I recently asked my social media followers and my email subscribers to send me questions about small business. I am certainly not an expert in this area but I do run a small business and I have my own experiences and opinions on it. I love hearing from other small business owners about their advice and their experiences so I wanted to share mine too. I answered all of these questions in an Instagram Live which was both terrifying and exhilarating all in one go. The video is saved on my Instagram in an IGTV if you would like to go and watch it. But for those of you that don't have Instagram or don't want to hear my voice waffling on, here are all the questions and answers for you in blog post form.
What made you decide to start your business?
I used to be a nursery and after school club manager and managed around 65 staff, which I loved but it was rather stressful at times. I needed a way to switch off and I have always been a creative person and love giving all kinds of art and crafts a go. So I started painting and drawing in the evenings to relax. But because I am a bit of a workaholic I couldn’t just be creative for the sake of it and I needed a purpose to work towards. So that’s where the idea for my own business started. I started sharing bits online and set up a little free web page at the end of 2017 when I left my Nursery Manager job.
How long did it take you to get your first sale on Etsy?
I set up my Etsy on 1st February 2018 and my first sale was 7th March and then after that I didn’t make another sale until July so it was definitely a slow burner. Over 2 years on and I now get around 20-30 sales a month, it's grown pretty slowly but it is still growing and it is now not the only place I sell so I don't stress that I am not selling more on there. When I started I thought I could just put things online and people would just buy them, I thought all I needed to do was just pop things in the post as the orders rolled in. It turns out it doesn’t really work like that and I stuck a load of stuff online and no one know about it and no one bought it. Etsy helped the sales to start coming in even though it was slowly.
Is Etsy easy to use and would you recommend it?
It is easy to set up, you don’t have to apply or be accepted, anyone can do it. Make sure you read up a bit about listing your products as I didn’t fill in all the information for ages and this probably didn’t help me. I would definitely recommend it for starting a new creative business. It’s fairly risk free, you have to pay 20p per item to list it and then you don’t pay anything until you sell something (they take a % off each sale) you have to keep paying the 20p each time the listing renews. But having a website or some other sites you can sell on can often mean paying upfront fees before you sell anything, so Etsy is definitely worth a go. Etsy brings in new customers for you as people search for specific things on Etsy that wouldn't necessarily find you otherwise, so that’s why I have stuck with it despite now having my own website too.
Would you recommend any other selling sites?
I am not currently on any others but there are some fantastic ones out there. Not On The High Street is lovely however my application has been rejected a few times now! I am looking into some others but until I try them I am not able to recommend them. I also stock in some shops and online shops that buy my products at wholesale which is something different all together.
What's the best way to gain customers that aren’t your family and friends?
That is hard, at the start all of my customers were my family and friends and if a stranger bought anything I was terrified of what they would think of me and my products! Use social media and Pinterest. Make sure you use hashtags on Instagram so that more people see your posts. Get to know people on social media, chat to them and engage with their content too. I have found so many friends this way and built a lovely community. It will build naturally over time and eventually you will be selling to more strangers than people you know. Going to markets helps you reach new people (when we can do that again!). Etsy will also help you will this over time.
What’s the best place for postage and packaging boxes?
Controversially I use EBay and Amazon (I know Amazon can be a bit of a swear word in the small business world!). They are the best value packaging for me at the moment. However packaging is something I would like to work on. I feel torn between having beautiful packaging that I spend more money on and then not spending more on it because the packaging is the bit that you throw in the bin. I have worked quite hard on making sure that my packaging is all recyclable so that has been my focus and I don’t want to put the prices up for postage and packaging.
How do you stay motivated?
I am one of those super annoying, super motivated people! There is no particular secret too it, I just always want to push myself to succeed. Ironically I was not like this at school, I was more than happy to be average at best. But since becoming an adult and finding passions and things that I love, I always want to push myself to succeed. I was a manager at 21 and then became a senior manager before the age of 30 when working in childcare because I loved it so much. Since starting my business I always want to be doing and switching off from it is my main challenge! I stay on track by having a daily to do list for everything, I absolutely love a to do list! So there is no secret but when people buy things and like my stuff it makes me want to do it more. I really love designing new things, so once I have something new on the go I just can’t leave it alone.
What do you recommend someone that wants to start a shop?
