Thinking About Starting a Small Business? Here’s How I Launched My Own During Quarantine

If you told me in early March that I’d be running my own small business now, I would not have believed you. Before the whole pandemic began, I was just a regular college student about to finish my senior year. I was in no way expecting a total shutdown of the world and my life as I knew it. 

During the past few months we’ve all been learning to adjust to a completely novel and surreal lifestyle — one that is shaped and limited by a virus, of all things. It has been overwhelming and frustrating. Our routines, plans and goals we’d made for the near future were thrown under the bus indefinitely. It’s no surprise that many of us have become more impotent and stressed. 

However, the pandemic has gifted us with more free time than many of us are used to. This has led to surprising sparks of creativity as we struggle to find ways to fill our time and continue to feel a sense of purpose.  

In late March, when the lockdown first began, my mom and I brainstormed random hobbies we could try. My mom happened to have some polymer clay laying around, so that night we rolled some out with a kitchen rolling pin and cut shapes with skincare caps and anything else we found around the house. Though I’d seen pictures of polymer clay jewelry on Pinterest, it was a material I was clueless about. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I was instantly hooked. I realized how many different shapes and colors you could play with — the ideas are endless. We baked a batch of poorly made pieces, but I felt so proud of them. I had never been into jewelry making, but using clay was a concept I was suddenly intrigued about. 

Fast forward a month or so and I’d made even more pieces, still using random “tools” and not caring too much about how they turned out. I started diving into the clay community on Pinterest and Instagram, which was more expansive than I could have ever imagined. After sharing what I made on Instagram, my friends began taking notice, some saying they’d even pay for a pair. People wanted to buy earrings from me? Earrings that I made and still barely knew anything about? 

I was shocked by the response I was getting, and that’s when I started manifesting the idea of starting a business.

Getting Started

After receiving so much positive feedback from friends and family, I decided why not see if I could make this newfound hobby into a tiny business. I was in quarantine with tons of free time on my hands, and I didn’t have a current source of income. The first thing I had to do was come up with a name for my business. “Rainbow’s Clay” came to me pretty naturally because rainbow is my nickname, and rainbows were becoming one of my favorite shapes to make. Once I had the name, I hired my talented friend who now has her own small business to design a logo for me (it is so neat having creative friends). 

The Next Steps

  • Created an Instagram page so I could start branding/marketing myself.
  • Researched and ordered the correct tools and supplies I needed to start (turns out, there’s a lot more that goes into making polymer clay earrings than I realized!).  
  • Figured out how to take payment and complete orders. At first, I started with having people DM me through Instagram to make orders, however, eventually I found that having a website was much more efficient for me and my customers. 
  • Created a Shopify website where I could link my products for people to purchase. Eventually, I might transfer to Etsy since it’s such a popular platform for artists. 
  • Came up with my first designs to sell, which was the most fun part!

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by polymer clay earrings (@rainbowsclay) on

Before long, I had established a solid following on Instagram and had completed my first collection. It featured some rainbow earrings meant to mimic my logo, and other spring themed designs. The response I got was astonishing — so many of my friends began to buy my earrings and even refer their friends to me. The support made me confident in what I had started, and excited to keep creating and learning. Now, four months later, I've reached 1k followers and have sold more earrings than I can count! I've even had orders from Italy, Canada, and France. My latest designs are inspired by the one and only Harry Styles (are we surprised?) who remains one of my biggest inspirations, for many areas in my life. If you also listen to Fine Line on repeat, check out the Sunflower Vol. 6 Arches and the Canyon Moon Landscapes

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by polymer clay earrings (@rainbowsclay) on

Building a community 

Building a community is more important than I had ever realized. After making a name for myself and following many other artists and creators, I started making connections. Other polymer clay makers reached out to me, asking to do collabs and help support one another’s business. I was pleasantly surprised at how encouraging this community was. It’s refreshing how supportive other artists can be, rather than competitive. 

At first, entering this new artistic world was intimidating; there are so many talented artists out there and I wasn’t sure I could be half as good. Once I became a part of a clay community on Instagram though, I felt much more confident in my business and the direction I was heading. 

