It's been about a year and a half since we started Papio Press in the summer of 2014, but I still remember what it was like taking those first tentative steps into starting our own business very clearly. So when people ask me for tips and advice on starting their own small creative business I can remember how scary and huge it all feels right at the start. The best, and main piece of advice I can give is to take everything in baby steps - it's quite a mental leap to imagine yourself going from nothing to a huge full time business, so in the start it's better just to imagine yourself starting up a little shop and listing a few things and seeing how it goes!
I'll always remember that when we were in the beginnings of Papio Press we said:
Thinking of that reminds me of how far we've come, and how ever changing your goals and dreams can be. Below is an image of what Papio Press HQ looked like right at the start:
I'm no expert on the subject, but for those of you who've asked I've put together a little list of top tips & things you need to think about when you're starting a small online business!
1. What are you going to sell?
You'll find when you're in the beginning and wanting to order small quantities of products in a higher number of designs, that it's harder to get things made. I still dream of the day we might have the buying power of a company looking to purchase a custom made product in the 1000's. The way to get around that is to find things you can produce yourself or get your hands on easily. In the beginning we used the printer at our University to produce prints - it was relatively low cost (as the value lies in the artwork itself), and we could create an infinite number of them as print on demand. It's ideas like that that help you create a whole shop very quickly! You can also use Google to search for printers in your area. We've found nearly all of our suppliers through internet searches.
2. Where are you going to sell it?
There are a lot of craft orientated marketplaces available right now, which is awesome. Theres Etsy, Folksy, Not on the High Street, and I know plenty of people opt for opening their own Big Cartel. There are pro's and con's to all of them, so you'll need to do some researching on forums etc. in order to find one that you think would suit you. Starting on a marketplace (like Etsy, where we started) is a good idea because it's a website that already has a lot of visitors and a lot of customers.
You can also make your own website - this will cost you a more money in the beginning though. We waited until about 6 months had gone by before we made ours. There are a lot of low cost, template style, cart based website making services nowadays though, which is a godsend for small online retailers! Do a bit of searching for those too. It's good to know what's out there for when you're ready.
3. How are you going to send it?
You'll also need to do some research into the right sort of packaging to send your products in. Consider whether it's fragile, or needs to stay flat, or doesn't want to be bent. We buy pretty much all our envelopes/packaging off Ebay, and there's a whole world of it out there. Bubble pouches, cardboard tubes, large letter boxes, hardbacked envelopes, the list goes on. Whatever you're selling there'll be something to post it in out there somewhere.
4. How are you going to let people know you're out there?
My answer to this was social media (Though by being Etsy & Not on the High Street certainly brought us a lot of customers). Papio Press has a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a Tumblr. You can connect them all up to the same post goes out on all of them, and then wait for the notifications on your phone and respond to each different site as you go. The only way to do well on Social Media is to be active on Social Media, and I've dedicated a lot of time and energy into talking to people/interacting with other small businesses. You'll find in the end that you'll start to have a favourite site, just make sure you don't abandon the others - I'm a huge Instagram Fan, but we've had a lot of opportunities through Twitter. Think about your voice, about how you want to come across, and make sure you stick to that image, and that all your posts are cohesive (and beautiful!).
5. What's going to make your business special?
When people shop small business they're looking for a different experience to when they shop on the high street. It's nice to make it a more personal and memorable buying experience. It's always good to remind yourself that someone out there has just chosen to spend their hard earned money on something you made. How are you going to show them you appreciate that? Lots of people write handwritten notes, or wrap up their orders etc. These methods are less feasible when your business grows and you're getting lots of orders every day, so you'll constantly need to adapt and change this idea - but make sure you don't forget it! It's what makes people come back time and time again, and tell their friends about you.
Starting a business was the best thing Harry & I ever did. It's a total roller-coaster, but so rewarding. Make sure you find time to stop, reflect and enjoy the whole experience!