Useful Web Resources: Coroflot

The other day, my good friend Eleanor over at The Present Group sent me a link to the post “Eight Things They Never Taught You About Networking“  on Coroflot’s “Creative Seeds” blog.  That post, and indeed, that entire blog, is a useful web resource in and of itself, but coroflot.com has a lot more to offer.  Now, I realize that many designers, especially if you went to design school, already know about this site, but I think it may actually be most useful to those of us without the benefit of a “career services” office.

Coroflot.com is a one-stop shopping clearinghouse for those longing to be part of the design industry.  You can create an online portfolio (really great if you don’t have the skills or funds to create your own web site), search for jobs, and create or join groups based upon shared interests, training or geography.  In other words, you can find a job you want, network with someone at the company and show them your work all in one place.  I started drooling a little over the posting for Chronicle Books’ semi-annual fellowships today.  Other useful things on Coroflot include the 2007 Design Salary Survey and Coroflot Magazine, which regularly features work from online members.

Tip: To keep your portfolio at the top of the stack, update it a little every day.

Craft Fair for Designers (SF)

If you’ve ever wanted to sell your wares at a craft-fair-type event, but you’re more of a designer than a crafter, this is the fair for you! The Capsule Design Fair is held semi-annually in the Hayes Valley neighborhood in San Francisco, and also sometimes at the 111 Minna gallery downtown. I’m ashamed to say this, but I live in Hayes Valley and have shopped at the Capsule fair for the last couple of years, but I never figured out who ran it or how to join it until now.

capsuleThe 2008 fairs are happening on May 25th and October 19th form 11-6. They are always outdoors, but I’ve never seen it rained out. One of the nice things about the Capsule fair is that is often coincides with the Hayes Valley Merchants’ Block Party, the Linden Street Fair, and other events that make the neighborhood a true destination on that date. Most times I’ve visited the fair, the surrounding residential blocks have also had giant communal yard sales — another draw for passersby.

You can register to be a designer at the Capsule web site (yes, crafters can participate, too). Once you’re approved, you can also reserve your booth right on the site. The fee for the day is $190 (a little steeper than usual) and gets you an 8x 10 booth (a little bigger than usual). I can personally vouch for the great attendance at this fair, and it’s an especially great place to show if you carry goods that typically price you out of the traditional craft market. There are lots of vendors with average price points of $100, for example, but be aware that customers willing to spend that much will want to be able to pay with a credit card.

Resident Tip: arrive really early — by 9am at the latest — to get first pick at the local yard sales and skip the huge line at Blue Bottle Coffee on Linden.

Rip-offs and Licensing

Tonight I attended an intimate little gathering at the Stitch Lounge in San Francisco to promote the new Sublime Stitching book by Jenny Hart. If you’re a member of the craft community, you probably recognize items from her hip embroidery empire. I recently bought some Sublime Stitching materials for my sister’s birthday (that she loved) so I was excited to meet Ms. Hart. She was very generous, friendly and forthcoming.

Everyone who was at the table tonight owns and runs their own creative business. Unsurprisingly, talk soon turned to rip-offs. A lot of good points were made, and I’d like to share a few with you:

  1. Some people steal without remorse. Many big companies send scouts to small events like local craft fairs, looking for ideas to steal. Many of them have no qualms about ripping off small designers or artists, because the artists either a) never find out, b) don’t have the courage and/or resources to pursue legal action c) require such a small settlement that it is still financially worth it to be shady. The only way to stop this, is for every ripped-off artist to sue. If you’ve been ripped off by a bigger company, I’ll bet it wouldn’t be too hard to find other people who have been similarly robbed through web sites like Etsy or Craftster. Then everyone can pool their resources and file a much more dangerous class-action suit.
  2. Just because you bought it does not mean you own it. This is often confusing for people. It certainly was for me. If you buy a font, for example, you are buying a license to use it, including on things you might sell. You can use it to create printed note cards, for example, and selling those note cards is well within the terms of that font license. But different licenses use different terms. It is usually not okay, for example, to buy a knitting pattern for a scarf and then sell the scarf you made from it. Similarly, it is usually not okay to buy an embroidery pattern and then release a line of dishtowels you made using those patterns, even if you made them all by hand, designed the colors and placement of the images yourself, etc.
  3. It’s easy to borrow legally. Many designers, including Sublime Stitching, will let you license their designs. Though fees vary, a standard licensing agreement usually involves paying the artist about 5% of the gross sales of any product on which you used their design. So if those dishtowels sell for $10 apiece, every time you sell one, you would pay 50 cents to the designer of the embroidery patterns you used. That said, a licensing agreement is just that — a signed agreement between the licensor (the artist) and the licensee (you with the dishtowel line) that often includes certain conditions of use. Maybe the designer only intended for them to go on baby products, not dishtowels. Maybe your dishtowels are made using toxically produced fabric, or are just plain ugly. In any case, it is the artist who gets to decide whether or not and how their designs are used.

I think that’s enough for today. More on intellectual property in posts to come.

Why I Decided to Start a Full-Time Business

I’m not an expert on starting a business. I’m exactly the opposite. You will therefore not read the words “you should” very often on this blog. If you’re looking for advice about whether to take the plunge and start your own business, look elsewhere.

