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Top Ten Small Business Tips from Elise

I am happy to have Elise from Hey Sweet Pea here today with some great business tips for fellow creatives.  She has recently launched her own successful small business and I thought she would have some very practical very awesome advice for all of you.  I know quite a few people own Etsy shops and what not, read on!  There is a ton of great info here!!

Let me first say: I love Natalia. I’m so glad I met her on Twitter and in real life at a Creative Connection USA event.  I can honestly say she’s a beautiful woman inside and out and completely inspiring! Even though I’m not a blogger, I definitely love perusing her posts and reading all about her life! Needless to say, I’m so glad I personally know her and I’m so honored she asked me to guest blog for her today.

My name is Elise Ostermann  and I am currently the Art Director at Hey, Sweet Pea.  I specialize in branding + design and my boyfriend, Scott, specializes in video + animation. Needless to say, we are quite the creative duo!

But we didn’t always own a small business. Up until one month ago I was a designer for SONY’s digital media marketing department in Los Angeles. I was commuting 2 hours a day and away from home 11-12 hours a day. Although I loved being a part of the Hollywood and LA scene I craved the flexibility of my own schedule, I yearned for more creative projects, and I wanted one-on-one relationships with clients. So after 5 months of planning, dreaming, researching, and networking, I made the leap! I quit my day job, left my LA apartment, and took my first big road trip. Landing in Texas wide-eyed, nervous, and excited, I officially launched “Hey, Sweet Pea.”

I was shocked and happily surprised with the amazing launch we had and the growth of our business! But I would be lying if I didn’t say we’ve experienced quite a few bumps and bruises along the way. Thankfully, those bumps and bruises have been far outweighed by supportive friends, amazing family, talented colleagues, and business/design idols. I’m thankful for these people, for their advice, and for our new business.

With that being said, here are my top ten tips for other creatives launching their own small businesses.

