Three years on: Building a business from scratch
Maimoa Creative is turning three years old this week 🥳 In this blog post I reflect on the past three years by sharing some insights of starting and running a business based off my experiences.
In the three years since starting this pakihi (business) I have: released over 30 new products, started offering hand-lettered custom and pepeha prints, invested in a new studio, had another pēpi, gained over 20 stockists, survived two lockdowns, hosted brush lettering workshops, filmed an episode all in te reo Māori for a new series on Māori TV, spoken on the grad panel of RAMP Wintec Arts Festival 2021, designed a Māori board game, collaborated with Konei to create a unique set of Māori playing cards, successfully launched a new product that sold out within days, exported goods to Australia, gained 30k+ Instagram followers, and built up to 6-figure sales by the third year. It has been a wild ride, and it most certainly hasn't been easy, but it has been one of the most fulfilling adventures I have embarked on.
On the 15th of January 2019 Maimoa Creative (previously known as just 'Maimoa') officially launched a website, with a humble 5 greeting cards as our only product offering. But despite having that date recorded as the official 'beginning' of my small side hustle, the idea was in the works for many months leading up to launch day.
The idea behind Maimoa Creative started brewing when I was on maternity leave with my mātāmua (first born), Te Rauriki. I felt a strong desire to fuse my two passions of graphic design and promoting te reo Māori. It was difficult to find nice greeting cards that were in te reo Māori, and that was a problem I decided I wanted to solve. I had not long studied a one year full-immersion te reo Māori course (Te Tohu Paetahi), and had ignited a flame within me to help others on their own reclamation journey.
It was more of an experiment than anything. Just having a ‘tutu’ in between the chaotic moments of being a mum to a newborn and navigating that new season. It was so fun, just brainstorming ideas of everything that I wanted to create, with no boundaries or anyone telling me what they wanted, or how they thought it should look. There was so much freedom, and I thrived in my creativity when I could steer the waka in any direction that sat right with my wairua. I started out still working part-time as a creative at a design agency and working on Maimoa Creative on my days off/my evenings, then transitioned into full-time self-employed a year later.
When it came to deciding what to create, it felt natural to use my skills of lettering and design to feature on the products. All designs are hand-lettered by myself, here in my studio. I have always been obsessed with typography and fonts, and I find it therapeutic sitting down to letter with ink on paper. It also ensures originality and is a welcomed shift from the screen.
Piki me ngā heke
[Highs and lows]
The main struggle I had at the start was finding the work/life balance (which, if I’m to be honest, is still hard to master!). But most other things just fell into place. I felt hugely supported by my whānau and friends, and I have never gotten to a point where I feel like giving up, because it has all felt so right and I get so much joy from it.
Negatives of running my own business: being so invested that it takes up a lot more mental energy, late nights, being a perfectionist because it’s your reputation you have to maintain, having to wear all the hats, not being in a position at the start to hire people to deal with jobs you’re not too keen on (e.g. admin, book-keeping, customer service, stock management etc). I have had to learn to be more disciplined with my time, because even though getting a business off it's feet takes a lot of time and energy at the start, my ultimate goal is to create a lifestyle that allows me to be more present with my whānau, so I have started making a rule of not going out to work in my studio at night (unless I have urgent deadlines).
Positives: freedom, flexibility, ability to choose which direction the business goes, being able to say no to whatever doesn’t resonate with me. Thankfully, the positives totally out-weigh the negatives, otherwise I don't think I would have lasted very long 😂 I have learnt so much these past three years. Not just about business either, but about myself and how much I am capable of when my main motivation is passion.
Proudest achievements: building my own platform to create change by encouraging and empowering other learners of te reo Māori. Aside from creating products that promote te reo Māori, I started investing a lot of time into creating social media content that was educational, encouraging, and entertaining. Receiving messages from followers sharing how my content has helped them on their reclamation or learning journey is honestly one of the most rewarding moments for me as a business owner. It's real-life feedback confirming that something I started is making an impact, and that is one of the biggest compliments to receive in my opinion. Yes, I love hearing if people love the quality or look of my products, but I get butterflies when I receive a message from a whānau who is connecting back with their roots sharing how a product I created or reel I posted helped them move forward in their journey. That to me is the ultimate measure of success for my pakihi. Not numbers. But stories of impact.
He kupu akiaki
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs / small business owners:
I am by no means an expert, but am happy to share some tips from what I have learnt from my own journey.
Create a brand that you’re PROUD of. A brand that is more than just selling a product or service, but it evokes emotion and allows your audience to connect with your kaupapa on a deeper level.
Don't be afraid to make big decisions. Nobody else is going to make them for you! Be realistic. Starting any new business is a risk, and you have to accept that things won't always go to plan, and growth takes time. Your first year is one of the toughest, but keep pushing through and remind yourself of the bigger picture and your ultimate goals.
Make wise investments early. Don't skimp on branding or cut corners when it comes to the quality of your products/service. If you want quality, then be prepared to pay for it. You have to spend money to make money.
Don't wait until everything is perfect before starting, because it never will be. Get your idea to a point where you're happy with making it available to the public, then take the plunge. You can figure out the rest along the way.
Believe in your brand, and believe in yourself. If you don't believe in your brand, then you can't expect others to. Be incredibly and openly proud of what you have created, and if you're not proud of it, then what can you do to solve that?
Be precious with your time. It's easy to spend unnecessary amounts of time on tasks at the beginning when things are slow, but when your business grows you want to be able to sustain it without burning out. Learn to plan better, work more efficiently, and to outsource when necessary.
If you don't know how to do something — either learn how to do it, or hire a pro who can do it. Google, YouTube, other business owners, online courses, free workshops — there are so many great resources out there, but you have to be willing to stretch yourself and sometimes get out of your comfort zone! I'm terrible with numbers, so hiring an accountant was one of the best business decisions I made for my sanity 😂
Lastly — regularly check in with yourself. Make sure that flame is still going. Are you still passionate about what you're doing? Are there some things that maybe aren't floating your boat anymore? What can you do to change that? Is there perhaps a new direction you could take things to keep your day-to-day mahi fulfilling and exciting? You're the one making all the calls, so if you're not happy with the direction your business is going, then you're the only one with the power to change that.