How Mistakes Prompt Change


by Barbara Brabec

What do you wish you had known at the beginning that took you too long to learn on your own? If you were starting your business all over again, knowing everything you know now, what would you do differently? By learning about common mistakes others have made, and what they did about them, you can gain perspective on your own situation.

*Mistake: Starting Unprepared. "If doing it over again, I would have taken some courses in business and marketing and some further art studies," says printmaker Chris Noah. "Then I would have gone into my business feeling stronger and more prepared."

"I cannot stress too strongly the importance of reading," adds author Kathy Cisneros. "The old adage still holds true: The fool keeps making the same mistake over and over again and never learns. The smart man makes a mistake and learns from it, but the wise man learns from other people's mistakes. Read, read, read! A dear friend once told me that nothing is difficult when you want to learn, and she was right. Attitude is everything."

*Mistake: Spreading Yourself Too Thin. Marsha Reed, who for over sixteen years has published Craftmaster News (, says she has run into her share of roadblocks over the years. "The biggest mistake we've made is spreading ourselves too thin, trying to take on too many projects at one time without ample resources. Six years ago when we had only three employees, we were publishing our monthly magazine, two smaller newsletters, hosting dozens of crafter conferences, and promoting one of the largest shows in Southern California. Oh, yes . . . we were also trying to raise a family and have a personal life, too. I think you get the picture.

"By spreading ourselves too thin, we weren't able to provide as high quality service as we did in the past. Bottom line? Our customer service level wasn't where it should have been. And although we realized we were busy, we didn't immediately realize how much this affected our customer service. Our solution was to redefine what our business scope was. We took a break, rewrote our business plan, and axed whatever additional projects we had that we simply couldn't get to. It was extremely difficult to drop something from our agenda, especially after having put so much hard-earned time, effort, and heart into it. But we realized that things just couldn't continue the way they were. We learned how to focus, and we got back down to the bottom line of providing the best services possible for our customers. Now we feel we've learned from our mistakes. Before committing our precious time and effort to additional projects, we make sure we have the available resources and we analyze the project intensely to make sure that what we plan to do is really worth doing, and that it will bring in bottom-line profits."

Jewelry designer Jan McClellan says her worst mistakes come when she is tired and pushing too hard. "Most of them concern my mind not working very well. Last summer when some personal family problems upset me, I arrived at one show without taking my tables (how can you forget a thing as basic as that?), and the very next weekend I got mixed up on the dates and actually arrived at a show a day late. I've learned that I'd better not stress myself too much, better keep more lists, and double-check things, especially if I'm feeling tired and spaced out."

* Mistake: Failing to Focus. "If I were doing it over again, I would choose one avenue of selling and stick with it," says bead business owner Jacqueline Janes. "I have done wholesale, sold to stores, done shows and craft malls, but I have never really pursued any of these avenues with all of my attention. Had I known that craft malls were going to die so suddenly, I may have concentrated my efforts on a more profitable area."

"I see now that my marketing effort has not been aggressive enough," says artist Carol Carlson, "and I hung in there paying high advertising costs when I should have been pursuing different avenues."

* Mistake: Being Too Cautious. "I was too timid, too cautious, and almost prided myself in taking things one step at a time," says fiber artist Elizabeth Bishop. "If launching my pattern line all over again, I would be more aggressive. I should have believed in my ability to launch a very different classic type of doll and grabbed much of the market while it was sensational and new. The first time I exhibited at the Houston Quilt Market, I was bowled over at the response, with lines forming to get to my booth. I was not prepared for the people who wanted to be distributors, nor the shops who wanted models and trunk shows right away. I could have been ready to go all out instead of taking the slow approach. And I lost some of that momentum of being new and different."

Mistakes are always uncomfortable, sometimes embarrassing, and usually costly in one way or another. "Believing the hype I got from a show promoter, I signed up for a week long, very expensive show my third time out," Joyce Birchler remembers. "I not only lost money, but I lost two months of my life getting ready for that stupid show."

Mistakes are also beneficial in that we learn from them just as we learn from failure. "Most of the hardships have taught me lessons that have helped me to acquire knowledge I would not have had otherwise," confirms doll designer Eileen Heifner.

Calligrapher Michael Noyes told me about a friend of his, a marketing VP, who asked him what mistakes he had made lately. "I suggested one or two, but he said that wasn't enough. To be successful, he said, one needs to be trying new things and taking risks. If you're not making mistakes, you're not experimenting enough with new ideas. That made sense to me. Afterwards, I thought of several more mistakes, so maybe I'm on track after all."

An excerpt from Barbara Brabecs book, Make It ProfitableHow to Make Your Art, Craft, Design, Writing, or Publishing Business More Efficient, More Satisfying, and More Profitable (M. Evans).

© 2002 by Barbara Brabec. Get details, other crafts business articles, resources, and a free subscription to The Brabec Bulletin on Barbara Brabecs World.

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