Writing and publishing Grow has motivated me to take a good, hard look at my life and work and make some decisions about how I want to grow and evolve professionally. Over the next few months I’ll be posting my thoughts on my career exploration and transition, sharing ideas from the workshops, meetup and conferences I attend, and thinking about how my personal processes relate to the ideas of entrepreneurship, sustainability and creative business practice that drive Grow as a book. This blog will continue feature Grow news, DIY business advice and profiles of different DIY business owners, but it will also be a platform for my own entrepreneurial storytelling. I hope you’ll follow along!
Grow is all about envisioning and moving towards the life that you want that sustains you emotionally and financially. Right now I am focusing in on the types of businesses that value creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. I’ve started to hone in on New York City’s vibrant tech startup community. Now, this is a huge group of diverse businesses, so I am especially focused on startups that serve and add value to the work of creatives, makers and artists as part of their core mission and business model.
Earlier this month I attended a workshop at General Assembly with Charlie O’Donnell, of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures. He brought up many important strategies for approaching the startup world, and I realized that his points were very similar to how I advise DIY business owners to approach and present their businesses. Here’s some of my big takeaways that I wanted to share, because I think they are relevant to entrepreneurs not mater what the sector:
What are you offering? Offer something concrete to the business you want to work for (or to your customers for a DIY business). How, practically, do you help them build their business (or improve their lives)? What are the deliverables that you can offer?
Think in terms of sector. What sector of the start up world (or craft, or art world) do you want to work in?
Network strategically. Identify and connect with thought leaders and do your research to identify them. Who are the true experts in that sector and how can you learn from them? Can you organize a conference or event to bring the sector together?
Approach jobs and collaborations like consulting gigs: focus on adding value for thoughtful people who appreciate how you think.
Movement is positive because it opens up the “adjacent possible.” Trying something new creates opportunities and connections that would not have come about otherwise.
Lately, with my book and career, I’ve been inching towards taking leaps into the unknown. This particular advice made me feel like in doing so I am actually on the right track. Have you made a big shift in your career or business? What was your approach?
I had a fantastic time in the Lone Star State last week! While Texas plays a contentious role on the national stage, to be sure, it’s a fascinating (and huge) place that is bursting with creative, resourceful and entrepreneurial people. I only had time to visit Houston and Austin on this trip, but I really enjoyed the chance to meet with such dynamic and interesting people.
After I arrived on a very early morning flight I headed to Brasil, my favorite cafe in Houston to get work done, with cold-brew coffee on tap and great brunch and lunch. Sufficiently caffeinated I went to set up my table at Zine Fest Houston where my wonderful tablemates of the collective art zine Cat Juice made me a the cool chalk lettered sign you see above. It was great to plunge right into meeting creatives and sharing books, zines and stories!
To further engage with Houston’s creative community, the next day I had the pleasure of meeting the fabulous couple behind The Tinderbox, a craft and maker space that hosts workshops, DIY events, and sells handmade goods by Houston creatives. It’s a welcoming and exciting space that is part of a creative revitalization of a block of the Mid-Main area that also includes the fabulous coffee and cocktail bar Double Trouble.
Later that week I led a workshop at Fresh Arts, a leading local arts organization that is dedicated to to helping artists view themselves as entrepreneurs and find more resources for their practice. For me the process of talking with creative people about their goals and working together to identify concrete steps to achieve them is one of the most gratifying things about touring with Grow.
While Houston is a sprawling city that is finally coming to national attention as an arts and culture hub, Austin is a smaller city with an outsize reputation for being a hub for creativity. In addition to hosting a meetup for creatives at my favorite place to eat and work, Cherrywood Coffee House, I took myself on a tour of some new and exciting creative businesses in Austin. I checked out the Rosewood Collective, located in a beautiful East Side bungalow which houses several different creative entrepreneurs including Olive vintage, Sound and True housewares, and Sister Coffee, run by a very sweet lady recently arrived in Austin from San Francisco.
I also got to meet the eminently inspiring Michelle who helps creative people and businesses establish systems to they can get what they need to do done. Finally, just before leaving Austin I stopped by Stitch Lab, housed in two super cute bungalows and stuffed with beautiful fabrics, patterns and knowledgable stitchers. They offer classes, workshops and plenty of inspiration for aspiring to advanced stitchers.
