So what have I learnt from all of that? Well, my top 3 priorities when it comes to managing the business are Pricing, Exposure and Planning. For me these are the fundamental points that need to be hit regularly to succeed. (grab a cup of tea and settle in for the long haul!...)
Last year I wrote a post about pricing that constantly pops up again when people kindly comment or email. It's something thats so hard to get your head around but is so vital. Without pricing your products correctly, how can you expect to move forward? Overpricing isn't good by any means but the most common pricing issue with small businesses is undervalue. Makers undervalue their time and experience on a daily basis because they don't think it's worth it. 'it's only me doing a bit of knitting' but if you want to do that bit of knitting full time to support yourself and your family then you need to price it correctly, again I must stress, I'm not talking about overpricing just a modest amount that will get you by. The Minimum wage in the UK (for someone 25+) is £7.20, If you run a small (and especially creative) business - do you pay yourself that much? I'd be willing to bet most don't. Hell, I don't always.
Small businesses will always struggle with the 'How Much?!' question, this horrible questions torments us and makes us feel like we are ripping people off and are cheeky to expect to earn a profit. The important thing to remember is that the people that ask that are probably not our customers, they don't mean to be rude and they may no realise how much it hurts but they don't need to because they don't see the value. Our customers appreciate the value and cost of our time, materials, experience and the fact that we need to earn some kind of profit for it to be viable.
To put it into perspective the average annual salary in the UK is £26,500, if you excluded a profit margin and paid yourself the minimum wage of £7.20 per hour you'd need to work 3,680 hours to earn £26,500. According to the internet the average working hours per annum in the UK is around 1, 674 and legally the maximum most employees are allowed to work is 48 hours a week, with around 46 working weeks that would equate to 2,208, maximum. So when you take out the profit margin because you're embarrassed, small businesses need to work 11 hours a day including weekends earning minimum wage. Unless you want to do that, you need to add some form of profit margin. You need to cover businesses expenses and take home some money to pay your bills and please don't be ashamed of that! Don't let the "How much?!" undermine and undervalue you, you're not ripping anyone off if you've worked it out correctly to cover your costs and pay yourself. You don't need to be greedy but you do need to be paid.
Rant over! Can you tell i'm passionate about pricing?!
Now onto Exposure... Marketing and exposure are so important to a small business, it's how you get your name out there. How you choose to do it are up to you, if you enjoy shows then thats a wonderful way to meet people and chat face to face, you may prefer to pay for advertising and thats fine as long as you know what publications your customer is reading. Personally my exposure is all about people, I'm honestly quite a shy person, I use to hate putting myself out there but I forced myself to do it and I've slowly learnt to enjoy it. Making contacts is key and to do that you need to get out there online and offline and speak to people. Find local and national groups, apply to competitions, go to events and chat chat chat.
I use social media a lot to help promote Lauren Aston Designs. I tried all platforms and now mainly use Facebook, Instagram and a little bit of twitter. Next weeks post goes into more detail on how I use them for promotion but generally it's about putting yourself out there to be found and being true to yourself and your business style. I'm on social media everyday chatting and posting and not only have I seen sales as a result but i've made great contacts and friends who support me and best of all, make me laugh out loud when I need it!
I can't stress enough how important it is to get your voice, face and brand out and about in a positive way so people hear about you and know what you do and what your brand stands for. You don't need to be annoying about it and post 20 times a day, 3 times a week would suffice but you can't expect people to find you if you aren't putting yourself in the places to be found.
I know it's not that fun but once you've got a plan everything really does feel better. From the big to the small get organised. For me Christmas is the one. Christmas starts in February every year (I give myself January to recover and kick the tree out) then it's about trend research, product design, samples, images, submissions to NOTHS catalogue, press releases (which is what i'm doing now, stock (which started 2 months ago) and staffing (again, i'm working through it as we speak). All that work all year round is a little bit wearing I won't lie, but it is SO worth it when it gets to October and you're ready for orders, you're in the magazines and you don't run out of wool. Especially this year as I also have quite an important date in October (my wedding) so I really didn't want to be worrying about stocking orders whist walking down the aisle. Christmas is my only huge event but others like Mothers day, Valentines, teachers leaving can be so vital to other businesses and it's key to be organised, make a plan of what needs to be done and give yourself enough time to do it.
I also plan my social media as much as possible. I don't want to loose all spontaneity as that's what makes it real but I do have a list of announcements slotted in when necessary and a selection of images for if i've not done anything 'photo ready' that day that I can share, like customer images and sneak peeks.
I prep blog posts a month at a time so I know whats scheduled and don't panic-write something rubbish (so if they're rubbish you now know I have no excuse haha!) I find it helps take the stress out of it. I always look at what I have on that month and what might be relevant. These posts for instance, I knew I was speaking last week so I popped that on the schedule. I didn't realise they would be so long that they'd take up 3 weeks but thats OK as it's better content than just waffling on about something irrelevant and the schedule is never too inflexible that it can't be changed.