crafting a business :: why I joined the Chicago Craft Mafia.


This post is a reprint from an essay I recently wrote for the Chicago Craft Mafia website.  I repeat it here as I think the concept of networking with your peers is relevant for everyone, whether you are in the crafts or fine arts. Our businesses can only grow from sharing what we know with each other.

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why you need a headshot

Lindsay Obermeyer Headshot, photo by Michelle Kaffko

"To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart."  -- Thomas Watson, Sr.

While I prefer to spend my time in the studio, I recognize that for my business to grow, a certain amount of day-to-day maintenace is required.  A new headshot has been high on my priority list for several months.  I've been putting it off as, well, I don't like to be photographed.  I always feel awkward the moment a camera appears.  

Why do I need a headshot in the first place?  It's a primary tool for marketing my business.  Whether I am at a gallery opening or walking the floor at a trade show, it's important for people to recognize me.  Yes, my work should be enough, but seriously, does it sprout legs and develop the capability to talk?  No.  If I want to get my work into that next show or land a contract for a project design, I need people to place a name and a face to the work.  

Headshots should be used in all social media platforms as the avatar, on a website and blog with a bio and in brochures.  Well-known project designers in the crafts industry also suggest you use it on your business card.  A logo is lovely, but you are your business, not your logo. Point taken and I will soon to rectify this ommission now that I have a swanky new headshot. Thank you Michelle Kaffko of Organic Headshots!

I didn't think much about headshots until a few years ago when more and more requests were being made from marketing departments at universities.  I was doing a fair of amount travel as a visiting artist / guest lecturer.  At first, I used basic snap shots friends took such as these three.  

©2007 Lindsay Obermeyer headshot  IMG_0173
©2012 Lindsay Obermeyer headshot

They are cute photos, so what's wrong with them?  With the one of the left, you can't really see my face. My work dominates. Yes, I want my work to be showcased, but not in a headshot.  And even if you can see my face, I'm squinting from the glare of the sun.  The second is a great shot of my face, but the background is really busy.  Really, really busy compounded with a busy outfit.  My face and background art are fighting to win which is noticed first. The last one is great shot, but obviously a snapshot taken of me in my winter coat outdoors one winter afternoon.  Ho, hum.

©2012 Lindsay Obermeyer headshot

So, I tried again.  I love this photo.  It shows me having a great time with my face framed by my work and was perfect for promoting my community art.  One problem, I no longer do The Red Thread Project®.   If I no longer do it, why should I still use an image that promotes it?  Sigh.  Back to the photographer.  

Lindsay Obermeyer headshot by Larry Sanders  Lindsay Obermeyer Headshot photo by Larry Sanders
This time I met with photographer Larry Sanders.  I love these!  They are silly, funny and non-traditional.  They promote both my art and my handmade hat line.  Fun, but ultimately limiting. These photos tell an education or marketing director of a craft company that all I know how to do is textiles.  As a project designer, I work in a variety of mediums - paper, clay, glass, paint and metal as well as textiles.  


Here we go again.  This photo was taken by Maria Ponce for the Chicago Artists Month 2011 poster. It's an amazing portrait of me, but is it actually a headshot? I wasn't sure, so didn't use it other than to promote CAM 2011 events.

Lindsay Obermeyer photo by Michelle Kaffko

So on I struggled continuing to use the shot of me from The Red Thread Project® until this spring when Michelle Kaffko took this shot of me for the Chicago Craft Mafia.   I love this photo!  Wow! Colorful, sassy, confident.  Perfect!  Yeah!  Headshot trauma over!    I've been using this image on Facebook since it was taken in May.  But when folks saw me at the trade show in July, the frequent refrain after visiting my booth was, "Oh, wow! You don't just knit." Arrrrrrrrgh!  I had limited my business once again with a single photo.  I am a knitter, but not just a knitter.  Oh my lordy!  I wanted to hide under the covers.  

You are your business.  If you want to be seen as friendly, professional and confident, then your image must show it.  It can be as colorful as you are, but the image of you shouldn't fight with backgrounds, funky clothes (unless you are a fashion designer wearing your own clothes) or other props  As I do so many things, I need a photo that showed me as me, minus the art or the tools.  After 10 years and multiple attempts, I think I finally have one that will work.  Let's just hope my hair doesn't turn fully grey in the next year!

school of hard knocks

Craft Racket, Spring 2012, Rebecca George and Shawna Smith

Success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.
– Coco Chanel

The topic of last week's Craft Racket, a quarterly networking and professional development program hosted by the Chicago Craft Mafia, was on getting your crafts into shops. Leading the discussion were Rebecca George of Purple and Lime, Shawna Smith of Shawna Smith Handmade Goods and Amanda Shell of Whirley Girl Designs, Inc.  Each presented a different aspect of the process, whether selling on consignment or wholesale and how to go about approaching retailers. The conversation was lively with folks attending from as far as Grand Rapids.  One question really struck a chord.  An artisan relatively new to the field asked how we as Mafia members have managed to keep going with our respective businesses despite all the challenges of being self-employed.  It got me thinking, how in the hell have I managed it?  Truth be known, I have several advanced diplomas from The School of Hard Knocks.  

