Ventura, Here We Come!

Headed down to Ventura this morning to spend the weekend at the Craftcation Conference. I’ll be teaching three four sessions there:

  • Moving Your Business Beyond the Kitchen Table (panel)
  • Marketing on a Budget
  • Pricing Your Handmade Work
  • Accounting/Bookkeeping for Crafters

I’m excited to see far-flung friends Jenny Hart (at a conference I’m NOT organizing, for a change!) and Danielle Maveal (see this video Q&A we did together last month), and to spend time with fellow SF crafty-business ladies Stephanie Cortez from NerdJerk and Rena Tom.

For a little pre-conference recommended reading, please peruse this article I recently posted to design*sponge on approaching other business owners for advice.

Looking forward to trading business cards with y’all.

Price Anchoring

As someone who teaches classes on pricing, I was really interested to hear this segment about “price anchoring” on Marketplace Money yesterday (get ready, because I’m about to really geek out here). According to Nick Epley, who teaches behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the decisions we make involving numbers (such as how many of something to buy, and how much to spend) are based on an “anchor” number.  Sometimes we already have the anchor in our head (like the total of your last grocery bill), and sometimes it’s just a random number that appears in front of you.

One example Mr. Epley gave is that people will guess that a football player made more tackles in a year if his jersey number is 97 than if it’s 27. He also recounted an interesting study in which a grocery store sign suggested that people buy Snickers bars to put in their freezer. In one instance, the sign said to buy “some” Snickers bars, and in another instance, the sign said to buy 18 Snickers bars.  People ended up buying far more Snickers bars when they were given an anchor number of 18, rather than the word “some.”  The reason this works, says Epley, is that people tend to only use one anchor number at a time, so whatever anchor you walked into the grocery store (or football stadium) with gets replaced by the new anchor that is put in front of you.

I wonder if this concept of “anchoring” is also what accounts for people’s tendency to accept more expensive prices on an item if that price isn’t a round or common price number (say, $57 as opposed to $50 or $49.99). If a price is harder for us to compare to our anchor, are we less likely to fight it?  I’d love to see price anchoring tested out a local shop or craft fair. Any takers?

p.s. First drawing-a-day with color! Pushing boundaries!

Thoughts on Community

Last week I had lunch with some friends: fellow CCE founder Laura Henry, and Genevieve Robertson and Shelly Kerry from LightboxSF.  The meeting was ostensibly to brainstorm surrounding conference-y event formats, but the conversation kept coming back to community.

Initially I was sort of surprised how central the issue was, since I always think of networking as an important but secondary part of any conference.  To me, programming always came first.  That’s why you pay for a conference that has expert speakers, rather than just attend a party, right?  But the more we talked about it, the more it became clear that community-building might actually be more crucial than content.  To give just one example: let’s say you attend a session featuring someone you admire; the presentation itself probably doesn’t include much material that isn’t already on the speaker’s blog, in their latest book, etc., but afterwards you have the opportunity to introduce yourself and ask a specific question of one of your heroes.  Which is more valuable, the content or the connection?  To put it another way, a session might present some interesting ideas, but it’s the time you spend discussing those ideas with other people that ultimately leads to plans for action.

If you think about it, every modern art movement — from impressionism to Dada to street art — grew out of a small group of artists getting together and bouncing ideas off of one another.  Renoir, Monet, and Mary Cassatt all attended each other’s exhibitions (or showed together), collaborated, critiqued each other’s work and introduced each other to new friends and patrons.  So did Warhol, Basquiat, and Julian Schnabel, or Invader, Shepard Fairey and Banksy — you get the idea. Though the image is often of the tortured, solitary artist, working alone in his studio, the reality is that most successful artists are part of a supportive community.

I’m ultimately going to ignore the chicken-or-egg question of whether successful artists become friends because they are successful, or if they become successful because they are friends. Sometimes it’s the former, such as when speakers meet at conferences, and sometimes it’s the latter, such as when friends promote each other’s work to their respective online audiences.  Overall, I think one causes the other and vice versa, so it doesn’t really matter where you start — except that it’s generally easier to make friends than to become commercially successful.  I’m currently trying to do both, and the problem I keep running into is where to split my time between the two.

