From Craft to Commerce: The Life and Stages of a Creative Business

At our very first San Francisco Chapter meeting I met Vince of Vincie Bags-- and I know longer worried that we would find good people who cared about craft as part to help our new chapter flourish!

Vince is the kind of person who has honed his years of experience into generous wisdom and also hilarious insights. He is truly a craftsman and gives back unselfishly to his local maker community. I'm excited that he's sharing with us today how he has come to understand the steps of a successful creative business and ways to keep the cycle of "always learning" in your business.

Every second person I meet has just moved to San Francisco to start a business and make it big. In Hollywood, every waiter is a movie star in transition. In SF, every tech slave has a side project that’s going to be the next Facebook. Every hobbyist imagines e-commerce will rocket them to fame.

Success does happen, but not by itself. Some years ago, three people came up with a cool idea. Two saw it as a college hobby. Where are they now? The third made it his life. He built Facebook, made a fortune (or three) and changed the world.

Step One: Aha!

Business takes engagement. You don’t make it if other interests run your life. My friend Susan – veteran of magic tech moments including the Xerox typography revolution, Netscape’s leap to the browser and a portable HIV lab for bicycle doctors – told me, If you don’t give full-time attention and full-on engagement to your idea, it’s a no-start; a hobby and not a start-up.

It starts with a dream. You can’t chase one up, it has to come on its own. If you’re in fierce pursuit of the next million-dollar idea, you might start any random project with your desire for anything, something, anything at all that will bring success. That’s wishing, not winning. A powerful idea is solid on its feet, rooted in your soul, pregnant with inevitability. You don’t have to pull through; it pulls you.

You want success in a hurry, but sometimes you have to be patient and work for it . . . wait for it . . .

The Discovery: One day, you wake up knowing you love doing X more than you love Jesus. You’ve  found your calling – or it has found you. You respond to it work 25-hour days, lose sleep and your friends start to wonder where you’ve gone.

 Anna models the Vincie Traveller, Paris edition, on the Embarcadero, SF. This is what I love to make. [photo: Brice]

Anna models the Vincie Traveller, Paris edition, on the Embarcadero, SF. This is what I love to make. [photo: Brice]

This is the first step to success. You have an idea, a product, a discovery worth building your life around. What next? Make it more than an idea; bring it to life.

Step Two: Mastery

Talent is good, but having a knack, a trick, and insight isn’t enough. Potential plus $2.99 gets you a Happy Meal. To win the world, you have to make your talent count by building from your innate talent a set of practical skills. Work what you love until you are the best. Focus on what you want to do; hone the craft that takes you there.

It’s a process: You make crazy things and throw them away. Dive deep into your psyche to manifest a personal vision. Associate with masters. Bring your vision to life in useful, engaging objects. 

 Vincie working on silver backpacks in the studio. [photo:  Cliff Englert ]

Vincie working on silver backpacks in the studio. [photo: Cliff Englert]

Through mastery you grow. People like what you do. Your work has presence. It brings joy. You give lots of presents. A few people even buy stuff. No one throws it away when you’re not looking. Your stuff is great! Another step to success. Now, make it more than a great product, make it a great business.

Step Three: Transition

At this point you had the idea, you have the skills and you’ve built the product. Now the challenges move into other arenas: Management, finance, marketing, sales, partnerships and publicity. Areas where you don’t necessarily shine. The way forward then is blocked by busywork. At some point, to move from expert maker to successful producer, most people need help. 

Not alone: At first, it’s just you – You market, sell, oversee production runs, do publicity, fill out tax forms, keep the bank balanced. It’s easy to get stuck on a treadmill of shows, making, re-making, and pushing one more sale to pay suppliers or rent.  Keep it up and you’re left without a chance to lift your head or renew your vision.

 Vincie intern Manlio in the shop, setting up a photo-shoot. [photo:  Nha Ha ]

Vincie intern Manlio in the shop, setting up a photo-shoot. [photo: Nha Ha]

To move further, you need the faith that your vision can support a team. That it’s clear enough for others to nourish and is ready for the Big Time. The way toward building a business takes organisation, time and focus. 

I don’t always understand what I need to do next, or have the skills to accomplish it. The process is exciting, wearing, challenging. That’s why I count on these 7 tips to keep me moving and afloat:

Seven Tips to Move You Forward

1. Set priorities: State your vision, the means you’ll use to accomplish it and the beliefs that guide you. You need this mission statement, honest and simple, in order to talk with others and bring them along. So they know what they’re signing up for. So they can support your vision.

2. Source wisely: Find the materials and the suppliers that bring together quality and price. Visit shows, take trips, talk with competitors, customers and colleagues. Build credit and credibility in the industry and with this the resources you need to win out.

3. Leverage interns: What can newbies learn from you? If you are a PR novice, don’t apologize for that with your PR intern and share it. Likewise, leverage their innocence; naive questions can spark breakthrough innovation. Challenge your interns’ skills and accent their creativity. What can an enthusiastic learner contribute? Set specific goals and realistic targets.

4. Develop your market: Work the marketing triad: Persona, Secret sauce, Excitement.

Persona: The imaginary best friend who exemplifies your key buyer. Give her a name, find her picture, know her hobbies, routines, excitements, music, films, books. Like a living best friend, share her world to know her needs.

Secret sauce: Chefs often share recipes – until they say, Now add my secret sauce. That’s their flourish, their innovation, the one thing that makes their dish great and differentiates it from hundreds of competitors. Your secret sauce is what takes your product from competent to competitive, stellar and unmatched.

Excitement. With persona and secret sauce in mind, craft a brand image, get good product shots, arrange publicity, assemble sales materials, strategize the search for outlets. Build on the enthusiasm and talents of your fans and friends: Share and comment on social media. Work those interns!

5. Set up production: Get orders – paid orders, so you can buy production. Find producers that meet your standards, work with variable quantities, match your price-point. It’s like dating – a relationship. Once you get cash-flow positive and have product in production, you open up creative time – while still feeding the beast your business has become.

6. Envision success: Picture how you want life and work to be, for now. Define what success means today. Detail business objectives that take you there. This is your guide to success. It’s also called a business plan. It guides you and your team as you work together – and on your own – every day. It’s also what you use to get a small-business loan.

7. Partner with power: Swim with the big fish. Find partners, services and colleagues who complement your talents and share your business objectives. Leverage loans, investors, collaborative purchasing, pre-paid orders; build credit and credibility. Engage in social and professional groups, in person and online; build a reputation and respect. Be true to yourself. 

I myself am taking this transition step. Each new opportunity opens to a broader horizon. Each day brings new ideas, new product, new fans. The to-do list is always too long and the day too short. 

 Castello on the Amalfi Coast. A week by the sea? [photo:  Vincie ]

Castello on the Amalfi Coast. A week by the sea? [photo: Vincie]

Today, I’m looking forward to step four, which I think is Italy.
See you there?

You can find Vince online at Original Vincie, Instagram and Facebook.

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