About 2 years ago (a bit after I discovered my love for letterpress printing), I decided to enroll in the WBDC’s “Jumpstart Your Business” series of classes. In general I’m an over-planner, over-thinker, over-organizer, and over-methodizer, but not yet an over-acheiver. At least that’s how I see things. So, rather than just jump right into the fray as it seems many other letterpressers-turned-entrepreneurs do, I decided to try and make an educated stab at starting my own business. I’m not entirely sure which is the better method for this particular “industry” (and I use the term loosely; you’ll see why a bit later), as here I sit all this time later and not much further along as a business owner. Sure, I’ve made great advances in my letterpress designs, my printing skills, my aquisition of equipment, my e-commerce store, and other such things. But does this really count as being “profitable” in the business world as opposed to my own creative and emotional state? Not a chance.
During the class series, I learned some good things about target marketing, financing, cash flow analysis, and industries. What I also learned, or re-learned, was that the world (or humanity, actually) seems very intent on categorization and pigeon holeing, and that there is no “business model” for creativity. Want to open a grocery store? There’s a plan for that. Want to run a dry cleaning business? Here’s how you finance, market, and project income/expenses. Want to be successful creating art, writing songs, or hand crafting letterpress greeting cards? Yeeaahh…not so much. It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just that there’s no plan for certain success. It makes sense because creating art of any sort requires creativity and talent, which isn’t really a tangible or reliable supply. Whether or not people will pay your for your creations is also mostly due to taste and subjectivity, though you can do some swaying with good marketing. I learned this once before when my old band made a stab at rockstardom: it’s possible (and likely) that a lot of bands don’t “make it” because they just suck, but equally likely is that they’re unwilling or unable to dedicate the vast amount of time and energy it takes to market, schmooze, and create buzz for their product. I’d like to think that our failure falls into the latter category, but I digress…
My point here is that it’s very hard to nail down a marketing strategy for your own creativity (and it tends to feel icky), and it’s even harder to try and figure out what “industry” your creativity falls into. One of the first things to do when writing a business plan, apparently, is to identify where your business idea fits into the North American Industry Classification System. This seems like a really good idea, because once matched with your magical industry number you’ll have an easier time researching your market, competition, operations, and finances. However, what do you do when your business idea includes thinking of a card design, drawing it, having plates made, manufacturing paper, printing it on said paper, selling it wholesale, distributing it, AND selling it retail? Not to mention the possibility of designing custom goods for other people. Here’s the (extremely exciting) list of industries Tweedle Press could possibly fall into:
322121 Paper Mills
541430 Graphic Design Services
323119 Other Commercial Printing
511191 Greeting Card Publishers
424120 Stationery and Office Supplies Merchant Wholesalers
454111 Electronic Shopping
Besides the fact that having your hand crafted letterpress babies reduced to “Other Commercial Printing” (sexy!) is just depressing, writing a separate business plan for each of those industries would be enough to drive anyone nuts. When I tried explaining this 2 years ago to a business plan counselor, she suggested trying to see if there were any parts of my business that could be eliminated or “farmed out.” This is a perfectly logical idea, except when talking to an independent, control freak artist. Why couldn’t I just design the cards and have someone else print them? I could, but that’s not the point. Why couldn’t I just print cards designed by someone else? Again, not the point. Why couldn’t I just sell cards designed and/or printed by someone else? SO not the point. Frustrated by the inability of a business-minded person to understand my drive to be successful with my art, I pretty much gave up on the plan.
However, now that I’ve gotten together everything that I need to design, print, package, market, and sell my products – I find myself flailing around a little bit trying to figure out how to take things to the next level. What is it that I need now? A business plan. So, once again I’m diving into the picking apart, analyzing, projecting, and compartmentalization of my letterpress babies. I’m working on a rough draft of the plan, and next week I’m set to meet with another business counselor. Hopefully, this time I’ll be a little more willing to do what needs to be done, and I’ll be a little better at explaining what I’m trying to do. And maybe, just MAYBE, eventually I can be a successful business owner AND feel creatively satisfied. Wouldn’t that be something.
Pulp & Press Soundtrack 4/17/09: Andrew Bird (Fitz and the Dizzyspells)