My first mistake came with my first business, a wholesale jewelry company with sales in the US and UK.  I was a brazen hustler.  I did everything Rebecca, Shawna and Amanda advised against doing - I went door to door.  Yep, I flew to NYC and with samples in hand I went up and down the streets of Manhattan entering stores that looked like a good fit.  If the store was slow, I asked to speak to the manager / buyer / owner.  If it was busy, I took a business card, called later and set up an appointment.  This was before the age of the Internet (I am dating myself here...) when you can do retailer research online.  Doing your research is critical to not only finding shops that are a good fit, but also to making sure they will pay for orders.  I got my jewelry into a great store on Madison Ave.  At least I thought it was great until I realized the owner was never going to pay.  If I had done some research with others showing in the shop or run a credit check on him, I would have learned that he was in default with many of his suppliers.  I was owed thousands of dollars, tried using a collection agency to collect,  finally filed with the NY courts, but never received payment.  After filing yearly for seven years (the extent of the statue of limitations) for debt collection I finally wrote the loss off on my taxes.   

Lesson learned: Do a credit check whether formally with a credit agency or informally with other colleagues in the field.  Do not send work without payment upfront until a level of trust has been established. I apply this same lesson with the exhibition of my art.  I always ask others before approaching a new gallery.  Do they pay on time?  Are they professional and responsive?  Work is not sent until a contract has been signed by both parties (me and the gallerist) regarding consignment terms and expectations.

The ramification of not receiving payment also meant that my cash flow was tied up.  Without cash flow, you can't sustain a busines.  I hobbled along for 3 more years before I finally called it a day and entered graduate school.

Unfortunately, MFA programs don't offer business classes.  I got a great training in semiotics, postmodernist theory and such, but nada in terms of what one needs to know to start and run a business.   (And yes fellow artists, art is a business.)  Well, I'm lucky in that I come from a family in which self-employment is the norm. I had a great resource to draw upon - my parents.  But as is often the case with families, I thought I was smarter than my parents.  

When I finished graduate school I took over an existing textile art supply store.  It was well established with an existing customer base.  Groovy!  Yet, once again I learned my lesson the hard way.  This time I killed my cash flow by moving my store to a new location while simultaneously opening two new departments.  I didn't realize the impact moving would have on foot traffic.  Though I had an active mailing list with over 2,000 customers, many others were not on it.  I'd get these panic calls from customers sitting in front of the old space demanding, "Where are you?!"  This transition may have run smoother with the development of the Iternet (which was in its infancy at this point) and the invention of smart phones, but that's just a guess.  I compounded the problem by adding the new departments.  Customers needed time to adjust to the move, but I still had bills to pay.

Lesson Learned: Build your business slowly.  Get advice.  Take business classes.  

Fast forward to now, I am selling retail online, consignment to galleries, and freelancing with international craft supply companies.  I am much more cautious and do tons of research on prospective clients.  I've joined trade associations, attend conferences, network and attend professional development workshops.  Most recently, I've hired a business coach to help keep me on track with my goals.  In other words, I am finally learning from previous mistakes, including the one that failure isn't failure, just a learning lesson on the path to success. 

some advice to a young creative entrepreneur

©2012 Lindsay Obermeyer Crafting a business
"To open a shop is easy, to keep it open is an art."  -- Chinese Proverb

Yesterday I received an email from a young art student seeking business advice.  The following is a slightly edited version of what I wrote her. Much of it is pertanent to Chicago, but there are bits which I think apply to anyone.  
Attend the Creative Chicago Expo.  March 24th is the date for artists.  It is free with lots of great workshops.  Topics range from setting up a business to copyright law in a digital age.  
Attend the Expo prepared with business cards.  You can get some made on the cheap with Vistaprint.  I prefer Lady Printing myself as it is a woman-owned business  with excellent customer service. The owner even sends you a hand written thank you note. Moo cards are cool too. Anway,  you need the cards as you want to be able to give them out as you network and meet people. 
I am reading a great book on personal branding. Get it or another similar book.  It will help you enormously with networking, developing your brand image, how you present yourself to the public, etc.
Next, join the Chicago Craft Mafia website and mailing list.  We offer (yes, I'm a member) free quarterly presentations pertaining to craft entrepreneurship.  It's also a great time to network and get advice from others. Our next one is in April. While you are at it, sign up for the DIY Trunk Show email list.  In June we will be sending out application information for our annual fall craft show.
Start looking up business webinars.  There are many that are free and they are a great way to keep you motivated, learn new skills, and brush up on ones that are rusty.

