Updated: Aug 14
Working for yourself has got to be one of the best feelings in the world, especially when you are doing something you love that has grown from a hobby.
But impressing your family and friends with your beautiful art form is not the same as making a living from it, so below are some things to consider before you take the huge leap of faith you’ll need.
They’re in no particular order, and most are relevant to any new business venture, but for the purposes of simplicity, we’ll base our examples on starting a Furniture Artists Business because, after all, that’s what we do best!
If you’re going to start a business selling upcycled furniture, you need a steady supply of suitable, saleable, furniture to upcycle. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? But it may not be as simple as you think – bear in mind you need a STEADY supply, not a feast or famine situation.
Look out for house clearances, auction houses, vintage furniture fairs, recycling centres. Your local free newspaper and Facebook Market Place are also really great places to find new pieces.
Build and cultivate a list of trusted suppliers, it will pay dividends in the long run.
If you are giving up paid employment to start your business, you’re taking a huge leap of faith. Bravo! You will of course have considered how you’re going to pay the household bills, but there are other things to think about:
· Buying materials - from furniture to paintbrushes, and everything in between
· Paying rental for premises/storage
· Running a company vehicle and/or paying couriers
· Paying an accountant – it might seem like a big expense, but a good accountant could save you a heap of money. Ditto a solicitor.
· How long can you survive with no income? There may be times when you are unable to work, or the marketplace is a little quiet.
· Seasonality – bear in mind that, unless you’re selling an essential item, (e.g. food), you’re going to have peaks and troughs so make sure you’re planning and budgeting.
You may decide you’re going to sell from a physical shop front rather than online, in which case location, location, location is pretty much everything. But over and above that, you’re definitely going to need somewhere to store, and work on, your pieces. This could be at no cost if you’re lucky enough to have space at home, or with a family or friend, but as you expand you may need to consider renting extra space in the form of a workshop, or as a storage space.
4. Company Name
You’re going to need a company name, something that reflects your personality and what your company does. There are lots of fun company name generators online, but do be careful, once registered you’ve got to live with it unless you go through the cost of a rebrand. Don’t use words that are difficult to spell or pronounce, and bear in mind your company name is often the first thing that people see on business cards, emails, marketing, adverts etc. And try not to make it too descriptive, or specific, otherwise you’re backing yourself into a creative corner.
5. Brand Ethos
“Ethical consumerism” – customers who buy specifically to minimise the impact on the environment - is not a trend, it is a lifestyle that more and more consumers are adhering to. People want to know what they’re buying, and who they’re buying it from. It goes without saying that as a Furniture Artist, you are also, by definition, supporting a sustainable industry. But more than that, customers want to know what your business and brand ethics are, so tell them. Better still, make it part of your company logo.
6. Marketing Strategy
Thankfully, in the age of social media, you do not need a small fortune to have an effective marketing strategy. There is a wealth of free materials and mechanics available to you. You could create your own website, launch a YouTube channel, use Instagram, Facebook and/or TikTok, and an email campaign is essential. You’ll also have to do some research and keep on top of what is selling, who is buying, and how they’re buying, (through which websites etc.). And, you’ll need to do some competitor research and make sure you’re telling customers what makes you and your brand stand apart. It all sounds very daunting, but once you’re in the swing of it, it will become part and parcel of your daily routines
To sell something, you need someone to buy it. The world of commerce has never been smaller, or bigger, depending on how you look at it, than it is today. You can buy literally anything, from anywhere in the world. The key is to build up a loyal customer base and keep adding to them. They will not always buy everything from you, but if you look after your customers they will look after you: they’ll spread the word, they’ll leave a lovely review, and they’ll help you build trust and your company reputation. Ultimately, they’ll make, or break, your business. It’s a sobering thought, but without them you have no business.
8. Terms and conditions
When you’re setting up your business, before you sell anything, you need to consider your terms and conditions. Basically, what you promise to do for your customer and what you expect from them. These should be printed very clearly on your website and on all appropriate documentation and should include:
· Your payment terms – what, when, how?
· Your returns/refund process – under what circumstances do you accept returns, and how quickly will you refund them?
· Complaints process – if your customer is not happy, what do they do?
· Postage and packaging – what are your costs, timings etc.?
You do not need a solicitor to start a business in the UK, but there are some legal requirements you will need to adhere to if you want to stay on the straight and narrow. For example, you’ll need to register with Companies House as either a limited company, or a sole trader. You’ll need to complete a tax return, and you may want to make sure any other partners or interested parties are protected, (as well as yourself), with legally binding agreements. Also bear in mind anything you might want to patent or trademark. And please do make sure you have appropriate insurance.
So, much like professional accountancy advice, legal advice might seem costly but could save you time, energy, heartache, and money in the long run.
One area you might like to delve in to, is the wonderful world of commissions. Basically, you are creating a bespoke piece to someone else’s specifications. That in itself is a huge compliment to your work and your company’s reputation and ethos. But there are still some things to consider here:
· Make sure your commission process is clear and easy to follow
· Financially – is it worth your while?
· Timeframe – be realistic – do you have the time?
· What are you supplying versus your client – are you supplying the piece and restyling to the customer’s requirements, or are you completing a piece they own?
· Make sure the arrangement is watertight and all parties are very clear with what you are doing, how long it will take, and what the costs will be
· Insurance – are you insured if the piece is damaged in your care or during transit
Phew! That’s a lot to think about.
I know starting your own furniture-painting business can be a scary step into the unknown, but if you follow these 10 considerations, you'll avoid many of the pitfalls and be on the right track to success.