Getting on Top of Your Game

Getting on Top of Your Game
By: Charlene Davisphoto

Times are tough and as more and more people are laid off, many are looking at new and innovative ways to make money by exploring their talents and turning hobbies into businesses. So what does the new competition mean for veteran artisans who have been in the trenches and paid their dues? With the right attitude and creative planning it could be a great turning point. Artisans who want to endure the fluid landscape of our economy can step up their game by teaching workshops and seminars, creating new products, or constructing a new marketing plan.

Christine O’Toole from Stetsonville, Wisconsin, designs custom, handcrafted gifts and teaches group and individual lessons. She feels that artists will find a new avenue of income when they move towards sharing their talent and skills. "Experienced artists who desire to survive will find themselves teaching as well as providing custom, high-quality finished products,” Christine says. "There has been a move towards sharing traditional arts with the start of people taking up knitting and crocheting again. That will continue to grow in these and all other areas.”

Many marketing experts feel that the recession is actually good news for specialists in any industry because individuals are going to spend their free time discovering new trades or learning how to improve their skills. As a knowledgeable and skilled artisan, you can take advantage of the incoming wave of novice artists and crafters by teaching them some of the ropes – for a fee, of course. Jordanna Petkun, CEO and Founder of Emerge Art Center (www.emergeartcenter.com), works with many artisans looking to expand their business and advises artisans not to give away anything – services or work – without compensation. "Even if the clients come referred through friends, or are your friends directly, it's wise to have a policy of never consulting with or giving away your art or handiwork for free,” she cautions.

Jordanna also feels that to continue making sales in this economy, it's important for artisans to provide alternatives to all one-of-a-kind or handmade work they do. For every expensive, one-of-a-kind piece for sale, you should always try to have similar versions (that don't compete with its one-of-a-kind nature) on sale. Make reproductions of originals – such as cards and posters – that people on a tight budget can still afford. This also helps with marketing of your work, as word-of-mouth can work wonders.

What are some other ways artisans can ride out the economic downturn? Almost every type of business has experienced a tangible shift that necessitates the need for a revised game plan – whether it’s a new product, marketing strategy, or business plan. Some artisans are using the slowdown as an opportunity to expand their product line, while others are testing out different marketing strategies. Professional artist, Jordan Mercedes (http://www.jordanmercedes.com/), recommends joining forces in a cross-promotional partnership with someone like a writer, restaurant, or a business that can feature your work while advertising their own. Jordan says the main thing is to remember to be as creative in your business as you are when designing.

Keep in mind that although more amateurs are joining the ranks, they are not always producing quality goods. The talented ones are going to raise the bar, which is not a bad thing. The not-so-good ones will disappear quietly into the night. However, experienced artisans can remain in the forefront by maintaining their core values and high-caliber work, while diversifying by expanding their product line and services.

As a successful artist living the good life, Pablo Solomon (http://www.pablosolomon.com/) has seen his share of economic ups and downs and advises fellow artists and artisans not to worry too much. "In the short run, times will be tough,” he says. "But eventually the old standards for success in art – quality, creativity, and name recognition – will win out.” And that’s good news for all of us.

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Charlene Davis (http://www.cdavisfreelance.com/) is a nationally published writer specializing in business, retail, e-commerce, and food. She has written Design and Start an Online Travel Business in a Week, Start Your Own Photography Business, Start Your Own Clothing Store, and How to Sell Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories on eBay, as well as two additional books co-authored with Jacquelyn Lynn, Make BIG Profits on eBay and Start Your Own Senior Services Business (all published by Entrepreneur Press). Charlene wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (http://www.artisanbusinesses.org/), an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry. Copyright © 2009 Association of Artisan Businesses. All Rights Reserved

Ten Resolutions of Your Home Based Business

Ten Resolutions of Your Home Based Business
By: Charlene Davisphoto

The beginning of the New Year is the time to reflect on the successes and disappointments of our respective home businesses during the past year and resolve to make changes in areas that need improvement. Sometimes just a little tweaking is all that is necessary, while others may need to consider a complete transformation. Consider implementing some of the following resolutions for a more profitable business year:

1. Start by making of a list of the previous year’s successes and failures. What strategies worked and which ones didn’t? What steps can you take to improve some of your techniques? Which methods should you discontinue?

2. Have a business plan and follow it. You can’t make changes without a clear plan of action to make them happen. The devil is in the details and if you don’t have a well-articulated business plan to follow, your chances for success are diminished. You can start off with a mini business plan, which is more like an enhanced executive summary. However, if you are seeking funding you will need a detailed, comprehensive business plan.

3. Take time to continue your education and add a new certification to your credentials. Peter Davies said, "Motivation is like food for the brain. You cannot get enough in one sitting. It needs continual and regular top up's.” The best way to do this is to learn everything we can about our craft and business in general. Go to a seminar about tradeshow presentations or take an online course about website development. Develop inspiration by embracing knowledge.

4. Update your technology using the most efficient tools for your business. This can be done by adding a new software program to your computer or implementing better security measures. Add a back-up system or update your hard drive. Purchase a PDA to keep track of dates, phone numbers, and other important information.

