This was originally written for Urban Makers a fabulous market community. Its written with market traders in mind but full of good tips for all small retail business. All the images are mine taken at UM markets over the years of us working together.
I love the beginning of a new business, but I know even with an amazing skill or fabulous product starting up a brand or managing a business can feel overwhelming. From logistics to creative there are many areas to build and a whole host of skills required to maximize what your business is capable of.
Here are some key areas to explore; plus tips for achieving growth and success; and you do not have to be a new business to benefit from brand building advice, I recommend that any independent business look inward, there is always room to improve!
Top of my list; no surprise is, know and celebrate your brand. Make sure your business name and details are remembered at every point of contact, it is how you get discovered and recommended. Also, it makes it easier to create those all-important repeat customers! (A new customer costs five time more than closing an existing one). Whether it is an impressive banner on your stand, a pretty thank you card in each customer’s order or a regular introduction post across social media, make it obvious who you are and what you are about. Your goal is brand awareness, something that tends to have a low short-term metric, but so important to the longevity of brands.
Your branding goes well beyond your logo. A catchy tag line, the colours you use and how you describe yourself, (and how much you share) all add to the experience you give customers which helps them bond. These aspects of your brand might be very personal to you, or present without you realising it. Brainstorming the key aspects of your brand (your USP’s) helps you understand, what is important to you and your customers, and hopefully with plenty of overlap between the two (your niche).
Also, the better you get at describing, who you are and what you do the easier it will be when it comes time to do PR and marketing outreach. Being concise, engaging, quality and importantly consistence, is the key to becoming a recognised & desirable brand.
Ask people what the first thing they think of, when they encounter your business. Bright colours, exquisite detail, botanical knowledge, soft fabrics, ethically sourced etcetera, and make them your core elements.
FAVOURITE IRL EXAMPLE
Sweets on the stand themed with your brand. Whether it is retro or literal, this little touch works well at markets, trade shows and even networking events. Free food always breaks the ice!
BE PRODUCT SAVVY
If I asked you for your flagship product, can you instantly tell me what it is? A key product or collection should be at the core of your brand and your strongest seller. You need to know it inside-out and sell it regularly, whatever the platform. It should sit perfectly amongst a diverse product selection across a variety of price points, add-on impulse items & seasonal options.
That diverse product range allows your sales to fluctuate across the life span of your business and the influence of industry/customer trends too. At the end of the day double down on what works for you, to maintain your income whilst balancing experiments into latest ideas to keep your offering fresh. It can sometimes feel like you are doing too much, which is true. So, focus on what make you unique, your value points and what you feel most strongly about.
If in doubt do a little research on; competitors, your favourite brands, and industry news, there is a wealth of information out there, so use data to back up your decisions. This also applies when it come to your sales outlet – whether it is online, a market, pop-up shop or gallery exhibition, see what already does well in that space before jumping in. Are your customers active there already or are you trying to evaluate a new idea with minimal outlay.
This can also be a suitable time to consider additional revenue sources outside products. This could be during your start-up; you might, maintain a part time job or make your creative work for you as needed. A couple of examples I have seen work well; illustrators/artists taking bespoke commission or contracts for magazines, ceramists making bespoke orders for restaurants or corporate gifts. This might work well at certain times of year and help bolster slow sales periods.
I have seen the elation of makers who make their side hustle their full-time gig, so never shy away from being potentially profitable and networking opportunities.
TIP for the MARKET
You have a short window in which to catch customer’s attention in a busy market environment or even just a single sentence to hook someone in. Have your star product front and centre mention it first and have follow up options depending on their reaction.
TIP for later If your long-term plans include wholesale having a strong core product or collection is instrumental. Re-work it & experiment till it is perfect and be comfortable having it in stock in larger quantities.
BE PART OF A COMMUNITY
If you are here with Urban Makers, then you have already been introduced to an amazing group of people, welcome! Being part of an active community makes it easier to learn new skills, get advice, bounce ideas of fellow makers and gives exposure to opportunities you might not have imagined.
You need to be active – there is no office banter especially at the beginning of your journey, so make some. Talk to those who did it before you, and let others know what you are up to; collaborations are particularly excellent for small businesses as they blend your talents and audiences. Having a group in common is a great ice breaker, if you are a little nervous, it gives you options to meet new faces at events. Speaking of your face! get it out there, have it visible on your platforms and introduce yourself alongside your brand. This is especially vital if you are the maker. (If your nervous about selfies, I recommend getting a photographer, they know what they are doing, and the results will be quality).
Do not forget, your community starts with your customers, the first one thousand customers/ mailing list joiners (capture that data!) tend to be your most dedicated and supportive, so make use of them. Know your audience and build a buyer persona to keep in your head when deciding if new leads will work for you. Good customer service fits here too, as a happy audience means more sales, recommendations & reviews, and general good business karma. The best eureka moments I have heard of, have come from an offhand customer comment.
Delving into who is buying from you should expose your VIP customers or influencers. Those that post about you often to social, buy from you regularly for themselves or gifts and convince others to support you. They are your unofficial marketers and rewarding them can really add to your reach. You can also reach out locally on online groups or other small venues that might match your goals.
