(For all your annual planning needs, our 2014 Adventure Calendar is just $10 in the shop!)
How is it already February?!
We crafted this list of goals back in December, but as soon as January 1st rolled around, we dove right in and forgot to actually, you know, share those goals. So, today, here’s a look at what we have planned for These Are Things in 2014.
2014 will mark our fourth year in business. At this point, I feel like we’re starting to hit our stride and really figure out what works for us – and what doesn’t. We know our strengths and weaknesses, we know what kind of work makes us happy, and we know (more or less) what we’d like to build. With all of that knowing comes a lot more confidence, and as a result of that confidence, we hope that this will be a big year for our little company.
We started this venture with a single product and a PayPal button. As it‘s grown, we‘ve found our time more divided with each passing year. Never one to turn down an opportunity, we’ve taken on a lot more freelance work in the past couple of years. While we love working on these projects, there’s no denying that they cut into our design time significantly, resulting in fewer new products landing in our shop.
And then there are all of the other things that go into running a creative business. As These Are Things becomes more successful, more of our time is dedicated to managing the day to day operations of a multi-channel creative enterprise. Order fulfillment, inventory management, bookkeeping, social media, customer service, website updates – the list goes on. It all takes time, and there are only so many hours in a day.
This year, our main priority is to bring our focus back to what got us here: our product line and our shop.
Make new things. Plain and simple, new product is the lifeblood of our business. When we create something new, we get more press, which leads to more traffic and more sales. Best of all, designing new product is our favorite thing to do! The more new things we make, the more creatively fulfilled we feel. We have endless lists of ideas, but we’re particularly excited about finishing some really cool showpieces that have been in our “In Progress” folder for way too long.
Offer more custom pieces. In 2013, we tested the waters of personalized art with our first ever custom map. The response was very positive, so we’d like to expand our range of custom offerings in 2014. To do this, we’re stepping up our production capabilities, investing in some key pieces of equipment that will help us to print more custom work right here in our studio.
Refresh our online shop. As we continue to add more products and categories to our shop, we find ourselves really pushing the limits of our now two year old design. Our ecommerce platform has made some great strides with its architecture and we’d love to be able to take advantage of these new features with an updated storefront.
Get the word out. The best promotion and marketing we get is from word of mouth. Unfortunately, 2013 wasn’t the greatest year for These Are Things in that area. While it was a successful year in terms of sales, our web referrals have been stagnant. We think this is mainly due to the lack of new and noteworthy product. (Noticing a theme here?) It’s time to get drawing!
This new arm of our business gets its own category! Many of our shop goals also apply to the wholesale section – designing more product, getting more press – but we also have some additional wholesale-specific goals in mind for this year.
Exhibit at NSS for the second year – and dominate! Our biggest goal is to have another successful year at the National Stationery Show. We learned so much at last year’s show and we’re excited to put those lessons into action. With a year of experience under our belts and a lot more time to plan, we’ll be going huge at this year’s show. Can’t wait to show you what we have in store!
Score new accounts. Last year’s Stationery Show was the first time we’ve intentionally focused on the wholesale side of our business. As a result, we’ve had the opportunity to share our work with amazing shops all around the U.S. and landed our first national brick-and-mortar account. This year, we’ll continue to seek out new retail partners whenever possible, building a list of dream accounts and going after them.
Fine-tune our wholesale offerings. Working with retailers has introduced a whole new set of challenges to our direct-to-customer business model. Based on the lessons we’ve learned from our first year in the wholesale game, we’ll be improving almost everything about our line, from our product offerings to our pricing and packaging.
Since we started These Are Things, we’ve been blown away by the caliber of clients that have reached out to us for illustration projects. We’ve established professional relationships with brands that we love – airlines, hotels, and travel magazines, to name a few – and they’ve helped push our design and illustration skills to new levels.
As our business continues to grow, we’ve had to turn down more projects than we’ve accepted. Between running the other parts of our business and fitting freelance work in every available spot, our schedule is completely overbooked. Since we’re prioritizing our own product line this year, we’ll need to cut back on freelance work.
Be more selective. Our main goal with freelance is quality over quantity. It’s always hard for us to say no, but we’ve gotten much better at quickly figuring out if we’ll be a good fit with a client. Just last week, we turned down a huge job with an agency that we’d love to work with. Unfortunately, the project wasn’t the right fit for us or our schedules and we had to decline.
Negotiate better contracts. When we do choose to take on a new freelance client, we’re going to pay more attention to our contracts, due to a few follies that we had in 2013. We’ve found that clients that aren’t very eager to work with the terms outlined in our contracts usually don’t end up meshing well with us, anyway.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned so far on this journey, it’s that there’s not exactly a clear roadmap to building a successful creative business. Over the years, we’ve shared many details about the inner workings of our business in hopes that it could help other artists who are looking to do their own thing.
This year, we’re going to be more intentional in the ways that we share our knowledge. Here’s how we’ll do it:
Relaunch our blog. From the beginning, we’ve wanted this blog to be a space to not only record our journey, but to help other creative entrepreneurs along the way, too. This year, we’ll be sharing even more of our story here on Making It. We want this to be a place where we can offer a behind-the-scenes look at our creative business, complete with the details that will help you build your own in the process. We’ll be posting on a regular schedule (finally!) and redesigning the blog to make it easier to navigate.
Partner with other resources. In addition to posting more regularly on our own blog, we’ll also be partnering with other websites to share tactical tips for illustrators, artists, and creative entrepreneurs of all kinds. Last week, we shared a detailed look at our editorial illustration process on the GoMediaZine blog, and we’re looking forward to doing more guest posts like this in the future.
Speak at another conference. It’s always nice to get away from the computer screen and hang out with real, live people! We had a great time at last year’s WMC Fest, so we jumped at the chance to speak at another event. We’ll be at Pioneer Nation at the end of March and are already looking forward to spending a weekend in Portland with our fellow creatives. (Join us?)
Launch a secret project. Over six months in the making, this secret has been hard to keep! We’ve been collaborating with The $100 Startup author and all-around awesome guy Chris Guillebeau to create the ultimate toolkit for aspiring creative entrepreneurs. We’ll be revealing much more about this project over the next week, but for now, here’s a preview of what’s to come.
Make our next move. We’ve been fortunate and happy to spend the last five months living in Ohio as we focused on relocating our inventory and conquering the busy holiday season. Now, we’re starting to think about where we’ll go next. There are a number of options on the table and our preference seems to change by the minute! The details are still hazy, but now that the dust has settled, we’re looking forward to setting out on our next big adventure.
Travel every month. Exploring new places is our favorite pastime, but it’s been hard to get away during these formative years of our business. After hitting an all-time travel low in 2013, we’re making it a priority in 2014. Even if it’s a small weekend trip, we’d like to get away at least once a month. In January, we spent 36 hours in Nashville, and we have trips to Los Angeles, Chicago, and Portland booked for February and March. In May, we’ll be hitting up New York for the Stationery Show. After that, I’m hoping to put some of our stockpiled frequent flyer miles to use and book a big international trip to celebrate a show well done.
I think this list should keep us busy for a while. Now, time to get back to work!
Later this week, we’ll be sharing more details about our secret project. We’ll also be following through on our main goal and releasing a few new things in the shop. Exciting times ahead!