Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit


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Creating a Business Self-Portrait

The Right Brain Business Plan (RBBP) e-course is rolling into its 6th week. That puts us 3/4 of the way through the class. Hard to believe it has gone by so quickly…and that I haven’t been very good about keeping you up-to-date on my progress.

Last I wrote about the RBBP, I shared my business vision and the Vision Accordion Book that I created. Since then, we’ve tackled our business self-portrait, our target market, working the numbers, and determining sources of support.

The Business Self-Portrait

Developing our business self-portrait and business landscape was fun and challenging at the same time. This is where we determine where our business fits in the larger business landscape. We approached this from two directions, those things under our control (our strengths, challenges, and opportunities) and those things NOT under our control such as customers, trends, competition and barriers.

The self-portrait provided another opportunity to creatively paint a picture of my strengths, challenges, and opportunities. It was also a bit intimidating because we are asking questions about ourselves. While this is a hard task for anyone, I think it may be a bigger challenge for women because most of us are told not to talk about the things that we’re good at, not to talk about our successes and achievements. That is the sign of a bragger, an arrogant person, and an egotistical person.

Well, fat on that.

One way we were given to approach this task was to ask friends, family, associates, co-workers, and colleagues a series of questions such as “What three words would you use to describe me?” “What would you say are my natural gifts, strengths, and passions?” and “What would you say sets me apart from the crowd?”

It was humbling and heartwarming to receive people’s answers to those questions. Holding a mirror up to yourself is not easy. Asking people their opinion isn’t always easy either. However, the way you are seen in another person’s eyes can be very affirming.

Following another RBBP classmate’s lead, I entered the words and phrases into Wordle to create a word cloud. Then, inspired by those black construction paper silhouettes we had as kids,  I asked Eric to trace my head onto a large sheet of paper. This profile would become the centerpiece of my business self-portrait.

Business Self-Portrait

The self-portrait features the word collage in the center of my silhouette. Other components include my background and experience, skills and talents, customer quotes, opportunities and challenges.

Biz Self-Portrait Top Half

Biz Self-Portrait Bottom Half

The Wordle collage puts in bold typeface those words that appear most often. From this one might summarize that the words most often used to describe me are: knowledgeable, caring, creative, understanding, organizer, listener, thorough, and courage. These words give me insight into my strengths and skills and themes that could influence my business.

The Business Landscape

The business landscape is an on-going process. Creating the landscape requires a bit more detective work. It is here that you look at trends (social and economic), think about how big your market is, map out your target market, consider direct and indirect competition, take into consideration what you do well and barriers that you might encounter.

The fun apart this assignment is we can create SWAGs (Silly Wild Ass Guesses)  for those areas where we don’t have a definite answer right now. It is better to put down a SWAG than to get stuck and not move forward. And through research an answer, hopefully, will be found.

To help with this part of the process, I set up a fabric covered tri-fold foam core display board that I used long ago in my first art shows. At the top of the middle section, I’ve posted the name for this entire venture “The Creative Well.” This section is also for tracking trends and market information, including a map of Massachusetts and New England, information on population, numbers of polymer clay teachers in the area, and my business self-portrait.

The left panel is for information on the competition and potential collaborators. The right panel holds information on resources, such as places where I might be able to teach polymer clay classes. As I come across and collect information, it is added to the designated section with push pins or notes written on Post-it notes.

Biz Landscape Detective Board

I like this format because it is portable and collapsible. I keep the board on a shelf right across from my work table so I see it every day. When I add information or want to analyze the entire picture, I can lay it on the floor to get a good overview.

Next: Target markets and numbers


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Standing at Water’s Edge: Chapter 6

I apologize for not keeping up on my chapter reviews. The end of show season and upcoming holidays have sent my thoughts elsewhere. But, delay no more, here is the synopsis of Chapter 6.

Finding Comfort in Twins

In chapter 6, the shortest chapter thus far, Dr. Paris concludes her discussion on the three types of relationships that are important for creative types. So far, she has discussed “mirror” relationships and “hero” relationships. In this chapter the focus is on the “twin” relationship. That is, being with “like-kind.”

The twin (or “twinship” as Dr. Paris calls it) relationship is the relationship we have with people who are, essentially, going through the same thing(s) that we are. I’m sure you’ve experienced this type of relationship most often. This is the person who shares our same struggles and feelings.

In the twin relationship, we “connect with others who are experiencing the same things,” we feel “less alone” and freed to be more playful. This relationship also boosts our courage to immerse in creativity, comforts us when we’re stressed, and encourages us when we are filled with self-doubt.

Blocks and Fears

As in the previous two chapters on mirror and hero relationships, Dr. Paris provides examples of blocks and fears that may prevent the development of or the ability to sustain twin relationships.

Absence of Twinship Relationships

As always, we return to childhood, to those early relationships and how they impact our future development. In childhood, our first twin relationships might involve siblings, friends, or peers. Here we experience a sense of belonging. We feel part of a larger group.

