I read one of these 10 things posts a few years ago and thought that if I made it to 10 years in business I would write one. So here it is! My reasonably limited wisdom after ten years of making mistakes and pottering through the sometimes intimidating world of trying-to-make-money-from-art.
1. Be the turtle.
Slow is how I go. Slow growth is great. It is reliable and solid. It remains. You can build on top of it. It is really tempting the chase the big growth but I’ve learnt that that’s just not what suits me. I’m cautious. Sometimes I’ve said yes to things because they seemed like opportunities that I should say yes to. And mostly I shouldn’t have said yes. It was too much, too soon. I try to listen to my gut now. If I’m not ready to take a step then I say no until I am.
2. You don’t have to listen to everyone
People absolutely love giving advice. Especially old white men. You don’t have to take all the advice you are given. In the first few years I didn’t have much confidence in myself as an artist or as a business woman. I felt like I was always at sea being tossed from piece-of-advice to piece-of-advice . Gradually, over the years, I learnt two things. 1. Seek out people you trust and admire to ask for advice. There’s so much incredible knowledge to be found in the creative business world. Mostly I’ve found that other creatives are really happy to share their experiences and make recommendations. Just ask. Then shut out the voices you didn’t ask for. 2. I do know what I’m doing. It is my business and I know it best. My opinion is the most important one. [Slightly ironically, I am now writing a blog post that no one asked for full of unsolicited advice…]
3. Only make things that you love and are proud of
I used to scour instagram and Etsy looking at what other people were making and having success with. I would wonder how I could emulate that business model. I’d read blogs about how to make a success of your handmade business. I would try to design things that I thought would sell well. Inevitably, they didn’t. Bestsellers are still constantly a surprise to me. Anything I make with a commercial hat on tends to be a bit of a wet fart. Anything I think is a bit niche and won’t sell tends to fly off the shelves. One thing I have noticed, though, is that I am terrible at selling products that I’m not proud of. I try to only sell things that I would buy myself.
4. Put your values at the heart of your business decisions
The values that I try to keep at the forefront of my mind are authenticity and kindness. I try to orientate myself around those values in my drawing work, my product development, my communication with customers, my social media, etc. I try to be myself, not claim to be things I’m not, to share my passions, and to be kind to people and planet.
5. Work/Life Balance
This one has taken me a long time to begin to learn (and is definitely still a work in progress). When your work is your passion project (and when you need to earn a living) it is very hard to switch off. The discipline for me is stopping work, closing the door, leaving for the weekend. There’s always a little bit more you could do. There’s always someone waiting for you to get back to them. Meeting Ross was really helpful for me to learn about this. Ross also had a creative business (as a furniture maker). He worked very set hours at the workshop. He was in for 8.30 and left at 5pm. He would sometimes answer emails or do social media in the evenings but otherwise he didn’t bring his work home (whereas my work filled our home, spilling out of its allotted spaces). I started to try to be more disciplined so that we could have evenings together and time off at weekends. Then when we had our little boy I had to be even better at closing the studio door and focusing on parenting. I think there is a myth that runs deep in the creative business community that being overworked and frazzled = successful. If you’re not doing 60+ hour weeks then you’re probably not doing enough. I’m guilty of perpetuating that myth myself, especially on the run up to Christmas when I’ll post about being crazy-busy. I’m trying to follow a model now of doing less but doing it better. Saying no to things that don’t advance my core business, or give me great joy, or help me make enough money to live.
6. Business planning is actually really helpful
In the first few years I had a business plan because I thought I should have a business plan. It was absolutely pointless. How can you write a plan when you don’t know what the plan is? Then two years ago I was pregnant with my son and panicking. I had no idea how to pause the business for maternity leave. With the encouragement of Ross and some business peers.