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If You Know Your Work Sucks, You’re Halfway There March 6, 2010

Filed under: creativity,Success Stories — bizmiss @ 1:35 pm
Tags: , , ,

Or so I gleaned from this video with Ira Glass, in which he reinforces the old Thomas Edison idea that “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”  Glass’s thesis is that if you know your field, and you have the eye to recognize that your work is not as good as it could be, then what is holding you back from greatness is not your lack of taste, it is lack of practice.  I personally find this notion very reassuring, because lack of practice is something you can easily remedy with something like a Thing-A-Day project.  Acquiring taste, on the other hand (as the judges on Project Runway will tell you) is much more elusive.

p.s. I am still making a thing-a-day, but I have had to revert back to my original rules.

via Craftzine

 

Apparently it is Easy Being Green July 2, 2009

Did you know that in addition to running the Bazaar Bizarre and working full-time in science education, Jamie Chan and her husband Blas Herrera also own Urban Fauna Studio, the best little fiber arts shop in San Francisco?  It’s enough to make a girl feel downright lazy.  Ever the overachievers (and responsible business owners), Blas and Jamie recently went through the process to make UFS a certified green business.  Jamie agreed to share their experience with me so we can all become green businesses, too.

First a little background on their business: Urban Fauna Studio sells independently made and eco-friendly craft supplies and tools. They focus on ecologically and socially considerate manufacturing practices, products made in the US and handmade items. They host a growing community of consignment artists and crafters, all of whom are committed to bringing quality handmade goods to their customers.  At UFS you can also explore the fiber arts through a revolving series of workshops (see their calendar for details).  Blas has a background in environmental science and Jamie is a science educator. Both of them come from families that have long enjoyed the fiber arts, crafting and DIY.

Why did you decide to pursue green business certification?

Just because many shops are independently owned and selling green products does not make their business practice green. We decided that a more genuine commitment to sustainability was to get certified by the San Francisco Green Business program. SF Green Business helps San Francisco businesses adopt environmental practices that are sustainable as well as profitable. They set stringent criteria, provide technical assistance, and publicly recognize and promote Green Businesses with a seal that enables customers to shop in keeping with their values. The Program is made of up of three City agencies: the SF Department of the Environment, the SF Department of Public Health, and the SF Public Utilities Commission.  We are the first fiber art and craft shop in the SF Bay Area with a green certification. We feel this sends a message to our customers and our fellow business owners that our commitment to sustainable retail goes beyond selling green, we live green too. It’s not hard to do considering many of us engage in green practices in our personal lives.

What are the benefits of being a certified green business?

San Francisco Green Businesses can save money by implementing practices that lead to cost savings in energy, water, and garbage bills. We have sought out a greener web provider who uses 100% green renewable energy, Carbon Neutral, who was actually less expensive than our previous, non-green, web hosting provider. We also participate in Carbon Offsetting with our electrical company and reduced our garbage bills.

We use all non-toxic, plant based cleaning chemicals which make us feel safer in our workspace and for our customers entering the store. We buy 80% post consumer, chlorine-free, recycled toiletry papers, 100% post consumer, chlorine-free printer papers, and 80% post consumer, chlorine-free business cards and promotional materials.

We enjoy a marketing edge over the competition. Coupon books, web site listings and other promotional strategies are fine. But a certification system with this level of transparency about standards and regulations makes us feel secure that people will know we are not trying to “green wash” them with hype.  (**Blogger’s note: I was shocked by how few businesses are listed on the SF Green Business site.  I thought SF was so eco-forward….)

Blas spent his college career studying environmental policy and social justice and I have studied marine sciences. We have seen the data firsthand and know this planet is not heading in a good direction with our current rates of consumption and use.  He and I both care very much about the future of our environment and we want our business to reflect that. The biggest benefit is the peace of mind that this certification brings, that we are helping to make our local and global community better.

How long did it take over all?

We started the certification process right before we opened our shop.  So about 10 months.

