I'm right there with you. I've been running my own online handmade jewellery business - Epheriell - since I started it as a hobby back in 2008. I never expected it to become my full-time business - I had a career in education, and a job I enjoyed - but life did its thing, and in 2010, I took Epheriell full-time. It now keeps both my husband and I busy every day, making modern, sterling silver jewellery for men and women all over the world.
A few years later, I decided to draw upon my teaching experience and started a side-business - Create & Thrive - where help other creatives turn their handmade hobbies into full-time, thriving businesses. I love the life my own jewellery business has allowed me to craft for my family, and I wanted to do more to help other people achieve their creative dreams, too.
I adore both parts of my 'job' - the teaching and the creating - and have learnt many, many lessons the hard way over the past 7 years in business. I've also helped thousands of other creatives make progress towards realising their business dreams.
So, I was honoured when Etsy invited me to co-teach their new bootcamp for Australian Etsy sellers - #EtsyResolution. I, along with the fabulous Clare Bowditch, will be leading this fun, free, and focussed 4-week bootcamp that aims to assist creative businesspeople like you to kick-start the new year, and help YOU turn your creative dreams into a flourishing business. We'll be teaching participants how to turn their idea into a fully functioning Etsy-based business, with direct access to tried and tested tips, tricks and lessons.
In the bootcamp, we cover a lot of practical topics, such as finding your ideal customer, business storytelling, product photography, seo, shipping tips, customer service, pricing your work, and more. These are all vital components of a creative business - especially an online handmade business. Today, however, I want to put aside those nitty-gritty details, and focus instead on four pieces of foundational advice that apply no matter what sort of creative business you've created.
So, here are my top tips to make 2015 your best year in creative business yet - whether you're just starting out, or already well on the path.
1. Know What You Want
When you're growing a business - especially a creative business - it can be really easy to be distracted and go off on tangents. Creative people often have an overwhelming amount of ideas - the challenge is deciding which ones to enact, and putting the rest aside (at least for now).
But how do we decide which ideas and opportunities are the 'right' ones for now? The key is having a vision for what you're trying to achieve - knowing what you're aiming for.
What's your ultimate goal for your business? Where do you want your business to take you? What do you want it to grow into? When you envision yourself 'making it' with your biz, what does that mean? Is it a lifestyle goal, a financial goal, a personal achievement goal... or all of the above? Take the time to write down your ultimate goal for your business. Why? Because, by working out what your goal is, you can test all of your ideas against the ideal. Enact the ideas that you think will take you towards your goal in the fastest, most effective way... and put the others aside until they, too, fulfil this criteria.
2. Manage Your Money
Could you tell me, within the next 5 minutes, what your gross business profit is so far for the 14/15 financial year? Can you tell me how much money your business made last month... and how much it cost you? Do you know how much of each sale you're keeping in profit, and how much is going on expenses? If your answer to any of these questions is no, listen up.
I see so many creatives make this mistake over and over again. And not just beginners, either! There's a myth out there that creative types are no good with money - the myth of the 'starving artist'. But it is just that - a myth. Anyone can get a handle on their finances - it doesn't have to be complicated or overwhelming. And it's an absolutely non-negotiable part of growing a successful business. If you've got a business, the goal is to make money. Of course that's not your ONLY goal. But if you're not aiming to make money, there's not much point in running a business - it might as well remain a hobby.
How much money you are aiming to make is tied up in the ultimate goal you envisioned above, but no matter why you want to make money, or how much, you'll struggle to succeed if you're ignorant of what's going on with your business finances.
Knowledge is power, and you will feel so much more confident and in control with your biz if you can pull up a spreadsheet or open your accounting software and immediately see your income, expenses, and profit for the week, month, and year. I have an example income/expenditure spreadsheet on my blog here as a free download, so check that out if you're literally getting started with business money management. If you want something a little more advanced, I personally use and recommend Xero - it's pretty easy to learn, and is affordable, to boot.
