Stuff Article - Should you scale your creative business?

Stuff Article - Should you scale your creative business?

Stuff website - 05:00, Mar 13 2023

Rachel Klaver
 is a marketing strategist, specialising in lead generation and content marketing.

OPINION: If you’re a maker, artist or small-batch manufacturer you might not have gone into business with aspirations to have a large-scale business.

You may have launched your business with a driving need to create something that allows you to express who you are, use your talents and gifts to both “do what you love every day” and also make a living from it.

The truth is that it can often be hard to get that mix right. The hours you actually spend on something you’ve made may not always translate to a solid “hours to income received” equation. This can also be amplified with selling at markets, where one week you sell out, and the next you don’t sell anything.

I’ve worked with creatives and makers at every stage of their business from people starting out, and beginning to use markets or sell online, to others who we have helped grow a brand that people want to stock in their stores, and others who’ve built something big, and scalable.

While I’m focussed on the marketing of these types of businesses, there’s so much more to making a creative business a scalable one.

When it comes to helping Kiwi creatives work through that process, decide whether they want to pay the price of moving away from one-off or small batch production, and how to capture the eyes of retailers, I always refer people to Tikitibu, run by Anneliese Jozefek.

I first met Jozefek years ago when her sole focus was working as a distributor for small creative brands. Over time she’s carved out a business that not only helps people find that all important distribution, but also helps the business owner find the pathway to that moment. As she explains: “We started with manufacturing products in New Zealand for the gift market. And we started working with artists, New Zealand artists. And we did that for quite a few years. People liked our stuff, but then we reached a junction and we realised that it wasn’t the right fit for us. We started distributing, that's when we really started working with creatives.”

In doing so, Jozefek discovered a gap in the business advice and coaching market. There were not many other people out there who really understood the needs of creative business owners. As she reports: “We started to understand the complexities of what it is to be a creative in New Zealand, the lack of support, that there is for creatives in New Zealand in lots of ways.”

Recognising creatives and small makers often had to make huge mindset shifts before being ready for retail sales, being ready for the investment and risk they need to make when ordering large quantities of products offshore, or even knowing what type of products they should be making are all areas Jozefek helps her clients with. Often she'll work with someone over only a few sessions, helping them with a block in understanding what an offshore manufacturing contract actually means, or whether they are even ready to take such a step. She’s worked with enough of these types of small business owners to know there are some common areas many of them don’t consider when planning to scale.

Along the way she’s continued to work as a distributor for some of her creative business clients. “We've built up a network of over 1600 New Zealand retailers that we deal with. Looking after that network is one part of what we do. But I would say close to 80% of my time is actually spent on working out how to support the creatives that we work with. Thinking bigger, thinking more globally, capitalising on the hard work that they've done, in the images that they've created, all the creative work that they've already done, how do we take what you've done and maximise it,” she explains.

When meeting a creative business owner for the first time, Jozefek will often look at the whole life behind the artist first. “Whenever I've consulted with someone, we put whatever their creative endeavours are aside, and we talk about the person. I asked them about their life, their capacity, their headspace.” This is an essential first step in Jozefek’s eyes because there’s a huge shift to move from a one-by-one artist to a scaled business.

Jozefek would be the first to acknowledge that scaling isn’t the right fit for everyone. What she does see however, is that there’s often a huge discrepancy between the time and effort taken to produce a work, and the sale price of that work. She says it’s really important to take stock of where you position yourself if you take a long time on a piece, and perhaps are only create ten pieces a year.

“I ask them, what is your pathway? And what is your journey and how do you make money off of what you're doing, but also understanding your value within that process. It might be 100% going down the gallery route and really creating high-end artwork. But to make that work, you need to have the chops for that.”

For a scaled business, the artwork needs to be able to be digitised to be used in different formats. “You've got other artists that are pumping out work left, right and centre. For them we ask: what are the opportunities? But also, how do we capture the artwork to make it easy if we are going to go down a commercial route with manufacturing and making products and things like that?”

