Learning

I want to keep writing about my experience as I try to build a viable business as a designer/consultant/whatever. Right now I have a few big things I am trying to work through:

  • I don’t have my stuff done. Like a web site, portfolio and business card. I really need to get them done, but it’s hard to put off client work to do your own stuff. Yet, if I would take the long view then it should be easy to see that they are more important. It’s easy to tell others to take the long view, not so easy when its you.
  • Nothing moves as fast as you want it to. There are lots of projects I though i would have started and finished by now, but instead I am still waiting on people to decide if they want to do the project. Which is fine, but I have to learn how to schedule this sort of uncertainty
  • There are three option yes, no, later. I told a lot of people I could not do their projects because I had two many projects going. I need to learn to asses timelines before I say no. There may be some of those projects that I could have done because they did not need them until later. I have to keep conversations going.

I don’t have enough money

I am slowly learning how to throw pottery on a wheel. It’s a lot of fun, and I am slowly getting better. But that is not what this post is about.

I was talking to Jeff,  the owner of the studio where i am learning. He is a cool guy, and has created a really unique environment in his studio that allows people a chance to be creative, learn, and be part of a community of artists. Somehow marketing and promotion came up. He does not really do much promotion of his studio, or the store that goes with it, im sure there are lots of reason for this, but one of them is classis: “i dont have enough money.” Part of me loves to hear people say this because that is a big part of why I like hiring myself out to small organizations, i like being able to help people who feel like they can’t do something figure out how to do it.

But really I kind of cringe inside when i hear people say this, especially people who are running organizations doing something unique and important. To survive organizations have to make money, and to make money they have to find clients, and to find clients they have to connect with the right people somehow.

So, here are some no to low cost ideas and thoughts, which may be good or bad, for 3rd Street Clay Works:

Leverage Existing Fans (people like me)

  • Give current students some money off (say $50) their next 8 week session for every new person they bring in who signs up for classes
  • Give us store discounts or credits to give to our friends and family who are looking for Christmas presents
  • give us incentive to talk about what we are doing in the studio on social sites (say for example, a monthly drawing for a small prize, you get entered by posting your latest work to your facebook profile.)
  • Feature a different student each month on a blog/website/facebook page/etc. Perhaps a short video, a little write up, some pictures of recent work, stuff like that. The hope is for that person to tell their friends about the profile.
  • Do a show or two a year for everybody. Most of us (like me…) will probably never show our work publicly, so it would be kind of fun to get a chance to. Make it a lot of fun (demos, a band, let people try making some stuff, have good food) Invite lots of people.

Social Media

There are of course opportunities in social media. A blog might be interesting, it could have instructional articles, reflections on life (I think Jeff could probably write some great reflections on life!). A web site would probably be helpful also, just s simple one so people have a place to get contact info, class schedules, stuff like that. I think though that the low hanging fruit is on facebook. There is already a facebook page, but its not very active, stating to post constant content there would be a great way to get students to start taling about what they are doing at the studio. A few ideas:

  • post pictures of students recent works
  • short video demos
  • real time play by plays of opening the kiln after a fiering
  • links to interesting ceramics stuff online
  • links to new music
  • contests (give away a mug or something like that for doing something that might create attention, like posting a picture or link)

Groupon

I actually think that groupon could be an effective tool. Giving people their fist 8 week class for 70% off would be a great way to get some new people in the door and hooked.

Its not for everyone

This is actually a really important realization. There is not exactly a mass market for learning to throw pottery at 3rd Street. FIrst, it is very local, people would not be willing to drive very far. People in Siloam Springs, Chicago, or Tokyo don’t matter to that part of the business. Second, not everybody wants to play in the mud, or even cares about how to form a pot. Third, even of those who do want to learn to throw only a small part of them would fit in at 3rd Street. There is a specific style of teaching, atmosphere to the studio, and group of people who come that would not appeal to everybody. So, you have to figure out the characteristics of those people and figure out where they are and how to connect with them.

Because of this it would be interesting to see what would happen if 3rd Street was really exclusive. What if they only way to get into classes was to get an invite from somebody already in a class. Suddenly classes are a hard to get into club, and you have to fit the profile to even be considered.

Tell Stories

Jeff has created something unique at 3rd Street (I might write more about that later). There are stores of people to tell, there are stores of a place to tell, and it will attract people to it. Stories like this:

The Big Picture on Vimeo.

The more these stores can be told through all of the ideas above the more real this place becomes in peoples minds, and the more they might be interested in what happens there.

