What I Wish I Was Told Before Starting A Creative Business
My name is Sarah Barrett, and I own Sarah B. Calligraphy. I create invitations and paper details. I also letter on wood and chalk signs and address envelopes. I truly believe in the unity of two souls who belong together. Can you tell I’m a hopeless romantic?! I love what I do, but there have been times I needed to really think about my business. How can I improve it? Should I collaborate with people? How can I work smarter, not harder? When starting your business, you focus on the stuff in your own niche. You most likely have knowledge in your area of expertise, whether it’s photography, stationery, copywriting, etc. We focus so much on our skill and forget to learn other aspects of our business. Here are some things to think about before starting your own creative business:
Make sure there’s a market for your craft.
Photography is a given. We love photos and being able to relive those memories through years is incredible. Is there a need for what you do? Do you see people wanting what you provide? If the answer is “yes,” then you are set! There will always be a need for paper goods, copywriting, event planning, and so much more. I get tagged in statuses on Facebook asking if there is a calligrapher because there is a need for it. Most people don’t have the time or want to hand address over 100 envelopes. That is where I come in!
Price your value.
Do not ever UNDERPRICE your work. If you are losing money or don’t get paid, then you have a hobby. Professionals get paid, and you want to be a professional. Consider your time, your materials, and your training. I have my BFA in graphic design and have been doing calligraphy for two years. I price my work according to what I know, what I can do, and how long it took me to do it. People aren’t just paying for the hours where you design a card and get it printed. They are paying for the years it took to get to where you are and the late nights perfecting everything. I have practiced calligraphy almost every night for the past two years, and I went to college for design. When every creative entrepreneur begins to value their work and price accordingly, we all win, which brings me to number 3.
Consider others in creative businesses.
There are sites where people charge 50¢ per envelope addressing. Just so you know, that’s really inexpensive and those people are most likely losing money. This cannot be the going rate for calligraphers. People ask my pricing and expect me to lower it because they see someone else offering a much lower price. This is a no-no! If clients see more photographers charging $150 for photography sessions, then those clients will expect your prices to match that. We have to make the base price of our work higher, so customers aren’t so surprised when you hand over a rate card. Everyone wins when the customer isn’t expecting cheap prices. Our materials and skills aren’t cheap. Why should our prices be?
Find a support system.
I was lucky enough to have someone trying to build a similar business at the same time I was. We bounced ideas off of each other, and it was great. My family has always supported me as well. If you don’t have that in your life, find it. There are so many groups out there that really help one another. I am in a few, and we share our accomplishments, ask questions, and cheer each other on. It’s amazing! These people won’t judge you either, so don’t worry about that. There are many resources if you type in “creative business Facebook groups” on Google. Go find one, and I might be floating around in the comments!
I like to go through hashtags on Instagram to find like-minded calligraphers. If you don’t have Instagram, what are you waiting for?! That is one of the fastest growing social media platforms, and it houses tons of creatives, like you! There are few people that will ignore you or be rude. Don’t be intimidated by the follower numbers either. Behind the account is someone who was once in your shoes. If you do ask a question and they don’t answer, don’t take any offense. I’m sure they’re just busy. I have a small community of photographers I like to work with as well. It’s nice to go out of your bubble and get inspiration from others. The more you build a community, the better chance at being recommended by those people or collaborating with them! Collaborations are one of my favorite things. I love working with others.
Put yourself out there.
If you don’t tell people what you do, how will they know you do it?! You can’t expect someone to magically find your stationery prints and want to buy from you. This is where social media is so important. I live in a small town. I’m saying around 4,000 people! That is not a typo! I’ve connected with people in Wisconsin, Florida, California, and Georgia. Introduce yourself to people. Offer to be their resource for whatever you do.
You get out what you put in.
As I said before, I have practiced calligraphy almost every night for the past two years. This has really pushed my business to a point I’m happy with. Don’t expect commissions, collaborations, and money to fall into your lap. You have to consistently work hard and be able to put aside some of the more fun things in life… just for a while! Reach out to people and practice your skill even if you aren’t making money from it. Plus, the samples, mockups, and styled shoots are a great way to not only connect with people but also get your work out there! If you want this to eventually be a full-time gig, you have to treat it like a “normal” job. You wouldn’t just leave your job to go take a nap and hang out with friends in the middle of the day, would you? Be more dedicated with your creative business, whether it’s full time or a side hustle.
Give yourself grace!
Here’s a big shocker… You aren’t perfect. It’s okay to fail! Pick yourself back up and learn from the mistake you just made. Seek out help from that support system we just talked about! I promise you that they will help you. Have a question regarding how to turn down a client? I’ve seen posts about that in almost every Facebook group I’m in. It’s okay to not be great at everything. I promise you that I am far from perfect in my business. The beautifully curated Instagram feeds you see are just the surface. We don’t show the messy stuff all of the time, but it’s out there! Most of the time, I’m in shorts, a T-shirt, no makeup, and wearing a ponytail. #reallife! Don’t compare yourself to someone, especially if you’re starting out. That person has probably been working for twelve years. Of course you’re going to feel behind, and that’s okay! Focus on YOU and your business. Be the best you and not a mediocre version of someone else. Clients will be drawn to the REAL you if you stay true to yourself, yoga pants and all!