C&T Q&A – How can I get my family and friends to take my craft business seriously?

 

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{source: dear moonbeams}

Today’s question is from K, and she writes:

I’m wondering if you have any words of advice for those of us who have left other, some would say, more “responsible” jobs to go into the creative world. A large part of me doesn’t care in the slightest, but there’s a niggling part of me that is annoyed with some old friends & family for their lack of support. I sometimes think how great it would be if they could share something I post on Facebook for all of their friends to see – or if some of them could bring themselves to simply click that “like” button!

I have a wonderful customer base & I realise these are the people I need to focus on, but at times, I really feel that lack of support. They most likely aren’t taking my work seriously, as they’re not malicious people at all. Any idea of how I could help them understand how important it is to me that I grow my business and how valuable their support could be?

Ahh, yes! I, too, left a ‘traditional’ and ‘responsible’ full-time job with a good salary to do my own thing. My last (and hopefully last EVER) ‘job’ was as the manager of a maths and English tuition centre. It was a great job, with great hours (1pm to 8pm, 5 days a week), and a decent salary.

I learnt a a lot about business during my 2 years at that job, and I think it was invaluable in my development and confidence, as I’d never had any sort of ‘business-y’ job before that.

So – leaving that job was a big risk… but honestly, it wasn’t one I was worried about. I’m one of those people who has faith that everything will work out, so I knew I could find another job if necessary.

However – giving up traditional employment to go out on your own with a home-based business – especially a craft business – definitely has the propensity to raise eyebrows.

I am obscenely lucky in that I have a husband, parents, friends, and extended family who have never been anything but unfailingly supportive.

Well, I don’t think my Dad really took what I did seriously until I started turning around a few thousand a month, but he was still supportive, and had faith in my ability to succeed.

The same goes for my extended family. They were always supportive, asking me at Christmas ‘how’s the business’ going… but I think people struggle to have respect and take a creative business seriously until you can back it up with the numbers. (I think I slightly shocked a few family members last Christmas when I mentioned my December turnover.)

People just don’t have the mindset that this sort of business can actually succeed and make you any sort of decent income.

K, in your case, it sounds like your family and friends care, but perhaps still think that this is just a ‘fancy’ or a ‘hobby’ for you – and that you’ll get back to the ‘real world’ soon.

Or, equally possible, they do care and are supportive – because I have to say, being concerned that they don’t share your stuff on FB or like it isn’t an indication of whether they are supportive or not! That’s what a FB Page is for 🙂 If they choose to be a fan of what you do, great! If not, don’t take it personally. Are you actively supportive of all of their jobs/professions/hobbies/passions?

We’re all busy people, and rarely do we take the time to help and promote people consciously. Even – and perhaps more so – the people we love and care about the most… because we assume they already know we love, care about and support them!

Heck, they might even think you’re doing so well you don’t need that sort of help! I can’t tell for sure from your email, but all of these things are possibilities.

I think the best way to gain the support and respect of people in this situation is just to succeed.

Give them the cold, hard proof that what you’re doing is viable as a business – and that means the $$$.

Of course, if your partner or other very close family and friends aren’t as supportive as you would like, you really need to talk to them about it – tell them how you feel and ask them what they think about what you do. You can’t make anyone be supportive, but opening up an honest conversation is the first step in building those supportive relationships.

Don’t assume what they think about your business – we all know what they say about assumption!!

To conclude: it’s amazing how powerful a little bit of faith and support from those who love us is.

If you have that support, be thankful for it every day.

If you don’t: have faith in yourself, work hard to make your business a success, and you’ll eventually convince the skeptics who require a bit more proof!

Why Working Smarter Beats Working Harder

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After several months (or years) of being in business for yourself, you begin to get burnt out.  You work all day, every day, and the profits still aren’t enough to let you do the things you dream of doing: going to Europe, paying off student debt, buying that new fancy tablet.

That’s when it’s time to stop thinking that working harder will solve the problem.  Instead, you need to think of ways to work smarter!

Let me start with an example I’m eagerly implementing in my own business this month.  I’m a pen and ink artist primarily but last year I dabbled in turning my illustrations into embroidery patterns.  I only had to make the first one and then I had a PDF pattern file that I could email to the customer.  That’s it!  Hardly any work involved for me!