I was a little reluctant to leave Austin, but I’m excited to announce that I will be returning for SxSW Interactive and Music in March to present with my awesome friends from Academy of Handmade and Patreon. Thanks to everyone who supported us during the voting process and Austin, I’ll see you again soon!
I’m very excited that I’m taking Grow to Houston and Austin, Texas for the last leg of the book’s national launch tour. Both of these cities are known for their growing and thriving creative scenes and I’m really looking forward to connecting with creatives of all kinds who call the Lone Star State home. Looking forward to seeing you at a meetup, workshop or the Houston Zine Fest!
October 12 3 to 8 pm
Zine Fest Houston
October 15 7 pm
Handmade business owners, crafters, creators and makers meet-up at Cherrywood Coffee House, Austin. RSVP here.
The other month I went to the NY Tech Women meet up, an awesome, friendly meetup for any ladies working or interested in working in the tech world. As someone who has spent 10 years working in the art world I was prepared to feel out of place. However, as I chatted with rad ladies who worked for startups and in tech for established companies, I found the ideas and subjects covered in our conversations were extremely familiar.
We talked about reaching new audiences, moving an idea to execution, and making a sustainable funding plan. The conversations were exactly the kind I have been having with DIY entrepreneurs of all types! Here’s are some key ideas to remember, whether you are launching the next big tech start up, building up your handmade business, or planning your great artistic masterpiece:
I think that these points are very important for creatives to remember. Sometimes, as creative people, I have found we undervalue our own business acumen. When I realized the questions my peers and I grapple with about creating a sustainable business are similar to those in the creative, tech world talking business and connecting with them became easier and I was reminded: we creatives have something to say, experience to offer, and an opportunity to learn from all fields.
By this point in the year I’ve covered a good portion of this country by plane, train, bus, car, and bike to connect with creative and handmade business owners who are taking their passions and ideas seriously and growing them into sustainable businesses. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to really understand the ideas, motivations and challenges of creatives, makers, DIY business owners and solopreneurs, and to get to connect with people who inspire and challenge me in all corners of the United States.
So, the book is out, tour is wrapping up, what’s next?
I’m excited to say, quite a lot.
After so much summer activity, in the fall I will concentrate on reflecting on where I Grow will take me next. I wanted to give you all some insight into how you can keep connecting with me and Grow, because I’m excited to continue to work on building sustainable, DIY community from my home base of Brooklyn. Here’s a little bit of what’s coming up in the next few months:
Grow heads to the great state of Texas! Okay, there’s still a little bit of tour left and I’m really excited that it will be in Texas. I’m looking forward to connecting with connect with makers of all kinds in Houston and Austin, two cities that are just humming with creative energy. In Houston I’ll be at Zine Fest Houston October 12, hosting a meetup at Tinderbox October 13, and giving a workshop at Fresh Arts on October 16. I’ll be in Austin October 14 and 15 and I’ll have details soon!
Grow video chat sessions. Want to spend an hour talking through a particular challenge or developing a specific skill with subject-areaexperts? Courtney Klossner and brainstorming and developing a regular video chat where we’ll discuss issues specific to handmade business owners, makers, crafters, musicians, artists and creatives. More details coming soon!
New, improved “Do It Yourself Success” workbooks. I’ll be revamping my workbooks so that you can better put your ideas into practice with workshops that cover every part of the book, from making a budget, to writing a grant proposal, to setting up a crowd funding campaign to developing a marketing plan, to helping you assess what’s working and what to change about your handmade business.
Grow workshop series. Want to hone your DIY business and focus on setting goals and a timeline, making a budget and funding plan, developing a marketing strategy, lay the foundation for your business and figure out how to integrate your business into the rest of your life? I’ll be piloting a 5-part online workshop series with session each based on a chapter of Grow. Stay tuned!
South by South West! I’ve put in three proposals with other awesome, savvy creatives for SxSW 2014 for the Interactive, Film, and Music festivals. Please create an account on SxSW.com and vote for “Navigating the new handmade economy" for Interactive, "Expose: Grantmakers and arts admins tell all!" for film, and "Your data and your life" for music. Thank you! Every vote is so appreciated!
Mark your calendar for Craftcation! I’m so excited to let you know that I will be a speaker at Craftcation 2014. It will be held April 3 to 6 in Ventura, California and, needless to say, I can’t wait. I hope you can join me for four days that will be packed full of craft and craft business fun! I’ll also be writing a bi-monthly column called “Grow Your DIY Business” for the Craftcation blog Dear Handmade Life starting today, Friday, August 30!
