One of the things that is hardest to do in business is predict where your business will go next. But if you are wanting to grow your business or even sustain it, planning for it now and implementing systems is key to making sure that growth doesn't crush you or doesn't look like what you wanted (read this blog post about burnout in a successful business). We're delighted to have members Chris & Andy Design share ways to prepare for this growth. You can learn more from Andy, who will be on our State of Making session on shows and booth design!
Has Martha Stewart called yet? No? Great! Then you have time to prepare your business for growth. Whether you want to grow slowly or fast, here are three habits that every creative entrepreneur needs to practice.
Maybe your goal is not to get the call from Martha. If you started a creative business, you most likely have a vision of where you want to take it. I know you can close your eyes and see the business of your dreams; you can visualize your products being made in a vibrant studio by great assistants. You know the stores they’ll ship to. Keep this vision alive and prepare your business today.
It doesn’t matter how big your business is today. You can start developing these habits now and continue to practice them as your business grows.
You start by getting to know your business better than you know your partner (or your BFF). I’m not kidding.
The main reason small businesses struggle to make ends meet is because they don’t have a clear vision of who they are, what makes them different from their competition, or how they fit into the existing market. So become a detective and pay special attention to your biggest fans. The customers that love your work don’t look at the price tag. They are the audience you want to appeal to when you develop your brand.
You also need to be curious about other businesses in your field. An ideal place to study businesses similar to yours is at trade shows. This is also an opportunity for you to see if a particular show is a good fit for you before you send your application in.
I am a jeweler and my husband knows that whenever I walk by a jewelry store, I will go inside to check it out. Be it Zales or Van Cleef & Arpels, I want to know what makes them unique and get a feel for their brand DNA. What makes Cartier different from Tiffany different from Bulgari? I study their catalogs and notice how they build their collections.
Then I take a look at my work. Even if I don’t compete with Chopard, I take the lessons I learned and apply them to my business. When I purchased a small gift from Tiffany’s, the receipt was thick paper, placed in a Tiffany blue envelope. I got the gift in a Tiffany blue box with the white ribbon in a branded bag with white tissue. What I learned is that presentation matters. The details down to the paper for the receipts was designed to appeal to the ideal customer.
You don’t have to be a luxury brand to offer a memorable unboxing experience and memorable packaging.
Why be curious? Successful brands know their ideal clients and understand their niche inside and out.
Someday you will want to have an assistant so you can increase production. You might need to quote a custom skirt based on that cool blue one you made last summer. You want to prepare for growth by making it easy to replicate your work.
If you are the only one who knows how to do everything, you will always be doing everything and will soon find yourself overwhelmed.
Keep a book of product recipes with the sources and costs for every material used. This will serve a dual purpose. The first is that you will know your COGS (Costs of goods sold) like the back of your hand, which will help you build your price formulas so you can make a profit and grow. The second is that you will save valuable time when you need to train an assistant. Your customers want to know that, if they come back to get another bracelet for their BFF, the design and quality will be consistent.
Why write your recipes? So you can document your process, control costs, make a profit and streamline training an assistant when you need to increase production.
We all have enough time. I know, I know… You probably feel like there is never enough time but think about it. The owner of the awesome business you admire has the same amount of time as you do. This is the one thing money can’t buy. Money can get you an assistant, an accountant or a cleaning service. What it cannot get you is more hours in a day.
When you know that it takes you 3 hours to carve that wooden spoon and your assistant takes 2.5 hours, you will immediately see the value in delegating that work. This goes hand in hand with knowing your costs.
When I was teaching at RISD, I would tell my students to keep track of everything for a month. I meant everything from breaks, to lunch time to emailing and yes, facebooking too. Try it for a month and if you can, make it a habit. The first goal is to gain an accurate sense of how long each step takes in the production process. The second is to cut back on waste.
Waste can take two forms. The first is distractions like social media, calls from friends, or errands. The second is inefficiency. If I know it takes me half an hour to set a stone, I can do the math and determine if hiring a stone setter is a better use of my time, especially when I take into consideration the quality of the work.
Add to this the fact that if you can delegate work to a quality vendor, you will more easily be able to increase production when the time comes.
I still keep a time log on my desk. I prefer an inexpensive grocery store pad because it is not precious. I check in by writing the time I get into my studio, and I track how long I spend on each task and project.
At the end of the day, I write down what I need to work on the following day so I can start my day focused.
Why keep time? Having an accurate sense of how long everything takes will help you better schedule your weeks and control your costs so you can make profit, grow, and maybe even take a vacation.
BONUS TIP: Organize your Assets
Keep a copy of all your product descriptions, your bio, and other copy in separate folders. We add the date in a six digit format to the title of files when making new versions. For example, February 14th, 2017 becomes 170214 — the files are automatically listed in chronological order when sorted by name.
Also, organize your images. Use one folder per collection and inside that keep a folder for each product. Mark the original high res image “Master”. Also include in the folder copies of other file formats and cropped versions you have. Label images with SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) and brief product description. This will save you time when getting images for a blog or designing your line sheet. You will save time when searching for images and you’ll make your graphic designer happy.
Click here to get a free PDF of the product recipe page shown on this post.