Since launching my handbag and jewelry company, MONOLISA in 2017 I have learned so much about starting a business. A few facts it has taught me: it takes a lot of work, dedication, time management and money. Being an independent artist is a wonderful job, but it comes with many responsibilities. A full time independent artist requires making a collection, selling your work and managing the financial side of the business. In this blog article, "Artist Life - Twenty Things I do to Run My Business" I am sharing an inside look at the requirements for running my business and the different roles my job entails. I am also sharing my personal challenges accompanied with each role. Thank you for reading about my journey....
"My goal for writing this article is to provide some insight about managing a solo business. "
1. Hand Make a Handbags & Jewelry CollectionBefore I am able to sell my work at shows I first have to create my entire handbag and jewelry collection. That accomplishment comes with a lot of responsibility and detailed tasks. My biggest challenge with this role is balancing all of the requirements - project management, prototype concepts, sourcing raw materials, learning new skills and finalizing the cost of goods. If one tasks gets off it can have a domino effect. For example, I can't make my handbags in time if the hardware I source is out of stock or on backorder. To stay on top of creating the MONOLISA Collection I plan in advance so I have room for margin of error - most of the time it works out.
2. Apply to Art Shows and Festivals
In order to participate at any art show or festival there are requirements which include: completing application forms, submitting professional photos and paying for the event. For this responsibility I just couldn't narrow it down to one challenge, I am sharing two. My first challenge with attending art shows and festivals isn't all of the paperwork it is deciding if I want to try a show again. In some cases a show can be just ok or not great at all. I have learned through doing 140 plus shows that the third time can be a charm. So trying to decide can be conflicting. The second challenge is battling the tough weather. If the weather is too hot you can be suffering in a hot tent waiting for customers who probably aren't coming and if it is too windy you might be chasing your tent. Mother nature can be your worst enemy and create challenges when you least expect it.
3. Sales Executive
In addition to being a full time artist I also have the role of being a sales executive. I don't have a sales team who sells my work. I am the whole sales team. Having a sales executive role comes with a variety of challenges such as keeping up with the sales at a busy show, attending to multiple interested customer's questions, always putting on a smile even when you are exhausted or sweating from the heat and maintaining the energy to do it all. The most challenging for me is talking straight for 9-10 hour days, because that requires a lot of vocal cord strength.
MONOLISA pink leather crossbody bag.
I never imagined being an artist would also entail large amounts of photography tasks when that isn't even my art medium. My photography requirements include taking pictures for marketing, a digital presence and for show applications. The biggest challenge with this role is when the sun isn't out I have work with what mother nature is delivering that day. I take pictures in the natural light. If mother nature isn't cooperating it can be disappointing and not such a great photography result.
Behind the scenes making leather tote bags.
Videos are really important for my marketing, online product pages and social media. Therefore, I have taught myself over the years how to create videos using various apps - I am not a pro, but I keep at it. I use my iPhone to take the video footage and Premier Pro for editing long videos. My challenge with this role is video editing in the Premier Pro application. Learning the app is an ongoing process for me, resulting with longer project turnaround times and practicing patience.
6. Website Developer & POS System
I enjoy managing my website and POS - point of sales system. I work with the user friendly platform, Shopify. The platform allows me to quickly add and edit my website via desktop or on my iPhone. Processing both online and in person sales is typically seamless with the platform. If I am not sure how to do something I can easily find "how to do" online tutorials or reach out to Shopify support. My biggest challenge is integrating the Google Analytics and search console platform. Troubleshooting the Google errors requires more advanced developer skills - which I can't always figure out easily.
7. Social Media Manager
Managing my social media is an ongoing challenge for me. I don't enjoy doing it and would rather be in the studio creating. I spend the majority of my time making my collection and attending art shows. Therefore, I have limited time to focus on social media tasks. I understand having a social media presence is important, but I can't dedicate too much time doing it. Since selling and marketing at shows delivers the highest conversion rate that is what I focus on putting my time into. I am naturally better with customers in person than online. I do the best I can to create some content for my social media - Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, but sometimes I just can’t do it all.
8. Monthly Newsletter
Sending a monthly customer newsletter is one of my most important tasks. It is a great way to communicate my show schedule and market the latest MONOLISA collection. The challenge with the monthly newsletters is narrowing down the content - finding that balance of just enough content and not too much.
9. File Business State, Federal and Sales TaxesIn addition to getting all of my yearly tax information together for my CPA, I work on reporting quarterly sales taxes. Filing sales taxes on the California Tax and Fee Administration portal can be daunting - especially since I sell in so many different cities at shows (different tax percents) and have to report it quarterly. Navigating the portal isn't very user friendly so I get frustrated. On the positive side, if I need to contact them they are readily available and very helpful. This is the task I dislike the most out of my job. To make it a little easier I have a great accountant that does a portion of it. Sometimes I just can't do it all.
10. Business Accountant Management
Managing my profits and losses is a big part of my business which I appreciate. I have to know what expenses are coming in and going out all of the time. I spend time each week updating my Quickbooks to stay on top of my business expenses. This makes my task of reconciling at the beginning of each month pretty easy and allows me to stay on top of P&L sheets. The challenge with this task is sometimes while reconciling the numbers something doesn't balance - this means I have to start all over or solve the mystery of why it isn't balancing. I remind myself that sometimes I just need to take it slow and it will all workout.
