It’s at moments like this that I wish I had a klaxon.
Or a vuvuzela.
But thanks to that pesky noise abatement order I don’t.
So I’ll just calmly and quietly say enrollment for my new class, What Retailers Want, is now open – click here for the details.
This class springs from my experience as an artist and an entrepreneur, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be creative and successful.
Here’s what I know:
1. 99% of being successful in a creative industry is not packing it in when things suck.
There will be times, and you might be in one right now, where you’ll want to sweep everything off your desk and throw it in the bin.
The urge to do this can be overpowering.
When it feels like no-one’s even a tiny bit interested in what you do, you can get so frustrated and angry that you just want to smash something.
Sometimes the nearest thing to hand is your business.
If you want to be successful you have to resist that temptation.
Sit on your hands if you have to. Eat some Wotsits. Don’t give up.
2. Your art isn’t frivolous
It doesn’t matter whether you make birthday cards or huge installations out of steel, ice and blood.
If you’ve got the ability to make art, there are people in the world who need you to make it.
These are the people who look at your work and quietly say to themselves “You too? I thought it was just me.”
That’s what your art is for. That’s why it’s so important.
3. The life you want isn’t a stupid dream
You have a picture of what your life will be like when you’re successful, right?
It’s the one where they’re writing about you on big blogs and magazines.
The one where the buyers at Liberty ask you to come in and show them your new collection.
The one you pay off the final installment of your student loan and then take your entire family out for pizza.
Tell me why those things can’t happen.
Why can’t that be your actual life?
We’ve put people on the moon. We’ve built the Large Hadron Collider.
We learned how to walk upright, make fire and invented the scotch egg .
So why can’t you, with all your gifts and talents and that crazily smart brain of yours, make your business work?
Someone, somewhere in the world has figured out how to fix the problems and challenges you’re facing right now.
You’ll figure it out too.
Whether or not you decide to join us for What Retailers Want (and there’s a lot of help with this if you do,) that’s really what I want you realise.
You’ll figure it out.
Today I’d like to tell you about a mistake I once made.
It was big, expensive and frankly it still smarts, even though it was a long time ago.
No, it actually isn’t the wet-look dress I wore to my senior dance in 1995, but thanks for bringing that up.
The story goes like this.
We realised we needed help with a particular aspect of our business, so we looked around and found Expert A.
She looked amazing. Great website, lots of testimonials and an excellent track record. We thought she could fix this for us.
So we signed up and handed over a lot of money.
She asked us to send her information about our business so I pulled together everything we’d been working on.
This amounted to a lot of stuff.
We’d been talking about this particular challenge for a long time and had approached it in many different ways. There were graphs and charts and profiles and ideas we’d scribbled on the back of receipts.
I cleaned it all up and sent it over to her.
Then we waited, and waited and waited.
At first it was a relief to feel that our problem was being taken care of, but as time went on we got frustrated. We needed a solution and she wasn’t coming up with any answers.
The due date for the project came and went. Nothing.
We emailed her to ask where our solution was. She reacted angrily then complained about us to her friends on twitter.
Eventually she agreed to complete our project and offered us a small reduction in the balance of her fee.
We paid up. We opened her attachment. Our hearts broke in half.
All she’d done was re-write the information we’d given her. The rest of her report could’ve been about any business, anywhere.
There were no solutions we hadn’t already thought of ourselves.
We took two lessons from this experience.
The first is that there’s always another bottle of wine in the cupboard under the stairs.
It might be right at the back, under a pile of coats and a dismembered rowing machine.
It might be perilously close to something used to strip paint.
But if your motivation is strong enough, you’ll find it and drink it.
The second lesson is this:
No-one is more of an expert on your business than you.
Once we realised this we easily found the professional help we needed and have never looked back.
You know your business at a cellular level because you invented it.
You conjured it up and gave it a name. You’re the one who makes your lovely thing.
You’re the expert.
Other people can teach you and give advice, but you’re the only one who knows your business at its deepest level.
