The Scary Truth About Small Business
I thought I’d be a little festive for this Halloween week post! Spooky, right?!?!
I told someone what I did the other day - “I’m an artist and I own a watercolor stationery goods business.” And the person said, “oh my gosh that is so cute! It must be so relaxing to paint!” And while that is true, I do find painting relaxing, it seemed to really trivialize all the hard work that goes into running a business. I am sure many of you have had similar comments. “OMG how cute, you have an Etsy store!” meanwhile you’re busting your buns learning about SEO, trying to get amazing product photos, and putting in all the hours.
It may seem scenic and charming, but as I’ve found over the past year and half, many (most) parts are not. I wanted to share some of the things that have been less than glamorous so that my fellow business folks feel less alone and if you’re getting into the small business world, you can be a bit more prepared than I was!
Money, Taxes, and Budgets Oh my!
When I started my business, I thought I was mostly going to be doing commissioned portraits, maybe not even making enough to have to officially do taxes, but my aspirations and scope quickly outpaced that idea. I had no idea about quarterly taxes, setting aside money for taxes, or how to budget for a product based business. There was definitely a huge learning curve here, but the folks at the Department of Revenue here in Washington are truly lovely humans who have helped walk me through the process step by step on multiple occasions. Getting a separate credit card right from the beginning is key too! It makes everything a lot more streamlined once you do get more official. We just started working with a book keeper to help keep everything in order as we are looking to add some new revenue streams in soon.
As a former middle school teacher, I am pretty used to kids saying really mean things “Miss Riley, why does your hair look so ratty?!” as one charming example. But I can have a lot of empathy for middle schoolers who are still learning. What is a harder pill to swallow is when adult customers are not happy or picky with your work. It is really hard to not take it personally, especially as an artist where you are putting your heart and soul into each piece. To navigate this, I’ve made sure that our website has all the information to cover our butts (feel free to check it out and use what feels appropriate for your brand). Creating contracts for custom work has also become imperative! I have a clause in there that says that I am able to take artistic liberties, I am not replicating the work exactly as a photographer would, terms of delivery etc.
Whew, this one has been a big headache, especially since we started the business in 2020 the year of COVID-19 and the holiday shipping debacle that was stuff of nightmares. During our first year of business, I would say shipping was probably where we lost the most amount of money (I couldn’t tell you exactly, since we were also still learning how to keep track of the money, hence the book keeper…) We lost money because we miscalculated how much products would weigh. We lost money because we ended up needing to reship items when things got lost in the mail and we didn’t pay to insure the package. We lost money when we bought the wrong type of packaging materials. This was tough but I feel like we are finally getting a handle on it. Every time we add a new type of product, are make to consider the shipping side of things before we commit.
I’m sure many of us going into business with ourselves think, woohoo! This is going to be great! No more late nights, no more weekend hours, I can set my own schedule. While this is totally true, there is also nobody else to help when shit hits the fan. At the end of the day, certain things have to get done and you are the one who has to do it.
On the flip side of the “late hours” quandary, there is also the issue of nobody setting the agenda other than you. If you want to do a huge project with unrealistic timelines, nobody is going to stop you. This is probably more my problem than any of them. When I do something, I go HARD! Above and Beyond could be my middle name. I’ve worked really hard to set boundaries around home time and work time, but it is a daily struggle. Finally having the Talcottage has been a huge game changer. It makes it a lot easier to transition from business Kate to mom Kate when I can literally go into another building. I know this isn’t always a realistic option for folks though, so maybe something as simple as having home slippers that mean you’re not in business mode, or putting on comfy pants when it’s time to end for the day--just something to signify to your brain that you’re off duty.
I hope this has helped demystify what life as a small business owner can be like. If you found this helpful and want to get more content like this, sign up for my Biz Buds Newsletter where I share all kinds of tips and tricks with you!