October 21, 2017 was the day I clicked “publish” on Etsy to officially start my small business, Alison Rose Vintage. As I reflect back on these last 5 years, there are a few things that many say you should do to be successful, but here are 5 things I don’t think you have to do to succeed as a small business.
1. You don’t have to listen to other people’s advice
Have you ever listened to someone give advice and then decided to do the exact opposite?
I remember when I started my last corporate job, I wanted out immediately. I met a mentor for dinner one night and explained my dilemma. She told me to “lean in” (a phrase coined by Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook) and give it 110% effort and see what happens. But after giving 110% to one company that fired me and 110% to another company where I burned out, I just didn’t want to do it anymore.
So, I leaned out instead…
I stopped attaching my self-worth to projects and promotions. I still did my job well, but I set boundaries for myself and intentionally never brought it home or overextended myself. I guess I was “quiet quitting” as they say now.
This approach freed up SO much mental space and energy for me to start thinking creatively again (like I did before grad school and climbing the corporate ladder).
Less than a year later, Alison Rose Vintage was born.
If I would’ve listened to that mentor, I can almost guarantee this business would not exist and then I wouldn't have been a part of the "great resignation."
Not listening to others also applies after starting your business. You’ll hear things you "should" be doing from friends, family, customers, and other small business owners and it’s okay to ignore them or do the exact opposite. You’re being lied to if someone says they have it all figured out and their way is the best/only way. You get to make your own decisions, make mistakes, change your mind, etc... it’s your business!
2. You don’t have to separate yourself from your business
Alison Rose Vintage is my heart and soul. Through my creations, social media posts, blog posts, and emails, I share laughs and tears and real talk about losing my sister, divorce/break-ups, leaving jobs and places, chronic pain and surgery recoveries, my joys, gratitude, self-love, and much more.
My business reflects who I am, it’s not separate. I ignore people who say you can’t have a political opinion or care about social causes because it will hurt your business. I am a woman/minority/LGBTQ-owned business and I care deeply about certain issues that affect me and the people I care about. Why would I want to sell my items to an audience that would say or do something to harm my well-being?
And if your shop is waving a confederate flag outside, then no I am not selling my items there. If your show encourages competition between vendors and doesn’t advertise each and every one in the most loving and spirited way, no I’m not participating. If you’re another small business owner without integrity, no I’m not collaborating with you.
It may be hard to make these decisions sometimes but try to trust that saying no is the right thing to do when something doesn’t vibe with your values.
3. You don’t have to stick to your original plan
When I first started this business 5 years ago, my goal was just to give myself a creative outlet outside of my corporate job—a side hustle if you will. I would sell word definition prints and cards on Etsy and at local craft fairs so I could help people connect with their loved ones and then I would donate my proceeds to non-profits. Maybe some day I would have my own brick and mortar shop, but I had no intention of taking Alison Rose Vintage full-time.
Well, pretty much all of those things have changed.
I sell wholesale to nearly 40 shops now (wholesale didn’t even cross my mind when I started)
Custom wedding vows, song lyrics, and love letters are some of my best-selling items (a customer's idea)
I rarely do craft shows anymore
I quit my corporate job and work at Alison Rose Vintage full-time now
I have my own website shop in addition to Etsy
Philanthropy is still a core part of me and my business, but my proceeds are my salary now
And for the foreseeable future, I’d rather be working at home or a coffee shop and still able to travel and do what I want to do without being at a brick and mortar shop every day.
All of this to say that your business may look a lot different one, two, five, ten years later, and that’s okay! Let it evolve and try new things when you can. You can always backtrack or change your mind.
4. You don’t have to overthink things
If you’re full of anxiety like me, this one might make you roll your eyes. But truthfully, I can’t really give any examples of when overthinking has benefited me or my business.
I spent a lot of time overthinking and stressing about making my own website. I knew migrating all of my products from Etsy would be super tedious (it was), and I didn’t know how I should categorize those products, and I wasn’t sure how all the email and payment stuff worked on the Shopify platform, and my photos aren’t great (or even the same size), and I wasn’t sure if I was including all the right things, and on and on.
I basically felt paralyzed from overthinking.
But I asked for help from my friend, and he did so much to make my website function and look beautiful. After 6 months or more of agonizing and procrastinating, I finally dove in to all the stuff I was worried about and didn’t think I could do myself. BUT I COULD.
I hit publish and I only had one small hiccup with my first sale. I’ve had many more sales since then and no one had any problems or told me things looked stupid, so why was I so worried?
Most of the time, we’re standing in our own way, but we’re capable of much more than we think we are—you can do it!
5. You don’t have to build an empire
Since I started my business, I’ve had old business school pals and others ask me about my strategic plans for my business and when I’m going to expand more and start hiring people. Well… never?
My small business is for my own livelihood, similar to the way a corporate job is someone’s livelihood. If you’re a small business, you don’t have to build an empire and save the world. You can simply work to make money to feed yourself and do the things you love.
You get to define success for yourself. It doesn’t have to be defined by the number of social media followers you have, employees you’ve hired, or even the money you’re making.
My business is successful in my eyes because it’s still achieving what I set out to do: develop a creative outlet for myself and make thoughtful prints and cards to help people connect. And the icing on the cake is that I get to work for myself, have a direct connection to my work and my customers, and feel loved and inspired every single day.
A lot of people will tell you a lot of things when you’re starting something new, but you get to decide what works for you. How boring things would be if everyone did everything the same way, right?
If you’re a small business owner, what else would you add to this list? Comment below or reach out to me on social media anytime.
Social media: @alisonrosevintage