Welcome to the second installment of our blog series — Starting Small: Adventures of Starting a Small Business. Here, we’ll be sharing stories and lessons we learn on our journey as full-time small business owners.
This week’s topic is “ask for help.”
There are only so many hours in the day and unfortunately, we DO need to allocate a few of those hours for sleep because we're not vampires. Bringing on people to help with part of our process will allow us more time for the designing, planning and marketing of our business. At conference after conference, we’ve heard that in order to grow our business we HAVE to be willing to relinquish control of certain areas. We need to let people help us so we can focus more on areas that are fundamental to our growth. And in some aspects of our business, it’s cheaper to pay people to help us on the front end than it would be to hire them later, after we screwed something up.
It wasn’t hard to convince me this method was the way to go, but Lindsey took a little more convincing. Remember, I am more of the “let’s make sure this gets done” sister, while Lindsey is more of the “let’s make sure this gets done RIGHT” sister. Naturally, I was eager to take some of the repetitive work off our hands so we could put our focus elsewhere. Lindsey was hesitant. You hear all the time how as a business owner, no one’s going to love your business as much as you do. Lindsey wasn’t convinced we could maintain our current quality of work if it was someone else’s responsibility. She had a valid argument, but eventually came around after seeing
she was wrong that if we trained people properly, they could do the same quality work as us — and in some instances, faster!
There have been a few key people who have helped us over the past few years. And we actually hired all of them on a part-time or contract basis while we were still employed full-time at a day job. We truly believe they have each played a key role in allowing us to grow our business while still having full-time jobs. The concept of paying others for help before you can pay yourself a full salary may seem completely insane … but for us, it has been SO IMPORTANT.
Meet Matthew, Nick and Logan — our wood handlers.
A friend referred us to Matthew (pictured left), who owns City Wood. He has a huge warehouse full of oversized machinery that can cut and sand our wood boards at a MUCH quicker rate than we can (with our little table-top miter saw and belt sander).
The first time we met Matthew, he took the time to sit down with us and walk us through how he tracks his time and at what price point using him would be worth it for us. We learned an enormous amount of information in those 30 minutes. It pushed us to re-configure our cost of goods and make much-needed adjustments on our pricing. He didn’t simply take our money for his services. He educated us on what has worked for him and what he thought would and wouldn’t work for us. The help from him and his team has allowed us to work faster for shows, speed up our shipping times on Etsy (resulting in more sales) and will provide the extra support we need when we go to market next year (and hopefully get tons of new orders from stores across the country).
Meet Meredith — our studio assistant.
Meredith is currently enrolled at Memphis College of Art and will graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting/Drawing in December. We were connected to her through a friend who suggested we reach out to MCA’s career placement department after our first studio assistant, Emma, moved to another city. We were nervous to find a replacement for Emma because she had been with us for a couple of years and had learned to do parts of our process better than us! However, Meredith picked up everything SO quickly. She helps us prep the wood for our image transfer process, as well as the most tedious task of rubbing off the paper. Having her available to work from our home while we were still employed full-time sped up our process and allowed us to focus on other tasks to prepare us to go full-time with ARCHd. And now that we’re working from home, we’re teaching her more and more of our processes to be able to help us in all areas. PLUS, she has an arrow tattoo ... so it was obviously meant to be. ;)
Meet “Mean Gene” — our recently retired father.
Our whole family has helped us at shows (for free) for years. They have been our #1 fans and support system. So, when our dad recently retired from his job of 23+ years, we were excited to hire him as our first (paid) “Senior Intern.” FYI, he just LOVES being called that. In addition to helping us at shows, we give him all the glamorous tasks, like delivering wood boards to Matthew, getting keys made (because we lose them faster than ponytail holders), picking up coasters from the tile store, etc. He even gives us handwritten invoices for his time and mileage, which makes us laugh every time. But whatever works, right?! We love him SO MUCH and can’t wait to figure out more for him to do to keep him from driving our mother crazy at home. You’re welcome, Momma!
Meet Doug — our trusted attorney.
Production isn’t the only area in which we asked for help. A couple of years ago, we decided to trademark our logo (something we should have done WAY earlier on our small business journey). Yes, we could have gone online and tried to figure it out for ourselves. But would we have walked away from that process confident we had protected our mark? Um, NO.
While we’re a HUGE fan of Google and know all the necessary information lives out there somewhere on the internet, when it comes to legal advice, we knew our weakness. And by weakness, I mean we had ZERO knowledge of how trademarking worked. We decided we would rather pay money up front to have the work done properly than take the chance of having to shell out even MORE money to fix it down the road. To help us through this process, a friend referred us to an awesome local Memphis attorney: Doug Halijan from Burch, Porter & Johnson. The reason we liked working with him — and recently hired him again to help us streamline our contract process for video, design and photography clients — was because of how he took the time to educate us through each step of the process. It’s important for us to understand WHAT we are doing and all the risks involved. We peppered Doug with tons of questions, and not ONCE did make us feel stupid or inadequate. Plus, now if we ever run into an issue, we have someone with knowledge of our company who can do their best to protect us.
But if we’re being honest, the BEST part was how he agreed to let us capture a few “candid” photos to use on this blog. Thanks, Doug!
None of the “helpers” listed above came to us via an online job posting. We couldn’t expect the perfect candidate to come knocking on our door. Instead, we focused our time and energy on asking friends and colleagues for help in finding the right person for each job (except for our Dad, obviously. Though he did come highly recommended by our mom). Each one of them has helped us in growing our business. Without Matthew, we would be sleeping in a cot next to the sander on the porch because we would be sanding through the night. Without Meredith, we’d have blisters on our hands from having to do ALL the image transfers ourselves. Without our Dad, we'd be constantly running all over town trying to get everything done ourselves. And without Doug, someone else could have claimed the rights to the “ARCHd” name and caused us to go through a lengthy rebrand process because we only have one last name to work with.
TAKEAWAY: ASK FOR HELP
So, our advice in starting a small business: outsource work when needed. Work smarter, not harder. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Kristen & Lindsey