Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Designing Moms Roundtable: Starting a Creative Biz 1

Whenever I get asked about my stationery business I always conclude any advice with a caveat...that much of what I learned was during the process of creating it and that I am always, always learning! While my siblings all have bonified MBA's, mine is more the "street" MBA. I've been fortunate to hear advice and be inspired by stories from my colleagues and friends alike--sharing our perspectives has always been such a source of relief and kinship.

I have collected emails from some of you asking the Designing Moms on advice on starting a creative business. There's nothing like the support of a collective and I thought I'd have a little round table where the Designing Moms and all of you out there are free to comment (or ask questions) on the subject at hand!

The first Roundtable begins with some questions from Kathryn (mommy of Jasmine and Lesley) from Orlando, Florida:

--"...for a while now I've been thinking about making my homemade cupcakes into a business. My husband says I need to do some serious research before I commit. Where do you draw the line between just taking the plunge and being prepared enough with research? How prepared were all of you before you made the commitment?"

--"I am just curious...did you all start (get into) your businesses before or after you had children? I have two little girls and the thought of starting a business, even if it's small, is rather overwhelming!"

Ok Designing Moms and readers...let's hear what you have to say!


hello said...

i started a retail boutique before i had my son. in fact, i sold it while i was pregnant (mainly because we were moving out of state). i am constantly looking for the big idea for my next business - as i'm an entrepreneur at heart. in terms of research vs. taking the plunge: have you written a business plan? i highly recommend this step. not only will it help you clarify your dream, but force you to collect the data you need to make a decision. The financial statements are generally the most taxing for most people. check out my website for biz tips - it's mostly dedicated to retail boutique owners - but there is some value there for any small biz owner. BEST OF LUCK!!!


Our Designing Moms said...

hi Kate! when you started Ooma was it something you had always dreamed about? In continuing what I mentioned in the post... for me I probably "sat" on the idea of starting a creative business for several years. I scared myself as it morphed from handmade journals, to boxes,to illustrated watercolor books...and then finally to stationery! I was thankful to remain patient on the product end. The business part I had to force myself to dive in and face the reality that I would be learning along the way. I did not know one single person in the industry and that scared me...a lot. Kate's idea of a business plan is a great one...even if it's a loose compilation of assessing what your goals are. Do you want to own a local cupcake shop? Or eventually break out into products for your brand? The details of running your business will only come after you take that plunge, but the "biz plan" helps to manage your expectations.

marzi said...

i'm one of those people who just totally jumped in feet first. you can read my whole story of how it all started on my website. i basically just started with what i had for supplies. (ie, paper, craft items, etc.) then as i made orders i would buy the supplies for the next order. i didn't pay myself for the first several years in order to build up my bank account so i could attend the national stationery show. i didn't know a single person in the industry. didn't know how to sell anything. didn't know what licenses/permits/taxes i needed to deal with. i literally just learned everything as i went. this is not to say that it's the best way to do it as i paid the price, quite literally, by making mistakes along the way. however, i agree that there comes a point where planning can only do so much. sometimes you don't know what you don't know and you just need to dive in to find out what those things are.

so those are my 2 (or maybe 3) cents.

oh, and i started all of this before i had kids. however, i quit my job and went full-time with the business and had my first baby all within the same year. there have been many bumps along the way but i wouldn't trade it for anything!


Kira said...

Like Cat, I also sat on the idea of starting a business for several years. I read many-a-business book, found a mentor with a lot of experience in the industry who was willing to answer basic questions, etc., and hired a consultant in the beginning to help get me started. I think the planning stage depends on your personality and previous experience. For me, building up all of that knowledge, having a mentor, and a consultant to guide me through helped me to feel confident moving forward.

A business plan is also essential -starting a business without one is like driving in the dark without headlights. It is also key to re-evaluate that business plan often and make adjustments as you go.

I did start my business before I had a baby and have had to make adjustments post-baby (mostly in terms of how much time I have available and where that time is spent).