The patterns sold like hot cakes.  For just a few dollars, someone has an evening (or three) of sewing ahead of them.  It wasn’t much profit per pattern.  A fancy coffee costs nearly the same but since the only work involved is to email a file (which my shopping cart program does automatically), it’s a win-win!

The patterns continue to sell, more than my prints actually, and my customers keep asking me when there will be new ones.  Now, I could just keep the system I have and make a pattern, market it, and then email it over and over again.  Or…I could work smarter.

This month I’m launching my embroidery of the month club, the next step in my embroidery line.  Instead of sending individual emails, I send out one to the whole club.  People pay for six or twelve months and each month a new pattern arrives in their inbox.  I’ve even developed a way thanks to the power of Photoshop where I don’t have to sew the initial design (which can take up to eight hours).  My fans aren’t paying me for my sewing skills, after all, but for my artistic vision and design!

So how can you work smarter in your business?

  • Is there something you can automate?  Can you create an e-book that your fans crave and send it out as an incentive for your mailing list?  Or can you type up an FAQ page that answers the question which constantly fill your inbox.
  • Is there a product or service you can retire because it takes too much time and makes no profit?  I did this last holiday season with embroidery kits.  They took far too long to package and the cost of all the supplies, plus always having them on hand, was killing my profit margin.  Getting rid of something that doesn’t serve you financially clears up your time (and shop) for something new and exciting!
  • Is there a part of your process that you can outsource?  Megan Auman has her assistant weld jumper rings for earrings so she can spend more time designing new pieces, which is what her customer truly values.

Working smarter means getting clear on what your customers value.  It also means accepting what you do really well and leveraging that.  Want another example?

This year I decided to embark on one of those crazy 365 Projects where I draw one portrait every day.  When I started it, I just wanted to improve my portrait drawing skills but soon I had people asking if they could buy their portraits.  The result has been an income stream I never expected and a new way to get closer to my fans.

Oh, and I’m essentially getting paid to improve my drawing skills.  It’s the opposite of college.

So how can you work smarter and save yourself valuable time and effort while putting more money in your savings?  I’d love to hear what ideas you have below!

C&T Q&A ~ Can I talk about copycatting without sullying my brand?

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{Picasso’s take on the subject}

Today’s question is from Megan, and she writes:

Hi Jess,

I’ve been loving the Create and Thrive blog so much as you may have guessed! This afternoon while posting some product images on Facebook, a topic for discussion arose that I thought might be best questioned and thrashed out on the C&T blog if possible.

My question is:

Should you feel bad about promoting the quality of your brand? Sounds silly put like that, but I mean getting into the nitty-gritty facts of it. Is it perfectly acceptable to say in a cutesy way your products are original designs by yourself, made to the highest quality and seen elsewhere may in fact be cheap imitations? Without attacking any individuals or businesses, can you boldly state this to say you are proud of what you do, work very hard to create something different and don’t appreciate copying?

In a climate where this issue is often at the forefront, is it better to tackle it head on and stake your claim before it happens to you? Does being confident in your products in this way produce a feeling of stability among your customers or does it stir up trouble and dirty the waters? To be honest, I added this sentence to claim original work as I have frequently been copied from to see what results it does bring! And I felt bad doing it, even though I did not put anyone down in anyway..so is it right to show outward confidence in your brand? Big companies do it, so is it okay for small biz to do as well?

A bit of a long one, but I am really seriously curious as to the answers and discussion on this topic!

Thank you so much!

Megan

Thanks so much for your question, Megan!

I think, honestly, that this question boils down to ‘should I talk about the fact that I think someone has copied my work?’.

Being proud of and promoting the quality of your brand is actually a completely separate issue from coming out and saying ‘the first and original’ or ‘beware of imitations’ or ‘someone has copied me, let’s burn them at the stake’.

Slight hyperbole there, but really, that’s what some of these copying discussions can feel like – a witch-hunt.

So, let’s get the first part of this out of the way quickly.

Yes, absolutely you should be proud of your work!

Absolutely you should discuss what makes your work good quality and unique!

For sure you can say ‘this item was designed and handmade by me’.

