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Ten Things I Learned As a Creative Entrepreneur

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Ten Things I Learned As a Creative Entrepreneur

2018 marked the tenth year of Pico Design | Andrea Panico. As most small business owners know, the journey of entrepreneurship is not an easy one. If you're on the verge of starting your own business or even if you've been doing it for awhile, here are some important tips and strategies I have developed along the way.

  1. Once you start your business, you need to consciously make time to feed your creativity. Otherwise it’s easy to get bogged down with the day-to-day operational issues. I try to take an entire month twice a year to focus on experiencing new things- art, sculpture, nature, whatever is currently inspiring me. I force myself to take a day or half day each week to go to a new exhibit or take a short trip.  Since I have two kids, I often align this with school breaks, which provides the added benefit of my little ones getting to experience something inspiring as well.
  2. Customer service is crucial. Providing a positive experience with your brand is just as important as the product you’re selling. The reality of owning a business is that not everything is perfect. In the jewelry world, we deal with breakages and repairs. Sometimes customers are pleasant and friendly and sometimes they are simply angry that their purchase isn't what they hoped. (And sometimes a customer runs over jewelry with their car and thinks this is "manufacturers defect" joke!) You can't change how someone else behaves but "killing with kindness" has worked for me. The amount of energy I would have to spend getting upset and fighting it isn't worth it. Most time, it's easier to do whatever is in my power to make the experience as easy as possible for the customer. That being said, I try to be upfront about return and repair policies so that both my team and the customer is super clear about expectations.
  3. Once you think you’ve figured it out, the game changes. I found this is really similar to having kids. They go through a stage and just when you learn to manage it (terrible twos, anyone?) they're on to the next stage and you have to learn a whole new skillset to deal with it. In my ten years with Pico Design, the market has changed dramatically. The retail landscape is so different than it was in 2008. The trade shows are less attended, making huge expenditures on these types of shows something to question. Stores are asking for consignment way more than when I started. You have to be flexible but realize where your limits are. It always helps to talk to friends in your line of work, too.
  4. There's room for everyone. I'm a big proponent of collaboration over competition. When I started my business I didn't feel like I had anyone to reach out to for answers. I've made some really great friends in this business and I quickly realized there's room for all of us. And I'm more than happy to help young designers who are just starting out learn to navigate these crazy waters. Provided that everyone is creating their own, original work, I believe that there's a place for everyone. If a store or customer likes your work and your brand, they will buy into it. I think really what stores and people are buying is a relationship, not a piece of jewelry. The longer you keep doing what you're doing with honesty and integrity, the more connections you'll make and probably, more sales. I've met way too many jewelry designers to mention, but a shout out to my buddies Megan Auman, Meghan Patrice Riley, Manifest Design, and Oblik Atelier.
  5. Social media is ever-changing and it’s not a hobby. Gone are the days of posting a facebook link to your store and hoping people would shop online. The world of social media is a complex web of technicalities and algorithms that can make your head spin. There are countless articles and courses and consultants that can help you navigate this. Please don't just "hire a young intern" to manage your social. If you are not going to do it yourself (this IS possible), hire a professional who knows what they are doing. 
  6. You have to spend money (or time) to make money. Completely true. The game is figuring out how to minimize your expenses to maximize your profit. As an example, when I was actively doing trade shows in New York, my booth fee per show was approaching $6000 per show. This did not include extra expenses such as lighting, WiFi, booth setup and furniture costs and most importantly, my time. In some of my better shows, I walked away with almost $40K in orders—which seems like a huge profit. But by year 8 of doing this, my time started to weigh more heavily in my calculations. Some financial investment is a fact but figure out where the best use of your money is. You may find that spending your money on targeted Facebook ads is just as effective as doing trade shows. Or doing smaller shows in your home city may be a better first step.
  7. Expect the unexpected. When I was deeply involved in selling at trade shows, I met several times with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They never bought from me but returned to my booth often to see what I was doing. I typically take a laid back approach to selling my work, as I believe that if a store buyer wants it, they will let you know. Several years later, the Met reached out to me to design a custom jewelry collection for them, using anything in the museum as inspiration. For me, this was infinitely better than simply selling them my existing jewelry. Sometimes these strokes of luck happen when you most need them. Be patient and keep doing your thing. 
  8. It takes a village. One of the greatest pleasures of having my own business is meeting like-minded entrepreneurs and business owners. Get to know the business community in your town or city, no matter how small. Establishing business roots in your hometown is just as important as developing personal connections (sometimes these are one and the same!). My home and studio (two different locations) are located in Montclair, NJ, just a short hop from NYC.  Montclair is a vibrant, creative community with tons of small businesses. I have developed great connections with many of these entrepreneurs, even forming a group that gets together periodically to share insights and provide support.
  9. You will dream about your business. Every night. Owning a business is a 24-7 endeavor. There is always something more you can do, another item on your to-do list. When you internalize this, it will pop up in your dreams. Do something to clear your mind at night—exercise, meditate, write notes down on a pad next to your bed. I do the first two. They help me shift my focus and clear my mind.
  10. Don’t look at what others are doing. Keep up with what's going on in your industry, but stay true to who you are. If you're continually influenced by trends or what the "masses" are doing, we won't hear your true voice. I've always been a little left of center in my clothing and music choices. I created Pico Design because I felt that there weren't any brands doing tomboy, minimal jewelry designs and I wanted them for myself. Trends come and go but if you can create a universal story for your brand, that thread can take you through years of growth!

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