5 Tips for Small Business Owners



5 Tips for Aspiring Artists and Business Owners… 


If you're like me (well, a younger version of me) you dream of the day you will be able to quit your job and support yourself solely on an income you create by doing your dream job! It's an exciting thought, but a slightly more scary reality. How do you know you're ready to take this step? How can you be sure that doing your favorite 'hobby' (ie photography, painting or sewing) as a career won't change the way you feel about it in time? These are valid questions. I want to share a few quick tips that helped me, as a young artist, to put things into perspective and gain a little bit of mental staying-power for my creative career. Don't be naive about 'how great it's going to be', be prepared and do your research! Owning a business is considerably more work than working for another company. Doing a 'dream job' requires a level of sacrifice that can be overwhelming at times, but the payoff is that you have the opportunity to create something that love! Owning an independent business is not for the faint of heart. Here are 5 quick tips for those considering this lifestyle and are just getting started… 

1. Good planning means more than hard work. 

When I started my business I felt like the key to success was to never stop making things, never sleep and never get caught up with one project for too long. Boy was I wrong! Good planning is infinitely more important than hard work. You need both, but without the plans your work will not get you very far. My tip is to spend quality time each week making a goal list and carry it with you everywhere! You'll also want to plan 'big picture' ideas at least once per season (and plan a few seasons ahead). Post your goals where you will see them and make sure that all the hard work you are putting in on individual projects is also serving a larger purpose! 

2. Time is not money. 

This old adage might be true in some scenarios, but I feel it can be an unhealthy mindset for small business owners who are just getting started. The fact is that when you start a creative business you can (and should) expect to do hundreds of hours of groundwork in the first few years that you will never see a penny for! It's the only way to get a small operation set up for long term success. Tasks like photo shoots, blogging, bookkeeping and online advertising are jobs you'll need to perform for no pay. Keeping a mental checklist of the hourly rate you are earning in the first few years can be just plain depressing. In fact, many new business owners choose to reinvest all of their profits for the first few years! Instead of focusing on the hourly rate you are earning (or not earning) focus on the value of the business you are creating! 

3. Marketing to the masses is a BAD move for small businesses. 

In many conversations I've had over the past few years I've heard new business owners explain to me how they can't understand the lack of interest in their product because they feel that their items have a very wide appeal. It's important to understand that marketing to a mass audience (the way Wal-Mart or Target does) is a smart choice for large corporations, but an unwise choice for small, creative businesses. The number one reason it's better to market toward a small audience is that it makes your business stand out. Being different is an advantage, not a disadvantage. If you don't believe me yet, think about your last few shopping experiences on Etsy. There are seas of sellers selling similar items in similar styles, but who stands out to you… which sellers do you remember? 

My advise is to choose a small niche for your company or product line and make your products VERY distinctive. Use ideas that aren't being used and be a trend starter, not just a trend follower. 

4. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses

I'm not very good at answering my e-mail. I need rewards, reminders and encouragement to stay on top of it. I feel discouraged and drained just thinking about it. This is a big sign that it's a weakness. Admitting to myself that this is a weakness and that it's never going to be a strength has given me more power to manage it. There are lots of ways to improve, but I didn't realize that until I was able to admit that it wasn't my strength. 

 I am really good at illustrating and thinking of new ideas. These things take me almost no time at all and make me feel HAPPY and inspired. This is a sign that it's a strength. I know that after a long night of doing these things that I will be over-the-moon excited and will be able to fall asleep with a smile on my face! This is also a great thing for me to realize and admit. When you know your strengths and weaknesses you understand more about yourself and how to create a schedule that's more productive and inspired! 

5. Market for the audience you want. 

This is your dream job. You owe it to yourself to make products you LOVE and you'll need an audience who 'gets it'. Once you know what you want to create you need to test your current audience/market and see if they respond well to it. Locally or online you already have a market, even if it's small. If your market is not responsive to the product you are so proud of, don't shelve your idea. It's your responsibility, as an artist and business owner, to develop an audience that loves your vision as much as you do! This may take years, but it's worth it! If you run a primarily local business you may need to move. If you run an online business you will need to focus your blog, branding and online marketing toward an audience that loves what you love. It may sound overwhelming, but out of all the tips I've given today this is the most important! 

