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12 Pieces of Wisdom We Learned at Our First Makers Conference

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On Saturday, we held our very first Makers Conference, a celebration of the artisans—from pickle-makers and confectioners to glass-blowers and candlestick-makers—whose goods we stock in our Shop. The day was meant to give those makers an opportunity to meet and learn from each other as well as from experts in small business investing, social media, and marketing; and though the event was aimed at our makers, the smart words exchanged and advice shared are valuable for anyone, whether you just launched a business Twitter account or are rolling out a full business plan.

Here are 12 of the most salient tips we learned at our Makers Conference: 

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Dryer balls

  • If you're going to invest in one thing (or, if you are going to build your company on one thing), it should be authentic storytelling. 
    And what's "authentic storytelling"? Quality content that is unique and true to you. And don't forget to invest in good customer service, too. 
  • Master (only) as many social media platforms as your bandwidth will allow; two is a good place to start. 
    Commit fully to the platforms you choose, and then use them to tell your story—to give context to what you're doing, making, and selling. Instagram in particular, says our own Haley Priebe, "is an incredible branding tool. You can display a lifestyle around your products."
  • You might have to get creative—to think outside of your original mission or original product line—in order to expand. 
    Dana Loia of Dana’s Bakery discussed how, in order to get her items on the shelves of department stores like Bloomingdale's, she and her team had to think up products that weren't perishable, since big-name stores were only stocking items (like chocolate truffles) that had a shelf life of a year or longer. So, she created macaron-making kits that could hold up much longer than her perishable cookies.
  • "Get a telephone. Get on the phone with people and talk to them." 
    So said Kiel Mead of Areaware and American Design Club. It's surprising the kind of conversations you can have if you get people on the phone, and it's surprising the people who will call you! 

Pickles

  • "At every turn, strive to eliminate complexity."
    Rick Field of Rick's Picks said that that's the way to build a business that isn't over-complicated or weighed down with bureaucracy or distractions.

  • Focus on what you do well. Know what success looks like for your business. 
    "Success" may not be what you first anticipate: Claire Mazur, co-founder of Of a Kind, said that certain projects, while very exciting, have distracted her and her colleagues from their focus on the company's mission—and what they were already doing well.

 Tablecloth

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  • When photographing your products, don't just shoot straight on.
    Keep things fresh by considering context and scene, agreed our art director Alexis Anthony and our photographer James Ransom in their styling and photography workshop. Ask, "Who will be using this product? How will they do it? When? What else will be present?" Use the opportunity to showcase your product's features, like texture and color, and extend the "scene" the product is in beyond the frame of the photo.

  • Choose very carefully in all sorts of business relationships, from signing onto partnerships to hiring advertisers and marketers.
    This piece of advice is broad-reaching. When you hire a marketing team to distribute samples of your product at a store, for example, make sure they know exactly what they're talking about and the language you'd like them to use. And, look at the community of brands where your products are being stocked and think of this as your peer group. Exposure often comes with the price of profitability (you make less money when you don't distribute and sell your goods directly, but you're gaining a wider reach)—and that means you must think very, very carefully about where and by whom your products are being sold. 

  • Turning down money is hard—but if the time, investor, or proposed agreement aren't right, they're just not right. 
    So advised Juli Kaufmann, founder of the business development firm Fix Development. Wait until you feel totally confident in your investors and your products. 

Sugar  Caramels

  • "Your labeling and packaging design and process can revolutionize your production process."
    Suzi Sheffield of Beautiful Briny Sea said that good packaging needs to protect, display, advertise, and sell your product—and it has to be efficient. Aim for strong design and very few "moving parts" or packaging steps. 

  • "The worst thing you can do is start something and not tell anyone about it."
    Terry Romero, the head of outreach at Kickstarter, said that even before your product is physically in the world, your presence on social media is everything. It's also a good idea to have a simple landing page where you can collect people's email addresses.

  • The design world and the food world are moving in similar directions.
    More and more, consumers want to know where the pieces were made and where the products are coming from. Tell them!

What's the best business advice you've ever been given? Share your wisdom in the comments.

Photo of dryer balls by Mark Weinberg; photos of pickles, tablecloth, and caramels by James Ransom; photo of Mexican Chocolate Sugar by Bobbi Lin

Tags: makers conference, wisdom, tips