What did it take to earn the certification?  Were there requirements you found particularly easy or difficult to fulfill?

We had to submit a written application and then a detailed table or checklist of actions we would take to make our business meet their retail business standards. Then we had a phone consultation with some follow up e-mails. There was an initial site visit from a consultant. Between that time we had more e-mails and to provide more evidence that we were engaging in green practices. This included taking pictures of certain parts of the store, providing bills and proof of certain services.  Then there was an on-site assessment to verify that San Francisco Green Business standards are being met. We had a few more things to change and follow up on after our assessment. After submitting our changes, our San Francisco Green Business status was awarded! We were listed on the site within two weeks and warmly welcomed into their community. Nothing was particularly difficult. It was at worst, annoying and eye-opening to realize how every detail of our business could be greener. We thought we were “green” already and it was good to know that someone else was there to ensure we got all the aspects of our business to be more sustainable.

Would you recommend the process to other crafters/designers or only to people with stores?

Yes, if your business is certifiable we would suggest it. They currently certify hotels, restaurants, offices, retailers and dentists. This INCLUDES home businesses….and we do mean you, indie crafters! Your studios, offices and work spaces within your home can be certified. It does not take a long time. Our case was an exception, most applications should be approved within 4-6 months.  There is really no reason not go through the process if you can devote the time. We estimate that we spent no more than 20 hours total on this certification process. The certification program in SF is free of charge.  Many towns have a green certification program…we encourage you to look at your options and get involved.

Did you get any help during this process?

Nope. We didn’t know of any certified green indie retailers at the time, but now YOU do! Feel free to contact us. We are willing to answer questions and in general help to promote other green indie craft businesses. The nice thing about being indie is that we all really DO need each other to make an impact in the world of corporate run, big box stores. Being green together, being transparent about our goals, is a good thing. Lean on people in your local business community, you’ll be surprised about how much you can gain from it.

Well, folks, there you have it.  I’m definitely going to look into this for my own home office.  Thanks, Jamie!  If anyone else has experience with this process or is thinking about becoming certified, please share below.

 

Finished and Relieved June 29, 2009

Filed under: Success Stories — bizmiss @ 6:20 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Finally finished the Neon Monster prototype last night.  The pattern is pretty complex so it took longer than I thought (hence Wednesday’s post) but everyone at the store seems happy with it.  I’ve got some minor adjustments to make when I construct the final 18″ version but all in all the pattern is pretty solid.  I celebrated by taking a nap after the meeting.

For the rest of today and tomorrow I’m going to work on some of my own stuff that’ s been backing up.  I need a little bit of a break before going back to this project.  If I get permission from the client I’ll post some finished photos at the end of the week.

 

Maker Faire Madness June 4, 2009

It’s been a crazy week.  After getting back from New York late Monday night it was a mad dash to finish two days worth of contract work and everything I needed to do for the Bazaar Bizarre and When Creativity Knocks (both at this past weekend’s Maker Faire).  I only slept 5 hours each night, during which time I had several stress dreams, including having to perform a trapeze act in front of thousands of people with only ten minutes training by a hairy, naked French woman.  I ditched the circus as soon as I realized my face wasn’t on the poster and the audience wasn’t expecting me anyway.

There were a few snags, like having to leave Eleanor on her own to finish the last hour of mock-ups, and not being able to find the catnip, bells and beans I needed for the WCF steak cat toy demo, but everything got done in the end and the results were fair to good.  The Bazaar Bizarre raffle looked fantastic (thank you volunteers and friends/family of Jamie!), the demo went smoothly (though I had to omit the filling step), and the Sweet Meats sold really well.  In fact, all the vendors did really well.  Everyone kept remarking on how the recession didn’t seem to exist inside the Maker Faire.  Maybe the attendees save so much money by growing their own food and building their own vehicles that they have plenty left over to spend on plush meats and robot soap dispensers.

