9 Things I’ve learned While Growing My Business

Four months ago, working for myself was a dream that I assumed would only be possible after many, many years of experience. It was so unrealistic to me that I never gave it any thought.

It all started by accident, with a drop in the internet connection.

I had recently discovered Facebook advertising and had been allocating £10 a month to it. Now 30p of advertising a day doesn’t get your products very far, but I was happy with the roughly three sales it generated. The idea of having my own freelance business was so crazy, why invest more than a tenner?

I clicked the ‘order’ button to place another tenner for the second month and received an error code. I tried a second time… nothing…. A third time… nothing… finally giving up on the fourth. The internet was playing up, and I had a 10 ten hour straight shift to get to.

Checking my phone at the end of my shift, my mouth dropped open.

I had four orders! I had made more money online than I had done slaving away in 30 degree heat until 2am. I collapsed onto my bed with a big smile on my face.

When I woke in the morning my smile quickly became concern. I had ten orders. How was this possible? Was someone playing a joke? I hadn’t stocked enough resources for this sudden spike, because why would a whole ten persons want my art? 

I discovered my advertising orders had in fact gone through each time I had tried to place one. I had accumulated £40 to be used in around five days, which gave me a very large reach, and that was the cause in this sudden spike.

To cut a long story short, I continued for two months with a large volume of orders while working full time in a foreign country.

I absolutely exhausted myself, because I was convinced there was no way I could be my own boss, but considered myself lucky to have my bar job, even with orders coming through.

Many people told me to quit, and one friend really tried to make me believe in myself and just go for it, yet still I would not listen.

 

So what did it take to make the leap?

Well for me, it was getting robbed on my way home at 2am with a knife being waved around and demands in a language I could not understand.

Hopefully that won’t be the case for others :)

Since taking EJayDesign seriously, it’s been a case of trial and error with constant learning. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

 

1. You’ve got your product, you know it sells. Job done? … If only!

You’ll need to get your books and records right to make it a professionally established business. You want people to know this is your serious full time job, not just a hobby anymore.

Time to put everything you learned about taxes and finances from high school into practice. Oh wait! We were never taught that…

I knew I needed to do a lot of adult things, but I didn’t know exactly what. Luckily, here in Scotland, Business Gateway was available to offer free advice.

It was a refreshing reminder of how the island community here can work when they enthusiastically and very quickly made an appointment for me asap. I had been used to no one caring or being interested in helping while in the big world, but Business Gateway set me on the right track with all the steps I had to take, offering an email so full of helpful links and contacts it had to be send sent in two parts, along with brochures of free courses on a variety of topics.

 

2. You need a good website, and it’s not that simple.

 You’ve told the taxman what you’re up to and you’ve set up a business bank account. You’re ready to let the world know who you are.

Your first battle is getting the domain name you want, and unless you’re really unique you probably won’t find that easy.

I chose EJayDesign because it was available, but it was not my first choice. I don’t really like the word ‘design’ in there, but if I chose ‘maps’ it would restrict me to selling only maps. Ideally, I I wanted only ‘ejamieson’ or even ‘ej’.  Remember, it needs to be simple … even in Scotland the majority of people won’t remember how to spell ‘eilidh’, so don’t make your domain complicated. 

Then you need choose who will host your website and choose or create a theme. Do your research as to what suits best and give thought to your theme as it will be a hassle to change, so make the right decision at the start.

I chose Shopify over Squarespace because at the time you seemed to get slightly more for your money when it came to fancy coding talk I didn’t know about but figured I would need. That was a bit of a mistake as Shopify is quite restricted with how you can design your site, unless you add on more subscription apps. It’s for shops with a serious amount of stock and numbers, while Squarespace would suite someone like me, who likes to constantly add to or change design.

You’ve invested in a domain, hosting subscription and perhaps splashed out on a fancy theme like I did. Now you have to actually add everything you need/want to show to your theme. It’s fun for two hours until you realise it will take days.

Luckily, my background and experience in design made everything straightforward for me, but I imagine it would be incredibly frustrating if you didn’t know what you were doing.

My advice would be to take time thinking and researching. Think about your target audience, the theme you want to portray. A quirky, fun and colourful site? a clean, modern and elegant design? perhaps a dark, mysterious and sleek theme that suggests luxury?

Research other websites that have the same design you want to portray and ask yourself ‘what keeps me interested in this site?’

 

3. Discover SEO

I wish I could tell you the work is done, but it’s only just beginning. If you don’t have the money to hire an expert and you’re serious about growing your business, you’ll need to learn a bit about about SEO.

I had tried a few SEO sites but had always got a bit overwhelmed until I came across Neil Patel’s website Ubersuggests.

It offers a seven day free trail and breaks down every little thing in layman’s terms, so you can tackle it step by step. Ubersuggests will scan your site and categorise your SEO problems in ‘critical’ ‘medium’ and ‘low’ terms. Not only this, it will tell the exact page you need to address and offer links to step by step guides. 

You’ll learn that every image on your site needs to be optimised, correctly labelled with alt-tags for google to understand what it is.

If you’ve spent days uploading all your product photos at a size of 900kb and the description IMAGE6048927 like I did, you’ve got a few more days of redoing your site.

This is why it is important to learn as much as you can before designing, so you only do it once.

Do not underestimate how powerful Google is and what it expects from you. Think of it las a library. You want to put your book on the shelf for customers to read.

You don’t just throw your book into another pile of books. The library wants you to tell them what your book is about in order for them to categorise it. You need to prove to the library that customers want to read this book and work hard to earn your spot at the front desk. This means naming each imagine, correcting, and optimising it to a size in which it will load fast, and adding alt-text describing each one for the visual imparted.