Thanks so much for reading my new '5 Tips' feature! My next 5 Tips will be for bloggers, coming next week. XO. elsie

  • Thank you so much for posting this! I’m exactly in a spot to be reading this since I’m hoping to start an online store and do what I love for a living. Your tips are very encouraging and what I needed to hear. I look forward to more of your 5 tips posts! Much love!

  • I’d never thought about your tip number 3 before but it makes so much sense! I never buy something online that i could just buy at a supermarket so why would you make something commercial? After about 2 years selling on Etsy i’m now opening a new shop and starting from scratch, and this time i’m doing it properly. I will be forwarding these tips onto my friends πŸ™‚

  • elsie, THANK YOU SO MUCH…
    these are all that I need!!

  • You are like a breath of fresh air! Love looking at the daily inspiration on your blog! πŸ™‚

  • totally agree, especially about being able to reinvest back to the business.

    i love this: Instead of focusing on the hourly rate you are earning (or not earning) focus on the value of the business you are creating!

  • Great advice Elsie. As far as emails, one thing you might consider is outsourcing that task to a “virtual assistant.” You can pay them around $4 an hour to read all of your emails and follow specific guidelines you predetermine. Basically they are a filter for you. Most of the assistants have the equivalent of a Harvard MBA and are very competent if you give good direction. πŸ˜€

  • I found that tips very helpful, to start a brand making everything yourself is very hard and any advise is great πŸ™‚

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you! πŸ™‚ This is *so* great! I’m so happy about this series and can’t wait to the next 5 tips. You are so inspiring and you have such an impact on my life, Elsie. Thank you.


  • Elsie,

    This is a great little post, I really like when you share things like this. Everyone within the community has their own unique take and experience. One thing I think you do a really good job with, and something I hope you’ll consider for another post like this, is creating a public persona that feels personal yet you still maintain a private life. What tips do you have for that?

  • thank you! I always feel inspired after leaving your blog;) I’m an older version of you, and sometimes, I think I’m too old, I found what I’m made for too late (or really, put it on the backburner for too long-I went 20 years without doing a drawing or anything else creative, but it found me again-creativity I mean!) Yet, I’m going to get to 50 (I hope) whether I follow this “new” dream or not, and it’s much more fun to follow it…..
    anyways, sorry for rambling!
    have a great day:)

  • Elsie – these are awesome tips! Thanks so much for this new section! I know you have so much useful info to share!

  • hi elsie!

    thanks so much for a great post! i’m a bit (heehee!) older than you (early 40’s) and i’m just getting started on my dream job. my kids are my priority and i’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the past 11 years. now that they are older and more self-sufficient i can start to focus on some of my goals and dreams. your blog and rva store are such an inspiration to me. thank you for taking the time to put together all the great material on your blog. i check in every day and i’m never disappointed!

    love you elsie!!!!

    xo, patty πŸ™‚

  • Thanks Elsie for posting this.. everything you said is sooo true! I have been self employed for over 7 years, building my small business from scratch & now I own a small boutique filled with handmade goodness! It is a great reward for all the hardwork and sacrifices I have made.. but def, be prepared to work hard and sacrifice. I also know being passionate about what you do shows. Just because you make “something” doesn’t always mean people will buy it! It is good to know that there are people out there who understand! πŸ™‚

  • Just the little reminders I need at this time. Thank you Elsie. You continue to inspire me πŸ™‚

  • gosh…love this post and I am excited especially for the blogging one. πŸ™‚ I am working on some ideas, working on a niche, making a plan…now to find those people that love it as much as I do. Do you sometimes feel like making something is a chore rather than something you love to do? I finally decided (after our coffee chat) to make what I WANTED to make, and that made all the difference. Yay!

  • these are fantastic. Number 4 can be a challenge. It’s what I seem to be running into most with my handmade shop. It’s okay not to be wonderwoman. It’s okay to take off the cape.

  • Wow, I was just thinking the exact thing this morning while driving in to work. My job is so mundane and I don’t get to use my full potential or creative skills and it really bothers me sometimes! It’s nice to hear something like this!

  • This is wonderful, elsie! I really look up to you as I begin this journey of mine. πŸ™‚ (And I’m totally the same way with e-mails! In fact… I’m pretty sure I owe you one. I think I’ve had enough time to come up with a thoughtful response! ha)

  • thanks for this post.
    i love that you want others to be successful too.
    thanks for sharing the things that you have learned.
    …that’s all.


