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As I was preparing for Career Day at Goddard last week…and, as I’ve been executing a comprehensive business plan for 2016, I’ve realized that I LOVE business about as much as I love painting! It’s really not that surprising (I have a Masters Degree in Organizational Leadership and Development…which I don’t mention to gloat but only to emphasize how much I’ve loved business development even before I had a business), but there has been something in me that clicked this year in terms of allowing myself to use my love of business development as a platform not only to grow my own brick and mortar shop, but to serve as a visionary tool for other small businesses.

This is the time of year when I get to have many conversations with would be entrepreneurs about their budding businesses…

...knot too shabby BAZAAR season!

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Each week, hopeful vendors cast aside their fears and register for the knot too shabby BAZAAR. For most of them, it is their first venture into the world of public sales! Many approach it like a business while others see it as a hobby. Either way, not one person participating wants to leave with their wallets empty! And, with their impending participation comes periods of self-doubt, fears about “not knowing what they are doing,” and inexperience serving as an excuse to remain stagnant in their endeavors. They stream into the store seeking guidance and reassurance about their new venture!

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Allow me to cast away your doubts and offer some tidbits of advise from one small business owner to another (yes…that is you…even if you don’t have a brick and mortar store) and share a wee bit about how we operate as a BUSINESS…not as ARTISTS!

  1. Don’t neglect taking time to create a solid foundation and a comprehensive business plan (even if it is just one, small town artisan event)!

It’s not sexy…I get that! But, it’s important! How can you execute your budding business if you can’t answer some basic questions about what your goals are, who you serve and how you communicate your message?

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My entire team operates with one “Wildly Important Goal” in mind! We ALL know what that goal is and what we need to do every single day to get closer to reaching that “WIG.” We know who our customers are that will help us to fulfill the goal, how we are going to reach those customers, and what our individual job responsibilities are to grow our profit margin. Then, we meet every week to evaluate our progress and make adjustments to the plan.

Case in point, it took 2-days of off-site of planning to determine our 2016 goals. That was just this year! We’ve done some variation of planning every year we’ve been in business! Without a clearly defined “Wildly Important Goal,” we would just come to work everyday and go through the motions of day-to-day retail activities with no focus on where we need to be at the end of the week/month/year.

Before you step foot on the empty field to set up your booth at the knot too shabby BAZAAR (or any other community event), identify your business goals, sales goals, target marget and your sales pitch! You’ll be giving it over and over again, so know before hand how you communicate your product, passion and brand! 

2. Start small and build from there

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Don’t compare your beginning with someone else’s middle. It takes time and small steps to grow, and it’s easy to compare and become discouraged.

When I opened knot too shabby almost five years ago, the basic question I had to ask myself was “will my brick and mortar shop be financially self-sustainable.” I was already selling a product from home, and at the time, I knew if I maintained my current monthly sales, I would be able to pay my bills. That information coupled with negotiating a lower lease, investing some of my savings along with borrowing a little from family gave me the courage to jump of the metaphorical cliff. However, I had a big fat safety net at the bottom of that cliff. I only committed to a one year lease and I paid the entire year up front. That freed up all of the monthly capital to a) pay back my small family loan, b) hire employees, and c) invest in new products. If it ended being a bust…well, I only had to stick it out for a year!

My point is, I started as a micro business, working out of my garage and blogging for years before I ever ventured out into the world of retail (click here to read about my story)! We live in a “get rich quick” society and sometimes, you forget (and I forget) that it takes time and effort, and a consistent following to be successful. You’ve heard the phrase, “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” Same thing! With a solid foundation and plan, you can run that marathon in record time and reap the highly rewarding benefits of turning a profit! But, don’t be afraid and expect that you’ll need to START SMALL!

The knot too shabby BAZAAR is a great way to get your feet wet! It’s a safe venue with a ton of encouraging participants and shoppers who are specifically targeted to buy exactly what you have to sell! And, if you don’t sell as much as you hoped…well…it’s a marathon and takes one small step at a time to build a reputation and customer base. Use this event as a spring board to improve your next venture!   

