How to start a business
When we first began our small art business at each show it seems we run into more people who have just started out, and have lots of questions, or are looking for their way into the marketplace. We sensed that we had something to share with others, partially based on our own life experiences, and partly by the lessons learned in preparing for a business.
This is hopefully one of a few blog posts on ideas, suggestions, things we have learned, and hopefully helpful direction. Steve and I believe strongly in the idea of sharing what we know with others, and forming alliances with other entrepreneurs. Some of the most amazing leads or directions we have gotten have come from others sharing the collective knowledge while they were working their business. So first tip – no business stands on its own – find friends, build alliances, and encourage each other.
1. Sit down and write a business plan. (I know, you are probably saying business what?) A business plan is simply a document that you list your plan, and how you will accomplish it. The US Government offers a wonderful bit of information on how to write one, and the best news is it is free. Click this link to visit the page and learn more about writing your business plan.
2. Honestly evaluate the market for your item. I can tell you for example that hand dyed silk is a very boutique/art market, and often at many of the shows we do the silk does not sell. However, when we target higher end juried shows my silk flies off the racks. So ask your self who your products appeal to…. are they women, men, young people, kids? What are you competing with in the marketplace? And more importantly, is there an interest, market, price point for your work? Part of the work of the business plan is to try to figure this out. This will save you time and effort trying to test markets….
3. Be honest in evaluating the costs of your products…. the raw materials, the packaging, the time invested. And analyze what the market might bear for your product. One good source of comparison quickly is etsy.com or artfire.com. When we evaluated the price per bar of our soap we knew what our base cost to break even was, but wanted to see what others were selling their products for online. The price we had calculated for our soap was right in the middle of the range charged on etsy.
4, Your price is your price – Early on in our business a wise art business woman told me that universal pricing is a very important practice to adhere to. Universal pricing states that the price you set your product at will remain the price wherever it is sold, whether online, at a fair, festival or outdoor market, or in a gallery. OK, for those of us who have begun getting our product into galleries you will know they take between 30-50% as a commission for selling your products. Think your pricing out and then stick to it, take the hit on the commission… but keep your integrity of the price being the same wherever your customer finds you. Take off your business owner hat, put on the customer hat, and i think you will agree that you don’t want to be charged more for something just because the item is at one event, or gallery!!! Your price is your price. We have found a loyal following of customers because of this. It works.
5. Get your transient vendor license from the state of Ohio (if you live in Ohio). Transient, by definition, means you are transporting your goods, setting it up somewhere, and that is temporary. Click on this link to visit the page at the State of Ohio website for details.
6. Craft a budget for your business – Part of the business plan is the budget. Here is a list of things we set aside funds for:
- Supplies for manufacturing your product (ongoing)
- Packaging supplies for your product (ongoing)
- Tables – Sam’s or Costco has lovely folding tables
- Table Cloths – Get something that will wash well, simple, and will not take from your product. We use commercial grade black tablecloths. I keep at least 3 in my bag.
- A large tote for your equipment. I happened to have sold a catalog product at one time, and have a large tote with big handles, multiple pockets… suitable for holding different things, like signs, small racks, and table cloths.
- A plastic tote with necessary items like pens, paper clips, clamps, business cards, tape, glue, scissors, hole punch, ball of twine…. all those little things that oops – you just may need.
- A 2 or 4 wheel cart – As your business grows you will find that a cart is helpful to unload and reload your products from car to venue. Harbor freight has lovely choices for carts (downside is small wheels) for $30.00-$75.00
- A banner – Make one, or have one printed. Because we sell silk i hand dyed one myself.
- Business cards – the cheapest is vista-print, but i would encourage you to pay for them, and go for a style that not everyone is using… stand out.
- A 10ft x 10ft pop up tent – again, Sams or Costco sell an easy up tent that is solid, well constructed, and will survive an outdoor show season. Get one with side walls that can be attached… very important if you set up for a multiple day show and need to secure your tent.
- If you are doing the tent, 4 huge cinder blocks to anchor the corners of your tent. (I have also seen people make weights out of 4 inch pvc pipe, filled with concrete and a big anchor bold at the top…whatever works for you. Outdoor shows can pose new issues, like wind, and weather…. and the last thing you want is your tent rolling down the street taking out everything in its wake! Weigh down those corners.
- 1-2 comfortable chairs – there will be time sitting around – get comfortable!!!!
- a cash box
- Bags…. paper, or plastic, but have something to put your products in. Write on them if you wish, or buy printed ones. We are big fans of uline.com and have found they sell quality items, relatively affordable, and quick delivery.
- A small notebook for collecting names and addresses for your mailing list. – Nothing fancy, but just an opportunity for people who are interested to stay in touch with you.
I am planning to visit this topic with additional thoughts and ideas. Stay tuned for part II soon.