Taking A Chance On Creativity – how I started a small online business in 2020
After many years of wanting to be self-employed and not being brave enough to do it, I recently went ahead and started a small online shop selling handcrafted items I make at home; I’d had so many business ideas over the years, I think it was inevitable that I would one day take the plunge one way or another.
I decided to give up work in March, an early retirement wish, and was keen to spend time with my family and with my brother, who’d suffered a major stroke and take lots of time to relax and enjoy life. I also planned to self-publish a couple of children’s’ stories I’d written, replicate a couple of products I’d made and develop another couple I’d thought of – to actually start my own business at last!
Little did I know that the world had other plans for me.
The Plan and other things that happened
Lockdown couldn’t have happened at a better time for me and, although it was difficult in many ways, I benefitted greatly from not working, so I was comfortable with my decision to retire and I appreciate that, unlike many others, I was very fortunate during this time.
After decluttering and reorganising the house, garden, and shed from March to the end of May, I revamped my craft studio and sorted out a lot of stuff I’d collected which I planned to ‘make something with one day’. This motivated me to revisit a business plan I’d made about 18 months before; I started by creating mind maps for each aspect of the business, putting a timeline in place, looking at marketing channels, and manifesting the vision of what I wanted it all to look like.
In the meantime, I was offered some part-time online work in June, just 5 hours a week, and I decided to do it as I had the skills (did I, though? See ‘what else happened’), was helping someone out who had chosen me, and it was a bit of extra money to top up my pension.
I benefitted greatly from this experience as it also gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about myself; I spent time working on my self-confidence with help from a professional coach, used an App for meditation, and did some deep self-development with guidance from a therapist I know.
At the same time, I started to work on my business goals, but they didn’t happen as I had hoped and planned as I was only really dabbling and didn’t know exactly how to go about it all. ‘Is this meant to be?’, ‘If I haven’t managed to make it happen all these years, how can I expect to make it happen now?’, ‘Maybe I’m not meant to do this!’, ‘How can I possibly do this?’, ‘I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!’ were thoughts that constantly competed with ‘I can do this!’, ‘It’s just gonna take time – I’m getting there one step at a time’, ‘Ooh! That went well!’, ‘I think it’s gonna work!’
As a workaholic, control freak, perfectionist, it was hard work as EVERYTHING had to be done asap and I HAD to do it all on my own. I just HAD to stick to the plan and berated myself every time I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do that day. I was determined to do it while at the same time a little voice was telling me it would just never work.
In reality, I had spent lots of time planning and not actually doing. I was inadvertently procrastinating as I prioritised my other responsibilities – mum, wife, sister, housekeeper, part-time work, etc. – over what I really wanted to do. Also, the gorgeous summer we had was just too lovely to ignore; setting up my virtual office in the garden was great, but it wasn’t ideal trying to keep papers in place in the breeze or squint at my computer screen in the bright sunshine.
Among everything that was going on, my 18-year-old daughter told me in August that she was going to live with her boyfriend an hour-and-a-half’s drive away which was a shock and very worrying with the virus situation; I was quite distraught as I wasn’t prepared for this decision until she as about 23! After lots of discussion and understanding her wishes, getting used to the idea of not having her around, and rationalising that I would have all day every day to myself, it was easier to accept.
I consciously worked on putting structure into my day, setting up my calendar with various targeted activities – I was quite pleased with myself!
The new plan and what else happened
For a few days, this went well as I started the day with a short meditation and some exercise, then breakfast and a dog walk then spent one morning on my part-time work responsibilities and the others and each afternoon on my business plans. However, old habits die hard and, once again, I started letting other things take me away from my intended goals; the phone would ring or an email would come through and I thought ‘Better to deal with it now than have to do it later or tomorrow.’ I found myself spending the day making sure everything was done for everyone else so I could then be free to do what I wanted, which meant staying up late to work on my business, putting myself last. I was making progress, but I was annoyed with myself and kept endeavouring to stick to my calendar plan, mostly to no avail.
I needed help.