Tori Higa said...

i did a lot of planning and research before i started as well. at first it was just an idea that i had on the back burner for about a year or so and then it turned into a much more focused strategy of research and planning for maybe another year as i worked full time. even after i took the leap - i STILL had lots to learn and no amount of prep work could have helped me with the challenges as good old fashioned hands on experience.

you can either do lots of research and planning before hand or you can just jump in with both feet like lori did (it obviously worked for her!) i think it just depends on your personality and what you are comfortable with.

i too started my business before i had kids. actually, a big reason that i started it was because i thought it would be a fun part time job to have as a stay at home mom someday. i soon found out that i was working around the clock and would have no room for a baby AND a business (in that capacity anyway). my business WAS my baby for a few years. basically i was a complete work- a-holic for a few years (not healthy and i am so glad to be so over that!) i eventually learned about the art of delegating and focusing on my strong points instead of trying to do everything myself. i finally realized that it was ok to hire people to help me who were experts in what they did. and since i had my son i have decided to really scale my business back and just focus on design. that has really worked well for me at this point in life.

so all of that to say that i had to learn about balance the hard way. the good news is that you don't have to! i would recommend following your passion of a starting a business - even though you already have kids. i think the key to running a business and being a mother at the same time is to be realistic about what you have time for and don't try to do it all on your own. another great thing about having your own business is that it can be as big or as small as you need it to be.

mari said...

I'm the novice here when it comes to owning a product-based business, though I've been doing freelance design for years. Now I"m thinking about making things. I've been in the research phase for awhile now, and my biggest hurdle is my years at a product-driven company. I know things I can never implement, and other things that I will have to learn but don't know how to start. I agree, there's a point to just dive in.

The one thing I am keeping in mind from my former job is to make sure to think about my "point of difference". What is it that makes my product more valuable to a potential customer than the other versions of that product already available? Price? Design? materials? Customer service? customization?

I'm thinking of just starting small on etsy - it seems like a place that allows your brand to grow and change until it suits you? What do other people think about that?

Kira - is there a book you'd recommend to help start a business plan for people who are not business-minded? Lori, I know you had a book you recommended to me, and I've forgotten the title - care to share?

Aya said...

I don't own a business, but I help businesses by providing graphics to their products. Whenever I design something for a product, I always do some research on who its audiences are and how the graphic can help attract them successfully. With cupcakes, everyone loves cute cupcakes and therefore their market is pretty well saturated. So if you were my client, I'd be asking whether you plan to make cute cakes to join the popular mass, or find them a niche by producing uniquely different kind of cupcakes. The former will be a safer bet, but will have to compete with a bunch of likes. The latter will be tricky as its market will be small (or worst, none), but will have less competitors. Any consumer products need to find enough buyers somehow to be profitable, so I'd research first to get a sense of how much I need to sell in order to keep/grow the business, and come up with a plan where&how to find the buyers before taking the plunge.

Also, I recently worked with Meg Mateo Ilasco on a business planner (http://www.chroniclebooks.com/index/main,book-info/store,books/products_id,8198/title,Craft-Inc.-Business-Planner). This is designed to help crafty people to get their business launched and stay organized. Edible products might be a bit different from craft products, but you might still like it. Meg is a brilliant entrepreneur and I feel many of her wisdoms is still applicable to your future business. Good luck!!


Our Designing Moms said...

Such great insight from all of you!
--And I second Etsy... I think Etsy launched a year or two after I started my business and I so wish I had that as a resource.
--Kira, where did you find the consultant (was he/she niche based?).
--also, some of us (Tori, Lori...)were a part of a "paperpreneurs" type forum early on which I'm sad is no longer in existence. It was so great to have that extra support and wonder if there are any in your industry you can join?
--It's great to get perspective from the designers (Aya, Mari) who have experience assessing design and product development and I so agree about trying to get to the core of the "value" your product will bring to the consumer and for you personally.
--For books, check out the post (http://designingmoms.blogspot.com/2009/07/giveaway-toywrangler.html) that was done on Kristy of Luvloo...she suggested some great books like "Mommy Inventor's Handbook."

Kira said...