  • thank you thank you thank you. i am still in highschool, and one of my friends and i are planning on starting an etsy together soon, and someday i dream of owning my own photography business after college. these tips were really useful to me, because sometimes i do feel like i am making things for our etsy that are similar to things that other people have done.. and this post has given me a whole new perspective of what i want to do with our etsy, which may carry over to a store later in life. so thank you!

  • Thanks for the advice. This was a fresh take on similar articles that I have read. The one I really like is about time not being money. As a knitter.crocheter, I can’t expect to get paid by the hour but rather by the quality of the product. It helps me feel better about the money that I have made.

    xo Erin

  • These are really excellent tips for small business owners! The one I have found to be most true is “time is not money.” I was thinking today about billable hours and the amount of time I spend on building my business that is not “billable” – like portfolio work, invoicing, follow up, drumming up new business, and the like. These things are important and necessary, but it’s important to view them as a time investment. The return will come later.

    Thanks for sharing from your experience!

  • I’m much older than you, Elsie, and going into a business venture for the first time in my life. Thank you for the great info and inspiration.

  • these are super great tips! I have owned my own business and it is 24hr a day, everyday work. #3 is really good, guerrilla marketing is the best way to go!

  • Thank you so much for sharing these tips! They’re very timely for me and appreciate your perspective so much. You’re a true inspiration for me πŸ™‚

  • Thanks so much for posting this! As a person interested in pursuing my dream job (and escaping the office), I would love to hear more of your small business tips in the future. πŸ™‚

  • this post was the sign i was looking for.

    your words are encouraging and i cannot thank you enough!

  • Thank you! i’m turning 25 next week and i wish I was younger and had started sooner! you’re an inspiration!

  • Such sweet encouragement! Thank you much!

    P.S. Still lovin’ your blog!

  • Thanks so much for these tips – I’m almost ready to take my business to the next level now that I’m finishing my degree and am very excited and anxious about it – your work and words are very inspiring to me.

  • Thankyou so much for the advice! And perfect timing too as I’m planning on turning a hobby into a (small) business in the not too distance future.

    Can’t wait for the next installment!

  • Im so so so so so glad you did this. you’ve inspired to many people with this post and im certain that you’ve moved others (including me!) to make some big steps! thanks again!!!

  • Thank you for that, Elsie!! Do you think you’ll be offering your indiebiz class again in the future?

  • Love this advice, I’m so excited to start my journey down this path and so far I’m loving all the hours of free work. At least I’m going to be tired! πŸ™‚

  • Thank you for your honest advise your statement: “The fact is that when you start a creative businessΒ you can (and should) expect to do hundreds of hours of groundwork in the first few years that you will never see a penny for!” This was a very supportive statement for me to read because sometimes I feel like my wheels are just spinning. Lots of love your way!

  • These aren’t just business tips. These are tips to live life by! You focus on being unique. In a world where cookie cutter corporations are most appreciated, what your business is, is truly a diamond in the rough. And it does take all those things you mentioned to thrive and survive. The world needs to start realizing that differences and uniqueness are worthwhile in this world. thank you for adding to that kind of world, not the cookie cutter kind!

  • Love your tips, Elsie. These not only apply to running a business also, to any dream you want to make a reality. Look forward to next tips.

  • Thanks Elsie…you are such a motivator and i SO love your honesty!! i appreciate that most of all because the reality is what helps you to learn from mistakes and to grow! thanks again!

  • I LOVE the 5 tips feature! I have read both and appreciate all you’ve had so say in them. Thanks! πŸ™‚

  • What a wonderful advice. Currently I’m still working at the company but I’ve been thinking to start my own business.. your post is really help me to make a step. Thanks so much elsie and good luck for u always…!

  • thank you so much elsie! i also dream of owning my own shop…your advice was encouraging and helped me to keep pursuing it.

