Sunday, May 25, 2008

What Does Survival Mean to You?

The current economy has put many small business people, including artrepreneurs, in a survivor frame of mind. Some businesses have shut down. Those of us who are still in business want to survive, with the hopes of thriving when times are good. The e-mail lists that keep members up to date with funding and grant opportunities have been reflecting the hard times. Less money is available to support the arts. News reports tell us that people are spending more on energy and food, and paychecks are flat. It is any surprise that people are spending less on art and craft?

So, what does survival mean to you?

Does it mean hunkering down, and not spending a dime unless your life depends upon it? Does it mean looking for ways to cut down on your expenses? Are you doing more shows in the hopes of generating more income? Taking a second, or heaven forbid, a third job?

On one discussion board there is a lot of discussion about spending money on advertising. Should I or shouldn't I types of discussions. There is also regular discussions about how bad business is right now.

I find myself going against the grain in many respects. I don't know that I have this figured out for anyone but myself.....and I am not even so sure I have it figured out for myself, but I will share with you some of my thinking, and strategy. Rather than copying exactly what I am doing, I hope that it just provides you another way to think about your own business, and what is working or not working for you. How can you make it through this time, and do even better in the future?

1. Shows. Do more shows and you will make more money. The thinking is that even if you are making less money than you used to at a show, you will make up the difference in volume.

This could be dangerous thinking. It is the same type of logic used when someone claims they covered their "booth fee" at a show. Anyone who does a show knows there are many other expenses related to doing a show beyond the booth fee. Mileage would be right near the top these days, even for a fairly local show. An hour commute each way may not make sense at $4.00 per gallon. But then you may have a few hundred dollars for three or four nights in a hotel, plus meals. Did you have to pay extra for electricity? What other expenses do you have when you do a show? Flowers for your booth? Time out of your studio? Or at the very least, the cost of the goods you sell at the show.

Does it make sense to do more shows, if the bottom line is already very thin? Are the shows you are adding going to be better than the ones you already have on your schedule, or will they just make the bottom line even more strained? In the end, more shows may just mean more wear and tear on you, your work, and your displays, without doing anything to increase the bottom line.

My own strategy this year was to eliminate retail shows. It just was not profitable enough over all for me to continue to pour more money into doing retail shows. I have not completely ruled them out, but for now, there are none on my schedule. In spite of this, my sales are up a few percent, and my bottom line is significantly better than a year ago. If you are doing retail shows, recognize this is a tough economic climate, and it will not take much for a marginally acceptable show to move into financial drain.

2. Advertising. One strategy that many small businesses have in tough times is to cut back on the advertising. Artists in particular it seems, struggle with advertising dollars. It is hard to spend money on advertising when you are not seeing the direct and immediate result of your expenditure. When you do a show, you can immediately see if the investment paid off.
Advertising is much more slippery.

First, you have an endless pool of choices as to where you will advertise. You need to figure out where the best fit for your dollar lies. If you have not thought about who your customer is, and how to best reach them, you could be throwing good money down the drain.

Secondly, advertising is expense that has to be considered an investment. I am using business school jargon here to make a point. Let's dissect it. Expenses are things that you spend money on to keep the business running. They include materials, rent, show fees, jury fees, etc. Investments are often made for a longer time horizon. It is the money we spend on capital equipment, or assets we purchase for the long term growth of the company. That camera to take better photos of your work. The spot welder to make you more efficient welding jump rings. The new kiln that is more energy efficient. Even though advertising is classified as an expense when it comes to our taxes, we really need to think of it as an investment in the long term growth of our business.

The money I have spent over the last two and a half years on advertising has not been spent without a lot of angst. But, it seems to be making a difference. The orders are trickling in. I am not swamped, but I have had a steady stream of orders since the beginning of the year. Orders from ACRE are planned for delivery right into the fall. I know I will have income to take me through the summer, and into the busier fall months.

