The holidays is such a crazy time for so many reasons–kids, extra chaotic schedules, additional expectations/priorities, but it’s also a great time for reflection (when you can squeeze it in, right?!). As we celebrate Small Business Saturday, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned about being a creative small business owner in conjunction with our newly refreshed office space in partnership with our friends at Spoonflower. It’s a topic that’s freshly on my mind as I spoke to a university class yesterday about some hard earned lessons in my business and I realized I’ve been doing it for 15 years now. Wow! Honestly, can hardly believe it.
Small business and branding
Ok, first up–branding. A majority of the questions asked by the students in the class yesterday was about branding even though the class was about making and selling products. And really, every time I speak to a group there’s always a question about it, no matter what topic I’m speaking on. Basically, branding has everything to do with a creative-focused business because it is a visual reflection of your business. It’s the heart of what you do, why you do it, and how it’s reflected visually. It’s everything from a logo to colors to voice to a mission statement and purpose.
I started The House That Lars Built in 2008 for a grad school class. I had no intention of turning it into a business or even thought that there might be any kind of longevity to it. Once I started getting jobs making DIYs and writing blog posts and was able to pay off my student loans, then rent, etc, I was thick in content creation mode and didn’t think A SINGLE THING about branding. I was making this project and that project just whenever the idea struck. Sometimes it was a hit and sometimes it was a miss and I just kept on going head in the sand.It took me YEARS to realize that I was creating a community, but with no coherent brand.
I look back on some of those early projects and cringe. There’s one project in particular that stands out. You will never see photos of it because I deleted the blog post a few years ago with all evidence. It was Halloween time and I was living in Copenhagen right after Paul and I had gotten married. I wanted to make some projects for our house. Family was coming into town that day and I knew I needed to be fast so I turned to what I had–branches, spray paint and trash bags. I spray painted the stick black and made crowns out of a trash bag and hung it over my bed. I quickly snapped some photos and posted it.
Honestly, I don’t think the idea is all TOO terrible, but man, the execution and photography was. Had I had a strong brand in place, the poor Trash Bag Crow™️ never would have happened. Something I like to say to my team is, 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 strengthen our brand was to make a short list of branding words. Every time we create a project or put something out into the world, we make sure to stay on track with those branding words. If it doesn’t touch on all words, it’s not on brand and doesn’t move forward.
I could speak all day about branding (honestly, just writing these few paragraphs makes me think I should write a book–ha!), but I’ll leave you with that for now.
A space of one’s own
The second lesson I’ve learned, and it took me a long time to learn it, is to invest in your creative space. I got my first studio space while I lived in Copenhagen. I shared It with two other creatives in downtown Copenhagen and it was such a joy to have my own space apart from our small apartment and get outside and involved in society. Living in Denmark was hard for me for a few reasons, but having this space and being with those wonderful ladies was a game changer. All of a sudden I took my work more seriously, I took my time more seriously, and I think if I had friends (hahahah) they maybe would have taken it more seriously as well. I set up shop by getting some cabinets from Ikea and putting up some random decorations around the space.
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 haphazard furniture we collected from flea markets or neighbors without too much attention to the overall feeling. After a couple of years at home, a few friends and I went in on a studio space in the town just south of me. It was an old feed supply building on a farm overlooking a horse pasture. It was massive inside with a huge basement and a few room. Once again, it was a mixture of furniture with no real commitment to settling. Eventually, we did makeover a couple of rooms (remember One Room Challenge?!) and the difference was amazing. We put a lot of care into the space and loved being in it.
During COVID we moved from our studio into our current home. The home needed a lot of work so first step was putting in basic things like bathrooms and kitchen and slowly renovating it. We’ve now been in it for 3 years and while some rooms shine, others are still waiting for their time in the spotlight. I say all this, because we are finally entering a stage where we not only have our basic needs met, but are investing into the look and feel of the space. As a trained interior designer, it’s been a bit excruciating to not have a space that totally represents me and what I’m capable of or, on the topic of branding, a space that represents the brand.
We worked with Spoonflower on our latest office refresh and let me tell you–it feels so good to be in a room that screams LARS! We’ve been slowly adding in our own Spoonflower wallpapers around the studio and this time we used our Gloria’s Zinnias wallpaper and painted the trim a lovely light mint green. When we painted our floors pink, I didn’t really think about the repercussions, but basically, everything needs to go with a pink floor. Ha! I had envisioned Gloria’s Zinnias in here from the moment we made it because it’s colorful but the scale is perfect for living in. I know it’s busy, but it’s also busy enough that we can put artwork up on the wall and it stands out.
Now, when I say “invest in your space” I don’t mean go take out a loan to make a state of the art facility. I mean, flex your creative muscles to make a space that will inspire you, but also reflect you. Some of my earlier spaces I could have painted or brought the room together, but I didn’t. I, for one, know the power of environment and I wasn’t adhering it it. I’m in this office as I type right now and there’s a certain comfort and pride that comes from a space that reflects you and your brand.
Roll up your sleeves and get uncomfortable
I think most people know that owning a small business means that you will wear all sorts of hats. What you may not know is that it is STILL like that 15 years later. HAHAHA. I’ve gone through periods of having a bigger team, then a smaller team and there are pros and cons to each. For example, the bigger you get, the more removed you are from the work that you love. And the smaller you are, the more you do things you may not want to do. Right now I’m mostly at a stage where I’m running a business and not getting my hands as dirty on things that I used to love to do.
BUT! As a business owner, whether you have a team or not, everything ultimately falls back on you. Here’s a recent example. We’ve installed a lot of wallpaper in our new house. Like, so much wallpaper. And while I’ve helped out here and there, I’ve mostly been a supporting character not the main actor. This time, however, it was all me. I got nervous and reluctant and then anxious and procrastinated–you know what I’m talking about? You may have even seen a desperate plea for help on my Instagram asking someone to come help me.
You know what I just needed to do? Dig in. I selected the Spoonflower prepasted removeable smooth wallpaper for the office and turns out it was super manageable on my own, but I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t tried. As soon as I got the hang of it, I LOVED it. I looked forward to putting up that wallpaper on my own. Is it perfect? NOPE! (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 about being a small business owner for Small Business Saturday. I’m realizing a lot of the hard earned lessons over the years and how there’s a strength in sharing our stories. Spoonflower has been a great partner over the years in not only transforming our spaces, but also cheerleading for small creatives everywhere.
This blog post is sponsored by Spoonflower but all thoughts and words are my own.