Becoming an Overnight Artisan Success in Only 5 Years

When someone is touted as a wunderkind in any line of work, many line up to try and figure out how success was achieved. So many become disheartened when their passion or education does not produce immediate results. While most recognize that success does not come over night, it is not at all uncommon for an artist or artisan to go from unknown to well known in a short amount of time. Achieving recognition, however, is a cumulative process. How does one go about doing so on a shortened time horizon?

Fundamentally, an entrepreneur in this space must be willing to undergo wholesale change. It’s not enough to become masterful at creating great designs; without the corresponding strategies to maximize business operations and processes, success will be hard to come by. Too few artisan entrepreneurs take the time and make the effort to understand that sweet convergence of operational, artistic, and marketing opportunities. Those who do create value that is appreciated by the target market.

If you seek to identify and serve target buyers with relevant offerings, create cross promotions with other artisans and handmade entrepreneurs, and craft an airtight plan to execute your strategies, you will be far ahead of the average artisan. Hopefully, your artisan start-up will resonate with the target market, sales revenues will provide the opportunity to grow your team, and you can become strategic about roles and responsibilities. In addition to your design, production, and sales efforts, you will need to task team members with the following responsibilities:

  • strategy
  • vision
  • marketing
  • advertising
  • social media
  • partnerships
  • scheduling
  • logistics

artisan potterObviously, one person cannot handle all of these important roles for very long. That’s precisely why a focus on sales, production, and design early will help create the capital structure to build a team.

If the skill sets listed above are foreign to you as an artisan, you are not alone. Those with degrees in the fine arts, and related disciplines have been prepared to pursue a skill, but not necessarily a business. More importantly, planning, confidence, and diligence go a long ways towards helping you execute on your idea. Since many artisans are not prepared through educational instruction to be proficient in such things as negotiation and team work, they have to learn these things from a mentor. Please find a suitable mentor with a background different form your own who understand business principles well enough to guide you into disciplines that are needful but likely unfamiliar!

Basic business principles in marketing, communications, customer service, selling, and relationship management are undervalued in the art and design community. Disciplining yourself to learn and apply nest practices in each of these principles will yield wonderful results. Very, very few artisan entrepreneurs are able to transition from hobby to avocation to employing others. For you to be more successful, you must work on the business side of your brain, engaging more left brain convergent thinking.

Friends who have been successful in the arts community have told me that, not unlike big businesses, change is hard for an artist. The willingness to tinker with what you make, how you describe it, who you make it for, how you determine who will buy it, how you promote your wares, how you replicate success, and how to transition from sole proprietor to small business are all based on being able to hold your talent with an open palm. Objectively stepping back from your creations to seriously consider who may appreciate them will, by nature, cause you to think differently about what you are making, how you are making, and what it will take to sell enough to pay not just yourself but others.

Best wishes on your journey!



Ingenuity Expressed in Art(isan) Entrepreneurship

John Bogle, founder of Vanguard mutual funds, attended Princeton University and was fascinated with entrepreneurship. In his senior thesis in 2006, he cites Joseph Schumpeter as the first economist to recognize how start-ups are so vital to the national economy. Schumpeter was understood to advocate for the fact that entrepreneurs are motivated by the following two characteristics (more so than materialism):

  1. “The joy of creating, of getting things done, of simply exercising one’s energy and ingenuity,”  and
  2. “The will to conquer: the impulse to fight,…to succeed for the sake, not of the fruits of success, but of success itself.”

Certainly, these characteristics are resonators for many entrepreneurs; perhaps most especially so for art(isan) ones. What? Art(isan) entrepreneurs? What is meant by this juxtaposition of terms? Heretofore, many have considered the creative types to be an island unto themselves, rather that a subset of he entrepreneurial movement that is sweeping our land. Yet, if we were to characterize creative types as right brain entrepreneurs and those who pursue STEM education, career opportunities, and new enterprises as left brain, we can create a new construct that is helpful to understand how to encourage the greater number of people to flourish in what is generally regarded as the Creative Age, successor to the Information Age.

Creative thought processes may be said to represent divergent thinking at its essence–the ability to hold an idea without passing judgment of any type. Systematic and analytical processes, therefore, tend towards convergent thinking-a deliberate effort to arrive at a conclusion based on facts and data. In the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina, we are seeing nothing short of an epic surge of entrepreneurial fervor, much of it trumpeted as helping our economy–both local and beyond–to improve through enhanced job creation, capital flow, and value creation. Yet, virtually all of the media attention is on savvy technology start-ups that seem to rely almost exclusively on the left brain mindset.