Freelance Bootcamp

I kind of feel like I am going through freelance bootcamp. There is a lot to learn:

  • say no: i took on way to many projects to start with, and I am still paying the consequences. I don’t feel like i have served my first set of clients well, and a lot of that is a direct result of taking on projects I should not have.
  • get your own stuff in order first: I dont have business cards, much less an way to keep track of invoices and money, I should have gotten that stuff in place first.
  • take deposits: For some reason I did not ask my clients to pay deposits of any sort on jobs. I should have. Partly as a matter of buy in in their part, but also cash flow. I have about $30 in my account and real expenses and bills to pay.

There is more of course. And those are not complicated things to learn. I knew they were true, but its always different when you have to learn something yourself.

I think the biggest thing I am having to learn is is how to work for clients instead of an employer. I have to learn how to be able to challenge people to think about new things and ideas, to really evaluate problems and come up with solutions. This was a lot simpler at NLR…I guess because i had a long history of establishing trust. With clients now they only sort of know me. I don’t have any history. Part of this is just a matter of confidence and practice. But I also have to learn a new way to approach this. I have to educate my clients about process (at NLR i had already done that…or i just did the process), and help them see the value.

Challenges

There are going to be lots of challenges as I try to build a base of clients who i am working with. Here are a few:

  • finding clients
  • personal networking
  • confidence
  • disciplin/time management
  • orginization
  • managing finances/record keeping
  • being willing to challenge people perceptions and assumptions
  • asking people to pay me what the work is worth, and being confident that it is worth it
  • finding teammates
  • follow up
Right now my big challenge is work load. I have a lot of projects going (GOOD!) but I am over committed, so i don’t feel like I am serving my first clients well (BAD!). So, i have to get better at knowing what work load i can handle. Im getting old and cant handle to many late nights in a row…and truth be told I am not self caring right now (last time i went for a bike ride…..who knows). So…this has lot to do with experience, rhythm, balance…time to get back to work!

Joining the ranks of the entrepreneur.

Recently I have started doing more freelance work for people. I hope that someday this will evolve into a little company that helps people solve problems, does some design work, equips people to impact more people and make the world a better place. I think it would be good for me to blog about how its going. Perhaps somebody can learn from my experiences, but mostly i process things well by writing. So, here we go…

I think the place to start is with what I want to do. It would be simple enough to put out a shingle and tell people i will make there brochures, but that is not exactly the direction i want to go. I started brainstorming some things that I value that i would want to be part of a company i start. Here are a few in no order:
  • problem solving
  • high service
  • good design
  • big picture
  • best solutions
  • equipping
  • networking
  • simplicity
Each of those values have challenges of course. Networking is a good example, I really lilke connecting people. If somebody I know has a broblem they need to solve one of the first things that comes to my mind is to try and think of somebody i know who can help them. I hope that that a big part of what i do in the future is connecting people who might be able to work together. The problem is that I don’t have a big network. I dont know lots of people. So that challenge that i have is to step out and start building my own network of people I know and trust who i can connect to other people.
I think these values are a good place for me to start thinking through what i really want to do with this venture. Next up, some big picture ideas of what i want to do.

On Balloons and Specialization

A friend of mine owns a balloon shop. He does three things: retail bouquets, events, and supplies. The problem he runs into is that these are really three separate businesses, with unique markets, needs, customers, needs, and problems. (its hard to decorate a baseball stadium for a big event and keep a retail store open at the same time).

He is really good at what he does, his product is great, he has skill and passion, but there is a good chance he would be better off specializing in one of these areas and being the go to guy in the region for that one thing.

Contradicting Yourself

There is a local photography studio that shoots lots of sr. pictures, lots of family pictures, weddings, etc. They are kind of targeted at the mid-high end market, and probably would like to be a high end studio where people know they are getting really unique photography, and paying good money for it. This studio also does the majority of sports teams pictures in town (you know, the pictures your mom used to buy at the end of the baseball season…there is a nice picture of you holding a bat that looks just like the picture of every other kid on your team). Sometime i wonder if this helps or hurts this studio. These cookie cutter, assembly line pictures don’t fit there desired image of being a place where you get a set of really unique pictures tailored to you (this is what they are, they really do take great unique pictures). There is a bit of self contradiction in this. On the other hand it get them exposure. Everybody in town who has a kid in sports knows about them. It seems that the challenge is to figure out how to change the image people get of them (cookie cutter studio) into what they want it to be (unique and personal) though this experience. There are lots of ways this could be done: a really nice brochure, humor, making every point of interaction amazing and special…what else? If everybody walks away from the experience thinking that is was the best experience they had ever had with a photographer, and knowing that the studio offers more then just sports pictures it could help.

Facebook Profile Photos

I just noticed a photography studio’s fan page on Facebook. They have a note that if you have had your picture taken at thier studio and want a copy of it for a profile picture to email them and they will send you a version of the picture sized just right. What if every kid at their local high school uses one of their pictures for their profile? Great word of mouth, your clients feel like they are getting a great service from you…good idea.