And you’re the only one who can fix it.
So with that in mind, I’m going to ask you a big question.
What do you need to do to make twice as much money?
Let me just tune into your brain for a second and channel some answers.
Ah, yes. Here we go.
1. Start selling more stuff
Your brain has this radical idea that you’ll double your revenue if you sell more items.
But hang on. Maybe there’s something stopping you from selling your work as effectively as possible.
Are you pitching your lovely thing to retailers on a regular basis?
Are your product photos and descriptions laser-targeted to your particular customer?
Do you know how to sell your work in a way that feels good, so you actually enjoy doing it?
If you’re thinking “HELL NO” right now, these are things you need to fix if you want to double your income.
2. Stop leaving money on the table
Your brain says some of the things you do cost you cash.
It’s rather insistent on this point.
Maybe you’re not following up with the retailers you pitch to because you’re scared you’ll look pushy.
Maybe you’re not getting in touch with existing stockists when you have new items.
Maybe you’re wasting your time by sending submissions to the wrong stores.
Whatever you’re doing (or not doing,) your brain says you’d have a lot more money if you fixed this stuff.
In fact, your brain says that if you sorted out these issues you’d probably do a lot better than simply doubling your revenue, because these kinds of solutions tend to stack up.
Okay, your brain is now making some suggestions about what you might choose to spend that extra income on.
Melted cheese seems to be a theme.
3. Stop thinking “I can’t do this.”
I think we just hit a nerve.
Your brain wants me to be very clear about this.
You can make your business work in the way you want it to.
You can make twice as much money, starting right now.
You don’t have to shrink your dreams and settle for what you can get.
If you know you need to work on your buyers’ pack, go and do that.
If you know you need to switch from consignment to getting paid upfront by your stockists, go and do that.
Fix what you know you need to fix.
I think what your brain is trying to say here is:
You’re smarter and stronger than you think you are.
Now, it’s all very well to say something pithy like “you’re smarter than you think you are,” but what if that’s a little too big-picture for your current situation?
What if you’re thinking “I know what I need to fix in my wholesale business, but I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO IT.”
If you need more details, meet me back here at 10am on Tuesday.
I’m wondering if you can help me with something. I have this huge mental block about selling my work.
The idea of asking people for money makes me feel weird and icky. Kind of grubby or something.
I’m trying to get stores interested in my work but whenever it’s time to send a submission I just can’t bring myself to do it.
I actually don’t know what to say to customers or retailers. I’m scared it’ll just sound like shameless self-promotion.
I want to make things happen for my business but I can’t seem to get past this and it’s making me sad.
I do indeed have some thoughts, but bear with me while I wrap you in this blanket, hand you this cup of hot chocolate and put this kitten on your knee.
He’s contractually obliged to curl up and purr in a comforting manner.
Now bear with me while I go and rip someone’s head off.
Whoever came up with the phrase “shameless self-promotion” had better enjoy their final moments of looking good in hats.
That phrase is toxic to artists and entrepreneurs – we’ll get to why in a minute.
But first, let me ask you something.
When you were watching Coronation Street last night and the adverts came on, did you kick the screen in rage?
When you’re out for dinner and the waitress asks if you want to see the dessert menu, do you pour your wine over her head and stick the flower arrangement in her ear?
The next time you go to the airport and you have to walk through Duty Free, are you planning to stage a sit-in until they take away all the cigarettes and bottles of Tresor?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
That’s because you’re comfortable being a buyer.
All the buyer has to do is choose. Whether you’re buying a house or a packet of crisps, that’s your job.
The seller’s job is simple too. All they have to do is convince you to choose their stuff.
Their brand of toothpaste, their pocket reading light, their venue for your wedding reception.
Now, we all moan about sellers from time to time.
We get annoyed when they send us junk mail or interrupt Game of Thrones to go on about their false lash effect mascara.
But in most cases we’re not annoyed on principle and we’re not annoyed all the time.
If we’re not interested in what a seller has to offer, we just change the channel, recycle the flyer or say we’ve decided to skip dessert.