What if I cut off the advertising to save money? I suspect I would also cut off the flow of orders. Out of sight and out of mind. And when the economy got better and I decided to spend on advertising again, I would be rebuilding. Looking at it another way, if more people are cutting back now, any advertising I do in this environment will have greater impact because there is lesser competition for the eyes of the buyers. I will be the first to tell you this is a hard spent dollar, but I have also seen the fruits of the steady investment in a targeted advertising program.

3. New Work. I have beat this drum before. If you are not continually offering a fresh take on your work, then you may find that your sales will suffer. This does not mean complete reinvention, unless you are so inspired, but rather continual innovation. In terms of the toothpaste model, what is new and improved with your work? Nothing seems to capture the imagination of buyers of art and craft as much as the new. Something they have not seen or imagined before. Keep them surprised, and you will be more likely to keep them as customers.

I have also found, nothing keeps me as excited about my work and the direction it is taking as that continual exploration of the new. If I am excited about my work, buyers will be more likely to connect with me and my work.

4. Cutting costs. Yes, cutting costs is important. Where can you spend less? Are there shows that you would be better off not doing? Is there a more efficient and cost effective way to put together a catalog? Is there a way to find multiple uses for one marketing tool? This year I have started using my postcards as the color images for my catalogs. It gives me a high quality image, a lower overall cost, and more flexibility.

Are you being as efficient as possible in your energy use? Are you running partial loads in a kiln, or curing? Is your equipment energy efficient? If not, how much would it cost to upgrade, versus how much you would save?

Are you taking advantage of bulk discounts? Sometimes when money is tight we hesitate to buy anymore of an item than we need right now? What if you bought enough for six months to a year? How much would you save in quantity discounts?

5. Are you out looking for new customers? Are you waiting for customers to come to you? Or, are you doing everything you can to try and find a few new customers?

When you are doing a show, are you making sure you are reaching out to your mailing list before the show to maximize your chance of success? Have you followed up on leads? How do you stay in touch with your current buyers if you sell wholesale or through galleries? There are many options; phone calls, postcards, newsletters, perhaps a combination of these.

If you have come up with some new work, what are you doing to publicize that work? Press releases, submitting images to magazines related to your media, entering contests. Right now if you have more time than money, it is important to get creative about how to create some "free advertising" for your work.

These are just a few things that I have been considering as I try and navigate these difficult times. I have heard a few say that the problems are because of people saying times are bad. If the media wasn't reporting so much bad news, things would not be so bad. I would call this ostrich thinking. Others are so focused on the bad news they can't think straight. Burying themselves in the reality of the bad news.

Once again, I find myself trying to carve a path somewhere up the middle; recognizing the challenges, but trying to optimize my chances for success as I make my way forward. It means holding two opposite points realities simultaneously; the economy is bad, and we can succeed. It is almost like patting your head, and rubbing your belly. Difficult, but with practice, we get better at it.

Here is wishing you success in spite of.... In honor of the Phoenix landing on Mars successfully, imagine your business as the phoenix rising from the ashes of a tattered economy. Going against the tide.

Friday, May 23, 2008

My Buddy, Doubt

I am sure you have met my buddy. He goes by the name Doubt.

Doubt is one of those buddies who is faithful and loyal. But, also one that you are not always so sure you want to see! Things may seem to be going along just great. All the gears are turning, and there is a nice hum in the background. Then Doubt crosses the doorway, and everything comes to a screeching halt.

"Am I doing the right thing?"

"What was I thinking?"

"Is anyone really going to like/buy this?"

"This is already being done, and done better."

"I'll never be as good as..., so why even bother."

Many of the above thoughts have popped into my head at one point or another. Sometimes, I have weeks where the thoughts are popping up in my head like a paparazzi's flash. Blinding me. Everything gets thrown into doubt, and I have moved from the solid shores, to being perched on the wobbly rock in the middle of a fast moving stream. I can feel the anxiety bubbling up.

