I think one of the most common questions, aside - how do you gain a following? - is how did you start your business? And to be quite honest with you I'm not 100% sure how I started mine, there are so many 'starts' to the Doodling Lucy story it's difficult to know which one to choose.
Please know my story is slightly different to others, I never set out to start a business, I never really intended this to be my career, it almost, sort of just happened. There isn't a certain way to get going but I will tell you how I feel Doodling Lucy began and, if you're thinking of starting your own business, some things I wish I had known at the beginning...
As you may or may not already know, Doodling Lucy had very humble beginnings of just being a distraction from my Psychology University finals. I was bored, I hated revising, I wanted something to look forward to/do at the end of the revision day. I decided to create an Instagram purely for my illustrations/little observant paintings. I wasn't sure what to call it, I just thought of different words other than drawing - and Doodling just stuck. (Again, if I'm here to be honest today, one of my pet peeves is when people call my illustrations Doodles - I know, my own fault - I think it's because Doodles tend to be quick scribbles and that's not my work!).
What was just my illustration soon turned into the cards I was making for my friends and families birthdays - I wasn't selling them at the time I was just putting them out there It was then, with only a handful of followers people began to DM me asking if they could buy bespoke cards. I remember thinking people are offering to buy my work? What?!
One of my early hand-painted designs
I charged 75p per hand-painted card. 75p!!!! Madness, all apart of the learning curve but yes, from there I built the confidence to open an Etsy shop. Etsy is a great place to start a creative business. You can open your own 'shop' with no contracts or obligations to continue for longer than you wish. They do charge for listing items and transaction fees but they are not so high it'll put you off. Etsy also has a lot of tools and resources to keep you on track and to learn the basics of ecommerce.
I continued my Etsy shop when I lived in Australia
I continued my Etsy shop on and off for 3 years whilst I travelled. I was also selling my cards at the local pub I worked at, but the sales were never enough to get to the point of declaring myself as business which, for a sole-trader, is £1000 per tax year in the U.K, to find out more about when to register click here.
I used to sell my cards at the pub I worked at (at least the price increased!)
In January 2020 I made the decision to move away from Etsy and open my own website. I decided to make the leap as I wanted the space to be more about Doodling Lucy the brand. I wanted a blog, I wanted to have separate pages, and collections and to not have the distractions of other creatives.
At this point, I was working four days a week as a barista and one day a week as Doodling Lucy owner, but I was quickly realising time was money. I needed to focus more time on my business if I wanted to make a real go of it!
In some horrible twisted way it was like the universe heard me. Because of course, in March 2020 we were into lockdown and I was taken out of work and told to stay at home.
My business was my saving grace. I poured all my time and energy into Doodling Lucy, and began to see the results. I don't like to say it because I know the lockdowns were so awful for so many people, and some days I really did struggle but it was what pushed me forward. I was building an ecommerce business at a time when everyone was on their phones and buying online. I don't want to put all my initial success down to the pandemic, because it came 4 years after I first started my journey and I had already put in hours and hours of work before hand. But I feel like it needs to be acknowledged that I grew in unexpected times.
Come June when it was time to return to work, I realised that actually I could do this. This could be my full-time job. I had a long chat with my boss at the time and he was very understanding and told me that it had to be done and I had to go and chase my dream.
I gave in my notice and went full time in October 2020, 4 and a half years after I first started my Instagram account!
I went full-time in October 2020
I feel like, with small business especially, that people will follow you on social media and see 'a finished product'. They will see my business as it is today and many won't have see the years before hand. A great exercise I do if I ever feel like I'm not where I should be, or if I feel jealous or behind other businesses, is to scroll back on their feeds. Keep going to the beginning, see where they started, see they're slightly dodgy product photos, see what they may have charged at the beginning, see where they began. It's so important to realise how far you've come, and also, how everyone has to start somewhere.
No one starts perfectly, well, if they do they normally have an extortionate amount of money behind them or maybe they have another business already. I think what I'm trying to say is if you want to start something, just start it. Don't worry if it's a little rough around the edges, you pick up so much as you go along. Test the water, see what works and what doesn't work. Take people along for the journey with you. Show your character - people buy from people. The moment I started my talking stories I noticed my sales increasing!
People buy from people
So, now you know that my business really did just start as a nothing Instagram account to distract me from my exams you can start your business wherever and however you like. You've got this!