5. Don’t waste time spinning your wheels. In the "Entrepreneur’s Almanac: 2008-2009” (Entrepreneur Press, 2008), author Jacquelyn Lynn advises to make your time count by reducing the amount of time you spend on activities that don’t generate revenue. "Take an inventory of how you’re spending your time,” she writes. "Then go through your activities list one item at a time.” The key is to decide if that activity is essential; if so, decide if it can be systemized, delegated, outsourced, or consolidated.

6. Broaden your horizons by selling complementary products or aligning with a similar type of business. Offer to speak at professional and service organizations around town so that you will become known as an expert in your field. Join professional associations affiliated with your business for great networking opportunities.

7. Create a website if you do not already have one. An online presence is an important marketing tool that can reach a far wider audience and expand your overall growth potential.

8. Get organized and keep track of your finances. It doesn’t matter if you prefer a sophisticated computer system or a simple spreadsheet kept in a notebook. Just make it a routine practice that is easy for you to use on a regular basis.

9. Develop a new marketing strategy. Start an online newsletter or join a social networking group like Facebook or Twitter. Send out press releases about new items in your product line. Offer to teach a local workshop on how to make candles or design beaded jewelry. Participate in craft shows or approach gallery owners to showcase your work.

10. Find a mentor who you can be accountable to regarding your resolutions. Preferably this person would be a home-based business owner like you, but it could also be your spouse, other family member or friend, colleague, or coach. It should be someone whose opinion you respect and who you can rely on to let you know when you’re slipping.

Creating resolutions are the same as setting goals for your business. They will be a lot more effective if you make them sensible and reasonable, instead of lofty and unrealistic. If nothing else, ask yourself to commit to one thing that will improve the success of your home business.

Here’s to a happy and successful New Year!

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CHARLENE DAVIS (http://www.thewriteessentials.com/) is a internationally published writer specializing in business, retail, e-commerce, and food. She has written Design and Start an Online Travel Business in a Week, Start Your Own Photography Business, Start Your Own Clothing Store, and How to Sell Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories on eBay, as well as two additional books co-authored with Jacquelyn Lynn, Make BIG Profits on eBay and Start Your Own Senior Services Business (all published by Entrepreneur Press). Charlene wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (http://www.artisanbusinesses.org/), an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.

Start Off The Year With A Website Plan

Start Off The Year With A Website Plan
By: Charlene Davisphoto

Before getting wrapped up in complex web design plans with all the bells and whistles, take some time to put together a well-thought out outline that details how your web site should be constructed. A site plan is beneficial for both new and existing web site owners because it helps you to strategize the effectiveness of your web site.

1. Define your audience: Think about who your target audience is (i.e, age, gender, location, socioeconomic status) and their purpose for visiting your site. For example, are you selling products from your web site or using it as an online portfolio or gallery?

2. Structuring your web site: The next step is to determine how many web pages you will need and how they will be linked together. The best way to do this is by organizing a site map that can also be used by visitors. This will make the navigation of your site more pleasurable and less complicated. Also consider what type of interactive features your site needs. Will visitors be able to contact you via email or live chat? Are you going to track browsers who come to your site? If you are selling items from your web site you will also need to decide how you will handle payments such as credit cards and checks.

3. Web site content and design: Providing good content for visitors is critical to your site’s success. Not only do you want to attract visitors by providing relevant information, but you want to entice them to come back by updating the material and offering new incentives. Other elements to consider are having a calendar of events, a guest book, or a shopping cart. With all of the font styles and colors to choose from, keep your wildly artistic side under wraps by making the overall site design simple and attractive by using only two or three of each.

4. Web site maintenance: How often do you plan to update your web site? Daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly? Statistics indicate that web sites are updated most often on a weekly basis, which continually provides visitors with fresh content. The next consideration is whether you have the skills to maintain your site in-house or the funds to outsource it to a professional.

5. Offer credibility: In another column we will talk about how to market your website, but first you should know how to market yourself as someone who is trustworthy and reliable. Each visitor should feel comfortable visiting your site and have the same assurance that a face-to-face visit or phone call would give them. You can offer this type of credibility by providing people with full contact information. This includes your name, business name, address, phone number, and email address. Testimonials from satisfied clientele are another way to inspire confidence in potential customers.

Your web site functions as an online store or catalog and will work for you around the clock. A professional looking site that is user friendly and well maintained gives you numerous marketing opportunities that will be discussed in future columns. Whether you decide to develop your own site or pay someone to do it, you will need to consider the above for optimal success.

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CHARLENE DAVIS (http://www.thewriteessentials.com/) is a internationally published writer specializing in business, retail, e-commerce, and food. She has written Design and Start an Online Travel Business in a Week, Start Your Own Photography Business, Start Your Own Clothing Store, and How to Sell Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories on eBay, as well as two additional books co-authored with Jacquelyn Lynn, Make BIG Profits on eBay and Start Your Own Senior Services Business (all published by Entrepreneur Press). Charlene wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (http://www.artisanbusinesses.org/), an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.