understandably, one of the core reasons for offering a business class to creatives is to afford them with an education they may have yet to receive. being a creative-type serves well for coming up with new ideas, but the process of turning a good idea into a viable revenue generator takes a different skill set altogether. our instructor often refers to the left brain/right brain paradigm in this regard.
you can have the greatest business ideas in the world, but if you lack the knowledge and/or experience of developing and executing those plans, chances are no one will ever get to see your genius. so i'm told.
i believe one of the best ways to help people realize they can accomplish their goals (in business or in life) is to show them examples of others who were once in a similar situation and are now making their ideas work. make those examples unique and artistic and successful and all of a sudden you've got a room full of creatives believing that they're simply one business plan away from living the life they've envisioned for so long...
i don't mean to speak for the others in our class, but the fourth week in NxLevel was the best session we've had so far thanks to two guest speakers: fancy tiger's matthew brown and bobbi walker of walker fine arts.
fancy tiger, for those unaware, is one of denver's coolest new retail clothing shops specializing in men's and women's apparel, handmade goods and jewelry, independent and local designers and lots of other hip stuff. the company also features a crafts store selling yarn, fabric and supplies, offering crafting classes and holding crafting events around the city. both are located on the first block of south broadway helping to fuel the resurgence of cool in the historic baker 'hood.
not that long ago, fancy tiger's clothing boutique and crafts store shared the same storefront as a harmonious union of ideas between brown and his wife. when the business launched, the couple envisioned fancy tiger being the clothing/crafting destination for denver's hipsters who already made south broadway their kicking ground. not long after, brown said they realized it was those same hipsters - who the couple initially catered to - were actually the ones shoplifting all the goods. not hip.
realizing this, brown had to look at the business objectively because he rightfully believed (and still does) that he IS his market. he, himself, is representative of the customers that he's trying to reach. with this in mind, he says objectivity is a critical quality to have when tackling a new business venture. "having a strong vision is good," he says. "being blinded by passion is not."
stressing the importance of staying flexible, and re-evaluating who his customers actually were, the company eventually split into the two separate operations that you see today. by listening to their market the couple was able to compromise their idyllic and somewhat under-developed vision and create a better business model more equipped to serve a better-quality customer (i.e. those who value local/handmade/repurposed merchandise as opposed to those who steal it.)
a couple valuable gems brown passed along to us NxLevelers: 1) learn to delegate. contrary to their instincts, start-up business owners don't have to do everything themselves. 2) build relationships. brown refers to his customers at fancy tiger as a little family. he's learned that the majority of his customers value the same things he does, so embrace them and treat them kindly. and 3) be your market. if it works for you than it will likely work for those who you're trying to reach. additionally, talk to others who've had success in your industry and learn from their experiences.
walker fine art, located on the ground floor of the swanky new building at 300 w. 11th in the golden triangle, is quickly becoming a gallery synonymous with quality and presence thanks to the hard work of its owner, bobbi walker. while walker may be striving to connect with a different clientele than that which patrons fancy tiger, the business philosophy she subscribes to isn't that dissimilar to brown's.
walker agreed with brown on several items, most of which centered on the unifying principle of identifying your clients. not that long ago, walker says she made a decision to alter her approach to selling art in that she wished to target a more upscale clientele. this shift, she says, entailed leaving the world of emerging artists (and emerging art buyers) to a market where clients had more expendable income to drop on art from better-established, mid-career artists.
coming from a marketing background, walker says she knew the value of quality branding and placement. she spent several dollars and hours upgrading her now well-recognized "w" logo and used her marketing skills to use the new look to lure in new customers.
similar to brown's story, walker emphasizes the importance of staying flexible in an ever-changing marketplace. she's able to shift her marketing strategies every quarter (due to various industries that have a direct impact on art-buying practices), and she revises her business plan every year. "you need to be able to change gears on the fly," she says.
some of the more insightful nuggets walker emphasizes: 1) diversify your target market. maintain a bread and butter income source but multiply avenues in which you can generate revenue. 2) customer service. she's been able to build her brand by being accessible and friendly to her clients. 3) outsource your weak areas. if you know someone can do something better than you can, go ahead and have them do it. this will enable you to focus on your strengths and make your company as strong as it can be. lastly, walker stresses the value in trading services and building relationships with peers.
"pay attention to how people market and don't be afraid to trade stuff," she says. "two way streets with small business owners always win."