A while back, I ran a survey for CMBA readers about which business topics they were most interested in learning about, and marketing was at the top. That’s not really surprising. It’s easy to view marketing as the magic bullet to running a successful business. But I don’t think lack of marketing prowess is what’s keeping most craft businesses from making money.
The problem isn’t marketing, it’s mindset.
I think there is this prevailing mindset in the crafts community that it’s not ok to want to make a lot of money. I don’t know if it’s the starving artist myth, the idea that we shouldn’t get paid well to pursue things we love, or that the creative community tends to attract political liberals (myself included) who view the unchecked pursuit of profits as the root cause for much of the world’s suffering.
But I’m not talking about completely unchecked profits. Quite the opposite. I’m talking about crafts businesses that are struggling to make the kind of profit that could provide a basic living for the owners and their families. The kind of profit that allows you to get out of debt and live a life of abundance. The kind of profit that allows us to have a political presence and become a viable, visible alternative to big box retailers and mass-produced junk.
The crafts community has so many positive attributes, but embracing the importance of profit isn’t one of them. I want that to change. I want us to talk about money. I want us to feel good pursuing growth and profits. I want us to look at profit as the logical result of running a business.
I want to create a culture of profit within the crafts community.
In his book The 1% Windfall, Rafi Mohammed outlines the two basic principles that form the foundation of a culture of profit:
1. Be confident about the value your product provides.
2. Embrace the idea that it is ok to make a profit.
In order for each of us to make our businesses (and the greater community) into a culture of profit, we need to get comfortable talking about unique value our products provide. We have to articulate what makes our products unique and valuable to the customer. As Mohammed says in The 1% Windfall, we have to gain the ability to say, “Here’s why we are so proud of our product and why customers should buy it over the competition.” And we have to say it out loud, over and over again. (And this goes for both your individual products and the greater craft/design/indie community in general.)
We have to get over the idea that talking about our products like this makes us boastful, or a pushy sales person. Instead, you need to view this as providing a service for the customer. Your job is to help your customers understand why your product is the right choice for them. You need to help them see what differentiates your product from all the other alternatives. If you can’t stand up and articulate what makes your product great, how can you expect anyone else to?
(Two side points about this:
- Words and actions are both important here. I’ve said before that use is one of the best forms of marketing, and I think wearing and using your products is an important step. But so is being able to clearly articulate, again and again, why your product provides the most benefits for your customers.
- If you can’t naturally talk about why you are proud of your products and what value they provide, then you need to practice. A lot. Make a list of the benefits your product or business provides. Then practice saying it. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice in front of friends and family. Practice in front of a video camera. (And when you get really comfortable, post that video online.) Practice until you are comfortable saying to a stranger at a party, “This is what I make, and this is why I’m proud of it.”)
And perhaps even more importantly, we need to get over the (completely limiting) idea that pursuing profit is bad. Mohammed writes, “Companies are in business to make profits and are entitled to do so.” Let me repeat that.
Companies are in business to make profits and are entitled to do so.
For some reason, the crafts community seems to have this taboo around talking about money and profits. If you open the pages of any business-related magazine or newspaper, you see it filled with numbers. Businesses don’t seem to be shy about sharing their quarterly earnings or latest round of venture capital funding. (To be fair, this is public knowledge of publicly traded companies, but there are many privately held companies featured in these publications that also share these stats.) Yet this doesn’t seem to trickle into craft-based companies.
There are many factors that contribute to this, but I think I major one is this unspoken rule that crafters aren’t supposed to make a lot of money. Why is this? Are you a business or not? Because if you are a business, then it is your JOB to make a profit.
But for some reason we don’t talk about this. We talk about all the other reasons to run a craft-based business – to create high quality products, because we are passionate about a technique or product, or because we want to bring beauty into the world. But it’s hard to get us to say that we want to make money. Some would argue that you don’t start a crafts business to make money, but I think that’s a ridiculous stereotype. Yes, perhaps it’s not the easiest route to riches, but that doesn’t make it impossible.
And changing that stereotype starts with us. It’s time to acknowledge that not only are we in business to make profit, but we are entitled to do so. We need to stop viewing ourselves as starving artists, and start owning the idea that we can and will make money. We need to start pricing our products for profit (not break-even.) We need to take a hard look at the numbers to know where and when we’re making money.
We need to embrace a culture of profit.
I understand that for many people, embracing the idea that it is ok to want to make a profit is going to take some time. It’s going to take a fundamental shift in the way many of us think about and relate to money. But that’s ok. I’m in it for the long haul. I’m making it my mission to create a culture of profit within the crafts community.
And to kick-start that mission, I’m declaring this week Profit Week here on CMBA. I’ll be spending the rest of the week talking about different ways to embrace the idea of profit, and how to start working that idea into the core of your business.
I want all of us to run incredibly successful craft businesses, and the more we talk about, and acknowledge the importance of, profit, the closer we get to that goal.