July 1, 2010

Do You Want to Make Money or Create?

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 2:35 am

Many of my readers on Smaller Box are artists/designers who are trying to become successful business owners. I see a lot of frustration from readers because sales aren’t where they’d like them to be. I relate to this because my creative business started out the same way.

Last year, things changed for my creative business and they changed dramatically. We stopped thinking like artists and we started thinking like business people. Here’s what we did differently:

1. We outsourced production and fulfillment so we could focus on product design and marketing.

2. We invested in our business — both time and money. We paid for advertising. We dedicated time to devising an organized PR strategy and executed it ourselves. We took the time to really educate ourselves about online marketing (SEO, affiliate programs, Google Products, etc.) and developed and executed a strategy for that.

3.  Most importantly, we started designing what people wanted to buy. We abandoned our own notions of good taste and personal preference and started paying more attention to what was popular. We put out some work that wasn’t really our taste, but it sold and it sold well.

As a result, we went from shipping a few items each week to shipping several orders every single day. We sold over $25,000 in product last year and more than doubled sales this year. Starting next year, my partner will be leaving his day job to manage our ecommerce business full-time. Our site traffic has also more than tripled.

My point is this: you have to really ask yourself “Do I want to be in business, or do I want to create?” There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this, but the answer should dictate your direction with your venture in selling your creations online.

So you wanna be creative…
If your primary goal is to create and you hope that money will follow, be prepared to accept that there is every chance it won’t. You can make the things that you think are most innovative and most beautiful and most interesting, but there may not be a large market for it.

If you’re in it to follow a passion, don’t fret so much about sales and marketing. In fact, you probably don’t even want to read this blog. There are better blogs out there about design and art and following your passion. I’m writing this blog based on my experiences and I’m not in the “make art” camp.

This isn’t meant as a criticism of the “make art” path. I’m just trying to be up front about the differences between valuing your artistic integrity and pursing a money-making venture.

So you wanna be in business…
Hey cool, just like me; high five. If you really want to run a profitable business, forget about trying to stick a square peg in a round hole. If what you’re trying to sell isn’t selling, sell something else. Stop trying to find a market for something that isn’t selling well. Instead, find a market that buys stuff and make what they want to buy. This may mean changing your creative style, this may mean changing your product line.

Stop being cheap. If running a business was cheap or free everyone would do it. You can’t expect to grow a business with zero budget. Invest in things that can help your business grow. If you’ve got no site traffic, pay for some advertising. If your web design sucks, hire a professional designer. If you can’t make a press list or write a media pitch to save your life, pay someone to help you. Pay for good-looking business cards that don’t have the printer’s logo on them. Invest in promotional items that reinforce your branding.

Accept that you’re going to have to do some boring crap. Things like internet marketing and accounting can be very tedious. Online marketing can be extremely technical and somewhat intimidating. It’s definitely more fun to hang out on artisan forums and complain about how the universe hates you because you only sold 5 things this month. Reading about 301 redirects is much less immediately satisfying. That said, the boring stuff is what’s going to grow your business and make you money.

Finding a happy medium…
My rant above may have left you with the impression that I’m all about profit margins and soulless-ness. It’s not a totally fair representation. I’m still in a creative business and we still design 100% of our products by hand. We can’t help but infuse some of our own style into what we do because we’re the ones creating. What we try to do each day is find a happy medium between what we love and what we know sells, and sometimes we do a bit of both.

If you’re in it to make money, I’m not saying you have to abandon all of your creative integrity and spend all of your time doing boring business-y stuff. I’m saying you may have to learn to compromise with your design sense and invest the time and money in getting your truly marketable products out there.

This article is bunk, I do what I love and it’s selling like hotcakes!
First of all, congrats! That’s awesome. Second of all, be prepared for that to not always be the case. Trends change and even the most successful artists can be left in the dust when public taste changes direction. To be a successful commercial artist, it’s important to be adaptable and update your product offerings and aesthetic sense with the times.Another point is this: if you’re selling a ton of product now, and you’re not doing any marketing, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do any marketing. Chances are more marketing for an already successful line will lead to a massive increase in revenue. If you’re in it to make money, this is the goal, right?

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  1. Well said, Meredith!

    Comment by megan — July 1, 2010 @ 5:54 am

  2. I agree, well said Meredith!!

    Comment by Sierra — July 1, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

  3. I so agree..when it comes to passion and artists, well we can be full of so much passion that we often cant let go of what doesnt work to find what we can do and love that sells. I come across many creative people who are holding on to something that doesnt sell, and spending all their time being upset that they arent making any money. Barely getting any sales.

