Recently, my friend Anandi Raman Creath sent me a proposed business plan. This former Microsoft project manager has long created scrapbooks as a hobby. She realized she might be able to create them professionally as heirlooms for people too busy and non-artistic to create their own. The business plan for the Papercraft Lab answered many of the right questions (where would she find clients?) but left one big one unanswered: How would a business like this, based on Creath’s artistic skills, ever grow?
“I don’t want to put in all the time and effort to start this great, exciting business, only to find out I can’t complete enough projects for it to be viable and ‘worth it’ financially,” she says.
She’s not the only artisanal entrepreneur facing this issue. As more people launch “Brand You” businesses, they inevitably reach a realization that what they’re selling is themselves. But there are just 168 hours in a week. You can only personally create so much original work. You can outsource administration. You can charge more, but this hits a limit, too. Is it possible to grow beyond that?
The answer is yes–if you’re smart about how you scale. You have to answer the question “How can you clone yourself?” as Fabienne Fredrickson, a Stamford, Connecticut-based business coach puts it. “How can you expand without you having to do the work?” Here are some ideas:
1. Launch scalable products.
Gretchen Rubin’s books–The Happiness Project and Happier at Home–have been best sellers. But her biggest fans already own these books, and it takes her about two years to produce a new one. So to meet intermediate demand, she recently launched several 21-Day Projects. By subscribing, readers get daily emails with instructions for mini-happiness projects on de-cluttering their lives, coping with difficult people, and so forth. The 21-day challenges were a natural expansion of her brand: “I don’t want just to write about happiness; I want to find ways to help people become happier,” she tells me. The emails can be automated–it’s no more work to sell 1,000 projects than 10.
A scrapbooking artist looking to sell scalable products could produce templates or kits that allow novice scrapbookers to paste in their pictures and create something that looks great. If each “Papercraft Lab” template was priced profitably and shipped automatically, this could be a scalable revenue stream.
2. Leverage your expertise.
Even if your creative work itself is not scalable, you can expand your scope by teaching what you do, says Fredrickson. A scrapbooking artist can teach workshops to a paying audience, thus earning more per hour than she could working on one person’s scrapbook. To leverage even more, “You can clone yourself through technology,” says Fredrickson. She expanded her coaching business by offering audio and video about her “Client Attraction” model for entrepreneurs she couldn’t serve in person. A scrapbooking artist could livestream her workshops to an Internet audience and sell the tutorials afterwards.
3. Master the media.
Nicole Williams, a career expert and creator of WORKS by Nicole Williams, figured out how to expand her personal brand by studying people who’d done it. “I looked at models like Martha Stewart,” she says. “Love her or hate her, from a business model perspective she really learned how to monetize how-to content using multiple platforms”–from books to magazines to TV.
A scrapbooking artist could likewise build her brand through media products. A coffee table book based on her best pages and her methods could work; books themselves don’t necessarily make much money but “You need the book to kind of legitimize you as an expert,” says Williams. Since scrapbooking is a visual medium, The Papercraft Lab could also work as a show on an HGTV-type network. In each episode, Creath could help a family commemorate some huge life event, while teaching viewers how to combine colors and textures for maximum effect. All this would boost demand for her workshops and templates, too.
4. Align with other brands.
“If you look at sports stars, like Tiger Woods, his money isn’t coming from his golf tournament wins,” says Williams. “His money is coming from his relationship with Nike.” Corporate sponsorships and partnerships can leverage a smaller brand in ways that work for both parties. Williams, for instance, works with LinkedIn, giving interviews on the company’s behalf as a career expert and producing career content for them. A scrapbooking maven could partner with Hobby Lobby, Michaels, or a bigger retailer that sells creative supplies, such as Target. The scrapbooker would be featured in her sponsor’s ads and content–extending her brand while getting paid to do so.
5. Train others in your methods.
If you develop a proprietary method, you can train others in your approach and franchise yourself. Fredrickson has trained other career coaches in her Client Attraction process, thus expanding her reach. If Creath built up a big following, she could train other professional scrapbookers in the Papercraft Lab process. Some could work for her, or some could work on their own and advertise that they’re Papercraft Lab-certified to land clients.
This wouldn’t necessarily work with all endeavors. I don’t envision other writers landing gigs by telling clients they’ve been certified in the Laura Vanderkam method of cranking out stories. But some creative types do outsource creation. Ghost writers sometimes create installments in young adult chapter book series based on formulas designed by the original author. And there’s a history of artists relying on their apprentices to increase output. Rembrandt’s studio met demand for his paintings through what might be called a collaborative approach–which now has art historians struggling to figure out what the master craftsman created and what he did not.
6. Honor your art.
Of course, one reason creative types don’t outsource content creation is that they enjoy this work. That’s why they started their businesses in the first place. The key is balance. If all you want to do is your creative work, there is a limit to how much you can grow. If Martha Stewart spent all her time crafting, cooking, and gardening, she would not have been able to grow the Martha Stewart empire.
That said, she has more control of her calendar–and the ability to devote time to creative pursuits if she chooses–than a middle manager at a corporation.
“If you can’t make money at your art, then you can’t make more art,” says Fredrickson, who counts several non-starving artists among her clients. But “if you get paid in a different way, then it fuels your art. Now you have taken the edge off”–so you can do the art you want without worrying about paying the bills.
[Image: Flickr user 55Laney69]