I love that the Maker Faire Bazaar Bizarre helps me pay my June rent, but I get a little sad that I can’t attend it anymore.  I got to go the first year, which was awesome, but it’s so much bigger than it used to be and all of the new stuff is so tempting.  I want so badly to ride the two-person ferris wheel, but my short lunch break doesn’t allow time to wait on the long line.  This year many of the exhibits were open on load-in day (Friday), so I got to see a few things after setting up that night, but I had to work all that day, so my participation there was limited to about half an hour.  Next year I’m going to load-in first thing on Friday so I can spend the rest of the day exploring the exhibits.  Not everything will be up, but I’m sure it will still fill the day.  One highlight of the Faire was getting an Editor’s Choice ribbon from Becky Stern at Craftzine.  I’ve been secretly coveting one of these for years (I’m a HUGE fan of Craft) and it gave me a nice “mission accomplished” feeling at the end of an insane week.

maker faire editors choice

The day after the Maker Faire was my birthday, so I did a little shopping for myself on Sunday.  I got an awesome tool apron from Polly Danger (I made her assistant take off the one he was wearing and hand it over), a sweet little wrist wallet from eleen, and the most awesome snail mail stationery set from Jill K. in L.A.  My friend Lydia moved across the country to Pittsburgh so I am currently writing her real letters on ugly stationery I bought in high school with lots of cross outs.  She types on lovely onion skin paper using an antique typewriter.  I think the snails will help bring me a step up.  When I first saw the stationery in L.A. I was determined to buy a set even though it seemed expensive to spend $5 for one letter’s worth of paper and envelopes.  Then I heard a man at another booth explain to his wife that of course he was going to buy this $6 card, because he couldn’t think of anything better to spend his money on than a way to meaningfully communicate with his friends.  I couldn’t agree more.

tool apronwrist walletsnail mail stationery set

 

Gluttonous Waifs March 27, 2009

Filed under: Feelings,publications,Success Stories — bizmiss @ 4:39 pm

I discovered an interesting site today called “design glut.”  The intertubes led me first to their store (they had a pork chop bank), but I was intrigued by the following description near the top of the page: “Our webzine is an inspirational resource for entrepreneurs.”  More accurately, their webzine is a series of interviews with successful designers.  More inspirational than resource, I’d say, but good breakfast reading nonetheless.

It does make me a little upset and covetous to read entries where the founding waifs interview successful designers their own age (24-year-old cool hunters get invited to Davos? Seriously?) but those are my own issues.  I just can’t handle people who are two or three years out of undergrad and already “experts” about something.  Expertise is your consolation prize for getting older and less attractive.  I’m sorry, but that’s just the rule.  You’re not allowed to have youth/beauty AND expertise/money.  It upsets the balance of the universe or something.

 

Epiphanous: Jeffery Rudell March 12, 2009

How do you make a living off your art?  That, my friends, is the $50,000 question.  There are the standard models we all know about, but they’re all deeply flawed in the same way: in order to be successful, you need to spend most of your time on non-creative endeavors.

Take the typical gallery model, for example.  Unless you are sponsored by some incredibly well-connected patron, you need to go to graduate school, network like crazy, and then apply for shows, grants and residencies with the hope that you will secure one out of fifty.  All of this while maintaining some sort of day job.  Where is the time after all this to actually make art?

Then, of course, there’s the DIY/self-publishing model.  You can put up your own web site, or sell your art on Etsy, thereby bypassing the need to work within the establishment and their 50% gallery commissions.  But then you need to do your own publicity and promotion, not to mention shipping, web programming, bookkeeping, etc., still while likely maintaining a day job.  This can also often entail churning out dozens of the same (more affordable) product over and over, making you a manufacturer, not an artist.

Lastly, there’s the merchandising model.  Either through licensing images or having items manufactured, you get your designs into the hands of the public through mass-produced items.  This involves many of the same things as the DIY model, only you’re focusing more on sourcing manufacturers or licensors than you are on manufacturing products yourself.

I’ve been using a combination of the DIY and merchandising models for the past few years and while it is satisfying in many ways, it leaves me very little time to do creative work.  I spend most of my day on correspondance, order fulfillment, marketing and bookkeeping.

