I'm posting a few things I've learned in my years of running Dear Mushka, with hopes that you'll find inspiration, wisdom, and encouragement here. I certainly haven't figured it all out (as if that needs to be said), but I believe there is value in passing along what we've learned and so here I am, sharing and passing.
1. Do you, but also be willing to change a little to fit what people want. I think most people will tell you to create a product that you love & enjoy making which is wise advice. Perhaps what gets left off too often, though, is that you have to be willing to adapt as the public responds to your creations. If things aren’t selling well, take an un-biased step back and ask yourself “why?” Then be willing to adjust here and there to fit a need. I’ve been extremely excited to release new products only to sell a few of them + then quickly bump those items to the “sale” section and that’s okay. It isn’t a reflection of who I am as a person; it’s just a reflection of what our society is wanting and needing at this time. Don’t beat yourself up; just be willing to adapt as necessary! This is a really important step (that I think many people miss) so don’t skip it.
2. Do the hard work yourself. Sure, you can ask 10 other business owners where they get all their materials from, but then something else is going to come up shortly down the line and you’re going to have to ask again. And again. And again. Part of running a business is sitting down, doing research, and figuring it out for yourself. But I promise- you’ll walk away more confident in your capabilities as a business owner as well as more equipped for issues down the line. And you’d much rather learn those lessons + build those muscles on the small stuff first, trust me.
3. Casual isn’t going to cut it. Many people are creative and talented (which is wonderful!) but unfortunately it takes a little more than talent to grow a business. You have to take appealing photos or set up an appealing shop. You have to let people know you exist. You have to become a brand people can trust. Etcetera! And of course, not all of these things have to be particularly difficult (or done all at once) but just having talent isn’t usually enough and it can be detrimental to think that it is. Otherwise, you’re not going to move past gifting really great Christmas gifts and are instead going to be stuck wondering “why don’t others like my stuff?” So be ready to put hard work, time, and energy into moving past “homemade” and into “handmade.”
4. Go out and pursue friendships. Some people run in an extremely creative community with others who think similarly and share artistic passions. I’m not one of those people, though, and so seeking out like-minded individuals has been crucial to my growth (and sanity)! You need people you can run ideas by, talk things out with, and bounce ideas off of; people who will celebrate your successes, mourn over your losses, and promote your talent because they like you. You’re going to be spending a lot of time thinking about your business and you’re going to need to share that part of your life with friends. So go find a few people you think will understand where you’re at, share a bit of your story with them, and simply ask to be on one another’s team. You’ll be amazed at how many people need the same thing! Instagram is a wonderful place to start. Don’t be shy; leave comments, send messages, and build real relationships! The rewards will be so sweet.
5. But also… Don’t make too many friends. And by that I mean: Be careful how many other small businesses you track. Let me tell you, comparison is absolutely the thief of joy, and you have to keep yourself in check. Otherwise, you’ll think you’re doing great until you get on social media, realize so and so has 14k followers (omg!), and feel defeated again. So choose wisely! At one point I was following 300 other shops “for inspiration”. And sure—they were super inspiring! Creatives need other creative (see point above). But more than being inspired and finding fellowship, I was drowning in their successes, and it wasn’t worth it. So I let off some, worked on forming quality friendships over quantity infiltration, and trusted that this business was going to grow even without me pursuing every shop out there. Be careful that you aren’t letting comparison steal your thunder; she likes to do that.
6. Celebrate small victories. There are always going to be shops doing and selling better than you, but also… you’re kicking booty! So when you open up shop and you sell your first item? Go out for ice cream! When you hit 100 sales? Get a pedicure! This should not be a You Against Them world; this is a You Doing What You Do Best world. So celebrate when exciting things happen! And never ever stop.
7. Stay on top of all things finance. You know how people say you should dress for the job you want? In this case, I say you should handle your finances for the job you want. During my first year of business, I basically ignored details beyond how much an item was costing me to make + how much I was selling it for. I didn’t know what Dear Mushka was going to grow into so I didn’t look into a business license, collecting sales tax, etc. Needless to say, we did a lot of scrambling when we realized sales were picking up and the appropriate steps hadn’t been taken. Don’t let the business side of a small business keep you from beginning, but also, don’t put it on the very backburner. As you create and sell, also research and keep tabs. It says that you believe in what you’re doing and sets you up for the best kind of success.
8. Figure out how to work from home well. This won’t apply to everyone, but most of us start within the confines of our house and that can be a tricky thing. It really helps to set yourself up for success every morning. Create a schedule and try to stick with it. Maybe that means you work while the baby naps and you play while the baby plays. Maybe that means Mondays are for cleaning the house so you don’t have to think about it any other time. But setting a schedule is such a helpful way to keep work work and non-work non-work. Get dressed for the day. Listen, I spend 95% of my time at home; I could easily sit in pajamas for 24 hours straight. But when I’m in pajamas I work like I’m in pajamas, which is lazy and sloppy. So put on jeans and a shirt (or your nice pair of yoga pants, of course) and own what you’re doing! Create a workspace that is just for working. I’m on a desk in the bump-out of our bedroom and you may be on the corner of your dining room table but those spaces can be invaluable and sacred. Carve out your space and rock it! If you have to put a lot of effort into creating your area before you can work, you might quit before you’ve even begun.
9. Spread the word. There are infinite amounts of small businesses floating around, probably many very similar to what you’re working on. But I believe there can be room for us all- you just have to get your name out there! So keep business cards on you at all times. Wear or use your product if applicable and don’t be shy about where it came from. Be proud of what you make and be willing to share about it! When you sell something on Craigslist, hand the buyer a business card. Add a business signature to your general e-mail account. Share your new adventure on your personal Facebook page (“Looking for the perfect Mother’s Day gift? Check out my shop!”) and then ask friends and family to share with their circle, too. It’s a bit of a vulnerable step, but also a crucial one. The first step to people making a purchase is knowing that they CAN make a purchase. Tell them!
10. Dream. I have no idea where Dear Mushka will be in five years. It could be kindly flourishing or it could be at its end because life took us another direction. But casting a vision, encompassing a passion, and dreaming about where you might go is a beautiful and important step. Other people can taste your excitement and will want to be a part of it. When you’re sitting in a rut, you’ll be able to pull yourself out with hopes for sweeter and better. It will help keep your decisions and directions clear, steering you away from improper moves. Plus—it’s fun! There is freedom in looking at the future with a thousand ideas and joyfully thinking through them. What a gift! So savor and smile and dream and enjoy.