However… you can be proud of and promote the quality of your brand without ever referring to possible copycats.

I have discussed this issue before, but I think it’s important one to get out in the open – but not, perhaps, for the reasons you might think.

You see, I’m a big believer in focussing on your own brand, and not worrying overmuch about what others are doing.

Sure, check out the competition, keep an eye on what they’re up to… but in the end, your brand should be driven by your own vision for your business, not driven as a reaction to what others are doing.

Given that, it follows that I pretty much completely ignore the whole ‘copying’ issue in my own jewellery business.

Have I been copied? I’m sure I have.

Do I care about it? Not one whit.

Sure it’s a bit of an uncomfortable shock when I stumble across an Etsy store that started way after mine and they have a whole lotta designs that look terribly familiar. Sure it gives me a moment of pause. Sure I’ve had people contact me privately to tell me about someone else’s work that looks suspiciously similar to mine. {Thank you for caring about me enough to do that, lovely people!}

 

But you know what?

1. I can’t be sure they copied me. There are only so many ways you can bend and hammer sterling silver wire to make a pair of earrings or a pendant. There are instances where it’s completely obvious that someone has been copied – a piece of artwork, for example, used without the artist’s permission. However, most of the time in the handmade scene, it’s nigh impossible to know for sure if we’ve actually been copied, or if it’s just coincidence. Don’t make accusations on a hunch, without 100% solid proof. It just makes you look petty and unprofessional.

2. I’m not concerned that they’re ‘stealing’ my customers. They might charge half of what I do for a similar design, but that’s okay. Even if they sell twice as much as me… I’m making the same amount of money for half the work. And the people who value my work – my years of experience, my skill, and my brand – will shop with me. It’s up to me to make it worth their while. It’s up to me to provide an excellent customer experience that brings people back to me over and over again.

3. They aren’t impinging upon me or my brand in any way unless I let them. Nothing can bother me unless I let it. I have the power to choose where I put my time and attention. And I’d much rather put it on making new designs, growing my customer base, and thinking about my business than focussing on someone else’s.

The only exception to this that I would possibly make to this stance is if I had a ridiculously specific design and I saw that a big corporation had stolen it.

But even then? Bringing attention to it won’t stop that corporation, and I sure as heck don’t have the money to mount a legal battle against them. I could look at it as a way to get publicity, if I followed the old ‘even bad press is good press’ belief (which I don’t).

So, even in that case, I would probably leave it be.

Megan makes the very good point that handmade designers, “work very hard to create something different and don’t appreciate copying?” Of course we don’t – no-one does! It’s one of those things that goes without saying. Literally. You don’t need to say it. People know.

Also – “Does being confident in your products in this way produce a feeling of stability among your customers or does it stir up trouble and dirty the waters?”

Being confident in your product is COMPLETELY different to stating that yours is the original and beware of copies. You can do the former without ever alluding to the latter. And yes, I believe that bringing up the copying issue in public almost always has a negative effect on your brand.

In short – don’t do it. It’s not worth the negative light you put onto your brand through complaining or bringing attention to the issue in most cases.

Also – why would you want to bring attention to another person’s business when they’re copying you?? Because even if you don’t name them, people will get curious, people will talk, and they’ll figure it out.

 

The internet is a very big place. There will always be someone selling something similar to what you make cheaper than you. It’s not your job to capitulate to the threat their business makes to yours – it’s your job to make your brand and business so awesome on so many levels that people won’t even think about going elsewhere.

 

People don’t buy a thing – they buy a feeling… an experience.

Give them the best one possible, and you’ve done your job. Don’t bring any sort of negative emotions into this business-customer relationship, because it will only dirty the waters, as you said.

 

That’s my perspective on this whole issue. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, too.

Thanks for being brave enough to ask this question, Megan!!

I know this should go without saying, but please refrain from any specific examples or calling people out.

Thanks, you rad thing, you.

5 Lessons Learnt from a Defunct Jewellery Business

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This is a guest post by the lovely Brooke McAlary.

One cold afternoon in August 2010, I drove to my parents’ house in tears.

