Getting Started - Part 1
The Advice I'm Equipped to Offer
iconografi opened in October 2019 on Etsy, and has since expanded to this primary storefront on Shopify in July 2020. A little Easter Egg for those who've visited iconografi.com when it was first getting started back in July, the screenshot above is what the site used to look like!
Over this year plus a couple of months, I've learned so much about running a small business, building a brand, piquing the interest of potential customers, growing a community of support, what works for me, and what doesn't seem to.
Still, the question, "How do you get started?" is for me, something complex to answer. There are several reasons to pursue starting a small business, and endless websites and tools out there which can be used to achieve the goal of establishing your own. Mine is a small webshop based in the US, and before providing any advice I want to make clear that I want to help as best I can, though can only really teach to the extent I've learned at this point. Surely, my advice will develop as I obtain additional knowledge.
I highly encourage asking around and researching as much as possible - that's how I've learned much of what I'm about to share - but of course there's also the teacher of experience, and through what I have of it I'm happy to talk about mine, and hopefully point in a helpful direction!
iconografi isn't my first attempt at opening a shop. I first tried several years ago in 2015, running an Etsy shop that made a total of 15 sales before I eventually put it on an indefinite hiatus. As I look back on it now, rather than regard it a failure, I know that it was something I wanted to accomplish, but I didn't really have the time, energy, or enough ideas. Running a small business has, in my experience, been all about trial and error, and giving oneself grace, in order to persevere through all of it.
Deciding what to sell and the theme of your shop are things you'll need to decide, but more generally something to consider is your goal in starting a small business. Is it a hobby? A side job for supplementary income? Or, will it be the full-time gig? This may change over time, and with each of these paths come different stakes, but give it some thought early on - even if you don't decide just yet!
Okay, I've Read this Far, So What's the Deal?
Right, right I did mention discounts in the blog excerpt. So glad you asked! Actually...that's often all it takes. Ask!
When visiting the websites of new shops, suppliers, manufacturers, and so on that I'd potentially like to work with or purchase from, if I can't seem to find a deal or discount advertised on their website or one that can be earned from signing up for their e-newsletter, what I'll do is look for a way to contact them - usually an email or live chat! Sometimes, introducing yourself as a first-time customer might just lead to being offered a discount! This isn't always the case, but asking doesn't hurt.
Some businesses also have referral programs, (just like icon Rewards here!) wherein you can shop via a link provided by another customer, and you'll both receive a discount! The types of offers available vary from business to business, but they're usually nice deals like store credit, a percentage off your first purchase, things like that!
As a thank you for checking out this post and supporting iconografi, I've provided a few referral codes below! I do hope you'll read through the rest of this post, but I'm not about to be all gimmicky and hide the codes away at the end! They're here to be found, and used to help both you and these lovely businesses. I should mention that I'm not sponsored by them, though I will receive a discount should you decide to use these offers. I recommend these businesses from the fact that I work with them for mine, and appreciate their quality and service!
Sometimes the referral codes linked to each business name above (where applicable) may expire, so I'll try to revisit this post from time to time to make sure they still work. If for some reason a link doesn't work, just reach out and I'll do what I can to fix it! And check back, as more links and special discounts may be added in the future!
Getting the Word Out
Alright, so you've got your ideas, you're in the process of making items with materials from your most recent supply store run, and/or your designs are being produced!
But how do you bring people to your shop and start making sales? This can sometimes be the most soul-crushing part of running a small business. You're confident you're producing some really cool stuff, but it feels like not enough people are seeing it!
I don't have a definitive answer for how to make sales for an online shop, but I do know that traffic can be a big part of it. How you bring traffic to your business may differ depending on where you set up shop. I've been using both Etsy and Shopify, so my more specific advice is limited to these two platforms. There are a number of other platforms for selling work online, so I recommend taking time to research what's out there, see what fits what you're looking for, and see if you can talk to people who run shops on those various platforms!
Adding relevant tags, catchy item names, thorough descriptions and clear product photos are all helpful, and for a bit of an extra boost there's paid advertising. Yet, while there are plenty of services out there for advertising online, purchasing ads will add up quickly - and perhaps that sort of expense isn't something you're able or willing to incur.
So, what then?
Collaboration, Connection, and Community. - a.k.a. Word of Mouth Still Works!
To draw additional attention to your work on marketplace sites like Etsy, and especially for standalone shops on sites like Shopify, getting your small business's name out there requires a bit of creative thinking. This topic alone could probably be the focus of at least another post on its own! However, I'll give a brief overview of some of the strategies I've been using to advertise my work to help get you started!