These days, when people talk about building a community around your art or business, they’re usually referring to social media. I’ve (virtually) met some great people through social media, but between Twitter, Facebook, blogging, and now Pinterest (which I refuse to join), you can lose a lot of time that could otherwise be spent on making new work.  I also make the mistake of following/liking a lot of people I admire, which is a great way to feel inferior, especially when you’re not being terribly productive.  Our lunch meeting last week reminded me how much I prefer talking to people in person.  It’s much more efficient than scouring tweets, and builds a deeper connection than just shouting things into the ether.

Next month the four of us plan to meet again over dinner, hopefully inviting a few more people as well.  It may not be a conference, but we’ve all been in business long enough that we each have knowledge to share.  Our collective experience means we can help one another take our businesses to the next level.  At the same time, we’ll be building a mutual cheerleading club, which does wonders for motivation and cross-promotion.  In the meantime, I’ll be scaling down the social media side of things until I’ve got enough of a real-life community to make it worth it.

Thanks to Tina Jett for inspiring today’s illustration with her own daily illustrated blog posts.

The Last Craft Fair

This past weekend I participated in my very last craft fair.  When I first started Sweet Meats, craft fairs were invaluable.  The direct interaction with thousands of potential customers allowed me to collect a ton of feedback about prices, popular products, displays and marketing: deli wrapping was a hit and often served as the tipping point between browser and buyer; when it came to products, “I love you more than bacon” was the big winner in buttons, but the ham always came out on top in the toy category.  At last week’s Bazaar Bizarre, however, I learned some broader lessons:

Lesson 1: you can’t half-ass a craft booth

The Bazaar Bizarre was the only fair I did this season.  I wanted to hurry my transition out of retail by getting rid of some inventory, so I didn’t bring much new to the table (no pun intended).  Aside from a couple of prints I had little in the way of new products, so none of my usual customers were interested.  I also didn’t have the second table I thought I had purchased, so it was difficult for shoppers to make sense of the crowded display.  All in all, my booth looked a little sad compared to my neighbors’ open, well-lit, and organized spaces, so I didn’t fare too well.  My plan to off-load boxes of toys to an audience that already owns them backfired completely.

Lesson 2: outgrowing the craft fair

Craft fairs are absolutely the right market for a growing handmade business, for all of the reasons I mentioned above.  But they are no longer the right market for me.  The whole weekend I felt a slight twinge of embarrassment at being there.  I was disappointed in myself, like I was dressing for the job I had rather than the one I wanted.  This feeling was compounded when more than one person approached me with a confused/vaguely distrustful look before asking, “Aren’t you the person who put on the CCE conference?  What are you doing here?” It seemed as though they suddenly didn’t trust that I knew anything about running a small business since I was standing behind my products piled sadly on a table, with no customers clamoring to buy them.

The Big Takeaway

As with most things in life, you only get out of a craft fair what you put into it.  And because I have already mentally left that world behind, I didn’t put much into it.  Just like I tell my students, you can’t market right unless you’re in the right market.  Now that I’m hoping to build bigger and better things, I need to find a new market with room for my business to grow into.

CCE 2011

I realize that I haven’t posted much lately, nor will I get through the mountain of no-longer-relevant items that I meant to post until mid-August at the earliest.  Why?  Because I have been eating, sleeping, and breathing the Conference of Creative Entrepreneurs.

Not to toot my own horn, but our schedule and speaker line-up has tuned out pretty kick-ass, don’t you think?  I’m especially excited to hear Jeff Rudell’s keynote address.  He is one of my personal heroes and it felt like a real coup to get him on board.  I’ll be posting an interview and sneak peek with him in the next week or two.  Other amazing speakers include:

  • Meg Mateo Ilasco, author of Creative, Inc. and Craft, Inc. and creator of Anthology magazine
  • Diane Gilleland, Editor-in-Chief of Craftzine.com
  • Erin Loechner of DesignforMankind.com and Uppercase magazine
  • Christine Schmidt of Yellow Owl Workshop
  • Derek Fagerstrom and Lauren Smith of The Curiosity Shoppe, authors of two Show Me How books, and creative directors of the Pop Up Magazine events
  • Artist and Illustrator Lisa Congdon
  • Cathe Holden of JustSomethingIMade.com
  • and more than 40 other generous and helpful experts

But seriously, check out the schedule and then register for all three days because it’s going to rock the free world and I want you all there with me.  You can RSVP for the CCE 2011 event on Facebook (and invite friends as well) or “like” the conference page.

