Small businesses are a lot like relationships. You need to have that magical spark that keeps you going through the tough times, and reminds you WHY exactly it is you are doing this! I have learned that in order to be successful in my little creative business, I need to have FUN.
Seems obvious right? People who don’t have a creative business naturally assume it is nothing but fun! But it isn’t always the case! When we first start our little business, there is a honeymoon phase. It is all new and exciting – everything is just so much FUN. But then after a little while, the new and exciting becomes the everyday grind, and then the fun can start to disappear. If we aren’t careful to keep that little magic spark going, it burns out all too quickly and so does your business’s most valuable asset: your creativity.
Mine did. I started a collection of children’s clothing and opened my own website. I was so excited and positive! I still remember that feeling of just BELIEVING in it. I just listed the handful of items I had and flipped the open sign on my virtual doors without a worry in the world.
But after awhile, I found I was suddenly creating nothing but time consuming custom orders. And the further I went along, the more complicated everything just seemed to get. I let my customers control what I made and I began worrying about silly things. Like the competition, copycats and trying to keep up with what everyone else was doing.
Before I knew it, I was spending more time worrying than creating.
I moved from custom orders to a made-to-order system. I was sure I had fixed the problem. It was too much work making clothing to my client’s demands all the time when my prices didn’t even pay an hourly rate. My prices were in line with my handmade competitors, I didn’t stop to question whether this was a good idea or not.
Making items to order proved challenging on a whole new level. I had orders stacked up for weeks on end. They never seemed to stop coming. There were 4-5 pieces per invoice. I had to make each item before starting on the next order. I was exhausted and overworked. I didn’t smile when I received a new order like I used to. Instead, I groaned and wearily eyed my pile of order slips that were already in the queue. I was terrified of getting sick or the machine breaking down, the deadlines were that tight. Nothing could go wrong. I had way too much on my plate.
The day came when I raised the white flag and admitted defeat. I was exhausted. I was tired. I had achieved what every handmade seller dreamed of. I had worked for several years and finally, I had a regular flow of customers. I didn’t even have to advertise. I was working around the clock to make all these little clothes. But I was not happy. Nor was my bank balance. Creating a new collection was a chore. I had no inspiration. I was petrified of raising my prices. It was too late to fix the problem. I no longer loved what I did, I loathed it. I had excruciating RSI. I was creatively burnt out. I didn’t eat or drink, could barely lift my right arm above my head and my social highlight of the week was a visit to the post office with messy hair and thread covered track pants. This ‘successful’ business wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. Heartbroken, I closed my shop. It was so hard, yet so easy at the same time.
Like a bad relationship, I had no choice but to end it, even though deep down, I still loved my business. Mentally and physically I was exhausted and depressed. I opened an Etsy store to sell off my supplies.
Next, I decided I’d learn to crochet and write about my creative journey on my blog. I needed to find my creative passion again. Through my blogging, I realized what a mass-producing robot I had become. I really missed my business, but the physical pain and emotional distress were still too raw. I vowed I’d never stitch another thing to sell AGAIN. I wanted to enjoy life. I wanted to visit more places than the post office and supermarket. I also wanted to find my love of creating again, a part of my life that had been as vital to my happiness as breathing, yet a flame that had gone out long ago.
Why did this happen? It seems so stupid now. It took the closure of my business for me to realize what works for some people, doesn’t work for me. Creativity in itself is completely individual. I’d bottled mine up in generic packaging. I’d tried to constrict it to a square box instead of letting it run wild and free. I’d created my own little sweatshop prison. Instead of simply doing what I loved, and pricing my items accordingly, I had let the whole thing get away from me. I’d looked outside my lane and had a head-on collision.
The bubble of self-belief I had when I started was well and truly gone. Despite my sales records, I didn’t believe anything I did was perfect enough and I was too scared to change the prices on my products. I was scared I wouldn’t sell enough because my prices would be much higher than what anyone else was charging. At the heart of the issue, it was worrying about what other people thought and being too afraid to price properly that resulted in the loss of my creative spark and business.
I wish I knew then what I knew now. But it’s okay, I have learned from my mistakes. I’m going to be launching my new creative business next month. I’ve realized my limits and learned that creativity needs to be nurtured in order to thrive. Having fun with my work is just as important as crunching the math to ensure selling a dress equals paying the bills.
I want to get up each day and be excited to get started! Doing a mishmash of different things is what makes me happy, and when I am happy, I get stuff done. I am really happy being a solo business owner. I like the flexibility of it. I like working on weekends and make Monday my Sunday!
I’m approaching this new business like an experiment. I have one rule: When something ceases to be fun, I will move onto something new. I’ve looked beyond the handmade community so I can push the boundaries. Just because fellow makers are charging a certain amount, doesn’t mean I have to. There is a world of fashion and design out there that tells me when it comes to pricing garments, many creative businesses are setting the bar too low. I won’t be using ‘handmade’ as the most important selling point. I’m building a brand and experience instead. If my prices are too high, I won’t lower them. I will simply do something else with my skills. I’d rather my business fail quickly than burn out slowly and painfully because I’m understaffed and underpaid.
So, if YOU are having more stress than fun, change something NOW. Don’t take the long route like I did. Learn from MY mistakes. Have the courage to price your products so you can live the life you want and don’t be afraid to dance to your own tune. After all, you have chosen an extraordinary job – don’t try and make it fit into an ordinary box. Keep the creative magic alive, and you will succeed.