I was catching up on the blog of a local craftsperson I know. She’s going through a phase of trying to decide the next direction for her business.
Because I find business so interesting and challenging, I can’t help but think of solutions for her. And it’s always easier for someone to see things from the outside, isn’t it?
This artist/craftsperson, let’s call her Georgina, like a lot of craftspeople, gets bored making the same thing over and over again. While that repetition thing can sometimes get you into the zone and be enjoyable, it has to be the right activity, for lots of people. Some activities are zone-worthy and some are just tedious.
While many business mag.s would say to suck it up and do it anyway, most craftspeople are seeking that middle ground of being able to do what they love while still making things that sell consistently at reasonable prices, which means some level of production work.
How can artists and craftspeople avoid boredom?
See, the thing is, for so many of us, the mental challenge and the creativity that comes in the problem solving part of it is what we enjoy the most. (Ebony Love and Lisa Polderman talk about that here and here.)
Once the problem is solved, it’s less interesting.
One solution is to keep the problem solving part in it every time by doing only, or mostly, custom work. For example, she does portraits. That’s new every time, she could work on stepping up and promoting that angle.
Whatever you make, jewelry, quilts, clothing, candles, bath soaps, there’s always a way to customize it. Offer customized or completely custom products and everything you make can be already sold – which means you’re not carrying inventory, a savings – and you get that challenge.
In addition to everything being pre-sold, you also don’t have to store inventory, if space is an issue, this can be helpful.
A terrific example of one design that can be customized is the MultiWrap Dress by Elise Bergman, a Chicago designer. See it here. It’s one design that works well for bridesmaids, since each bridesmaid can tie the dress in the style that’s most flattering to her. The custom part comes in the sizing and fabric choices. I imagine it’s efficient to make, since it’s something she’s made again and again.
What else should she sell?
If everything you sell is custom, then everything is more expensive. While upscale can be a terrific business model, it’s often wise to offer products across a range of prices. What can Georgina sell to have a range of prices, while also not going out of her mind with boredom?
My best solution to that one is:
Sell some kind of digital information product. An ebook, a tutorial, printables, patterns, anything. The wonderful thing about digital information products is that you create them, and yes, that can be a significant investment of time and expertise, and then you just set it and forget it. Using a service, such as Gum Road, amazon, ejunkie or etsy, you put your digital item up for sale and then it’s delivered automatically by the service. Awesome! You can truly make money while you sleep!
I believe every craftsperson should have a digital product in their line up. And, if you follow the advice of the guys at 37 Signals, in the book Rework, you can do this by “selling your by products.” Figured out how to make a bag, wallet, quilt or resin filled ring? Sell the pattern or tutorial.
Georgina’s got the computer chops to create digital products without even hiring help, so she’s a step ahead of me!
In addition, she should probably have some physical products that relate to what she offers for custom work. This shows potential customers her range and what she’s capable of. Etsy shops seem to sell better when there’s a range of products, and at least 100. This book, The Everything Guide to Selling Arts & Crafts Online says that magic number is 125. This is something that I’ve read and heard again and again.
I think that number shows that you’re serious, that you’re here to stay, and also gives customer a nice variety to choose from.
Those physical products could also be craft kits, ideally ones that would complement her digital information products. What equipment might she own, or be able to obtain or rent, that would allow her to product kits efficiently?
For a quilter, it might be a long arm quilting machine (that would be a service), die cutters (cutting fabric for kits). For a jeweler, it could be a hydraulic press – they could die strike components.
To sum up: I recommend she sell custom somethings, digital information products and something production that she can make efficiently, without dying of boredom.
Finally, Georgina has a hunger for community. She’s thought about creating this community by teaching classes, possibly at her own retail craft specialty store. Unfortunately, the capital requirement for that is out of reach.
How else can you find and create community around your craft? The first and easiest is to join local guilds and meet ups with fellow craftspeople. Support and networking are wonderful. Next up, conferences, though those aren’t as often.
Teaching, through other organizations, can be a great way to connect and share. I encourage her to figure out what kind of teaching works best for her. What age group does she enjoy teaching most? What kind of craft? Does she like teaching process or project classes?
Anyone who hasn’t taught before can gain experience by volunteering with kids or at a not for profit. Organizations usually welcome this kind of volunteering, and she could think of it as a stepping stone. Not everyone needs this kind of practice, but it can be a valuable and sometimes necessary way to get started.
That’s it! Those are my suggestions to Georgina, and maybe you, too.
Do I take my own advice? My jewelry is sold at the Illinois Artisan Shop. I have two online shops with physical products and sell one ebook on amazon. Book two is in the final stages and will be out soon. I taught for 20 years but am on a bit of a break at the moment. I don’t do custom jewelry or art. My current goal is to sell my jewelry wholesale to stores. Another product line launches in March. And I give speeches.
How about you? What’s your line up? Do you have a digital product? Do you do custom? What works for you? What do you hate doing? Comments are open!
This post by Elaine Luther was published on All Things Metal Clay on February 3, 2014. Copyright Elaine Luther 2014.