I had everything to be happy about – a wonderful husband, a beautiful daughter and a baby on the way, a lovely home we were renovating and a flourishing independent jewellery label. Yet there I was. Struggling. Teetering. Going under.

By the time I got to my parents’ house, I was done. I closed the doors on Trove the next day.

My jewellery label, Trove, had grown over the previous three years from a hobby to a full-time job. I had exhibited at Australian Fashion Week, was being mentored by an international fashion designer, had made a five-figure debut at my first trade show and had my work being sold by over 60 stockists. It was good. Really good.

But I was miserable. Strung out, worn out, burnt out. I had painted myself into a corner with my business and I could not see a way to make it work for me any longer.

Today, I am still an enormous supporter of independent businesses and want to see everyone who has the talent, drive and ambition succeed.

For that reason, I want to share with you the 5 lessons I learnt during that difficult time – in order to save you and your business from the same fate.

 

1. Back Yourself From the Start

Regrets are not my thing. But if I had one regret, it’s that I didn’t back myself earlier and quit my full-time job sooner.

It would have given me more time to establish the label, employ one or two staff and have systems in place that allowed me to manage the business while spending the majority of my time with my family.

(One caveat: Before even considering this, you need to KNOW your stuff is great. And that people love it.)

 

2. Keep Creating. Always.

Your well of creativity is endless. Really.

When it feels as though it’s running dry, get out of your box, explore another medium – sculpt, paint, draw or write poetry. Just create on a daily basis and keep topping up that well.

You will never run out of your best ideas. They regenerate time and time again.

 

3. Pay Attention to the Boring Details

In business, as in life, the high points, the creative breakthroughs, the moments of overwhelming productivity are countered by the mundane – paying bills, ordering supplies, chasing payments, writing invoices, replying to emails.

Don’t, under any circumstances, ignore this stuff. It is the business.

Sure, you may be selling jewellery, or crocheted hats or macramé owls wearing moustaches, but you will only find stockists, receive payment and find the best price for supplies by paying great attention to the boring details.

 

4. Know When to Compromise

You started out as a one-person show. It made you proud. You were and still are against unethical outsourcing, against mass-production, against faceless big box stores.

I was exactly the same. But in the end, I decided I needed to outsource production. And the only way to do that profitably was to work with studios in Thailand and Bali. These were studios I was in close contact with and would visit before signing contracts. I needed to know I was supporting businesses that supported its workers.

Unfortunately, I started down that path too late. (See point 1).

To you I say, if you want to make a sustainable living from your business, you need to know when and how to compromise. Because that will allow you to scale your business when the time comes. Know your core values and do not be swayed from them.

But be prepared to look outside your comfort zone and consider ideas and solutions you may have previously cast aside.

 

5. You Can’t Do It Alone

This was the biggest mistake I made in my business, and it played a huge part in its eventual closure.

Like most solo-creative entrepreneurs, I designed, made, finished, quality-controlled, packaged and shipped my products. I also represented the label at tradeshows and markets, was the buyers’ contact, the warehouse, despatch, tracking and sometimes courier.

Not to mention BDM, marketing officer, bookkeeper and receptionist. In part, this was to save money. But to a large extent, it was also about fear of letting go. Relinquishing control.

My advice, design your business intentionally. Understand that if you grow in the way you want to grow, there will come a day where it is impossible for you to do it all.

Research potential production studios, look at wholesale agents, develop a support network of like-minded creatives – you will need all this information at hand when the time comes to expand. And if you don’t have it, you may spend 6 months gathering the information, only to find that the time has passed and you missed the opportunity.

(But don’t be disheartened, there will be other opportunities. And the next time, you’ll be ready for it, right?)

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I will be the first to put my hand up and say, feel free to ignore the advice from the woman whose business folded.

But, as the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20,” and now I can clearly see the mistakes I made with my business.

You and your business will hopefully benefit from my hard-earned hindsight.

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Brooke McAlary is an aspiring minimalist, blissful gardener, frequent swearer, passionate writer and inappropriate laugher. She is also a happy wife, busy mum and slightly weird Australian. She blogs at Slow Your Home and is on a mission to help you slow down, brighten up and love your life.

You can find her hanging out on Facebook and Twitter multiple times a day.

{images both by Andrew Bannecker}

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