Launching a Small Business during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

The first painting I sold was Frida in Blue. It's a front-facing portrait of Frida Kahlo wearing a sunflower pendant, blue blouse and eye earrings on a warm background. I initially exhibited this piece at Empresso Coffeehouse in Stockton. It hung there for a couple of months until a friend living in Southern California expressed interest. I had never sold a painting or mailed artwork before, so this was the perfect excuse to travel to Anaheim and deliver it myself. Despite being a sell, I bartered with my friend for the painting. Brandon and I were treated to lunch, dinner, a trip to Downtown Disney and a few cocktails and bottles of wine in exchange. As Brandon and I drove back to our lodgings in West Hollywood that night, the idea of making an income out of art surfaced. We both toyed with the idea of opening a brick-and-mortar studio shop one day. A place where I could work, teach art classes, have paint parties, and sell artwork and merchandise directly to the customer. Realistically speaking that would be an incredible yet difficult feat to achieve, but not an impossible one.

For the majority of 2019, I began transitioning the concept of creating business to acting like one. The very first event I sold at was the Annual Stockton Zine Fest. I had an eclectic mix of zines, watercolors, oil paintings and even some crystal necklaces. To my surprise, about half of the inventory taken that day sold and generated about $150. As the year went by, I decided to sign up for as many vending opportunities as possible. Some proved more successful than others. Brandon was there for all those events. I created the art and he helped set up, kept me company and even helped with sales when they happened. He is a better salesman than I am. We started to realize that we could make this a small business, a very small one but still a business. We made a little over $1,200 in less than half a dozen events over the year! I was amazed at how much I was embraced by the community.

During that time, I also encountered other artists who simultaneously ran their art brands and businesses, talked to art patrons and customers directly and came to a consensus that launching a small business was viable with the current market. Over the winter, Brandon and I brainstormed what this business would look like. We investigated business structures and tax benefits and disadvantages. We discussed a Kickstarter Campaign, which we decided to postpone due to our learning curve on t-shirt making. I even learned a new artistic method and skill, printmaking, so that we could offer a unique product. We had our business strategy, a marketing campaign scheduled for launch, and permits signed and ready to be turned in to the city and county offices. Then Friday the 13th came -- that was the day I had intended to file paperwork with the City of Stockton. It also happened to be the day the city decided to close its offices due to the rapid spread of COVID-19.

That same weekend all events, I had scheduled for the next two months were also canceled. I was in disbelief. I decided it was not appropriate to file the paperwork that the following week as there were far more important things to consider and think about. I did, however, launch a product and shared through social media -- a new print of Frida Kahlo, a few tote bags and even shirts. It felt good to know there was still a community of people willing to support artists and my up and coming small business. I returned the favor and supported my favorite local business: The Freckled Moon, Trail Coffee Roasters, and Hong Kong Deli with the money made.

The question then became when we would launch, or if we would launch at all this year.

Thankfully the city did not stop working but only moved its services online and offered snail mail for fee payments. The stay at home orders have been extended into early summer months, and personally, I don’t see things going back to normal until late summer or early fall. As we are faced with an unprecedented challenge, it was time to adapt and change the things I could control: where to sell and how.

In the past, I had ignored online sale platforms like Etsy and Saatchi Art, although I had made accounts on both sites. I had never gone the full length to get the profiles operational. Since I was facing a learning curve, I decided to tackle one site at a time and start with Etsy. I liked Esty because it aligned with my entrepreneurial mindset and the promotion of handmade goods. It’s longevity on the internet as an e-commerce platform and its unlimited number of items allowed to be listed made it far more affordable than other sites. I am, however, not naïve to the cons of such a large platform, especially the over-saturation of sellers and the steep competition. I plan on using the site as a landing platform where people can view items until an integrated online sales feature is operational on my personal website.

However, once mom was laid off due to COVID-19, I realized that it was time for us to launch. Realistically, I can not compensate her for her work, yet I knew that “launching the business” would boost her morale. It was a way for her to stay busy and to keep the hope of better times ahead. I explained this conundrum to her, and she was happy to volunteer her services. My mom has always dreamt of having a family business, "this could be the family business", she said to me. I may have cried when she wasn't watching me.

This is how I launched my business. There is no better time than now to grab people’s attention due to the incredible number of those consuming data and browsing the internet. All three of us know that we have a rocky start and that sales and investments will not be repaid right away. Nevertheless, this period of time has been instrumental in aiding me to learn how to be a business owner and to prepare for when things start to normalize. I can't wait to share with everyone what we are creating in Daniel Villa Art Studio!

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