This week there is an inexpensive workshop being given by the director for Lawyers for the Creative Arts.  (Many towns in the US have such organizations. Check with your local arts council.)
Read through the business section of Chicago Artists Resource.  There is so much information that it can be a bit overwhelming.  Take your time reading through it. (Note to those not in Chicago, the website has many national and international links.)
Join HARO - Help a Reporter.  Three times a day you will receive queries from reporters all over the US - blog, print and tv.  Write back to those that are relevant.  You may be quoted in their articles which means free publicity!
Get on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube.  
Start a blog!  Promote your blog on your social media feed and your business card.  The blog should be used to announce new products, upcoming shows etc., but also let it reflect you and your interests and how these tie into your art.
This next peice of advice comes from a friend - start a business journal.  Write down your success, failures, joys and frustrations.  On those days when business sucks, it helps to be reminded of your successes.  And when you think you can sail free and clear, it's good to have a notebook of memories that keep you in check.

Make your product uniquely your own.  Keep it true to you. Both products you mentioned are market saturated, so what twist can you give them?  I hand knit hats for the holiday markets. Nothing elaborate, but I have many repeat customers because I knit with quality in mind and have a quirky sense of color.  I love the whimsical and that shows up in my work.  The same level of quality and professionalism is true of the art I show and sell through galleries.

Good luck!  Have fun!  And yes, as my mom would say, a person who started and operated a catering business for 25 years, there will be days you will swear you were drunk when you decided self employment was a good idea.  Those days pass, just like a bad hangover.  (Yes, my mother actually said this to me, just about everytime I called her when I'd be losing my nerve.)
What advice would you give to this student?   Please share it here.  I'd love to learn more and will be sure she and her classmates see it.

spring cleaning the natural way

©2012 Lindsay Obermeyer Sachets Lavender, Thyme and Rosemary

"My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance."  
-- Erma Bombeck

The other day I watched with horror as an evil, wool-munching moth flittered across my studio.   It's a sure sign that spring has arrived -  and that I need to do some cleaning.

Grandma hated the smell of moth balls.  She swore by her  time-tested recipes for herbal sachets. I've been making, selling and using these herbal sachets for years.  They don't last forever, so it's time for me to make a new stash.  I figure if I need them, you might too.  So, I've started listing the first batch at Enjolive - my Etsy shop.

Keeping one's yarn inventory (or drawer full of gorgeous wool sweaters) moth free isn't difficult. First, make sure everything is free of food debris.  This is less a problem with a yarn stash, but stains often end up on sweaters, so it is best to give them a wash or take them to the local dry cleaners before storing them for the summer.  Once done, toss in a sachet or two and relax.

With the flight of that evil moth, I am going to do a thorough check of my yarn inventory to be certain it hasn't laid eggs.  If you see signs of moth invasion, don't panic.  Take the item and either freeze it in your freezer or take it outside for a few hours in the sun.  Both actions will kill all larvae.  

Now that I'm having to go through every bin in my studio, I figure I might as well give the whole house a scrub down.  Ms. Martha always has excellent room by room cleaning guides, but I love these all- natural recipes from Rodale.  They are non-toxic and cheaper than the store brand versions.  Many of them also smell great with the addition of a few drops of essential oils.

As I really do find cleaning to be a bore of a chore, I think I might liven my spirits with a treat from Chel Domestic Goodies, a fellow Chicago Craft Mafia member and domestic goddess.  Love the gloves!  

Chel Domestic Goodies

friends helping friends

©2011 Lindsay Obermeyer HeartFelt photo credit Larry Sanders
"But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end."
~William Shakespeare

In preparation for the trade show, I've been running around tying up loose ends.  It is at times like this that make me ever so grateful for the friends and colleagues in my life.  

Today I condensed several errands into one when I stopped by Girl Metro.  Girl Metro's stationary is gorgeous!  Think luxurious, that wonderful creamy paper begging for the scribbles of a fountain pen.  I wanted to purchase some for business notes.   When running late and needing to make another stop at a paper store, Richelle, fellow member of the Chicago Craft Mafia and the proprietor of Girl Metro, offered some from her own stash.  It was perhaps a small gesture, but it meant a ton to me.  One less stop, great advice on trade shows, plus wonderful paper and stationary.  I love these win-win moments in life.  

Earlier in the day, my old pal Kate rang with answers to a few questions I had emailed her.  She and her business partner Jamie took their business Egg2Cake to the New York Stationary Show last spring, so she's been a great source for info.  You have to check out their product line.  They say it is playful, I say it's downright funny.  If you are a mom (and even if you aren't), you'll love their Momglish™ Dictionary.

If you can't tell, I'm excited about the show.  To illustrate a bit of what I can do, I've been making new items.  The piece above is a pin, for hat or lapel, needle felted with merino.  I love its colorful simplicity.

Photo Credit: Larry Sanders