I spend a lot of time on social media, especially Twitter and Instagram, sharing my work, new shop discounts and promotions, upcoming preorders, and so on. At the same time, I feel it's also a space for just being myself and making connections, building community and striving to use my growing platform for good.
I think a lot of the reason I've been able to grow my platform over the past year - especially since the summer - is simply through becoming more active online, and through the support of others. People sharing and engaging with my posts have been the driving force behind helping my work be seen. Always keeping this fact in mind, I like to pay it forward and do the same for others! I've discovered so many awesome creators out there thanks to Twitter Art Shares and the like. While social media isn't the only tool at our disposal for marketing our small businesses, it's perhaps the primary platform I'm using right now - especially as I continue to operate my shop on an online-only basis.
Remember: Word of Mouth still works. Having someone with access to a different - and not even necessarily bigger - audience than yours vouch for your business helps build brand integrity, and bring more awareness to your work! Don't get too caught up in the numbers. It may not always be that the accounts with the biggest followings bring the most engagement. Sometimes it's a smaller, more focused and dedicated audience that you're looking for. But, at the same time don't be too intimidated to reach out someone that runs account with many followers - they're human all the same as the rest of us. Think about what kind of community of support you're looking to grow, and start reaching out!
Which brings me back to the same advice of asking around! See if people are interested in helping to promote your work, through sharing a post, or even receiving an item for free and posting a photo and giving an honest review! Everyone may not answer your email or DM immediately, if at all, so try not to take it too personally. Keep in mind there are plenty of reasons someone may not respond to your ask. They could be incredibly busy, not have the time or interest, or they simply might have missed it! It's always best practice to be polite in these situations, and remember that you're the one asking for someone else's time. If it doesn't work out, try again with someone else!
When reaching out, it's incredibly important to be clear in your communication. Include what you're asking for from the start without being vague - that may turn people off or lead to a higher chance of your message being left unanswered. Opening a direct message or email just starting with a "Hey!" followed by nothing else is nerve-wracking! It may go without saying, but remember when you're looking to work with someone to respect their time and their boundaries.
Other than these strategies, my best advice is patience. It's likely to be a slow and time consuming process, and getting your business to be noticed is difficult. Even so, keep doing what you do best, experiment with new ways of getting your work out there, and give it time!
Keeping Track of Expenses
Something of a sidenote, but will also lead well into the last topic in this post! Let's spend a little time talking about money.
In running a small business, money is constantly exchanging hands, from you to your suppliers, from your customers to you, and so on. Develop a system for keeping track of these expenses and profits - whether in a computer-based spreadsheet or on paper - that works for you, or search Google for a template!
Becoming More "Legit"
This advice is specific to running a small business in the United States. If running a small business is something you're seriously considering, and you intend to make some serious amounts of money with it, look into whether you may need to register as a small business in your state, and register for a Sales Tax ID. Besides this being part of your responsibilities as a small business owner, there are also perks to having a Sales Tax ID, namely having taxes omitted from purchases for your business. Ask the businesses you purchase from about this!
I suggest starting with a visit to the US Small Business Administration website for some general information, but you will also need to research your state's specific processes for registering a small business. Legislation changes, and can be confusing, so be sure to take some time to look into all of this and reach out to the experts with your questions!
Regarding Sales Tax, this may mean learning what somewhat scary-sounding terms like "Economic Nexus" mean, and after filling out the necessary paperwork to establish your business in your state, registering for a Sales Tax ID as well - even if your shop is based online only! I am not a tax expert by any means, so to keep track of Economic Nexus and Sales Taxes collected, I use a service called TaxJar. For a monthly subscription, it will help you keep track of all the numbers, taking the fear and uncertainty (well, most of it!) out of managing your business's US sales tax. I'm not a sponsor for TaxJar, but as I've been using their services for several months, I would recommend checking them out! I found their blog to be a great resource for some preliminary information to review before reaching out to my state's Department of Revenue, so I knew what kinds of questions to ask!
Some independent research on all this is highly recommended, as well as checking in with your state's Department of Revenue for local specifics.
In Closing For Now, You've Got This!
While I tried to be as thorough as possible, it's impossible to tackle every question and share every bit of advice in one post! Above all, please enjoy what it is you're doing! At the end of the day, running a small business takes a lot of time, energy, and everything else. Express your passion and keep going! People will see.
I hope this provided some helpful things to look into. Please let me know in the comments! If you have specific questions I wasn't able to cover, drop a comment about that as well! "Getting Started" is going to be a series, with additional posts added as I discover more information and decide on more topics.
Thanks, and take care!