Here are some things I know about small, creative businesses.
These businesses are often very, very small. We are talking one or two humans with a big passion and dreams, working from their homes during every free moment they have to produce something unique.
Not all small businesses are created equal. We all start with a different bag of resources, and our own unique set of skills and challenges. Some of us blossom straight away and grow fast within the first few years of forming. Others (like Noctiluna) straggle on a slower, gentler slope, still developing and growing nonetheless.
Noctiluna was started when I had two very young children and was still relatively new to life in the USA. I have always been a cautious, slightly nervous business owner, definitely preferring my print-table to meetings and networking sessions. I dislike traditional business jargon; the term ‘networking’ makes me want to throw up every time I hear it. I always thought that this made me ill suited for entrepreneurship. However, over the years I have met many other owners of small creative businesses, who have felt much the same way. We come in lots of flavors: bold, shy, introverted, connectors and innovators. We often don’t know what to call ourselves. Designers, owners, founders, makers, movers and shakers? One thing, however, that connects us all is passion for what we do. That is what keeps us going through hard times.
I have learnt that it is really rare for someone to have all the skills it takes to run a successful creative business. Running one on your own is really hard, REALLY HARD, sometimes impossible unless you connect with other people and pool your resources and skills. My maker friends who went to art colleges never received any form of business or career advice, something that must change. We are learning on the go about how to run a business, and how to market and sell our products in a rapidly changing commercial landscape.
So, What Goes into a Small Business?
Constantly Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone
Because standing still for too long is never a good thing. Small acts of bravery are required regularly. From sharing your work to strangers and hoping they like it, to cold-calling venues for summer camp rentals. Owning a business is full of tiny victories and horrifically steep learning curves. I’m still trying to figure out the dark and disturbing world of SEO, and it makes me feel like crying. Which is why we need…
A Community To Turn To.
Because, no matter how many inspirational pep talks you give yourself, it is never the same as having someone else who really understands to turn to for support. I like working alone, but I do fantasize about partnering up with a kindred spirit and sharing the load someday. Until then, I know I can lean on my tribe when things get woolly. Also, I know from my art college days that I produce my best work when I can bounce ideas off other creatives and get their feedback.
Intense Highs And Lows
In a single year you go from intensely busy times, where you are working on multiple projects and selling really well, to deathly slow periods that encourage a lot of moping and self doubt. I’m learning to handle the changes in pace better. It is okay to have those slower months. Use them to develop new ideas and work on personal projects. It is just as important to plan ahead for those crazy, busy periods and not let them overwhelm you.
I am still working on controlling this. I think it is a particular problem for people who work in creative fields, and have grown up without any role models working in those areas. Obsessing about other people’s perceptions of what you do is unhealthy. I still find myself surprised that people are actually paying money for my products.
Repeat after me: I know what I am doing, I have expertise in my field, and it is a valid career.
Flexible Schedules That You Love And Hate.
As a parent, I feel lucky to be my own boss, and be able to pick up a sick kid in the middle of the day without having to answer to anyone about it. Conversely, having to stop in the middle of a great work flow to pick up a kid, because you just happen to be the parent who can, makes me growl inwardly. It’s a blessing and a curse.
Trying To Explain What It Is That You Actually Do For A Living Over And Over Again To Others.
And, of course, learning to not belittle yourself while doing it. I have been training myself to do an elevator pitch. Now instead of mumbling vague things about my printing/teaching/art activities and looking apologetic for being so off the beaten track, I look people in the eyes, answer with “I own a business” and take it from there at my own pace.
Inventory And Other Things You Don’t Want To Do
The flip side of those hours spent happily printing, painting and sewing.
I seem to always be taking inventory between projects. It makes my head hurt. Computer problems make my head hurt. Crunching numbers makes my head hurt. Driving and parking in DC absolutely terrifies me. Some of these things, I have had to learn to do, some I am still working on learning, and some I seek help for. My husband does the accounts and understands that if I was in charge of the company’s taxes, we would all be in prison. Know your strengths and weaknesses and ask for help.
Endless Tea Making
For moments of procrastination, motivation, breaks, meetings, inventory misery, everything really. This may just be my English/Indian heritage coming through, but I don’t know know how anyone could do this without tea.
The Satisfaction Of Doing What You Love For A Living
Priceless. Worth every single one of the challenges listed above .