It is amazing how much I learned (and continue learning) from starting my own Arts and Crafts business. It’s a steep learning curve where things evolve so quickly, and that is why I have to always keep an open mind and be eager to learn.
My business is made of 2 components: online and offline. The offline bit is the art workshops that I run in collaboration with other artists, the private art tuition, the party planning, teaching in south East London, mural painting, private commissions and craft fairs. The online bit consists of my online shop (still being developed, yet this seems to be taking forever), my website and my blogs.
I hope this post can give anyone starting their own craft business a good few tips.
1) Be passionate and believe in yourself. Starts-ups are an emotional roller coaster!
Working long hours and going the extra mile is something that comes from being passionate about what I do. It is not like having a job, it never stops! If I am not working, I am thinking about work. Ideas come to me in my sleep, when I am driving, when I am dropping my daughter off to school, when I am with friends, at the dinner table. It is all consuming and seems to have taken over my life, but it never feels like work. Far from it, it enhances my life and makes me feel that this is the most rewarding journey I have embarked on.
The other point is believing in myself, which is the only thing that keeps me going when I get “shut down”, when things go wrong, when business is slow, when I can’t seem to make things go as planned, when I feel financially stuck. It takes a great deal of self-belief and courage to drive the business forward when all else seems to be dragging it backwards. Start-ups are an emotional roller-coaster, the ups and downs are an intrinsic part of it. The trick is to keep going and never give up.
2) It is fun, so be eager to learn
Working for yourself is fun. the high points are intoxicating and the freedom and versatility are amazing. This comes from doing something I love. To keep enjoying it, I have to continuously be prepared to learn and discover better ways to grow my business.
Take the online aspect for example, being in the online craft business, the web aspect is extremely important. I never realised how important web design and blogging are. For a start, it’s hard to keep pace and stay on top of the latest technologies. I have to self-teach myself and this kind of learning is ongoing, extremely time consuming and a very important part of my job. I guess because I am passionate about what I do, this endless quest of self-learning feels fun and addictive…
Like blogging for example (and please note that blogging is a very sore point for me because I am learning it as I go along and find customizing my blogs extremely frustrating), Sometimes I spend a whole day glued to my computer and trawling endless wordpress forums to try and work out something very simple -like adding an image in the sidebar of my blog, which I still am unable to do. I understand now that blogging often and having useful content that engages readers is extremely important to online craft bloggers. Because of this, I spend endless hours every evening reading about widgets, CSS language, my website’s CMS and all the rest of it. I feel like a student again but I am enjoying all the trials and tribulations that come from learning something new.
3) Experiment and try plenty of little things
I found this point to be so important for me. Instead of focusing on one idea, I try lots of little ones to see which one works best. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula or one great idea which will make my business thrive. It is all about trial and error, about trying so many different strategies and “products” or “services” and finding out from customer responses which one works best. Take my art workshops for example, in the last year I have tried many ways to promote them - from online advertising to traditional print and offline media - and it took me 12 months to work out which medium works best for me and reaches my customers more effectively.
4) Don’t worry about competitors, Particularly in the Arts & Crafts business!
From what I have experienced, there is a strong sense of crafting and artists community online. Tricks and tips of the trade are kindly shared by many craft lovers who have made their hobby into a living. Many popular crafters and mixed media artists develop strong following via their blogs and link into each others pages and websites (although many of them make and sell the same items). And because handmade products, though similar in concept, are individual to the artists, there is always room for more.
At first, I was fixated on competition (ingrained in me by years working at Yahoo! ), but as Cool Mummy started to take root, I learned a valuable lesson: Whilst finding out “who creates what” in the space you are operating in is an important step in developing your niche, don’t abandon your dream just because there is too much competition. Many artists and companies may sell a similar product but the execution is different and the business’s goals and objectives are not the same as yours.
Being self-employed and doing the things I love best has always been my dream. I know there are so many talented people stuck in a 9 to 5 job and that have a similar dream. The time is never “right” to take the plunge and start your own business, you just have to knuckle down and go for it. The road is bumpy and long but the journey is so rewarding. Just do your research and read plenty of articles posted by self-employed people who have done just that…like me