Happy New Year

Fall is the beginning of my year.  It always has been.  In the first place, I’m Jewish, so I celebrate the new year in the fall rather than in January.  I take stock and make my resolutions in the fall.  Fall is also when school starts, and when people come back after having a long break.  Fall is when I naturally feel compelled to start in new directions and when the economy begins to ramp up again.

This year my main goal is to take those new directions and make them more, um…directed.  I’m trying to set clear, achievable goals for each of my current projects, which I am trying to cull and focus in service of a greater professional goal: an independent and sustainable career as a creative professional.

I’ve decided I need help with this, so I’ve been in contact with Lisa at the Renaissance Business Center here in San Francisco.  Renaissance is a non-profit dedicated to helping people start and/or grow small businesses.  What makes them different from SCORE, SBA and the SBDC is that they are much more focused on providing intensive, long-term assistance.  Two programs I’m currently looking at are their 14-week business planning course (which has been described as a mini-MBA program), and their 1-3 year business incubation program (probably the virtual incarnation).  I’ve got a tour and orientation on Wednesday.  Hopefully they can help me focus and kick my ass a little.

In the meantime, I’ve been applying for some holiday shows, and trying to create new wares for them.  The one I’m currently most excited about is DesignerCon in L.A. (formerly Vinyl Toy Network).  It’s sort of a combo trade fair/cash-and-carry for folks who make the kinds of things you see in designer toy and comic shops — plush and vinyl collectibles, limited-edition prints, and character-driven art of all kinds.  At $125 for a one-day booth, the cost is comparable to your standard craft fair.  I’m planning on showcasing/selling Sweet Meats on one side of the booth, and presenting samples of my plush design work on the other.  DesignerCon is on November 21st, which gives me a concrete deadline by which to have my new web site and business cards done, as well samples of next year’s toy line.

A little bit further down the list is a book proposal.  I’ve heard from fellow crafters that writing an instructional book is extremely difficult and takes about a year of full-time work to complete.  According to Crafty Chica Kathy Cano-Murillo, just writing the proposal takes a week.  Things being what they are in publishing, writing a book is often not very lucrative, assuming that your proposal even gets picked up a by a publisher in the first place, which is unlikely.  On the other hand, authoring a successful book significantly increases your profile as an expert in your field, leading (hopefully) to press, more clients and higher rates.  What doesn’t get picked up you can always publish on your own, so I’m keeping it as an option for now.

As for making a Thing-A-Day, I’m still doing it, though I’ve fallen back on the “work on an existing project for 30 minutes” net a couple of times this week.  Yesterday I made and decorated a cake for my friends’ 26th/30th birthdays, but I didn’t like it enough to photograph it.  Otherwise I’ve mostly been working on re-making my pieces for the Plush You show next month.

It’s going to be a busy fall.  I’ll keep you posted about what I learn along the way.  Happy New Year, everyone!

Ask Biz Miss: Licensing

I was approached my someone who wanted to talk to me about licensing my work.  I was a little skeptical since I’ve never been approached with an offer like that and I wouldn’t know where to begin to look up the legitimacy of a licensing company.  Would you have any tips or advice for a newby starting out that would be interested in licensing their work?  I would hate to get involved in something that would not be in my best interest or in the interest of my work.

I’ve only ever licensed my work to other small businesses, so I don’t know what kind of situation you’re in, but in general, if someone is asking to license your work in the first place, they’re probably acting in good faith.  Most folks who aren’t will just rip off your designs with poor (or in some cases, even exact) copies and won’t ask you at all.  That said, businesses act in their own best interest and are happy to take advantage of your naivete.

A standard licensing percentage for a small business is 5% of gross sales, and the contract is often exclusive to the particular product for a limited time.  For example, a company might license your design to print on notebook covers.  Your agreement would likely give them an exclusive license to print on notebook covers  for two years (which may also exclude you from doing this if you’re not careful).  Under this agreement, you would still be able print your design on t-shirts, fabric, etc., or license them to someone else who would.  No matter what, you should never sign an agreement until you’ve seen a sample of the product that’s being made with your design.  It’s the only way to make sure you’re associating your work with a quality product.

If you’re looking at a much larger licensing deal with a bigger company, I would suggest hiring a lawyer to help you negotiate a fair contract, at least the first time around.  The Renaissance Business Center here in SF can point you to some free and cheap legal advice.  You can also find a good counselor there.

I can also recommend the book Your Crafts Business by Nolo Press.  Nolo is a do-it-yourself legal publisher.  There’s a whole chapter in there on licensing and the book comes with sample agreements.  Also, this article recently posted on Crafty Chica is helpful.

I hope that any deal you make is both fair and profitable.  Good luck!