Then yesterday I read this article on CraftStylish by Jeffery Rudell and I had a revelation: here, finally, is the model for exactly how I want to run my career.  Mr. Rudell crafts for a living, and the actual creative process is what takes up most of his time.  Of course he networks and promotes himself–that’s unavoidable–but essentially he’s a freelance art-producer.  Magazines, stores, TV shows and other media commission him to create specific art pieces for photo shoots, store windows and tutorials, within variously flexible parameters.  This is very much like being a graphic designer (a route he came out of that I have also briefly pursued), but it involves working with your hands on three-dimensional objects much more often than sitting in front of a computer screen.

Okay great, so there’s a guy out there with a career I’m totally jealous of.  What am I supposed to do about it?  Follow all the steps Jeffery Rudell did!  Luckily for me, he’s a storyteller, too, so he couldn’t resist laying out his trajectory step by step:

Step 1: Create a gorgeous and variable portfolio while working a day job for money.  I just read about him yesterday and I’ve already drafted a long list of art-director-friendly projects to work on and I’ve applied for a part-time bookkeeping gig.

Step 2: Introduce your work to valuable contacts by sending them inexpensive, eye-popping “introductions.”  Send similar “thank yous” to existing clients so they don’t forget how awesome you are.

Step 3: Say yes to everything you can do or learn to do within the specified deadline, even if it seems difficult.  By embracing challenges you become a better artist and a more valuable asset.

Step 4: Value your work highly and price it accordingly, always remembering that people are paying you for your ideas in addition to your production hours.

Step 5: Remember that it is your job to communicate ideas, emotions and experiences, not just create a pretty product.  Mr. Rudell calls his promotional introductions “(souvenirs) of the experience people have working with me.”

I don’t really know what to call Jeffery Rudell’s job (prop-maker? production artist?) but I am determined to make it happen for myself.  More on my specific steps in later posts.

 

It’s Alive! October 20, 2008

It’s seems that no other project racks up delays quite like a web site.  There’s always something that could be added, or could use cleaner functionality, or doesn’t look quite right in Internet Explorer 18.3 for Windows WTF.  But after six months of such delays, I am proud relieved to announce that Sweet-Meats.com 2.0 has finally launched!  It’s as close to perfect (for my own purposes) as I’ve ever gotten a web site, so I’d like to share some of my steps with you, and review a few of the services I tried along the way.

Step 1: Evaluate. There were a lot of reasons I desperately needed a new web site.  I enumerated them on paper in order to be sure that each issue got solved in the re-design:

  • Not a clean design.  It was simple, and cutesy-clever, and some people liked it, but it was also pretty slap-dash.  And four years old.  It felt ridiculous that my own web site wasn’t good enough to include in my design portfolio.  The product photos also weren’t very good.
  • Hard to pay.  My old site only accepted payments via Paypal.  I calculated that I lost at least 25% of my potential customers because of this.
  • Not expandable.  The design didn’t allow for the easy addition of more products or pages.
  • Limited functionality.  It had no ability to handle discounts, gift certificates, shipping choices or product sizes with any grace.
  • Bad navigation.  It used pop-ups in an incredibly unattractive and repetitive way.
  • Hard to analyze.  Very minimal stats that provided few clues about how to improve sales and traffic.
  • Bad SEO.  Only appeared in Google rankings for very specific search terms like “Sweet Meats Plush.”

Step 2: Make lists. I wrote down exactly what features and functionality I wanted to have in my site, and what keywords I wanted Sweet Meats to be associated with in searches.  I decided what was important to have right out front, and what could be reached in a click or two.

