July 1, 2014

8 Things I Have Learned from My First Year in Business

I have officially been in business for 1.5 years now making handbags for my line A Girl Named Katie.
Business is tough. I was told a billion times when I started my business. And they are right. It is really hard. 

I make all of my products by hand.
This means that I must pay myself an hourly wage to make it worth my time.
However, I have learned that getting other people to pay for your time is really hard.
There is a lack of understanding of the time that goes into any type of fashion work when fast fashion companies can sell it for almost nothing.

A handmade business is not fast fashion and you will get what you pay for.
You are paying for someone to 
1. source the best materials for you, 
2. to create a pattern and make samples to test on models, 
3. and to photograph, market, and list on a website 
4. and then package it like a gift and ship it to you. 

And most times when it comes to small businesses on Etsy, 
that someone is one person who spends every hour of their day 
1. dreaming about their business, 
2. designing new products, 
3. cold calling shops, 
4. packing and traveling to shows, 
5. and being the customer service rep for the line.

It is a lot of work. Think of what you do at work every day. I am sure you do a lot too. Now think about what you get paid. You deserve that money for all the work you do, right?
Yeah, so do we!
We are every position of the company.

Here is a great article on why small businesses might cost more and why you should still seek to make purchases from them: http://www.sophiestargazer.com/stargazer-qa-usa-made-expensive-care/

So if you are thinking about starting a business in the near future that you want to eventually make your career, here are a few things I have learned in my first year of business:

1. Be prepared to spend all of your time making a go of it. And when it gets hard and you want to give up, it is ok to take a break and hit the drawing board again. Slow and steady wins the race. Take a day off once in a while. Grab lunch with a friend. The places that surround you are your best inspiration.

2. Not everything you make will be a hit. Know when to keep pursuing it and when to let it die. Do your research. Watch your customers, are they even looking at that item anymore? What are they looking for? Can you adapt your item to fit their need? But do not be quick to let it die, let it slowly die. Trends change and maybe it is not a hit right away, but in a couple months you might sell out!

3. You might have to make some things you particularly do not love to make in order to bring in money to pay the bills. It is a part of life, sometimes you have to do what you don't want to. But as your business grows, you will either be able to hire someone else to make that item, or you will be moved onto a different customer base that will appreciate the items you want to make.

4. Do not make anything too complicated that you cannot ask for help. Also, know your price range and do not make something that will take too much time and you will not be able to sell. This one has been the dead ringer for me this year. Sometimes simple is better, but not so simple that anyone can make it!

5. Know what your time is better spent on and what to hire out. If you are not tech savvy, do not spend three months designing something someone else could do in three weeks. Your time is money and sometimes it is better to ask for help and have it done right the first time than waste your time and have to have it redone later.

6. If you choose to invest in hiring out, do not go for the cheapest route. Take time to make a good investment. For example, if you need to hire a photographer for your product shots, really look at their work. Talk to other people who have used that photographer and make sure they are professional and timely. Do not hire someone for little and then receive blurry and dark images that will not help you sell your work. That is a waste of your time and money. Take the time to hire the right person that is going to help move your business forward. It is worth more than money and a good investment.

7. Make friends with other small business owners. They are probably going through or have gone through the same things you are dealing with in your business. Be open with them and ask questions about their company. Be supportive of their business, look to promote them in any way you can and make their friendship a priority. Growing in business is about who you know and who is there to support you with loving word of mouth.

8. If you are a small business owner, make yourself stand out. Build friendships with customers or followers. Create a blog or other social media outlet to include them in your life. They want to get to know you and it will keep them coming back! Know what to keep private and what to allow them to see. But be honest. Do not create a fake persona. Let your personality to attract them.

I hope these lessons I have learned can help others who are starting a business. 
And maybe those who are not, can appreciate small businesses a little more. 
Think about shopping small the next time you need a gift, a new outfit, or a place to eat!

Share your website, blog, or facebook in the comments!
I would love to check out your business or blog!



  1. Katie. This is SUCH a great post. You are so good at what you do! Thanks for writing this, and for inspiring me...and others, too, I'm sure. :)