Monday, January 4, 2010

First Interview For 2010!!!

I'm not sure if it's been a happy Monday for y'all, especially since everything is back to normal. Just like that the holiday season is over:(

It was an exceptional Monday for me cause I took the day off! So I'll officially be back to the regular grind tomorrow. Nonetheless, I'm in good spirits!

I'm excited to post the very first interview on The Creative Mixx for 2010~

Tonight I will give you an in-depth look into a jewelery designer that I briefly spoke about last month. It was during my I Got A Little Something Before The Big Day post that I revealed a pair of funky earrings purchased for a co-worker as my Secret Santa gift.

I'd like to introduce you to Sara Thomas of Sara Thomas Designs Studio. She offers you designs using sterling and fine silver, copper and brass. And to top things off, she uses 100% recycled sterling wire! I enjoy showcasing individuals who use reclaimed materials to incorporate it into something new and Sara does this with ease. From vintage glass, to previously owned & natural beads, Sarah gives you a line that is both "green" & fashionable.

What city are you based out of?
I am based out of Sodus, New York.

How did you yow get started? And how long have you been a jewellery artist?
I began designing and selling jewelry when my last position teaching elementary school was eliminated back in 2007. I was unable to find another teaching position because of the economy and all the schools downsizing and making cuts. So I guess that would make it about 2 1/2 years now that I have been a jewelry artist. I have always been creative and NEEDED to craft, and jewelry was the thing that seemed to make the most sense at the time (although I thought about
doing a million things from mixed-media paintings to selling homemade biscotti!)

Where do you get your inspiration from?
I make all of my pieces myself. Most of my inspiration comes from the changing seasons and how it makes me feel. I have always loved celebrating different holidays and enjoy all the beautiful things each different season brings. I tend to design my pieces around the colors, feelings, nostalgia, and traditions that I personally associate with them. My hope is that I spark those same feelings in the people that wear my pieces.

I've mentioned that you are passionate about being "green", when making your jewelery. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Being green and eco-friendly is just something that is part of who I am. It is extremely important to my husband and I to live responsibly so it was just natural for me to try and find "green" solutions to make my pieces and run my business. As far as materials go, I use 100% recycled fine and sterling silver, and search for beads and embellishments that are vintage or made using natural materials. I also seek to support other local artists and businesses when purchasing supplies. This is very important to me because using local sources not only helps cut down on carbon emissions, but it keeps our economy alive and strong. I wish more people could realize that!

Are you ever uninspired? If so, how do you get over the slump?
Honestly, when I first received your questions before Christmas, I had to say no, that I have never been uninspired (seriously). I have always been creative and my "wheels" are always turning! However, I have had a very hard time getting back on track since the holidays. I closed my shop Christmas Eve and am just starting to get back to business. Although I am not uninspired as far as creating is concerned, I am having a hard time making myself get back into my studio and get to work. I have tons of ideas rolling around in my head, I just can't seem to find the motivation to do it. It felt so nice to chill out after such a busy month! The way I am dealing with it is to constantly remind myself how lucky I am to be able to create for a living, and that I just have to force myself back into my routine and it will get easier.

Name one item that you can't live without?
My electric wood stove "fire" heater. It's the most amazing thing in the WHOLE world! With a flick of 2 buttons I can have a totally realistic-looking, cozy fire that blows out hot air. You just don't get any better than that! Plus it's light and mobile. Any room of my house can be transformed into a cozy little "lodge".

Any advice for newbies starting out?
OK, pull up a chair...........I read tons of advice when I was first starting out about "staying positive" and sticking with it, believe in your dream etc. While I completely agree with this there is just so much more to it than that! This is what I have learned by trial and error, and many mistakes! (These are not in order of importance!)

First, if you REALLY want to have an art business you have to do your homework. Read books, articles and get in touch with other artists in your field (ETSY is a great place for that) that you can go to with questions regarding your work.

