It’s been almost 2 years since I quit my job to run my craft business full time so I thought I’d write about how it all happened for me so that fellow entrepreneurs can be inspired to take the risk – and learn from my mistakes.
There are three main stages when it comes to starting out in business if you already have a job:
- Setting up – this is the honeymoon stage where you’ll be excited about each order that comes through (or every ‘cha-ching’ if you have the Etsy app) and have endless energy to get everything done.
- Juggling your orders and your job – this is where you’re working the 9-5 and fitting in your new business in around it. You will have days where it all gets too much, this bit is the hardest it’s ever going to be (unless you get pregnant!)
- Taking the plunge – quitting your job and running your business full time is the riskiest but potentially most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.
Firstly, when you’re setting up you need to have an idea of what your business is going to be so you can name it appropriately. I named mine Anniebobs Boutique because I wanted the option to expand my business as time went on (and if you’re wondering – Annie is my daughter and Bob is my dog).
My business didn’t start off with personalised wedding dress hangers, In August 2012 I had a 10 month old daughter and I was thinking of ways I could make money so I didn’t have to go back to work. I’m sure most new Mums know that feeling! So I started selling the baby hairbands I’d been making for her – my first sale was an auction on ebay but I also listed them on Etsy and ended up selling on average about one a day. Obviously this was not going to enable me to quit my day job so I had to go back to work 3 days a week. This is what we’d decided anyway as childcare was too expensive for both of us to work full time, so I ran the business in the evening and on weekends.
It wasn’t until a few months later that I decided to start selling the personalised wedding dress hangers – I’d made one for my wedding and thought if people were buying the hairbands I could see if people might like these too. The first week I sold two wedding hangers and made more money off those than I did the hairbands that week. So I listed some different styles and by March 2013 I was earning the same amount in my business as I was working part time in my job for the council.
They take a while to make so there were a lot of late nights and it was hard work keeping up with all the orders but I had my husband to lean on. He would pack orders for me, deliver them, take pictures, write listings, look after our daughter, clean the house, make the tea… the list goes on. Honestly this was the hardest part for both of us. We lived an hour away from our family at the time so we had no other support. We were coming home from work and then running a full time business before going to bed (dreaming of work) and then starting again. It was exhausting but we both knew it would be worth it if I could quit my job.
Juggling it all meant I could pay my share of the bills with my part time job wage and bulk buy stock with the earnings from the business. One of the main mistakes I made early on was opening trade accounts too soon. I would buy too many things I didn’t need in order to meet the £250 & VAT minimum order values, just so my profit margins were higher. It didn’t really work as I bought craft supplies for projects I never got around to. I have two wardrobes filled with wire and ribbons – I have no idea how long it’s going to take me to get through it all! It would have been better for me to just order small amounts from suppliers on Amazon or Ebay. I have learnt from this, so now when I put in an order I stick with things I really need.
In August 2013 the council I worked for were having a restructure and were offering voluntary redundancy. By then my business was established and I was making decent money, but I was stressed keeping up with orders, working 3 days a week and trying to work while looking after Annie. So I decided to bite the bullet and go full time self employed. It was the scariest decision I’ve ever made but also one of the best. It meant that as I didn’t need to be near the office any more I could move home to Cumbria where my family live.I know I’ve been lucky with timing – these bridal hangers weren’t being sold in the UK when I started so I was providing a luxury wedding gift that not many people had seen before. Personalised wedding gifts have also been a huge trend for the last few years. Then the voluntary redundancy payout gave me some extra security and work were flexible about when I could leave. Not everyone will be able to time it this perfectly, but so long as you put in the hard work establishing the business before quitting your day job and you have a back up plan you can mitigate the risks.
For new businesses, a presence on social media is a must. I was really bad at using this at first, I’ve tried harder recently. I always got too busy making orders to update my facebook page that it would go radio silent for a few weeks. It still happens now – I update with more fun content when I’m less stressed. I’ve learned to just go with it, as long as I do still check in with customers. People like seeing pictures of their product – I’ve had brides and their bridesmaids have full on discussions about their wedding hanger on my page. It’s lovely seeing them get so excited about something I’ve made, so using social media isn’t just so your customers can see you’re still there – it’s for you to see what’s popular with your customers.
Now its July 2015 and I’m at the stage where I’m able to expand the business, so this year my new challenge is this website. I really believe that to be successful you need to keep challenging yourself and improving what you do. I definitely haven’t ‘made it’ yet, I think it’ll always be a work in progress. Some months I do have a wobble and think about going back to salaried work, but I’m now 2 years on from quitting my job to run my own business full time and it’s still growing, so I’m confident I’ve made the right decision.
So my advice to anyone thinking of following their dream and starting up a business would be:
- Make sure you have support. You will be running your business in any free time you have between your normal job, childcare responsibilities and trying to maintain whatever ‘normal’ life you have, so you need a partner or family who understands why you’re doing it.
- Be consistent and disciplined. There’s no point working hard drumming up business and then taking a month off. Stay focussed on your goals.
- Utilise social media. Setting up an instagram / twitter / facebook page is free marketing. It will seem like you’re talking to yourself at first but customers soon join in.
- Don’t spend too big at first. It’s tempting to work out the numbers based on ‘If I sell 100…’ but really that may take a while, just focus on each weeks orders and expand organically.
- If it’s going well and you have a back up plan to cover the mortgage – go for it. Quit your day job. You’re betting on yourself and as long as you keep working hard the bet should pay off.
Regardless of the stresses, it is one of the most satisfying things you’ll ever do if you do decide to quit your job and work for yourself. Let me know in the comments if you’re thinking about doing it, or if you have already done so how did it go?