Wednesday, March 19, 2008

a certain kind of business

Another long day in the studio, with a lot on my mind. So bear with me...

I've been thinking a lot about the kind of business I would like to have, and I'm realizing that in order to get to this, I may have to do some slightly more formal things. Like writing a business plan. So, I'm going to attempt to begin to verbalize some of my goals.

When I daydream about the kind of business I'd like to have, it certainly isn't a one woman show slugging away in my garage. Several years ago, I read an article about a handbag designer who moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains and set up a small workshop - employing local women in the creation of upscale handbags. This wasn't labor exploitation, rather she was providing gainful employment and teaching a skill to women who may not have found a good job otherwise. This idea has really stuck with me - a business making positive contributions to a local economy by teaching hand skills and providing good employment. This is the kind of business I want.

I've also been thinking a lot about the idea of teaching, and I've come to the following conclusion - I don't have to be in a classroom to teach. My experience having interns (hooray for my awesome interns!) has shown me that I can teach and mentor people in a work environment. I also feel like I can learn a lot from the people I surround myself and my business with. I'd like to keep this spirit of teaching and learning as an important component of my business.

One of my biggest design icons is Tord Boontje. I just love how his clear aesthetic pervades every product he designs. When people ask me what I want to be, I say Tord Boontje. While I have no intention of copying him directly, what I really want is a business where I'm creating both jewelry and home goods that have a strong and cohesive aesthetic.

That's all for tonight, sorry it's a little disjunctive. Thanks for listening!


michelle pajak-reynolds said...

Hi Megan,

I think you're on the right track. A business plan is a very good thing to have. It's one of the reasons why I minored in business and marketing while working on my BFA at Kent. I've never formally written a plan, but I have internalized many business plan aspects, branding/image, pricing, product placement, etc.

As I move into my new studio, I've started to re-examine my business goals and creative dreams. I'm not sure where this soul searching will lead, but after staying up until the wee hours of the morning reading the April/May issue of American Craft Magazine, I couldn't put it down, I have a whole lot more to think about...

FYI There is a wonderful organization in Cleveland, Oh that works to help artist based businesses. They're called the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture They offer an Artist as Entrepreneur Institute workshop that I found incredibly helpful. The focus of the workshop is on writing business plans and marketing your work. The CPAC staff are wonderful and I'm sure they would be happy to send you some info.

Julie Lake said...

Megan - Just some thoughts on your ideas about teaching..... I never got the chance to tell you, but I thought your segment of the snag professional development seminar was incredibly concise, effective, and inspiring. The audience was a bit glazed over after the technical difficulties and such... but a few minutes into your lecture, I saw people straightening up, reaching for their pens, and jotting down notes. I left there thinking that you were probably a really great teacher. So, I do hope you continue to lend yourself to teaching others - in whatever ways you come up with.
It was really nice getting the chance to meet you there.

michelle pajak-reynolds said...

Opps I got the Cpac website wrong. It's not

alisa said...

i'm going through the same sort of thing right now. i think it has a lot to do with the fact that i turn 30 in a few days. :-) i like the way you're looking at it. it's a lot to think about. i just got into my first wholesale show and now i feel like i have get more serious. i've just been doing this by the seat of my pants and that's not going to cut it anymore. thanks for sharing your thoughts about it.

lotta said...

Hi Megan,

Thanks for your reflections about the business aspects of being an artist. I am constantly struggling witht he same issues, and have still not found an answer - how do you mass produce or even duplicate the hand made? When do you let go of control? I just read up Natalie Chanin's great book "Alabama Stitch Book" which brings up the same dilemma. Anyhow, I met you briefly at the ACC show in Baltimore and really love your work. I recently discovered your blog which is also very nice.

warm regards,

lotta helleberg

megan said...

Thanks to everyone for your nice thoughts! It's really great to hear that I am not alone when it comes to figuring this stuff out.

michelle - thanks for the link. it looks really cool, and makes me sad that I don't live in NE Ohio anymore. I'll have to try to find something similar near me.

julie - thanks so much. i really appreciate hearing that. it was so nice to finally meet you.

alisa - happy birthday!

lotta - these are all challenges i face all the time, especially because i work with a process that cannot be duplicated by machine, and has a big learning curve. i'm definitely going to have to check out that book.

Conceptual Metalsmithing said...

I just wanted to chime in about the idea of using a craft based of small business as not only an economic development tool, but also a social action and service learning tool. Natalie Chanin was already mentioned and I just wanted to second that. Her first business had a similar small town labor model and was bought out. The work was then being outsourced (to china?) so she quit and started a second business on the same model. An article on the slow movement in the New York Times recently talked about it. Amazing.

If you can't get enough of that old dog, William Morris, then I am sure you will know that this was his business model also! He got so big teaching blue collar workers craft skills that he exported his handmade goods all over the fashionable world c. 1870.

On last example came to me from the Glass Artist Kim Kamens who told me about another glass artist (whose name I forgot, sorry!) who wrote a grant to buy lamp working torches. He partnered with a charity that helps poor single mothers, and started a program to teach single mothers how to lampwork glass at home so they can also be with their children. The work is then sold through established channels facilitated by the artist, thus supporting the single mothers!

Give a man a fish he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish he'll eat for a lifetime. For me this is what craft is really about...for me at least.

Keep it coming,