It depends on what you want to achieve when you start.If you want to start a shop and you need it to bring in an income straight away (I don’t really know the answer to that as I am still working on bringing in an income!) but you need to work on building an online presence, building social media, building a newsletter subscriber list first so that you already have an audience when you start. Have a range of products ready to go when you launch.
But if you are just wanting to make your hobby/passion into a business and you can afford to let that grown over time like I have, then just go for it. It doesn’t even matter if you only have one thing, just post it online and see what people think. Accept the fact that you might not sell it for a while, show people how much you love it, be passionate about it and try not to worry if at first it completely flops! I have looked back over my early Instagram and it wasn’t very good. I don’t even sell any of the products that I started with anymore, my business was totally different. My photography was a bit rubbish as I didn’t know what I was doing. But it’s grown over time. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself. I always felt in the beginning that as long as I wasn’t losing money I can drop out at any point and I haven’t lost anything. I tried not to over invest and let it grow slowly.
If you have to put a big up front investment in then I don’t really know how to advise on that, maybe watch Dragon’s Den!! Lol
Did you study design? How did you learn what you do?
No I didn’t, I have learned everything as I have gone along. I studied childcare after leaving school and I have a degree in early years. I did art and graphic design at school but I was pretty mediocre. YouTube has taught me a lot about using design software and trial and error has been a big part of my journey. Also lots of creative businesses on Instagram that I have got to know have given me amazing advice along the way. In terms of business I have recently become a member of the Resilient Retail Club which has taught me so much already.
What’s your favourite product?
I love rainbows, I have lots of different rainbow designs so that won’t probably come as a surprise. In particular I love my rainbow key rings. I released them during lock down and you guys have loved them to. I have sold hundreds of them, so I am really happy that they have been so popular because they make me smile. They don’t have a very big margin so I don’t make much money from them but I am so happy that so many people love them. Also what ever the last thing I designed tends to rank quite high on my favourites list, I love a new idea and design so they will always be my favourite, until the next idea comes along!!!
What’s the hardest thing about working for yourself?
I don’t only work for myself I also work part time in another job where I go out to work and am in a team so I have a good balance. The hardest thing is that I don’t have any work colleagues to run ideas by. I often ask some of my other creative friends for their opinions on things which is helpful. But there is no one to delegate to and so you have to do all the jobs even the ones you don’t like (accounts!!! I am not good at maths so that is my least favourite!) If you are having a tough day then it would sometimes be nice to have someone to bounce things off and have a moan about the boss too!! (when you are your own boss its not so fun to moan about!) My family and friends play a great role in being a listening ear though.
What’s the best thing about running a small business?
I get to be creative all of the time and share it with everyone as a job. Also the lovely community I have built especially through Instagram and from being at markets. I have made so many friends that I speak to all the time and I love getting to know my customers. It is the best thing ever when I get feedback from a customer that they love what they have bought from me.
How do your have the confidence to talk on Instagram stories?
I didn’t at first, as hearing your own voice is pretty terrible, but I just tried it and thought what is the worst that can happen? I decided to just give it a go as it can always be deleted if it’s awful. And once I got started I couldn't stop, it’s kind of addictive. When you realise you can communicate with people that way on a personal level and then they message you back and you get chatting you realise the importance of it and the great conversations it can bring.
Do talky stories help your business?
Yes I think they definitely do, people feel able to message me and we can chat because they know me so much better. It has grown my community on my social media and people see you as more approachable. It might have actually put some people off me, I won’t be everyone's cup of tea. I probably think I am funnier than I am and I talk a lot and very fast at times which can be quite annoying for some people but that is fine. People like to buy from really people so I think it is a really important part of my business.
How do I run successful Instagram ads?
I am sorry but I have no idea. I have occasionally boosted or sponsored a post by chucking a fiver or a tenner at it. I just post on social media most days (I have 1 or 2 days off a week) I do stories and then just hope for the best! Luckily that seems to be working for me so far, I feel like my Instagram is growing quite slow but in a good way. I don’t want to grow too fast because I want to have genuine connections with people.
I hope you enjoyed, hearing my answers to some of your questions. If you have any more then feel free to comment below or get in touch with me. I am always honest and an open book. Follow me over on Instagram or Facebook to get to know me better and get chatting to me in my DMs