Its been 4 years since I finished my design degree and at least 3 years of that was a S T E E P learning curve – I’m still constantly learning but have reached a time of ‘flow’ I’d call it. Thats not to say there aren’t highs and lows regularly, its just I don’t get too carried away with either and have reached a point of equilibrium. So there’s been a bit of space in my brain to reminisce over the past few years. And as us humans do – I’ve been thinking about the stuff I’ve done wrong more than what I’ve done right. So I thought I would turn around any negativity into a positive for other new creative startups especially those embarking upon their new career this summer.
A little bit about me – I trained and worked in the NHS for 3 and a half years before leaving my stable job to travel the world. I returned and had signed up to do an art foundation course as I’d already decided I wasn’t ever going to return to the nhs and wanted to do something creative. During my art foundation I fell in love with ceramics and signed up for the 3DD degree at Manchester School of Art. Straight after finishing my uni course I found a studio in Liverpool and Marie Canning began…kind of..
So if I could do it all again…
- I would think of myself as a business. Sounds simple now but as great as my experience at university was (and I really am very grateful for that time exploring the material, working on my imagination, gaining skills), the amount of business stuff you learn is minimal considering you will spend half your time doing marketing, pricing, networking, accounting, etc etc. It took me a long time to stop thinking that I was on an airy-fairy journey waiting to be discovered…really I was (am) a tiny fish in a truly enormous pond of incredible creatives and no one will know who you are until you get yourself out there. Use social media, research trade shows, attend creative business courses, look at how other businesses you identify with connect with the world. I can recommend the Crafts Council Hothouse scheme and it’s where I began learning about how to run a successful business.
- I would consider my business as a brand. Linking on from above I wish I’d considered the term ‘brand’ more at the start of my business. Write down on a big sheet of paper what you consider you brand to be. For me I would use words like, natural, floral-inspired, country-living, pastels, craftmanship, small details, understated, personal, delicate. Visualise those words and make sure you are showing your coherant brand through your website, photographs and social media. Everything shown to the public from your weekend hobby to your packaging should link up. For example I love exploring the countryside where I live, I photograph and share nature images with lots of light, my model photos are bright and airy and have alot of negative space, my photographer uses fresh flowers into my still life shots, my packaging is minimally decorated and I have an eco policy on my website. For me getting a professional website created was a turning point. Before then I had built my own on a free platform which certainly served its purpose to a point. But it reached the stage where the rest of my branding was ahead of my website. Research a web designer – see whose other websites they have created and if you can identify with those. Expect this to be a large expense but discuss with them the option of spreading the cost out over a few months. My website designer was happy with this and it really made a difference. Make sure you are getting a website you can alter to a large extent yourself – you are going to want to change it regularly and you don’t want to pay for the web designer to do this in a few months time. With mine I can change most of the images, text and add elements to it. It is just the layout that is set in stone.
- I would share my journey. Now I don’t know about you but I still can’t write the all important ‘artist statement’. And god knows I have tried…for years…but I can’t put a successful group of words together within 100 words that means anything important or describes my thoughts in a way that I can be happy with. Of course I have had numerous statements and I have sent them to galleries, pasted them on my wall at shows and put them on my website. Galleries and boutiques will always want this or something concise which describes your work and I do my best to provide that but I’ve realised that really, people want to see and read your journey more so. A 100 word paragraph in your ‘about’ page isn’t enough. It needs to be an ongoing conversation, an interaction with the people who are investing their valuable time following your blog, scrolling through your instagram. They want to see what inspires you, how you create your work, glimpses into the real you. So be yourself and be prepared to share, you’ll be surprised at how interesting you really are.
- I would take my time. I spent so much time worrying early on in my journey about absolutely everything to the point where I worked myself up and became exhausted and miserable. You are not going to achieve what you want to in the first 6 months, year, 5 years….you need to be prepared for this…everything will take longer than you think. You’ll be surprised at the amount of knock backs you can receive and equally surprised when a gallery/stockist/buyer invests in you. Expect more of the former! So don’t rush, spend an extra fifteen mins on your social media post and respond to those who give you their time to comment. Spend time connecting with galleries/stockists and building up a relationship, read other blogs and connect with other creatives. This leads me onto the dreaded ‘money’ topic….your biggest creative drain will be financially. You can’t create, engage, think clearly if you are constantly worrying about how you’re going to pay that bill or dreading that miserable lettuce sandwich in your bag for lunch! You need a balance between living your life and having money to invest in your business for materials or so that you can work your other job for 5 hours less that week. You will need that part time job for longer than you think and you may need to say no to expensive things your other friends are doing. Remember this isn’t going to last forever and *that* dress you *need* you will have forgotten about in a month if you just.stop.looking.at.the.website (that ones for me!).