  • Hello,
    I’m a fan of your blog and i was wondering if i could get your perspective on something.
    Blogging has become quite a business in the past few years with technology becoming more available to the everyday person and you as a blogger i was wondering what the importance of marketing had in your organizational success. to be honest im writing a paper for class and i thought using blogging as an example would be more interesting than the usual big companies.
    Thank you for your time

  • this will probably sound weird, but: thankyou for blogging so beautifully! IΒ΄m hooked and lovin it! I have my own little business (but, IΒ΄m actually a older more latin version of you) and also blog…or at least try to…so i consider finding inspiration to be priceless! Gracias, and thankyou, over and over…I would like to post about your blog so you should stop by and visit! saludos! Clau

  • Focus on your goals! If you have a clear sight of where your business is heading to, then you’ll be successful. Keep moving forward! Also, when you’re dealing with people, make sure that you establish a bond between them.

    Uhmm… I guess that’s all I can add to your great tips. Kudos to you and good luck to all those who are looking to start a new business!

  • With a solid plan in place, the next thing to do is to live by it and make sure that at the end of each day, there’s an accomplishment. You’re right – owning a business takes more work than working for a company, yet imagining that making a career out of your passion is something to motivate us. And since we’re on the topic of business, this is so much like a thriving company. We write business plans, hire a competitive workforce, install the needed software to use, and all that. Once everything’s in place, we’re on our way to success! These tips are handy!

  • Great article, Dear! There a lot of things people don’t understand about entrepreneurship. But with research on the internet, solutions can be found easily to problems facing entrepreneurs. Thanks for sharing your piece, it’s really helpful.

  • Thanks for being a generous artist! A fan of all things artsy~quirky. Babz

  • Oh my goodness, I just stumbled on your blog the other day and I’m so glad I did! My dream is to open my own store and sell vintage treasures as well as some of my own artwork…and my friends want to put in a bakery! Seeing your success and hearing what you have learned is SOOOO helpful and inspiring! Thanks so much!!

  • Thanks for this, such reassuring words. Number 2 is right on- so many people give up when they don’t see results straight away. You have to keep at it! x

  • Instead of “Get Rich or Die Trying”, why not “Get Security For the Future”? Because that’s the way of business. It’s not a way to raise big money fast. Money grows slowly, through time and effort. It won’t give you big bucks now, but it sure will secure your future.

  • Those are basic yet helpful tips. A good plan will always go far. Market to the right people and remember that honesty is the best policy. Starting a business is a tough wall to climb, but following those tips and combining them with hard work, perseverance and passion will help you scale that wall.

  • This is so inspiring, Elsie! I’ve been working for about two years now and I’m actually not happy with it. That’s the time I realized that I should do what I really love without depriving my happiness. That is why I put up my own business! I knew that it was risky. But in the end, I know it’s all gonna worth it. =)

  • Thank you so much for sharing, I really enjoyed it and found it extremely helpful and informative that I had to post it on my (new) blog, I linked a post to yours hope it’s ok?


  • All of your tips are brilliant, but I think the second tip is misleading.
    _____Time *IS* money. I think the title here is a little dangerous as far as advice goes and perhaps the only reason you wrote it to be contrary and provocative?

    _____The fact is, all small buisness owners need to learn the fact that “time is money” not learning this valuable lesson is the reason that most businesses fail. And nothing could be more imortant than in the craft buisness, where you are competing with chinese workers who are willing to do the exact same thing that you do for a few pennies an hour.

    _____One point you make, that should be headed, is that alot of things you will do at the beginning will not be paid well or paid at all. But considering, if you were hired off the street to work in an office, you won’t be paid much during your training session. And unless you went to school for bookeeping, you shouldn’t concider the hours you spent in bookeeping “training” ifor your small buisness at an hourly wage. However there are many, many things you should consider the hours you spend on, like getting packages together, driving to the post office, writing emails and etc. These take your time, and if ever ‘expand’ your buisness, you will have to pay someone to do that for you. The fact is that running a handmade or craft buisness is so poorly paid that in order for anyone to deal with it they have to lie to themselves, pretend that the hundreds of hours that they spent actually getting their product to market don’t count “aren’t money” and they don’t deserve to be paid for it, or they lie and say that the fact that their hubby or boyfriend pays the house payment, utilities, car and car mantainence -that those things shouldn’t factor at all into thier ‘craft buisness’, because if they factored in even a tenth of that cost, they would actually be making negative pay, even without worring about ‘time is money’.

