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Inside a small business Sneak peeks, top tips and inspo from some of the best small brands!

Do you ever look at the small businesses on Instagram and wonder how they began? How they grew so fast? What advice they would give to you? Well, of course we'd get that info for you! Here's some sneak peeks, top tips and inspo from some of the best small brands!

@emmajollyshop

"I first began my brand after playing around with some yarn and making my mum a bag. I had an Instagram account for my art account, which I had used to post my work whilst studying my Fine Art degree. I posted an image of the bag I had made to that account and had a couple of comments from friends saying they would like one too.

I also work full time as a Buying Assistant and was furloughed earlier this year when COVID kicked off. As soon as that happened, I thought that this would be the perfect time to maybe take on some orders for bags, as I had made a few since and interest was growing. So, I took on a few orders, then got some more, and the some more and then set up my Etsy shop. The rest is history!

At first, I found it difficult to get hold of materials quickly due to COVID. I was also putting a lot of pressure on myself to get bags made within a week or so and would be really hard on myself. But I quickly realised that people were more than understanding and did not mind waiting for something that had been handmade for them.

To be honest, my bag design came very naturally, and I haven’t really needed to tweak it very much. I’ve just gotten better at the techniques involved and learned what works well through making so many of them. I’ve always been able to knit, but only learnt to crochet this year. So my skills have improved massively!

I think Instagram is such an amazing tool for growing a business, and I wouldn’t have been able to grow mine without it. It’s so helpful when friends share your posts and engage with them, you reach so many more people and word really gets around. I’ve been forced to learn about the boring sides of business and really obvious things like staying organised. I think as a creative who just loves making things, it’s really difficult to put your business head on and think realistically but has to be done!

As cliché as it sounds, a huge tip for starting a business is to be really invested and have a genuine interest in what you are selling. It really comes across, more than you might realise. I think also making sure people know that you are a real person and not just a business is important too. You need to be transparent, open, and honest as I think people really appreciate that."

@made.byfrankie

"Hello! I started making jewellery in February of this year. I had no plans to start selling I had just seen a few cute pieces in high street stores and wanted to have a go at making a necklace for myself. If I’m honest at this stage I hadn’t done any research and just grabbed any materials/beads I could find! After having a couple of relaxed goes at home, I found myself really enjoying the process and decided to research techniques to allow me to make pieces of a higher quality. For me, as a complete beginner, this was the trickiest part. There is a lot of trial and error, trying new things, different brands and just figuring out what works best for you and your designs. I wasn’t selling anything at this point so it was fun just working it out as I went along. I absolutely LOVED trying new colours of beads and playing around with designs.

Eventually I ended up with a lot of items and I honestly just threw myself into it and got an Etsy account and set up an Instagram – I would suggest planning a little more than I did, I was just excited to get going. I really enjoy taking photos so I had plenty to start an account, the photography aspect is one of my favourite parts of working on Made by Frankie, although I have learnt that natural day light is my best friend! As rare as it is in Manchester…

It took a LONG time to get my first sale. Instagram can sometimes make it seem like it’s easy, but it’s not always the case. I would say you definitely need to be patient and keep at it, even if you have a handful of Instagram followers, it doesn’t matter. You have to keep going, keep creating and do it because you are enjoying it. Give pieces out to your friends and family, ask them if they will take some pics for you and generally test them out.

I was so happy when I finally got my first sale, I was over the moon. It was such an incredible feeling (and still is) that somebody wanted to pay money for something I made. I was never really prepared for many sales, I didn’t have loads of packaging or cards, I just waited until I built up sales to afford better packaging etc.

You should try not to focus or worry on followers too much. The most important thing is to create a product you like and enjoy making and to engage with people! The Instagram community of makers is incredible, everyone who I have met has been so lovely and kind. There is a real sense of enthusiasm and encouragement between everyone. I love getting to chat to new people and following their journey."

@northernpicnic

"I had already got a business Instagram which I set up during university and made fun acrylic hand dyed earrings, however I didn’t push myself with this, I felt unmotivated to do so! But then lockdown hit and I was made furloughed from my job for a couple months, one day I was literally like why aren’t I making and designing clothes!? I love them!! I literally scribbled down signature items of clothing and colours I always wear, i.e. flared trousers, smock dresses, cropped T-shirt’s etc. And it stemmed from there!! Soon came the brand name, Northern Picnic!

I’d say the only problem so far has been time management, at the moment I work 40 hours in a retail management job, so once I’d launched my initial collection I was heading back to work, so everything took longer than initially expected! However I think being transparent to your customers and being honest about where you are at and when they expect their item really helps!! All my customers have been so, so, lovely, even when the wait time has ticked over, I think understanding and being aware that slow fashion is different to fast fashion, meaning you don’t get it instantly, but so much time and effort and patience has gone into each made to order piece is super special! Every single item is unique and I think people will wait for that!

