Here at The Frugalpreneur, we want to highlight some innovators and entrepreneurs in a variety of fields using their own words, insights and experiences. Each of the successful entrepreneurs we feature have some unique gems to share, and we’re thrilled to have them featured!
[highlight]What’s Your Business & Why Did You Launch It?[/highlight]
Hi, there! My name is Dondi and I run a small business called, “DondaLee’s”- a handmade accessory, paper goods and home décor boutique. I started “DondaLee’s” with the hope that I could turn my passion for creativity and the “handmade” into a business. I wanted to be able to work from home, be my own boss and do something that I truly loved. All easier said than done! After discovering handmade communities like Etsy and reading so many handmade success stories on blogs, I felt confident that I could do it too. So without a clue how to run a business, I took the plunge and started my own. =)
The first thing I learned was that I had no idea what I was doing! I felt completely overwhelmed by everything that I didn’t know. I was constantly comparing myself to successful handmade businesses and not understanding why I didn’t measure up. Because I’m such a perfectionist I tried to figure out everything myself instead of asking for help- which I think really stunted my business. Looking back, I think I really needed a business “mentor”…Someone who’d already had a successful business and could calm me down, give me advice and help me formulate a practical business plan.
When you’re first starting out, you get so emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted that you completely lose sight of the practical side of running a business…Like having an advertising plan, working on branding, creating new products etc…The most basic things can completely elude you. There’s just a lot to juggle and you have to figure out a way to have “balance”. Something I’m still trying to achieve!
[highlight]Do You Need A Lot Of Money To Start A Business Like This? Any Frugal Tips?[/highlight]
Let’s be practical, you have to have money to make money. You absolutely have to invest in your business when you’re first getting started. It’s impossible to say exactly how much you will need…But I can guarantee you will need at least several thousand dollars. It’s a known fact that in the first few years of a small business you technically don’t make a profit. You’re putting everything you have into building a solid base. You buy things you don’t end up needing; you have to invest in supplies, props, equipment… And it takes a few years to figure what you do and don’t need.
You have to figure out what’s the best investment for your money and that takes time. Answering questions like, “would it be profitable for my business to invest in blog advertising?”, “can I afford to do a craft event at this point?”, “how much should I invest in branding?” all take time and experience. And “experience” is exactly the step I wanted to skip when I was starting out. Guess what? It’s not possible.
The experiences you have (especially the mistakes you make) are what make your business, your business. You gain the priceless tools of confidence, knowledge and determination. So don’t try and skip this step!
In the beginning, I was not frugal. I got so excited that I bought a million different supplies without knowing if I’d even use them. I over-bought supplies for items I had no guarantee would sell. And most didn’t!
[highlight]Here are some frugal tips I learned along the way:[/highlight]
-Never buy huge amounts of supplies for something unless you can guarantee you will use them. Instead, buy a very small amount and see how the item sells.
-Make a budget for how much you can/or want to spend on each area of your business. This is hard to do in the beginning because you really don’t know how much you will need. But set a loose one anyway and try to stick to it. You’ll begin to see over time what area needs the most money and which one needs the least. I think the key areas you have to invest in are: supplies, shop fees, advertising, and branding.
-Don’t spend what you don’t have! Easier said than done, I know. But unless you’ve taken out a loan, don’t spend what you don’t have.
-Buy wholesale! If you have a “tax i.d.” then you are good to go for buying wholesale. It will save you a lot of money! But before you buy things in bulk remember to make sure you will use them first. Shipping supplies and packaging supplies are wonderful things to buy wholesale!
[highlight]What Advice Would You Give To Someone Starting A Business Like Yours?[/highlight]
-First things first, the most important part of your business will always be your products. Period. Work on them before you work on branding, advertising and blogging…Then try and create a balance between all these different areas. Do NOT spend all your time on one area like blogging.
-Find a mentor who already has a successful business and learn from them.
-Set small goals and reward yourself for accomplishing them.
–Allow yourself time to figure out what you want to do (you will need it!)
