This weekend I spent my time networking, chatting, presenting and generally having the best time at the Outlaw Craft Fair in Cornwall. I was really honoured to be asked to host an evening for the exhibitors at the end of their first day, alongside Poppy Treffry and Kirsten Edwards - two incredibly inspirational women. I had been so excited about this weekend, but as soon as it arrived I was a quivering mess!! I like to think that I am now quite experienced at public speaking, as I present workshops on pretty much a weekly basis, but this was a completely different level. To say I was out of my comfort zone is a massive understatement!!
The weekend itself was amazing. I had a smile on my face as soon as I walked in the door and it didn't leave for the duration of the weekend. What a room - full of a bunch of lovely, talented creatives and definitely what I call my happy place.
Judi & Kirsty (organisers of Outlaw) asked me to talk a little about the 'business' side of running a creative business and then I had the privilege of interviewing Poppy, before Kirsten spoke from the side of a buyer, having years of experience working in creative retail. I'd prepped, I really had, but you know when you're having an out of body experience, your hands are shaking and you keep forgetting what you are talking about?? Well, yep, that was me! I was told I came across well, but I'm sure I missed so much out that I should have said! So I thought I would summarise what I wanted to say here in case you were interested in what I spoke about - or you were there and didn't understand a word of what I was saying!!
So, grab yourself a cuppa, put your feet up and have a read...
There are so many brilliant creative businesses online nowadays, and sometimes it can look very easy to set one up. Recently I read an article about a business that had set up online, started making a profit in 3 months and if sales are low they ‘post a pretty picture on Instagram’ and sales pick up again. How lovely! ;)
As we all know, running your own business isn’t that easy, even though I’m sure plenty of people outside of our industries think it is. And to be honest, stories like this one are damaging because we tend to think that if that isn’t happening for us, then we aren’t successful. No one else can define your success – that’s your job to do. Comparison is such a destructive force; we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to anyone else, but ourselves. Us, a year ago. Or in six months time. Now I know that is easier said than done – I’m certainly not a practitioner in taking my own advice!
But the message that it is easy to create a successful creative business, well that’s also why so many ‘hobbyists’ are online, selling their craft without a thought for profit & loss, branding & styling, strategic marketing, and to be honest, are under-pricing and making the hard working, genuine creative businesses look like they are trying to rip people off. I know that sounds harsh, but it does make running our businesses that much tougher.
However, there are a number of ways you can make a success of your business – spoiler though – it’s never easy! It involves hours of hard work, late nights, sleepless nights! And you are never done – there’s always that worry that customers will stop coming, always that fear that you will run out of ideas, that thought that somehow, it’s all going to come crashing down. I’ve witnessed a lot of businesses deciding to close recently and explore new avenues, which all started around the same time as me, because social media has changed, the economy has changed and with the prospect of Brexit, people are tightening their belts.
Now, obviously this all sounds really depressing, and I don’t mean it to be! There is actually a big resurgence in buying bespoke, handmade products – this is why events such as Outlaw are so popular! If you are focused, determined and are armed with the right information there is no reason why you can’t be enormously successful within your creative business.
First up, you’ve obviously got to have a product, or a range of products. You have a particular style – this is your USP. It’s important to define what that is, not only for future ranges, but also to reflect within your brand. Don’t have too many different product ranges or lines to start with – your audience doesn’t want to get confused as to what it is that you do. By that I mean – a range of textiles is good but textiles plus jewellery plus gardening equipment plus men’s clothing for example, is probably too broad!
Define your brand. Not just your logo, but also your brand message. Who are you? How do you speak to your audience? What colours do you use in your marketing? What is the feeling you want to put out there? If you’re a kids clothing range for example, where do you fit – are you gender neutral? Are you funky? Do you want to appeal to high-end shoppers? If you’re a jewellery designer, are you delicate or edgy? Luxury or teenage? How can colour and language and style within your brand describe your product?
Which leads you onto your audience. Who are they? It’s vital that you know. Where do they live? How much do they earn? What do they wear? Where do they shop for kid’s clothes already? Is it Boots & Mothercare or is it Mini Boden and Jojo Maman Bebe? There is a difference, and the product and brand need to fit with the audience you are targeting.
It is so much easier to target your message once you know all of these things. Then once you’ve got it all down, you can figure out where to sell and how to market.
With regards to your shop – once you know what you are selling, what your message is and who you are targeting it to, you’ll know where to sell. Online is the quickest and best to get out there but do you want your own website to start with or do you want to concentrate on third party shopping sites? There are pros and cons to what you choose – but keep in mind always – product, brand, and audience.
So then we get onto Marketing. Social media, blogging, e-marketing, advertising. There is so much you can do, and this in itself can be a full time job! You’ll already know what you’re doing well and maybe not so well. You may be beating yourself up because you haven’t sent a newsletter out to your 500 subscribers in 6 months? You might be frustrated at Facebook – well this in itself could become a three-hour workshop (I know – I run them regularly!!) The key is, go where you know your audience are, and do it well. I would massively recommend Instagram, Twitter and E-marketing as the three main marketing streams but you might find it different to you. Again – remember your brand and your audience!
The most important thing in running your creative business, and staying sane in the process, is to get together with like-minded people. Events such as Outlaw, Etsy marketplaces, Native Makers, Crafty Fox, and so many more besides are a testament to the need for creative businesses to be together. Not just to sell their work, but to be within an environment that they are celebrated, and accepted. We are all so passionate about what we do, and sometimes that is forgotten. Days can drag, work is hard, friends don’t necessarily get it, so by surrounding yourself with your tribe is so, so important. It might be a market like this fabulous one here, or it might be a coffee and cake with a handful of online friends. However you can do it, do it. You won’t regret it!
We were also asked to give our best piece of advice… well it was hard to decide as there's so much!!
Whatever it is that you’re putting off, because you’re worried it’s not perfect, just start it. Whether it’s the blog you’ve been meaning to write for years, the skill you want to learn, the product you’re afraid of putting out there, just do it. It’s never going to be perfect. You will always improve, and if you’re waiting until it’s just right, you’ll never do it. This is why comparing yourself to yourself a year or three years ago is so good – you can see how far you’ve come. If you hadn’t started then, you wouldn’t be where you are now.
And also, don’t be afraid to make really ambitious wish lists for your business. A lovely client of mine always wanted to be stocked by Liberty, it’s been a dream for years but she never thought she could do it. This year she did, and even did a demo in the store. On her wish list now is to one day have a window display in Liberty – and I think she’s starting to realise it can be possible. So don’t be afraid of writing down your dreams.
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