Want to see a Grow workshop in your town or at your school or organization? Don’t hesitate to get in touch and let’s talk!
It’s cliché to say that the summer has flown by. But all around me are back-to-school sales and friends making Labor Day plans and I ask, “Where did my summer go?” And then I realize: I’ve spent over a month of this summer on the road, traveling throughout the North East, Midwest, and West Coast to introduce Grow to different audiences. I’ve spent the better part of my summer focused on connecting with creative business owners of all kinds to talk about building towards DIY success and sustainability on our own terms.
Starting with Grow’s launch events in May I’ve held workshops, talks, meet-ups events and panel discussions with creative business owners in 23 cities in 17 states. I got to meet so many inspiring people with interesting, creative ideas who are taking the exciting risk and putting in the hard work they need to grow their creative vision, practice or business. Throughout all these conversations some common themes emerged and I here I want to report back to all of you about what is on the minds of creatives from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon, from Los Angeles to Minneapolis and many, many places in between.
Creatives are looking to connect with audiences for their businesses, services and products or projects. They know there are people out there who want what they have to offer, but they are working for ways to reach and communicate with them. Despite the accessibility social media can offer, this is still a big issue.
Makers and DIY business owners are looking how to distinguish themselves in markets that appear saturated. I heard things like “There are so many jewelry sellers on Etsy that I struggled to find a way to make mine stand out,” or “The Pacific Northwest is full of high-quality, handmade pottery, and people don’t trust buying pottery online.” This is a question I am very interested in exploring further and am very keen to hear how other readers have dealt with this similar issue.
Time management is key to DIY success. Creatives are often balancing full-time or part-time jobs with their creative projects and businesses, as well as commitments to their family, friends and partners, and their work to take care of the administration of life. Much of the conversations I had around sustainability focused on how to identify the time you work best during the day for your most focused, creative tasks; how to set boundaries with the important people in your life to give your creativity the time it needs to grow; how to find meditative, reflective and restorative moments in your daily tasks; and how to prioritize tasks both in your daily life and for your creative project.
Makers have exciting stories to tell. Every handmade business owner, artist or creative has a unique reason of how and why they came to do what they do. These stories are inspiring and no two are alike. When they tell their own stories makers distinguish themselves. Over the next few months I’m hoping to share some of the stories of the handmade business owners I met on the road, from a jewelry maker in Cincinnati to a handmade goods store in Grand Rapids, to a new place to nurture women’s entrepreneurship in Sacramento, to a community of lifestyle bloggers in San Francisco.
Creative businesses exist everywhere, but infrastructure to support them is still evolving. Arts, culture and creative businesses are adding vitality to the downtowns in big cities and small towns all across the country. In many of these places space for artists and makers to work is accessible and affordable and opportunities to collaborate are many. Local communities are waking up to the importance of handmade and locally produced and are more willing to support these businesses. However, creatives told me again and again that what was also important was public infrastructure and policies that help keep these areas vital long term. This includes improved public transportation in Midwestern cities like Detroit, Cincinnati, and Omaha, and zoning policies that help keep space affordable for artists and small businesses as downtown real estate increases in value.
Generosity and goodwill are still the most valuable currency creatives can offer each other. Tour gave me a wonderful opportunity to reach out to people who I didn’t know and offer them something interesting and helpful. It was a chance to share ideas, experiences and creative needs. Again and again I saw the power of creative community and realized that by sharing the resources we have access to and the lessons we have learned we make each other stronger.
So, to all who helped me along the way, hosted or came to a presentation, shared a drink or a meal with me, bought a copy of Grow, thank you so much!
Tour has given me a lot to think about and during these next few months I’ll continue to process and assess all that I learned and keep sharing the lessons and feedback I’ve received with you.
As a footnote, I’m part of three panel proposals for South by South West in Austin, Texas in 2014. I need your help through a “thumbs up” vote by September 6 to get there. Please create an account on SxSW.com and vote for “Navigating the new handmade economy" for Interactive, "Expose: Grantmakers and arts admins tell all!" for film, and "Your data and your life" for music and thank you!
I’m still processing all the great experiences I had on my Midwest tour and I’m heading off again to keep connecting with DIY entrepreneurs, artists, and creatives in the Pacific Northwest and Bay Area! I’m really excited that my tour starts in Portland, Oregon, a city which has played such a strong role in the development of DIY culture throughout the US and the world and I’m excited with the variety of organizations I am going to have a chance to work with on this tour segment. I look forward to seeing you on the West Coast!
