Starting something...the one thing I learnt this year.
This year has been a brilliant year for me and I wanted to document it so I didn't forget how fun it's been and to write it down in case it encouraged anyone else who was wanting to make the first steps into starting a creative business. I started off by writing about everything that had happened, but that got a bit long and boring and I noticed there was a theme in what I was writing about so I thought I'd narrow it down to this one thing.
And before you read this, this is by no means me saying I've made it, I'd be so embarrassed if you thought that! I have taken some first steps and had some successes and glimmers of hope that I'm on the right path, but I'm still working the day job and getting all this stuff done in the evenings. I don't know if I'll get there and make a living out of this but I'm going to try, and this is what's happened so far and what I've learned. I hope it helps someone.....
For those who don't know, I design modern embroidery kits and products and write for craft magazines, I sell on Etsy and Not On The High Street.
January 2016, was about taking stock. I'd worked hard to develop my needlepoint kits over the last year but had a disappointing Christmas, sales wise and just new I could do better. It all felt very 'home made' and a bit unprofessional. So I knew I had to work on my branding and logo and to develop some new products. I also set myself the goal of getting accepted to Not on the High street, and that was about the sum of my business planning. Since having children and having such a limited amount of free time, planning and admin etc. has gone to the bottom of the pile in terms of priorities. I'm just all about the doing, getting my head down and getting on with things. I say this as I don't think this is the best way, this year I'm determined to be much more focused, plan much more and hopefully be more effective. I feel like I've achieved a lot this year, but that its been the result of a bit of a scatter gun approach rather than a focussed plan, maybe I'd have achieved more if I'd had a more detailed plan? Anyway, at the start of the year, with a 1 and a 3 year old and a full time job, these two goals were all I could manage. Rebrand, and get accepted to Not on the High Street.
So first on the list to tackle was the rebrand. The first logo I had, I'd designed (above) in about half an hour and I was a bit embarrassed now looking at it, it was basic. Luckily for me, a friend of my sister's, who is an established graphic designer, wanted to try her hand at this type of branding brief, and asked if she could work for me for free - in return for feedback, and a project for her portfolio. Yes, I bit her hand off. This has been truly a massive blessing for me and has really elevated my business.
But this process wasn't just me handing over the reigns and getting someone to design me a look and feel for my business. It required me to ask some hard questions about my brand and my style, what colours defined my style, who was I focussing my products towards? I had some great, great difficult and brain bending chats with my graphic designer, she asked me hard questions about what I wanted my business to be and it was so helpful to just have to try and answer things like this face to face, to be grilled by someone really trying to get to the bottom of what my business was. Because I'm so immersed in what I do, I feel like it's obvious what I'm trying to do whereas it can look quite different to an outsider, these conversations really helped me focus in on what I wanted to do and which aspect of my work I wanted to focus on. These chats made me realise I needed to focus, focus, focus, what was I all about?! I also read The Brand Stylist, by Fiona Humberstone, a great workbook and I would highly recommend it as a structured way to think about defining your brand.
So now we're at about April, I think. I'm getting some success submitting projects to Mollie Makes and Reloved magazines and the deadline for the Mollie Makes awards is coming up. I was undecided as to whether to apply, I'd applied the year before and not been shortlisted, but I decided to give it a go, and I got shortlisted, and got the chance to go and spend a day with all the other shortlisted businesses/designers, which was brilliant and I met loads of great people and learnt a lot. And this is where you'll see the theme start to appear, what was most helpful about taking part in the awards was having to present my work and talk about what I did to a group of people who didn't know me and didn't know what I did. The process again, of preparing for this and speaking it out and chatting to other people made me realise a whole load of other stuff about what I did and what my business was all about. So this felt like another step forward, of realisation of what I needed to do to be successful and learning more about myself, how I worked and what I wanted my focus to be. You can read all about my day at the Mollie Makes awards here.
So back to my New Year goal to get accepted to NOTHS, I had booked in an appointment at one of their pitch up events in July, as I work so much better with an actual deadline, and I prefer the face to face interaction rather than just sending an email. I'd highly recommend this way of applying to NOTHS, i went on a Saturday, got the chance to go to the head office in Richmond (so cool) and best of all got half an hours chat with one of the category managers. I didn't get accepted on the day, I wasn't ready, BUT it was so helpful, it was another one of those opportunities to talk to someone external about my work, try and describe what I do, what my brand was about and in the process, and in the stumbling and not very coherent explanation, work out myself a little bit more of what I was about. All of these experiences of having to get out of my spare bedroom and actually talk to people about what i do and what i wanted to do were THE MOST useful exercises and helped me move my thinking and my brand along much quicker than if I'd just sat in my room trying to work it all out on my won. So, I still had a way to go, but I was LEARNING!
So we're now at September, I have a brand new image that I love, I have some new products that I've refined and based on feedback from My NOTHS pitch up I'm much more confident in, so I book in to my second pitch up event this time in Leicester and this time I'm accepted!!!! It felt so good! That I'd been let into this club made up of loads of makers and designers that I'd admired and learned from, and the NOTHS team's feedback was so positive and ecouraging, it made all those late nights/early mornings really worth it and it was a massive boost!
I'm drawing to a close now, as this is a really long post for me and I know I only have a very short attention span, so others must be the same? Anyway, to wrap up the theme and hammer home my one piece of advice that stands out through the whole of last year, I was chatting to a colleague at work, someone I really like and who has a great lot of experience in business and life generally, and we were chatting about my business and I was again, trying not that well to explain it and I don't know how we got on to it, but we ended up agreeing to meet up and that he would start to mentor me in my business. We met ups couple of weeks later and again, had a really difficult but brilliant conversation because I was STILL struggling to communicate clearly and effectively what my business was all about, was I wanting to be a blogger, a journalist, an artist, a designer, a retail agh!!! He was able to reflect back to me some of the gaps in what I was saying and basically communicated to me and made me realise, I need a plan. Maybe not a 50 page business plan, but something more detailed and focussed to work towards, how I am going to make this business thing happen.
All of these opportunities to talk about my business this year, either to a judging panel, a NOTHS category manager, my mentor or my graphic designer, have ALL made me realise new things about my business, what I'm doing what I need to do. I really believe that if I hadn't made these things happen, I would be so much further behind, the business would be so less well developed because in the talk, I realised so many things and had so many ideas that JUST WOULDN'T have happened other wise!
So, because I need to wrap this up my one piece of advice for anyone starting out on a similar venture is TALK. Talk to people about your business. Talk and share, re-evaluate, talk and share, re-evaluate. Keep doing this. Talk to as many people as you can, as far removed from you personally as you can ( I am sure my husband has tried to tell me the same things my mentor told me but I never listened to him!) Get a mentor ! Find an acquaintance or a colleague who you meet up with and talk about your business idea. Get used to talking about it and realising where the flaws are, if you can't communicate it, it's not clear enough and other people won't catch on to what you are doing. Put yourself in situations where you have to talk about your business, at networking groups or business retreats, book that NOTHS appointment or like me find a friendly graphic designer, because the process of talking your ideas through, again and again, and refining them as you go will move you forward. I really hope I've communicated this adequately, but I really feel like this one principle will help you move your business forward, I think I just fell into doing it this year, but on reflection, it has definitely been the thing that has pushed me on this year and will be one thing I will continue to do in 2017!
Ok that's it. What do you think?