- I would find a great photographer. After buying an expensive camera and not putting in the effort to learn how to use it properly (because believe me that isn’t as easy as you think and people spend years doing that) I realised I needed to outsource this. You need amazing photos for everything…for show applications, social media, for line-sheets, your website, to put into your email when you are in contact with someone important… And they need to be truly amazing so you need to find a photographer who gets you and your work. Research them – do they use lighting in the way you would like, have they photographed fine jewellery/models before, what is the quality of their other images. Obviously you might know a great photographer in your studio and do swaps but be wary of cheap deals, you will get what you pay for and expect to pay the going rate if you want good images. This may be your very most important of investments. I also think I want the photographer to feel like they are being payed properly because surely only then are they going to want to invest the time into editing them into the most wonderful pictures. It is fantastic that we can take good photos on our phones now but my professional images teamed with a professional website have been crucial to business growth.
- I would see my friends. You need your friends and they want to see you. You don’t need to spend money to have a great time with them and believe me they will be the greatest support in ways you can’t begin to believe. In the first year the thought of socialising was too much and so I didn’t do it enough. My friends were so supportive but friendship is a two way thing and you need to be there for them too. So don’t bail when they invite you round for dinner because you’re too tired and stressed, I guarantee you will feel better if you see them or have a chat on the phone than if you don’t. We are social creatures and we need our nearest and dearest.
- I would say no. Now you may be reading this and have lots of opportunities thrown at you at the minute or very few. But believe me at some point if you continue with your business you will receive lots of emails and calls from varying people offering you stands at shows, offering you space advertising in well known magazines, offering you a spot in a group exhibition or requesting to be a stockist. The former two will not be free and neither is your time! So you are going to have to learn what to say no to. There’s also so many fairs and trade shows out there and it’s difficult to know which/if any you should apply for. I didn’t visit alot of fairs at first before applying and so ended up at events really not right for my business….I should have said no to alot of stuff! Of course you can never really know how a show is going to go for you but visit and see if you feel the other exhibitors are a similar standard to you, are there names you recognise, is it busy, has it been well publicised. When you do find the best match and you get a place don’t plan how you’re going to spend all your sales just yet. You are a new designer-maker, your creations might not be that great yet and no one knows who you are. Use it as a market research opportunity above all else. You will get to meet other really great designer-makers and visitors. Listen to what visitors say about your work and take notes of thoughts you have during the show. Invite galleries/boutiques you have researched, follow up conversations via email after the event, keep the conversation going. Galleries/boutiques/buyers who you’ve chatted to might not invest now but they will keep an eye on you and possibly invest in the future if you stay in contact..how else will they remember you when they do have a new budget to spend.
- I wouldn’t listen. Ok so thats a little drastic…but I have been given some really rubbish advice over the years and naively taken it as gospel truth. The same goes for reading my advice – take from it what you need to and pick out what is relevant for you. Your business is hopefully not quite like anyone elses and therefore you will need to tailor all advice given to you. The same goes for receiving knock backs and positive feedback – don’t let the former break you and don’t let the latter give you a big head. Obviously take it all on board to a certain extent for the purposes of reflection but do what you can to stay modest yet confident.
- I would network. Don’t be afraid of this like I was. It doesn’t have to mean attending events and making terrible small talk. Believe me, put me in a room full of strangers and you can guarantee that if I do muster the courage to talk to anyone I will be the one saying weird, cringeworthy stuff that has come from nowhere! The pressure and embarrassment is too much for some of us and realistically although we might improve a little, we might never be that immensely skilled public speaker we think we should be. So think about how you can network in a way that is comfortable and effective for you and your business. Comment well on other blogs, begin conversations via email or the post, use social media to ask questions and to engage your audience. Set up one to one meet ups rather than attending groups. Include relevant info on your website, have written info/images available to hand to interested press/stockists at shows. I’ve attended a few Crafts Council conferences and workshops and I find those are pretty good as you’re never the centre of attention and you can chat to others if you want to but you can just listen to the speakers and hide in a corner/the toilets at break time if you want to. Nobody’s looking at you, they’re too caught up in their own fear of saying something silly to someone important. In the early years, if you can, join a group studio. You might only be able to afford a tiny space but you will be surrounded by other creatives. And they might be painters, woodworkers, photographers, fashion designers and more often than not they will help you at some point. Working alongside other creatives of differing disciplines means you’ll learn things you wouldn’t learn from say another jewellery designer. Equally as important you will see what not to do through their mistakes and they will gain the same from you. They may become your important network without you even trying as the relationships are more organic. They will drink coffee with you on that day every few weeks when you wonder what you are doing with your life playing with clay.
I hope at least some of this is helpful – writing it has really just opened up a can of worms so there may be a part two coming! Please do leave comments I would love to know what you would have done differently with your business too. Here’s a few links that spring to mind as being helpful organisations and please share any you can think of in the comments section:
Thanks for reading,