4 Takeaways from Starting a Business During Lockdown

Hello and happy Thursday. It’s been a little while since I’ve written a post – I’ve taken some time to focus on setting up a business and steering that ship along the choppy waters of the past few months. This blog feels like the perfect place to share what I’ve learnt so far.

Obviously, I don’t have all the answers. And yes, trying to set up anything during such an uncertain time feels like a daredevil act. But I’d quit my job in January, after a few years of feeling very lost in my career and holding my abilities in very low esteem. I’d got to the point in my life where not taking action, not making the big leap, was more dangerous than doing it. The world changed dramatically after I left my job but I don’t regret my decision. As jobs (especially in the arts, my previous industry) get cut back all around, breaking out in my own seems like the best way to take back control. So there you have the context, and here are a few takeaways from how it’s been over the past few months.

Build the business you want to build, not the one you think (or are told) you should build

When I first left my job, I toyed with the idea of training as a proofreader and copywriter – I looked up expensive courses, but the prospect didn’t fill me with passion and excitement. I signed up for a freelancing website, but scrolling through all the other people all over the world who could do what I did (better or cheaper) was disheartening. But I have an English degree, and a Masters. I’m good with text. This is the sensible thing to do, surely. I berated myself for not wanting it enough.

This was back in March, and I decided just to take a week off to focus on painting – which was what I really wanted to do. I had three canvases in the cupboard (I’d bought them ages ago and not got round to using them). So I started spending my mornings painting, and it filled me with so much joy. I’m good at painting oils on canvas, it’s always been something I’ve felt comes naturally to me. I spent a good few weeks doing that for the fun of it, and stopped worrying about the business that I should be doing. These paintings have a value, and I hope someday I’ll be able to sell them through galleries and art fairs. I’ve already sold one that will be used as a gift. But doing these paintings has also opened up other business ideas for me – such as commissioned designs that combine art with storytelling, and hand-making / illustrating cards. I’m now building on these to supplement and diversify how I earn artistically. I’m still struggling to work out the balance of what artistic work is going to have the best return, and need most of my time. But key point: it was by allowing myself to do the thing I genuinely wanted to do that exciting, unforeseen options began to open.

The world and his mother has an opinion on what your skillset is, what work you should do, and what will make you money. But the main opinion you have to listen to is your own – you’re the one who has to pour all the energy, time, risk and effort into building the business. So make it something you genuinely love.

Some things, like selling ice houses in the dessert, are simply impractical. But don’t be afraid to explore the impractical thing, and refine it into something that will work using your talents, your passion and your tenacity (and you can only be tenacious on stuff you care about!).

Hack: Give yourself a trial week to work on that mad idea you’re not allowing yourself to explore (even if it’s just a bit of time each day, see below!). Imagine you are getting paid for that work. How do you feel and what do you achieve?

Just start

If you have an idea for a business you’d like to run, just start it. Start it now. Make one item, ask one person whether you can do that thing you do for them – get paid for it, even a tiny amount. Just do it.

I’ve been really scared over the past few months of failing, of products not looking good enough, of paintings being actually a bit rubbish. Sometimes they are, and that’s fine. It’s only by learning through making ‘bad’ things that you create the ‘good’ stuff.

You have to push yourself to do the actions but be patient with yourself about the results.

Hack: Time blocking! Set a timer for at least 20 minutes each day. Everyone can find 20 mins, even if it’s just getting up earlier or denying yourself some social media. 20 mins each day will create change – there is a lot of power in tiny, regular steps. I’ve started using the Tide app, which allows you to set a length of focus time (you can also use it to set your sleep time, nap time and meditation / breathing time). The app will count down that time for you, and it can also play background white noise such as ocean waves, rain, or a storm breaking to help you feel calm and focused. When you’ve completed a time block, it will count down the length of your break (which you can preset). It also records how many blocks of time you achieved that day. I’ve found it invaluable for the days where I feel like it’s really hard to get going.

Don’t worry about perfect, people are happy to watch you trying

I really struggle to present myself on social media, as an introvert having to step up into such a loudspeaker is hard for me. I felt crippled by pressure – like everything I shared had to be the best possible reflection of me. But actually, I’ve found it so much easier just focusing on being honest about what I’m doing, what I’m learning and what’s been hard. There is no need to present a perfect face. We all want real.

The first business you start will not immediately be successful. The first products you make will be a bit rubbish. This is inevitable – you haven’t done this before, and everything is therefore a prototype that will get sleeker. Starting a business has proven a wonderful way to work through my fears of failure and exposure.

Hack: Stop worrying so much about what you post, as long as it looks ok and isn’t offensive, it’s good to go. Don’t overthink it.

Be clear on your purpose, and trust the niche will fall into place

I’ve been hitting myself repeatedly with a big stick called Niche for the past couple of months. I should have a niche. What is my niche? How do I focus myself to appeal to my chosen niche?

When I spend lots of time with paper and pen, or on a laptop, trying to ring fence my niche, I feel overwhelmed and lost. As I struggle with a niche, my business’ purpose keeps shifting in and out of focus.

But if I take a breath and step away from over-analysing and self doubt, I believe my purpose is to make practical and joyful products that encourage others to create. As long as I keep that in mind (I might have to stick it up on the wall) then it feels easier to get on with making things, and sharing them, and trust that the niche will become clear from the products.

Whilst I definitely believe that finding your niche is important, it’s a scary and daunting term. But I keep reminding myself that it’s not about me and them, it’s about how I’m among them with this great thing they can also use. It’s softer if you think of it as your tribe, your common interest gang, your people who share an aesthetic or need. They seem easier to find if you just relax.

Hack: Stop analysing and theorising, and get making. Trust things will become clear through action. I recommend writing or drawing out an ideal work day routine (see image above) that you can come back to when you’re not sure what to do next. It’s a map for your time, which you can update as you need to.

I hope these points help anyone else out there in the early stages of starting something new (I’m with you!). I’m going to do more of these blogs as things develop, as well as resume my more regular content.

But for now, let’s get making these ideas happen!

(p.s I don’t get any sponsorship to mention Tide, I’ve just enjoyed using it!)