You must network. Find out about writing business plans, filing taxes and registering your business name. If this is what you want to do you have to make it official, take it seriously and do it right! But don't kid yourself into thinking it's as easy as making your craft and having it sell online the next day. There's a whole lot of effort and things that have to happen in between there!

Giving. This is the part I struggle with most. You will find that the hours in a day are just not enough to get everything done that you need to. Starting your own business requires your willingness to give up other things that are really important to you, at least for a while. Sometimes it might feel like you are working nonstop, and have given up all the things that once mattered, but have nothing to show for it. For instance, I love to cook and healthy eating is extremely important to me. But I had to give up our garden, canning and be OK with eating Ramen soup when necessary. Then there's housework mixed in too, and a job if you have one! I can think of many times I was in tears because I just "couldn't do it all!" and I felt like there was no way to possibly make it work. I had given up everything I loved and my business wasn't doing anything. I really thought about quitting, and I think this is the breaking point for most people. As hard as it is, you have to be willing to let go of things. Your house WILL be a mess. There will be times when you don't have the time to eat right and you look through empty cupboards realizing that you have neglected grocery shopping for weeks!

Support and Guilt. I am so incredibly blessed with a husband who works his butt off so I can be home and do my art. He has been my biggest fan and supporter the whole way, and he is always there for me to bounce ideas off, help me find solutions and even make my displays for art shows. He is currently going to school and working (both full-time) and I often struggle with feeling guilty that he always has to leave and go somewhere he doesn't want to and I get to work in my fabulous, comfy studio right at home. I cope with this by reminding myself that he wouldn't support me if he resented me, and I am working hard too! It isn't like I am on the couch watching reruns of "Cheers", I am busting my rear with business stuff, and I do all the housework. I always make sure he has meals to take with him, coffee in the morning and clean scrubs for work. There are definitely people that haven't been supportive though, too. My parents for one had a very hard time watching me change from something I went to school for, to becoming an ARTIST! AHHHHHHHHHH! =) Although they are OK with it now, it's only because I made it work and am going along successfully. But during the hardest point, when we didn't have money and I was trying to figure out what the hell to do, they were my worst critic. You may also have a hard time with friends coping with your new schedule as well. People that work regular 9-5 jobs don't understand what it's like to own a business. When they are done with work, they dictate how they spend their time. You are NEVER done with work. But because you work at home, and you "make crafts for a living" they may not understand why you can't go shopping, or how you could possibly be too busy to hang out. Be prepared for this, and the best I can say is just try to not to get too frustrated or take it personally. Most people truly DON'T understand what you do every day.

Know your strengths and weaknesses. Being an artist is one thing, but a business person is totally different! You have to be organized, keep track of endless records, take care of taxes, finances, ordering supplies plus all of your marketing and promoting. If you choose to sell online (which you pretty much have to these days) you need good photos of your pieces with descriptions and someone has to put it all together. If you are limited in time (who isn't?) or struggle with some of these "jobs" see if you can find friends or family members to outsource some of these things to. For example, my mom now keeps track of all my sales and expenses in a database for me. Just giving her those two things off my plate has lifted a huge burden! All the pieces to running a business can be a very difficult to balance! You must be strong enough to admit when you need help with something. Your business is on the line!I didn't have any start-up cash at all. Except for the first few beads and findings, every tool, supply and business need has been purchased by selling jewelry and then reinvesting it back into my business. Not only did I have no money to get my business going, but my personal finances were a wreck as well (losing a teaching salary wasn't good for our budget AT ALL!) I had to make money fast! I started by having friends and family take some of my pieces to work and sell them for me, I started organizing home parties and attending craft shows, as well as selling through consignment. I figured out how much money I needed to put back in my business to allow it to grow and then kept the rest for my husband and I so we could eat (I think I started at 60/40) I had to work a part-time job for a while until my business grew enough to take over.

