Learning your local market- Small Business Advice

by | Jun 23, 2021 | Business, Laser Cutting | 6 comments

Hello everyone! I’m trying to make it a goal to post more in my blog, and since my laser cutting has taken off incredibly quick, I have been learning a lot about myself and the locals in my area that I thought could lend a hand to some good advice for those new at starting their own gig (just like me!).

Mind you, my local market is very country like. Lots of farms, animals and wildlife and VERY support local. We don’t have much franchises out my way except for a few grocery store chains.

How it all started.

First off- let me give you a little bit of my back story. I left my job in project management in Feb 2020 to pursue my freelance career. I had clients and projects lined up and some months booked until the pandemic hit. All my digital work pretty much disappeared.

I was trying to get into surface design and took some courses hoping I could get into licensing some of my illustrations. Nobody wanted to hire an artist or license any work. I kept getting kickbacks saying “Sorry but we are not currently accepting any new artists due to the pandemic”. So I had to figure out a way to make money while using my skills differently.

I noticed my handmade work and gifts were taking off very well. I was making some ornaments I was planning on giving with my handmade gifts at Christmas, and much to my shock- people went CRAZY over them instead! So while my design work in a digital sense was not going well, as soon as I started applying it to products it was a hit!

Then make a long story short- in March of 2021 I made a risky decision to purchase a laser cutter (a to be exact) and it has been a life changing decision!

So why jump and take the risk when everything else I did tanked?

Local Demand. That was my ticket.

I had people asking me again and again “Hey! Can you cut or engrave wood?”. Since 2016 I was interested in a laser and decided I would make the jump and take the risk to purchase one.

The risk immensely paid off. I started off with some test projects for my Uncle and his Police station. I did up some mugs and keychains as a thank you for his department being ever so kind fo purchasing some machine upgrades for me- my chiller and rotary. From there, word started spreading.

I had locals emailing me and calling me. When I would go out to eat at the local restaurant the owner would stop by and go over his ideas for promotional products. I wasn’t even really advertising and people seemed to really take interest.

 

Networking with locals can make a difference.

Iv’e always been an outgoing and friendly person. I’m passionate about what I do and often, that transfers onto the people that I talk to. I noticed as I started to show photos and samples of my new products and work that people started to grow more interested on how they could use my skills and products to bring their business to light with customized goods they didn’t need to outsource.

I remember one of the owners telling me a few years back he was spending $25.00 on these tiny little pins to give to his staff. He was also interested in other promotional goods but didn’t really want to outsource anything. I mentioned now with my new machine I could help bring to life those kinds of products but also make them custom to what he was looking for. He also wasn’t stuck with just plain silver pins- he could chose what colors and accents he wanted if he so desired. I talked with him about how I could bring to life his ideas and promised I would make him a sample set to give him a visual on the endless possibilities.

These are the kind of connections I build. A lot of these people I interact with I have known on a day to day and even yearly basis. You would be surprised how much word spreads. Just from one person telling their friends “Hey, check out this cool item I bought from so and so” could actually bring in new customers and networks. 

So. Where do you even start?

For me- I started back some years ago (2012 to be exact) when I was freelancing. I remember making up business cards and brochures and stopping by the local places to speak with the owners and staff about my services. This eventually led to reoccurring clients, website, illustration and design work prior to the pandemic.

I also participated in shows and events- especially craft shows regardless of how small they were. I found at some of the smallest shows people were very genuine and kind and I actually sold MORE because many had the “support local” outlook. I also feel like having an open mind to possibilities is a plus.

For example- one of my best show turn outs happened to be at a coworkers church! Everybody was so nice and there were a lot of newbie crafters there such as myself. I have been asked to make some religious decor in the future if I do more church shows; which i’m totally open to doing.

Iv’e also participated in street art events that didn’t go so hot. Each show is so different- while one show might be a bust, the next may be amazing!  

 Below are some tips that I try to keep in mind when I started out:

  • Create a brochure/ flyer that has a run down of your products and services that you offer
  • Have business cards on hand to hand out
  • Talk and speak in-person with local businesses
  • You can also try and contact the local businesses online via facebook/ website/ email with your interest
  • Remain personable and open when talking with people. Note that one project could very well lead into another!
  • To make it official- I suggest setting up a meeting with a business/ tax expert to ensure you do things legally
  • Don’t feel discouraged if a show or reach out doesn’t go so hot. It happens; so just try to keep your head up!
  • Having your own packaging helps your product stand out; especially if you do shows / send samples
  • When showing or sending samples make sure to include your business card/ contact info
  • Don’t be afraid to say no! Not all business is good business. Do not undermine your work and value to make a quick sale.
  • You never know where a network may lead. Even if a contact doesn’t work out, they may refer you to someone they know!

Whatever you do, don’t give up!

It took me a good year for things to start turning around. It wasn’t until I purchased my laser and took that risk did things start to look up for me. Just remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day- it often takes awhile to get your momentum going.

Don’t be afraid to try new things and learn. I had really thought I would be into surface design and have some licensing gigs right now- but honestly, I really love working with my laser and bringing my designs to life in ways I never even dreamed were possible.

The laser community is also amazing. It isn’t just making things; it’s learning from others and teaching those who are starting out, just as others have done to help me out.

Listen to the people around you and what they are asking for. Had I ignored all that, I wouldn’t have found this calling.

At the end of the day- whether you are doing this as a hobby, a hobby turned business or are trying to start a business; this all takes time and some patience.

Try to take a deep breath and make the most of your time. 

You got this!

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Tanyaa
Tanyaa
2 years ago

Congrats on the site feature gurl! Your work looks fabulous. Saw the feature and wanted to ask you how ya held it all together when things were not going so well. I dont have a laser but I started with a Cricut and I am struggling. I thought about moving to make soaps since everyone in that group seems to be doing well making soap but I dont know. I never tried it. How did you know at what point did you need to switch it up? I could use all the advice I could get.

Xoxo Thank you! Tanyaa.

Mary M Designs
Mary M Designs
2 years ago

What about using your digital art to sell in the form of licensing files? I know it is big in the Cricut and Silhouette community. I presume it could be similar with laser cutting? Was thinking maybe you can sell the design files for multi use for people like me who use a Cricut and to people who have lasers if it can be in standard SVG format. Can you reuse surface designs? I can’t say I am familiar with the context and what really makes something a surface design verses a graphic or illustration. I just figure if you… Read more »

Stacy
Stacy
2 years ago

How does one actually do surface design? No offense but I can’t imagine it being a industry that is sustainable. I was curious what exactly it is and how it makes revenue. Maybe I’m just not familiar with it though. Glad to hear your business took a turn for the best.

Have you thought about making a podcast? I listen to small business ones all the time and think it could be something to share your story. You seem personable and others can relate.

About the Author

Kristina is a full time freelance illustrator, graphic & web designer as well as an avid DIY crafter! She loves nothing more than creating all kinds of things. This blog showcases her latest projects, shop updates, stories, reviews, freebies and more!

When Kristina isn’t making stuff, she can be found hanging out with her Goldendoodle pup Daisy and her two Axolotls, Pickles & Popcorn.

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