Seeing other people doing the same things as you, at all different levels, gives you a whole new perspective. It isn’t a competition — it’s a support system. Building each other up, learning from each other, and admiring how unique everyone’s business is, rather than comparing their products to yours, will equate to success. 

Organizing your finances

Another important aspect of running your own small business is finding a system that helps you organize your spending and sales and figure out how much you should really be charging people. I was a little late to the game on this one. At first I just wanted to see if I’d even make any money, so I didn’t charge much and covered shipping myself. Soon enough I realized that wasn’t going to cut it. Since I’m doing all the work myself — designing, making the earrings, packing, and shipping — I have to charge enough to make a profit. 

I was a beginner at first, but over time I’ve slowly been improving my designs and learning how to create higher-quality products. There is so much time, energy, and money that goes into each and every pair, and I now understand why it’s so crucial to be supporting small business owners. Not only are you getting a one of a kind, unique item, but you’re also getting something made with an individual person’s love, care, and time. 

I have started using Excel sheets to keep track of how much money it actually takes to make each pair of earrings and each collection. This way, I can see whether I’m charging enough for particular designs or should be charging more. For example, one earring design from my last collection cost me about $7 to make, including the labor, packaging, and shipping costs. Another design costs closer to $3, yet I’m charging the same amount for both. Seeing the numbers laid out helps me see that, okay, maybe I should be charging a couple dollars more for the design that costs more to make. 

It’s a tedious process, I know. I had to go through old receipts to remember what materials cost, as well as write down every single material I used to make an earring, such as jump rings, backings, glue, posts, and the list goes on. Once you create the sheet and find a system that makes the most sense to you, it will become much easier to maintain. I also started keeping track of sales to see what products were more popular than others. If you’re starting your own business, find a system that works for you to keep track of what you’re spending and what you’re making. You’ll thank yourself later! 

Advice from fellow small business owners

I took to Instagram to ask my followers (which includes polymer clay makers like myself, among other kinds of artists) what they believe are the three most important aspects of starting a small business. Here’s what they said:

  • “Research/plan thoroughly, find your own aesthetic, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and try new things!” - @beadedbybelle
  • “Love for your products, a business plan, and great customer service” - @campbelladdisondesign
  • “Having confidence in yourself to fully immerse/invest yourself and your time into something you love and are passionate about” - @cassisbrown
  • “Know your customers & listen to their needs, social media marketing, & budget!” - @belovedpriceless
  • “Patience, an open mind to advice, perseverance!” - @indythreadco
  • “Courage, commitment and community” - @girl_behindthelens
  • “Being patient, being creative and thinking outside the box, taking on challenges” - @dauntlessdenim
  • “Belief in your originality, passion, and a willingness to back yourself” - @rawresa5
  • “Don’t compare yourself to others, be consistent and passionate be creative and original” - @annemariedeisgn.co

Like I said before, reaching out to your community, no matter what it is, is how you’ll be able to establish yourself, become inspired, and surround yourself with people that will support you and from which you can learn and improve. 

Don’t forget to promote yourself too! Be almost annoying about it; post to your stories, ask people to follow you, share photos of what you do, like and comment on other people’s posts, etc. Creating awareness of your business and brand is an important step in having a successful business and first launch. If you’re starting a small business, just remember: you’ll make mistakes, fail, and fail again. Then you’ll learn, grow, and improve. If you have a passion for what you do and want to share that passion with others, failure can never stand in the way. Take your time, do what makes you happy, and don’t pressure yourself to be perfect. 

It will be a process, trust me. It will also be so gratifying. Never in a million years did I think I’d have my own small business by the age of 22, let alone during a pandemic. I stumbled upon this adventure by accident, but it’s been one of the best things to happen to me, especially during a time of such uncertainty. I couldn’t have done it without the constant love and support from friends and family. Right now is the best time to be supporting small businesses, considering the current state of the economy, so make sure to follow small business owners, share & buy their products, refer your friends, and give them lots of love!