August 10 & 11
Portland Zine Symposium, Portland, OR
Talk: Let’s Grow DIY: Where will your zine take you next? Sunday, August 11 at 2 pm. See the full workshop schedule here.
August 12 5 – 7 pm
Shunpike Happier Hour at Theatre Off Jackson | 409 7th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104
August 13 6:30 pm
Talk: Do It Yourself Success and Sustainability
Olympia Timberland Regional Library, Olympia, WA. More information here.
I just returned from Grow’s two-week Midwest tour. From July 7 to 21 I drove over 2,500 miles, held 16 events over 15 days in 11 cities, and visited 9 states (and drove through 2 others) in 2 time zones. The experiences, people I met and lessons I learned are, of course, not so simply quantified. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to meet and connect with so many fantastic people. I’ll be posting more about what I learned about the big issues on the minds of handmade business owners, but first I wanted to talk about what I learned from putting together a DIY book tour in hopes that for those of you interested in a similar project that this will provide some guidance and inspiration.
First of all, it is possible, enjoyable and fun! I booked the tour myself and the route, events and focus of the events were entirely my initiative. For me organizing the tour, and the promotions around Grow in general, are all about putting the lessons I discussed in the book into practice.
My tour came together after months of brainstorming, research, targeted outreach, discussion, planning and taking care of details and logistics. For those of you who might be interested in booking your own tour, here’s some important tips I have to share to make the process as smooth and stress free as possible:
- You are an ambassador for yourself, your individual brand, your book and your publisher (if you have one). Being responsible, humble and diplomatic at all times is important.
- Start planning and outreach early, perhaps four to six months in advance. It takes time to find the right fit for your event. If a venue, or even a city, isn’t working out, find an alternative. For example, I had to skip Saint Louis. I know they have an active, creative community but my emails went unreturned, contacts recommended by friends did not come through, and venues that seemed like a good fit flat out told me they weren’t interested. So I went to Tulsa and Cincinnati instead and had a fabulous time.
- Look beyond bookstores. If you have written a nonfiction book there are many organizations, groups, and businesses that host events related to your topic. Find them and strategize about how you can connect with them and enhance their mission and programming. For fiction writers, what are the core ideas in your book? Who are you as an author? How does that connect to what an organization does? For example, with Grow I’ve been connecting with artist services organizations, a cable access station, and handmade boutiques that offer classes to crafters and makers. All serve audiences that are a great fit for the book.
- Add value to the activities of your hosts. They are extending themselves to you and giving you their time, energy and goodwill. They are also offering their network to you and vetting you to their contacts. Be sure you offer high quality content and an understanding of how you fit in with their regular activities.
- Have you sh*t together and make your host’s job as easy as possible. Make sure your press materials, images, quotes and anything else people need to promote your event easily and effectively are ready to go and always check in before the event to make sure everything is running smoothly.
- Follow up. Haven’t heard from someone? Send a polite follow up email. Sometimes things slip through the cracks or go to the spam folder. People are busy. Still haven’t heard back? Move on.
- Be gracious. Say thank you. Give your hosts a gift. I made my hosts and people who helped me out on my tour silkscreened Grow tote bags. Cool, useful and extends my brand too. I also always followed up the day after an event with a thank you email and for people who really went the extra mile I’ll sending them handwritten thank you notes. Besides, when you say thank you the goodwill you get back will be more than whatever you spent.
- Sweat the details. Don’t expect to roll up and have everything set up. Follow up and check in about event logistics like arrival time and set up. If the host is short on time do your own community outreach – don’t expect to roll up to a big, adoring crowd just because you are amazing. You also need to bring the audience, not just your brilliant content.
- Selling books is not enough. If you are offering a workshop, a talk, an activity or adding value to an organization (especially a larger nonprofit or a for profit with educational programming) ask for an honorarium. Respect and value yourself as a creative professional.
If you front-load your planning and communication efforts by the time you hit the road you can focus on the task at hand: delivering your content, connecting with your audience, and getting yourself from place to place in the most enjoyable way possible. I’d love to hear from anyone else who had booked their own tour, be it book, music or another medium, about the biggest lessons you’ve learned. Touring is an experience where you really get to make every day count and get a first hand sense of your book and your audience. Put yourself out there and go out and get it!