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The highs and lows of running a small business

Spoiler alert: it’s a real roller coaster.

I love my job. I have always wanted to work for myself but I can tell you for free that running a small business is not easy. I’ve been running Drawn by Rhiannon for three years now and pretty much every day is a struggle. However, for me nothing beats being your own boss. Today is a beautifully sunny summer’s day so I’m writing this blog post with an old fashioned pen and paper outside in the garden. Of course I will have to type this up later but that’s a job for this evening when the sun goes down. And that’s one of the first things I love about running my own business – the flexibility.

It’s great to be flexible.

I have never particularly been a morning person so starting work at 8am every day isn’t an ideal situation for me. I find I’m much more productive later on and in to the evening so I love that I’m able to start work at 10am and work until after tea instead. Sometimes I can be working until two in the morning if that’s when inspiration has struck and that works great for me.

Drawn by Rhiannon studio
I’m lucky to have a great studio at the bottom of my garden

On the flip side, the negative aspect of working from home is that you’re never able to switch off. I’m lucky to have a fabulous studio at the bottom of my garden where I do all my sewing and most my designing. Unfortunately my internet doesn’t stretch to the studio so all the website designing, marketing and general computer work has to be done inside the house. There’s always a never ending to do list so the temptation to just quickly finish off a few things soon turns in to several hours of work when I’m supposed to be taking some time off. The work life balance is something I’m constantly battling with to prevent me from spiralling in to a full blown burnout.

Freedom is liberating

The main thing I love about running a small business is being able to design what I want. You wouldn’t believe the amount of junior designer jobs that mainly consist of making coffee and doing dry cleaning runs. I didn’t go to university for four years to do that! This is part of the reason that I wanted to work for myself because I didn’t want to lose my creativity or all the skills I worked so hard to learn. I love taking inspiration trips and deciding what prints to design next. And I love not having to work to a trend brief or having to stick to a restricted colour palette.

Drawn by Rhiannon watercolour painting
I love being able to be super creative in my job

On the other hand, not having anyone to bounce ideas off can be difficult too. When you’ve spent several hours working on a new print design, staring at the screen and nudging layouts a millimetre here and there, it becomes impossible to know what looks good any more. As the business grows I plan to take on a couple of staff to help with the workload which would be a huge bonus (and would hopefully stop me going stir crazy and asking my pet rabbit which colour background she thinks works the best). Until then I rely on all you lovely lot to keep me sane so I really appreciate you replying to my questions and commenting on my social media posts.

Money talks

Now for some serious talk – money. As much as I love what I do, at the end of the day I can’t keep doing it if it doesn’t make money. I’m fortunate to have a part time job in a craft shop which ensures my house and bills are paid for each month so I don’t have to worry about becoming homeless. However, if you’re working 30-40 hours a week running a small business, you kind of want to see some profit return on that right? This is something I still find very tricky to manage, especially as the gift-orientated things I make are really quite seasonal.

I was on such a high at the end of 2018 as I’d had my best Christmas ever and was actually taking a full time wage. Obviously this was due to a huge amount of work and I spent most of the Christmas break in complete brain dead zombie mode but that’s how it is. I even earned enough to book a holiday in February to Belgium (check out the blog posts about that trip here) which I was absolutely over the moon with.

The Christmas markets were a huge success and it was brilliant seeing people wanting to buy my items for special gifts for loved ones.

However after all the buzz of Christmas, the start of 2019 hit me like a tonne of bricks. I barely made any sales and at Easter time I almost packed the whole thing in. Which brings me to my final point.

Confidence and motivation

Without a doubt the hardest thing about running a business is having the confidence and motivation to keep it going. There are times when I’m consistently working 12-14 hour days and only seeing pocket money in return. When you put your heart and soul in to something and people don’t really seem that interested it can destroy you. Sometimes I just have to keep ploughing on because I know if I stop and really take a look at things I might not be able to carry on (sometimes doing the books at the end of the month can be really devastating).

The words ‘I can’t do this any more’ have gone through my head more in the past three years than in the rest of my life combined, but so have the words ‘I love my job’. The minute I receive a message from a customer saying how much they love their order, or see someone smile at a print I’ve designed on my market stall, it makes it all seem worthwhile.

