When you first consider starting an art- or craft-based business, it is undoubtedly because you are passionate about what you create. It’s about your own personal statement, your ideas, your vision, your perspective, your skills, and your design sense—and rarely does running to the post office, ordering office supplies, handling customer complaints, or paying bills enter into your dreams. You and everyone else dreams of being the “Maker.” Otherwise you would open a laundromat.
But early in planning your business, you realize that you do indeed end up running to the post office, paying bills, and taking out the trash. And, not only are you doing these other tasks, but you find they are taking up more and more of your time when all you want to do is make things.
Any successful art-based business requires three equally important parts to make it work smoothly. I call these “MMM”: the Maker, the Manager, and the Market. Visualize your business operating at the center of a triangle supported by an M at each corner; if any part of the triangle is neglected, the business will fall down.
You already know this part of the equation . . . it is why you want to start an art-based business in the first place. You have these wonderful ideas and skills you want to share and, while you are at it, make some money. That’s easy enough. The idea of working for yourself is also incredibly enticing. Working your own hours when the inspiration hits, making your own choices and decisions, not having to answer to anyone else, showing up at work in your bunny slippers, and having your dog at work—these are all part of the dream.
Then reality slowly starts to creep into your idyllic world. Working your own hours becomes working much longer than you ever anticipated, but it is “good” work since it supports your dream. You get to be the decision-maker which is the good news as well as the bad news. You get the credit when things go well and the blame when they don’t. And you can show up in bunny slippers or the same jeans you have been wearing for the last three weeks or a diamond tiara. That part is lovely. And you get to have your pets with you all day long. But you also get to fill out jury applications, set up a checking account, answer emails, send out billings, wrestle with pricing, order tiny zip-close bags, design business cards, not to mention wading through insurances, mailing lists, customer files, and bookkeeping.
This is the part that gets most creative people in trouble. They just don’t understand what’s involved and/or they don’t want to do it. It isn’t as fun as making. They put it off in hopes that someone else will miraculously come along and handle it.
If you can shift your thinking, however, you can make being the Manager not such a dreadful thing. Put a Pollyanna spin on these tasks! Consider this a perfect opportunity to learn new skills and grow as a person, become more well rounded, to truly hold the reins of power in your business. Successful new business owners figure out what needs to be done and how they can do it themselves. This way, they know all aspects of their business intimately and you can make even smarter business decisions.
Still, if you choose not to do all these tasks, start looking around for someone who might be willing to take some of the load for you. It could be a significant other, a son or daughter, a friend, a high school student down the street, a parent. What I suggest however, is to bring someone in not as a partner but as an employee. Partnerships are the most difficult type of business to run successfully. Also consider that when you bring someone else on board, you have to earn that much more money in order to pay them.
This part of the triangle is not as dreaded as the Manager role. Everyone loves to talk about what they make and how they make it, they just need to harness and focus this natural tendency when starting to brand, promote, and sell their work—to market it.
The Market is about getting your product/service to the people who will want to pay hard-earned bucks for it! Doing that comes down to figuring out who your market is and how to get their attention. Do you need to do craft shows or jewelry trade shows? Or have a strong internet presence? Or send out pick-boxes? Or get in your car and visit galleries that should carry your jewelry? Some combination of all these?
And the Market also encompasses answering emails, talking with customers, sending out line sheets, handling disgruntled clients, doing trunk shows, or personal appearances . . . anything having to do with the relationship between you and your customer/client. This part can be very creative and fun.
So, when you start dreaming about opening your own business, it is essential to dream not only about all the wonderful things that will come your way, but also to be aware that you’re going to stretch your skills, imagination, and knowledge in ways you never thought possible. It is all the good stuff!