    _____But if someone is really serious about having a buisness and not just a passtime and hobby, then you have to look at ways to cut your time and work better not harder. And the only way to do that is to remember that time is money. Because for every email you answer, you could actually be making something. For every pretty little bundle you package, every rambling blog, every perfectly staged photograph and every minute spent waiting in line at the craft super store, you could actually be sitting down and producing product, which when it comes down to it is the ONLY way to make money at crafts -to actually make something.

  • Thanks! I’m not that much younger than you, but still looking for this special thing I want to do πŸ™‚ These tips are very helpful!

  • These are EXCELLENT tips!! It is difficult, as a new small business owner, to avoid the “scatter-shot” approach. There are lots of hits, but they all miss the target! Your recommendations are a good lesson for me and all new businesses. THANKS!!

  • I just came across your blog and this article sure hit home with me! Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

  • I’ve just found your blog and this one is fabulous. Thank you for spuring me on, I don’t answer emails as quickly as I should too ;o)

  • Thank you so much, I’ve been look over the internet for some tips for this as I run a local store here in mexico for local designers. Thank you for this post. It gave me hope πŸ™‚
    You are just lovely

  • Hi Elsie,

    I have discovered your blog not very long ago, and I am in love. I am a crafter and very, very keen baker and one day me and my sister hope to open a bakery, but at the moment we are both at university. You said you opened your business at 19. I am now 27. Is it too late?

  • Thanks for the great advice!! I just discovered your blog via Pinterest, and feel so much more encouraged this morning! Thank you!!!

  • thank you! i was feeling pretty discouraged this morning: my dream job is to run a retreat in France where folks can come and do yoga, help grow and harvest vegetables, herbs and fruit, re-connect with nature. i’m so stuck on just how i’ll get people to come (and that’s once we’ve found and bought somewhere to base the retreats) that i forgot why i want to do it in the first place… to share the light yoga and nature has brought into my life. i know now that i need to focus on that passion more than how we’ll make money. xxx

  • Thanks so much! I have been on Etsy about a month and was feeling discouraged about my lack of sales. I feel much more empowered and inspired about setting goals and finding direction.

  • Thanks for posting these tips. I am a photographer with a joint business called H+M Photo with my boyfriend. We’ve been shooting together for almost two years now, and I’m in school for business, but trying to make this a career is pretty overwhelming! Thank you for your suggestions, they really help. I just found your blog and LOVE it…already nabbed the cigar box idea for my wedding present for my best friend this weekend! Check out our site or blog http://www.hmphotog.blogspot.com

  • Hello Rebecca,I need prayer for imninsoa as I am presently taking psychiatric medications for imninsoa and the doctor says that taking this drug every night to sleep can bring memory loss. Also, I need prayer to be reunited with my husband and for him to be accepted by the Government back to Canada because he has been deported in 1994 back to Italy for a silly thing he has done. He now lives with another woman in Italy, because he says he cannot come back to Canada. I have financial problems, I do not work for many years. A psychiatrist here in Montreal, Quebec, Canada told me to have a generational curse removed. May I be blessed and cured in the light of Father God.Thank you all,God bless,Maria Luisa PiacitelliI will send donation.Telephone 514-728-5707date of birth: April 3, 1958

  • Marketing is the part of things that I always get so confused on. HOW exactly do you market towards a targeted audience? HOW do you find the people toward which you feel your stuff is geared towards? Maybe I need to take a business class, but I’ve never felt like statements like “advertise to your target market” were very concrete. It just sounds like such a vague concept to me and doesn’t really help me know what literal things to do.

  • Thanks so much! I’m a 20 yr old stay at home mum and my dream is to start my own creative business like yours! I thought that I just had to keep creating things that in the hope that one day they’ll catch on! haha. Good tips, thanks xo

  • It looks like I am about 2 years late jumping into this discussion, but I stumbled upon your article yesterday and just found it very inspiring so I had to comment. Upon starting my online business, one of the biggest things that I have been forced to learn is: patience, and that in fact it truly is a virtue ( as trite as it may sound). Patience in the business aspect is truly difficult to achieve at times (especially in an ever-changing marketplace). However, you can’t rush growth or results; you have to work hard for your goals and give it time. I think that “patience” paired with all of the points you mention above, and of course paired along with perseverance, anything is possible.

    By the way, “market for the audience you want” I really love this statement. This truly illustrates the amounts of freedom you have as a creator and business owner. It’s our opportunity to be visionaries and leaders.

    Thank you for this article, I truly enjoyed it!