The experience in taking an artistic idea and turning it into a viable business has been much like a growing tree branch. There are constantly new limbs and new leaves sprouting in places you did not expect. Sometimes a leaf browns and you have to make decisions: do you add more water or do you trim the browning leaf?
Okay okay - so maybe it's the artist in me that felt compelled to create that beautiful metaphor to explain the complicated thing that is business. The fact is - it takes some time and effort to overcome the fear and hurtles of being an artist, but at the end of the day it is one of the most empowering things a creative individual can do. Creatives have an upper hand in so many ways. You can and should mix your artistic right brain thinking with newly learned left brain actions.
These aren't pieces of advice that I am suggesting will work for everyone-- rather these are the things that I've found helpful to keep in mind throughout the early life of starting a business. My hope is that others can find value in our experiences and relate them to their own work.
1. Be flexible, always. You have to be willing to learn a new skill even if you find it boring. I still dislike using excel, but once I got over that hump, I am now able to compile real information and data that in turn helps me understand where my business is, where it wants to go, and how much time and effort it may take to get to the next milestone. If you think something will take you 2 weeks, and do the smart thing and buffer for 4 weeks, it will actually take you 6 weeks. Always be flexible.
2. Be kind and modest. I have had to rely on countless friends and mentors - not only for emotional support or just as ears willing to listen - but for actions that resulted in business growth. Remaining modest has made it easy for us to find friends or friends of friends who are interested in helping and supporting a vision. Wether it be a photographer to shoot some content, or a web designer to help tweak some code, or a connection to someone in city government. If you are genuine - others will see this, and the resources and people you need will slowly but surely make themselves visible. 3. Fake it till you make it. My mother always told me this adage and for years folks used to laugh at me for simplifying the complex world of business into a one liner. If you want to be a company, talk as a company. Drop "I" and replace it for "We". You think your company is too small to be doing something? You are probably wrong and it's probably time for you to start doing that next level action.
4. Emulate those who you admire. If you want to present like Steve Jobs, you need to watch his videos, take notes, then imagine you are him at your next speech or presentation. Follow what works. Pay attention to what doesn't. You should know your market better than anyone else, which also means you are attuned to what is and is not working within your industry. Find what suits you, borrow from it, and make the changes that fit your business so you can make it your own. 5. Always be preparing for growth. One day we received an email asking for our line sheet and wholesale prices. While we had not created those documents or terms yet, I had saved a few I found online many months back that I was able to reference. This simple preparation allowed us to quickly put together an appropriate wholesale document. Our version 1 lost us some customers - so we asked around and learned from the mistakes. Now we have purchase terms that not only work well for us but that also engage retailers.
6. Entrepreneurship is all about risk mitigation and management. When starting a business you will find you are constantly in a position of making decisions. Do I order 50 or do I order 500? You need to ask your self what the safest, least risky method is for you. If you order 50 and sell out right away - will it set you back 2 months as you wait for more inventory? If you order 500 and it turns out the item is not popular - are you now sitting on a ton of wasted inventory? Do you need to create "tests" so you can measure if something is a worth while expenditure? In our case - we used Kickstarter as a platform to test the market we wanted to enter.
7. Stretch your money. Pay yourself enough to get by, only after you've put the money in the right places for your business. If you weigh the risks properly and keep on building your sweat equity - you'll have the cash you need to cover those unexpected costs.
8. Don't be intimidated. It's easy to beat your self up when you realize maybe your math skills or business skills are rusty. You may compare yourself to other successful endeavors and find it hard to imagine you making it there yourself. Stop that now and re-read #4 and #5 above. You have a creative mind and just maybe that is what will set you apart from the rest.
9. Use YouTube to learn. Seriously. The internet is a powerful tool and we ourselves use it constantly to learn. You can type almost any topic into youtube and find multiple individuals or organizations ready to share information and knowledge in an easy to watch and take in format.
"Elly MacKay has a daydreamer’s
imagination, creating little worlds from paper and paint then setting
them into a paper theatre and photographing them. Sweet and beautifully
crafted. The artist sells prints of the mostly-childhood themes, and has
recently authored and illustrated a book." Found via DailyArt Muse
I recently talked to one of my best friends and we were discussing the dichotomy of ours lives. Hers: quite and secluded, mine: loud and excessively messy.
