You know the old adage, “When life gives you lemons”…you do what? That’s right. You make lemonade. Or in this case, beautiful watercolors of lemons. And then not stopping with a beautiful product, but creating a business around that beautiful product, selling prints, doing commissions, custom pet portraits, or handcrafted stationery.

Lemons Stationery by Margaret Wilbourne

To take advantage of life’s hurdles, such as a global pandemic, and use that as a time to focus on your art and your business is truly making that metaphorical lemonade. These three creative entrepreneurs share their best advice in starting their creative business during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Finley Buchanan

Finley Buchanan is a talented artist, using a variety of mediums to create striking designs, beautiful portraits, captivating landscapes, and a signature painting style. Finley started her business in the fall of 2020 amongst the COVID-19 Pandemic, but has been an active artist her whole life. Finley’s art is centered around “home”.

Finley states, “I have had many homes throughout my life, starting from when I was little moving with my family to new houses and hometowns and even traveling the world as I have gotten older. Each place I have ventured to has taught me what it means to call a place “home” and how that is directly related to a feeling deep inside all of us.” She wants her patrons to experience that quintessential feeling of “home” when they engage and view her pieces.

How did you start your business during the pandemic? Where do you see it going?

“The biggest thing that pushed me to jump into monetizing my art is something I heard on one of the many podcasts I listen to on a daily basis, The Goal Digger Podcast, right around the beginning of COVID-19. The podcaster explained that calling what you have ‘a business’ happens the moment you make a sale. You don’t have to have all of the fancy bells and whistles you see with storefronts or online stores and businesses. When you make that first sale, you are running a business. Hearing that made having my own art business seem attainable to me, especially since I had already made a few sales on different art pieces at that point.”

Instagram Post from Artist Finley Buchanan

As Finley continues to grow her business, she utilizes different methods and tools available to her such as her Instagram, her website, and of course the classic and traditional business card. Being an artist and entrepreneur, Finley is no stranger to research and continues to look for inspiration and guidance as she looks to refine and grow her business. Another aspect of growth that Finley encourages other entrepreneurs to utilize is to know their best learning strategies. For Finley, that is through action and access to different approaches while many of her friends may learn best through books or one-on-one coaching. Whatever is your best way, Finley advises to work that with your strengths.

What is your best advice for starting an art business?

“Don’t lose sight of your goal. Any artist is never finished learning and growing. It is important to constantly find a way to challenge and perfect your skills and equally important to leave room in your life for you to do that. It gets hard to manage the business pieces and the art pieces, especially when you are artistically minded. Give yourself grace where you need it and the space to stumble and grow on both sides of your work. Finally, I strongly encourage anyone going on this path to find mentors who are where they hope to be one day. Take your time and know that your work is worthy. The moment someone buys your work you are officially the owner of a business and your work is valued. You are capable of doing this if you put in the time and effort to move forward down the path.”

Feed My Soul #4 by Finley Buchanan
What is your best advice in dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic in regards to your business?

“I have not been affected by the pandemic much in my business since I am just now promoting my work more and making moves to expand. I think the biggest thing this pandemic has taught large and small business owners is that you must develop the virtual aspect of your business in order to build an infrastructure that can withstand world crises like the one we are in. The internet is how you can amplify your art and your message so it is important to utilize it and work with the algorithms as best you can.”

Kate Wilson

Portrait of Kate Wilson created by Dear Margo Designs

Kate Wilson’s business For the LOVE of is dedicated to adding that personalized touch, a dash of whimsy, a sprinkle of innovation, and a whole helping of joy, to her stationery and customized pieces. Everything is done at home and her customized pieces come with a matching set of stationery. In a time where connecting with others is hard, places centered on community and socializing are closed, and many zoom calls, cards and letters are those extra somethings that bring joy and break the monotony of this ongoing pandemic lifestyle. Kate states on her website that she started making cards, “in an effort to give friends and family more heartfelt gifts during times of celebration and loss.” This is the perfect time for those cards to come to fruition in 2020 and beyond. Kate had plans to start her business earlier, but because of the quarantine’s slower pace and less constant mental demands, she was able to start her business in May 2020.

Your business is centered on your creativity, do you have any advice for someone thinking about starting their own creative business?

“My advice is that—at least in the creative field—there is a market for just about anything and everything. For example, on a whim, I included a listing for Big Foot stationery that I made for my fiancé years back (random, I know. It was a college nickname!). I never figured that Sasquatch cards would sell to anyone besides his family, but it has actually brought in a lot of orders from people near and far! For a frame of reference, try thinking of the most specific gift that you’ve ever searched for and then think of the most creative, niche thing that you can create. Someone out there might be searching for exactly what you’re creating. Don’t be afraid to put it all out there!”

“My advice is that—at least in the creative field—there is a market for just about anything and everything. For example, on a whim, I included a listing for Big Foot stationery that I made for my fiancé years back (random, I know. It was a college nickname!). I never figured that Sasquatch cards would sell to anyone besides his family, but it has actually brought in a lot of orders from people near and far! For a frame of reference, try thinking of the most specific gift that you’ve ever searched for and then think of the most creative, niche thing that you can create. Someone out there might be searching for exactly what you’re creating. Don’t be afraid to put it all out there!”

