This is part 1
WHO ARE YOU?
I am Elle, and I run Incube8r, a small business in Melbourne that supports artists and makers to grow their micro-businesses.
We can do this via our retail stores. For example, we rent cubes taking no commissions on sales. In addition, we have an online community where we mentor and educate makers on business skills. We also help them market their products effectively through both our stores and other marketing channels.
WHAT WAS INCUBE8R BEFORE YOU BOUGHT IT?
When I bought Incube8r, it was just the one store in Fitzroy. It was pretty different from what it does today. Because Incube8r started in 2007, the aesthetic was very different to what people were looking for in 2016. It was very crowded, had lots of things on the ceiling, was dark purple and about half the size. It didn’t have a gallery or an online store, nor an Instagram page. It only had a Facebook page, which was kind of itching to be brought into modern times.
The previous owners’ strategy for expanding the business was all about franchising, so there were different incube8rs around Australia. At one point, there were four others, and initially, when I took over, I wanted to do the same thing, but after spending time working in the business, I realised that it’s such a personal business. It’s about connections between me and the makers or my employees and the makers.
To be able to find another person who had money to invest and the skills required and those personal skills wouldn’t have worked for me because I just saw it as a disaster. So I figured why not open my second shop or start an online element or build on what was there, and then I can take it further later when I want to.
The concept was the same, the renting cubes, no commission, but the ethos was a bit different, I think because all of our marketing was about “If you don’t want to market your business, come sell with us, and we will do it for you”.” In contrast, I am all about “come join us. We will help you learn how to market” because if everyone markets themselves and the store together, then everyone benefits.
ARE YOU PLANNING ON OPENING IN OTHER PLACES IN AUSTRALIA?
I am not sure yet, because it was my plan, but COVID-19 has made me hesitant. Maybe post-pandemic. Next year, my current thinking is to downsize a little bit and fine-tune, and we are hoping to do many pop-ups and workshops. We will likely wrap up our Prahran store and focus on building our online community. Online sales and making are more prevalent around Christmas time, and rather than having a few shops, and I’ll focus on one. Then we can have lots of pop-ups over Christmas time to get the most out of that time of year.
I would like to do it in partnership with local councils and have them provide spaces or work very closely with them to market it as a way to shop local at Christmas time. Still, I would also love to have pop-ups in shopping centres or outside of a supermarket.
IF YOU COULD DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, WOULD YOU CHANGE ANYTHING?
No, I don’t think so; I like all the changes that we’ve made. But, unfortunately, it’s taken a long time to get enough funds to do the things we want. For example, painting the front of the shop took five years!
We did try and launch an online store when I first opened, but that didn’t work. After all, it wasn’t done in a way that was sustainable to us because it required our staff to list the items and take the photos, and we’ve got like 3000 handmade items in the store, and they’re all one of a kind, so it doesn’t make sense for us to run a store as a traditional boutique would.
So we learned from that, and after covid happened, it took me around four months to open the online store, and now it works well for us. It has been integrated into our systems, and now all of our exhibition items can be in the online store, and I think it’s handy being a web designing nerd sometimes.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE FOR YOUNG BUSINESS OWNERS?
Find a way to be interested in marketing. Work out what works for you. Figure out what you like doing, whether it’s taking photos, videos, writing and then choose a platform that uses those methods.
I see many creatives using the wrong platform for their audience or the wrong tools on the platform, like refusing to move to video instead of photos like we’re seeing on Instagram now or not having the enthusiasm or the want to jump on new opportunities like tik-tok. So I am also a bit hesitant, but if you could jump on trends as soon as they happen, that is when you are going to see the best results. So you need to build that into your business.
But also not to focus too much on social media and learn about sales funnels like having your own website and driving traffic and driving traffic to that website. I’ve found that although we do get many benefits from social media, most of our online sales come through search engine optimisation and marketing. So finding ways to connect to your audience, contact them, obtain their email address, and continue the conversation with them that way is quite an effective way of selling.
And your social media kind of just adds a little bit of spice on top of that.
So many just start on Instagram, and they feel like that is all they have to do, but it is not a sales platform.
Make your own website
Add SEO (search engine optimisation)
Focus on building on your email list
And networking as well
So going to openings, art exhibitions, attending markets as a customer, as a maker, joining things like our community at the incube8r or MAVA Inc.’s community and talking to other people that are doing what you are doing because you can learn so much from other makers.
Many business and marketing advice is not tailored to the arts, so it is often not completely relevant unless you can apply it to what you’re doing broadly enough. Networking is probably the number one.
And that is also the thing that artists don’t like doing because they’re usually introverts.