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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