling you: that everyone has to start somewhere. And that we need to be patient with ourselves.
5. Connect with other people.
The internet. I think we can all agree that leveraging the internet to connect with others is a no-brainer. But if keeping up with every social media platform feels like a lot of work, maybe you don't need to. Perhaps you choose one or two that you like to use (and will actually use).
Social media is less overwhelming once you realize that everyone is just repurposing a lot of the same content. (Hopefully it's more of your own content as opposed to others' work, but we all share that, too.)
Personally, I am thrilled at the idea of using this space for a wide variety of things that I find interesting or inspiring or worth documenting. It's a place where I hope to be as open as possible about my experience with creative work, what it means to start a small business while raising small children, and how it actually feels to put one's creative self out into the world. (And yes, after I post, I'll likely tweet about it.)
Face-to-face. In the Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin talks about her experience as an author and the benefit of checking in with another writer friend during the daunting process of writing a book. While neither were on each other's payroll, they held each other accountable and provided a source of motivation and inspiration in what was otherwise really isolating work. An immediate goal is to start a small club of a few women who are in similar places in their lives and work, and setting aside a chunk of time as a group where we can share technical details and creative big-picture stuff. Nina of 50 States of Style and I regularly perform some version of this over toddler negotiations at a local diner, and our discussions have been so invaluable to me! I love the idea of expanding our informal chats into a regularly scheduled, kids-free check-in.
6. Do what works for you.
Whew. I'm surprised I had so much to say about these first 6 months from first idea to first sale. I'm so curious, what has worked for you in these early stages? Hit reply to a letter if you're on my list—I'd love to chat with you.
Photo via Unsplash.