This month my company celebrates it’s 14th birthday! It shocks me with each passing year that I was able to create a business from the ground up and keep it running this long. How did I do it? I didn’t go to school for business! So how has Hug and Kiss Designs survived 14 years when more than half of small businesses don’t make it past FIVE years?!
The truth is, running a small business is HARD. I can’t tell you what it’s like for every entrepreneur, but I can speak of my own experience and it hasn’t always been an easy road (like when the print shop you’ve used for 3 years burns down and the shops in your town are too conservative to print cards with swear words!🥺) I think the main reason my company has succeeded is because I have a unique product (it was especially unique 14 years ago!) and I’m passionate about it.
In the 14 years of running Hug and Kiss Designs I’ve learned a lot about A LOT of different things. But not because I wanted to, but because I HAD to! When you’re starting out and you don’t have the money or resources to hire someone to do it for you, you figure out a way to do it yourself or your business might fail. And you can’t let that happen! You won’t let that happen because your business is your baby and you can’t let your baby die!
So, over the years I’ve trained myself to be a Web-Developer, a Product Developer, an Administrative Assistant, a Bookkeeper, a Copy Writer, a Sales Rep, a Public Relations Representative, Customer Service Representative, a Social Media Manager, a Content Creator, a Retail Manager, a Visual Merchandiser, a Debt Collector, and probably more that I can’t think of right now…
But how did all this start? What made me start my own business?
For this I have to put myself back in 2006. Now, back then I was busy looking for my first “real job” after college, so I was working part time in retail while I job hunted. I had gone to school for Journalism and back again for Design, so I thought I’d be a shoo-in for a job in advertising or magazine layout or something. I had job interviews here and there, but nothing was panning out. Then I got the idea for a line of surprisingly naughty cards and suddenly I forgot about looking for that “real job” because I was too busy creating my own!
It was January 2007 when I made things official by registering my company name. I remember this fondly because the application cost $40 and I was worried that I would be wasting that money if the business thing didn’t pan out. Forty dollars felt like a lot of money when I was earning minimum wage. But, I sent in the application and got approved for the name Hug and Kiss Designs. That meant shit was getting real and I HAD to move forward. I mean, I had $40 committed to this thing!
When I was in college for Design, one of the courses was Entrepreneurship. But we really didn’t learn the sort of things I needed to know when first starting Hug and Kiss Designs. I remember the professor gave us a quiz on whether or not we had the sort of personality that it takes to be an entrepreneur and I failed! 🤷🏻♀️ (He can take that quiz and shove it!) Anyways, like most people I turned to Google for help. Luckily I found One Stop Business Registry, which provided me step-by-step lists on how to start your own business! After I registered my business name, registered for my GST and PST numbers, got my domain name, and my business licence I was ready to go.
I spent months building my product line and a website to go with it. I literally read a textbook on how to create a website and followed it step-by-step (again, I couldn’t afford to pay someone to do it for me and things like Shopify weren’t really known yet)! Once my website was ready to go (May 2007), I started approaching small retail stores to see if they were interested in buying my cards wholesale. (Thankfully my previous jobs in retail gave me a bit of knowledge about this side of things!) The wholesale thing picked up quite quickly and I found myself travelling to various Canadian cities in search of card stores! (Social media wasn’t really “a thing” back then, so I had to source them out in person!) Around the same time I started taking part in craft shows and things were really picking up, so I ended up quitting that part-time job so I had more time to focus on Hug and Kiss.
Working for yourself is great, but you definitely need the right attitude. You need to be passionate about your product and self-driven. Those first few years I was hustling every day! Did I also find time for daily naps? Of course! But I would work 10-16 hours a day making sure I was keeping in contact with all my wholesale accounts and filling their orders as quickly as possible while also getting ready for the next craft show. Thankfully I had finally made enough money to get a professional website made and I really felt like I knew what I was doing! I started doing more trade and craft shows and more orders were pouring in. So I worked, and worked, and worked (and the pay was pretty good!) I even got busy enough to hire a part-time employee!
Now, speaking of pay, when you’re self-employed your income isn’t guaranteed. I might make $800 today, I might make $0. It can be stressful not knowing when that next payday is going to come, especially when you have bills to pay. It especially sucks when a store goes BANKRUPT and you don’t get paid at all! On the plus side, I now know about Small Claims Court and I’ve since changed my payment terms. ☹️ Sigh.
You know that saying, “You have to spend money to make money,” well it’s the truth. It’s EXPENSIVE running a business! When you add all the airfare, hotels, show fees (a booth at a big show can cost more than $3,000), plus the cost of stock, insurance, and all those other things, you might pay $20,000-$60,000 a year just to run your business! For several years I was travelling to Ontario 3-4 times a year, with various other cities mixed in and I was selling to over 100 stores across Canada. The bills were high, but the income coming in was high too. So I was busy, but I was happy!
