Overwhelmed is an almost constant state of being for many of the makers I know.
No matter how talented and creative someone may be, it’s often very difficult to run a small creative business – most people simply end up overwhelmed and then paralysis starts to set in, rendering them even more confused and dejected.
I think we all get tired of seeing the constant stream of formulaic social media advertising that promises creatives and small business owners the “one best tip” to “do this now” in order to “jump start your creative business” and “make more sales in a day than you usually make in six months”. And right now, my Facebook (and Instagram, and Pinterest for that matter) feed is chock a block full of these ads.
I’ve been doing some research for this article and apparently it’s just enough to tip the scales on the algorithm and send my social platform status into “must be buying, must need selling”… which is pretty funny since I’m the person that actually clicks through on these ads to see what the online courses are teaching in their cookie cutter programs at the moment. Talk about overwhelmed with nowhere to hide.
Right now my feed is running about 80% ads – and since I click through a lot of them, they are proliferating at an alarming rate. On the flip side, I’m definitely getting an eyeful of all the various ways that people are pushing their products and platforms. With that said, I’ll stop now before I get completely off track and have a totally different post that I planned. Go, me!
Enough rambling, get back on track.
If you’re a maker, and you are running a small business – whether it’s your side hustle, your main gig, or any permutation of the two, then I already know that you’re working your a** off trying to get ahead. Whether you’re a mural painter, a mixed media artist, or a fashion blogger, by the time you’ve finished with your actual creative work, you are overwhelmed and your day is literally just getting started.
Making the doughnuts is nowhere near enough effort, someone’s got to package the doughnuts, and before that, design the packaging, check the sample proofs, order the packaging, get the mailing labels, make sure the twine and the tissue is not only the correct color but that it’s been recycled from somewhere local that contributes to the childrens’ hospital… right. Haven’t even started on a marketing or advertising campaign, sorted a photoshoot, figured out the social media aspect, and all the rest of that jazz.
OMG, who has time to do all of this?
It can be very discouraging for creatives – most of whom aren’t natural extroverts to begin with – when they find all of this marketing and outreach and publicity and branding as essential components of their side hustle or home based business.
When reality rears its ugly head, it becomes clear that the means won’t quite reach the end, at least not in the way that the 7 step courses and masterminds and “learn to make your Etsy sales explode” video series claim that it will happen. I’d venture to say that if we examined the books, and the actual stats, of these course instructors-slash-online gurus that we would find a considerable percentage of them simply making up their stats and unable to substantiate their claims of success.
Further, if you break it down and look at the ones who are (judging from outward appearances) at least moderately successful, we are most likely to see that their success comes from a couple of different factors (that likely go unmentioned in their training courses and webinar seminars), and gave them an edge over their competition in the earlier stages of the market.
How did those guys get so organized?
The number one thing that most likely happened to a large portion of these success stories was that they started with some other success and built on it. I’ve been around since the dark days of the internet (remember 9600 baud modems and AOL dialup?), and have seen more than a few people who couldn’t successfully manage a McDonalds location end up with filthy cash (literally and figuratively) because they lucked into where they were at the time. Almost like winning the lottery.
The second contributing factor for many of these people is again derived from luck, not talent. They simply happened to be on the front end of a new wave when it broke. I’ll use the modern farmhouse craze for example. Had you told homeowners in 2005 that they would be ripping all that Tuscan out of their house and replacing it with unfinished lumber or recycled pallet strips, you’d have been laughed out of the home improvement center.
The intersection of specialty television like Bravo or HGTV and personalities like Joanna Gaines or the “Property Brothers” with cheaply available resources and plenty of bandwidth for streaming media created an entirely new class of celebrities almost overnight. If you’re a chef or a super talented home cook, then I’m talking to you as well here, since you are likely side hustling the s**t out of cupcakes or CBD brownie mix or something along those lines.
The third factor (and the last one I’m going to discuss this week) in the success rate is social media. Again, in 2005, MySpace was brand new, and as much a joke as a serious platform for self promotion and advertising. The idea that people would become “instagram famous” as an actual thing wasn’t even a consideration, just like the next big thing isn’t even on our radars at the moment, but there will be a group who reap major profits when it comes to light.
So when you see someone like Marie Forleo or Tula Pink or Kylie Jenner making it all look so simple and easy, just keep in mind that they’ve got teams of people who manage specific parts of their image and their marketing. And their fulfillment. And their ad campaigns. And their schedules.
That’s nice, but I still can’t do it all.
Nope, you cannot. You, my friend, have to get super organized, sort out a backbreaking schedule (at least at first) and work your fingers to the bone, if you want to succeed at running your creative business.
It’s not enough, at least not any more, to start an Etsy shop, or drop ship, or have an Amazon store. You’ve got to have a solid idea of how to create an overall marketing plan for your goods or services. You need to decide what platforms actually work for you, which ones aren’t worth your time, and speaking of time – you have to step back from the platforms that are a real time suck and pretend like those parts of the internet don’t exist any more.
If you don’t get it together then not only will you feel overwhelmed, you will also be completely ineffective and no matter how beautiful your work is, you won’t sell any of it since no one will know it’s for sale.
The aforementioned Etsy shop isn’t for everyone. Perhaps you want to consider going to local shops who sell the type of goods you produce and showing them your products. Heck, you might even want to put some finished pieces into a few shops on consignment, in order to prove to the owner that you have the pulse of their customer and will be an asset to the store.
You’ll want to pick one social media platform, possibly two at a maximum, to focus your efforts on, and don’t worry about the rest. Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest are likely to be the top candidates for your list of most useful from a paid advertising perspective; marketplaces like Etsy or Amazon Handmade can still bring mad exposure if you get on their spotlight section.
You should consider running a blog, even if it’s nothing more than a collection of your Instagram or Pinterest posts and another place that someone might find you and your work and decide to make a purchase. Just make sure you update it regularly so that your prospective customers and potential reviewers aren’t confused into thinking that you have disappeared and are no longer in business.
Ah yes, reviewers – that’s really the luck part of things at the moment. Getting a mention in an online or print publication can shoot your sales upwards to the moon, and can put you on the map from a publicity standpoint. And once you’re picked up by a couple of sources, it’s highly likely that you’ll be featured in even more publications, heck you might even end up with a book deal or two (hello, Jungalow, anyone?) and then you’re up for collaborations and licensing and the sky is the limit.