Monthly Archives: July 2008

ABSOLUTELY (NOT)

It’s rare that we make decisions that literally mean life-or-death. Unfortunately, our brains are hard-wired to think that way.

We express decisions in “either/or” mode, and issue ultimatums with great drama: “We’re at the end of our rope. Either I get that job with XYZ company, or we’ll lose our home. We’ll end up in the streets!” “I can’t stand the dating scene a minute longer. Either that guy calls me back, or I’m shooting myself!” We say our situation is life-or-death, and then we believe it.

Or we believe there is only one acceptable outcome to every situation. One of my favorite lines from the original The Stepford Wives is when the robotocized Bobbie (played by Paula Prentiss) breaks down and chirps, “I’ll just die if I don’t get this recipe!” It always got a big laugh in the theater, until she started chasing Katherine Ross around the kitchen with a butcher knife.

In real life, it’s not so funny. Though it’s not as scary as the butcher knife thing, either. “If I don’t get into that show, my business will fail!” “If I don’t get into that gallery, I won’t succeed!”

And my personal favorite: “If I can’t do it perfectly, then I’m not doing it at all.”

Here are three scenarios, all true:

A talented pianist who studies diligently for years. Upon realizing she will never be “concert-grade” material, she quits–and never plays again.

A passionate horse rider has knee surgery. Now she can’t sit properly on a horse, “the knee angle is all wrong, it hurts…” She vows never to ride again.

A lifelong rock climber who, in his seventies, realizes he can’t do the most strenuous, difficult climbs as well as he used to.

Yet he still climbs. Regularly. He learned to modify his climbs and techniques to meet his abilities. He realizes that, though he’s not at the top of his game anymore, climbing is hugely rewarding emotionally, physically, spiritually.

Who do you want to be?

When I think of the years of enjoyment the pianist could have had from her music, my heart aches for her. It’s too bad the rest of us will never know the gift of her incredible musical abilities. All because it felt to her like she had to be “the best”–not just “good enough”. All…or nothing.

I met the horse rider during our travels in England. I tried to tell her that I didn’t even start riding regularly until I was in my fifties–and after I’d had two knee surgeries. It’s not always comfortable, and some days are better than others. But it will do.

She couldn’t hear me. She felt she’d lost too much. It was all…or nothing. Her horses were absolutely beautiful. But other people ride them now. I ache for her, too.

As for the rock climber, he and his wife, Barbara, are old family friends we visited in England. They are both life-long rock climbers, and even taught it for a living. They are both “life heroes” to us. Despite many injuries and physical setbacks, Barbara continues to climb, too. Climbing is as necessary to them as breathing. For her, it’s actually easier than walking right now. “Some blokes, if they can’t do those big, daring climbs anymore, well, it’s all over for them,” Don said. “But we just keep doing what we can. And we have a great time.”

I, too, tend to think in black-and-white, and absolutes. But I saw a mental health therapist briefly this spring, and he showed me a better way to think about things.

Undesirable outcomes are not necessarily unbearable outcomes. Perhaps they can be tolerated until something else comes along.

Not every decision is either/or. Sometimes there is a middle ground.

How we talk about our situations can determine whether we allow them to control us, or not.

I now say, “I would prefer to have that gallery carry my work. But if they don’t, there are plenty of other galleries that might.”

Or, “I would prefer to write for this magazine, as I have a good gig going with them. But if the situation changes, I can find other writing opportunities.”

“I would like to be the best artist in the world. But I can settle for being the best artist I can be, because I enjoy it so much.”

And my current mantra: “I might have been a better martial artist if I’d started earlier, when I was physically stronger. But I’m glad I can still participate on some level, because the benefits are huge.”

There is a time and a place for absolutism. But absolutes don’t get you far in everyday life.

Don’t know about you, but ultimatums tend to backfire with me, whether I’m giving them or getting them.

Passion is good. Drive and focus are excellent companions. But compromise and negotiation are good skills to practice, too. They can take you miles further, when absolutes might take you right out of the game.