We’re not angry with the waitress.
We’re not shocked that she had the audacity to offer us desserts.
We don’t want to strike her from the face of the earth for suggesting the creme caramel.
So here’s my first bit of advice.
If you feel icky about being a seller, start observing how buyers react when they’re offered things they don’t want.
Make a note of all the times you see a potential customer hulk out and punch a wall because some guy at the supermarket offers them a sample of cheese.
It will be a very short list.
Now let’s talk about your particular buyers.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be under the impression that every potential customer you come across is going to be a very hard sell.
Like, they’re staggering towards a ice-cold bottle of Evian after six days of being lost in the desert, and you’re mithering about in the background trying to sell them an upgrade on their car insurance.
You seem to think that they couldn’t give a toss about your work, and that it’s your job to convince them otherwise.
Oh, how to put this?
YOU’RE EXTREMELY WRONG.
Sorry, did my booming voice wake the kitten? I’m sure those claw marks will heal in no time.
You are, though. Very.
The customers who come your way are already interested in what you do.
Something about you has grabbed their attention.
If it hadn’t, they wouldn’t bother visiting your trade show stand or your website. They wouldn’t be examining your work, or flicking through your portfolio or reading your about page.
Retailers who stock products which are similar to yours count as interested too. There’s evidence to suggest they’d welcome you getting in touch.
When you see things from that perspective, everything gets easier.
You’re not trying to foist your work onto random passers-by – you’re giving potential buyers access to things they’re already interested in.
And it’s your job to make that process as easy and simple as you can.
So part two of my advice for de-icking selling is to get the hell out of your own head and into your customer’s.
Yeah, you might feel a little weird about this whole commerce thing, but so what?
To be blunt, your feelings aren’t actually what’s important here.
Your customer’s feelings, on the other hand, matter very much indeed.
She’s seen your beautiful work and it eases her pain, or reminds her of being eleven, or makes her feel like a fricking GODDESS.
You being awkward or embarrassed about it is a total buzz-kill. Don’t mess this moment up for her.
Which brings me to “shameless self promotion.”
This is another way of making it about you instead of about your customer.
There’s nothing shameful about talking about what you do. Nothing.
Unless you’re yelling “Buy now! BUY NOW” at every opportunity, no-one thinks you’re a jerk for selling stuff.
In fact, mentioning that you have things for sale can be incredibly helpful and considerate.
But when you act as if you think you’re a jerk, everyone feels uncomfortable. It suddenly becomes Not Okay for buying and selling to take place in a joyful, relaxed way.
So here’s my prescription.
Drink this hot chocolate.
Snuggle this kitten.
Know that it’s okay to sell stuff.
Know that it’s especially okay to sell your wonderful stuff.
Know that it’s okay to feel weird but that it doesn’t mean things ARE weird.
Go find your buyers. They need you.
And if you want to get better at selling, click here to get on the What Retailers Want preview list.
I’m going to let you in on something retailers don’t usually talk about.
They’ll probably revoke my Shopkeeper Card for this but I don’t care. You need to know this stuff.
Like most indie retailers, we have lots of suppliers.
We’re huge fans of each and every one of them. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be stocking their stuff.
It’s as simple as that.
But there’s one supplier whom we feel rather differently about.
Intensely might be a better way to describe it.
We’ve spent thousands of pounds on her work.
We get a new delivery from her at least once a month.
When she gets in touch about her new products there’s absolutely no question that we’ll make an order.
When we see her at a trade show we say things like “There she is!” and “No, you do the talking!”
We just can’t be cool.
Now, this is hard for me to admit.
No shopkeeper likes to confess that they have a favourite supplier. We’re decent people.
But I asked around and gently twisted some arms, and it turns out that other retailers feel the same way.
Although they love and support the work of all the artists and designers they stock, there are usually one or two on whom they have an enormous crush.
These are the suppliers who get re-order after re-order, who are prioritised by their stockists and whose work stays firmly on the shelves even when other suppliers are being cut.