If you do nothing else for your business this week - do this.
3. Work Out Your Upper Limit
If you're a solopreneur, you have an upper limit - the amount of time you can spend working on your business. If you are a maker like me, you have another upper limit - the number of products you can actually make by yourself in the time you have allocated to work on your business (while making sure you're not working every hour of the day - you need a life outside your work, too, no matter how much you love it!).
So - and this goes for my maker friends particularly - you need to work out this upper limit. How many of your items can you make per day in the time you've allocated? How much money do you keep (subtract your expenses from the product price to find your profit) from each of those sales? If you were working at full capacity every work day, what is the maximum of money you could make in a week/month/year with your current products and current prices?
You may be surprised... and this exercise may make you re-think your product offerings and/or the prices you're currently selling your work for. Or, you might realise you can never reach your money goals alone, and so you need to expand - either hiring someone to help you with making, or with other parts of your business (marketing, bookeeping, email) so you can spend more of your time making.
Bloggers and those who sell digital products - you have it a bit easier, because digital products are scalable - once you've created them, you can sell them over and over again. You need to think about your upper limit in terms of how many products you can realistically create and market and launch in a month/year to keep your business viable. Not only how many products you can produce, but how many your current audience/market will bear.
By getting clear on your upper limit, you get clear on how much money your business can actually make within its current boundaries... and you can decide whether that is enough, or whether you need to think about ways to grow your team/change your business in order to reach your ultimate goal.
4. Play the Long Game
Have you started a new business this year? If so, this particular lesson - that you're playing a long game - mightn't be something you've really internalised yet.
You're probably caught up in the euphoria of new beginnings - full of passion and drive. And what a wonderful feeling that is! But, there will come a time when that energy flags. There will be times when things go wrong - a product flops, a customer is unhappy, you feel like you've 'lost your mojo'. It happens to all of us - and it's perfectly normal.
The key to getting through these lulls is simple. You need to remember that you're playing the long game. If you're serious about making your business a success, you shouldn't be thinking in terms of weeks or months - you should be thinking in terms of years. You need to know that success isn't a straight upward curve. It's full of hills and valleys. And it only occurs when you have dedication, patience, and commitment.
Having a business - especially a passion business - is a bit like like falling in love. In the beginning, everything is new and wonderful. Nothing can faze you. You are full of delirious happiness and energy. But limerence doesn't last forever. It wears off, and you eventually realise that you don't like absolutely everything about this business you've fallen in love with and committed yourself to. In fact... some parts of it are downright irritating! And possibly even (gasp) boring! It can come as a shock... but it's a necessary stage in the growth of your relationship with your business. And it's okay! Nothing is perfect, and everything is in a constant stage of flux. The only certainty is change. Just like a committed relationship or a marriage, creative business is full of ups and downs. It's full of work. But, it's also full of joy, fun, passion, and brings you a sense of fulfilment that you'll probably never find elsewhere. It's worth it! You just have to go into it with the realisation that not everything will be all fun, all the time - and that it has to have the time to grow organically.
You're in it for the long haul. And by making that commitment - the commitment to learn, evolve, grow, and be patient - you are setting yourself up to create not just a business, but a lifestyle - one that allows you to make your creative dreams a reality.
If you want to join Clare, me, and over 1,500 other creatives already signed up for #EtsyResolution, click here to register before January 25.
Jess Van Den is a self-employed silversmith working under the Epheriell label. She's been making jewellery since 2008, when she opened her Etsy shop to sell her jewellery as a hobby, and turned Epheriell into her fulltime occupation in 2010 bringing her husband Nick on board soon after. She specialises in eco sterling silver wedding rings, and works out of her solar-powered home studio in the countryside north of Brisbane,Australia. She's also the founder and editor of Create & Thrive, where people learn how to turn their handmade hobby into a full-time business from those who've done just that.