I started my own business for a number of reasons:

  1. By Accident or, The History of Sweet Meats: Sweet Meats began as a personal art project. In 2004 I saw a series of Deerhoof videos that show stop-motion animations of the artist Jenny Lew crafting odd plush creations. She made things like a felt videotape with a perfectly snug “cardboard” sleeve. It looked like a lot of fun.I decided I was going to make a ham, a mountain and a pack of cigarettes. I have no idea why I chose those three objects. I only made the ham and the cigarettes and I never finished all of the detailing. Nevertheless, people loved that damned ham. Everyone who came to our house commented on it. One day Andy suggested I make other meats and sell them online. So I did.I never promoted the site to anyone, but eventually, people found it. In July of 2006 so many people found it, in fact, that I turned my poor parents’ farmhouse into a sweatshop for three weeks (I still feel bad about it). Then stores began inquiring about wholesaling and other plush crafters wanted to know where I had them manufactured, so I thought it might be time to take the venture up a notch.

    BUT. I was under contract for another year of teaching Computers and Media Literacy at the K-8 school where I was employed and kind of liked my job, so I ran Sweet Meats as a legitimate side business and tried not to get more orders than I could handle. In 2007, Sweet Meats were set to be featured on CANAL+’s morning show, “La Matinale,” and in an article by Josh Friedland (that never ran in the end) for T: The New York Times Style Magazine. So I saved my money, resigned in April, and started building the business this August.

  2. I don’t have to worry about starving: I’ve got a good savings cushion, a partner who is willing to support the both of us during my first year in business (reciprocity for supporting us while he was in grad school) and family members who are happy to invest or supply interest-free loans simply because they love and trust me. If I didn’t have all three of these safety nets I would have been a bit more hesitant about dropping a full-time salary and benefits for absolutely no income.
  3. I’m terribly insubordinate: This does NOT mean that I don’t work well with people. On the contrary, I work extremely well with others and really enjoy collaboration. It also doesn’t mean that I am bad at following instructions. I know when I am in unfamiliar territory and welcome advice and steps to follow in that case. I am also good at receiving suggestions and honest criticisms when they are indeed honest and optional and not thinly veiled orders. I am very bad at taking orders. Unsolicited, compulsory directions in an area in which I already feel competent leave a bad taste in my mouth. I find them disrespectful and often ignore them. In short, I really need to be my own boss.
  4. I really wanted flexibility: In everything from when I travel to being able to run errands during banking hours. I also tend to have intense “task cravings.” Several times a day I have an overwhelming desire to do a specific type of activity, like organizing and cleaning, collecting materials, writing, researching or bookkeeping. The flexibility to follow my cravings allows me to be motivated and productive in some area almost all day.
  5. Confidence and optimism: This may all come back to bite me in the ass someday, but I honestly believe my long list of brilliant ideas will bring me acclaim and financial stability.
  6. I couldn’t decide what to be when I grow up: I considered architecture and landscape architecture, industrial, graphic and web design, engineering, teaching and a host of other things that could combine my creative/artsy side with my logical/science-y side. I took classes in ALL of these areas and always eventually decided that I didn’t love the field enough to spend all of my time in it. I couldn’t even choose a major in college. I had to make one up that was half music and art and half computer science. All I really ever wanted was the freedom to pursue the multiple projects I always have going on and to have this somehow magically produce money for me to live on. Starting this business is best way I can think of to sort of make this happen.

That’s the long and short of it. So far I love being in business. I haven’t made more than a few hundred dollars since August but I’m constantly learning new things. Each new day is completely different and full of firsts. It’s really fun, exciting and gratifying to see things move forward into the “real world.”

Hello My Name Is

Welcome to the Biz Miss Blog. This is the blog I wish were already out there and that someone else were writing.  I don’t have time for it, but it really needs to exist.  This is the blog that shares the journey, step by step, of transitioning from full-time employee to successful business owner as a twenty-something female. I am starting a design business, so a lot of what I write about will be fairly specific to designers, crafters, inventors and artists, but whenever possible I will try to include more general information and resources.

It fucking HARD to start a business on your own, especially if you are unconnected, young and female.  There are a lot of excellent resources and organizations for general advice but the answers to specific questions, such as “Where can I get wholesale fabric?” and “What are the safety and labeling requirements for decorative pillows?” are much harder to come by.  Most of the folks who are currently where you want to be are busy people who need to work hard to protect their designs and sources from competition.  If you are trying to turn your hand-silkscreened wedding invitations into a full-time business, your first instinct may be to ask advice of the friend-of-a-friend with the thriving custom card business.  But since the success of your business might compete directly with the success of hers (especially if you’re both in the same geographic area) this puts her in an awkward position when asked about things like how she packages her goods, who she hired for her web design and where she gets her wholesale card stock.

That’s where this blog comes in.  As I bumble my own way through the start-up gauntlet, I will attempt to document every question and answer I encounter along the way, without stepping on anyone else’s entrepreneurial toes.  I’m  trying to release three lines by January: a line of plush toys, a line of gift boxes (sort of — more on this later), and a line of baby-related graphics.  These projects will cover a lot of areas in both product and graphic design, and will hopefully be helpful to a lot of different people.

I don’t know how often I will post, but it will likely be almost daily, since I learn an enormous amount of new information almost every day.   A lot of what I write will be Bay Area-based but like I said before, I will also try to include more general information and resources whenever I can.

I’m just one woman, so if you have questions, resources to add, or suggestions for topics, please feel free to e-mail them or put them in a comment.  I will be moderating comments to filter out spam, so they might not appear right away.

Thanks for reading and contributing,

Lauren Fleischer