Small Business 101: Part One
Welcome to the WISC Blog! My name is Madisson Van Berkel. I’m a mom, wife, and elementary teacher turned business owner. Without any formal business training, I took a borrowed sewing machine and $40 worth of fabric, and grew a successful multi-six-figure handmade clothing business from scratch.
I love talking about all things business and entrepreneurship. I believe that a world where more people are living out their goals is a happier world, and I want to empower you to find success, whatever that looks like for you!
In this series, I will be focusing on my experience running a handmade clothing business, but so many of the strategies I use and will cover here will apply to any type of business. I have made my fair share of mistakes along the way, but I’ve learned so much from them; I’d love to save you from making the same mistakes and hopefully impart some wisdom along the way! We’ll be covering a variety of topics here, including product selection and marketing, compliance and insurance, hiring help, and managing your finances, just to name a few.
Starting a business is not for the faint of heart. It’s not glamorous, it’s definitely not easy, but it can be a TON of fun. Are you ready to do some hard (but very rewarding) work to move confidently towards your business goals? Then let’s do it!
Business 101: Part One - Decide on a Product (Or Service)
Over the years, I have spoken to many other business owners or aspiring business owners, and the consensus remains true. One of the BIGGEST roadblocks is arguably the single most important thing to overcome: getting started. Have you ever felt as though you had a million and one things to do, and it all feels so overwhelming that you end up doing nothing at all? Starting from the very beginning, by choosing what you’re going to sell (or what service you’ll offer) is a manageable step to check off your to-do list.
Maybe you love making doll dresses or fancy hats. Maybe you enjoy the soap making process, or drawing caricatures, making stationery, designing dog houses, or woodworking. I strongly advise that you don't just hop on a trend or start making something because it seems like it sells well. That will more than likely lead to burnout and frustration. My best advice here is to pick something you love and that you are confident in your ability to produce with a high standard of quality. Does that mean because I’m not good at making pillows yet, I can’t sell pillows? No, not necessarily. But you should absolutely hone your craft before you begin to sell. Watch tutorials, get feedback from friends, join Facebook groups or local groups specific to the skill you want to hone. Be original. You don't have to reinvent the wheel here - but think about what you can bring to the table that is unique and authentic. Practice, practice, practice. Have fun with it and don’t forget to take a few pictures along the way; it’s fun and rewarding to look back and see how far you’ve come.
Remember, just because you choose something now, doesn’t mean you are stuck with that decision. Think carefully about what you want to sell, but don’t let the fear of choosing wrong hold you back from choosing at all. I’ve sold everything - from photography, to digital designs, wedding stationery, crib sheets, wooden signs, even furniture - before finally landing on what “clicked” for me. See below for a fun walk down memory lane at some of my past efforts!
Before we finish off for the week, let’s chat about money. Sometimes it can feel daunting to start something new when you have materials to buy, machines to invest in, or courses to pay for. Sometimes those purchases may lead us to that “stuck” feeling - after all, if you’re starting a business, you’re probably in it to make money, not waste it. I like to approach this trial and error stage from a very calculated risk vs. reward point of view. I have one single objective: everything must pay for itself before I let myself off the hook.
Here’s a real life example...
A number of years ago I wanted to make wooden signs. I purchased a Silhouette machine - they cut vinyl to stencil lettering or images onto the wood. The machine and startup materials (vinyl, wood, stain, sanding blocks) cost around $400. Before making the purchase, I watched a number of tutorials to make sure this was a machine/craft that I felt confident I could master. I calculated the cost of supplies, and I checked my favourite local buy and sell pages to see what dollar value these handmade goods were commonly selling for. Then I calculated how many signs I would need to sell in order to break even. I found that simple name signs generally seemed to sell for around $25. In order to break even on my machine and supplies, I would need to sell 16 signs ($400/25 = 16). Note that I did not include my time in this calculation. While I absolutely value my time and know that paying myself fairly is a vital part of a successful business, I am absolutely willing to “volunteer” my time for myself in the trial and error stages of a business. I ultimately went on to sell a ton of signs that following year. To be honest, I was making more money selling signs on the side than I was as a full time teacher. My Silhouette machine paid for itself within a couple of weeks, and when I eventually decided that sign making wasn’t for me, I didn’t sweat it because:
- I hadn’t lost a thing
- I had gained new knowledge, experience, and skills
- I came out ahead of where I started
If you haven't chosen a product or service to offer yet, that is your task for this week! Take a look at what equipment you need (if any) - how much will it cost? Can you borrow it from a friend or family member, or even a local shop? List all the supplies and materials you'll need in order to get started, and calculate what you'll need to do to break even.
Total cost of supplies and materials (divided by) price of a single product or service = how many products/services you'll need to sell to break even
Need some more guidance? Have questions or comments about something I’ve shared? I would absolutely LOVE to hear from you. Your feedback is so appreciated as we move forward with this series! To get in touch, simply comment below, or you can email me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org
For Part Two, I’ll be sharing some details about market research, licensing, insurance, and compliance! If you liked what you read here, make sure you sign up for the newsletter at the bottom of this page to be updated when Part Two is released!