-Create well-made, unique products that people want -this also takes a lot of time but it’s the backbone for your business and should never be neglected.
-Social networking is a HUGE part of your business. People have to know you exist and you have to tell them! Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are all wonderful tools for the small business owner- and they’re FREE too!
–Advertising is also a HUGE part of your business. Before you do “paid for” advertising do free button swaps with other bloggers. Do giveaways, guest posts and send your products to popular bloggers to promote.
-Have a target audience and a focus for your shop, otherwise you’ll be all over the place and people won’t know what to expect.
-Don’t give up when things get hard or stressful (believe me, they will!)
-Treat your business like a business. Make a daily schedule and stick to it. Get serious.
-If you sell primarily online, I can’t tell you how important the photographs of your products are. You either need to buy a “big-girl” camera and completely master this area or pay an expert to do it for you. Period.
-Having a support system is vital. Whether it’s your family, friends, or people you’ve never met from the handmade community-you need to surround yourself with people that are encouraging and supportive of your business.
-Learn to take constructive criticism. (I’m still working on this one!) It can be hard, but it’s crucial to hear criticism and use it for good. It’s easy to have tunnel vision when you’re an artist but you need to take into account the advice and opinions of others. You don’t have to use it, but just be open to new (and possibly better) ways of doing things.
-In the beginning, expect to work your tail off. There will be lots of late nights and long days. When you’re just getting off the ground you have to make sacrifices. Whether that means working all weekend or all night- it has to be done.
*Just remember to make time for rest later or you will get burned out. You won’t always have to work as hard as you do in the very beginning- so just keep that in mind. Things will balance out, eventually.
– And finally, there’s no one magical step to making your business a success. It’s not just about having an amazing product or being an amazing photographer…It’s about incorporating all these different things into your business and having balance that really leads to success.
[highlight]Any Books Or Sites To Recommend?[/highlight]
Most of my handmade business knowledge comes from blogs- which are wonderful, free resources! I’ve picked up some fabulous advice along the way.
Here are a few of my favorite posts about running a small/handmade business:
Simple Mom – Finding your element when working from home
Acute Designs –valuing your work as a handmade artist and pricing it accordingly
Just Lovely Things– An entire “Love Your Business” series (a wealth of information!)
Sunshine and Carousels– the reality of running a handmade business
*I’ve also been slowly working on a “Love Your Business” series at my blog that you can check out too!
What Are Your Goals & What Gets You Really Excited About Your Business?
My current goal is to transform my shop into a very distinct handmade wedding/party supply shop. I’m slowly getting there! I’m excited about carrying more bridal accessories, wedding thank you cards and fun party supplies. It has taken me a year to really narrow down the focus of my shop. Having a clear focus gives you necessary boundaries for your business. It relieves stress and actually gives you more freedom to create.
I get so excited about making new things and having other people love them as much as I do. Every day I wake up excited to be creative! Loving what you do is really the spark that keeps you going. For the handmade business owner there’s absolutely no end to learning and growing. I’m always pushing myself to improve in every area of business and I get so much satisfaction out of seeing how much progress I’ve made. I also hope to stop and enjoy the process a little more instead of always looking for the next goal.
My long-term goals for my handmade business are that I would have my items featured in magazines, popular blogs/websites and continue to have daily sales and wonderful returning customers. But more importantly, that I would always find joy in the things I make and never lose my passion for creativity. =)
Thanks so much for having me! I hope my advice was helpful for you! =)
Thanks SO much, Shannyn! I feel honored to have done this! =)
I really love this article. SO MANY good tips for someone (like me) who is starting out with a new business! I especially need to learn to take time off to rest and to accept constructive criticism. I’m getting better, but it really depends on where it comes from – if I don’t know a person very well, it’s easy for me to discount their opinions to soothe my ego. But I know I have to be ready to deal with feedback, even negative, so that’s something I’m working on. Thanks for a great article – I look forward to checking out Dondi’s products!
My sister thought about starting an Etsy store, I should share this article with her. Thanks!