But, I have learned something over time.

First, I have learned to say "Stop!" Stop letting this doubt overtake all other thoughts in your head. Stop and think for a minute.

I recently saw an article about another memorial project using origami cranes. They had over four thousand cranes completed, and they were going to be showing the project on the mall at the Washington Memorial in D.C. this Memorial Day weekend.

My first thought, honestly, was "What is the point of doing what I am doing? It has already been done. I am far from finished."

Then the Stop sign went up, and I took a breath.

This is the dialogue I began instead. "What they have done is similar, but not quite the same. It is wonderful that they are able to have their project in Washington, D.C. this weekend so that people will see and be reminded. It is wonderful that there are other like minded people out there taking actions such as your own. It should be celebrated.....and reinforced with your own work, which is similar, but still different."

Am I rationalizing? Maybe. But maybe I am just adding perspective and depth to my initial reaction that was fear driven. The fear that I am not good enough. That others are better, and that no one will be at all interested in my project by the time I finish.

No matter where we are as artists, Doubt is going to show up. Unannounced. And it is up to us to decide how long of a visit he makes. Will he sleep on the couch, or the guest room? Will he be sitting in your living room channel surfing while you wonder why you ever thought you had what it takes to do this?

Or will he be acknowledged, and then shown the door?

Will he be embraced, or just waved to politely?

We really do get to choose how we react. The stop sign is the first step. Stop the flood of negativity that comes along with the doubt, and begin to bring in some rationale thought, and then.....get back to work!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Following a Path to Joy

Almost eight years ago my dad died suddenly from a heart attack. He actually had at least three heart attacks over a few days. The second one brought him to the hospital, and he ended up with a stent in his heart. But, his heart never stabilized, and later that night he had another heart attack that ruptured his left ventricle. This one was fatal.

At first I was doing what I could to help my mother through this difficult time. But over the next few months, I found that his death affected me more than I thought it did. I found myself slipping into a deep depression. Finally, I sought out a therapist. Eight years, and several therapists later, I think of my Dad, and miss him, but I have also made some deep changes in the way I live my life, and along the way found more joy than I thought was possible.

Why am I sharing this with you? It relates a bit to the post I had recently about Critical Balance. Until this crisis sent me to therapy, I did not realize how much all the negative "stuff" I carried around in my head, and repeated to myself over and over again, inhibited my creativity, and diminished my life overall.

I continue therapy, even though depression is gone from my life, because I have come to realize the work to stay present, and not get caught up in all that "stuff" is something that is on-going. Once a month I get to check-in with the best therapist I could ever have. And once a month I meet with an amazing group of women, and we reflect and share on different aspects of our lives and our experiences. In this process, I can see better where I have been, and how far I have come. I can find where the residue of pain still resides, and carefully explore and heal. And I stay in touch with "me." And if you want to find your voice, there is no better place to start!

This past week, we met, and we wrote about the joy that is in our lives. We were in tears, and laughing, sometimes simultaneously as we shared our reflections. Tonight, I shared with my kids what I wrote, and given their response, I decided to post it here, with the background. I have come to believe, the work I did "on myself" was the best work I ever did to nurture my creative being.

So here goes....

I start to reflect upon my day and the little moments that made me smile, or feel in that moment. What unifies those moments is simply presence. Presence to what is. Presence to a moment that can’t be captured and preserved on film, or in words, or in any way at all as completely as just being there at that moment.

My mom calls to thank me for coming over and for the card from me that she found after we left. We talk for maybe ten minutes, and it is a nice re-connection and reinforcement of our relationship and our bond as mother and daughter.

I take a tray of beads out of the oven. As I collect them into my hand, and then into a container, the subtle sparkle and pattern catches my eye and makes me smile. Yes! This time it worked. These will make some nice pieces. But, just now, they bring me a moment of joy. I roll them around for a moment, in the container, enjoying the visual and tactile experience.

