Small business guru, may I sit at your feet?
April 7, 2014 8:57 AM   Subscribe

You've started a small business, things have been tough, you've been staring down the barrel of failure, but you've turned it around, you made it work. How did you do it? What changes in practice and attitude really made a difference to your success? What resources did you draw upon? I'd really like to hear how you made it through the tough times. If your business is arts/craft related, even better.

I'm really just looking for inspiration, but it might help you to know:
A year ago I took a massive leap and returned home to my native country after 23 years. I reasoned that it would be the only way the (very) long distance relationship I'd started would work. Plus my parents are both very frail and I wanted to help.
I spent most of my savings setting up a ceramics studio and set about making ceramics - without other work to prop me up for the first time.
A year down the track and my savings have dwindled; I've set up a classroom and am teaching classes, which are keeping the wolf from the door, but not enough to stop my savings leaking out the door. The ceramics side is developing, but is only a tenth of my income, and I'm leaning on my new partner a lot more than I would like. I'm open to taking other work, and have done a little debt collecting (against my better instincts, but I felt I couldn't be picky). Unfortunately the area I'm in is just recovering from the slump and jobs - certainly arts related ones - are very thin on the ground.
It's been a very stressful year dealing with my new country (even though it's my old one!), new relationship, aging parents and business/financial worries. If I carry on as I am I'll be flat broke in 4-5 months. Have you been in a similar situation? How did it pan out? I'm particularly interested in changes you made that really made a difference.
Thanks (O enlightened many!)
posted by M.Onniker to Work & Money (4 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A friend in that situation gave himself a deadline: my business will be profitable within this amount of time, or else I will fold it up and get a full-time job.

He folded the business, took a job that was less than ideal in many ways but paid the bills, and the funny thing was: he had no regrets.

His friends loved the small business. We were rooting for it, and we really felt it was "this close" to succeeding. But looking back, I now think he did the smart thing to stick by his plan.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:52 AM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to answer from the perspective of a friend's business (we discuss best practices sometimes because we are both self-employed). He started struggling probably for a few years, and could only afford living in a studio (really) and running his business out of it. It progressed to a business with profit(and it was very season type money in work) and now he has a few employees, with clients all over the world/and he rents a place to do this business. I'm not entirely sure as to all the services you offer (assuming you sell this pottery to customers and stores?), OP, but I'm going to make a guess, and those things may work similar to my friend.

Here were the big changes that he made that resulted in a jump:

-Nonpaying clients - He had quite a bit of this in the beginning (plus forged checks). He changed his policy to credit card only, unless they were a long established client. This made a big improvement in no longer having outstanding debt (you mentioned debt collection OP)

-The other even more significant difference was that in the past, he was limited by seasonal demands for when he sold his goods (mainly Christmas), but JAn/Feb - no one wanted to buy his stuff. But one year he 1) hired someone to make and improve his website. They made it so that they could place orders and it was SEO so that it could come up higher in google. In addition, he learned how to use google ad words- he is very careful (you can cap how much to spend), but in his words, he "owns terms X, Y, Z" and gets those hits onto his website. So now he sells his product to people in Australian in Jan, Feb and you get the trend - around the world. I have talked to him about it, and he believes that this was what made his turnaround (or increase in revenue to afford employees, etc.).

-This is small but if you have a personal relationship with the people you sell, he will sometimes send out personal emails or call and say - Hey, we got in a shipment. He reports that there are some people that everytime he calls it = more stuff sold (and now one of the people that he has hired does this).

Now some random ideas, although I don't know your business entirely,or if you have free time/or hours with no one in the studio.... In additional to full-blown classes, what about offering 1) offer "paint your own pot" as a kid's activity, maybe even for parties, 2) Singles night or intro to pottery. Paint a pot. Learn cool technique X, whatever. IF there are other hours that you do not use the studio, yt know a group that you could trust (book clubs) -rent a space in the studio? Just some ideas.
posted by Wolfster at 10:04 AM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might want to check out the Business forum at Ceramic Arts Daily, there is a lot of accumulated knowledge there which might be helpful to you.
posted by heliotrope at 10:24 AM on April 7, 2014

Some good suggestions and things to follow up. Thanks for the responses.
posted by M.Onniker at 2:12 AM on April 9, 2014

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