Setting up your own creative business can be an exciting but daunting time. I’m often asked by bloggers or prospective business owners for tips about setting up a small creative business. So here are my top ten. I must stress this is the advice I would have given myself 5 years ago and is aimed at somebody who is starting from scratch – just as I did! And, yes, I wish I'd done some of these things sooner.
- Be a Leader
The most successful creative businesses I know consistently create unique products. They are not of the ‘I can do that’ way of thinking but rather 'what can I do that is different?' mentality. This way of thinking is VERY appealing to customers, stockists, marketplaces and the media. These businesses do follow trends, but in their own way. They tend to set trends too. When I set out, there were a few poetry writing businesses around, but none had a contemporary design aspect to them, and none were higher end or using professional writers. So, at once I knew my USP: clever and witty bespoke poetry with contemporary design and a professional service. It's still our USP to this day.
- Quality Counts
Your business name, logo and the way you present yourself to the world matters from day 1. Whilst you can rebrand later on, you grow quicker if you are presenting your business in the way you aspire it to be seen in the future. Get professional advice if you can. Don't be afraid to change anything about your branding if you need to. When I started Bespoke Verse 5 years ago, the word 'bespoke' wasn’t used very often in company names and not that many people knew what it meant. I liked the play on the words BE and SPOKE as at that time I was writing wedding speeches and readings. I did rebrand 2 years in and I wish I’d done it from the outset as it was worth every penny.
- Reinvest is Best
If you can reinvest your profits, do. You may not be able to take a salary for a while but if you want to grow, invest in professional help where you need it and good quality materials. When I first began selling personalised poems, I worked as a GCSE English tutor until I was able to grow the business enough not to have to. I was very lucky to have the support of my husband who enabled me to juggle childcare and work, and still does.
- Photography Matters
Probably the most important piece of advice I can offer is to invest in a good photographer or in the right equipment. Great images means you are more likely to be featured in the press or online marketplaces, to be followed online, to get online sales, to be stocked by gift shops. Photography should be an evolving and ongoing process. I see a surge in new business every time I have great images taken. I recommend photography studios such as Holly Booth and Copperboom Studio as they specialise in small creative businesses.
- Use Social Media
Use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter pages to build up brand awareness of your business. There are lots of great articles around on how to encourage engagement and get seen on these very different platforms. It pays to stay on top of changes as things do move fast. Mollie Makes has a useful guide to Social Media that I would definitely recommend. Lots of my biggest breaks have come from social media, especially Twitter.
- Take a Course
Look for courses run by local councils on setting up your own business. The basics may be dry and financial but it will give you the confidence that you are doing the right thing. It’s not always nice learning about subjects such as VAT and tax returns later down the line! I did not have any business experience when I started out selling customised poems. My local business centre ran an excellent course on employment law which was really helpful when it came to employing my first member of staff, another mum from school. The Design Trust is also excellent for courses and advice.
- Find your Tribe
Running your own business can feel very lonely sometimes. Join Facebook groups of similar sellers or perhaps go on a small creative business retreat. If you join Etsy or notonthehighstreet you will find a very helpful community who will have been through what you’re going through and will happily answer your questions. I recommend retreats by small business mentor Jenny Hyde and the small business website Holly.co. Being a part of the notonthehighstreet.com community has made a huge difference to both my business and personal life. It’s a bit like making baby friends – nobody else understands what you are going through as much as other creative business owners do.
- Start Local
Try approaching local shops to sell your wares and do local fairs and markets. Run home parties and open studios. This will really help you understand who your customers are and what they want from your product range. Then you can become more commercial in your product development – if that’s the way you want to go, of course! My first stockist was a boutique charity gift shop in my town, Berkhamsted. They gave me ideas for new poem prints, some of which have become best sellers. This led to me developing a wholesale side to the business. Many of our repeat customers are local and we really appreciate them recommending us.
- Sell Online
It’s important to have an online presence and marketplace as well as selling in person. If you can’t afford your own website at first, you can open a shop on a marketplace such as Etsy instead and drive your customers there. For the first year I was on notonthehighstreet.com, I didn’t have a shop section to my website at all. I was in a better position to set up my own storefront with experience gained elsewhere.
- Know the Law
It’s easy to look up distance selling regulations so you know what the law says about returns and refunds. You will need Public Liability insurance to do larger shows and fairs. There is no reason not to know this stuff! You can also read all about copyright infringement on the UK Government website. Be careful not to cut and paste policies from other people’s websites as this infringes their copyright. I am a member of ACID – AntiCopying In Design - and would recommend their services once you get established and find copying is an issue. You’ll probably never work harder in your life (I haven’t!) so it’s important to protect your brand and the future of your business.