Later I am making cranes. I cover a sheet of clay with a variety of cane slices. The mix of color and pattern sings on this one. I smile in a moment of “yes!”

Packaging and sorting cranes to fill orders. These normally tedious tasks feel good today. I enjoy seeing each crane on the shred, and in it’s own little box. Soon two orders are picked and in boxes to ship. I take pleasure in the ease with which this happened today.

At dinner, I take in Colleen. Her eyes sparkle as she talks. A smile illuminates her already luminous face. We all laugh together as Kaela exudes joy and excitement at all the possible directions her life could take. Each fulfilling an aspect of her being. She can barely get the words out in a coherent sentence, she is so happy about all that lies before her like a feast.

My life is one of abundance. Simple moments. The excitement of the dog to do a trick and get a treat. The sound of my coffee press makes as it slides down. Dave’s voice on the phone.

I had moments of stress and frustration today. But the joy of the moment can be found like sparkling jewels scattered throughout my day.

My little mantra these days is “Create abundance.” Perhaps I don’t need to say create. Maybe it is just about noticing. Being present to all that is here for me already., what do you think? Does it make you want to start noticing the jewels in your own life? I can guarantee they are there. It is not about the big "wow!" moments. Those are good, but the sustenance comes from finding joy in the moment. The mundane, everyday moments. And, when we find it there, we have less "need" for the other kinds of that the commercials want us to believe are only a purchase away.

If you'd like, feel free to leave a jewel or two in the comments!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Rules, Schmules...

I have read one too many posts on what artists should or should not do in their blog, and/or website. Face it, as a rule, artists are not generally so in love with the technology side of the web. When we are told all the things we should be doing, or that we are doing it wrong, the first impulse might rightly be to throw up our hands and say, "Forget it. I can't do that, so why even bother?"

I do a lot of things wrong according to the rules. And somehow, this blog goes on....

Post at least three times a week, and predictably. I post sporadically. Sometimes nearly every day, and then I may go a week or more without posting. "Good blogs" post at least three times a week.

Images. Lots of images. Make sure that people coming to your blog can see your work. I have a teensy excuse on this blog, since it is not exclusively about my work. But on my crane blog, I have a scarcity of images there as well. I guess for me, the blog is the words behind the work. Both the studio work, and the other work that an artist engages in on a regular basis. My website, on the other hand, is image rich and text poor. Together they fill out the picture.

Keep entries short. Too much text turns off readers. Sorry readers, but when I get on a roll I am not going to say, "Oops, I am at the third paragraph, I better tie this up here". I write about what is on my mind. If I can do that in three paragraphs...uh, five?....great. But more often than not it takes me more than that to process the idea and communicate it coherently.

Feeds, etc. I think there is an RSS feed somewhere on the page. Is it easy to find? I don't know. I don't even really know what an RSS feed is to tell you the truth. Could I do better with this part of things? Absolutely. Is it worth my time and money? I frankly don't think so right now. It is low, low, low on the list, and the list is long. Somehow, in spite of my absolute ignorance, and neglect here, people still find my blog, and even subscribe! I love you subscribers out there!

Hire someone to do your website. Broke this rule too. But I pay a bit more to get template options with my website host. It means I can update my web page regularly without having to write code. I am not going to learn code. I am not interested. But I want to be able to update my web page fairly frequently and easily. Is the template exactly the way I want? Nope. But it does the job. I compromise on layout, fonts, colors, etc so that I can at least have images on the web.

In the end, I would rather suffer the wrath and criticism and "just do it", than not do it for fear of doing it wrong. I have made plenty of mistakes along the way. I am continuing to make mistakes. I will tweak, and play and continue to evolve as I continue to work my blogs and my website. I don't want to do it totally by the rules, because in the end, it is mine. Just like I want my art work to reflect how I see the world, I want my blog to reflect my thoughts and experiences. I use Blogger because they are easy, and Google takes care of so many things for me that I do not want to learn. I will risk the imperfection.

