Over the last 18 months, I’ve read a number of books about starting your own business. There’s Screw Work, Let’s Play by John Williams (no, not that John Williams); Build a Business from your Kitchen Table by Sophie Cornish and Holly Tucker, who started NotOnTheHighStreet.com; The Idea in You by Martin Amor and Alex Pellew. Two of my favourites are Marianne Cantwell’s Be a Free Range Human and Barbara Winter’s Making a Living Without a Job; if you’re thinking about striking out to do your own thing, these two are the ones I’d start with. Regardless, most books of this ilk make the same point: put perfectionism aside and get whatever it is you’re doing out into the world as soon as possible.
There are several reasons for doing this: the sooner you know if your product or service is viable, the sooner you can start to iterate and improve based on real customers. This in turns breeds its own momentum to keep you going. It will also show if whatever you’re doing is not viable; perhaps you need to rethink (not give up, just rethink!) the venture. It can also help stop perfectionism paralysis from creeping in, where a creator refuses to let his or her creation see the light of day unless it’s 100% perfect and polished. The problem with this attitude? Sometimes the product or idea never gets out because it’s never quite right. Or maybe it’s too late; what was a timely thought at the start of the year is passé when summer rolls round. Or maybe the designer’s view of perfect is not actually what paying customers want or need. Most companies now engage in releasing MVPs—minimum viable products—for just this reason.
I found this idea both liberating and scary. It makes complete sense when it’s spelled out, but I had to break habits learned since childhood that my work must be perfect. The product photos used for the MissElaineous store are a prime example of breaking free of this mindset. The lighting was blah, the images themselves so-so, and I just wasn’t happy with the way anything looked. I wasn’t sure what I could do to improve them, especially while in the middle of doing so many other things. So I just went with what I had, knowing I could always re-visit them at a later point.
Weeks turned into months. “New product photos” never left my to do list, and while I did turn my mind to it on occasion, nothing ever seemed to be what I was after. Yet while binge watching home improvement shows, I stumbled on Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Market. Now those are great product photos! Finally, I had my inspiration.
While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, there was still the matter of actually getting the pictures. Originally, I had sort of expected the product photos to more or less take care of themselves. After all, how hard could it be to take a picture of a greeting card or gift tag? Yet in going through the images at Magnolia Market, what came across was how carefully staged each was. In turn, this encouraged me to set up my own studio in the dining room. Using a rather large light borrowed from my husband’s green screen set, I could finally control the lighting and set the scene. One thing I didn’t like about some of the Magnolia pictures was how same-y they were, with the only difference being a new product. This is something that I am working to tackle with mine, changing the set up for each item. Who knew that you could stage gift tags?!
The final step is a square crop. The square photo format, once thought dead with Polaroid, has been revived with Instagram and the online shop I use, Big Cartel, is optimised for this format. Slowly but surely I am getting this changed over, creating a store that looks better and shows off the products as I wish them to be seen. Are the new pictures completely perfect? No. But they’re much better than they were at the start … and starting somewhere turned out to be the key in getting them where they are today.