As craftspeople, we like to think we’re above doing things just for money. Don’t get me wrong, we wouldn’t do what we do if we didn’t get paid. But the whole “taking pride in your workmanship” thing is always present in the mind of most people that work with their hands. I can only speak for myself, but I think the pride reasoning is emphasized more when I’m not making the money I should. When things are clicking along in a positive way on the economic highway, I still take pride in my work, but I’m not over-emphasizing it to make myself feel better about what I do.
This might sound like a broken record, but it bears repeating; the reason we’re in business is to make money. The only exception to this statement is for the person who is independently wealthy and is doing the craft out of love or simply killing time. For everyone else that has to turn a profit when the tools turn on, you must think of yourself as a businessperson first and craftsperson second. Remember, it’s the business side of things that allows you to keep the power to your tools energized. If you over-emphasize the craftsman side of things and ignore the bean counting, the only way you’ll be plying your trade is as a hobbyist.
The meat-and-potatoes portion of every contract is called the boilerplate. This is the part that explains the basics of how you specifically do business, such as payment terms and conditions you require. It is a guide that instructs clients in what to expect when contracting with your business, regardless of the type of work being performed.
Business models or plans also need to have a boilerplate. When we talk about business plans we tend to think of specific items pertaining to the exact type of work we want to offer. And although this is certainly a big part of your plan, you cannot forget the boilerplate issues such as the reason for your business’s existence: to make money. It’s pretty obvious that if you forget to emphasize the details of the type of things you do in your business plan, your business will be without aim. Not having that clear direction is like shooting at a target with a blindfold on. However, if you forget to include the boilerplate of making money in your plan, you might not have a blindfold on when you’re shooting at the target, but you won’t even have a weapon to take aim with.
The meaning of a paycheck
Everyone knows they need to make money. Simply reminding yourself to be profitable is not enough to sustain a business. You must make it a lifestyle choice. I’m not talking about putting money ahead of developing relationships, but I am talking about making it a point to separate the business relationship with your client (which should emphasize profitability) from the personal.
A business-minded approach keeps you focused on the terms of the contract, whereas applying too much attention on the personal can negate your ability to make money on the project. When performing work in the course of business, you should expect nothing but a paycheck. The simpler you run the business side of things, the easier it will be to make money. Consider the following:
Keep your eyes focused on the monetary return
I’ve heard it said — and wholeheartedly agree — that making a profit is like eating; it’s required for survival, but it is not the purpose for living. When a business is solely focused on making a profit, the human factor can be easily swept aside creating a bad working culture. It can also be difficult making a profit during bad economic times, which to a business that is solely focused on turning a profit, means certain death.
So why am I suggesting the focus on the money? Artists and craftspeople share a unique approach to making money. Their gift allows them to sustain business by creating objects born from inspiration. It’s a special process where objects are realized as they transpire out of the brain and are formed by the practiced movement of their hands. Because of the heavily creative nature of the artist’s work, we are already pre-wired to please. This is a good disposition to have, but left unguarded, can get taken advantage of by cost-conscience consumers.
Therefore, to bring balance to the creative mind that runs a business, the importance of making a profit must be emphasized. Focusing on the money end of things will help bring balance by streamlining your process along with realizing your true value in the marketplace.
Develop relationships, but have clear-cut boundaries
I believe developing relationships with your clients is essential to success. However, the term “relationship” needs to be clearly defined. Although you might acquire a certain closeness to the people you work for, you have to remember you are there to make money. If you treat the relationship like a personal one, your eyes will be pulled off the goal of turning a profit.
An obvious example would be doing work for family and friends. From a business standpoint, it can be fraught with the unnecessary complications of unrealistic expectations. Focusing on making a profit is not a bad thing; it is what you do when you’re in business. I’m not at all suggesting to ignore helping out those who treat you well or cannot afford your services, just do not blur the line between business and personal actions. In order for a business to be sustainable it has to make money, which means establishing those clear-cut boundary lines of what constitutes work and play.
Learn and develop the things you’re most profitable at
It seems obvious but bears repeating: concentrate on that which you’re most profitable. If making money is the purpose of a business’s existence, then why would you do work that is less profitable than other work that is?
Craftspeople typically fall into doing other things as a result of not having enough work in the profitable stuff or they simply love doing certain things that don’t bring home the bacon. There’s nothing wrong with that approach; sometimes it actually brings a good balance to your business. However, you cannot lose sight of the fact that it is extremely hard to make money at being creative. With the large influx of imported goods, a consumer base that continually wants more product cheaper and quicker and local competition, you must concentrate on the things that make money. If you don’t know what you’re most profitable at, then you’re not being a good bean counter.
Having a gift to create is just that — a gift. It’s up to you to develop that gift into something that is not only sustainable for you, but also valuable to others that need your talent.
It’s easy to say a bunch of things to people you don’t know in an attempt to convince them that your words will help them achieve success. The bottom line is everyone has control of his or her own destiny. The key is to find nuggets of information that work within your system.
A good designer friend once told me a client asked her how much she would charge for the project. The designer jokingly said, “It depends on how much hand-waving and senseless information I give you.” We’re too often faced with a bunch of fluff that people charge a lot of money for when what we really need are simple factual truths. There is no one-size-fits-all model for your business. Making money, however, allows you to continue your craft and bring satisfaction when it is acquired the right way.
David Getts is a certified kitchen designer and owner of David Getts Designer Builder Inc. in Seattle.
This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue.