This is a potted history of the last couple of months, the dumb and dumber guide to starting up a business in your house, while being massively incredibly depressed.
1. Have an Idea
In July I was out of work, bored, and considering the idea of making dog accessories to sell. I’d been making stuff for my own dog for years, because I could never find anything I liked that I could afford. I started looking on Etsy to find things I wanted, but couldn’t get in this country, or things that I liked, but weren’t quite right. I decided I would like to make slip-on bandanas with cheeky sayings on, and hammered tags. I’d make them in bright rainbow colours because every time I found something I liked, it was on some insipid pastel; AND IT WOULD BE GREAT.
I had never made a bandana in my life; but I did own a sewing machine. I did not own a hammer.
2. Jump in with Both Feet
At the end of July, my mum sent me a die-cutting machine and an alphabet, and I made my first bandana. #NoRegrets. Clearly my dog never regrets ANYTHING, but occasionally, I wonder if he thinks this was a stupid idea.
My local pet shop opened a second location, and advertised for new local makers; and like a total nut bar, I messaged her that I had some stuff. Then I started making it.
3. Pick a good Name
I was thinking along the likes of ‘Steve&Morrie’ or ‘MorrieStuff’ until I had a long phone conversation with my sister where she explained that in the real world, when you’re trying to sell books, you START by thinking about who you want to buy them. And apparently it’s not enough to say ‘people like me’, because that made her laugh quite hard.
She suggested P!NK was a good potential customer. That I needed to build up an idea in my head of the kind of person who I wanted to sell to… and then only design for that person. If I don’t think the design will appeal to them, I shouldn’t make it. At some point in this discussion we started thinking about names, which she said didn’t need to reflect me, but really needed to show what I was making. What are you going to make? ‘Stuff for dogs with rude sh*t on.’ Oh hello…
4. Try not to be a Total Tit
At this point the whole thing nearly crashed and burned in the first week of August. I took all my samples into the pet shop, and the lady went went… hmmmm I like this, but I can’t stock it unless you’re insured (had I even thought of insurance; had I heck.) I don’t think this will sell, this is too much like these, this treat bag is NOT going to work (further testing - it did not.) This yellow bandana is great! What the heck does Accio Treat mean? I don’t want it to say Accio Whatever; I want ‘Nervous’, because I CANNOT FIND IT ANYWHERE. I want all the other colours, there’s lots, can you do that?. Go and research it and show me some.
So I go home, depressed as heck, and I tell my partner, the lady hated everything except the yellow bandana, and she wants me to change it. And he says… call your sister. My sister says ‘OH MY GOD SHE LIKED SOMETHING AND SHE WANTS TO BUY IT. I did not expect that. I thought you’d probably get turned down.’ And that is the story of how I discovered a niche market while thinking I was being shot down in flames.
5. Never say No
When someone asks you if you can do a thing… I’ve always found that if you say yes, then usually you can work it out afterwards. It is more or less a family motto.
Sometimes though, it takes a fair bit of thinking. I couldn’t get the die-cut fabric letters I was using to work with the designs the pet shop wanted, because the fabric disintegrated when the font was too small. I tried using the die-cutter with iron-on vinyl, but it just chewed it up. So I bought a vinyl cutting machine, and was now able to offer different fonts and styles for custom bandanas… and cut pictures! At this point, it was mid August, and we had our first big order; to stock two pet shops in Newcastle and Tynemouth.
6. Don’t always say Yes
In September things went a bit crazy, and I was being contacted by more pet shops, getting orders online… and generally just losing contact with reality a little bit. I did learn one really important lesson though; when someone asks you if you can do something really really cheap… sometimes it’s worth just saying no, politely. Believe in your product, know what it costs to make it, and what similar items cost. If it’s a good product… it will sell. Sometimes the customer you write off as uninterested because of price will surprise you by turning around and putting in a big order!
7. Take it at your own pace
By the first week of October, my bandanas were in four pet shops in the North East, and I had orders for 2 more shops in the South. I had to close my order list and stop developing new ideas just to get the orders I had, completed. It has not really slowed down all month, although my mental health has not been great, so I’ve not been promoting, or attempting to sell anything… everything is just quietly ticking along by itself.