Thankfully, there are overlaps such as the digital art required for serious gaming that brings the two sides of the brain together. Outside of such obvious blends of thinking modes, most who inhabit the incubators, accelerators, and entrepreneurial playgrounds of our region are tuned out as to how art(isan) talent can establish entrepreneurial enterprises. 

The art(isan) population has been challenged to find itself, both locally and nationally, as economic recession has caused many galleries, academies, and the like to cut back on programs, space, and staff. Those who have graduated with degrees in various creative fields from design to fashion, studio arts to music, have found employment hard to come by. In times past, many graduates became instructors in the arts or pursued employment in businesses that served entertainment venues. In order for the creative class to find optimal professional engagement, however, new ways will need to be discovered to help art(isan) entrepreneurs convert their passions into their professions. Like a hero on a journey (think of epics like The Odyssey), artists and artisans must set out to manifest her ideals in her creation. 

Creative types do not need skills training from career development types in order to become successful (and more readily accepted) entrepreneurs. What they need is to find people who appreciate their contributions. Just as indie music has shown huge demand for music that is not recorded in an album format, carried on mainstream radio, and performed in huge concert venues, there exist niches for virtually every type of created expression if the artist/artisan will labor to identify the target market. 

The opportunity to showcase one’s talent in a coffee shop, a multi-artisan boutique, or a street show are all vital to artisan entrepreneurship. By inviting others to experience one’s proof of concept, feedback can be gleaned that shapes the creative offerings going forward. Once enough traction is gained within a target market, the artisan can make decisions about what part of the production and delivery of talent she wants to play without fear of being unable to earn a living just as powerfully as any other entrepreneur.

Artisan holiday support

Fashion Entrepreneurship Lessons

Last night in Raleigh, North Carolina, there was a great convergence of people interested in fashion and design with others interested in fostering entrepreneurship. The Raleigh Emerging Designers Innovation Incubator (REDii) Launch Party was held at Solas restaurant and lounge on Glenwood South. Approximately 300 people turned out for the three hour event, which featured Kitty Kinin from local radio station 100.7, the River, as emcee. During the course of the gala, there was a fashion show with over 20 designers featuring their work, a silent auction for a live painting of the event, and much power networking to be enjoyed. The goal of the evening was to raise money for the support of the new REDii space at 131 S Wilmington St and its participants.

EntreDot, the not-for-profit who is responsible for the event and the incubator, seeks to supply retail display space for emerging designers locally in the apparel, jewelry, handbag, and related category niche(s) with a caveat: the designers will be more successful if enrolled in some educational courses on entrepreneurial best practices and paired with a mentor. Accordingly, as is mentioned on the website:, those who are approved to exhibit their designs are required to sign up for assistance. The intent is to wed right brain and left brain competencies and mindsets to create something wonderful and, in the process, become a catalyst in the establishment of a Fashion District in Raleigh which, while it may not be as tight geographically as some of the fashion destinations across the country, will unite the community around great design elements and the opportunity to both buy local and support talent that may otherwise migrate elsewhere.

Brigid Sweeney, writing last month in Crain’s Chicago Business, featured the story of the Gilt Groupe and some lessons learned by its founders, Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. Sweeney describes their story as follows:

The two young women, who met as Harvard University undergrads and reconnected at Harvard Business School in 2002, launched Gilt Groupe in 2007 as a way to bring designer sample sales online. In the process, they upended the way women shop and made 11 a.m. Central time (the moment new merchandise goes up daily) a witching hour for corporate women, who click over from Excel sheets and status reports to snag pieces from Carolina Herrera, Dolce & Gabbana, Zac Posen, et al. Ms. Maybank and Ms. Wilson also created a New York-based company that’s now valued at $1 billion, has more than 1,000 employees and runs sales in 36 cities in 14 countries.

In the course of her interview with Ms. Wilson, Sweeney was able to tease out some words of wisdom from her. Wilson feels the lessons below are important to any start-up business, but especially a fashion one:

  1. Relationships matter,
  2. Take calculated risks,
  3. Seek mentors who can help you recognize whether you have the right idea at the right time, and
  4. Seek out partners with complementary, not necessarily similar, personalities.

The folks at EntreDot are attempting to reinforce these principles with the REDii target crowd. During the event, it was noted that not enough well-heeled investor-types were present to maximize either the fundraising effort or the introductions to talented designers who, upon completion of their training, will need access to capital in most cases.  In our community, angel and venture capital has been raised successfully for life science and technology companies. it will be a wonderful day to witness when the same can be said of the local fashion and design entrepreneurship niche! Please support this effort through introductions, volunteering as a mentor or instructor, or sponsorship as you are able.