Building a Small Business
It seems like so many people have day jobs and side hustles these days- I am certainly amazed by the talent our makers have in Manitoba. Whether you have a small business for fun, extra cash or to support yourself&family full-time, it is clear that the expectations are incredibly high. From branding, to turn around time (time to make product), the pressure is on! When I started PRAIRIEKNOTS I had no clue what I was doing; zero experience building a business, novice techie at best, but I am good with people, eager to learn, and passionate about what I wanted do!
If you are thinking of starting your own small business, or looking for tips to add some extra zhuzh, here's what I have learned. After you've come up with an idea, pick a niche. For example, there are TONS of knitters in Winnipeg, how was I going to set myself apart?
1. REGISTER YOUR BUSINESS!!!! If you're making money, you need to do it right and file your taxes, folks! Additionally, you don't want to run into issues down the line after trying to establish your brand, that your business name is taken and it's owner ain't happy that you've been using their name. Plus it will be helpful later, read on!
2. Make a business plan and identify where you'd like to see yourself in the coming months, years and decade.
3. Platforms like Etsy are great because they are user friendly, encouraging, and track a lot of your data (ie sales, views, best selling products, etc)
These platforms can be really helpful when you are learning how to sell your products. What I didn't like about Etsy or Squarespace, is that unless your shoppers use these sites, you won't be discovered (we all have that family member who is afraid of learning to navigate these sites). The other thing I learned about these sites, is that you have to pay..per listing..and to renew when something sells. It doesn't seem like a lot, but then you get charged a percentage of your sales too.
Starting your own website can be costly too, as you need to buy your domain, and pay for the site. (Registering and owning your business name is key here so that you can have a website like www.prairieknots.com) BUT the cost is worth it, because no one can ever take it away from you. You own that site! Designing your web page to suit your style is also exciting- your brand, displayed the way you want it. A lot of my friends have had great experiences using sites like Wix and Shopify. There are templates to aid with building the site as well, so you can totally figure it out.
4. Branding! Stay consistent. When I first started this small business, I was more into the small-town rustic charm wave.
As my business evolved, I recognized that my products were now luxury
items and re-branded to suit a more elegant, modern look. If you are using a graphic designer to help with your custom logo, you will not regret it. I am seriously lucky to have friends in the biz to take my thoughts and turn them into a digital masterpiece. Logos are the first step in branding- you want it to be attractive, and tell people a little bit about your brand.
There are loads of amazing Branding and Advertising businesses in Winnipeg, so if you need to look into this, please check out some amazing sites like Kait Day at www.nowadaystudio.com www.cloverandcrow.com or Janelle at www.aliceandflore.com
Content for your website and social media pages is essential- do not cut corners here folks, because displaying your product well is the difference of making a sale or not. I am a huuuuge online shopper and I would never buy something if I can't see it displayed properly. Hints: take photos of your products in natural light. Literally pick a window, set up a display using a white backdrop (can be a piece of cardstock, blanket, floor), parallel to the window, and start snapping. You don't need fancy flatlays, just good, bright, natural light photos to showcase your beautiful items.
5. Markets are an amazing way of meeting other makers, advertising and of course, making some sales. They're also a TON of work. I grew up in St. Norbert, where we hosted the farmer's market every weekend. If you've been recently, you are aware that markets have changed. Third + Bird, Scattered Seeds, Lucky Girl Pop-Up, SCA Christmas Market, all of these big big markets have set the bar high. The expectations are big, and let me tell you, intimidating for a newbie. My husband hates markets, because every single time I have had a bigger booth space, which required a new backdrop, new signage, and you guessed it, his talent :) Planning booths was the hardest part for me, as I wanted to stand out, but I couldn't invest a ton financially, nor did I want to stress my husband out with bringing my design to fruition. Small town markets was where I started, and where I felt connected to shoppers. Having a conversation about products, helping people find what they were looking for, talking custom projects, those were all joys for me. I loved the big market scene too, but there wasn't the same kind of time for chatting with customers; people were there to buy, and you also had to have inventory to sell in big numbers.
Let's discuss that a bit further too- if you're just starting out and this isn't your full time gig, be mindful of how much time and money you are putting out there. Remember when I said pick a niche? Well for the longest time, I hadn't done that. I never wanted to turn anyone away. Oh you need a newborn hat? sure! You want slippers? My pleasure! A knit purse? Can do! I didn't mind taking on custom projects, but when planning for a market, this was a nightmare for me. I didn't ever know what to make, how much of it to make, or what sizes. I mean I am talking Newborn beanies, 3-6 month beanies, 6-12 month beanies, you get it. AND THEN THE COLOURS! I would try to have a variety of neutrals, some colours, but then someone always needed something other than what I had in stock. I started bringing a photobook I made online to showcase products I make and colours availability. It got to the point where I had custom order forms with me too. THIS WAS ALSO PRIOR TO MAKING MY OWN SITE.
FYI - expect to be rejected, it happens to everyone. Use it as an opportunity to grow your business in the right direction. Until I got some real feedback from a popular market, I hadn't understood that doing all of these different things was hurting my brand. They did me a solid in that sense, as I am now much more confident in my business.
6. Use social media- this is a whole ballgame in itself with it's algorithms, hashtags, locations, product links, etc. So read up on how to use it properly!
I'm sure I have more to say but at this point I am feeling like I may have overloaded ya'll on my first post. Best wishes to all of you, if you have questions let me know .