(And how I juggled a newborn baby and a 3-meter long sideboard)
Often business ideas are born from a situation of need. The need for change, or the need for more creativity and freedom. A niggle to do something else in life. And sometimes they are born because you live in a place where your shopping needs aren’t met 😂.
This is a story about the time when I decided to start a vintage furniture shop in rural Scotland, with no experience of running a shop whatsoever. To go with Pippi Longstocking‘s quote: ‘I have never done it before, so I think I can probably do it’. Right?
About 12 years ago, my first ever business idea was born out of the need to buy more funky furniture for my new home! I could not find ANYTHING I liked in the stores in Aberdeen, where we lived.
I yearned for quirky, colourful and soulful pieces, and all I found was mass produced, boring and beige.
I suddenly thought: if there is nothing here, I’ll start selling it myself! And so I did.
A seed was planted.
Planning for the big launch of my creative business
I started jotting down ideas in my journal, sketched my future shop front, stuck down images I liked, imagined the things I would sell.
I started doing market research, and signed up for a few free local business courses (all boring and not relevant to a creative business at all!). I talked to other shop owners to understand what was required.
I booked a trip to Copenhagen for inspiration (oh my god, that city is design heaven!).
I kept working on my ideas, dreaming, picturing it in my head, talking about it to friends. Being so excited about getting closer to perhaps actually doing it. Meanwhile…keeping it a secret from my employer.
And then I got pregnant, and had my son, in December 2011.
Did my plans get shelved?
Once I have an idea in my head, I bring it to fruition. I registered as self-employed on the first day of my maternity leave. Yup, that’s how I roll. During the ‘nesting phase’ I bought a sewing machine, and started making cool looking throw pillows, and collected small vintage items.
I got business cards printed, set up a Facebook page, started selling on Etsy, made cute hand printed labels, and got invited by a friend to sell my products at a Christmas fair, a month before giving birth. My debut out in the open, selling product to real-life customers!
Signing the lease of my own shop unit and starting a creative business on a budget
And then, early Summer 2012, I spotted a shop unit for rent in an old mill, in the countryside of Aberdeenshire, not far from where I lived. It was £300 a month on rent, and I went for it. I remember being beyond excited to get the keys! I got a group of fellow new mothers together who I got to know through pregnancy yoga, and they helped me redecorate the space, taking turns in baby-sitting. It was a messy business, trying to keep 8-month old crawling babies from putting their little fists into the paint pots, but we had such a laugh. It was a crazy, funny affair, but we did it.
‘Nina’s Apartment’ vintage furniture shop opened its doors in October 2012.
It was my most creative business ever. Pure joy. I carried a baby on my hip, and worked on a shoestring budget, but I made it work.
I had a fire in my belly, creative juices flowing, and my marketing skills helped me to quickly build up an amazing community.
How did I go about my marketing?
I connected to many other creatives in the area, spread the word, sent out press releases to grow my reputation, kept a lively blog with styling tips and news, and posted good pictures of new stock onto my Facebook page (which quickly grew to 5000 followers!).
Being a local, physical shop, online marketing was important, but actual in-person networking definitely helped.
In the four years I had the shop, I sold many incredible vintage pieces, organised upcycling workshops, and held vintage and craft markets. I even took a stand at the Scottish Home Show, a big interiors fair, which made me feel like a ‘proper’ business, rubbing shoulders with the big boys and girls.
(By the way, I think you can see that I was definitely not a ‘beige and boring’ kinda shop…)
AND…I won an award for my creative contribution to the area. 💫
Born from a need to fill my own house with better furniture, I ended up adding creative flair to a whole region. It all started with an idea, I made a plan, I spotted opportunities, and made it happen.💪
Lessons learnt from starting my first creative business
- Don’t try to be perfect. Learn on the job. Find out what works. Make mistakes. Adapt.
- Sometimes the things YOU think will sell well, are not the things that bring you the most income. Find out what your clients’ needs are. I discovered my mid-century modern sideboards (or ‘credenzas’) were my most popular items, not the hand-crafted or painted items. I became known as ‘Mrs Sideboard’ in the area, as I was the only one specialised in them.
- Ask for support. I did it ALL by myself, plus I was a new mum with a baby. I was exhausted. Sourcing furniture, collecting it, carrying it, cleaning it, styling it, marketing it, selling it, often delivering it, and doing all the admin. Oh yes, and breastfeeding during the night. It was a lot. It was crazy.
- Don’t keep yourself small just because it’s the first time you are doing something. You are totally capable! Because I had no experience whatsoever running a shop, I often felt like an impostor. I undercharged, over-delivered, and didn’t always believe in myself enough. In hind-sight, I did an absolute CRACKING job.
- Don’t keep on thinking about your dream business, just start, even if you still have one leg in a day-job. You will figure stuff out along the way, and can grow as you go. With support, solid marketing foundations, and a positive mindset you can move mountains.
I will help you create your own creative business!
As a creative business coach, I help budding and new entrepreneurs create a solid foundation for their own creative business.
I help my clients to feel in control of their marketing (in a joyful and easy way!), but also take the pressure off in building their business.
I will help you build a sustainable business and plan for the future, whether that is while you are in the middle of parenthood, still in employment, or currently looking at diving fully into entrepreneurship.