Our house is full. People and noises: laughing, talking; baby crying, cooing, ear-piercing squealing; dogs and dogs barking; phones ringing; door bell buzzing; three TVs with three different channels playing in three rooms - all trying to be the loudest.
The house now exist in piles, piles of stuff everywhere I look. It is our stuff and their stuff, many lives colliding in one small house. Piles of the kids shoes and their clothes; baby toys; letter and bills; dog toys; dirty dishes; car keys so we can move the cars in the driveway out of the way of your car when you need to get where your are going; piles of paper grocery bags (more of that later); piles of trash bags on the back porch waiting to be carried to the trash can; piles of clothes to ironed, clothes to be washed and clothes to put away. The piles go on. Lots of spider webs hanging from the ceilings. Lots of dog hair piled up in corners.
My phone is full of list. Mainly list of what needs to be picked up at the grocery store on the way home from work. Since mom does not drive anymore, we all pitch in for the shopping. The list is almost always the same, eggs, milk, paper towels, toilet paper, dog food, and the question of the night, "what are we having for dinner?" Mom also does not cook anymore, which scares me nightly, about what everyone is making, or what they are buying for carry-out. Also phone full of photos and videos of Mason. Where to store them, still trying to figure that out.
The front and back yards are full of weeds (some fire weed 8 ft. tall), morning glories running amuck, grapes that need to be trimmed, dog poop that needs to be scooped, bushes dying to be pruned.
My brain is full. Of ideas for work; full of video lessons I have been watching for work; full of invitation ideas, illustration, magazine cover illustration ideas; full of phone calls I need to make to printers to ask a crucial question. It is still full of worry about my career future and making money and trying to get past the 3+ years of keeping my ego intact while job hunting. Full of my fun ideas that I still try to pursue on my weekends, without much luck. My skulls, my Brantlers, my rings. Full of concern about my mom, making sure she is taken care of while I am at work, safe and has everything here that she needs since she is no longer able to leave the house and drive.
My car is full of stuff from 4 years ago that needs to be put away.
My heart is full of love and pride for Matt and Bri, with Mason. They drive me a little nuts, but I love watching them both being great parents.
My life is NOT full of as many friends. The last year, something had to drop out of my life and unfortunately, it came down to friends, make-up and blogging. I understand that blogging kept me sane for so many years, but there is really only so much one can think upon without going nuts, so I let the blog go silent for awhile. I mean, with Pinterest and so many other fantastic blogs, the world is not going to miss my little spot on the internet. I post on Instagram more now than ever, mainly mom or the baby and art around our campus.
I still peruse many blogs, very quickly. Many have such glamorous lives, referring us to the perfect makeup they recently found or an instagram they discovered with glorious food or vacation images. I am inspired and envious all at the same time. My life is so different from 6 years ago. I went from having a clean, nicely decorated place, to a house where the carpets is disgusting (from Pica being sick for three years) and the blinds are broken. My head is also filled with list, list of stuff that needs to be fixed, replaced, mended. I hate that winter is coming and I still have not been able to replace our failing roof. ;0 But life goes on.
I am not interested in the perfect eyeshadow. I quit wearing makeup months ago. I feel like if I get to work in clothes other than my pajamas, I have really accomplished something BIG. My work week is really full, usually by Wednesday, I would swear it was Friday. Or I look up and it is all ready 5pm when I thought it was probably noon.
But I really love my new job. It has been such a challenge, to learn so many things in the first year. That said, I have not learned everything I need to know to do a really good job. I spend many hours with printers talking over paper choices and prices. Fred Hutch is on Pinterest and I keep that up religiously. We are going through rebranding, which means lots of meetings about redesign and brainstorming ideas. We have a quarterly magazine, Quest, we all work on to make deadline. Still get to do some illustrations and still freelance a little illustrations out. I work with the most talented and extraordinary people. Talented people from my past have joined the team. Some people not so welcomed from my previous job have applied for jobs, thankfully, they were not hired.
Our team is going to ONA in Chicago next week, and we spent two weeks making directories of our scientist and science writers, designing pieces for the booth, signage, table tents, business cards (I opted for the new and cool square moo cards for them this trip since we didn't have our official business cards designed yet.) These are very fun projects. But still have my everyday work to complete on top of that.
So that is what is going on with me and mine. ;) And where I have been hiding out for the last year.