They can get you so far, you may be pleasantly surprised to find yourself at your heart’s goal before you know it.

Or maybe even a different, yet better destination, one you never could have imagined before.

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Filed under art, business, choices, fear of failing, inspiration, martial arts, mental attitude, perseverence, writing

APOLOGIES, APOLOGIES

I know many people are waiting to hear about my trip to England and Wales. I even started a spirited account of our low-key, non-touristy meanderings about the island.

But I forgot that I had an “artist of the month” commitment a few days after we returned. Yeow!

It took a lot of time to prep, and almost as long to get there. Littleton, NH is up there! (Check a map. It’s in the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire.) I was at the beautiful League of NH Craftsmen-Littleton gallery.

Beth and Michelle, the gallery managers, are delightful people (talented artists in their own right, too). They made the artist demonstration day as pain-free as possible for me. They even bought me breakfast–and lunch! (I adore people who feed me.) I had a ripping good time, met a lot of customers, and got to talk all day about my work.

And now I’m in over my head getting ready for my big retail show, The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair.

As you can guess, after all my surgeries, injuries, wild mood swings and everything else, I am so not ready this year. Consequently, I’ve been working like a busy beaver filling in the gaps of my inventory. (Where did all the polymer earrings go?? When did I sell all the bear earrings??? Where is the feral necklace???!!!)

So don’t worry, I am hard at work, and enjoying it for the first time in eight months. My new little otter pendants are looking pretty cute. (You can also read the story behind my animal motifs on the same page as the otter pics.)

And the biggest news of all….

As soon as I’m done with this fair, I’m going to work on a new retail gallery for my work. It’s time. (All of you readers and supporters who’ve given me the big nudge from time to time, thank you!!

And now, enough exclamation points. It’s time I got back to work. I’ll write as I can, because it’s hard for me to stay quiet for very long.

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Filed under announcement, art, business, selling

RISING PRICES

A topic came up on a discussion forum recently, about how to handle customer comments when your prices go up.

We’ve all had this experience ourselves. Not just at the gas pumps, but across the board. I went to pick up a print job for my show postcards a few weeks ago, and the cost had nearly doubled. (To be fair, I always thought their prices were unbelievably low to begin with.)

How you handle this can determine whether you keep or lose a customer. Sympathy is good. An action plan is even better!

The last time this happened to me, it was with a big ticket item (a wall hanging.) The customer was disappointed because she had planned to buy one every year for the past three years–but my prices kept going up.

When the customer expressed genuine disappointment, I had an answer ready.

I explained that my work was getting more complex and more labor intensive. I pointed out that the smaller ones sold quickly, leaving me with larger pieces by the time I got to this particular show.

My action plan? I said I would work to get her a wall hanging this year, whether it was a smaller, custom order in her price range or a layaway plan for the one she wanted.

She chose the former. We discussed what it would take to make “the perfect piece” for her, and she left her deposit payment.

It took her almost a year to pay for it, but she was very happy with the arrangement. I remember the day I called her to tell her it was on its way to her. She was so excited! (I still have her thank you letter posted on my bulletin board.)

I think when you offer a solid explanation, genuine sympathy for their expectations being dashed, and a good action plan for getting them on-board, you might still be able to turn that initial disappointment into a sale. I wouldn’t ignore that. I’d acknowledge it and try to work with it.

Times are harder all the way around, but it’s encouraging people when still want your work. It means they’ve formed a meaningful connection for it. That’s what we need to focus on–how to acknowledge and respect that desire and how keep it burning.

Years ago, way before I became an artist myself, I admired an artist’s work at a local show. I loved her work and I loved her enthusiasm and upbeat personality. I planned to save and buy a piece at the next show.

But when I found her the following year, she’d raised her prices a lot. (A lot.)

I expressed disappointment–I really liked her work, but now it seemed beyond reach.

I can still remember her obnoxious, hoity-toity attitude which made me feel like a crumb. (I think maybe she’d been “discovered” in the meantime–this was the ’80’s!) She made it clear she couldn’t be bothered with such a small potato like me anymore, because she was in the big-time.