 

4. You’ll need to start writing blogs.

Hence this one! I’ve always known this but never wanted to face it. I’ve never been a writer, I don't know what to write about and I have the voice in my hear that says ‘who even wants to read what you think?’

As it turns out, this is not just important for website SEO.

Facebook is now punishing me because I post too much of the same content. Posts with photos of my work used to get shown to all my followers and gather a generous amount of organic likes. After four months, Facebook has decided I’m repeating myself and only shows my content to around 20% of followers.

I’ve learned you need to post a variety of interesting content and engage your audience. Share blogs you find interesting, artists who inspire you and photos of your work behind the scenes.

It’s about quality of content, not the amount of followers you have… apparently.

I am only just beginning to do this so hopefully Facebook will one day be my friend again. I am understanding why people’s entire jobs are based on social marketing, it really is a full time job!

 

5. It will be hard to put down work.

I’ll admit it, I don’t start work at 9am. I wake up at 9.30 and browse reddit for an hour. That might make you jealous, but trust me, I do not finish at 5pm and switch off.

I normally get going with emails at 11am but will be on my computer until 12am focusing on my business. Once the actually work day is done (emails, mockups, setting up for print, creating the maps and packaging up) I can breath, but my ‘relaxing’ time seems to be reading SEO and marketing blogs, trying out new designs on photoshop and growing my ‘i’ll should look into this later’ list.

When friends come over, I often reach for my laptop after we’re caught up while they put on a movie.

 

5. Your customers will keep surprising you and it’s hard not to take it personally.

 The most amazing part of this journey so far has been my customers.

I never thought how willing they would be to help me. I’ve had someone share my work on their local buy, swap, sell page and get back in touch with me to see if it generated any orders. (it did, thank you!)

I ran a competition at Christmas and one winner suggested a hotel to get in touch with, who now supplies my prints. Even people who take the time to leave a nice comment saying they’re beautiful when they’re don’t purchase is amazing.

That being said, you can’t please everyone.

I had someone wanting to return their A4 print because they didn’t know it was A4 and ‘didn’t have time to read the description’ and they ‘could purchase a map for half the price in London’. 

Some expect an order in 2 days. Some want a reply on Sunday 9pm via Instagram messaging. Sometimes you forget to put the wee heart on and it’s all your fault. It’s hard to let these things go.

All of a sudden the successful orders and happy customers disappear from your mind and you base your company on this one negative review. Luckily it should just take a cup of tea and a sleep to remember you’ve grown something from nothing for a reason and 40+ good reviews beat one bad one.

Mistakes happen, learn from them, move on to make your company better.

 

6. It may get a bit lonely

 One thing I miss about working hospitality jobs are the people you get to work with. You make friends real fast when you're working through a rough job together.

I can’t say my social life was completely wild while working in the bar, as your extremely tired by the end of your shift. However, I do miss sitting down with your free beer and colleagues talking about crazy customers served. Most of the time you went home, but sometimes it lead to a good night out.

When you work for yourself, it’s harder to meet new people and you normally need to make set plans to meet up, which rarely happens.

 

7. Invest in your business.

 My entire business started because I unknowingly threw extra money at it.

I’ve learned to invest not just on materials, but also digitally. My website theme cost £140. I could have found one for £30, but my website sets a first impression to many customers, so it needs to be good. With that price I also get unlimited support, so I can have an error fixed in a quick email. I’ve also invested in mockup’s to showcase my work and A LOT in advertising. 

When I bought my first frame, it was for a local shop that would only pay if it actually sold. I used a cheap eBay frame and it was pretty embarrassing when she placed it on the shelf and it collapsed. Another lesson learned.

Take time to research and test quality before supplying it. The quality of a £5 frame from amazon will likely not match a £8 from a reliable shop such as Hobbycraft. 

It took me two months to find a paper I was happy with. I finally found Arjowiggins, a Scottish company that have been very helpful (apart from your £30 extra delivery charge to the highlands, naughty!). I didn’t want to print on a cheap laid card everyone knows as I spend such care crafting my art, so what it is printed on should compliment it, not cheapen it.

 

8. Opportunities will come and go. Some will disappoint and some will work out.

When I first started, the director of Scottish Fine Gifts got in touch with me asking to e-mail them my prices as they had shops in Glasgow West End, Edinburgh airport and the old town. I had no idea about a wholesale price and went based on what my local shops suppled to me. Perhaps I went to high, but I never heard from them again. Even after two other e-mails over four months asking what prices they wanted to work with, I got nothing. It was disheartening that my excitement of them getting in touch came to nothing.

Last month a couple who had purchased one of my prints got in touch to ask if I would be interested in doing their entire wedding stationary set. I was almost crying with excitement. A pair of strangers loved my art so much they wanted me to contribute to their special day when they could have easily gone to a wedding professional. I can’t wait to show what we’ve come up with in the next few weeks.

 I’ve learnt in business it’s best not to get your hopes up until an actual deal is made, then start celebrating.

 

9. Lastly and most importantly - believe in yourself.

Like Nike says, Just do it! If you’re like me and have a voice inside your head making excuses, saying your not good enough, tell it to shut up!

I chose to stress myself out because I listened to that voice…and it’s hard to stress out in the French Riviera.

I made excuses when people suggested freelance. I was embarrassed when I first created my Facebook page, I didn’t even invite my friends to like it yet now I have 1.3k followers and growing.

I’ve been putting off writing blogs because who is going to read it anyway? I’m dreading sharing this on Facebook but who cares! Try things, make something you're proud of, shout about it until the world listens, and most importantly, have fun! 

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