When I started Christine Mason Miller (aka Swirly Girl) was kind enough to help me and later referred me to Katie Camarro who worked with me as a consultant. Katie was working in the greeting card industry at the time but now owns her own small business and I don't think she is consulting any more. With that said, Christine has some wonderful resources on her web page (specific to the Greeting Card Industry):


I also worked with WWBIC (Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative) to obtain funding for my business, and though they only lend to businesses in Wisconsin, they have wonderful resources on their website. Here is a link to the section of their site that gives an outline for writing a business plan:


They also have other great worksheets that help you create profit and loss statements, a How Do I Start section (with great questions to answer in your planning stages), and a cash flow template.

And, I 3rd Etsy!! That is a great (inexpensive) way to get your feet wet before taking the next step.

libbydibby said...

I had a small online store (most of my sales are still online) before I had my daughter, but my business didn't really "start" (as in true volume) until the week I had my second child... talk about timing...
I'll be honest, the way I run my business is at night, when my kids are asleep... my hubby and I believe that without the kids' early bedtime both my business and my marriage wouldn't be in very good shape. For the most part, I do all my work while they are sleeping. It's become the best way for me to feel like both a good mom AND a good business owner (well, at least as much as I can)

I was not super prepared as far as "taking the plunge". My business route has been very organic. It started as a hobby that was basically trying to fund itself. The way I have done everything is slowly. I made a few skirts, sold enough to buy more fabric and a better machine, sold more, bartered for a website, sold more, found seamstresses to sew the skirts, sold more, paid for entry into certain sales events... etc, etc, etc. Some people go for the full bore investment strategy with their businesses - since my need has never been to fully provide for my family - and instead has been more of a support/cash flow type help - I've been blessed to have the time to do it slowly.

My advice also is really to think about how big you want your business to get. There comes a point where the business side can get so big that the design/creative side gets lost or delegated. (My dad is a professional toy designer/entrepreneur with 10 employees and no longer does much of the design) It's been my goal to grow the business, but also to keep it at a place that is both managable as a mom, and fun as an artist.

one more thought... I started off making handmade jewelry - which has morphed into many different things. When I started my business, I didn't even know how to sew, and now that is the bulk of my business... I'm the spontaneous type and I've found that being lean and mean (try etsy.com!) offers me the chance to try new things often.

I found The Seed Handbook was a fun read while I was getting all of my stuff together - granted that was a few years ago, and in this economy, who knows... but at least it was an encouraging place to think of entrepreneurship from a female perspective

mari said...

Cat, what a great idea for a post. After a pretty lackluster day in my real world, I've really enjoyed reading all these responses, it's giving me a kick in the patootie. Thank you!

Earthy Beginnings said...

I'm a little late but blame it on Fall 09... When I started my business I had done about a year of research on supplies and market. Then I proceeded to build the identity of the company. Once I had that, I focused on design and costing. Then I took a step back and before I spent my first $1 I registered my business. I knew very well that it was going to be a while before I saw any $$ from my business but I wanted to be able to get back as much as possible from my investment. The best advice I can give anyone is to know who your customer is. This would be for small businesses and also big corporations. That will determine your decision while sourcing, pricing and marketing. I am writing this with only my years of experience in product development and my degree in Psychology... Because of my experience I knew very well what I would need in terms of supplies to put a brand together. Everything felt like it was flowing smoothly until I needed a website. I didn't know how much it would cost and when I received emails asking for 3k-5k I almost placed everything on hold, because seriously who has that amount of money when starting a home based business (which is one of the reasons why started Indie Design Studio). So I decided to teach myself and who knew my pc skills where better then expected! After that is was smooth sailing. I have been extremely fortunate to not only have family support (otherwise known as my groupies! ha!) but also friends in my industry that have guided me through the process (BIG shout out to the very talented Karen at Hammocks & High Tea). Also the book by Meg Mateo Ilasco (Craft Inc.), helped me tons, certainly a must read. Just know that you will never stop researching, for sure I haven’t. Be passionate about what you do because it will reflect on your work and be very realistic as to what you will be able to handle and what you will need to delegate to someone else otherwise you will burn yourself out.

I started my business after my son was born, being his existence the main reason why really. Having to learn how to balance my time has been very challenging to say the least but I’ve been able to thus far. There are times where you will find you need just a couple of extra hours in a day, but don’t let this discourage you. I am not that familiar with the cupcake industry but for mine there are certain months in the year that are just more demanding than the others and I just have to adjust my time accordingly.

Best of luck with your business!



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