How do you begin to run a business with two hyper talented minds that cannot slow down? Fortunately for the two of us, my brain can split into two halves pretty evenly after years and years of training. I can admit that it can be really hard to make one side shut up and force the other to organize the chaos if I’ve not had enough sleep or coffee. At the crux of it is if we don’t plan, we’re going to overwhelm ourselves with the potential of what could be. Sounds like a good thing on the surface but that can be anxiety inducing because you don’t know where to start or stop. So, my smartphone and computer are my best friends these days. Here is a snapshot of how I’m using technology and my experience-managing other artists to help to keep our business on track. (DISCLAIMER: I’m not paid to endorse any of the following tools)
Online presence is a big part of our business foundation but before we did any of the online building we had to create a brand identity. With my marketing and design background, I knew how important it was to have a simple but effective logo from the very start. Ben and I made our logo ourselves. However, where I did not have experience, I hired people that did. This is where Fiverr was a great blessing. I hired a Fiverr artist to do our animation for our YouTube intro and outro. It was a very simple process and there wasn’t any headache in getting what we needed in a timely manner. There are a lot of resources just in this neat site. You can hire someone to do voice overs, edit your copy, come up with a theme song, write a slogan, illustrate a book, create a logo – you may be able to do one of these things yourself, but sometimes it is worth the money just to hire someone out to do the stuff that you don’t have time for.
Additionally, we thought about how to catalog our ideas. Foremost we needed a place to dump things that we can’t focus on at the moment but want to remember for later. We chose to use our Google Drive account as our cloud database. It’s economical (free), it’s easy to use, and it is convenient because most of our devices are android based. Here we can create documents, drop files, make spreadsheets, save quotes and invoices, and it is completely web based so we can access on any device connected to the web. I created folders here to house each of the categories we deemed important to us in our business. This saves us both some time from having to struggle to find that piece of paper we jotted that idea in the middle of the night down on. Now it’s available to both of us if we want to spend a coffee break adding to the idea.
We both have independent goals and desires but we have to talk through them to make sure they align with our growing family and growing business. Neither of us wants to hold the other back but sometimes talking things through can help us make sure they happen without hindering the other things that are in the pipeline. Tracking our expenses and our income was really daunting for us on a spreadsheet. We needed something that we could update on the fly and didn’t require a whole lot of effort. This is where Intuit’s QuickBooks for Self-Employed has really helped my tension levels. In the android app you can swipe to move expenses from personal to business. Split expenses between the two by different percentages it’s great for tax itemization, and it helped me with figuring out my Q1 federal tax estimate. April 5 and my check is in the mail. I’m sure it will even come in handy at the end of the year for my accountant. A big rule in my life – don’t take on things that cost more time than money.
We have been sourcing a lot of equipment and materials via craigslist and an app called offer-up. Ben traded a shotgun for a bandsaw once. We have found copious amounts of heavily discounted tools from people cleaning out their garages. I am not shy to use ebay and bhphoto.com to buy refurbished or used equipment. I can go for days talking just about the steals we found on things that brand new would bankrupt us. Growing up my mom and her sisters taught me the value in getting the materials you need by being resourceful. They were not afraid to use something that might have someone else’s history in the scratches. That followed me into college when my good friend Renae and I would have to find junk to use for sculpture class – everything was assemblage for us.
With all of those tools that takes us to the meat of our livelihood. Planning out what projects to tackle for economic/personal/promotional. Of course you would think that the priority would be on the commissioned work in front of us but we cannot loose sight of why we wanted this business. We use a shared calendar on google drive to plan out events and our google drive help us to keep things categorized. It can become very easy to procrastinate on things for us, so, by setting due dates – fictitious or real – It helps us to keep the momentum moving forward. One thing I’m learning from Ben in this journey is how to say no. You don’t have to do everything that people ask of you. It’s your business and you can turn down work that doesn’t fit with your direction or desire. It’s a delicate balance, so, we try to plan 2 weeks ahead. This week we have 3 commissioned works that satisfy the economic category. The question is how can we use those pieces to fit into the other two categories? Sometimes you can’t because the work is so specific. Other times you can use a project to grow from if the person commissioning is not too steadfast on making it exactly how you made the last one. It’s a juggling game, but it’s fun brainwork.
Here is where the core of our business comes from. People see our ideas, they engage with us on what they are looking for and we problem solve how to bring their ideas to life. It can be two dimensional or a physical item they are in search of. People have engaged us from Instagram, YouTube and Etsy. What is exciting is as we’re getting more established the requests are coming from outside our immediate network of friends and family. As people start to understand what we are doing, they get excited to be involved. One of our biggest goals is to stay as active as possible. If we order something fun, we show what we got in the mail on an instagram or snapchat. When we have an interesting project – we film it and feature it on YouTube. Anything to keep viewership and help us stay excited about the stuff that is happening. Not to mention, the more we use the tools the better and more proficient we will become. YouTube is a great documenting and archiving tool for our projects. Similar to athletes watching tape before and after a big game, it helps us to see where we can and have been improving. It gives other people an opportunity to coach us on how we could do something better and encourages us to keep going. Etsy is a convenient and secure online sales site that gives us the comfort of not having to manage a webpage or personal sales tool. It shows us some basic analytics and is a nice place carved out to digitally house our wares. Twitter/Instagram/Facebook all provide a place to give snapshots of what we’re working on and participate with our friends and family on things they want us to do. Even though YouTube seems to have the market cornered on video, the other online social tools are great companions to our channel.
There are so many resources for organizing your business on a budget. What I’ve learned is to pay for the things that have the least amount of interest for us to learn to do ourselves and the rest try to make it as accessible as possible. Each of these separate tools feels invaluable at the moment. I’m sure as time goes on we will find better an better ways of refining our process, but the building of this is a great challenge that both of us are really enjoying.
Heidi Jacobs is the Co-Founder of Slap Stuff Together, a maker's studio. She is also a Project Manager by day and part time professional photographer. If you would like to learn more about SST's adventures as a new start up you can follow them on Instagram or on Facebook. If you would like to learn more about their startup you can drop them a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Small Business owner and Artist, committed to growing as a maker as well as sharing her and her husband's experience with owning a small maker studio.
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