OGB // what I've learned in my first year of business



Blimey. I'm very surprised (and elated) to be writing this post. On 15th May 2014, I opened up an Etsy shop with two prints (a very bad draft of 'If I know what love is' and 'It has always been you') and one Father's Day card. I was still at my graphic design job, and was actually told I was being made redundant the following day (I'm still pretty convinced that was a sign). Now, I've moved on from Etsy, and have my own site, stockists, regular customers, branding clients and the post office people know me by name. I love that.


I'm in no way an expert. As I've mentioned before, I've had no business training. For my GCSE's, I skipped business studies for textiles, thinking I'd much rather make a dress than learn about overheads and marketing algorithms. I do sort of regret that, but everything I have learned, I've learned from the past year, as well as previously working with independent companies, namely my mother's and aunt's homeware shop. Everything I could have learned in those classes on a Wednesday afternoon, I experienced first-hand in that little shop. Books, blogs and articles were an education in themselves too, and I learned a great deal from the creative consultants that allow us a glimpse into their minds. 

Here are a few truths I've discovered about owning a small business, both the welcomed and the slaps in the face. 

You don't need a great deal of money to start
I started designing and selling my prints with £50. I bought high-quality 300gsm card, a brush pen, ink, postal envelopes and business cards for that, as well as paying any Etsy fees, and that was the beginning of it all. I printed from my surprisingly good HP inkjet printer which massively kept the costs down, and if I did need to get something I didn't have the funds for, I put it on my credit card (but never allowing more than £30 on there and paying it off with any sales income straight away, I'm not suggesting this method!). I also relied on social media to get my brand out there. The greatest marketing tool, plus it's free! Having no money was a huge motivator for me to get selling and to sell consistently, so I had the money to create and sell again. Of course, this can vary from different types of business and on your situation. If you are a shop owner stocking others, you'll need some start-up funds.

Be prepared for sacrifices 
As explained here, we moved in with my parents this year when they relocated to Brighton. This was mostly so we could get our finances in order, and so I could continue with the business without having sleepless nights over paying the rent. It's probably the most generous thing a human being has done for me, and I'm eternally grateful to have parents who can offer back their home to their children (especially in a basement flat that was meant for two people, not four!). A lot of sacrifices are made when running a small business. This was my largest, most life-altering one, but when I sit down and realise it's helped me grow and expand my company, I know it's been worth it. You'll also sacrifice any sort of social life, but you won't really realise it from all the fun you're having.

Authenticity is everything 
As creative business owners, we've read plenty of blog posts and articles on the 'comparison is the thief of joy' subject. I've had a few moments in the last year where I've doubted my abilities and nearly thrown in the towel because I've looked at another typographer, and I've compared their success to mine. It's not healthy, and I hope I've grown out of that now, but I see those moments as learning curves. There is A LOT of competition out there, where it seems everyone is now lettering quotes to pop up on Pinterest and get their shares/likes. But there is no such thing of competition if you are original. Being authentic to yourself, with your brand aesthetic, client interaction, turnaround times and practises in general, you'll be a head above the rest and will soon see the benefits.

Wish less, do more
Passion goes a long way, but actually doing the things that you're passionate for to get anywhere goes a whole lot further. You can wish for more sales and success all day long, but if you don't put the work in, you won't get the rewards.

Weekends are for family
This took me a while to understand, but I now realise I won't be my best working self if I don't have a break from emails and orders at the end of the week. Before the crazy puppy entered our lives, I used to work 16 hours a day, plus weekends. It didn't feel like work and I hardly felt stressed, but soon after we got Barney I realised I couldn't keep up those working hours. I felt like a failure, all these other creatives were working around the clock to help their business, so should I. But then I read Amy Poehler's Yes Please, and the quote 'Good for her, not for me' rang true. Just because other creatives are working a certain way, doesn't mean you have to! Work in a way that is good for you.  

A thousand thank yous for your readership, support and gentle nudges over the past year. I really am having the time of my life, and it's all down to you. 

Part of the one-girl band series- a series looking at being the one-girl-band behind your small business, plus the trails and tribulations that come with being self-employed.