What is your best advice for starting a business?

“It’s like ripping off a big band-aid. Be patient with yourself and with the process, and keep realistic but hopeful expectations about your first few years of business. Also, rely on the advice of other small business owners. One of my dearest friends, Margaret (Dear Margo Designs), has also become a mentor of mine as we both navigate the unknown terrains of owning a creative small business. Share knowledge, ask for advice and resources, and team up—maybe even for a giveaway!”

Instagram Post from For the LOVE of
 What is your best advice for dealing with the effects of the Pandemic in regards to your business? 

“Communicate, communicate, communicate with your buyers. For me, most of the hurdles of the pandemic have been with production or shipping delays. So, for example, if the pandemic has brought shipping delays, be sure to be communicative about that (i.e. post about it in multiple places and send direct messages). I have found that people are almost always understanding of our greater situation–even after surviving one of the wildest shipping seasons ever in December! Essentially, have grace with people and hope that they will do the same with you.”

Margaret “Margo” Wilbourne

Margaret Wilbourne Self Portrait

Margaret “Margo” Wilbourne’s business, Dear Margo Designs, combines creativity, beauty, and offers potential customers basically anything they can imagine. Margaret says, “I’ve always had a million and one interests, and Dear Margo Designs is no different! My business offers a little bit of everything, from home goods, dog bandanas, custom art, and invitations—each featuring my digital illustrations and watercolors.” As you look at her Etsy store and see the variety of options she offers from baby onesies to keychains, you will be amazed by incredible designs and charm.

Margaret’s designs are beautiful and captivating things because that is where her passion and talents lie. During her second year of law school, Margaret had the opportunity to create wedding invitations for her friend’s wedding. When she realized how much hard work and time she was putting into the project and how effortless it felt, she knew she wanted to start a creative business one day. After graduating from law school, Margaret moved home to care for her mother, recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Her time at home overlapped with the pandemic, allowing her to start Dear Margo Designs. 

What was your push to start your business? When did you start and how did you handle the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic?

“After a month into the quarantine, I decided to fire back up my old Etsy shop that I first started in 2015. I started out with a few tea towel designs, and a sale or two. Now, customers can choose from over 90 items in the shop, and I’ve made several hundred sales! Without the pandemic, I honestly don’t know if I would have had the confidence to try something totally out of my comfort zone (after enduring three very challenging years of law school, not immediately using your degree is a little nerve-wracking), or to take the time to build a business from scratch. I think the pandemic also helped keep people on Instagram, which only helped me gain more followers and business! I’m so, so very lucky to be able to see the pandemic as a blessing, because I know so many small business owners may never come back from the ways it affected and continues to affect them. That’s why I view every sale, no matter how small, as a celebration! I feel so blessed to be able to do what I love, even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.”

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about starting their own creative business?

“Today, a big part of the way I define a successful business is as work that doesn’t feel like work. I love everything I create and sell on Dear Margo, and I get super excited about every new idea that makes its way to me! It took some time to build my brand and audience, but I eventually found my niche, where my original designs are appreciated just as they are.”

“Beyond avoiding burn out, creating things that you love serves any creative business owner in that your enthusiasm is going to show through every social media post, every conversation, and every product you design. Potential customers are going to get excited for the things you’re excited to share with them! The more you prioritize what style or medium you like, the more you’ll be able to stay true to yourself and your vision. That’s far more sustainable than chasing profits or a particular audience!”

What is your best advice for starting a business in general?

“This might sound completely unhelpful, but the best advice I could give to someone wanting to start a business is just to put yourself out there! Whether that’s creating a business Instagram account or getting a head start on the product, app, or service you want to offer, you’re only going to find success if you try to go out and get it—waiting for the ‘right’ time only leaves you waiting. In the fall of 2019, I was home taking care of my mom and not able to work full-time or use the law degree I’d just earned. Not exactly the recipe for feeling like a successful businesswoman! I wanted to start a creative business, but I was so intimidated that I just never got started until the quarantine when I had nothing to lose!”

Instagram Post from Dear Margo Designs
What is your best advice with dealing with the effects of the Pandemic in regards to your business?

“I’m lucky to operate an entirely virtual business, so the pandemic hasn’t affected me in the way it continues to hurt brick-and-mortar businesses. While I’ve been lucky, I am really conscious that more people are struggling financially right now, whether they’ve been furloughed or find themselves unemployed. It’s not much, but I like to offer my Instagram followers freebies like background downloads and giveaways to try and give everyone a chance to interact with Dear Margo! Also, I’d add that believing in yourself enough to keep trying, even when sales are slow, is so important. There will be highs and lows, but keeping a hand in the game pays off!”

How did these creative entrepreneurs inspire you? What advice are you going to apply to your business? Tell us in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.