How much of the writing about the rules of how we engage with this technology is shutting down voices that we would all benefit from hearing? Isn't this the benefit of the Internet? The rules are still evolving and we can decide how we want it to work for us?

Are you on the sidelines? Do you have a point of view, something you want to say or share? But the idea of doing it the wrong way is just not worth the risk? Trust me, it is. Go ahead and do it wrong, if you have the inkling of a desire. Do it the best way you are able with the time, money, and savvy that you can muster. And if someone tells you that you are clueless, nod in agreement. Yup, you are. But in spite of that you are blogging, or have a website, or whatever. And each day you are learning a little bit more.

The democracy of the web depends on us being able to do this imperfectly. I would rather see some one's amazing work or words up on the web without all the right feeds and widgets, and so on, than have them stay away because we built the technology wall too high.

Being open to learn new things is great. But feeling like we have to do it perfectly in order to do it at all is destructive. The way I look at it, we are about in kindergarten when it comes to the Internet. There is more time for recess than for dissertations. And everyone gets a turn, not just those who are at the front of the line.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Maintaining Critical Balance

One of the biggest challenges we face as people who rely on our creative output is to maintain the delicate balance between being creative, and engaging our critical eye. Too much in one direction, and we risk never reaching our potential in developing our technique or our design ability. Or, too much in the other direction, and we may never get beyond the sketching or thinking stage.

Criticism is a sharp knife. It can be used as a fine editing tool. Honing our design, refining our technique. All good chefs will tell you a well sharpened knife is an essential tool. A dull knife can make a mess of things, and make the job harder to accomplish. Without the critical eye looking at what we have done, we can only get so far. The critical eye can see the weaknesses that need shoring up, as well as the strengths that maybe should be amplified. It can see what is distracting and needs to be removed.

But that same sharp knife that can be a tool can turn into a weapon that shuts down our creative energy if we do not know how to rein it in properly.

Each needs it's time and place. Creativity is often best served by being unleashed without the critical constraints. Let it go where it wants to go, and play around and explore. Only when it reaches a resting point is it safe to let the critical forces out. Then it is time to step back from your creation, and see it as a product, an output, now removed from you, and ask, "What could be better?" This is not about whether you are an artist who is "good enough". It is about how you, where you are right now, can become better. How your work can become stronger. You are always good enough. But, your work can always be stronger. We never are at a point where our work is "perfect".

So, either alone, or with others, we must critique. Looking to see what worked, and what did not. How to make a piece even stronger than what we have already wrought. Without this important stage, we will never reach our full potential. Once we go through that stage of critiquing, we then need to tell the critical voices that their services are no longer needed for now, and we will call them back when we need them. Then we can get back to work, either reworking, or working anew on this idea that inspired us.

When we try to critique as we create, it is too easy to get caught up in out inadequacies when what we need to be doing, is getting caught up in the creative process. The other problem we often have is making the output of our creativity to be too precious. Our self-esteem becomes deeply entwined into the output. We can't hear the critique in a productive way, if our identity is enmeshed in our work. Our work is our work. It is not us. Some it is will be crap, and some of it will blow us away. We need to accept both for what they are, and learn from both. No one, not even the most amazing artist, whose work you adore, turns out one masterpiece after another. We all have a range. The challenge is to raise the quality overall....the junk is better than it used to be, and the best work gets better.

One of the important lessons I learned from the book Art & Fear, was the value of crappy work. This is when we can have fun. Take that piece that bombed, and have some fun. If you want to lose that sense of preciousness of your work, this is a perfect place to begin. Use those pieces as a place to learn. A place to explore and experiment, and to go places you wouldn't dare under normal circumstances. If you hate it, you can't ruin it. But you can have fun and learn.

