Friday, February 26, 2010

Creative Business Ideas

Snow Snow Snow

It seems like everyone else got snow this winter except us. We were seeing the ground in most places but Tuesday winter announced, in a very loud voice, "I am still here." Majestic and beautiful. Be sure to watch my video at the end of this post.

I want to talk about the Breaking into Business workshop, sponsored by the Vermont Arts Council, that I took Valentine's Day weekend. Led by Maren Brown and Dee Boyle-Clapp, the first day focused on marketing strategies and the second day on writing a business plan. As you know, I have been trying different ways to get my weavings out in the world, and I thought the comment by Neki Desu to my February 12th post, was very apt. One of the things Maren and Dee told us about were online surveys, like the ones offered by SurveyMonkey, where you can query your clients about almost anything. I had an ahha moment when I realized, I can ask you directly, right here, to help me figure some things out. So my first question is:
What can I offer that would get you to pay me money for it?

I am not saying that I will follow all suggestions, after all, I am always teaching my students to take what I say, or anyone else says, put it in a basket, and throw it in the air, like rice being separated from chaff. If it is relevant it will stick, if not, let it blow away. However, I will definitely listen, and try to "put on" all the suggestions. If something fits, I will try it. That was what my silent auction was--an attempt. When it didn't work, I took it away. I learned something--that is not the way.

I will say that in the two weeks since the workshop, and after having such a positive experience with students in Fibers at UMass-Dartmouth, I am thinking that I should increase the number of workshops I am willing to do each year, traveling to schools to do these short, intense lecture/workshop/critiques, and separate any commercial pressure from my studio weaving. This is what I did in the past, when I taught full-time, and it allowed me to create work that was labor-intensive, personal, and creative. I never allowed the thought, "who will buy this?" to enter into the equation. I am enjoying doing functional weaving for my own use--it is a daily thrill to see my own curtains hanging in the living room; the new tablecloth fabric is woven and just waiting to be cut off the loom--but I don't want to divert my art work into this direction.

Another idea that is changing is my offer of tutorial teaching. When I first moved here, it felt fine to share my looms with students for a short time--and I had absolutely fantastic experiences with all the students that have come here. But now that I want to focus on a body of work for my show in January, I don't feel I can interrupt the work on my loom for others to do work on it. In fact, I have had to turn people away for just that reason. Perhaps I can set aside specific time each year and offer tutoring during that time? What do you think?

We all have bills to pay, daily expenses for food, heat, shelter, gas, medical, taxes, and those constant surprising miscellaneous items which never stop coming just when you think you are going to have a cushion. I already have the loom of my dreams. Honestly, my needs are modest. (But modest in the USA is like funding a village in other parts of the world.) So readers, please send me your suggestions, either comment here or send me an email, and help me find ways to keep my studio practice true to itself, and still pay my bills.

I want to mention a few other things.
I broke down and signed up for Facebook. I have two accounts. One is a business page:
Bhakti Ziek - Weaver
You can sign up there and become a "fan." Just to show me some support.
The other is a personal page:
Bhakti Ziek
You can invite me to be your "friend" and I will confirm. We all need all the friends we can get, right?

The other thing is that was mentioned in the workshop, and then I heard from Margarita Benitez about her Kickstarter project. For all those who have been interested in jacquard weaving, but feel left out because of the expense of the looms, this project is just for you. Please go to her site and pledge money. She has 64 days left to raise her $10,000 goal. If she raises less than that, she gets nothing; if she raises more, she gets it all. An open source loom is a win for all of us, not just her. Please read more and get the word out to other interested people.

Finally, here is my latest video. I posted one on my Facebook page and nobody commented. Maybe because it had a red background. Try this one--blue.

Randolph Snow - Blue by Bhakti Ziek


  1. I have always found that making work "to sell" is a dodgy business, frequently resulting in poor quality work with diluted vision. And yet I have lived for many years on the sale of my artwork. I also believe that when you do work that sings clearly the song you meant it to sing, others hear it, respond, and then maybe buy it. All of this worked pretty well, some good years, a few hard ones, until the crash of 2008. Then it seemed that nothing would sell at any price no matter how beautiful it might be.

    But I have respected my relationships with the mortals who have to sell my work (why did I say mortal? not to imply that I am other, but to remind myself that they are human and can make mistakes -- but they have the tools to sell your work) and those relationships are my own way to get this work out to the world. Monday I sally forth and begin re-connecting with some of those people with visits, showings, whatever it takes. I think the economy, like spring, is stirring a bit and although I expect it to be fully different, it will be easier to get the work out there once again.

    As for Facebook, great way to stay in touch easily with what other artists are up to, but I still doubt that it changes the bottom line. I look forward to hearing about your experiences through that!

  2. Working stiff that I am, I am probably not your target market, Bhakti. But I will share that I am just about always willing to support handmade (shell out money) for gifts - and just about never spend on myself and our own house since I feel like I should save the money and make something or make do... can't justify spending several hundred dollars on art or a workshop for myself but will spend that "in increments" throughout the year on gifts for friends and family, if that makes sense.

    If you had something smaller in the $30-60 range (coasters, wall hangings, bookmarks, prints or your artwork, whatever) that could easily be bought online, I think many people in your network would purchase since we all appreciate your talent, skill, and creative voice. But again, that may not be where you want to be business/art-wise.

    Enjoyed the movie. Everything is quieter after a good snowstorm.

  3. Bhakti, I love the weaving of your home. Would it be practical to offer to weave keepsake weavings of family homes as family gifts? There might be a market there. Of course, how to promote the ideas is something else.

  4. Have you considered tutoring over the web for those of us who do not live in the USA?

  5. A while back you offered an art piece - "make me an offer" - I believe, and no one did. Who knew what to offer that 1) wasn't insulting, or 2) wasn't the going market rate. I would think that a range of offerings at different price points might be helpful to the consumer, regardless of marketplace. Or perhaps or in addition to, a range of price points aimed at a particular market/web site (lower prices for the XXX market/web site, higher prices for the XXX market/web site). Isn't that what happens with the gallery scene (at least in the beginning--consignments first, then larger galleries with outright purchases)? I once indicated an interest in a piece an instructor had, and she said, "see me later." Well, now in a near panic, I asked a few more knowledgeable students what they thought might be the price, and several of them named a range that seemed quite reasonable and one I could afford. The instructor wisely waited for me to bring it up later, and we made a sale just a bit higher than what I had anticipated but which was still comfortable for me. --Sue in MA

  6. I don't know how much teaching you're doing at the various New England guilds or how much that interests you.

    I wonder if you could do something like what Vavstuga does with your weaving equipment at certain times of year. So people could use fabulous looms that are out of reach financially, but only at certain times so you don't get interrupted in your own work too much.

    Good luck sorting through the right mix of options.


  7. Bhakti--

    I know that I speak for Dee as well when I say that I am really impressed that you immediately implemented the idea you discussed in our workshop in Rutland. I hope these comments have given you some new ideas and ways to think expansively about your artist business. Congratulations on taking the first steps!