Natalie van Dijk (nee Vice) of Sugar and Vice, always knew two things: that she wanted to run her own business and that she wanted to incorporate her creative talents into this business. The impetus to make this happen eventually came in the form of her retrenchment from a comfortable marketing job in 2014. Rather than acknowledge defeat, Natalie saw this as an opportunity to reinvent herself and make that business idea happen!
Sugar & Vice was started without any funding, handouts or loans. Instead Natalie relied on tenacity, hard work and an uncompromising commitment to her vision to build the brand. All Sugar & Vice products are handmade in Cape Town. The growth and development of the local creative industry is of key importance to the brand.
Starting and managing a business has been a steep learning curve for me and I am always happy to share my experience and learnings with friends, family and acquaintances. The thing is though that it is a very complex question to which the only short answer is, it is complicated and a lot of hard work. But I’ve given this question a lot of thought and condensed it into five points, which I am happy to share here.
Note that this is by no means the comprehensive guide to starting or running a business. This is merely my experience on my particular kind of business (an online shop in the creative industries with a wholesale element).
Over the years I have invested in my own professional learning, growth and development by, among others, doing a mini MBA course in business management, various kinds of training with the Craft and Design Institute (CDI), and courses in graphic design and interior decorating. I’ve worked in marketing, sales and admin roles and all of these have added to my experience in various ways.
1. Do (A LOT OF) research
This is so important, because you need to know where in the market to position your product or service. Make sure you have a unique selling point – so that you know exactly what sets you apart from similar brands. See what similar products are priced at. Get quotes from all suppliers. Don’t forget about packaging. Find out how much the initial out lay will be and think about how you are going to finance this.
2. Draw up a business plan
No, you won’t stick to it exactly because theory is one thing and practice is something completely different, but this is an important exercise to get you thinking about your business and how you are going to make it work. Write down your vision and mission statement. Note down what you want to achieve with your business. Include how you will finance things and what your marketing plan is.
3. Start small
At the beginning I went a bit bananas with the variety of colourways I made my products available in. I should’ve chosen just two colourways to simplify things and to establish my brand. Also, don’t go overboard with spending too much money on stationery and equipment, only get what you absolutely need. You don’t want your cash to be stuck in objects, instead of being available for spending on suppliers/couriers. Don’t make your range too big. I’d advise starting with between five and ten to test the market, and gradually adding on from there.
4. Do market research
Delve deep here. You need to make sure you know who your customer is, what they like, when they buy, how they like to be communicated with etc. If you do this properly then you will be able to market your products more effectively.
5. Professional photos
The need for professional photographs cannot be stressed enough. This makes the world of difference. I have uploaded photos of my product to social media that I’ve taken myself and no sales, but as soon as I uploaded a professional photo of the same product, I made a few sales of that item the same day. Photography is definitely worth the financial investment.