And then one day, your business turns 10 years old. How did that happen? This small business journey has been full of mistakes, adventures, disappointment, tears, joy, fun, finding what works, learning what doesn't, never quite getting there, wondering if something else is out there, trying to keep going, keep believing, keeping positive, hitting roadblocks, going blank, creative block, ditch the whole thing, crying, despair, hope, coming back, feeling stronger, believing, growing, learning, reaching the top, not quite there, could be next year, one day, maybe. keep. on. going.
And this is just all in a day! So as I sit here writing this, I thought I could share some tips to help someone out there who might be going along a similar road. If you don't have a small business, perhaps this is one to share with them. Or perhaps it might give you an understanding of what's behind the millions of small business journeys out there. I'm sure I'm not alone in my thoughts.
1) There's no right or wrong way
Nothing unusual with this one. What works for one business or person, might not work for another. But how else do you make progress other than trying new things and working out what works and what doesn't. I spent many years trying different things, places, shows, events and making costly mistakes. But if I hadn't done them, I wouldn't have met the people I did, and had the experience I had. I think I have a better understanding of what paths to avoid now. There's no right or wrong way though. Figuring things out is part of the process and the journey. Even if you do things and they don't work out, you still can learn a lot and grow from it.
2) Listen to your audience
Sometimes what you like isn't what everyone else likes. You think it's going to be a hit. And it's not. It's disappointing. This has happened a few times for me. I've been convinced something will work. And put a lot of time, money and effort into launching it. And it's not worked. But this isn't because it's a dodgy design. It could just simply be the case that it's not reaching the right people. Perhaps on these occasions I should have asked the audience. These days it's a lot easier to get feedback from customers and engage with audiences on social media. Although there's one big lesson in this. People's likes don't always equal purchases!
Sometimes you do have to trust your own judgement. And if you have the belief, things do work. Sometimes it will be a question of how much you want it and how much you believe in it. I guess the best thing is not to give yourself a hard time if something doesn't work. There's always going to be someone out there who will love it. It just might not be the right time or you might not be directing it at the right people. But if you keep believing in it, and you keep trying, one day it's highly likely it will shine.
3) Be grateful for what you have
I was 5 years in business before Pebbles came along. I can't tell you how much she changed things for me, my mental state and my day to day living. She's been an absolute joy to work with. I really do treasure every day with her as I know we don't have a long journey together. So be grateful for what you have - whether it's a furry friend, a long-suffering partner (thanks Jen!), supportive family or simply a trusted friend. It keeps the joy coming and the love flowing. How amazing is that to have in your life.
4) Keep believing
There's always going to be times when you doubt what you're doing or you think about doing something else. Or what if you'd done that instead. But when you stay focused, and have that belief in what you're doing, that's when you move forward. You have to trust yourself and the knowledge you've built up over time.
It helps to be around positive people too. Those who encourage and want to see you do well. Don't worry about those that don't. Find the ones that do. Remember why you're here, why you're doing it, and don't lose that vision.
5) Get outside
If you work on your own like I have for years now, one of the things that has helped me the most is getting outside. Morning, Lunchtime, Evening - any time of day - just so long as it's every day. Outside in the air too. Walking. Trundling. Running. Being outside solves a lot of things. Usually if you're feeling stuck or unproductive, even if you have too much to do, making time to go outside to be in the air - rain or shine - really is the key. It just changes the energy. Better still if you exercise outside. If there's any kind of activity you can do, do it - even just a leisurely walk. I promise you'll see the benefits.
6) Have a plan B
Life is unpredictable. Having a small business, even more so. Covid taught us a lot about plan B, C, D and E. I've never been one for having alternative plans, thinking that it's all or nothing. But I'm aware how fragile every career, business, and life, is. Even more so with the start of the AI revolution. I wonder how AI will affect what I do, and I honestly feel that there are going to be some dramatic changes around the corner. But it won't be the first time in our lives that we've had to adapt and change. I have spent time exploring different paths as well as Jin Designs but not because I intend to quit or move on. In a way, I think it's helped me to develop and grow Jin Designs, and feel more refreshed about it when it's easy to get stale. I am hoping to finally complete my Level 3 Personal Trainer Qualification this year. And I have been a Level 2 Fitness Instructor with Brighton Outdoor Fitness for the last 4 years. Will I end up one day having a career in the fitness industry? Who knows. But I'm glad to have options. Particularly in this day and age when you don't know what's coming. The ability to adapt and pivot is part of human life. And it could be something you need to do sooner rather than later.
7) Connect and collaborate
I have spent the best part of the last 10 years working on my own. It's ok. I don't mind it. But I wonder how life would have been different if I'd been a bit more social and not stuck on the outside of life all the time. Part of that I think comes from being adopted. A sense of belonging is something that often feels missing from my life. So it's easy to stick on the outside with feelings you’re familiar with. If you can be more social than me, there's some great business groups and online communities to join. You can learn so much from others but most importantly, you learn that you're not alone and you're all facing the same difficulties even if you're in a different industry. So if you can connect with other people, small businesses, start-ups - whatever you can find, then go for it. Sharing always helps.
8) Create space to think and reflect
It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks when running a small business. Take breaks to create space for thinking and reflecting. Find a quiet spot, whether it's a corner in your office or a peaceful outdoor setting, and allow yourself time to think. It's hard to disconnect from distractions but it's worth it. Finding moments for yourself to think and reflect is just as important as the practical aspects of running a business. It's like an investment in your own well-being which is ultimately going to help the long-term sustainability of your small business. Definitely worth a try!
9) Have a holiday
Something I'm not very good at is taking breaks. But when I do I realise how important it is. It's not easy to take time off when you're the only one driving the business. But when you do, you realise that the business is still there when you get back. You’re not indispensable! And the same problems are always there too. You just might be a bit more refreshed in facing them. You can read more on this in my previous blog post: Taking a Break
10) Don't take it too seriously. We're not here forever.
Sadly there will come a time when I won't be doing this anymore. I don't know when that will be. Perhaps it will be illness or death - or simply a change of direction - who knows! So I want to make the most of the journey. And try and enjoy it. It's not easy and feels like a hard slog most of the time. So make sure you celebrate the milestones!
If you think about what I'm doing, it's essentially straightforward. Creating designs for people to love and producing products they can enjoy and cherish in their homes. I'm not saving lives - and I doubt I'm changing lives either. Maybe just enhancing them every now and then. And raising the occasional smile. I hope so anyway.
One day when we're all not here anymore - and Sitting Cat has outlived us all - someone will be enjoying a hot drink in an old tea stained fine bone china mug, passed down through the family for generations. They will be looking at Sitting Cat on the side of their chipped but still usable mug, thinking about the time it was created, back in 2013. They might look back at us with our strange little lives in the 21st Century and think how hard life was back then. Just as we do when we look back 200 years or so.
But this is life as we know it. Big change is on the horizon. Some we will live through. Some we won't ever see. So on that final thought, let's make sure we enjoy what we have. And hold on tight to your mugs. Someone else might want to enjoy it one day!
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Please share it with someone if you think it might be useful. : )
Designer / Founder of Jin Designs