small business advice from someone who has no idea what the hell she's doing

Posted by Debbie Lechtman on

Recently I asked on my Instagram what topic you guys would be interested in as my first blog post. A good number of you -- most of you, actually -- asked for small business advice and other related topics, which was...well, nerve-wracking. 

Before I delve into this post, I think there are three things you guys need to know right upfront: 

1. I genuinely, truly, honestly have no idea what the hell I'm doing. I've made a lot of mistakes and I'm learning as I go. I don't have any business training or schooling. I'm an artist first and foremost, and math scares me. I think numbers and equations would be what I would see if faced with a Dementor. 

2. You've heard this before, I know, but I truly wasn't able to grasp this until recently: the amount of Instagram followers you have or likes you get on a photo mean absolutely nothing. Seriously. Sure, Instagram is probably the best marketing tool for a small business at the moment, but there's literally zero point in having 100,000 followers if you're not selling a damn thing. 

3. There's no such thing as an overnight success. Unless your parents are celebrities, I guess. Then maybe. 

Okay. 

Here we go. 

I think some people are under the impression that I have some kind of phenomenal insight into growing your business because I grew my Instagram so quickly. I'm sorry to say that I really don't. Like you and everyone else, I've learned what I've learned because I've messed up infinitely in the process. Some of these mistakes I am comfortable discussing publicly; some, I am not, at least not yet. 

There are big mistakes and small mistakes and they've all brought me to where I am today. I don't know everything (I know about as much as Jon Snow does, actually), but I know some things. And because sharing is caring, I'm going to share what I've learned with you.

1. Watch your overhead. 

I first heard this several years ago, long before I started Roots, from another metalsmith I unfortunately can't recall. I thought I knew what it meant -- don't spend more than you make -- but I actually had it all wrong. 

As my company grew, I felt more and more pressure to invest in more expensive things -- photoshoots, ads, trade shows, production numbers that I couldn't keep up with. It felt like Roots was growing too fast and I was struggling to keep up. In the end, all of these things were extra expenses and things I did not want. So I had to take a step back and reign myself in. If I wanted my business to be sustainable, I knew that I couldn't keep going like this.

So I did the thing that should have been the most obvious from the beginning: I made myself a monthly and a yearly budget. Duh. 

Instead of paying for more things, I started collaborating with other artists. I decided to open a bank account specifically for my business so that I could better keep track of what was coming in and going out. I sat down and looked over my costs, cutting out anything that wasn't necessary or didn't feel beneficial to my business. 

And I'm still learning. We'll see how it goes. Ask me in a year. 

2. Think long-term, not short-term. 

Oh, this is the hardest thing in the world. Delayed gratification. I'm still working on it. 

The truth is that your business will not blow up in a week or a month or probably even a year. Even before starting Roots, I'd been metalsmithing for about five years at that point. I'd dabbled in other businesses. But every time I make a business decision, I try to think of how it will help me in a year's time. Where do I want Roots to be in a year? And will this decision help me get there?

3. Numbers mean nothing. Community means everything. 

Listen, I get caught up with numbers too. But growing your Instagram following won't necessarily translate into more sales. It didn't for me. 

What helped me, then? Growing a small but invested community of customers. I make sure to always treat potential and past customers with respect, answer their questions in a timely manner, and take a genuine interest in their lives. I want to make sure that through the quality of my work and customer service, every customer will become a repeat customer. 

I collaborate with artists with similar visions and goals, and that way we simultaneously help each other. I discuss topics on my Instagram that I am passionate about (such as mental health), so that likeminded people will take an interest in my work. And even though I have around 14k followers, it's the community of 30-50 repeat customers I've cultivated that truly matters. I genuinely care about each of them and am so grateful that they appreciate my work. 

4. Trust your gut. 

Ugh, I wish I'd done this sooner. You can listen to more experienced people all day long, but at the end of the day, if something just doesn't sit right with you, don't do it. Don't compromise your integrity for your business. It probably won't even work out, anyway.

Even this post. Take everything I'm saying with a grain of salt. 

5. Have a vision. Be different.

You're an artist, right? Think about yourself and think about your brand. What do you want it to convey? What do you want it to look like? If you're not sure, then maybe it's time to give it some thought.

There's thousands of people doing the same thing out there. So why should customers buy from you? What makes you different?

6. Community over competition. 

Be nice. Lift other artists up. We're all in this together, after all.

Of course, sales are great. But the friendships and relationships I've made through Roots -- whether these people are my customers or fellow artists and/or jewelers -- are much better. We're thinking long-term here, remember? 

***

That's it, I think. I feel kind of silly writing a post about being a business owner, to be honest (major impostor syndrome vibez and all that). Like I said, take everything I've written here with a grain of salt. I know nothing, after all. 


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