I got pregnant. (Dun dun dunnnnnn.)
Okay, that makes it sound like a bad thing and my daughter is the BEST THING EVER! The year she was born was actually my BEST year in sales to this day! 🤷🏻♀️ I think it’s merely coincidental that sales have gone down each year since her birth! 😂
For real though, the years since she was born have been hard. I’ve found that running my own business is more work than it’s ever been. Yes, a large part of that is handling the work-life balance, but there’s more to it than that. Things have changed out there and I’ve changed. I’m getting older (still in my 30’s though folks) and I work less so I can “mom,” but there was also a shift in the economy that I felt with my business for sure.
So once my kid was old enough, I decided I needed to get back out there and I started doing craft shows again! It was SO GOOD to be back on that show floor, selling to my customers in person, but the shows just weren’t the same. The crowds were smaller and sales were down, yet the cost to do the shows had gone up. It made me (and several other exhibitors) question whether or not show were worth doing anymore… Financially I was still coming out ahead, but at what cost? I was leaving my husband and daughter for weeks at a time and it was hard. Was it worth the money? What would happen if I didn’t do shows anymore? Would my customers find me?
I did a bunch of shows for a couple of years and then I decided I needed a break. So I took 2019 off. Yes, an entire year with no shows! I had a terrible string of bad luck with personal matters in and around show time over the years and I was stressed thinking about what might happen if I did another year of shows. Between broken ribs, pulled backs, terminally ill family members, crazy snow storms, and cancer scares, I knew that I needed a break.
So I stayed home for all of 2019. As a result, that year sucked for sales. You don’t do shows, you don’t get show money.
And then 2020 happened. That year SUCKED for sales even harder. Like, really, really sucked. But that was 2020, when everything sucked for (almost) everybody.
As a result of Covid, several of my retailers have had to permanently close their shops and others are just aren’t in a position to be buying new stock. I feel their pain, both as a friend watching a fellow small business owner suffer and as a supplier who relies on their support. Most of my sales come from my wholesale accounts and from doing shows. So when shows aren’t happening and retail stores are suffering, I’m suffering too.
Thankfully though, Canadians have heard the cry to support local businesses. Canadian businesses. And some of the stores I sell to are busier than ever! Remember when I said that small business owners will do what it takes to keep their babies alive? These are the folks that I’m talking about! While I’ve had the luxury of not having to do much to adapt to the COVID way of life (other than wearing a mask to the post office), they’ve had to do SO much! They’ve installed plexiglass barriers and sanitizing stations. They’ve dealt with anti-maskers and staffing issues. They’ve had to close for months because they aren’t “essential.” And they’ve had to completely revamp their websites so customers can shop online shopping and do curb-side pick-up. These little stores are doing what it takes because they aren’t going to let their babies die. They’re feeling the love of customers that know how important it is to step up and support local businesses and I think I can speak on their behalf when I say THANK YOU! Every single purchase from a small business matters!
Thankfully I’ve felt that love too! My online sales leading up to Christmas were the highest that they’ve ever been and those little stores that were thriving were ordering more cards than usual. It saved me. Yes, it was still a horrible, horrible year financially, but the support felt more powerful somehow. So Hug and Kiss Designs made it through 2020.
Now here we are in 2021 and I still have that same fighting attitude as my little company turns 14-years-old. I’m not going to let my business die! Not when I’ve raised it into a beautiful teenager with years worth of sarcasm and teenage angst ahead of it. What will 2021 bring to Hug and Kiss Designs? I’m not a fucking fortune teller, so I don’t know. I do know that I won’t give up, but I may have to adapt somehow. Does that mean a business partner? Does that mean hiring sales reps? Does that mean working with a national distributor again? Or does it mean working for someone else for a bit? Let the world return to “normal”… I don’t know what I’ll do, but I know I’ll keep selling my sassy/sarcastic/sinister cards. At least I’ll try to. Sometimes I look back and wonder what would have happened if I had landed one of those jobs in advertising? Where would I be now? I’d probably have more money in the bank, but do 9-5 jobs allow daily naps?
So, what is it like to run your own small business? It’s hard, it’s really hard. Especially through a global pandemic. But it turns out being your own boss is fucking awesome and I love it.
And I love Hug and Kiss Designs Inc. Happy Birthday to me!
PS- Have any questions for me about what it’s like being a small business owner? Want to know more about my nap schedule? Or just wanna wish Hug and Kiss Designs a happy birthday?! Comment below and I’ll see it!