10 Tips for Opening a Successful Creative Small Business!

Recently, I have received more and more questions about my business from people who are curious as to how I started a sustainable and thriving creative venture. I certainly don't attribute all my business growth to my own deeds- the creative community around me is so strong and supportive, and I am SO thankful for all the wisdom, advice and learning I have gleaned from my creative friends! In the past year and a half, CIE has grown from a little dream in my wedding-obsessed head, to a full-scale floral and wedding design and planning boutique. How did it happen, you ask? Here are 10 tips that I embraced to help me open my creative small business! 

Chelsea anderson photography

Chelsea anderson photography

1. Don't be afraid to make smart investments up-front.

For me, this was investing in a quality inventory of vessels for my floral designs, education, online classes and seminars, styled shoots and more! These things cost money up-front, but I decided that each of these were vital to me opening and running a sustainable and growing business! I never went into debt with any of these investments (and would strongly advise against that for a number of reasons); rather these were smart investments that basically ended up paying for themselves!!

2. Networking is key

When I first opened CIE, networking intimidated me. Even now, I feel that I prefer being in a 1:1 situation than being in a big group. Whichever way you feel most comfortable-putting yourself out there and meeting new friends is almost a mandatory requirement to having a successful small business. Particularly in the wedding industry, we all help each other! I have met so many colleagues turned friends that I know I can count on to help me design for upcoming weddings, give me their honest opinion, and jump on board with a new project or idea- you simply can't do it all alone!!

3. Social media is your best friend

I'm sure you have heard that social media is the new best friend to the small business owner, and I really do believe it's true!! In the past year, I have steadily increased engagement on my social media sites (particularly Pinterest and Instagram), and from posting more and more intentional, better-quality photos with beneficial content, I have seen a substantial increase in my social media wedding referrals! My advice is to make a game plan and set a goal for your social media interactions, and then see how your engagement continues to grow!

Kierstyn Peterson Photography

Kierstyn Peterson Photography

4. Getting legal is smart

An interesting facet to being a small business owner is being a legal small business owner. Nobody likes paying taxes, having to file a sales tax return or renewing business licenses, but guess what? That is the difference between having a lucrative hobby and owning an actual business. And heaven forbid some crazy client decides they want to sue you- just get your business legal and you won't regret it! It brings peace of mind, credibility and authority in your industry, and frankly, it should be a sign of your professionalism to clients. Most higher-end venues require business general liability insurance anyways, so getting legal is smart! Tax write offs are fun too!!

5. Keep Learning and Practicing!

Once you're a legal business owner doesn't mean that the learning stops there! I believe it's so important to keep growing and learning new techniques from online videos and classes, in-person workshops or seminars and even just talking with friends in similar industries! Practicing and really honing your skills will make you a stronger, more desirable small business, and clients appreciate your investment in bettering your business, since it will better their experience with you! If you're a photographer, this could mean participating in a lighting workshop, or if you're a calligrapher, this could mean learning a new brush stroke from a fellow vendor. Whatever the case, keep learning and growing- it will only help you!!

6. Styled Shoots

Styled Shoots are an amazing way to network with new vendors, try out new concepts and ideas and really "flex" your creative muscles! My advice is to be selective with shoots you choose to be a part of- you can get burnt out quickly, but if you choose projects you are passionate about, you will feel SO good!! Research vendors you admire and would like to work with, and collaborators whose style is similar to yours. After the shoot, consider submitting it for a wedding blog or publication in an online magazine! Being featured on different blogs besides your own gives your business additional credibility, more backlinks to your site (good for SEO), and is a fun way to be recognized for your hard work!

Mai Fotography

Mai Fotography

7. Keep that full or part-time job until you feel confident in your business income!

Having a full or part-time job and running a small business can be TOUGH. I get that. But- I encourage you to enjoy that paycheck as long as you can, until you feel confident in the income your business is providing! Their is no timeline or measure of success for how quickly you can go "full-time", and your other job is likely giving you some additional financial freedom to be able to make smart business investments! As time-consuming as it is to have 2 jobs, stick it out for as long as you can! Most creative small businesses don't have a steady paycheck, so you want to be positive that your business income can meet you or your family's needs before taking the plunge!!

8. Speak to your online audience

Social media is such a powerful way to market yourself, but to use it most effectively, you need to know who you are speaking to!! Finding your online audience helps you really hone in on those who are in need of your goods and services, and then social media helps them get to know you! Your ideal client (and/or audience) is out there waiting to hear how you and your service/product can help them; make sure you are speaking directly to those who could be potential clients! For example, I am a floral and wedding designer, so my online audience is brides and fellow wedding vendors! :)

9. Taking risks is good! (as long as you're smart about it)

Taking a risk can be scary, but also SO fulfilling for your business. If you begin to feel that you want to take a risk, talk it over with a trusted, honest business mentor or friend! They will be honest with you, help you weigh the pros and cons, and pursue the best course of action! Making smart risks will more than likely propel your business forward, and give you increased exposure, inquiries, clientele, and more!

Courtney Inghram Events Richmond and Charlottesville Wedding Florist

10. Find your tribe!!

Finding your tribe is the MOST important piece of advice I can give you. If you find a group of people (or even just a few) who support your business, value your creativity and believe in you, the sky is seriously the limit. For me, those people are first and foremost my husband, who helps me process hundreds and hundreds of blooms for every wedding, drives with me helps me set-up and even secures ribbons to my boutonnieres. I seriously could NOT do a wedding day without him. My family and my husbands family are huge supporters of my business as well- my FIL has made my arches and pergolas that I use for weddings (how awesome is that?!) And my industry friends have always got my back, like my BFF Ruth! We support each others businesses whole-heartedly and cheer each other on every step of the way! That my friends, is what will ultimately make or break your small business. Find your tribe, hold them tight, and let them know how much you appreciate their love and support!!

So, I would love to hear from YOU- are you thinking about opening a creative small business? What are you passionate about, and have you thought about blessing others with your talents? Comment below, or shoot me an email at courtneyinghramevents@gmail.com!