Before we even start discussing ways to develop/grow/refine the wholesale side of your business at a level acceptable to Y*O*U*, let’s stop and take inventory.
What do you want?
And of course, what do you need?
We know that “needs” and “wants” are two very different things, but it’s amazing how often we confuse the two in our speech–and in our thinking.
It’s also amazing how often we set goals based on what we think we should want/need/do. Sometimes, we even set goals based on what we think others think we should do. Yes, I know how convoluted that sounds. Still, you know it’s true.
If we can get out of our heads long enough, we see that everyone evaluates success differently. And that “success” means different things to different people.
Let’s talk about one measure of success–how much money you could make with your craft.
“Well, obviously, I need to make money!” you exclaim. Okay, good, that’s a start. Money is often the first “motivator” for making stuff, after all.
How much money? Enough to pay your mortgage and put food on the table? Enough to contribute significantly to the household income?
Maybe you don’t need to pay the mortgage, but you want to help put a child through college. Or maybe you want just enough to pay for the “goodies”–the family vacation, a new sofa, your horse riding habit?
Perhaps all you need, for now, to take your business to the next level–to pay for the next round of advertising or show fees, for that new piece of equipment that will make production so much easier, or for next year’s supplies.
Some people don’t really even need that. They have a day job, and their craft is whatever it is. It doesn’t have to do anything extra for them financially (although it’s nice if it does!)
It’s going to be different for each one of us. What’s the right amount for me may not be the right for you.
Look, there is no contest you win if you make more money than another artist. Some people will make it about that–they think they’re better, or more successful, or smarter, or whatever. But trust me, there is no blue ribbon, no “first prize” to be won when it comes to measuring your success with your art.
Let’s say you do some local fairs, you sell through a small but fancy local gallery, you make enough money to support your business expenses, and make enough profit to pay for a lot of family extras. Are you a successful craftsperson?
To the artist who does 20 shows and year and supports their family with their craft income, you are not successful.
To the artist who has won major awards, been on the cover of fancy magazines, and whose commission work commands thousands of dollars, you are not successful.
To the artist who can only make enough to buy more supplies, you are successful.
To the person who dreams of being an artist, but has never sold a thing, you are wildly successful.
Yup. Nobody. Everybody Who cares? It’s what it is for you.
There’s room for all of us at the table.
When I started out, I simply wanted to have some money that was mine, to spend with no accountability or excuse.
Sometimes I was able to pay for the “goodies”–to buy my son a kiln, for example, so he could pursue his art. That felt good.
Then I wanted money to take my business to the next level–to enter better shows, to create a beautiful booth, to advertise and promote my art.
Soon I wanted my work to earn enough money that I felt successful. After all, when a customer trades their hard-earned money for your work, that’s a huge compliment! It was proof that when someone said, “It’s beautiful and I love it”, they meant it. Kind of a “show me the money!” thing. The first time someone bought a $5,000 wall hanging from me was a magical, delirious moment in my life.
Things got muddy when I began accepting someone else’s definition of “financially successful artist”–without questioning whether it met my needs or wants.
I thought I would not be seen as a serious business person unless I was capable of earning a living with my work. Disclosure: I don’t have to support my family financially. My husband does what he loves, and it happens to be something that pays better than making little prehistoric horse artifacts.
But I felt I would not be respected by my peers unless I made a full-tilt effort to make sales–specifically, wholesale sales–my focus.
I began to confuse my “wants” (“I want to make enough money to be taken seriously!”) with my needs (“I only need to make enough right now to support my perfect vision of where I want to go with my art.”) (Of course, my “perfect vision” includes making wall hangings that sell for $10,000, so I’m not not about the money….)
I found myself focusing on the work I thought would sell, rather than the work I wanted to make. As times got worse and the wholesale markets slowed down, I became more frantic. I blamed myself, and my work. (I still remember an artist friend who gently reminded me, “You know the recession isn’t just about you, don’t you?”)
This is when I wrote Consignment Revisited.
I also realized that if my situation ever changes–if someday I do need to pay the mortgage–then and ONLY then, will I see if I have to make different decisions about how I run my business.
Learn from my mistakes. Whatever level you’re at, it’s okay. It’s all okay. You must remember that your financial goals are your own. You must believe–truly believe– any measure of success that’s meaningful to you, is okay.
For me, money is a certain measure of my success.
But I also want prestige, and respect for my work. And I want it to be meaningful. I want to know my efforts in the world–be it my fiber work, the jewelry, or the writing–inspires, reassures, empowers others. I want my artwork to help create the change I want to see in the world.
And I want these things more than I want a $10,000 wholesale order for horse tie tacks. (Of course, if that order helps me create the time and gather the materials to create a one-woman show of my work, maybe that’s a good trade.)
It’s okay to work at another job part-time, or even full-time, and simply make art in your spare time. If your other job is killing you, physically or emotionally, then you might want to rethink that, of course. But you can always just try a different job. You don’t have to make your craft full-time or earn your living from it, to be a “real artist”.
It’s okay to stick with small local craft shows, if that serves your wants and needs.
It’s okay to only wholesale to stores in your area or region–especially if your work’s aesthetic is a good fit. (I want to go national because, given a choice, most people pick maple syrup products over ancient horses and bears as part of their quintessential New England memento….)
It’s okay to decide you want to only have a dozen, or even half a dozen wholesale accounts. It’s even okay to sell through only one store, if you are happy with sales and how your work is represented.
It’s okay to only sell at home parties, if you love doing them. Or through appointments at your studio. Or on-line, or on Ebay. If that strategy suits your goals, then no one can tell you you’re doing it wrong.
So take a few minutes, pick up a pencil and make a list of what success really means to you.
Think about your goals, personal, professional, financial, for your art.
If money is an issue, think about how much money you really want or need to make. But promise me you WON’T think about how much money you need to make for other people to take you seriously. Because chasing these “other people’s” good opinion of you is as misleading and destabilizing (for an artist) as only making stuff you think “other people” want to buy. (Okay, I know that’s an awkward sentence. Just read it again slowly.)
Think about whether you want your work to be the next trendy thing (and that’s okay if that’s what you really want) or whether you want your Christmas ornament to be chosen to raise funds for a non-profit you fiercely support. Do you want to be on the cover of Ornament magazine? Or the cover of the Sundance catalog? (Hey, I want both!) Do you want your work carried by hundreds of stores across the country. Or six prestigious galleries? Or a dozen lesser known stores that kick butt selling your work?
Once you know where you want to go, then you can make better decisions on how to get there.
Extra credit reading:
Getting Started in Wholesale Series Intro
Getting Started #1: The Work
Getting Started #2: Doing GOOD Work
Getting Started #3: Do YOUR Work
Getting Started #4: DO Your Work
Getting Started #5: Selling Your Work
Getting Started #6: Upscale Your Work
Getting Started #7: Jump In! The Water’s Fine!
Getting Started #8: How Much Stuff is Enough?
Getting Started #9: Go to The Store!
Getting Started #10: Why Didn’t They Buy My Work??
Getting Started #11: It’s Okay Not to Know What You’re Doing
Getting Started #12: Getting to the Store
Getting Started #13: What Is Consignment?
Getting Started #14: What Is Wholesale?
Getting Started #14 p.s. That High Energy/Low Energy Thing
Getting Started #15: Why Am I Doing This?
Getting Started #16: What Else Do I Need to Bring?
Getting Started #17: Exclusivity
Getting Started #18: Minimum Orders