5 Business Tips for Creatives

Let's Talk Shop@, shall we?

I usually give you advice about the visual aspects 
of your store, show booth, showroom, studio, and displays.
But National Small Business Week is coming up, 
and I'd like to look at the 'business side' of retailing for a moment
as I share a few tips that I've learned along this crazy 'self employed' road.
These won't be the typical ones that you read in magazines, 
because I'm not a typical business person.

I'm a creative person - and that's how my business has grown: Creatively. Organically. 
And while my growth has always been focused on the central aspect of 
educating & inspiring people to think creatively when it comes to their stores, 
it hasn't all gone 'according to plan'.  Mine or anyone else's.

I spent my teen years and early adulthood as a retail visual merchandising employee,
where most of my employers saw my potential and gave me carte blanche with displays.
(One clothing chain even hired me to dress windows in three mall stores - when I was 17.)
With a lot of initiative and energy, I pitched more and more projects,
and eventually ended up handling the visuals and holiday decor for some major Seattle retailers,
along with holiday decor for executive residences.
Independent retailers contacted me to style their store displays,
and help plan their move into new locales or expansions of their existing spaces.
I blogged here, sharing my tips, tricks, and ideas with retailers looking for ideas.
And I was perfectly happy doing that. Until....
.
Out of the blue, I stumbled across the opportunity to speak at a wholesale gift show, 
then that grew into speaking at other shows across the country.
Which turned into requests for written content for publications in the retail industry
and invitations to speak at other kinds of shows and conventions,
and a contract to produce a video series.
Eventually, opportunity led me to become an employee again, for a time - 
for the ONE giant retailer that I built my own visual philosophy around
and had used as a benchmark of successful retail practices throughout my career.

I didn't see most of that coming, to be honest, but I am thrilled that it all happened!

Which leads me to my first point: 
You can't plan for everything that will happen. And that's GOOD!

1.
Say Yes
- whenever you can, try something new.

Unexpected opportunities may appear that are something you didn't plan for - SAY YES to them.
I was perfectly content to provide hands-on display styling services to my local clients,
when an opportunity to design a new floor plan for a client's shop came along. I said yes.
Then the speaking engagements appeared, and I said yes.
Then the requests for magazine and online content came in, and I said yes.
Then a company approached me about creating a video series, and I said yes.
I made time, I made an effort, I rearranged some other things, 
and I followed the path of adventure and risk.
And it paid off  - 
by making me a better designer, a stronger business owner, and a less risk-averse person.
Dare I say it makes me a more creative-thinking person, as well? ;)

... and in regard to that 'becoming an employee again' situation:

2.
Don't Be Afraid to Circle Back - because you can't step in the same river twice.

(Yes, there's a pun in there. If you've read my blog for any length of time, 
you know that I am an unabashed Disney fan. That line is from Pocahontas.)

My point is that even if you shift into reverse and go back to doing something that you did before,
downsize your biz to focus on the basics, or even stop for a while and become an employee again
(as I did when I became a Retail Visual Specialist employee/ Cast Member at Disneyland),
you're going to learn something new. 
Even if you're in an old place. Because everything changes:
YOU. Business. Technology. The world.
And what you learn looking back might just be the thing that propels you forward.

One of the hardest things about business is adding new clients & customers.
Help yourself in that area by showing them how to become one:

3.
Tell Prospective Clients HOW to Hire You - explain your process and give them a formula to follow.

Communication is hard. It shouldn't be, but it is.
It takes guts for a potential client to contact you, so make it as easy as possible for them to do so.
Tell them where to contact you, and give them an outline of the information you need at the get-go, 
somewhere very visible & accessible on your website, blog, and social media.
I created a page on my design blog and website in the form of an email 'example', 
showing prospective clients exactly how they could jump-start my work on their project
by giving me pertinent information about their biz, their challenges, 
along with how & when they need me to help them... in their very first email to me.
I call it 'How to Hire Me #101'. See it here.

I've received  40% more inquiries and requests for work since adding that information,
telling me that spelling it out really does add up.

Next up... realize that you're gonna' need help.
Not one single person who's ever opened a business knew EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING
at the start. You don't even know what you don't know yet. 
4.
Never Stop Learning - because you don't know what you don't know yet.

Many artisans create beautiful wares, but have no idea how to best display them to sell.
Many retailers open stores to sell merchandise - but have no idea how to market themselves.
Get online and find information about marketing and merchandising and store planning
(or whatever it is that you don't know much about) and learn what you can.
As a matter of fact, assign yourself homework -
pick up / download books on business - all kinds of business, not just yours -
and keep reading. Keep learning. Keep stretching yourself.

You can also hire a consultant for an hour, to answer your most nagging questions. 
I do this all the time - you don't have to hire me to completely design your space. 
Hire me for an hour and then ask me questions like "Where do I put the register?".
I'll not only show you where, I'll tell you WHY. ;)

... and along that same thought, don't do everything the hard way!

5.
Know Your Strengths - and get tools to help you overcome your weaknesses.
No one is good at everything... and there are solutions for that.
Sometimes, the solution is to LET IT GO and let someone else handle it for you.
(that's not a Disney reference, it just sounds like one)

Is your weakness negotiating a lease? Call a realtor and ask a few questions to clarify,
or pay a paralegal for an hour to review the lease before you sign.
Do you feel out of touch when it comes to social marketing? Ask your employees - 
especially the Gen X and Y crowd, because they GET IT - and hand over the task.
Is your challenge presenting your merchandise in stunning displays THAT SELL?
Well, you know who to ask - and now you know HOW to hire me!
,

I'm a creative-brain person, and numbers put me in a tailspin. I accept this.
You can't run a business without accounting,
and there's no better resource for that than Quickbooks from Intuit.
It's the software equivalent to being a Mensa society member,
and it's saved my sanity - and TONS of time - for many years.
(Disclosure: I've partnered with Intuit to include one of my tips from this post in their site's NSBW post.)

Owning your own business is a continual learning experience.

As a matter of fact, self-owned businesses are often referred to as a 'baby', 
and it is indeed a LOT like parenthood: a learn-on-the-job undertaking.
And just like parenthood, it requires that you get advice, 
read all you can and sift through what 'fits', 
understand that it requires sacrifice and sustained effort with little sleep,
taking chances & risks, trusting your gut, and focusing on growth - YOURS included!

Visit the SBA website for helpful tools + information about National Small Business Week

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