Find out what works for your business and personal financial needs and go for it! The sooner you get your stuff out there where people can see it, the sooner you begin to grow and succeed! Although it has taken a lot longer to get where I am due to lack of finances, I am VERY glad I don't have the pressure of having to make loan payments!

Decide what it is you are REALLY selling, or what art is is that you want to do. Even though I knew I wanted to make and sell jewelry, it took me a good year to settle on metalwork. When I first started I was overwhelmed by the options-beading, fibers, metal, mixed media, etc. I dappled in everything! This was important for me though, because I got really good at the basic skills and learned more about myself as an artist. I took a little bit from everything and made the choice that metals was what I wanted to do. During my "experimental" phase, my sales were not good at all. It was just too much, too random and not a clear sense of me. Once you can develop your own true, unique style, people will begin to recognize your work. This is the "branding" everyone is talking about!

Websites. Ah, ETSY. Frustrated the %&$# out of me!! Of course, it was MY fault but I didn't know at the time. Please don't create a website and then just think that you are going to begin selling things. No one knows your website even exists! You have to work your booty off to promote your work! Take advantage of social networking like Twitter and Facebook (if you don't know how to use these types of sites now is not the time to avoid them! Read up on it or have someone help you!) Every time I post something new online, or if I am running a promotion, I post it on Twitter and Facebook. Also, start a blog. Post pictures, stories, whatever you want on there, but you have to draw people in to you! Again, it won't matter if you have the most rockin' website in the world. If you don't show it to people, no one will know to look at it! Having said that, if you have never heard of "tags" or "keywords", you need to get to know these as well. They are your best friend and when used correctly will help your website will come up in search engines.

Cover your rear! You MUST create policies!! One very important thing artists forget about is business policies. Have a clear plan for how you will conduct business and encourage your customers to read it! How will you handle returns? What about if something doesn't fit? Who is responsible if the item is lost in the mail? How many days until you will mail their order? What kinds of payment are you willing to accept? You must try to see potential issues (it may help to think of your own personal experiences as a customer) and plan ahead! If you have policies in order you can protect your business from having to "eat losses".

Customer Service. Take the time to do special things. It is absolutely worth your while! Send personal, hand-written thank you notes, if a customer has had to wait for something, apologize and send them a free gift with their purchase. Any little thing you can think of to make them feel special, do it! Return (repeat) customers are the key to successful businesses!

Appearance is everything. I am sorry to say, but if it looks good it sells. Think of the stores, clothes, appliances, cars, packaging, ANYTHING that you are attracted to. What has attracted you to them? Find a physical style of "branding" (business cards, gift wrapping, label, packaging, etc.) that fits the style of your business and make it the BEST you can afford! It is worth spending extra money in this area and the answer is simple. The more "real", the more professional and upscale your presentation, the more people you will attract. This is because they will assume quality by the attention to details and it just looks better than the other "guy". If your presentation is lame, people will assume the same about your product. Of course, make sure your quality is good. If your work falls apart after 2 uses, no one is going to come back to you no matter how cool your shipping envelope looks!

The last thing I will mention is quality. Not because it's a new concept and I think you need enlightening but because it's much too important not to say. What you make, the materials you use and the quality of your piece all reflect you. They reflect you as an artist, as well as your business. All it takes is one person with one bad experience. Never underestimate word-of-mouth. Take great care in making all of your pieces, and stand behind them. You are nothing without your "fans"!

Well peeps! There was some valuable tips in this interview tonight. I must say, Sara really covered every possible detail that you should consider when starting up a business, (whatever that may be)

I want to continue to give you an inside look on Sara Thomas' designs by posting some photos.

The first two images are of items that I plan to get for myself. Let me know what you think!

If you've been thinking of starting up a business for 2010, I hope that this interview has given you the inspiration to go ahead and do it!!!

Click HERE to visit Sara's shop

Click HERE to visit Sara's blog


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