Even years later when I made more money and could have afforded her work, I didn’t care to.

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Filed under action steps, art, booth behavior, business, selling

Adieu, Adieu…(Temporarily)

Just a note to let you know I will be on the road for part of July.

But please don’t worry this time if my posts get sporadic. It’s all for something wonderful.

I’m going to E*N*G*L*A*N*D!!!

With just my husband! No kids! Even scarier….

NO PLANS!!

We’ll stay in London just long enough to land and rent a car, then off to visit old family friends in Wales. Other than that, we have absolutely no idea what we’re going to do…..

And since my dear hubby says we now also have NO MONEY, I will not be able to pursue my favorite activity (shopping!)

But we’ll have each other, and we share a love of cheese and walking, and it’s the first time we’ve traveled without kids in…..twenty years??!! Oh my…..

Wish us luck!

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Filed under announcement, life

How to Half Wholesale: #10 Work with Ads

Ninth in a series on how to grow your wholesale accounts in a less majorly way….

If you have deep pockets and lots of patience, you can use advertising to grow your wholesale business.

The problem with most advertising is: 1) It’s expensive; 2) You usually have to do a lot of it, consistently, to get results; 3) Most artists advertise in the wrong places; and 4) It can be hard to tell if it’s actually doing you any good or not. Oh, and 5) Most people don’t read ads….or don’t remember them if they do.

Having said all those disclaimers, I have heard of advertising campaigns that broke all the rules and were outrageously successful.

My favorite is a jewelry artist who was persuaded by her PR consultant to drop a big bundle of cash on one big, splashy, full-page ad in a leading trade magazine just before the three biggest wholesale shows of the season. It was a colorful, trendy, incredibly beautiful shot of her jewelry–and it worked. The assumption from stores was, she must already be successful to be able to afford that kind of advertising. She wrote great orders at all her shows.

But of course, for those of you who think this might work for you, be forewarned that 1) she spent a lot of money on that ad. A lot of money…..; 2) she was able to “follow up” immediately because she also spent the big bucks to be at the shows where the buyers were; and 3) she had very low price points to begin with. (Her wholesale prices averaged under $15 wholesale.)

If you go the paid advertising route, the deal is you must be prepared to do it regularly, in well-targeted venues, and be able to track the responses each ad generates (perhaps by coding the contact info in the ad, or keeping track of the reader response cards from the magazine.

Standard wisdom was, bigger is better. Go with the biggest ad space you can afford. And great images are a must.

But nothing is written in stone anymore. Some research shows that using ordinary classifieds in those same magazines can produce good results, too.

And of course, the internet is changing everything. It looks like advertising on the web is finally effective. Though which, where and why is still not known….

In short, advertising to me has always seemed like a giant crap shoot. Some people win big, others get nowhere, and it can be almost impossible to tell who will get what. And now it’s an even bigger crap shoot.

I’ve used some advertising in the past, usually for very specific events–advertising my new work in a trade publication, show guide or buyers guide that will be distributed at the show I’m doing, for example. I do it periodically for name recognition (and after this year, to let people know I’m still alive and kicking!)

My best advice on advertising is, if you’re going to do it, try doing it where no one else is doing it.

Target those unusual venues and publications that isn’t obvious to every other artist and craftsperson out there. Do your homework! If it’s a magazines, get the demographics for their audience. If you make cat jewelry, maybe you could target a magazine that targets pet boutiques rather than the usual craft store or gift shop crowd. Instead of a buyer think, “Oh, yet another cat jewelry artist”, they might think, “Oh wow, more cat jewelry! Gotta get me some….”

I still believe that new product releases and press releases will get you more mileage on a limited budget. However, this approach do take more time and thought and preparation.

But as Greg Brown says, “Time ain’t money when all you got is time”, so if your overall budget is limited, do not break the bank to splurge on a last-gasp advertising campaign.

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Filed under art, business, half-wholesale, marketing, self promotion, selling, selling to stores, wholesale