So I decided to approach a friend who’d been in business for many years and ask for some advice. This turned out to be a very useful exercise ( thank you so much Suzanne 😊) as we looked at my proposed products, my goals, and options and discussed what would work best in the current market; there were a range of things I was considering and I really didn’t know which to take forward or how to go about launching and marketing any of them really. They all involved working with technology or aspects of technologies I’d never used before which made me apprehensive as I had struggled with various new technologies during the previous months (had the skills, eh?!) – nothing made sense and it all felt beyond my capability; this worried me as I’d always been a tech guru at work, helping with computer issues and system problems, but it seemed I’d lost confidence in my abilities and I couldn’t face trying to get my head around online self-publishing and app-building processes, the new social media platform processes and lockdown online business models.
My next decision was to give up.
Turning the corner
I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that I was subconsciously avoiding being brave enough to start my own business yet again; I was sabotaging myself. I felt inexperienced, out of my depth, and scared I’d fail so I was committing to anything but my business plans.
However, I didn’t want to regret not trying, so, determined to give it another go, I put even more structure into my calendar of activities, setting half-hour and one-hour slots with pop-up reminders to help me get things done one thing at a time – personal time, business time, time for household tasks, time supporting my brother (on only 3 days across the week for no more than 3 hours at a time).
This more detailed structure felt good and served my need for control and achievement; I felt more organised, energised, and positive.
I regularly revisited my coaching support tools and resources about setting and keeping boundaries, used the materials I had available to monitor and improve my self-talk and be kind to myself, and I took a good look at what I really wanted and what I could do to ensure I committed to making it happen.
In the meantime, to overcome my disappointment at not being as brave and confident as I thought I was, and because the summer was ending, I started getting busy with some general craft activities as a distraction and to keep me occupied. I’d always enjoyed making things, especially making something unusual from nothing much, and I started to look at what I had in my crafts stock and got busy. I hadn’t made anything in over a year and it felt good to just be, to make something random from bits and bobs and just enjoy doing it. As it happened, I ended up making some things I thought people would like and that I could possibly make some money from selling.
Getting my creative mojo back was great and one thing led to another, with a few ideas and actions developing into a bigger picture; I was back on board with the idea of starting a business, but I had a lot to learn before I could consider setting out on that path and still no idea how that could happen.
I asked my daughter and hubby what they thought of my proposed products and feedback was not all that good; I could envision the end product and the concept, but I hadn’t really made it clear. Once I clarified things and actually set out a physical display, the feedback went from ‘Well, um…not really sure’ to ‘Wow!’ and I felt better about the potential ‘potential’!
Freshly enthused, I worked on keeping to my new calendar structure, but I was conscious that I was pushing myself very hard and, as someone who has always been far too hard on myself, I reflected on whether I was expecting too much of myself as usual! But I was getting excited and hopeful again, and things started to happen.
Through sheer effort and pushing myself, I’d got my head around the ‘Canva’ design tool and put some thought into business cards, product labels, and general marketing content.
As it turned out, I changed my plan to publish children’s stories and develop some other ideas and ended up creating 3 products which I’ve had the most fun and satisfaction with as they are hand-made from my passion and creativity, and involve a topic close to my heart – the environment. Once my creative juices had started flowing and I got busy making things, I felt I was on a better path.
Then, while browsing on LinkedIn one day, I came across an opportunity to do a short business course which was free and, although it would slightly postpone my progress with making products and building a business, it was really instrumental in helping me carry things forward as a well-informed business start-up.
Getting equipped with ‘Outset’ Business Courses
Feasibility, Research, Marketing, Finance – OMG! What had I signed up for?!
I quite like researching things, creating content, and building a marketing plan, but I hate Maths and finance-type things and after day 1 on the course, I just didn’t know if my products were feasible. I liked them, but would anyone else? There was a concept behind the products and they had a purpose, but what if someone could do it better than me or was already doing it better?! What if I were to put loads of effort into it and it was a waste of time? What if… What if… What if.
With the support of the Outset Tutor on Zoom and the spreadsheets she provided, I did a fair bit of research and filled in the blanks regarding feasibility and finance/pricing. I wasn’t convinced I was doing it right, but I gradually made some sense of it all. This also helped me take time to look more closely at my proposed products and decide how to improve them, consider the cost of all the components, the pricing, and what platform I would use to offer them for sale.
