The holidays are a crazy time for so many reasons – kids, extra chaotic schedules, extra expectations/priorities, but it’s also a great time for reflection (when you can use it, right?!). As we celebrate Small Business Saturday, I wanted to share with you some things I’ve learned about being a creative small business owner in conjunction with our newly updated office space in partnership with our friends at Spoon flower. This was a fresh topic on my mind when I spoke to a university student yesterday about some hard-learned lessons in my work and I realized I’ve been doing this for 15 years now. amazing! Honestly, I can’t believe it.
Small businesses and brands
Well, first – the brand. The majority of questions asked by students in class yesterday were related to brands even though the class was about manufacturing and selling products. In fact, every time I speak to a group, there is always a question about it, no matter what topic I’m talking about. Basically, branding has everything to do with creativity-focused businesses because it is a visual reflection of your business. It’s the essence of what you do, why you do it, and how that is reflected visually. It’s everything from the logo to the colors to the voice to the mission statement and purpose.
I started The House That Lars Built in 2008 for a graduate school semester. I had no intention of turning it into a business or even thought there might be any kind of longevity to it. Once I started getting jobs making crafts and writing blog posts and was able to pay off my student loans, then rent, etc., I was too busy in content creation mode to think a single thing about branding. I was just doing this project and that project when the idea came to me. “Sometimes it was a success and sometimes it was a failure, and I kept moving forward in the sand. It took me years to realize that I was creating a community, but without a cohesive brand.
I look at some of those early projects and cringe. There is one project in particular that stands out. You’ll never see pictures of it because I deleted the blog post a few years ago with all the evidence. It was Halloween time and I was living in Copenhagen right after Paul and I got married. I wanted to do some projects for our home. Family was coming into town that day and I knew I needed to be quick, so I turned to what I had — branches, spray paint, and trash bags. I painted the sticks black and made crowns out of a trash bag and hung them above my bed. I quickly took some pictures and posted them.
Honestly, I don’t think the idea is that bad, but the execution and filming were very poor. If I had a strong brand, this poor Trash Bag Crow™️ would never have happened. The thing I like to say to my team is that just because you have an idea, doesn’t mean it’s the best idea, and this was a prime example of that. One of our best moves to promote our brand was to prepare a short list of brand words. Every time we create a project or put something out into the world, we make sure to stay on track with those brand words. If it doesn’t say all the words, it’s not about the brand and it’s not moving forward.
I could talk all day about brands (honestly, just writing these few paragraphs makes me think I should write a book – ha!), but I’ll leave you with this for now.
An individual’s private space
The second lesson I learned, which took me a long time to learn, is to invest in your creative space. I got my first studio space while living in Copenhagen. I shared it with a couple of other creatives in downtown Copenhagen and it was a pleasure to have my own space away from our small apartment and get out and participate in the community. Living in Denmark was difficult for me for many reasons, but having this space and being with these amazing ladies was a game changer. Suddenly I took my job seriously, I took my time seriously, and I think if I had friends (haha) maybe they would take it seriously too. I set up shop by getting some cabinets from Ikea and placing some random decorations around the place.
When we moved to Utah, I worked out of our home again. First in a small bedroom, then a larger bedroom. Each one was created from random furniture we collected from flea markets or neighbors without much care for the overall feel. After spending two years at home, a few friends and I went to a studio in the town just south of me. It was an old feed supply building on a farm overlooking a horse pasture. It was huge inside and had a huge basement and a few rooms. Once again, it was a jumble of furniture without any real commitment to stability. In the end, we renovated two rooms (remember the one room challenge?!) and the difference was amazing. We paid a lot of attention to the space and loved being in it.
During Coronavirus, we moved from our studio to our current home. The house needed a lot of work, so the first step was to install basic things like the bathrooms and kitchen and slowly renovate it. We’ve been there for 3 years, and while some rooms shine, others are still waiting for their time in the spotlight. I say all this because we have finally entered a phase where we are not only meeting our basic needs, but investing in the look and feel of space. As a trained interior designer, it was a bit painful to not have a space that fully represented who I was and what I’m capable of, or, on the topic of branding, a space that represented the brand.
We worked with Spoonflower on our latest office update and let me tell you – it feels so good to be in a room that screams LARS! We have been slowly adding our Spoonflower backgrounds About the studio and this time we used our Xenias Gloria The wallpaper and decorative painting are a beautiful light green. When we painted our floors pink, I didn’t really think about the repercussions, but basically, everything should go with the pink floor. Ha! I envisioned Gloria’s zinnias here from the moment we made them because they are colorful but the scale is perfect for living in. I know he’s busy, but he’s also busy enough that we can put artwork on the wall and it stands out.
Now, when I say “invest in your space” I don’t mean taking out a loan to set up a state-of-the-art facility. I mean, flex your creative muscles to create a space that inspires you but also reflects your personality. I could have painted some of my previous spaces or put the room together, but I didn’t. I personally know the power of the environment and I was not committed to it. I’m in this office writing right now and there’s a certain sense of comfort and pride that comes from a space that reflects you and your brand.
Roll up your sleeves and feel uncomfortable
I think most people know that owning a small business means you get to wear all kinds of hats. What you may not know is that it’s still that way 15 years later. Ha ha ha ha. I’ve gone through periods where I had a larger team, then a smaller team, and there are pros and cons to both. For example, the older you get, the further away you become from the work you love. The younger you are, the more you do things you may not want to do. Right now, I’m mostly at a point where I’m running a business and not getting my hands in the things I used to love doing.
but! As a business owner, whether you have a team or not, everything ultimately falls on you. Here’s a recent example. We installed a lot of wallpaper in our new house. Like, a lot of wallpaper. While I helped out here and there, I was mostly a supporting character rather than the main actor. But this time it was all me. I felt stressed, hesitant, then anxious and procrastinated – do you know what I’m talking about? You may have seen a desperate plea for help on my Instagram asking someone to come to my aid.
Do you know what I just had to do? Dig. I chose Spoonflower’s pre-pasted soft removable wallpaper for the office and it turned out to be easy to manage on my own, but I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t tried. Once I got the hang of it, I loved it. I was looking forward to putting up this wallpaper on my own. Is it perfect? no! (Don’t look too closely), but you know what? I feel like I can do anything now!
Thank you Spoonflower for inviting me to share my thoughts on being a small business owner on Small Business Saturday. I realize so many of the lessons we have learned the hard way over the years and how there is power in sharing our stories. Spoonflower has been a great partner over the years in not only transforming our spaces, but also encouraging young creatives everywhere.
This blog is sponsored by Spoonflower but all thoughts and words are my own.