The bottom line....The process of creating is precious. Protect it from the critics. The product is just product. It is not precious. It is not us. Let the critics come out and have their say when you are ready to pause. Listen. Notice. See it as a way to learn and grow. And then thank your critics for their input, and tell them to go back in their closet. And get back to having fun creating, testing, playing, experimenting..... Own the process. It is sacred. And control the critics, their weapons can be valuable tools or deadly weapons.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

What Can You Do After A Bad Show?

Throw in the towel? Decide you were crazy to even think this could work?

Those are possibilities, but maybe not the best ones.

First, sit down with a pad of paper. Divide it into two columns. In one column, write down everything that went wrong. Everything you wished you could have a do over on. Everything that you felt 'in over your head' about. For instance, you did not cover your costs. The weather was horrible. You had work stolen. You heard people whispering about how high your prices were to their friend as they walked out of your booth. You were sick as a dog, and you had no choice but to do the show anyway. You forgot half your work, and your were hours from home. Your neighbor kept coming into your booth and complaining about everything. Your booth was in the worst spot in the world.

In the other column, write down everything that was positive about the show. The people who bought your work were in love with it. The weather was gorgeous. Your neighbor at the show was a gem. You made a connection for a possible new outlet for your work, or two other shows that might be a good fit for your work. You found out about a great display at a reasonable cost. Someone gave you a great idea for a new product to try and work on.

These are just a few of some of the good and bad things that have happened to me at shows....and a few fictional ones for kicks! No matter how bad a show has been, I have always walked away with a bit more knowledge or insight. Some of the insight came from what went wrong, and some was gained from a positive experience.

Without looking at the experience, good and bad, we are leaving the outcome of future shows to chance. The more we understand why something is working for us, or what needs to change, the more we can move towards the success we want.

If a show is bad, it is easy to blame the weather, the price of gas, or the promoter. But at every bad show I have had, other artists have done well. Actually, there was one show....I guess you could call it the exception that proves the rule, where no one did well. Many different things can contribute to bad sales at a show. A recent survey by the NAIA (National Association of Independent Artists) is a real Buyer's Beware wake up call for artists about trusting the reputation of a show before investigating further for yourself. Artists who had participated in the Coconut Grove show in Florida were surveyed and it was fascinating to see the effects of charging a gate fee, or inviting other "attractions" to a show can have on the artists' sales. The group also has a survey of the Artists' Landscape on the website, and it is a bleak one. Artists are aging and retiring. Collectors are no-shows at shows. They too are aging, and less interested in acquiring more "stuff".

Are we back to throwing in the towel? That might seem pretty attractive after reading either or both of these surveys.

I think rather than throw in the towel, it is important to look at your approach from the ground up, and start thinking about what is working, and what is not. Thus the list.

Look around at how people are buying luxury goods these days. After all, craft is a luxury good, isn't it? If the way you, your friends and associates, your neighbors, you or your spouses co-workers are indulging themselves, is at the mall, or on the internet, is it any wonder that sales are down at a craft show? If people are spending $25 in gas, $30 in admission fees, and another $15 to $20 on food at a show, is it any wonder that many in the middle class are feeling too pinched to spend another $50, or $250 to purchase a hand-crafted treasure? Is it any wonder that they might feel as if just looking is what is in their budget?

And yet, some people are selling. Some people are succeeding.

It is time for a critical eye on every aspect of what we do. Is our display the best it can be? Is our work priced right? Is this the right show for our work? Have we done anything new lately? Is there another, perhaps better, way to reach your customer? What have you done to add value to your work? This could be through building your reputation in your media, to packaging, to advertising, to adding context or story to your work.

