Business Development and Planning for Makers

We often talk about not relying on Etsy for everything here... and this lesson reaches beyond this. It's easy to put all our eggs into one basket, especially when that basket seems to be given so much to us and so easily! Today #ahasmembers Chris & Andy talk about how hiccups like this in their business have made them stronger. Plus they share ways to get "unstuck" in their business.

Q: Please introduce yourselves.
A: My name is Andrea Zatarain, and I am originally from Mexico City. I came to the United States to study Jewelry Design first at California State University at Long Beach and then at Rhode Island School of Design. I received my BFA from RISD in 1996 and I have been a custom jewelry designer for over 20 years. I taught the Jewelry Rendering course at RISD for 11 years and now teach workshops at various schools like Metalwerx.

My name is Chris Raia, and I am an industrial designer, exhibit designer and a graphic designer. I earned my BFA in Industrial Design from RISD in 1995 where I met Andrea. After starting my career in exhibit and retail space design, I launched an industrial and graphic design firm with the goal of focusing on projects that required seamless integration of two- and three-dimensional design. Andrea and I worked together designing housewares for 9 years. I taught at Wentworth Institute of Technology in the Industrial Design Department for 11 years as both an adjunct and full-time professor.

More recently, we have launched Chris & Andy as a way to support our creative community. We offer the network and services necessary to run a successful studio based business.

Q: What is business development and what experience helped you understand the importance of business development and planning ahead?
A: Business development is a deliberate plan for growing business income and opportunities with a short and long term schedule.

The day we found out Andrea was pregnant with our second son, we found out that we had lost Chris’ biggest client. This was a wake up call. Realizing that we could lose a substantial portion of our income so suddenly made us realize that as a self-employed couple, we couldn’t afford to stop looking for new opportunities.

This became something that we are constantly planning as part of our week. Sometimes it’s sending out an email. Sometimes it’s walking a trade show and connecting with new potential clients.

Q: When you lost that main client, what impact did this have on you, your business and your family?
A: We were lucky. Chris was able to talk to the company and negotiate a new agreement so it wasn’t as catastrophic as we thought it would be. Eventually though, Chris parted ways with them and scaled back his studio workflow to a couple select clients in order to join a Philadelphia firm on a full-time basis as Director of Graphics. This has provided the wherewithal upon which to build C&A, though it does make for some crazy working hours!

Q: What did you learn from the experience and what did you do as a result?
A: Both of us have always liked to have various hats to wear in one week. We teach, Andrea makes custom jewelry, we both design for private clients and through Chris & Andy. This has helped us get through the ups and downs of the economy in the last 20 years.

When we almost lost our main client, we made it a point to not get too comfortable when there is a lot of work. That is exactly the time to look for what’s next because there is less financial stress.

There have been lean years and there have been good years. We also decided to invest early on in purchasing a condo when we lived in Boston. It was great timing and its sale became our down payment for our first home. We see our home as a financial investment and look to elevate the least desirable house in a great neighborhood as a means of accruing equity.

Q: Are you using what you learned in your business today? How is it shaping your business' future?
Absolutely. Even though Chris & Andy was booked solid through early Spring within two months of launching, we are still making every effort to connect with new artists that we would love to support. We are passionate about helping fellow artists and designers build strong businesses so they too can have the life they want and be there for their family.
We have a 1, 3 and 5 year plan for our work and business. This helps make decisions and focus the energy that goes into building a business that will still be here in 20 years.

Q: What advice would you give fellow makers who feel "stuck" without a plan? What should they start thinking about and doing? 
A: A plan doesn’t have to look like it was written by an MBA. You can start small. For example: where do I want to be in 3, 6 and 12 months from now? How will I get there? What can I do today or this week that will help me get there? A plan is much easier when you break it down into smaller steps.

Knowing you want to have 5 or 50 new wholesale accounts in the next 12 months will help you decide the next steps you need to take like choosing to do a trade show or not.
Also, know that you don’t have to make these decisions by yourself. You can work with a business coach (we can help you find a good match) and build your own network of advisers.

Gather 5 to 7 people that have experience with part or all aspects of your business and ask if they would be interested in being in your “board of directors”. This means that you come to them not more than once a month with a specific decision you need to make. Being part of a network like AHAS is great because you can tap into the experiences of others that have been or are in your shoes. Knowing that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it’s time to grow your business can take much of the stress away.

Q: Where can we find you?
A: You can find us at and see Andrea’s jewelry at We are always happy to hear from other creatives - you can email us through this page: