Honing Your Craft
- [Megan] Let's talk a little bit more about honing your craft. And this is our opportunity to address some of those issues, like "I can't focus," or, "I'm worried that if I make one thing, I'll never get to make anything else," or, "I'm trying to make something else and all my people want this thing. What do I do?" We're going to deal with all of those issues. So, first off, what do I mean by honing your craft? Think of two things. One is developing skills and techniques, and the other is developing your creative voice. So, actually learning how to make things, and then making things that are distinctly you. So, why is honing your craft an essential part of building your business? Well, remember when we talked about this idea that at its core, a business is something to sell and someone to sell to. Your craft and your audience. The "better" your craft, the easier it is to build an audience that will buy from you. If you have cool stuff, it's way easier to get people to buy it, right? ...
And I put better in quotes because better is a super relative term. It might mean in quality or craftsmanship, but it might mean in design, it might mean in creativity, it might mean in uniqueness, it might mean it's just so freaking cool, right? Every customer defines better differently, which is why not only is honing your craft about developing your skills, but it's also about developing your voice and your creative vision. Now, there are different paths to building a business while learning your craft, and knowing which path you're on helps you understand which stage of honing your craft you're at. So, this is what I like to call the traditional path, and by traditional I mean this is the pre-Etsy path, okay? It's before Etsy ruined/made everything awesome. A little bit of both. So, in the traditional path, you spend significant time learning techniques and experimenting. This might have happened in school…I went to school for metalsmithing…but it could also happen because you took classes at a local workshop, or you were learning things out of books, right? And you're doing that maybe while you have a day job. But you're doing all of this, and then as you work through this experimentation time, you develop a cohesive body of work, and then you enter the marketplace. Usually…because again, this is the traditional path for a long time, it was the pre-Etsy path…this was through shows or stores because those were the options. You could sell your work at shows or you could reach out to stores, and then you built the audience for your work. And like I said, this is the path that I took. I went to art school, I made crazy stuff, I have, like, crayons and this is chocolate chips and Hershey kisses, and then, I made non-functional welded wire furniture. Right, that's full-size, but you can't sit in it. Obviously, of course, who doesn't want a chair that you can't sit in? But then from that, I had this language of elements, right? This language, I had this voice that I then used to develop a production line and start doing craft shows. This is my very first craft show booth ever, in case anyone's wondering. Those weird columns are made out of paper. That's a terrible idea when you're outside. It seemed really clever, right? But… They're light, they're easier to carry…yeah, and then the wind comes and they blow away. It's a terrible idea. But I was learning, it's fine. I still put it out there even though there were a lot of things I didn't know. Now, we have a new path. This is the path of you make something, maybe it's because you saw a tutorial on Pinterest, maybe it's because you took a class, maybe it's because you went to the bookstore and got a book…that sometimes still happens, right? Or you downloaded it from Amazon on to some kind of e-reader. But you made something, and then your friend or somebody said, "Hey, that's so cool. You should sell it on Etsy," So you put it on Etsy. So, you enter the marketplace right away, immediately or pretty close to immediately after you made something, and then, ideally, you build an audience that will buy it. But then, because you don't want to make one thing forever, right? Then you dive in a little deeper. You continue to learn new skills and techniques, and from there you develop a body of work. This is what Tiffany Whipps did. So, Tiffany got started because feather hoop earrings were kind of in, and she used to tie flies for fly fishing for her dad and his friends, and she was like, "I can tie flies. I got some feathers. I think I can make these." So she made some, she put them on Etsy, they sold really well because she's really smart at search. Like, right away, she figured this one out. She figured that search thing out right from the get go, man. She's made money ever since. So, she got that on there, and then over time, she's evolved, right? She hit on another product after she kind of A, got sick of tying little feathers together, and B, that trend kind of faded. She started making these thin gold hoop earrings, figured out how to get those optimized on search, started selling. And then, now, she's continuing to evolve her line. She's continued to take more metalsmithing classes. When she did this, she didn't know anything about metalsmithing. She just knew how to tie flies. So, she starts taking metalsmithing classes, she starts learning more skills. Now, she's developing this line where she's working with stones. So, the line develops, but the whole time, she's selling, she's got an audience, she's already in the kind of public eye. So, I want you guys to think about which path you're currently on, and is it the path that you need to be on? I want you to make a conscious choice based on your financial needs. So, I think a lot of you, a lot of you watching and a lot of you watching at home, you are on that new path because it's just the one that people get sucked into, right? You made a thing, and now you're selling it because your friend said, "Put it on Etsy." But maybe that's not the path you actually need to be on. If you don't have a financial pressure right away, you might actually decide you're going to hang out on the traditional path for a while, because the traditional path gives you the luxury of time and experimentation, and it gives you the option to not have to get all of your 10,000 hours in public. So, I talked about this idea from Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" that it takes 10,000 hours. And he's using it really as a skill development, but it's also a creative voice thing, too. It's really hard to have a strong creative voice when you are learning everything. If you look at the stuff I made when I was in undergrad, it looks like 20 different people made it, because basically, 20 different people did make it, because I was still figuring things out. And if you don't have that financial pressure because you're in school or because you can just say, "I have a day job and right now I want to play," you don't have some of those problems of, "Today I'm really excited about drilling holes in crayons and putting them together, and tomorrow, I want to do weird things with chocolate chips and silver chain," right? Those don't look like… That's a crazy person, right? But you can do that away from the public eye when you're on the traditional path. But there is a downside. It often means years of not making money from your craft, right? I was in school, I wasn't making any money. Not only was I not making any money, I was in school, so I was accruing debt. Still working on that one. Okay, I loved it. It was fine, I don't regret it, but I spent years not making money. Now, you might not…you don't have to go to school to be on the traditional path. You might be learning stuff while you're in a day job, but it means that you're sticking with that day job while you develop that voice. Now, the new path puts a focus on earning money from the start, right? You have one product. You can enter the marketplace with one product. Feather hoops, leather baby moccasins, whatever that one product is, right? On the new path, you can totally do that. You can open an Etsy shop, you can open a Shopify shop, you can go on Kickstarter. You can start making money from the beginning, and that can support the development of your craft, because now you're making money from your craft. But it does have a few downsides. There is the possibility of getting pigeonholed. Now everybody knows you for this one thing and you're kind of stuck there for a while. But there are some ways to address this issue, but it is an issue, and you end up suffering these creative growing pains in public. We were talking in one of the breaks about, "Oh, I hope no one goes back and looks at my sold things on Etsy," right? "My old sold stuff, because it looks…" I think a couple of us were like "Ugh." Like, it's either bad photos, or work you're not proud of, or like it just kind of looks like it came from a crazy person, right? I hope no one goes back and looks at that. And while you can't delete a lot of things, you can't get rid of those old sold listings on Etsy, man. And so, that's a growing pain that happens with this new path. So, I want you to think about, like, are you on the new path just because that's the one you knew? Is it the right one for you? What about any of you guys? Do you feel like you jumped on the one path because it just sort of happened and maybe you could be on a different one? Rochelle's nodding her head. - [Rochelle] Yeah, I feel like I'm kind of on a blend of the two. - Okay. Which might be causing some of your problems… - Oh, my God. - …because you're not actually on any path. You're sort of flowing in the middle. - I'm meandering around. - Michelle's like, "I'm over here, and I'm over here. And no, today I'm over here, and tomorrow, I'm on that highway. It's a totally different path." Anyone else? - [Woman] I feel like I'm on the post-Etsy path, but part of me kind of wishes that I was able to be on the old path. I would've loved to go and spend, like, four years learning traditional fashion design and things like that, but that just wasn't my life. So, that's hard is when you're like, "I'm doing this, I'm doing this, but I really want to learn how to… I just want to spend hours in my studio learning how to do things, and I don't have that time." - And so, one of the things, and this is a conversation that I've had with Tiffany, a lot, because that same thing sort of happened to her, right? "In my studio, I have things to make, but I want to play." Any time I hear that, do you know what that makes me think? Your prices are too low. - Oh. - She's like, "Oh, crap." Because really, if your prices are right, you should be able to balance that. You should be able to make the money and then get the time to play, and develop, and learn more, because that is part of… ideally, there is room in here, right? Except the pricing problem. We're going to get to that a little bit later. Anyone else? Sarah. - [Sarah] I definitely took that new path. I learned to sew and learned to do leatherwork, and then immediately started selling it on Etsy. So I found so much joy in that. I think it's really empowering, and I'm at that point now where I can listen to my customers, and develop my skills, and develop new products based on what fits into the brand as it's developing. So, I just really love the new path. - That's awesome. And actually, here's the thing. Neither one is better than the other. I don't actually think one is better, but I think it's important to know where you're at. Because the new path is awesome, it makes you money. I love making money! Money is so fun! So, right, there's great things about the new path. I actually would've loved to have Etsy when I was in school, to have a way to make some money while I was there so it wasn't like, "Okay, this week, do I buy food or do I buy silver to finish my project?" were decisions I made in school, right? I would've loved to be able to take some of the random stuff I was making, and stick it on Etsy and try to sell it. That would've been awesome. Unfortunately, a little too old for that. All right. So, regardless of which path you're on, I just want you to know so that you can figure out where you are. But then, in each path, you're going to be in one of three areas when it comes to honing your craft. So, you're either going to be in experimentation, you're going to be in focus mode, or you're going to be in evolution. So, experimentation is when you're learning a new skill or playing with lots of different ideas and techniques. It's that fun, creative, let's-try-it-all phase. Focus is when you're diving deep into a particular product or a cohesive body of work. A lot of times, that new path, you end up kind of forced into focus, right? Something sells, it's doing well, now you make more of it. That's focus. Or you're in evolution phase where you're trying to transition from one focus to another. I had this focus, it either worked or didn't work, but you're creative, right? I'm creative. Hopefully, none of you are going to be making the same thing in 10 years that you're making now. Even if you're selling the same thing in 10 years, hopefully someone else is making it for you so you can make something else, right? And maybe it's not 10 years. Maybe it's 20 years, maybe it's 50 years, but at some point, probably going to evolve because tastes are going to change, times are going to change. I've seen crafters who didn't evolve. I've seen people who have been doing the craft show circuit for 30 years with the same stuff, and I saw those people when the recession hit, and they were the ones who it hit hardest. Because suddenly, nobody had any money, and they certainly didn't have any money to buy something that looked like it was straight out of the '80s. Actually, if they could've ridden the wave through the recession, they might've been okay again when the '80s came back, but no one cared about the '80s during the recession, right? And a lot of those people ended up out of business because they didn't evolve for 30 years. And I don't want that from you guys, so that means we have to understand how evolution works so that you have the option of doing that in your business. So, in the traditional path, you're starting with experimentation and then, hopefully, out of that that experimentation comes focus. And from there, you're diving into the marketplace, and then over time, you're going to evolve, because we're all going to evolve. The new path usually ends up on kind of a forced focus, right? "I made a thing, so because I only make a thing, I'm focused." You enter the marketplace, it starts selling, but then hopefully, if you're priced right and you want it, you can take some time to learn some new things, to have that experimentation so that you're not stuck making one thing forever. And then, of course, again, you're going to head to an evolution at some point. Absolutely no idea why I put this image in here other than I guess to show you, like, this is what that looks like. This is experimentation. You drill holes in baby doll arms and put them on string. I have worn that in public, by the way. Right, and then over time, you start to focus. So, that led to this, which led to even more focus, and just because you're kind of on one doesn't mean you can't occasionally hop over to something else, right? I had another experimentation phase a couple of years ago. Some of you may have seen this. I call it the year I wanted to be a painter. That was, like, three years ago. Sometimes, you do dive back into experimentation. Do you know why I could do this? Because my prices were right and someone else was making my product. I had an employee at the time. She was making my product, I was making money off of that, she was making that, I was like, "Cool, let's go be a painter, and then maybe let's turn that into a scarf and some leggings." And then I actually realized I didn't want to be a painter. What I wanted to do was set pretty stones, so then I came back to that. So, you're going to go through changes in your business and that's okay. So, why is it important to understand what stage you're in? Well, each stage has its own rewards and challenges, creative and financial. All right. So, each stage has its own rewards and challenges. So, experimentation, the pros are it's fun, right? Experimentation is a pretty natural state for creative people. We're creative people, we have so many ideas. But it has some pretty big cons, too. It's really hard to build a consistent brand and business from a place of experimentation. It creates confusion for your customer. They're like, "Does this girl make jewelry, or does she make paintings, or does she make leggings?" I can tell you that because I created that confusion for my customer. And it usually causes a lack of momentum. Because you're not focused on any one thing, there's nothing to drive you forward. But, again, it's also fun, so if you have the luxury of being there, you can hang out there for a little bit. Focus, the pros are this is the best place to build a strong brand and a successful business. If you really are serious about growing your business, some point you're going to have to land here. It makes it easy for customers to recognize you, who you are, what you're selling. It's what builds the strong brand. But the challenge is it can be challenging to move from experimentation to focus. You're in that fun, creative stage, and then it's really hard to make a decision and move forward. It's also kind of easy to get bored, right? Are any of you guys making the same thing over and over again, you're starting to get a little bored? Yeah. So, at some point, focus goes from being, "This is fun, and awesome, and I love making this thing all the time," to, "If I have to make another one of those necklaces, I'm going to punch somebody in the face," right? There are some cons there. For evolution, the pros are that it adds a new, creative spark to your business. Customers want to see new things. If they've already bought the cool necklace, and the cool ring, and the cool earrings, they're like, "I want something else, because I want to buy more from you," right? And it does combat that boredom. But it has its own challenges. It can be difficult to bring your current audience along. So, this can happen if you are kind of changing from one product type to another, but it can also happen if you're just, say, going from making things out of metal that cost one price point to making things out of metal and stones that now cost a different point. Aesthetically, there's not much difference, but now I'm dragging an audience to a new price point and that can be challenging. It's even more challenging if you're changing aesthetics or changing product categories. And it can be difficult to figure out what to do with the old product line. "What do I do with the stuff?" Either, "I have stuff left over and nobody bought. What am I supposed to do with it?" or conversely, "I have stuff that people still want and I don't want to make it anymore, and I have none left." There's two problems there. You can have one or the other.