Running a small business is hard. By supporting a small business you are supporting a dream
Every purchase you make really does make a huge difference

I would love to say that Drawn by Rhiannon has been an overnight success and every day is better than the last but that wouldn’t be true. It would mean the world to me if you could all support me to help me achieve my dream by shopping small and interacting with the brand on social media. One day I hope that I can do this full time and employ some wonderful people to work alongside me but I’m not there yet. After all, nothing good in life comes easy does it?

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Cucumber the rabbit print: from drawing to final design

Have you read the blog post about the inspiration behind my latest animal print? If not, take a look at it here.

Drawing

One of the best things about designing your own fabrics is that you can draw anything you want. My pet rabbit is so fabulous that I thought she deserved her own rabbit print. She’s not your typical looking rabbit, more just a ball of fluff with ears. As adorable as this is, it makes her super tricky to draw! I chose three of her favourite positions to draw her in to give an idea of her character.

She likes to stand on her back legs to investigate things like a meerkat

I wanted to get across the fluffy texture of her fur so I decided to work in bold line work. I started with a pencil sketch to get the basic outline and an idea of where the fur ruffles were. Once I was happy with that, I went over the lines with a fine liner pen.

Her sitting pose is the most common pose she strikes

I found her face quite tricky to draw as there is so much fluff that a lot of her features get lost. The photo of her that I was drawing from here didn’t have her left eye in as it was hidden by fur. She does have two eyes!

She likes to lie down when she’s feeling very relaxed

Digitising the drawings

With all the sketches completed, it was time to scan them in to the computer for digital manipulation. The good thing about drawing with fine liner pens is that they show up well when scanned in. The sketches took very little cleaning up so I could move on to the colouring.

The colouring in was definitely the hardest part of the whole process. Her fur is bright white so it was very difficult to create any definition and depth with the colour. I tossed up between keeping the whole image light or having dark lines to define it more. In the end I decided to use darker lines to prevent the outline from getting lost.

On to the designing

When it came to arranging the design, I knew I wanted it to be a random scatter repeat. After lots of layers and nudging rabbits a millimetre here and there, the layout was finalised.

The finished rabbit print design with a white background

The design ended up being more cartoony than I envisaged which took a different turn from my other recent designs. I liked the simplicity of the monochrome rabbit print on a white background but I didn’t think this would translate well on to fabric.

Rabbit print with blue background
Rabbit print with blue polka dot background

My first thought was to contrast the white rabbits with a blue background. As you can probably tell from my print designs, I really like blue. There’s something very classic about blue and white together and I think this colour combination would work better for fabric printing.

Rabbit print with pink background

I don’t often use pink in my designs as I’m not a big pink fan. However I thought the pink worked well with the white for a soft girly design.

I was pleased with the final rabbit print design so it went in to production! You can find the mini lionhead rabbit design on reusable makeup remover wipes pictured above and on a coin purse with the blue background.

What do you think of the rabbit print? What other pet animals would you like me to make in to a print design? Let me know by commenting below!

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The finished panda print

Drawn by Rhiannon panda print

With the panda drawings being simple black and white pencil sketches, they were nice and simple to digitise ready for their print design. By playing around with the levels and tones on Photoshop I was able to create a nice bold image of the pandas. Next it was time to design the print.

Usually when I design a print I don’t quite know the direction I want to go with it, but for the pandas I had a very clear vision of what I wanted the pattern to look like. I took both the panda images and resized them, rotated them and flipped them to create a mix of different shapes and sizes. I then arranged them so that they weren’t too crowded or too far apart until I was happy with the layout. After some last minute panda shuffling, the print was finished. Introducing my very first monochrome print design…

Drawn by Rhiannon panda print design white background

If you’re familiar with my print designs, you’ll know how rare it is for me to have a completely black and white pattern. So of course I had to try it with some different coloured backgrounds too!

Drawn by Rhiannon panda print design blue background
Drawn by Rhiannon panda print design pink background
Drawn by Rhiannon panda print design green background

So what do you think? Which is your favourite? Please let me know by commenting below!