11 tips for starting a small creative business
I get quite a few messages over on the Tumble and Rose Instagram asking for tips for starting a small business which is super flattering as it was only about two years ago now that I sat down in my spare room and took the plunge with starting Tumble and Rose, which is absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things and I think my little corner of the internet is quite small compared to some of the creative businesses out there, but I thought I would put my thoughts to paper (or blog post as it were) so anyone who does want to can learn from my experiences.
- Create something that is authentically and uniquely you. I think this is quite an important one to put up front. It’s all well and good having a business idea, but do you actually love it? I can promise you now that if you don’t love what you’re planning to do, you’re going to have a harder road ahead. Before diving in and going full throttle, make sure you have a clear picture in your head of how you want to start – you can definitely tweak this as you go as every business evolves, but it makes sense to start with something you are passionate about, otherwise you might not want to see it through. You also need to have an idea of what will make you different from existing businesses out there – copying someone else’s designs isn’t cool, and you won’t be successful in copying their business as they got there first! From my own experience, I’ve been making jewellery since I was 11, and though I’ve always enjoyed it, discovering electroforming and incorporating raw crystals to make items I was absolutely in love with was the kick I needed to get me started, and set me apart from all the other jewellers I’d previously seen.
- Make a moodboard to help shape your direction. I actually only did this about a year into running Tumble and Rose and I wish I’d done it sooner! It is a really good tool to help you visualise what you want to create and also to channel your thoughts into some cohesive areas. I used mine during my rebrand (more on that below) but also when I wanted visualise the themes to my product ranges. Moodboards also help you see thing like what colours schemes work together, and when stuck to a wall where you can see them act as a great grounding point to keep you on track for your vision. Start by creating a collage of magazine cuttings, images, fonts or colours you find resonate with you. Try and find a name you love that reflects what you want to do, but don’t stress too much about this – you can always rebrand later if you really need to.
- Make a start, and tweak as you go. This one is probably the most important of all the tips I have to offer in this list. Now you’ve got your idea, make a start! I’m a big believer that the best way to start something is to do that first step, and tweak as you go. I’ve never been 100% happy with my little business, be it my photography, or social media presence, or SEO, but I would never have got where I am without taking that first step – and I definitely wouldn’t have ever launched anything if I was waiting for perfection. My very first step after actually making something was opening my Etsy shop, which is probably a great place to start…I won’t go into too much detail as to the best platforms to use and how to use them as different things work for different people, but Etsy was the best starting place for me, plus there’s a whole wealth of guidance on their website on how to get started. [Here's a link to the Etsy Seller Handbook]
- Keep a log of spending and income. So, good news and bad news now. Yay! You’ve officially started! Congrats! It also means that you’re officially trading however and with that comes a few responsibilities in regards to tax, such a registering for ‘self employment’ and keeping a log of your income and costs as you’ll probably need to pay tax on any profits that you make. Don’t panic, this is actually super simple and if you’re UK based there’s loads of info on the HMRC website, and you’ll only pay tax when you start making profit, which is different to sales. It’s worth doing this early on which is why I’m including it in the list, as you can face a hefty fine if you don’t, and not paying tax that is owed counts as tax evasion and is illegal…You can do this after you’ve got the next few steps sorted first if you’d prefer, but make sure you do it as soon as possible. [The HMRC website can be found here and has a step by step to follow]
- Create your brand. The most successful creative businesses have an instantly recognisable brand, and I imagine this is something they’ve put a lot of work into – it’s definitely something that will evolve over time, but it’s important for you to create a cohesive look that helps communicate your brand ethos to others, and helps your customers and potential customers recognise you. Things to consider are your colour palette, logo, packaging and social media icons, as well as the type of images you want to create. I actually got the help of an illustrator when I did my rebrand, but before that I was using a pretty generic font. I’m really happy with Tumble and Rose’ branding now – I think it is kept pretty simple, but allows me to tie through the natural and eco-friendly aspects of the products I create.
- Get on social media and get to know your audience. Personally, the social media I seem to have stuck to is Instagram, and it seems really good for driving traffic and getting to know the people who are interested in my jewellery. I also find it really great as a creative hub that allows me to get to know like minded people. That being said, it's incredibly easy to get caught up in social media and make comparisons to others, so bear in mind that someone's social media account is not a true representation of their life, especially if they're a brand. There's lots of different options out there and you might find that Twitter or Facebook works better for you, but have a play around with different options and see how you get on. The main thing is that it's a really great social tool to get you closer to your audience and possibly get the word out about your brand.
- Make some creative friends. One of the best things about this little creative journey of mine is the friends I've made along the way - it's really great to have a little network of like minded people who are experiencing similar things and who I can bounce ideas off. Social media, craft markets and local craft groups are a great place to meet people, so use every opportunity you can get to speak to other makers, as you never know who you'll meet!
- Get some business cards and decent packaging. An important one before you start on the next step, and before you make your first online sale. Packaging is really important as it's the first thing your customers will see when their order pops through their letter box - not only does it represent your brand but it needs to be functional and protect whatever you are sending. All of my packaging is plastic free, made from recycled and recyclable materials and is sourced from other small businesses. I also include a little leaflet about my brand with a thank you code in my parcels. Think about the image you want to present to your customers and start searching for packaging that will get that message across. Business cards are also an important thing to have - I have lost count of the times people have asked me for a card and have found me online later - you need to be able to give people something to remember you by and find you, and these should also fit in with your branding.
- Do some craft markets. Doing a real life market might seem a bit daunting, but it's a really useful way to test ideas, meet people and get your brand out there. Start small with a local craft market, plan your table in advance and enjoy the experience! It's all a learning curve and you'll soon get to know which displays, products and locations work or don't, as well as getting the word out about your brand.
- Remember it’s okay for ideas to dry up. In a world where it seems everyone is always coming out with new products and ideas, it's hard to remember that everyone has creative block sometimes. Don't force yourself to come up with news things if you don't love them - only create things you really love and your passion will shine through.
- Finally, don’t overload yourself. This is probably the thing it has taken me longest to come to terms with. Tumble and Rose is a one woman band, which means I do everything myself and set myself unending to do lists. Don't do that. Ask for help if you need it and make small leaps at a time. The world isn't going to end and your business come crashing down around you because you didn't write that tweet or promote your new product on Instagram stories. You'll eventually burn out if you push yourself too much and you'll lose sight of why you started in the first place. Creative businesses should be a very organic growth process - enjoy the journey!
So there are my 11 top tips that come to mind that when starting a small business, but I am more than happy to answer more questions in the blog comments!
- Helen xo