This month I was invited to take part in Bucknell University’s Small Business Development Center Community Panel discussion as part of the finalé to their Breaking Brand webinar series. The five-part series focused on brand and community building strategies for small businesses and creative entrepreneurs in central PA, both where I live and where the university is located. The panelists for each session focused on using community engagement and brand identity and specific strategies to use in each of the four main areas of brand identity and authenticity, using design to sell your brand, using video and multimedia, and social media strategies. The final webinar will include the speakers from the first four sessions, Brianne Croteau, Founder of Croteau Creative Strategies and developer of the Breaking Brand series, as well as four panelists from around central PA with various small and creative businesses.
I am honored to be a part of the community panel, but honestly, I still feel like I am in the process of figuring out how to best run my small creative business. Maybe I am there to represent the “messy middle,” or maybe all small business entrepreneurs feel like they are always living in that space? I don’t know, but I have been thinking a lot about what I can say to encourage others in their creative business adventure and how it relates to community building through your work. Honestly, for me, it is pretty simple. I just try to create the world I want to live in.
My business (and life) are still in the small town I grew up in. When I was younger, there surprisingly was not a varied selection of small businesses in our town or area, despite being about 30 minutes to the nearest larger city. As a young person deeply interested in the arts, there were very few nearby opportunities to engage in special programs, and only rarely did a visiting artist hold a residency at our school. Actually, I can remember only one. When I was offered the chance to work with the local arts council in my town, Perry County Council of the Arts (PCCA) to run their relatively young Drop-In Art program, I knew it was my opportunity to become part of providing the programs I wished I had access to as a child. And several years later when a board member, local teacher, and high school classmate suggested I apply for the Artist Residency program, I knew it was another way to continue to bring my love and desire for more arts opportunities within my community to an even wider young audience. I am honored to be welcomed into households and classrooms to spread the love of fiber and quilt arts. Encouraging others to be creative, bold, and expressive is as much a part of the work I do as the quilts themselves.
I am generally self-taught all the way around, from the quilting and teaching to the business end, and by no means have it all figured out for either. I very much love the learn as you go approach and am resolved to be a life-long learner. If you are so inclined as well and want to learn more bout running your own creative business, I have complied a list of resources here that I use regularly or have found extremely useful. I hope you will find them useful as well.
1. Bucknell University Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
Obviously, we have to start here as this is the organization I’ve taken my latest classes with and will be participating in this June. The SBDC offers a ton of services and consulting help for small businesses and creative entrepreneurs for FREE! They host workshops and seminars on a variety of topics from taxes and licensing to marketing and branding for zero cost, which really helps that balance sheet.
2. Craft Industry Alliance (CIA)
The Craft Industry Alliance (or CIA, which is very tongue in cheek in my opinion) is an online trade association for all kinds of makers and artists. If you run your own small, creative business focused on handmade or craft this is the place to join for resources. I have taken a plethora of online courses with CIA, especially over the past year, and have gained so much knowledge for my time. What I most appreciate about the CIA is the classes are held by people currently practicing in the field they are talking about. None of the scenarios are hypothetical, these are actual creative entrepreneurs who have learned from their mistakes and are now passing on their knowledge. There is a fee to join the website, but the information you can access is truly great for the price. You also receive a weekly newsletter full of interesting craft industry news as well as job opportunities. I recently found a magazine writing opportunity through the available job postings in the newsletter!
3. Simply Suzys/ Suzy School/ Suzy Holman (@suzyholman)
Personally, I am not really interested in mega scaling my business via social media (at least not right now), but if you are, you can probably bet on Suzy Holman to get you there. I follow her on Instagram where she has built an undeniable empire of influence. Through her account, she shares a lot about how to be a successful entrepreneur from the comfort of – basically- your living room while raising your children. In addition to the free encouragement and advice on here social media, you can also attend retreats and access online programs if you are so inclined.
4. Elise Cripe/ EliseJoy.com/ @elisejoy
Elise Joy a.k.a. Elise Cripe is by and far one of my business idols. She seems to work her creative business with what I consider to be the perfect balance of seriousness and fun. She admittedly feels overwhelmed at times, super successful and fulfilled, and wondering where to go next all at the same time, which is highly relatable to me. I find her podcast is like having a conversation with a friend who I view as being better than me in their business life. It’s informative in a non-pressure, fun way in which Elsie comes across as totally honest about the ups and downs of having a one-woman creative business while being a mother. You can take classes with her via Teachable and the CIA, as well as buy her book “Big Dreams, Daily Joys,” which I highly recommend.
5. Free Books from the Library!
Do not forget this simple, yet often overlooked resource. Books are free and you can consume and learn from as many as you are able regularly just by searching your local library. Even in my relatively small town, there are several books on creative entrepreneurship and you can almost always request additional materials from other area libraries. Some of my other favorite books include: “Show Your Work,” by Austin Kleon; “Superfans,” by Pat Flynn, and “Big Magic,” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Each of these titles was pivotal for me in gaining insight and confidence as to how I wanted to proceed with my own creative practice and build a business and general lifestyle therefrom.
I sincerely hope this article gave you a few new resources to enjoy and explore in your creative entrepreneur journey. I wish you all the best in building a creative life you love!
Thanks for reading and stay creative, friends! Janice