I am a textile designer/maker, based at the Inc. Space in Cardiff School of Art and Design. I registered my business exactly 4 month ago and here's what I learned so far:
1. Starting is very difficult if you do not have any savings
So my first advice would be: get some funds! Savings, grants, loans from family or friend on 0% interest. Maybe not a loan from a bank just yet, you don't want to be under even bigger pressure thinking about the terms and percentage.
2. Calculate your costs well
Your price should include everything, from packaging and tools to your working time. Otherwise you're fooling yourself. When I started to sell I made a fatal mistake: I didn't calculate my time and all the small expenses such as tissue paper or safety pins into the retail price. And most importantly: I forgot about the money I'm paying as a stallholder. Consequently, I gave away nearly the half of my stock for free. I did increased the prices afterwards but it wasn't a nice experience, I felt awkward facing returning customers.
3. Cost effectiveness is important
If you can do something more cheaply – do it. That was one of the reasons I screen-printed all my business cards and packaging rather than paying someone else to print them. I'm also trying to exchange goods and services without using money. For example, I'm designing patterns for a photographer who is working on my portfolio. We both agreed to work until the desired results are achieved.
4. Time is everything
I'm balancing my part-time job in sales and my creative practice. Strong coffee and motivation are keeping me awake for the long hours that I need to put in but only half of this time I'm being productive. I'm trying to use the 'best' hours (mainly mornings for me) for designing, important decisions, calls and leave packaging/organizing/printing for the less productive time slots. In the future I will gladly employ someone to do the secondary tasks.
5. There is a great help available
I have amazing mentors at university and I'm also using help externally from 'Business in Focus' – an organization funded by the Welsh Government. Of course, the whole lot of information about self-assessment, costing and funding is fully available online, but with professional guidance you will save valuable time and gain much more motivation to become self-employed.
6. 'Sale or Return' isn't the only option
The first gift shop I approached offered me a 'sale or return' agreement. So I delivered stock worth £1200 to the shop and approached the next one and then another two, signing the same terms and conditions. After this, I found myself borrowing from everyone in my family, not having enough money to sustain myself until the next regular payment. That's because I only invested and didn't get anything back. Although it's changing now, each month I'm getting money for the items sold by the shops, I wish I would have done it differently. I wish I'd have sold my products to the owners. And because I didn't suggest it, thinking 'sale or return' is a default option for every maker, I had to face those weeks of hardship.
7. Spread your money
Don't put everything in stock production. Let the communication, marketing and professional visuals be a part of you budget, as they are crucial to sell your product.
8. Keep your life separate from your business
After the Cardiff Christmas markets which I attended in November I ended up with a massive bank statement including my part time pay, bills, business and private expenses and I couldn't calculate what I've made for a very long time. To simplify this, I applied for a business account. It wasn't easy to teach myself using two cards, but I managed to do this and have to admit, it makes my life much easier.
9. Planning is good
I found it extremely useful in my practice. Every day, at the bus or at work I create a very detailed plan of my day and budget. Those plans are helping me to understand my speed and predict what can be done in a certain amount of time, which is vital in my business.
10. Be financially committed to your business
Try to think about your business first. For me, my business is the most exciting project I've ever had and the most rewarding too!
I hope you found this relevant and good luck in your business start-up!
Blog post by Anna Palamar, March 2016