Keep in mind that these experiences in childhood do not necessarily revolve around just any peer group. The others must be a good fit with the child’s temperament, physical, and emotional abilities and possibly life circumstances.

Successful early childhood experiences of twinship causes some people to readily seek out and establish these kinds of relationships in adulthood. However, for people who did not enjoy group experiences in childhood, developing these relationships as an adult is difficult. If the now adult person felt painfully different from others as a child, this identity of being different becomes established in adulthood. This leads to fear of exposing his/her “differentness” and subsequent retreat from peer and intimate relationships. And fear of exposure may inhibit one’s artistic endeavors.

Competitiveness

“Competition among peers can be a facilitating or an inhibiting force.”

I can relate to that statement because I hated competition as a child. And that feeling stemmed from a sense that I wasn’t good enough in the particular activity. Because I didn’t often feel a sense of accomplishment or success, it was easier for me to give-up or not try hard enough. You know “what’s the point, I’m just going to lose anyways” or “I’m not good enough.”

In this situation the perceived risk of failing in competition threatens one’s self esteem. It is safer to withdraw from competition than risk “annihilation of self-esteem and self confidence.” This often happens when the goal of the competition is about performance rather than process.

On the other hand, a competitive spirit can propel people to reach beyond their comfort zone. Seeing others take a “successful dive” can strengthen one’s hope that he/she can take a risk and achieve. Here a person may stretch beyond her fears in order to keep up with others.

Guides

This short chapter ends with two suggestions for creating or enhancing the twinship relationship

1. Seek out twinship relationships. Do you have a presence in a twinship group, a group of like-minded people? Consider taking classes, joining an art association or writer’s group.

2. Explore your past history with twinship relationships. Think about your peer groups as a child.

Join Me

I invite you to join me as I read Standing at Water’s Edge. You can purchase the book through Amazon, Dr. Paris’s web site, or perhaps find it at your local library or bookstore. My goal is to post every 7-10 days a summary of the chapter and share any a-ha moments that occurred. I welcome your comments on this and successive posts. Share your a-ha moments and experiences while reading the book. You can join in at any time. If you have a blog and are also writing about your experiences with this book, please include a link to your blog in your comment. I’ll include your blogs at the end of my posts.

Book Outline

Standing at Water’s Edge is divided into three parts with 10 chapters as follows:

Part 1: The Secret World of Creativity
Chapter 1: The Secret World of Creativity
Chapter 2: The Light and Dark of Immersion

Part II: Relationships
Chapter 3: The Need for Others
Chapter 4: Finding Strength in Mirrors
Chapter 5: Finding Inspiration in Heroes
Chapter 6: Finding Comfort in Twins
Chapter 7: Connecting with the Audience and Meeting Deadlines

Part III: Stages of the Creative Process
Chapter 8: Approaching Immersion
Chapter 9: Diving In
Chapter 10: Coping with Disengagement and Reentry


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Tuesday’s Business: Know the Competition

Sometimes, when we enter into a small art business, we think “Hey, I’ve got this great idea.” We create our art, put together a dazzling display, take it to a show, and then, lo and behold, you find someone two booths down is doing the same thing as you!

Maybe the material is different or the colors, and their prices may be lower or higher. Yet similarities exist between your work and theirs.

Say “hello” to your competition.

Unless you work in a vacuum and never take your art outside your home, chances are someone out there is making the same or something similar to the art you make. It happens. We take influences from a variety of resources. Some say there is no such thing as a truly original idea, just a different way to present it. And when you enter into a small business (or any business for that matter) you need to determine who your competition is and how you can “stay on top of the game.”

Find and Define the Competition

In order to find the competition, think about the venues where you sell (or want to sell) your work: retail shows, art galleries and consignment stores, Etsy, Wholesalecrafts.com, area guilds. When you visit these venues, whose work most closely resembles your work? How is it similar? Think about the physical aspects and pricing. How is it different?

Write it all down. I created a chart in my notebook to use when I check out other artists on Wholesalecrafts.com who also make wine bottle stoppers or business card cases.

Now take it a little further.

Ask yourself what does your competition do better than you. Again, consider their technique, price, and quality. Other areas to consider are their marketing, packaging, and display. You may not be able to answer all these aspects; though at a show you could certainly ask the other artist about their display or packaging or even marketing and in art galleries and stores you can get an idea of how the other artist handles the packaging of his/her work.

This is a good time to really think about and analyze your work as a whole, from the product to the packaging to how you market it.

Finding Opportunities

Once you’ve looked at all these aspects, try to determine what opportunities your competition leaves open for you. Are there other venues to consider? Is there a different market to target? Do they only sell in a certain geographic area, or only use certain colors?

I understand some of this may seem speculative. In essence you are doing a bit of research and sometimes in research you have to make hypotheses. At the same time, this type of research may also trigger an a-ha moment for you which will lead you down a path you had not considered before. And it will also give you the opportunity to think about how to make your art even better.

The intent here is to differentiate yourself from your competition. When you understand who your competition is, you can begin to develop ways to distinguish yourself from them.

Next Week: Know your customers/collectors