5 lessons I've learnt from my first year in a creative business

Juggling your first year in a new creative business is probably one of the most exciting, terrifying, frustrating and exhilarating experiences you can have ( in my case besides childbirth, planning a wedding and having two children under 2!). With so much to learn, see and do in your first year of running a business, it really is a roller coaster experience and one in which I can say I have fully embraced and enjoyed like no other in my life!


I have learnt so much in a relatively short time, I have experienced the good and the not so good ( I'm planning to write a blog post about it one day) and although I am not a business coach or mentor I would love to share my 5 lessons of what I have learnt from my first year in a creative business and tell you what I wished someone had told me.


Here goes....


TIME

There is no getting away from the fact that starting a business takes a lot of time, effort and motivation. When I say a lot, I mean an abundance of it!


Do not under estimate the amount of time it will take.


It is definitely worth it!


Make sure you clear your weekends or evenings and any spare moments you have, as this will probably take over your life in a good way! If you are lucky enough to have this as your main role great! But if, this is your second role alongside your main work (or you may have a baby and toddler in tow) then clear your social calendar because this beautiful hobby of yours will take priority and will certainly be your main other focus for a little while.

I have found that scheduling time is really helpful, I also work around my children, family life and some social occasions as much as I can. The amount of times I have turned up to my monthly book club without reading the book has been pretty unforgivable! Sorry!

If you feel it becomes all consuming take a step back and ask yourself 'Is this a good use of my time right now'?

Do I need to look at tissue paper packaging websites or candle packaging pins on Pinterest at this moment'? I actually have spent hours doing this, without been productive at all, and I didn't use or buy any of them!

Or should I be slowing down and taking stock for a bit......I actually find that these times are when I am at my most creative and focused.


I know it is easy to say but the more organised you are the more efficient you become, for e.g planning ahead by making extra stock for busier occasions in quieter periods, or keep a list of do to actions on your phone, so that wherever you are you can check it.


I have a terrible memory and so I tend to type everything on my Iphone, which not only saves time, but means I am getting more things ticked off my to-do list.

Try and delegate if you can, 'Can your partner help you?' I am lucky that I have a very supportive (long suffering) Husband and some lovely friends who offer to help me especially in the busier times, take up their offers in exchange for a free product or a chinwag with you and a cup of tea whilst you work together.



YOU WILL NOT BE AN EXPERT STRAIGHT AWAY


No matter how hard you research, plan, or create you will not be an expert in everything straight away with your new business.....it will come.


I promise.


Yes, you are probably an emerging expert in your craft, but when you are setting up a business on your own or perhaps you are lucky enough to have help from your partner, friends or family, you cannot possibly be an expert in everything and that is OK!


Setting up a new small creative business is no mean feat, you are doing this on your own and it takes time, that is why there are so many business mentors, support and coaches out there who actually do this as a real business.


You cannot be an expert on Instagram or Twitter in a week... fact! It takes time, patience and practice.


Lots of practice.


If you need help there are some really informative podcasts, social media experts, marketing and business coaches who specialise in supporting new businesses to plan, organise and focus on what you want to achieve and create really good content and help to build communities around you. I have these resources invaluable.


There has been many times I have wondered why my Instagram pictures weren't getting many likes or my products weren't looking as perfect as my competitors, this was not only a tiny bit frustrating but a little bit soul destroying at the time.


But keep your chin up because with time, practice and patience you will learn how to and it will come, and so will your people.....with time.


When I look back at the first candles I first made ( take a look at my first Instagram pics for a giggle!) and compare them to how they look now, there is a such a big difference, not only in the aesthetics but the style and the general craftsmanship of them. It doesn't happen overnight it just takes lots of practice and hundreds of pictures!


When I first started making candles, I would painstakingly hand pour between 4 to 6 candles each time, most of them would be imperfect, perhaps the finish wasn't great or the wax wouldn't set properly and look lumpy or the wick would come away....it would cause a lot of frustration and despair! But I keep going and persistence did pay off, because I now have a fail proof candle making technique and method which works every time!


When I made my first online sale, I was so elated that I had actually made my first online sale (and to a REAL person who was not a friend or family member) that I had forgotten I needed packaging to post it in.

I made a mad dash to the local town post office and the stationary shop for tissue paper and brown tape and sent it on its way. NOTE: I am really sorry to my first customer who received it, I can reassure you that the postage and packaging is pretty top notch now!


I also made a huge mistake with the postage cost and had no idea how much to charge, so I randomly put a postage figure on the Etsy candle item and lost money on the first few sales.


You are not an expert yet but soon!




EMBRACE SOCIAL MEDIA

If you do one thing from this post and are about to set up a new creative business, go and sign up to a social media account, even if you have no presentable products, you can still post a 'Coming soon' pic or a teaser of one of your products, or even a behind the scene pics which can really explain your brand, story and build an audience. Besides the fact that you need to check that your account name is available.


Not only can social media help you show the world your products, it can build your community around you, find support from other creatives and like minded people.

I have found Instagram to be probably one of the most wonderful embracing communities I have come across, Twitter is just a great resource of wealth and other businesses and Facebook is great for friends, families and local customers. I have just started to explore Pinterest as another resource of marketing and general inspiration and find I could spent hours exploring my style and community.




LISTEN TO YOUR CUSTOMERS


Whether you are a big bustling business or a small creative business like mine you should put your customers at the centre of what you do. I cannot stress this enough.

Your customers are your people, they get what you do and in return they will like/love your products as much as you do. If they are willing to part with their hard earned money to buy one of your products then you must listen to their feedback, both positive and constructive. They shape your products, your vision and your business.


FIND YOUR CUSTOMERS


One of my favourite things to do to this day is to talk to my customers especially face to face. This not only motivates me, but gives me such a sense of validation and a huge amount of achievement as a small business owner.

Your customers will only buy what they like, and so you are able to pick up trends, ask questions, listen to feedback, engage and respond.


When I first started my candle business, I subconsciously avoided selling at markets, I am a natural introvert and the thought of standing alone in front of the public, terrified me. However it soon become apparent that in order for my business to grow I needed to get my products out there, they certainly weren't going to sell themselves and my messy plan of selling buckets loads whilst nestled in soft cashmere lounge pants in my cosy warm office wasn't happening.


I needed to go out and find my customers.


After a little research I was luckily enough to find I had a local creative market in the town and after nervously booked a table I turned up one Saturday morning with quite a lot (too many) of my products, no business cards, banners or banter to my name.


It actually turned out to be one of the most validating highlights of my path, not only did I sell quite a few candles, but I found my voice and it didn't stop, I pretty much talked and talked and laughed and engaged with these new customers all day.


It was like a switch had been turned on and I found my 'alter ego' I could talk about my candles with passion and enthusiasm for hours, I came away and felt such joy that I immediately signed up for many more. Markets aren't for everyone, and if they're not for you, you can find your customers through other avenues, selling in shops, on social media, through friends and family members, workshops, and newsletters.


TIME

YOU WILL NOT BE AN EXPERT STRAIGHT AWAY

EMBRACE SOCIAL MEDIA

FIND YOUR CUSTOMERS

LISTEN TO YOUR CUSTOMERS


When I look back at the achievements I have made over the last year I am amazed at what I have learnt, how far I have come and the opportunities which I am embracing with open arms. Enjoy the small things, learn from your mistakes and take opportunities, you will not always get it right but pick yourself up and keep going, it is so worth it!


Becky Bevan is a self made Candle Maker and Scent explorer, lover of seasons and nature and owner of Hazel & Blue Candles.


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