Have you just graduated? Are you thinking of setting up on your own? But where do you start? Becoming a creative freelancer or sole trader can be very scary and overwhelming!
This post is based on an article written by Patricia van den Akker, The Director of The Design Trust, which was published in Crafts Magazine in May/June 2013, in the special Graduate section.
You can find the original digital page turner of the entire graduate section in Crafts Magazine.
So get a pen and notebook ready, and answer these 10 big but practical questions by The Design Trust Director Patricia van den Akker to help you get started:
Question 1: Why?
The first two questions are big:
Why should your business exist?
And why do you want to be your own boss?
Take some time to write down ALL your answers.
Be as bold, specific (and honest) as you can in developing your mission and motivations for self-employment. Use your answers as a future guide to create the right craft business for you over the next couple of years.
Question 2: What do you do, for whom and how?
What do you want to do, be or have in 10 years time?
What do you want to improve?
Again very big questions, so take your time to write down your responses.
This exercise will give you insight into what’s important to you and what your ideal projects are.
The next step is to turn these big future ideas into practical goals and actions.
Start with setting a specific financial goal for the next 12 months, such as ‘I want a salary of £12K’.
Then break this into smaller actions of how you will achieve it. E.g. to achieve that £12K you want to sell 100 products of £45 – £125 in 2 online shops, 3 craft fairs, and your Etsy shop.
Write your goal and actions down and … here is your basic business plan for year one! From this mini plan you can create a budget with your income and expenditure forecast for the year ahead too.
Knowing what you (want to) do is also essential to introduce yourself more effectively – in person and in writing.
Go beyond ‘I am a jeweller’ and give details about what you do and for whom. ‘I make men’s jewellery combining silver with bright stones’ helps others understand your business far better. If you add client benefits then it gets even better: ‘I create one-off specialist leather bags for lawyers to make them feel special and highly organised’.
What you do doesn’t make you unique (there are many fine jewellers and ceramicists after all), but describing your why and how in detail will position you clearer.
Question 3: Who are your clients?
Start your market research with this very practical exercise: research (online) where your role models and competitors are selling. Creating a list with the galleries, online shops or craft fairs where they sell is a good starting point to boost your own contact list.
What have your potential client groups in common?
What’s their age and gender, where do they live, what do they read?
But especially: do you know WHY they would buy from YOU?
Note that recent craft businesses often start with selling to individuals. Often your costs are too high to sell wholesale (yet) and bigger retailers are cautious of new and small suppliers. (You can find more info about this in our blog post on price terminology.) In the beginning it is more likely that you will sell directly via craft fairs, open studios, online or get commissions, while building your profile and relationships with (bigger) retailers.
Make a list NOW of your first 20 clients to contact
Question 4: What’s your name?
Choosing a business name is a big part of the creative and business process, but can be tricky too! Many craftspeople use their own name, which gives their business an individual and artistic feel. Some add their specialism too, such as Jimmy Jones Jewellery.
If you want a brand name then make sure it is easy to spell and remember. Check on Google as well as with Company’s House if the name is still available, and check with the IPO (Intellectual Property Office) that nobody registered your name as a trademark.
You can read here a blog post with the 5 steps to name your creative business successfully.
Question 5: Can you act & look the part?
Be a professional from your first design or craft show onwards, to build trust and credibility:
- Don’t copy other people’s creations and understand the basics of intellectual property.
- Research before contacting and meeting potential clients. Dress the part when you meet.
- Have a professional email address, website and twitter account. Using an address like email@example.com really isn’t professional.
- Don’t undercharge (see below).
- Register with the taxman within 3 months of starting your business. It’s a very easy online process, and the HMRC website has good info on how to become legally self-employed.
Question 6: Are you online?
You must have a professional online presence, but that doesn’t mean you need a 25 page website! Your own 3-page website, Etsy shop, or portfolio site is fine when you get started.
Social media will play a big role in your crafts business, not just to sell your work, but to network, find opportunities, and to build your profile. Twitter is the best social media tool to cover this variety of marketing jobs. LinkedIn is useful if you are looking for specific jobs, or want to identify specific buyers or suppliers.
You can read here more about how to get started with social media, or The Design Trust’s favourite social media tools and how we use them in our business.
Question 7: Do you have fab images of your collection?
Create a group of 6-8 products that are related to each other through a theme, colour or material, with different products at different price levels. And get this small collections photographed in the best possible way!
Good photos are the key to getting into fairs, press and on blogs.
You can read here a post by The Design Doctor on how to get the perfect picture.
Recent graduates often want to create loads of different pieces, but by focussing your output on what you are really good at and passionate about, your (creative) story will become much stronger (and cheaper to create!).
Professional buyers love collections, and it encourages clients to buy more than one piece.
You can read here more about why creating a collection is so important, about how to launch a successful collection, and 7 successful creatives share here how they create and launch their collections.
Question 8: Are you charging enough?
Costing and pricing your work can be tricky, as how do you value your work, ideas and skills?
Ensure that when you are costing your work you include all your costs (incl. materials and overheads such as your studio), as well as the amount of time it has taken you. You can find out here if you are charging enough and do a detailed step-by-step calculation of your cost price.
If you are a freelancer or work on commissions and want to know how to calculate your hourly or daily rate, then click here.
Next is pricing your work, which is often based on ‘the market’. It’s vital you research your market to set the right price for your work. If you charge too little you will not necessarily sell more and won’t make any money, if you charge too much you will not have many sales. Find out more about the many different ways to price your work here.
Question 9: What will be your first event?
One of the best things to do after leaving university is … to plan your first event.
This will help to structure your year ahead as you’ll have a fixed deadline to create new work, and from this you get deadlines and actions for marketing, your website etc. Working towards an event will help you to structure your work activities and to stop procrastinating!
And obviously events help your marketing and sales. People hate being sold to, but they love an invite, especially for a creative event. Participating in 3-4 events every year will allow you to stay in touch with potential clients and create regular sales opportunities.
You can find many up-to-date opportunities throughout the year, including selling and business support on The Design Trust opportunities listing.
Question 10: Are you getting support?
Being a sole trader doesn’t mean you have to do it all by yourself! Although you need to understand ALL aspects of your crafts business, start delegating and outsourcing as soon as possible.
Soon you will realise that being a creative sole trader can be very lonely. You will need a strong vision, optimism and determination to keep going!
Having a good support network will help too. Stay in touch with your peers and tutors. Join a shared studio, training course or creative network to help develop your business skills. Meet up with other local freelancers. Knowing that you aren’t the only one will help, and sharing both your worries and successes will be very useful.
Welcome to the roller coaster of being in business!