1.     THINK ABOUT IT FIRST: One of the best decisions I made was to slowly launch (or soft launch) “Hey, Sweet Pea.” I spent months thinking through everything, planning, preparing, researching, etc. so that when the launch date arrived, I had a good idea of what I was getting myself into. Don’t rush into starting your own small business. Take the time to prepare, think through your businesses, define your goals, refine your purpose statement, research, talk to colleagues, and write down ideas. Make sure you take the time to think through the business you want to start before you leap. Putting time into your business ahead of time will only help you in the long run.
2.     NETWORK LIKE CRAZY: Looking back, one of the best things I did before starting my small business was network. Honestly, I wouldn’t have had the guts to start our small business without the network that we had in place off of which to build. I spent about 4-5 months ahead of our launch date networking with people on Facebook, Twitter, over email, and in real life.  Because I put so much time into building a network of friends and colleagues, I had the support and encouragement I needed. Without the support of so many people, from so many different circles, our launch would have played out much differently. But because of all the amazing people I had met we were able to launch with a big bang the day we “opened the doors.” So, network outside your comfort zone and social circle. Go to meet-ups, conventions, email your favorite artists, strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know on Twitter. Believe me; you’ll need lots of support!
3.     HAVE A SUPPORT SYSTEM: Like I’ve mentioned previously, a network is super important to have! But it’s also important that you have the support of friends, family, loved ones, etc. There will be days you’ll want a normal 9-5 job, there will be days your clients frustrate you, and there will be days you ache for encouragement. So enter a new business knowing you NEED friends and colleagues alike. You can’t do this alone, nor should you!
4.     SAVE MONEY TO LAUNCH: While you’re taking time to plan your new business, make sure and save for it! For months before I left SONY, I stuck money away to be used towards our move and towards new business start-up costs. Obviously, start-up costs vary, but there are always costs involved up front. Save your money and have a nest egg to dig into. Because whether you need a new camera, an up-to-date computer program, or office filing systems, you can’t launch a new business for free.
5.     DEVELOP A STRONG BRAND: I know it may be quite costly up front, but developing a brand is worth EVERY penny. As a brand designer, I am biased… but that’s only from years of working in the creative field and designing for creative brands. I know it may be tempting to pay a “cheap” designer to design your products, but in the end it will cost you more. A successful small business needs to have the LOOK of a great business. It needs to catch the consumer’s eye, appeal to our visually stimulated population, and represent your business accurately. Remember that your brand is more than just a logo, but it’s the colors, your image, and your style. Find a designer who specializes in branding businesses. There are a lot of designers out there, but not all of them have experience building a brand or designing a strong logo. So do your research, save your money, and find a designer who understands you and your vision.
6.     SELL YOURSELF: One of the most important things I’ve learned about my small business is that I am the face of it. People will choose to hire me not only because they like my work, but because they’ve connected with me. Whether we’ve connected on Twitter or Facebook, we’ve connected with each other in a relational way. My clients trust “Hey, Sweet Pea” because they trust me. So don’t forget that YOU are the face of your new small business. Make sure you are representing your small business well and that you focus on those one-on-one relationships. There are so many creative vendors and businesses to choose from these days, you want to give people a reason to choose your business and YOU.
7.     BUILD SOCIAL AWARENESS: Social Media is your best friend. Not only is it a free advertising source, but it’s a way that you can connect with new clients, colleagues, etc. Take advantage of it. Don’t neglect it. One tip I heard that I’ve found super helpful and true was about building your social media platforms one at a time. I started with my personal Facebook page, started my Twitter account, launched my business Facebook page, etc. I focused on each platform for a few months at a time to really build up each one. It’s been easier for me to soft launch in this way and it’s proved very effective. Take classes in social media, read books/articles, and do research. For those of you who don’t know/understand social media (or don’t have the time), I would recommend hiring someone to help you. Find someone who can build up your platforms, advise you, etc. But be careful when you hire someone! There are a lot of “social media gurus” who aren’t worth your money. Before you hire someone check out their own media platforms (how many followers do they have on Twitter, how many likes do they have on Facebook, what does their website look like, etc.). Make sure you hire someone who KNOWS what they’re talking about!
8.     HIRE PEOPLE TO HELP: Small business owners tend to want to do EVERYTHING themselves. Don’t do it. One of the BEST things I learned over the years was delegating. It’s important you learn to delegate. Know your company inside and out, but then hire people to help run the parts of it that you can’t do yourself or that you don’t have time to do. I currently have both a design assistant and a businesses assistant. The designer helps with our flow of design work; the business assistant runs the emails, the schedule, the invoices, etc. Initially, we’ve hired these people as only part time employees. In addition, finding an accountant and attorney early to help guide your business will be worth their weight in gold! My belief is that we all specialize in something and that it’s important I find people I can hire to perform the tasks I’m not as good at, I don’t know about, etc. On the same note, actually hire people and pay them for their work. If you need an extra pair of hands, don’t look for a free intern. Look for someone you can pay to do the quality work/assistance that you need.
9.     SELL A QUALITY PRODUCT: So many people launch their businesses before they’re ready. Either their skills aren’t up to par, or their product isn’t up to par, etc. Make sure to invest in your own growth as a creative or your own creative product, before you launch a business. Take time to go to college, take classes, intern, hire a teacher, work for free, etc. Take the time to really perfect and strengthen your product so that when you do launch you can offer quality. A quality product will sell itself. Before I worked at SONY, I wasn’t ready to launch my own businesses. I needed to invest time into the corporate design world before I was ready to work on my own. So invest your time wisely and hone in your skills. This will help your business launch more quickly and successfully.
10.   PROTECT YOURSELF: Take the steps to protect yourself. Whether that’s becoming an LLC, making official contracts, requiring deposits, etc. ALWAYS protect yourself. I never assume a customer or client will hurt me or my business, but I want to be prepared in case it ever does happen. So make sure you invest in protecting you and your business. Unfortunately, you will run across bad clients from time to time. These legal steps can help you get out of a contract, protect you from getting sued, etc. If you don’t know what the correct legal steps are hire someone who does.

And there you have it! Those are some helpful tips I’ve learned from others and personally experienced. I hope they help you in your own small business journey. Being a small business owner is exciting, freeing, and empowering. Make sure you take the steps necessary to protect those things! For any additional questions or any of your own branding/design needs, you can find me over at Hey, Sweet Pea.”  Stop by, say hi, and LIKE our page! We’d love to meet you!

xoxo, Elise

THANK YOU Elise!!  Make sure you stop by and tell her you’re visiting from Ma Nouvelle Mode!  I hope you enjoyed these tips and can start to put them into play in your small business!

Margaret Jacobsen Photography (Hey, Sweet Pea)
Brienne Michelle Photography (Top Ten Small Business Tips)

One Response to Top Ten Small Business Tips from Elise

  1. Gina September 22, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    Great tips Elise! I launched my small business almost two years ago and went full time just a year ago.

    One thing that I have learned is that growth is slow. All over the internet you see examples of successful small businesses and some were “overnight successes” but most took a lot of work and a lot of time.

    I would love to be an overnight success, but I realize that growing slow and steady is better than being stagnant :).