Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Andrea Lam, Co-Owner of CobraMode Miniatures, located in Hibbing, MN, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I'm the co-owner of CobraMode Miniatures, along with my husband, Erin. We create digitally sculpted fantasy miniatures that can be printed on a home 3D printer. Our customers are usually hobby painters, tabletop gamers, and collectors - we're nerds and creators!
Tell us about yourself
Erin has been sculpting in various mediums for most of his life, both digital and analog. When inexpensive resin printers started showing up, he immediately bought one to try out. Initially, he wanted to use it to print miniatures for tabletop wargames but couldn't find any sculpts he liked. Being a sculptor, he decided he'd make his own minis instead. But as he was doing more research, he discovered several independent creators selling their miniature designs online and realized there was a business opportunity here. He never ended up playing any tabletop wargames in the end, but we started a Patreon instead!
I'm an illustrator and all-around 2D artist and was a fashion designer before we started this business. But when I was laid off during COVID, I decided to help with my husband's fledgling miniatures business, and now manage much of the business/advertising side, graphics, writing, and occasionally do some of the concept art as well. When Erin needs ideas for clothing, he asks me.
The thing that really motivates us both each day is the freedom of our current lifestyle. One of the frustrating things about being a commercial artist is that you use your talents to make the things that other people want, and it can be so draining that you rarely get to indulge your own creativity. With this business, Erin and I only create what we want to create, even if it doesn't seem like anyone else would like them. We don't have to do anything that doesn't make sense to us or our goals, and that's naturally motivating. And because our business is all online, we no longer need to live in high COL areas. If we want to go visit family or friends, go south for the winter, or try out a different country, our business is flexible enough for us to do that.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
One of the things I'm most proud of is the community that we've built around our miniatures. We have a very active, vibrant community of fans on Discord, and it's a joy to interact with them. The community aspect has been an incredible resource both for us as business owners and also for our community members. We've recruited several freelancers from our community, taught techniques to members who eventually went on to make their own miniatures Patreons, and generally built this space where very creative people have gathered together to learn and share in a fun and respectful way.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
I think one of the hardest things about being a business owner is the uncertainty. The whole business hinges on your decisions, so you feel a lot of pressure to make the right ones. But because our business is so unique, there's no real guide on how to run it successfully and very few examples to study and learn from. We have to feel it out as we go and take risks, and be prepared for potential failure.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Starting a business doesn't have to be a huge production. You don't have to quit your job in order to start with one idea and see how it does. If that makes sense for you financially, then go for it! But doing something small and testing the waters is also valuable and can grow into something bigger later on.
- Know your raison d'etre. Why should your business exist? What is the thing it provides to customers, and why do they want it from your business and not someone else's? When you know these things and can verify that they're true and your business is valuable to the customer, then it becomes much easier to know what directions you should take your business, how to market it, and who your target audience is.
- Make advertising a priority. I once heard that in the fashion business, 50% of your budget should be reserved just for advertising. I'm not sure if that holds for every business, but it serves as a reminder of how important advertising is - half your efforts should be devoted to it, even if half your budget isn't. It doesn't matter how awesome your product is if nobody knows it exists!
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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