Want a Creative Small Business? Here's How I Started Mine

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I didn’t know until a few years ago that a creative small business would be so fulfilling. 

I’ve been creating watercolors since the late 90s when I had two young kids. It was clean, non-toxic, and portable. It checked all the boxes for the right kind of creativity for a busy young mom in a small home. I used the medium to capture many things, but mostly it was a hobby that I loved and didn’t really share with anyone. 

In 2013, I had a wake-up call. I turned 40 and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. 

Everything changed. 

I reassessed my life and what I was doing with it. I questioned why I felt that so much of what brought me joy had to be kept hidden. I felt a huge push to shine my light brighter than I had done in the past.Not to get attention, but to bring love, light, and joy to others. 

So, I started to sell my art. People who had seen it offered me money and I was really dumbfounded that it could be good enough for someone other than me to love.

But, mostly I was grateful for the support.

After hearing another artist and (and future mentor) say, “if someone offers you money for your art, you’re good enough,” I knew that I needed to make this a creative small business and fully put my art out there.

First Steps of Building a Creative Small Business 

The first step was the commitment to create the business. I took courses on creating online businesses and building a creative enterprise. I dropped thousands of dollars on courses and worked hard at learning. I did the homework, met with other artists in the same courses, and filled notebooks with all that I was learning. I woke up early to get all of it done before my day job, spent my lunch hours working on my creative business, then worked on it when I came home (in between making dinner, helping kids with their homework, and putting kids to bed).

For most of my corporate career life I have been a marketer, I couldn’t imagine marketing for my own creative small business. However, I realized that all my marketing knowledge could be applied to my creative-art business. That has been a wonderful hidden treasure .

Over the course of the last three years, I discovered my why and worked from that foundation.  I experimented. I combined the new info I was learning with what I had learned through the years to start marketing for myself. I built a website and made plans. 

Systems and Momentum: Preparing for Success

Planning is great, but the magic comes with doing the work consistently. As I worked at this business friends seemed to come out of the woodwork to support me with words of encouragement, sales, and hiring me as an aritst.

When I didn’t have commissions to create, I’d work on my business, paint or draw daily, and develop systems to make things easier for when I was busy creating. 

I’m still doing this. 

One thing about having a small business is that you wear all the hats at first. You’re the accountant, writer, intern, marketer, salesperson, manufacturer, delivery person, janitor, etc. 

The idea of doing it all might seem daunting at first, but the next steps for creating success are building systems and building momentum. If the systems (like your marketing and accounting) aren’t in place, the wheels may come off when you get momentum. I know this from experience. A little more than a decade ago, my husband and I ran our own PR and advertising firm. We loved it, but we didn’t have systems in place for the business. When things got challenging, we couldn’t keep up the momentum. 

What is your biggest challenge as a creative small business owner?