The First Year of Business
I sat on the threshold of understanding small business completely for a long time. Just somehow positioned outside of the window, able only to look through and admire, but never hear or touch or really begin to learn what exactly this whole thing was.
I worked for several years learning, practicing, developing a skill into a direction, making several vague attempts early on to start a business, scattered, uneven attempts that left me feeling a little less capable and more muddled in the mess of makers each time, and though I had spent years working with various materials, skills and crafts, I could never find my solid footing in any field.
I realized ultimately that I lacked a purpose and an inspiration that motivated my work.
A material, an idea, or a focused point that pushed my excitement to continue.
I needed to slow my pace, to grab hold of that anxious voice inside that screams -now now now- to allow myself time to think, to develop, to come again with a purpose and a comfortable space to build.
To start out slowly.
To learn from dedicated practice and observation of others, and begin to understand the business of commerce. Ideas such as branding, marketing, selling and shipping an item.
To begin by beginning.
First by creating a defined space for my business, placing a few select, tested items into my shop, adjusting them as my interests moved, beginning to show my process through social platforms, attempting to develop a story, a brand and a plan for the following months.
Beginning unsurely, without the full picture drawn, without perfection, without all the answers and problems resolved. Beginning honestly, by telling a story, your story and the story of your work. Begin by learning thoroughly, developing a purpose, by researching a market and pulling from what ideas you find lacking or inspiring, and taking all these components into your own corner of the world.
Begin by building and investing into your own community, of interested customers, of fellow artists, of those who inspire and support your endeavor and reach out to them.
Ask for help, ask for advice, ask for ways to work together.
I am most thankful to the people who, for no other reason than their own legitimate kindness, have reached out to offer me help, support, advice, collaborations, and sometimes too, simply pushing me along with their supportive words and kind gestures.
And truly, perhaps it is completely a hand in hand aspect of first believing in myself, putting myself out there -to be accepted and rejected- while always working to encircle an idea completely, to express it with more professional detail each day that brings about an eventual external belief in it too.
To believe in yourself enough that others will too.
Firmly claiming this ground and progress by developing a business plan, with a set list of goals and accomplishments, separating weekly checklists from monthly standards and trying to improve in each noted area, following a developed timeline throughout my first year.
Working always to define my work more intentionally and practically in every step.
Setting a calm pace, building slow growth, refining along the way.
Think of each beginning as an unfurling seed.
As though we are the gardeners that patiently tend and maintain, but still the seed cannot be hurried, it must grow for itself. In its own time, with its on pace and we must be willing to see it through.
To defuse our focus onto other work, onto moving in a different direction while still working for the same common result, focusing attention onto refining a yearly or monthly plan, building brand details such as packaging and label designs, planning new products, social media campaigns (seasonal, holidays, etc), website and shop design, and other fine details of business.
Refining a process for producing identical items, breaking down a process into scientific measurements and assembling steps. Simplifying procedure and materials, and in return finding new processes and ideas that inspire new directions.
Continue evolving current ideas while simultaneously working to round out your yearly plan, thinking of more ways to reach people, developing photography, reaching out to collaborate with professionals, defining product style, identifying shop updates, product improvements, pricing, and sales growth.
Distinguishing a style and even a feeling that your work provokes. Always working to develop your brand into its own individual, recognizable entity.
Eventually rounding routine into a feeling of constant familiarity, and allowing yourself to focus attention on other ideas.
Reinvesting time and resources into new forms of growing business.
Work with women - collaborate- offer free products.
Look for ways to work with other women, to support others’ endeavors as well as your own, and new ways to continue pushing your brand further out into the public eye, seeking wholesale options too.
“I think the most important thing for both wholesalers and retailers to remember is that we’re all in this together” says Sarah Lopes, owner of The Safari Collective a shop which offers “storied goods for modern living”.
Reaching out to Sarah for wholesale advice she confirmed that order forms should offer detailed product overviews, pricing options, quantities, payment options, and shipping costs, and she allowed me a safe space to begin learning this side of small business.
“Pricing can be one of the toughest pieces of the puzzle to nail down. I’ve found that artists will initially have trouble figuring out what their product is worth and can have trouble asking the right amount for it.” Sarah states.
“My advice: don’t settle. Be realistic about the time and materials it took.”
The goal is to work with retailers to build relationships that will expand your products’ reach. To remember that we are on the same team, working together for a common goal, she says.
Hopefully placing items on shelves and in front of those who may otherwise never see, and in return supporting the awareness around small businesses and perpetuating the reliance on sustainably made goods vs factory produced.
We must be willing to communicate with retailers, keeping honesty and considerations for each other transparent and fair.
“From a retailer perspective, the little gestures can mean a lot, like splitting the shipping costs, including free samples or offering net 30.” Sarah says, “We’re all trying to put beautiful handmade goods into the world and hopefully make a little money in doing it. So retailers, be patient with artists. It takes time, blood, sweat and tears to make their goods. And artists, be patient with retailers. They are probably wearing a million different hats.”
Always look for more ways to work together.
To be as supportive of others as we desire others to be supportive of ourselves. Reaching out to encourage and celebrate others, offering your own advice and experiences.
Continuing to circle back around, looking for ways to add value and proliferate other artists, creatives, and small businesses.
Stay inspired and look ahead.
Continue evolving and refining your goods and practices, continue feeling inspired by the materials or direction you are heading in.
Cherish every solid step forward, appreciate every sell, every compliment, every bit of criticism and advice, allow these components to shape you, to pull your focus away from the slow growth of a moving machine and onto the satisfaction of a single step forward.
Learn from every situation how to improve, how present a better version of yourself, the version that represents your work, the feeling you want to contribute to the world and stand behind it everyday.
Photography by Ashlee Huff
Words and photos by Brianna Holman
I'm Brianna, a simple, honest lady, finding my way through my mid twenties, writing, reflecting, questioning, and improving; always seeking to move forward, to push myself outside of my comfortable norm. Now with my husband and our eight dogs we've chosen to consciously live with less making possible our ability to travel across country in our Fleetwood trailer. I am an admitted, continuous work in progress, in search of more questions to answer, ways to understand, and stories that enlighten. I seek understanding in every aspect of life, I seek empathetic understanding for everyone in life. I seek to reflect an honest life and inspire humble thoughts.