Monday, December 29, 2008

Thoughts on running a small business

Call me a numbers geek.

I've always liked numbers, for some odd reason, I "get" math.

So at the end of every holiday season, I like to crunch my numbers, to figure out if I'm behind or ahead of the previous year. With all that's in the news about the recession, lay-offs, down-sizing and the impact on the little guy, I thought I'd share some numbers with you about what it's like being a small business owner.

My business grew this year, but that was mostly due to increased exposure by selling on various websites, and some decent press that was written about my work. Selling in more venues is always good, regardless of how difficult it is to keep track of things. (Note to self: in the next life, be a jeweler. Inventory is easier to store, shipping is simple, and profit margins are better.)

The holiday season was down this year, without a doubt. In fact, if my numbers are correct, my holiday sales were down 35%. Ouch. Originally, I had crunched some numbers and figured that it was only down 28%, but then I went back to include some mid October sales. I'm still a little amazed that people actually start shopping in mid-October, but according to what I learn from my buyers, they do. So if I include those sales, the percentages don't lie... it was a lousy season.

So I thought I'd share a few of my favorite books about the business of being an artist. It's hard enough owning your own company, but when it's one that sells "art", well... you're behind the eight ball much of the time.

Although the book Growing a Business is somewhat dated (it was written in a pre-internet era) Paul Hawken's book offers some interesting observances about his experience starting a small company. You have to read between the lines and fill in the blanks in order to get his advice to apply to your particular company, but this book offers some sage advice that still works today.

Another book on my nightstand is The Business of Being an Artist by Daniel Grant. I like the fact that he discusses growing as an artist, not just as a business. He writes about how to handle the pressure of being in this field, as well as changing your style, handling criticism, and more. While many of these books cover similar topics (gallery information, marketing, and PR stuff), his book covers some slightly different, yet very relevant topics that every artist should ponder.

This Business of Art by Diane Cochrane is a hard to find, but very helpful book. It's filled with sample business forms, such as commission agreements, simple consignment agreements, invoices, "Art-for-Loan" contracts, and more. This may be hard to find, but it's one of the better books out there.

I want to like Art Marketing 101 by Constance Smith, and I've spoken to some people who think this is extremely helpful. But- personally, I didn't find much in her book that was new or very useful. Still, people new to the game will probably find the information a really good start for joining this insane life we call being an artist.

Crafting as Business by Wendy Rosen offers a rather different approach to the business of being an artist. Wendy is well known within the world of craft, and in this book, she introduces the reader to various successful artists, who share their tips and expertise. I like how she includes things that other authors ignore, like developing your "image" or designing a PR campaign. Her list of "Questions to ask before applying to a show" is dead-on, and I have xeroxed her "what to pack for a show" many a time. This book is money.

That's it for now, my next post will hopefully discuss my resolutions for the new year. Have a safe and festive start to 2009.

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