    I think passion and marketing and research all have to work together. You have to have a market. But then I think you also have to know when to let go of something that isnt working. That is when you have to look that passion in the face and let go of something you created that isnt making you the money you had hoped for and move in another direction. Too many times we get stuck on what we create, after all its our baby, we think someone has to want it!

    Comment by michelle verbeeck — July 2, 2010 @ 5:27 am

  4. […] Do You Want to Make Money or Create? – A MUST READ post about the differences between pursuing your creative passion and running a successful business. […]

    Pingback by business buzz 7-3-10 — July 3, 2010 @ 5:43 am

  5. Thank you for a thoughtful article –

    I think the key is to remember that you are not your customer – just like Michelle mentioned – you have to let go when it isn’t working.

    I’m currently following what you describe as “the happy medium between what we love and what we know sells” – and it keeps my artistic side alive while helping with getting the customer what they want.

    Now to work on more of the “boring crap!”

    Comment by Marja — July 6, 2010 @ 11:19 am

  6. This is such a great article! I have been personally going through the motions of trying to find balance between what sells and what I love to create. The goal is to make money, but the goal is also to do something that I love. It’s a hard one to crack, but as you mentioned what sells now changes and ebbs and flows…

    Thanks for making this message clear in a professional thoughtful way!

    Comment by DancingMooney — July 7, 2010 @ 9:46 am

  7. Glad a lot of you liked this/got what I was saying. I know this article rubbed some people the wrong way, because it’s about stuff, that as creative people, we don’t like to hear. I definitely can get behind striking a balance between following your vision and doing what sells. I just think it’s unrealistic to expect that you can do what you want creatively all the time and always be a successful commercial artist.

    Comment by Meredith — July 7, 2010 @ 9:50 am

  8. Great article! If you “rubbled people the wrong way” – it’s an excellent reality check that they just need to accept. I struggled with this idea a year ago and decided that I didn’t have to give up being creative or designing pieces that I actually loved – I just got to keep them for myself and consider them “research” !

    Comment by ThePrettyPeacock — July 7, 2010 @ 10:55 am

  9. […] read this post last week which claims you have to choose between being creative or making […]

    Pingback by Do you have to choose between money or creativity? « Crafting a Business — July 9, 2010 @ 6:16 am

  10. I’ve been slowly transitioning from full-time accountant to full-time artist – mainly by getting it so we can live leaner. Just lately I can see the light at the end of the tunnel so I’ve been trying to figure out how to grow my business.
    I get kind of tired of the “build it & they will come” idea (darn, what was that baseball diamond in the cornfield movie?) and all this crap about sending your dreams into the universe and they’ll all come true.
    THANK YOU for an honest look at how real business works.

    Comment by Sherry Ball Schoenfeldt — July 9, 2010 @ 6:47 am

  11. I see that I am a bit tardy in arriving at this article but PERFECT timing for me. This has been the struggle bouncing around in my head all week. Instead of creating, I have been researching and working on content for my site and ideas for my blog. In fact, am considering more than one blog after doing research on the “right” way to run a blog as a business. I read so much lately about living handmade and not shopping larger lines but what is wrong with success? Look at the women who designed Juicey? They are rock’n. Who would not want that? That said, we are all on our own path and I am still finding mine. Thanks for a super article.

    PS I follow you on twitter and have signed up for the newsletter but am unable to locate the subscribe button on your blog. Don’t laugh, just help me out here!

    Happy day,


    Comment by MariS — July 20, 2010 @ 9:08 am

  12. Hi MariS
    You can get this blog’s RSS feed by clicking the RSS icon on the top right or the text that says “RSS Feed” on the bottom right “nav” between the search box and the categories listing.

    Comment by Meredith — July 20, 2010 @ 9:10 am

  13. […] Meredith over at the Smaller Box, had this really great post up called, I think it was Do You Want to Make Money or Create. She talks about there are two camps, one being groups of people who follow their creativity, […]

    Pingback by market-driven creativity 101 — July 22, 2010 @ 5:01 am

  14. […] forward to Tara and Megan’s exploration of this subject, especially since it’s one that stirred up a lot of controversy here. One thing I’ve noticed being said around the blogosphere about my post is that I think YOU […]

    Pingback by Smaller Box :: Blog :: Market-Based Creativity and Creating an Empire — July 22, 2010 @ 9:41 am

  15. i must add a link to this page, from mine, if you dont mind, please reply, thank you

    Comment by Tiffani Kempt — November 6, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

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