Having a strong sense of etiquette and professional practice is an important part of running your own business. Here are some tips on how to conduct yourself in a way that will set you apart from your competition and help you to succeed in the creative marketplace.
The creative industry is a competitive place. This is something I'm sure we've all realised at some point. Having said that, it is an amazing and inspiring place too and I wouldn't want to work anywhere else. But it can sometimes seem daunting and scary to put yourself out there – trying so hard to “make it” alongside all the others who are clamouring for the exact same thing. It may seem trivial at first, but having good business etiquette can really set you apart and make you unforgettable to your customers and clients.
I've seen great businesses with loads of potential falter and even fade under the pressure of competition. I've experienced it too. To some extent it can be a good motivator, but there could be times where it is disheartening, especially when it feels like you're doing everything right but seem to still be running on the spot.
Set yourself apart by the way you conduct yourself in your business.
My first ever Etsy shop was a clothing and accessories business called Heartbreaker. I had great product, I knew how to promote myself, I had an imaginative vision, fine-tuned making skills, and a cute brand identity. But still my little label never really took off like I wanted it to.
In the years since I have dabbled in a variety of creative ventures, experiencing success and also failure. I have achieved amazing things, but I've also made lots of mistakes. All of that is a part of having your own business. Through all of this though, the one thing that has emerged as so vitally important in succeeding in this industry (something I was so oblivious about when I first got started) is etiquette.
When you're up against tonnes of creative legends who are making similar products to you, offering the same services as you, and pretty much hanging off the same ladder rung as you try to get to the top, you can most definitely set yourself apart by the way you conduct yourself in your business. Here are the things that I believe are essential parts of having great business etiquette.
Okay, so this sounds dumb, but it's seriously one of the most important things I've learned in my career so far! It actually applies to everything in life, not just your business. People who are nice to others will attract niceness in return. I would rather do business with this kind of person over someone who is nasty, rude, and disrespectful.
It might seem a bit black and white, but that's because it is. This doesn't mean you have to be a pushover in conflict situations, but if you attempt to maintain a courteous, polite, and respectful attitude in business, no matter who or what you're up against, you'll gain the respect and admiration of others and come off as being a generally nice person, which you are!
This relates to the whole 'be nice' thing. When you're feeling disheartened by that competitive pressure we talked about earlier, always remember that there is someone else out there who is probably looking at you and all of your achievements and may be feeling that pressure too, about you!
There will always be someone who will wish they could be where you're at right now, just as you may feel about others. You should be proud of the things you have achieved, because you worked hard to get them, just don't forget about those guys.
Having a sense of modesty and being humble and appreciative of other people's admiration are great traits in my opinion. To me, when a person has these traits I can truly be happy for them when they succeed. And really, no one wants to support someone who brags about what they have that you don't.
Learn to Give and Take Feedback
Creativity is such a personal thing. When someone doesn't like something you've created, it can hurt. Despite the masses of fans you may have, there will probably be someone out there who doesn't like what you do – a customer could be dissatisfied with something they bought from your store for example, or a client could end up hating a project they commissioned from you. It's unfortunate but again, it's a part of running your own business.
Not everyone has the gift of giving constructive criticism either. They may be tactless and a bit mean about it all, but that doesn't mean you have to let it make you feel horrible. It can be a challenge, but try to take a professional approach and attempt to be gracious about negative feedback – you don't have to take it on board if you don't want to, but you may just learn something from it too.
And when giving feedback to others, think about the way you'd want to be treated in that situation, and try to do the same for someone else. They'll get more out of a bit of constructive feedback than they will an insult. It's all part of being a professional.
Don't Keep People Waiting
This is one I struggle with sometimes! It's okay to be busy – that's a good thing when it comes to having your own business! If you're anything like me, being busy also means being a bit frazzled, slightly scatterbrained, and in a bit of a tizzy about what needs to be done and when.
No matter how many to-do lists are written, how many calendars are synched, or how many reminder alarms are set, being busy means you sometimes fall behind with the day-to-day and that is totally okay, because you're a bit run off your feet. So how can you manage all of this, and maintain that crucial high level of customer service with your clients and customers?
If they're kept waiting for elongated periods of time they might start to think you don't care enough about doing business with them because you're late responding to that email, sending through those quotes or invoices, or mailing their order. You could just be totally frantic trying to get stuff done, but to them it might seem unprofessional.
Your customers and clients will appreciate and applaud your high level of customer service, and hopefully word will spread and generate more business.
This is where time management comes into play. It's something I have to strictly enforce for myself, to make sure I stay on track. Set aside specific times in your work week to attend to customer service tasks. For example, I try to spend around 40 minutes in the morning answering emails (I usually get my morning coffee and do it while I'm drinking that). I will block out an hour or so every couple of days to write up and send quotes. A certain afternoon each week is good for dedicating specifically to my invoicing. And I do all my packaging and mailing of Etsy orders each Wednesday morning.
Have a look at your weekly work schedule and jot down things like this that require time dedicated just for them, then schedule them in and try your best to stick to it! Your customers and clients will appreciate and applaud your high level of customer service, and hopefully word will spread and generate more business.
Support Your Community
We're all out to succeed in our own creative ventures – to build ourselves up and achieve things we've always dreamed of achieving. But let's not forget about all those other guys we talked about who are trying to do the same thing. It's my firm belief that being part of a creative community is essential for your own individual success. The more you interact with and support other creative people, the wider your circle of contacts becomes.
This means more people being aware of you and your business. Word of mouth is often the best form of publicity so the more people who know you are talking about you, the better. But it's not just that. Community is so important. Without it, you'd be without inspiration, support, and understanding. And the wider the community, the more opportunities will arise for those within it.
Join a craft club, sign up to your local Etsy team, or take a creative class to meet new people. And don't forget online - you can form strong ties through social media and blogs too. (A quick tip for bloggers - always credit where credit is due! This will show respect for other bloggers and help grow a strong online community). All of these people are like you, they understand what you're going through because they've been through it themselves, and that is super comforting!
I'd love to hear your top tips on business etiquette. Leave a comment and share your thoughts!