In short, they get the kind of stability and cash flow that allows them to turn their talent into a thriving business.
So what’s their secret?
I mean, clearly I join you in wishing their spleens are eaten by ferrets and they find an enraged bull shark in their porridge, but when you’re done I think there may be something to learn here.
How the frak do these artists do it, and how can you start doing it too?
What we’re really talking about here is how to get wholesale customers who are loyal to you.
That means giving retailers what they want – in a way that only you can.
It also means getting off your ass and finding out what that actually means for your particular business.
It’s all very well to nod sagely and say stuff like “I want stockists who are loyal to me.”
Wanting it is the easy part.
Making it happen is harder, but much more likely to result in you, well, having stockists who are loyal to you.
With all the financial and artistic benefits that entails.
And it’s my job to help you with that.
So I have a class for you.
No, NO! It’s absolutely not called that!
I just dropped my darn ipod. It’s got the soundtrack on it.
This went much better in rehearsals.
doom doom doom doom doom doom
WHAT RETAILERS WANT
HOW TO GET AS MANY WHOLESALE CUSTOMERS AS YOU CAN HANDLE
It’s an opportunity for us to work together to help you get you more stockists, and it’s going to be on the VERY side of affordable.
That’s because I need beta testers to help me make it as useful as possible.
So if you want a heads-up when I open enrollment and bite-size tasters of what you can expect in class,
sign up to the What Retailers Want preview list below.
22nd May 1999
It’s the day of my audition for the acting course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
I’ve been weeping with fear since 4am.
At 8am I tell my Dad I won’t need to borrow his car because I’m not going.
At 8.03am my Dad says he’ll take me. And my sister’s coming too.
They’re in the front, talking about lawn mowers. I’m in the back, wishing for death.
At 9.20am my Dad makes an illegal turn, bumps up onto the kerb and says “Get out, there’s a ARTICULATED LORRY RIGHT BEHIND ME.”
My sister hauls me out. She makes me wait on a bench while she buys cigarettes, even though neither of us smoke.
I look at the entrance. I smoke a cigarette.
I smoke another cigarette.
I go in.
4th of June 2009
We’re in the middle of the credit crunch, which seems to be a sort of amuse-bouche that’s served up before a really top-class recession. A shop has just become vacant on our high street.
It’s been an art gallery for years but when I was at school it was a delicatessen. I used to like their stilton and broccoli quiche.
The shop looks good. We say we like it.
The landlords want to see our business plan so we spend three hectic days trying to translate the tiny, sweet idea in our heads into goals and graphs and projections.
We sit in the car outside the shop and count the number of potential customers going past.
The rain comes on and people scatter. I have a new-found respect for sellers of quiche.
We hand in our plan and wait for an answer. The world suddenly seems like a much bigger place.
The phone rings.
My Dad picks it up. Anthony and I make frantic we’re not here we’re not here gestures.
Thirty minutes later it rings again.
19th April 2013
I’m an actor and a shopkeeper.
I’m also a retail coach. I help creative people like you sell their work to shops.
But today I’m having a serious wobble.
I’ve spent months putting together a Big New Thing.
I’m proud of it. I know it’s good.
But now that it’s almost time for lift-off, I’m hesitating.
So here’s what I know about confidence.
Sometimes the stuff you want to do is much bigger than you think you can handle.
You want it but you’re also scared of having it.
It’s like having a tyrannosaurus on a leash. It looms over you when you try to take it to the park.
There’s so much looming, in fact, that all you can think about is how small you are in comparison.
If you have to crane your neck back to even make eye contact with this thing, how tiny does that make you?
But hold up. We’re forgetting something.
Yes, the thing you want may be as big as a dinosaur.
Yes, it may cast a shadow that’s as black as the inside of a cat.
Yes, it may scare the shit out of you.
But who’s the one holding the leash?
Guess I’ll see you back here on Tuesday for the
unveiling of a certain Big New Thing. It’s unveiled! Get on the preview list here.
Have a great weekend :)