Our small population here makes looking at all of these with a commercial eye deeply important. “Out of those five million people here we’re only got a tiny portion who will love your work enough to buy it. You’ve got to be so clear on who you are marketing to and how many people will possibly buy it.

Jozefek then says it’s also about repeat purchases as well. “How will you get people to buy from you again because they absolutely will not be able to buy the same thing from you again?”

Part of becoming a more scalable brand includes needing to invest time and energy into marketing. While word of mouth can work really well with high ticket art, consumable art on consumable products needs brand awareness and a high market appeal, both online and in-store. Jozefek and I both agree that it’s key for part of the scaling process to include a deep look at how you’ll market the products. “How do we build the brand? How to build the audience? How do we keep them coming back?” are three questions Jozefek asks her clients to work through.

Often these are hard questions to answer when the creative has poured their passion and heart into their creation. It can be difficult to sit outside that emotional feeling about what they’ve made and look at it from the eyes of a purchaser.

One of the other areas that can cause a block for creative scalers, that Jozefek has discovered, is the mass manufacturing journey. Besides the fear of investing large amounts of money upfront for print runs, often before the products are sold, there’s also issues around building relationships with offshore manufacturers and understanding that process. Jozefek’s own experience with this with her own brands, and her client’s brands has helped her be able to advise and connect with confidence. “We've manufactured in New Zealand, we've manufactured offshore, and in many different countries. So we've got a really good understanding and a really good network of actual makers and factories offshore. “

Understandably, many of her creatives would prefer to manufacture here in NZ, and also be as eco-friendly as possible. If you have a skin-care or food range, Jozefek says you’re in luck here in New Zealand. “We have got some industries in New Zealand that are really well developed. We've got the machinery, we've got the factories. If it’s skincare, food, we are 100% geared for manufacturing in New Zealand, and they can meet the kind of manufacturing numbers that can support a global supply chain, which is awesome. But that's about it.”

If you are outside those types of products and you also want to have an eco-friendly range, that’s been proven to be problematic at times, as New Zealand doesn’t always have the capability to make it a sellable product. Often anything that is eco-friendly is also more expensive. It’s a constant juggle between wanting to provide both a New Zealand-made product and an eco-friendly one, and having a product that is profitable for the creative, and a price point the market expects. Jozefek says: “We're always trying to make the best choices with manufacturers, materials and products. But it's hard to create stuff that is going to be at a price point that people can afford, whilst also trying to tick all those boxes.”

The two big shifts that came out of the pandemic was that we as a nation moved away from New Zealand-made needing to all be about native birds and fauna, and we started to catch the eye of retailers around the world. Both of these are related, according to Jozefek. As her creators have been able to shift from New Zealand flora and fauna and go broader, it’s become more globally welcomed. “Our creatives are doing stuff that could absolutely be sold in Paris, or London or New York. We've got phenomenal creators in spaces, but they've never been able to break through because supply and demand has always been around that kind of native look.

Recently Jozefek’s seen a big surge of interest from distributors wanting the new look globally. “International distributors are noticing your creatives and saying ‘you guys are doing amazing stuff. Why haven't we seen this?’ They tell us it’s bold, it's really beautiful. And we really undervalue our differences. We've just been head down, bum up in New Zealand, doing our best and having fun with this new kind of freedom in design and undervalue how others see it.”

For makers and creatives who are at that stage of trying to work out the next step to growth, Jozefek has a few hot tips. First, if you’re feeling overloaded, it’s part of the process. “Everybody goes through that for a time, where you're the accountant, and you're the maker and you're the designer, and you're the marketer, and you're the picker and packer and you're the salesperson, you're everything, and you have to earn your chops, right, you have to do that to work out what you need to pass over and what you need to keep close.”

When you are ready to grow, she says: “Get help. Realise none of us are superhuman, know you’ll have weak spots, know what you want out of your business, and go get help in the areas holding you back.” That’s true whether you choose to scale, or stay with your incredible original works.

You can hear more of Jozefek’s wisdom in the MAP IT Marketing Podcast HERE