The beginning of my small business journey.
When I first started out in business, I actually started with a clothing label. After having my first baby, I felt like there weren’t any clothes I loved to wear that I could breastfeed in. I decided to start a maternity label. It was a huge learning curve – having virtually zero experience in business or clothing manufacture. I made a lot of mistakes, some were really expensive. However; I was grateful for the lessons it taught me and owning a business opened me up to so many wonderful things. I made some of my best friends from my business journey – bonding over our mutual experiences in running a biz and sometimes motherhood.
Pivoting from product to service based business.
Eventually, I fell out of love with the clothing design and manufacturing but along the way I had fallen in love with the business development side of my adventure.
Learning how to do all the things in business was exciting. I figured out how to build my website myself, did all my own graphics, learned about search engine optimisation (SEO), dived into bookkeeping and discovered a tonne of things about product development and marketing. Mastering new skills and then seeing the results from the hard work I was putting in was seriously thrilling!
After calling time on the clothing and after some soul-searching, I decided to pursue my love of all things creative and leaned into illustration and design. With a background in portraits and drawing, I moved over to digital illustration and it felt like a whole world of opportunity was opened to me.
Most of my work was turning photos into illustrations – which is made a lot less time consuming with an iPad and apple pencil vs graphite pencil. At this stage I also had two little kids, and I found that I was gravitating less and less to drawing on paper – especially as I didn’t have a dedicated studio where I could leave my work without the kids touching stuff.
It felt stretchy starting over again. I did a rebrand, and briefly changed to a different biz name but after a little while, I decided to stick with my original name, Borne Too, and I did a branding overhaul to help with the transition away from clothing.
So how did I see growth in my small business after pivoting?
It was mostly doing these things consistently, over time – no silver bullet solutions here, sorry.
Something we (myself included) seem to forget in the biz world is that nothing happens overnight. The most prolific and successful businesses have happened after days, months, years of deliberate and consistent work.
One viral instagram post isn’t going to change your life for good if you don’t have a strategy and system to back it up.
My tips for small business growth
1. Focus on your website search engine optimisation, or SEO.
I did a 1:1 coaching session with website and SEO expert, Gilly Corker, who gave me oodles of information to take away and implement in my website. I also learned about Google analytics and joined Neil Patel’s email list to get his email tips for SEO.
I spent hours watching YouTube videos about improving my website and how to increase my ranking on Google, then I spent the time actioning as much as I could.
I tried to blog as consistently as I could (also because I love writing).
After around 18 months of putting in the work, I managed to rank in the top 3-5 for keywords relating to illustration. This resulted in around 5-10 email enquiries each week for portrait illustrations and other design work. I had so much work that I had to turn a lot of projects away.
If you want more on my step-by-step DIY strategy – download my free ebook below, SEO Rookie where I outline the exact strategy that saw my SEO improve and had my business ranking on page 1 of Google for keywords related to illustration.
2. Build a supportive network.
When I first started out in my clothing business, I joined a local women’s networking group Fusion Biz Co. I remember the first meeting, just 12 of us sitting around a table for coffee. I felt like I had found my people.
Fusion is that it’s so much more than the stereotypical sleazy networking, it’s women sharing their struggles as well as their wins and genuinely wanting each other to succeed.
By building friendships with these women, I had an instant support crew. They were always there to put my name forward if someone was looking for an illustration or gift idea. Many of them also purchased from me themselves, too.
You don’t have to join a business networking group to spread the word about what it is you do, though. Don’t forget to mention it to your immediate network – your family, friends and community.
Generally, those closest to us want to support us and even if they don’t buy from us, they are more than happy to help spread the word. So when another mum at school pickup asks you what it is you do, don’t be shy! Tell them!
3. Work on your email marketing.
Thankfully I had a small email list from my years in business – even though I could have done a lot more with my email marketing, I was able to bring my audience along for the journey when I decided to pivot.
I sent emails called an honesty inbox – sharing my personal, unfiltered stories from both life and business. These emails were hugely popular with my readership and helped to build trust and connection, which are two of my brand values. I shared more via email than I did on social media because unlike social media, I knew who would be reading my emails and it felt more intimate than sharing to the world wide web. It also created more of an exclusive vibe to my email list.
By building trust through email, it means my potential customers got to know me and it encouraged them to support me – this way, when I sent through any offers or sales, they were always ready to jump onboard.
4. Implement a simple social media strategy.
I knew that I didn’t want social media to be my only strategy, but I did acknowledge that it still has a place in brand awareness and conversion. I couldn’t be spending every minute of the day on insta stories, or spending ages on engagement. I also recognised that hours spent on socials tended to make me feel like I was comparing myself to everyone else and didn’t serve me from a practical and spiritual perspective. I knew my energy was better used elsewhere.
To help manage this, I scheduled my social media posts on Planoly. I made a mixture of educational, inspiring, behind the scenes and promotional posts and tried to make sure I would post a minimum of twice a week and show up on stories in some form, every day – even if it was just resharing a post of mine or from another account.
To me, social media was there to enhance the other deliberate and intentional action I was taking on my website and SEO.
5. Keep learning.
There is always SO much to learn in business, with the constantly changing landscape of social media and the internet. I spent a lot of time (and money) upskilling and learning about the areas of business that I wanted more knowledge in. Whether it was through paid workshops and courses, or using free platforms like YouTube, I was always looking for ways to improve and make tweaks to my systems, processes and strategy,
I also kept practising and honing my craft. Learning new ways to illustrate, trying out different programs and software to achieve different results, excited me.
6. Keep going.
No pathway to success in business and life is linear. There were plenty of setbacks along the way but I always managed to see mistakes and challenges as lessons and this helped me to keep going. It’s easier said than done and I remember some of those hard times being freaking difficult. Like when I would overcommit to projects and be up ridiculously late at night, juggling the kids with my husband away. Or when I hadn’t priced my illustrations well and would be spending hours upon hours in edits on a picture that was worth 50 bucks.
Consistency and the determination to keep going, keep showing up even through the hard times and putting in the work is important in business. Some words I often thought about and inspired me through these times was “You always miss 100% of the shots you never take” – mic drop. Enough said. You can do this, keep going.