The Creeps are Coming!

Leonardo the Octopus, my very first Deep Creep, will be making his debut in the Bazaar Bizarre pavilion at the Bay Area Maker Faire.  The Maker Faire takes place at the San Mateo Fairgrounds next Saturday and Sunday, May 21st-22nd.  If you’ve never been to the Maker Faire before, grab your friends and/or your kids and make a day of it.  Never will you see so much human creativity, ingenuity and fun in one place.

At the Bazaar Bizarre, I will have exactly 24 Leonardos.  No more.  Once they’re gone, you won’t be able to get your hands on one until they appear in stores at the end of June.  This is also the only time you will be able to purchase the Creeps directly from me, since I am getting out of the retail game.

Also at the LOV table will be the last of the Sweet Meats, and an event-only deal on Mitch the Monster.  I’m also considering offering some decorate-it-yourself plush misfit blanks, but I’m hoping the real coup de grace will be the display itself.  Come check it out!

Entrepreneurship by Necessity

This week’s East Bay Express newspaper, covering the eastern cities along San Francisco Bay, interviewed me for their feature, “The Recession-Era Entrepreneur.” The article, written by editor Kathleen Richards, explores the trend of Bay Area residents becoming entrepreneurs by necessity. According to Richards:

Due to the economy, slim job prospects, and skyrocketing education costs, more and more young people are finding their fairy-tale careers beyond reach, or simply not on the horizon. As a result, many are supplementing their incomes — or banking entirely on the do-it-yourself route — by starting their own businesses, many within niche or specialized fields.

It’s definitely a trend I’ve been seeing among my small business students.  What do you think: are entrepreneurs by necessity more likely to fail because they have less passion and/or planning, or are they more likely to succeed because they have more at stake and therefore try harder?

Do you have your own business?  If so, why did you decide to start it? Was it a lifelong dream, an economic necessity, or a combination of both?

Oscars Red Carpet Bingo

We’re hosting our second annual Oscar-watching party tomorrow, and as usual, the festivities will begin with Red Carpet Bingo at 4pm.  If you’d like to play along, I’m making the full set available as a printable pdf.  There are twelve different cards, but you could cut and paste new arrangements if you have more players than that.  Enjoy!

Big Money for SF Public Art Projects

If you make public art, the city of San Francisco is offering two chances to apply for a piece of millions in grant funding:

1.  Prequalified Artist Pool

Artists working in all mediums are encouraged to apply to the 2011/2011 Prequalified Artist Pool to be considered for upcoming public art projects.

Budgets range from $30,000- $200,000

Eligibility: Professional practicing artists or artist teams residing in the Western States (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming).

Application deadline: Tuesday, January 18, 2011, 5:00 PM PST
Application available here: https://sfgov.slideroom.com/
For more information: http://bit.ly/hB0Ee9

2. Public Safety Building Public Art Program

The new Public Safety Building will be the first civic building located in the Mission Bay neighborhood. Several art opportunities for both interior and exterior public art projects are available. Please note: applying to the 2011/2012 Prequalified Artist Pool does not make you automatically eligible for this project. In order to be considered for both, you must submit two separate applications.

Budget: $2.6 million for multiple projects to be implemented at this site.

Eligibility: Professional practicing artists or artist teams residing in the United States.

Application deadline: Tuesday, January 18, 2011, 5:00 PM (PST)
Application available here: https://sfgov.slideroom.com/
For more information http://bit.ly/gkohCa

For more information about the Public Art Program and helpful tips on how to apply, download this pdf: http://bit.ly/gbzj80