Sitting in the corner of your booth, engrossed in a Sudoko puzzle is not the path to success. Go to a show as a customer. Walk the show and observe. Which booths draw you in? Why? Which artists make you want to buy from them? Why? Which booths do you walk right past without barely a glance? Why? Visit shops and galleries that carry handcrafted work and notice the same thing. What makes you enjoy the experience? Which work draws you in, and why? Is there any work that makes you say...if only they would do, "x", then that piece would be amazing! Now, think about your own work, your booth, your selling style. Where can you improve? What can you do differently? No matter how long you have been in business this type of exercise can be helpful to shake you out of your routine. It can help you see what else is drawing the eyeballs and dollars of your potential customers.

What if you do all that, and you still feel stuck? Then it might be time for outside help, paid consultant or artist friend. If your blindspots seem to be unmoveable, it might be worth the investment. But doing the work on your own first, will make any time spent with a consultant more effective. They will better be able to get a grasp on where you are struggling. The more efficiently you can help them get there with you, the faster they may help you find some solutions. And we all know, time is money.

The same old, same old, is not going to work.

What will you do differently at your next show? Or will you do shows anymore? Maybe your answer will be to find an entirely different route to reach your customers. We can't just wait out the bad economy. We have to work smarter. Things are changing, and what worked ten, twenty years ago, may not work for anyone anymore. It may be time to forge a new path.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Whose Job is it Anyway??

Negative reports began to surface within hours of the end of the ACRE show. There were not enough buyers. They were not placing orders. The promoter should have done more.

And yet, there are voices out there of people who did well. People who made connections and placed orders. What does one artist do that is different and works from another artist who struggles?

This eye-catching display belongs to Judy Belcher, shown here setting up and hamming it up. It could not be more simple, or more effective. Her palette is primarily black and white, with touches of color.....just like her booth. To reinforce the medium of polymer clay and the location of the show, she made some poker chips with her name and booth number for people to take with them. She was prepared with support material, and had a special offer for those who placed an order. She had strong work and a positive attitude. Her "be-back's" came back.

Another artist who did a terrific job of reinforcing a message with their work was Joyce Fritz. Joyce makes bugs that you want to touch and to own. Whimsical, beautiful, colorful bugs, with enough realism to amaze. And, she wears several of them at once, strategically placed, as a bug would land. On her shoulder, her back, here and there on her sweater or jacket. She had beetles that had beautiful landscape canework on the wings. And it was all displayed in cigar boxes on tables with green netting. In a simple way, she created a magical space in her ten by ten foot space. When someone placed an order, they got a little bug to wear on their badge. Advertising that traveled the show. More brilliance that worked.

These ladies did not spend time in the aisles griping about the lousy turnout. They were in their booth and ready to greet anyone who stopped by their booth. Their work was strong. It had fresh elements. Their displays worked to complement their work. And they knew they were their to sell, not to socialize or complain. That was for non-show hours, if at all.

There were many other artists who had positive experiences. I do not know those stories as well as these two. The economy is awful. Galleries are going out of business. Others are hanging on, but their business is down. It is effecting all of us. But, those who do more than complain, who work a bit harder and a bit smarter will come out of this period stronger and wiser. That is the side I am working to be on.

How about you? This is a year to survive. To hang on and bring your best game forward. Complaining has never gained anyone business. Complaining has never made work sell.

What do you need to be doing?

Advertise. Ads, postcards, e-newsletters, etc. Stay in the consciousness of your customers and potential customers. Over and over again, I heard people tell me about how they had seen me at other wholesale shows....which I did not attend. Why? They had seen my ads at about the same time period. Advertising can work. But it has to be sustained, and with strong images.

Innovate. Is your work stale? Is it time for some new designs?

Story/Theme. Does your work have a story or a theme? Have you shared that? Are you thinking at all about the kinds of things that are going on in the world right now, and how your work might tie into that? Environmental your work green? Price points for a soft you have work at a lower price point? Peace was a theme I saw frequently in artist's work.

Do you need help? with your booth, with your sales technique, with your marketing materials? If people are going to wait to place orders after the show, do you have materials to send them off with, or to reach out to them with after the show? If you don't know where to begin, find someone to help.