The thought of business ownership may seem like a daunting task to most. For me, it has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding adventures I have ever taken on. Business ownership has meant many late nights of work and quite a few tear-filled moments. At the same time, it means that I am dedicating myself to something I love. Small business owners have the rare privilege of dedicating themselves to their passions in a uniquely pure way. Because of this, work doesn’t always seem like work. Somehow, the late nights seem worth it.
Although I don’t have this whole “business ownership” thing down, I wanted to share some of the things I wish I had known when I first started running my business. I don’t know exactly when I decided to take my hobby to the next level, but let me tell you – I have had to learn some hard lessons along the way… and I’m still learning every day! I hope these simple tips save you some difficulty down the road. Here are a few things I wish I knew when I first opened shop:
1. You can’t start a business for free.
Now here’s the thing, for my line of business I didn’t need a huge budget to have my business up and running. Still, nothing is free, and I often found myself frustrated anytime I had to invest in my business. When you turn a hobby into a business, there are costs attached. Here’s what I would have done differently:
- Write a list of things you NEED to get yourself going.
- Write a list of things you WANT in order to refine what you offer.
- Calculate an estimated cost for each item on your lists.
- From there, set aside a lump sum of money in a separate bank account.
In my first year of business, I probably spent a little under $1,000… not including the brand new MacBook Pro I purchased (Yah… that one hurt my bank account. But it was SO worth it!). Figure out what is going to be important to your business. Doing so will help you manage sticker shock down the road.
2. If you check another business owner’s Instagram every day, you should probably unfollow them.
Guys, I’m not going to lie – during the first year of running my business, I was trapped in the comparison game. That is a dangerous place to be. Because other creatives are what got me into the industry in the first place, I began using them as a crutch for my own content, and I constantly felt like what I created fell short. Here’s the thing, finding inspiration in other’s work isn’t necessarily bad. However, if you compare everything you do to another person’s work (and feel like a failure if they do something better than you), you’re going to be in an endless cycle. Everyone learns and sharpens their skills over time. Dedicate time to finding your style and passions so you can stand out, not just mimic other people.
3. Only share what you love.
I wish I had noticed how obvious this principle was earlier – people will come to you for products/services that you advertise. That means that if you don’t like making custom wood signs, DON’T post a picture of one on your social media! Be selective in how you share what you offer. Branding is essential to a successful business. Don’t worry – your brand is something that will develop over time as you find your personal style. Still, if you don’t want to do something, don’t show people that you can.
4. At some point, you have to stop with the freebies. Or maybe, just avoid freebies all together.
Alright – pricing is a pretty touchy subject with most creative business owners. Specifically for someone in a creative business, art and creativity are so personal that it is hard to put a price tag on your services. Here is the lesson to be learned: What you offer to clients is worth something – figure out what that worth is, be confident, and stick to it. When I first started by business, I was desperate for anyone to give me a shot. I just wanted experience and opportunities. Because of this, I found myself providing services and products for free. This habit drastically effected the way I viewed pricing. When I finally decided I needed to start charging people, I felt guilty sending quotes, regardless of the amount. If I could have a do-over, there would be NO freebies. Breaking the freebie habit is not an easy task. Set good pricing boundaries from the beginning!
5. Set deadlines.
I’m not going to lie, it is easy for me to reason myself into laziness. Even though I love what I do, being a small business owner makes it easy to say, “Oh, I’ll just do that tomorrow.” Especially when you work a full-time job during the day. The greatest remedy to that is to set deadlines for yourself. For me, I am a list-based person. I basically always have a to-do list running, and I keep it as detailed as possible. For example – right now I am working on a semi-custom line of wedding invitations. I had specific deadlines for when I need to have each suite completed and a deadline for when the line needs to go live. Having these deadlines not only helps me get things done, but it helps me feel like I have things under control. Being your own boss can be hard… make your boss-self proud!
For you small business owners – YOU CAN DO THIS. It’s not easy, but it is so worth it. Keep fighting, keep stretching yourself, and keep persevering. Eventually, we will figure this thing out together! I hope these pieces of advice give you a little jump start into setting your business up for success.