11. Manage Yearly Dues - Insurance, License Fees & Memberships
Every year I pay yearly dues for car insurance, business liability insurance, professional memberships and renewing a business license. I setup calendar reminders to help manage this process. The challenge with this task is making sure there aren't any lapses. Who wants to pay late fees? Not me.
12. Blog Author - Artist Life
I write a monthly blog about being an artist and starting a solo business. I really enjoy this task. The challenge with writing the blog for me is that I am dyslexic, so it takes me twice as long to write than the average person. Sometimes I ask myself why do I keep doing it because of the time commitment. Then I say to myself "if it can help other people it is worth it - its a way of giving back". A few other bonuses, I see the progress of my business, I learn something new and I am becoming better at writing.
MONOLISA Collection - Handmade Bags & Sculpted Jewelry.
13. Inventory Management
I have a good system of managing my inventory of handbags and jewelry using Shopify. The the real challenge is during the holidays. The holidays are the busiest time for me and I often need to decide if I want to try and squeeze a project in to get more inventory. The reality, I just might not have the time and decide to work with my existing inventory. Each year I take it on a case by basis.
14. Fulfillment Manager
I am responsible for fulfilling all customer orders myself. All my show orders get fulfilled at shows so that is easy for me and I do very few custom orders. The online orders require packaging the items, setting up the postage specification and then going to the drop off location - USPS, FedEx, DHL or UPS. My Shopify platform makes this pretty seamless, but you have to set everything up in the system in order for it to work properly. The challenge with this task is fulfilling orders during the busy show season. Going through sealed up show inventory can add extra time to my schedule I didn't prepare for.
15. Planning Coordinator
Starting in October through mid December I plan for next years new handbag and jewelry collection. This requires carefully sourcing materials for the upcoming collection. Obtaining certain materials can take months to get so it is important for me to plan ahead. I typically order the majority of materials before the end of the year - leather, hardware, gemstones, crystals, metals, packaging, adhesives, and textiles. My goal is to avoid backorders, damaged items, discontinued materials and delayed delivery times. It is important that in January I am working on the new collection.
16. Continuing Education - Leather Smith & Metalsmith
Throughout the year I do continuing education - professional memberships, reading books and researching. I have learning differences so some things take me longer to learn than others - I don't retain fine detail well. To help with my learning differences I keep detailed project notes in clear folders. This allows me to quickly read the steps on how to make a specific piece and work more efficiently. My biggest challenge with working on continuing education is my time, but I always make time for it. Last I checked there are only twenty four hours in a day.
17. Professional Driver
Attending art shows and festivals throughout California requires a lot of driving. It may sound easy, but it is one of the hardest parts of my job when it comes to attending shows. I am up at 4:00am on Saturday's to get ready for show setup and then after the show I am packing up my collection to take it home that evening. On Saturday evenings I typically arrive home past 8:00pm. Then the next day I have to get up early and do it all over again. During show season I try to be diligent with personal healthcare - get a good nights rest, minimal impact on my joints and take a day off when I can. My goal is to reduce my physical l and mental stress.
18. Project Management
Luckily my previous job experience before becoming an artist required good time management skills and a disciplined nature. Today, I use those valuable skills to run my business, MONOLISA. I keep a tight structured schedule. This strategy allows me to stay focused and complete tasks on time - I distract easily. My biggest challenge with this role, sometimes I just need to step away and take a break. I tend to get hyper focused and struggle with time to turn it off, resulting with unexpected physical issues - a sore back, severe hip pain and throbbing feet. I am constantly working on pacing myself.
I do a lot of lifting.
19. Physical LaborBeing an independent artist requires a tremendous amount of physical labor at shows - setting up a booth, lifting tables, carrying displays, standing and carting heavy loads to my van. My biggest challenge is working around my physical issues - neuropathy in my feet, hip and lower back pain. I have to carefully lift items. I require balancing standing and sitting at my job. I can't be in one spot too long or I start to develop horrible pain. I avoid prolonged sitting, standing or walking both at shows and in the studio. To help manage this on a daily basis I wear arch supported tennis shoes, use a hip pad for sitting, stand on foam mats, reduce my walking distance and get into bed during the week by 8pm with a heating pad.
MONOLISA Studio in Clayton California - Industrial sewing machine.
20. Equipment Management
It may not sound like much, but it is challenging managing equipment for my business. I have multiple types of equipment I rely on - industrial sewing machines, sergers, hot stamping press, torch system, welding machine and a vehicle to name a few. Equipment needs maintenance and breaks down when I least expect it. My biggest challenge with managing equipment is when an industrial sewing machine breaks. It usually happens at the worst time - in the middle of creating a collection. I then have to track down my go to repair guy Daryl. I am lucky if he is available to fix the machine and pray that he can still carry the 80 pound machine up and down my steep stairs to my studio. Luckily when it comes to vehicle maintenance I am very fortunate my husband manages that for me. He takes the vehicle in for routine checks, ensures the tires are good and fills up the gas.
Well, as you can see there is a lot to running a solo business and being an artist. I didn't cover all of my responsibilities, but hopefully gave you a bird's eye view of what I do. If you are thinking about becoming an artist or wanting to start your own business I hope this article helps in some way - best of luck to you. Thank you for reading about my journey. Until we meet again.
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