I’m massively frustrated by the number of ideas I have that I can’t realise, because when I’m not busy, I’m too ill with depression to create anything. I’m working on it slowly though - when I have an idea now I write it down or draw it out, so I don’t forget it, and this gives me hope that when I feel better, all my ideas will be waiting for me.
There’s probably some sort of ideal timing blueprint for when you should start looking for Models on Instagram - and I doubt it’s two months in, when you’ve only just managed to get your 3rd product online - but I think you really have to do things when you need to, rather than when some idealised piece of paper says you should. When the pup started looking worried in bandana photographs, because of the stress I was under, I decided it was time to think about outsourcing.
8. Have a great team
You don’t need a huge team, you don’t even need them to be in the same country as you, but you definitely need a team. My team consists of my best friend Janka, whose slightly scary little dog Penny was my second model and tester; my sister Sorrel, whose dog Oscar is near impossible to use as a model, but tests the heck out of anything; and my partner Mikey, who says he isn’t a crafty person.
When something goes wrong, I always have one of them to give me advice, or make me laugh. Mikey now cuts all the bandanas, helps with the pinning, cuts all the vinyl… and in a pinch, will iron it on too. It turned out that hammering dog tags inflamed my carpal tunnel issues - so he does that too; we’ll be releasing those in the next week or so. He’s definitely not a crafty person though. Sorrel helps me choose fonts, tells me what’s hot and what’s not, thinks of funny puns and great bandana ideas, and generally keeps the wheels turning. Janka makes me feel like a normal person, or at least, like it doesn’t matter if I’m not a normal person, because WE CAN DO THIS ANYWAY.
9. What to do when your get up and go has f*cked off and gone
If you have a mental illness, or you have children, chances are, at some point, you are just going to have a day, or a week, when you just have zero f*cks to give. There is nothing left in the tank. You are done. But.. there are still orders to be fulfilled. I can’t tell you how to solve the problem, but I can suggest some of my survival techniques: First of all, if you can, get up and get working first thing in the morning before you get dressed if you are someone who gets massively demotivated by it suddenly being half way through the morning and nothing has been done yet.
If you absolutely have to get some work done, make a drink, sit down, work for a 20 minute timed duration. During that 20 mins, you are allowed to check your phone if it beeps at you, but you can’t check email, or social media. After the 20 minutes, you can either take a break, or do a 10 minute hardcore zero phone work session. Keep doing these 30 minute sessions with breaks in between to give yourself motivation.
Reward yourself for getting things done - try not to beat yourself up for not doing things. Make lists. Tick things off. Don’t overload yourself - just say, sorry, we’ve had to increase our order time. Don’t push it too hard; you want to be in this for the long haul, not the short burn.
10. Do Not Kill Yourself
At some point, you will make a booboo, or come up against an utter total and complete cretin, or both. It’s really, really important that at this point, you do not jump off a cliff, however tempting this may seem. It’s also a really good idea not to send abusive emails, or give someone a d*mn good kick, however much they may deserve it. Do not send any emails while you are angry, or in shock; always read your emails really carefully, and shelve problems you can’t deal with for another day.
Get plenty of advice, even if it’s only from your team, and the people they suggest you talk to. Above all - try and remember, it is not the be all and end all; it is only a small business, not the end of the world. What seems like a gigantic problem today, will have pretty much disappeared in a fortnights time. Probably.
To date we have made 276 dog bandanas for six pet shops in Britain, and for individual dogs all over the UK, USA, Australia and Canada. I didn’t think this would take off, but it did. I don’t know what you are planning, but my advice is… try it. You might rock it.
And if you’ve made it all the way through this blog, and you think you might know a Rude Dog, you can pick up a 15% discount on our Etsy shop with the code BLOG15 (https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/RudeDogAccessories?coupon=BLOG15)or apply to be a model on http://www.instagram.com/rude_dog_accessories