I looked at domains, websites, social media options, and was worried about costs, even when some aspects were free or low cost for the first year. It was getting more complicated and stressful even with all the support I had been fortunate enough to be able to draw on; in the end, it would be my decision.
Getting to grips with Designed in Dorset
As with the LinkedIn opportunity, I stumbled across an organisation that was offering local artists, artisans, and crafters the chance to promote and sell their wares via their website. I had a good look at Designed in Dorset (DiD) and there were some fabulous talents already on board, although only about 40 were registered so far and only about 20 of them were actively operating; they now have over 70 people on board.
I enquired and checked how it all worked and there was a lot of help available. Also, it was interesting to find out how they started – at a show 8 years ago – and where they’re located – near Child Okeford.
So, once I’d found out what Etsy, Shopify, and Amazon would cost me, I decided to go with DiD as they have a great offer of doing all the admin, featuring your business, and running the order and sales side of things for you, all for 10% commission.
I started getting worried again about the quality of my products compared to the marvellous talents available and worked hard at being positive about my skills and potential for getting customers interested. One thing I decided was that I had to present my wares professionally and confidently and, again, I sought help where I thought it would be available and really good.
Thanks to Suzanne, my Canva designed labels and product inserts were beautifully re-created using her talents with her Cricut machine – they are quite lovely and create a very good impression. Also, my lovely daughter, Ellen, showed me how to successfully stage my products so they would look their best in the photos for the website and they certainly look good.
Once I’d started the process with DiD, I couldn’t really back out – I would have done all this for nothing, so I thought, ‘I’m gonna go for it!’
The process for getting everything set up online had its problems and it was sometimes very frustrating learning yet another new system; entering everything took copious amounts of time and I made lots of mistakes and had to keep amending things; there were several delays with system errors and lots of late nights catching up. The help from DiD was amazing, though and I got there in the end.
I still doubted my talent but was hopeful and now my Scentiments Room Sprays and Beau Bow gift decorations are online and I’ve made my first sale!
It’s been exciting and daunting, invigorating and exhausting, great fun and very stressful all at the same time and I learned so much about myself every day and throughout the whole experience.
I have to say that my approach to many things has changed – I really prefer to work in a very neat and orderly way and have always found it difficult to work in a cluttered, messy, or disorganised environment. I like to work on something for hours until it’s done and not rush or leave it half-done. Well, I had no choice this time – the builders were doing the bathroom and we had to change contractors half-way through due to poor workmanship; my brother’s care situation became very complex and I had to deal with numerous problems daily; my husband needed help with a job application and the deadline was looming; I was trying to juggle various daily and weekly self-development sessions I was paying for and playing catch-up late at night. On top of this, was the housework, shopping, managing two cats and a dog, laundry, and a load of other unexpected things that came up.
To say I was working in a mess was an understatement and how I achieved anything is a miracle – I think the time I took for my self-development must have worked because I just did it and enjoyed it as much as I could among the chaos and stress. I believe it also helped that I was being creative and getting excited and learning. If it doesn’t work out, I haven’t wasted a single moment because, if I hadn’t done it, I’d never know. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll try something else – now that I know I can do it.
But it might just work out!
If you’re thinking of trying something like this, I’d recommend: asking someone to be your business mentor; delegating things you can’t do, don’t enjoy doing, don’t want to do, or don’t have time to do, to people who have the talent and time – photography, website stuff, etc.; perhaps learning those things yourself if you want to.
As I look back, I realise how blessed I am to have my health, my family, and good friends to enjoy talking with and getting advice and help from. I’m so grateful to Suzanne, my daughter, Ellen, and my husband, Lee, for their support and kindness through it all.
Do have a look at my shop and let me know what you think – you can buy something if you like!
Designed in Dorset: https://www.designedindorset.co.uk/pages/seller-profile?studio-18-gifts
Facebook: Studio 18 Gifts
Thank You Sonya!
For your lovely write-up and insight into your journey into the small online business world. It can definitely be a daunting experience but so worth it if you have the passion to keep going!
I shall talk more about hobbies/ventures in future blog posts. If you too have a story or tale to tell about your business journey, we would love to hear from you!