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5 Things Every Creative Should Know About Starting a Small Business

I am a self-taught sculptor with 15 years of experience in the art world -- and let me tell you I have learned a lot along the way. I've rounded up five crucial small business tips to help you avoid the common mistakes I see people make when they are starting out. If you follow these, you will be able to successfully launch your creativity into a flourishing business.

2014 American Made Winner
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My handcrafted metal mermaid sculptures.

1. Don't underprice your work.

Pricing is a very tricky topic in most businesses and the art and craft worlds are no exception. Perhaps it's not tricky to price a pack of gum but artwork is a totally different animal. The first step is to make sure you calculate an hourly wage for yourself based on your skill level and keep a written tally of hours put into each piece. Next, add in the cost of your raw materials. Now you're at the starting line for finding the right price. Please trust that your customers are judging your prices and most of them will want to find out how much you are making per hour. If you've priced your work too cheaply they will assume that the piece is perhaps not worthy of a larger price tag but if you price the piece too expensively they obviously will not buy it. It may be confusing at first, but you will eventually find the right balance. Most importantly, price the work so that you can live from the profits. Remember, if you don't make a profit you will not be doing this for very long.

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2. NEVER let someone haggle your price down.

Yes, I said "never!" Once people hear that you can be haggled your prices that you've worked so hard to set are going to get beaten down. I've created my own rapid response to the inevitable question: "What's the best price you can give me?" It goes a something like this: "If you'd like to come out and work with me for a day I can assure you that at the end of the day you'd tell me to raise my prices." My coastal sculptures have lots of blood, sweat, and tears in each piece and I immediately let the customer know that in a very friendly but firm manner. Over the past 15 years as a professional artisan, I've only been "haggled" 30 or so times and I'd say that only 5% of the customers attempting to haggle have walked away without purchasing. The remaining majority immediately opened their wallet and they will for you too.

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3. Once you're ready, quit your day job.

First, I want to urge you to be patient and don't expect overnight success. Things weren't always easy for me; I lived on beans and rice for three years! When I first started creating in 2001, I kept a side job or two to ensure I could pay the bills. Although things were going well and I was selling my art, I kept the side jobs as a safety net. An unintended consequence of this was people in my community assumed my art business was not going well because I was working so many jobs. This was not good -- you want people to take you and your art seriously.

 

Once I realized this I immediately quit my side jobs and when people asked, "How's the art business?" I'd tell them, "Awesome, I'm doing it fulltime now and I couldn't be happier." Customers love a good success story. So, don't keep that side job longer than absolutely necessary! If you believe in your own vision drop your parachute and see if your wings take flight. If you fail you're not going to die! To quote one of my favorite sayings, "the harder you work, the luckier you become."

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4. Success is rarely found without sacrifice.

Sacrifice and hard work are common traits of people who have turned their dreams into reality. When I first started my business I'd rarely go out for a "night on the town." To me, that money was much needed for raw materials, new tools, and oh yeah, to pay bills. I drank cheap beer, cooked a lot and passed on a lot of social outings. I really believe a disciplined approach to careful spending plays a critical role in finding success. I still drink beer but I do get to go on some pretty amazing vacations which was simply not a thing that I thought of in the first three years.

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5. Don't be scared of what you don't know.

Never claim ignorance as an excuse for not succeeding. Let's face it, we all have Google and the internet has the answers to almost everything. This means that excuses such as, "I don't know how to create a spreadsheet," or, "I don't know how to use Pinterest," or, "I wish I knew how to weld a hammer to a bicycle," simply don't cut it. If you're serious about turning your craft/art into a business, make sure you're ready and willing to educate yourself. The web is full of tips that will majorly help you in becoming a successful entrepreneur, and it's a great way to connect with people who might be able to help you learn something new. You can bet that all successful artists, artisans, and small businesses have had to learn some new things along the way.

 

Now that you know how to avoid five of the most common mistakes, get out there and get started! Believe me when I tell you I've made hundreds of mistakes, and that's normal when you're starting out! Please feel free to reach out to me personally via my website with questions relating to these tips and/or other mistakes you might want to avoid. Also, please, don't keep this helpful information to yourself! Share this post with others that you might know are interested in taking the same risks you are considering taking at this very moment. This world thrives on creativity.

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