I think the advice I would give is just interact with people as much as possible, other creatives, people who comment and love your posts etc! Creating that bond will not only be super lovely but people will stick around to see more!Also putting out content that is fun and engaging, asking people questions, doing polls etc! I found having a bit of a countdown and teasing with what’s to come gets people super excited!

Even though my brand is producing hand screen printed garments I’d say my sewing and printing skills have definitely improved which is amazing! I think just taking time to improve on these things is truly beneficial!! I’ve only ever made things for me or friends so now having started my brand, so much care and thought goes into the process, so I know you are getting the best! Another skill I’ve learnt is probably how to run a lil business! I’ve learnt/learning so much as I go along and the platform I have created on Instagram has really helped as I’ve met so many lovely people!

Any advice would be go for it!! If you feel that passionate about it, push yourself and go with it! It’s honestly so rewarding, I’m still in awe that people will be out wearing my stuff! Go in with a clear idea and it will go from there naturally, you will really be surprised by the support and love you get for your work!

I mean I like what I like, and I like a lot of different things so I follow such an eclectic range of people, small businesses etc! I think just having a genuinely inspiring following really is super special as some days it keeps you going, when you are maybe unmotivated seeing what everyone is up to gives you inspiration to carry on!

I’m still working on this one actually!! At the moment I use a bigcartel which is super easy to use and is great for starting up!! Any advice for websites I’d say is keep it consistent with your branding and aesthetic, this way it flows with everything you do, your Instagram etc. Also another important thing, giving your items decent and informative descriptions, this way people know exactly what it is they are getting, what fabric it’s made from, who printed it etc. People love to know about this, and I think it’s great to show how sustainable or eco friendly your item is!

We are looking at end of October for an autumn winter collection release and I am TOO excited, there is going to be digitally printed fabrics this time which is amazing!! And a range of other cosy fabrics!! But I’ll be taking one more lot of summer orders before then as everyone went wild for the fruit basket dresses!

I think in the near future I’d like to try and do this more full time, eventually making it my full time job, fingers crossed! So maybe then I will look for employing help etc which will be so exciting! I have some big plans for Northern Picnic in the future, I’d love to grow it into accessories and homewares too, YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST!"

@sunpuffstudios

"Hello! My name is Erin and I started my small bizz Sun Puff late summer of 2019. I make polymer clay earrings and accessories that have a cutesy vibe to them. I started my business because I was making earrings for fun and for friends, as I was learning more and more I set up a page and it sort of went from there!

It’s been a lot of fun and I’m still continuing to learn everyday, but I think there’s a lot of things to learn in the beginning of starting up your business that’ll make it easier in the long run. I think one of the biggest things is realising you don’t need every tool to start off. For example, with polymer clay there are so many different tools, but I started out with the three primary colours and a craft knife. When you’re getting to know your material, start off with the basics and grow your collection of tools as you learn and develop, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. It was only recently I upgraded to a pasta machine for rolling out clay! I think this piece of advice really applies to all mediums whether you’re an illustrator, ceramic artist, resin creator etc. Leading on from that, there’s always a way to find cheap alternatives so you aren’t losing money. For example hand drawing your business cards and stickers, reusing bubble wrap and packaging materials from your own deliveries etc. To this day I still cut out shapes from foam to use as cutters! This saves me spending money on getting custom cutters 3D printed.

I also think focusing on yourself and your own growth is super important. Sometimes it’s easy to feel disheartened by other pages growing faster than yours, but you’ll get there! Making friends within the community is super useful and sharing the work of others usually means you’ll get the same in return. I personally grow my audience on instagram, but there’s so many other platforms and ways to grow an audience you just have to find what suits you!

I think if you’re starting out, definitely make use of a platform like etsy or depop! They have the design already sorted for you all you have to do is upload the products, this takes away a lot of stress and makes things a lot easier. These apps also have search engines so people can find you directly there or stumble across your page without following your social media! Then once you’ve grown your audience and feel more confident, upgrade to something like a shopify or big cartel store. These are completely personalised and you’re in control of the whole thing, but can be pricey and really hard to navigate which is why I don’t recommend starting out this way!

My top tips are don’t be shy! Reach out to other creators, engage with your followers, post a few times a day in the early days, don’t be nervous to ask for advice or things like collaboration opportunities! Make sure you keep track of finances, obviously the boring part but a simple spreadsheet can help you stay organised and professional. Find your style! In the beginning it’s easy to be very influenced by other creatives, but instead of being inspired by other existing work, be inspired by the things around you. When your work is fresh and original, you’re more likely to grow a lot faster. And lastly, stay true to your brand! Something that helps my posts feel coherent and together is illustrating on my posts! I take my photos into procreate and doodle on them! Maybe your style would look cute in photo collages, flat lay style photos, doodles etc."

Want a part 2 with some more small business? Head over to our Instagram @carbononcampus to send us some you'd love to know more about!

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