Step 3: Research. With my list of features in hand, I searched for a shopping cart, and then a web host, that could accommodate my needs for a reasonable price.  I already have a merchant account and Authorize.net payment gateway through Thompson Merchant Services to handle credit cards.  I wish they were cheaper but they work really well.  As far as shopping carts went, I tried four:

  1. Zen Cart: completely free, open-source shopping cart software that is chock full of features and is theoretically fully customizable.  You have to be a really good PHP programmer and be able to handle hideously confusing file organization in order to make this work, though.  I constructed a passable wholesale site using Zen Cart.  It took three frustrating weeks and my customers hated using it, so I didn’t even try to make a retail site with this cart.
  2. Shopify: I downloaded the trial and started mucking around with it but didn’t get very far.  It’s not hard to use but I realized that the features I would need, like SSL security and the ability to do discounts, were only available with the “Professional” plan, which costs $59 a month + 1% of sales.  Way too expensive for my small business.
  3. WP E-Commerce: This is only for WordPress sites, but my husband is a wiz at programming these, so I thought I’d give it a try.  It’s not a good option for US vendors, because it can’t handle shipping physical goods with different weights, and doesn’t interface with UPS or FedEx.  After mentioning this in a previous post, one of the company owners offered to send me a working version of the cart, “personally,” but he never did.  I’m a little pissed I wasted $25 on the “Gold Cart” upgrade before I was able to figure out that the cart just doesn’t work.
  4. Mal’s E-Commerce.  This is what my last web site used, and what I ultimately went with again.  I had unfairly written off this cart because it was somewhat limited in its customization, but (naturally) it has changed somewhat in the four years since I last looked at it, and it handles quite nicely.  Here’s what I like about it:
    • It only costs $8 a month.  It would be free if I didn’t want to process credit cards through my own gateway (rather than use Paypal).
    • All of the code goes in your buttons, so it doesn’t change the appearance of your web site in any way.
    • It integrates with UPS and USPS shipping modules, so you can calculate shipping automatically based on weight and location.
    • It’s ridiculously easy to set up and works with graphic buttons, pull-down menus and text boxes, all of which I use on my product pages.
    • The shopping cart is hosted on Mal’s secure server, so I save money on not having to purchase my own SSL certificate.  The only downside to this is that the amount of customization you can do on the checkout pages is limited, but it looks integrated enough for my taste.

Step 4.  Design!  I laid out exactly how I wanted all of my pages to look in Photoshop, down to the pixel.  It took five drafts to get it just right and I got a lot of feedback from friends throughout the process.

Step 5.  Host.  I was getting a little tired of GoDaddy, with their limited stats and the bizarre way they handle permalinks and page titles, so I tried Lunarpages.  It was easy to set up, and reasonably priced, but they don’t handle domains very well.  I got a free domain with my hosting, so I chose “sweetmeatsplushtoys.com” and used it to build my new site online.  When I was finished, I planned to have my old domain, “sweet-meats.com” (which is hosted with GoDaddy) point to my new Lunarpages web site, and have that super long domain name just forward to the right place.  But as my “primary domain,” Lunarpages’ control panel wouldn’t let me forward sweetmeatsplushtoys.com, and consequently, my old domain wouldn’t point properly either.  Tech support was quick to answer the phone, and they took care of the “primary domain” problem for me right away, but they couldn’t figure out how to get sweetmeatsplushtoys.com to forward to sweet-meats.com, they could only “park” it.  My husband eventually fixed this for me, but I was annoyed that a web hosting company didn’t have the capability to do this themselves.

Step 6.  Program.  This was the tedious part, and required a lot of tutorials from my husband.  I haven’t programmed a web site since college, and a lot has changed on the web since 1999.  I also signed up with Google Analytics at this point (free!), so I can track things like “conversion” (how many visitors turn into buyers), and return-on-investment for pay-per-click advertising.

Step 7.  Test.  This was the REALLY tedious part, but it’s important to proofread everything 2-3 times and to test every link on every page.  Anything that doesn’t work right could cost you a sale or publicity.

Step 8. Launch!  I sent an e-mail to my wholesale customers, then to my newsletter subscribers, and then to family and friends.  This week I’ll be working on an announcement to send to the press.

If you like something I’ve done on the site and have questions about how I did it, don’t hesitate to ask!