2021 Business Review

I’ve decided to make this a yearly habit, completing a business review of the previous year and then writing a second blog post about what I’m going to do differently this year.

So 2021 was a great year for my business, not so much personally but I’ll get to that!

2021 was the first year my business profit was greater than my business expenses. Now I know the goal of having a business shouldn’t just be about money, but when I hear the saying ‘if you are not making any profit than all you have is an expensive hobby’ it feels too close to the truth. So I am very happy I am starting to make a profit and want this to continue into 2022.

So the question is how did this start to improve? I think it was a result of three things I did differently in 2021:

1. Social media training

At the start of 2021, I decided to join the Social Club Community which delivers weekly lessons on all things Instagram. Each month you also get a monthly planner with heaps of ideas and examples for social media posts. I am SO GLAD I joined this membership. I finally had a structure and purpose to my social media. Each month I dedicated 1-2 days to plan my social media posts for the following month. I also followed the advice on engagement and started to see Instagram as a business tool rather than something fun to procrastinate with. Since I started following the Social Club lessons I’ve had an impressive increase in Instagram followers and engagement, and most importantly have gained many INDUSTRY RELEVANT followers – i.e. those companies I actually want to work with. Best of all I licensed two designs directly through Instagram and gained quite a few enquiries.

an image showing Instagram grid of bright photos - Instagram playing a key role in the surface pattern design business review
my Instagram grid in 2021 😍

My advice: if you feel really confused about Instagram or hate using it, I highly suggest finding social media training that appeals to you. Many people who offer social media training will have free tutorials, videos etc – I recommend doing this first and seeing if you enjoy the style of the person doing the training. At the end of the day, Instagram is basically a free tool for your business and it can really help if you use it effectively.

2. Choosing an industry to design for

As I didn’t get that much design time, I decided to focus on creating patterns for a specific industry. I chose to focus on swimwear and activewear for a few reasons:

  • I love creating VERY bright and a bit crazy designs which suit this industry
  • There are so many ethical and eco-friendly swimwear and activewear companies who I’d love to work with
  • I don’t really buy many new clothes at all… most of my clothes come from opshops or vintage stores. However swimwear especially is something I buy new and so yes, there is a selfish reason for wanting my designs on clothing I actually need 😂

By choosing to create designs that would suit swimwear and activewear, it really helped me focus on my trend research, my artwork creation, my branding, and which companies I actively approached.

I just love dreaming up fun swimwear!

My advice: if you find you don’t get much time to design, or your designs aren’t coherent, think about what products you just love, or you would absolutely love to buy with your artwork on them. Then start looking at companies in that industry and what sort of designs are popular. If you have never done trend research before I highly recommend Cat Coquillette’s class on How to Discover Profitable Design Trends Before Anyone Else.

3. Start contacting companies directly

This is the big one and the activity I think that scares a lot of people. I had definitely been putting this off as I kept thinking I needed more designs. If you have read my 2021 goals and attitude blog post you will see my main goal of 2021 was to licence 10 designs. Well I realised that wouldn’t happen with the power of Instagram alone (though it did help!).

So I drafted a lovely email template, created a low resolution jpg of my designs, and just started emailing companies I thought I would be a good fit for.

And guess what? I managed to get a couple of fantastic collaborations and much more confidence in contacting companies directly.

Lady sitting with back to camera, facing computer to send emails for her business - part of business review
emails emails emails

My advice: Get everything set up first – an email template to introduce yourself and why your work would suit that company, and some examples of your designs as a low resolution attachment. I created a template in Photoshop so I can select designs that would suit each specific company I contact – a bit time-consuming but by hand-picking designs I hope to send artwork the company may like!

Start a list of companies you want to contact even if you are not ready to send emails yet. I use Airtable to manage my contacts list. Then take a deep breath and just start emailing! It helps if you imagine you are just an employee of the business (your design studio) and this is one of your jobs to contact people. You have to be prepared for either no responses or negative responses – but this is totally normal. I’m lucky to get one reply out of 20 emails sent out, even if that reply is thanks but no thanks. Trust me eventually you will get a positive response!

And now for the fun (personal) stuff…

So while everything was going along very nicely with my business, I had a bit of a health surprise last year. In June I found out I had a papillary thyroid cancer, which is not that serious luckily. However it is never fun being told you have a lump but waiting weeks to find out exactly what it is – this sort of experience does make you question what you are doing with your life!

I had surgery to remove part of my thyroid, and since then have prioritised my health (especially exercise) always making sure I do exercise before I start any work. I also have stopped forcing myself to stay up at night to do work, if I’m tired I go to sleep.

This experience also reinforced the notion of enjoying each day, I realise I am very happy to be doing what I am right now and while it is important to work on my business, it is also important to make time for fun stuff and not push yourself too hard!

In my previous business reviews I spoke a lot about trying to work with limited time, 2021 was no different in that I had about 10-12 hours each week to focus on my business (basically when my daughter was at daycare). When my daughter was with me, I made a conscious effort to do things with her, and only – let’s be honest – put her in front of the tv if I had something URGENT to get done that couldn’t wait until a daycare day.

I only allocated one or two big tasks to each work day, and instead of feeling like I had a million things to do and never getting anywhere, I felt much more relaxed yet still got heaps done. The MiGoals Goal Digger Planner was excellent at helping with keeping me focussed and managing my time!

an abstract design on swim leggings - highlight of 2021 surface pattern design business review
my amazing swim leggings!

So if I look back at my goals for 2021, the main ones were to:

  • licence 10 designs – I managed to licence 8 which I was very happy about
  • improve my realistic nature illustration – I didn’t do as much drawing last year as I would’ve liked! Towards the end of the year I started drawing lots of shells but I didn’t keep up with the botanical illustration like I planned.

And finally… my absolute favourite highlight of 2021? Having my design Hokey Pokey feature on eco-friendly swim leggings – which I actually wear to swim laps each week!

I hope you enjoyed this 2021 business review – stay tuned for my next blog post which is all about my 2022 goals! If you don’t want to miss a post, you can subscribe to my newsletter which includes my latest blog posts and other interesting things!

2 Replies to “2021 Business Review”

  1. […] if you haven’t already, go back and read my 2021 business review so you can see where we are up to. And yes, I do realise it is May already but I’m glad to […]

  2. […] to my 2022 business review! Unlike last year I am actually getting to write my business review close to the start of the year […]

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