Nurture leads wherever possible, you never know where they will lead, if the other side is receptive that is usually time well spent. This often leads to the start of your own team too; I find hiring from within your circle of entrepreneurs, tends to make the best matches.
TIP for the bold If there is not a small business group in your area, make one!
Market TIP Bring a friend; one on one can be hard and tiring especially with early starts. Share your pitch, (if this is allowed) with another maker you match well with to share the load.
Now this could be easy or hard depending on your personality, but some organisation is essential for a successful business. So, my advice is to find a method that works for you and embrace it, whether it’s folders, spreadsheets, apps or other be consistent with your record keeping and your routine.
When wondering where to start you can’t go wrong with a business plan, you’ll find many examples online with similar headers from your elevator pitch to your SWOT analysis. Don’t be intimidated! They are a great tool to get you always thinking and refining your business. I like to archive old copies so that you can see how your goals and perception of your business changes over time.
Make a weekly or monthly schedule to try set aside specific time to work so you can quantify hours spent in your product price – also having business hours gives customer a time to reach out to you and gives you permission not to reply until the working day begins. They show up when you say, and you can prepare for them better that way. A routine really helps with a healthy life balance but until you have it worked out don’t feel silly scheduling in breaks, thinking time or family activities as these things often get forgotten. Putting in the extra effort during product launches or the busy Christmas period is different from always working and your business not being viable to make a profit or be worked on by anyone other than yourself.
A designated workspace is a tip most recommended to me by makers in helping with all of this. You feel more professional having a set space and can more easily step into the right frame of mind to work.
Now I am not saying be perfect but plan-ahead by setting up as you mean to grow. Have goals for yourself – especially on market/event/launch days – financial or non-financial – brand awareness or customer feedback on a new idea, gather customer data etc. Have handouts, clear pricing to make it easier to buy and plenty of stock to encourage a good customer experience. Whether that’s triple testing your card reader or making special deals, bundles or event prices prepare your own brand offering and then repeat.
As you grow you will also have more opportunities to automate to save you time and headaches. From Content Management Systems and AI copy generators to mailing list onboarding and up-sell apps there is a host of technology that comes in handy with either a little time and know how or some well spent pounds on an expert.
Right from the start separate out your personal and business finances – even if it’s just metaphorically to start with i.e I have £500 for my business and that’s all I can spend, then tally your sales and work out what you made and what you have left then restart your total for the next month.
We have talked people, products and planning now… let’s talk mind set. After working so hard to establish yourself and working out your set up sometimes a spanner will be thrown in the works. Being able to pivot is a really useful business mindset and an asset that small businesses are more likely to possess but not harness.
Being flexible after all that talk of planning might seem a bit cruel but be ready to tweak your plans it if needed. It’s hard when it’s something you make, or just your own business to be critical but a little self-reflection especially if you use data collected to back it up is a huge asset.
Look at your competitors and your industry to source trends and changes coming your way. Sometimes you can plan ahead other times you might have to react. You will very smug if you see something coming but only can be truly proud if you act accordingly. Try a new platforms or event maybe explore a new medium before others makes you a trail blazer and being the first to the party always has merit.
The last few years has seen huge changes in both the national and global environment, which affects so much from manufacturing to rent. In an uncertain market being accepting of changes can be the difference between surviving or not. Letting some part of your business go, old products or tools perhaps that no longer give you the return you need doesn’t have to be all bad news. It could just be time for a new phase and trimming back or trying something new can be exciting.
Businesses tend to need to evolve at key mile stones 1, 3, 5 years; remember your business birthdays and look pack at my other key areas to consider your options.
Try a modular display that you can put together in different ways, so you maintain your branding/style but can vary the stock and layout if you do regular markets.
Finally, to the fun bit, being creative! – as a small business there are some things you might feel are out of reach but whatever the budget there are ways to shine. If you are in charge, you can set the tone whether it’s the chatty way you word your newsletter or the recycled wrap you use to send your parcels. Focus on those USP’s and lean into them, celebrate being small, local, diverse etc. do local little markets or a cultural celebration you believe in.
Don’t forget to market yourself– tell everyone. Use social media savvily, tag the market, the location, the other traders. If you and another trader are doing the same event share the marketing workload and your skill sets. Trading services is a great way to save money in the creative community embrace the historic barter system.
Also, you can be so much more ingenious that a large business stuck in a routine, if you have a cool idea or want to react to an event in real time you can. Try an old school poster or host an exhibition in an unusual space go for it. Unless it’s got a huge price tag you can pay what have you got to loose?
Some interesting out of the box marketing that caught my attention; rewards programmes are great, try a ‘customer of the month’ award program and give away something quirky. Or try a behind the scenes video of an event people wouldn’t normally get access too, maybe even a buying errand, we all like a secret.
The goal is to make yourself memorable – instagrammable you could say. Take up space by having your own presence in person or online that is all yours. There will be lots of advice and best practice to consider but the limit here is your imagination.
Keep your quirks. If you have a handwritten element, tidy it and digitise it but keep it. The strangest things are the most interesting.
Have I got your business brain buzzing? Did lots of this sounds familiar or are you scribbling down new ideas. I’d love to hear your small business challenges and of course any tips that really helped you. Join the conversation today over at @urbanmakers_uk and tag me @the_brand_curator