3. Packaging is EVERYTHING!

I’m not just talking about product packaging but how you package yourself! That means investing in a website and good marketing materials. It doesn’t even have to be a huge financial investment. Start with a free blogger site with a great design! Open a business facebook page, sign-up for instagram, create a pinterest account and send out e-newsletters! Carry a business card…and I’m not talking about a stock design from vista print. Make a business card that speaks to your craft!

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My business card needs to be economical because I distribute between 30-50 every single day. But, that doesn’t mean it had to be stock. The design of our card (and virtually all of our marketing materials) is inspired by vintage ephemera. The one I use for my business cards is an antique postcard that I picked up in Belgium complete with handwriting and postage stamps! It only serves as the background but sets the mood as to the type of business that we operate. But, my favorite thing about our business cards are that it isn’t the standard size! It is the size of a postcard and it’s packed with useful information on the back that keeps an up-to-date schedule of workshops and events along with an area to include measurements of furniture. Because of its abnormal size, it is less likely to be tossed at the end of the day.

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I’ve seen some amazing one-woman businesses that come across as Fortune 500’s because of how they’ve packaged themselves! It’s worth the time and financial investment and will communicate the kind of brand identity you want your customers to have! Once you understand how to clearly package yourself, packaging your products becomes a breeze!

Do at least three things before the knot too shabby BAZAAR:

1. Open a business facebook and instagram page and start posting on it IMMEDIATELY
2. Design a beautiful business card and merchandise tags that speak to your specialty
3. Set up a free, content driven blog/website for your business and start posting 

4. Read. Read. Read.

I know I’ve written about how much I love to read. Heck…we even carry a product line dedicated to the written word, Out of Print Clothing Co. I spend every night reading before bed. I try to balance out my entertainment reading with business books, faith books and history books. But, it’s the business books that I’m talking about here. The right business book should leave your head reeling with ideas, new concepts, growth opportunities and insight that at face value with overwhelm the heck out of you (like they do me) but fuel you with the knowledge to move beyond status quo. They EMPOWER you to move beyond the dream to the reality!

Some of my most inspired books that I’ve read recently are:

The Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (and almost any other book by Gladwell)
The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier (I’m currently reading this book)
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Duct Tape Marketing by John Jantsch

5. Don’t avoid criticism

This speaks at the very heart to the fear of failure. Who wants to be criticized, afterall? But, through constructive criticism and feedback from a trusted mentor, you will be able to grow and improve your operation!

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At knot too shabby, we’ve been teaching painting workshops for nearly five years. Until recently,  I had never surveyed our participants to find out what they enjoyed, what they learned and how we could improve. For nearly five years, I’de been making excuses about how I don’t have time to put together a survey or even tally the results. I had no one to keep me accountable for my teaching other than myself. The reality was that I was too scared to be criticized. More recently, however we’ve started offering artisan workshops and inviting guest instructors. All of a sudden, feedback about classes that I am not in control of became a vital necessity. Thus, introducing our workshop survey for ALL instructors artisan and otherwise. I missed out on a lot by not accepting criticism. I missed out on positive affirmations that far outweighed any of the criticism I received. And, I missed out on great recommendations that would allow us to improve our operation. I will never gain what I could’ve learned from others over the course of those nearly five years. Don’t make the same mistake!

Find a mentor or a small collection of qualified (and perhaps highly opinionated) individuals who can offer constructive feedback that will help you grow your business and improve your operation and CONTINUALLY find opportunities for feedback!

I hope that these five points help provide some direction as you get started! While we are in the business of PAINTING and TEACHING and DECORATING, we are also in the business of business!  And, we want your business to succeed, too! Don’t hesitate to swing by the shop, e-mail or send a facebook message if you want suggestions, opinions, advise, resources, etc.!

Would you ever be interested in a small business seminar directed at launching your Small Creative Business? We’ve talked about pooling together our resources of successful business owners to offer deeper and richer insights into business development. Let me know in the comments!