Some customers you DON'T want  

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One thing you need to face squarely when you're running a studio business is that there are some people who you don't want an on-going customer relationship with - those who just don't like your work that much.

Yes, it's great to expand your audience and clients/customers. But the fact is that there are some people who will never "get" what you do and who, even if they can perhaps be persuaded to buy once, won't ever be all that enthused by it. You know, if you're honest with yourself that "they're just not that into you" - right? Don't waste your energy - and their time - by trying to target those people on the very edges of your natural customer/fan group. Your efforts are far better spent listening to the people who love your work and working out how to make it even better for them.

Don't be afraid to choose your customers so that you genuinely can like, enjoy and feel at ease with them.

18. If it’s cool and fashionable – run from it before it eats you up.  

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I just got an email from Bag, Borrow and Steal the handbag rental people asking me, "Are you on Trend?" and I have to say, no, I'm probably not and I'd like it to stay that way.

Trrrr-end. The whole point is that it's ephemeral; by the time one fashion is ubiquitous it's already the beginning of the end for it.

The web spreads trends far faster than ever before, and globally. So it's easy to keep up with them and often just as easy to latch on and design something similar. This may work if you are a high street fashion chain focused on selling affordable throw-away clothes (whatever you feel about the ethics of that) but it can be disastrous if you're a small studio. Why? Well, in practical terms you just won't have the speed of distribution - even if you're selling mostly online not many people will see your stuff fast enough if the fashion proves fleeting. Far more importantly though, if you jump on a lot of the new fads, then before long you'll be just a copyist, with nothing distinctively yours. Okay, you may make some money from it, but probably not for long, and meantime you'll have missed opportunities to build your own distinctive brand style.

So please, I know it's tempting, but don't get eaten up by the big monster of "currently cool". Find your own way, develop your own look and feel, and have the confidence to be yourself, not a pale shadow of some other artist or designer. By all means be aware of trends and influenced by them - you will be in any case, whether you embrace this or not. But don't follow fashion - find your own style and one day fashion, fickle as ever, just may follow you. At least for a while.

Make small, quiet mistakes, not big, noisy ones.  

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This week, Kunati, a publisher who did fiction and tarot decks (which is why I found them interesting) went out of business. It's a shame, but when they first started up, I said to Alex, "I give them about two years," and I think that was just about how long it was. Quite honestly, that wasn't so insightful - anyone in the industry who paid a bit of careful attention to what they were doing would probably have said the same.

On the surface, there wasn't anything particularly wrong with their tactics and strategy, and they did get lots of attention in the first year or two and even won awards. It all seemed great. But, look just a little more carefully and it was obvious that they didn't know the publishing business (or, for that matter, the marketing one, though that's another story), and were making most of the classic mistakes. How did I recognise this? Simply because we made most of those very same mistakes at the beginning of Baba Studio and Magic Realist Press. The difference is that we made them small, not big. Which is why we survived and still continue to grow.

When you first start out, you may choose to go into a business that you have experience with, or you may decide go into something that you're new to, but find attractive or promising. In the post below, I've talked about the dangers of doing exactly what you were already doing, but, at the other extreme, there are also problems with going into a business in which you have little experience. However bright you are and however much research you do, you're bound to get many things wrong.

So, what are the options? Well, you either start off big, pour in lots of money, make an immediate impact, charge ahead and assume that you'll learn fast and overwhelm some of the competition. Or you start small and cautious, feel your way, be prepared to learn, alter course and change direction and accept that you'll initially be ignored and eclipsed by the "biggies".

Most of the 1995-2000 dotcoms went the first way, they burned through money, got heaps of publicity, appeared to grow fast - and in the end went out of existence even faster. Having been through all that during my London dotcom days, when we began Magic Realist Press and Baba Studio I wanted to go the second way, small step by small step, happy to learn by our (small in financial terms) mistakes and to make many changes in what we were producing and how we produced it. When we were patronised or laughed at, which sometimes happened, it rarely bothered either of us. On the upside, the fact that we were so obviously willing to learn and adapt meant that many great people went out of their way to encourage us and give us sound advice.

Of course, if you have money behind you, it's very attractive to charge right in, get noticed, put out lots of product and attract attention. You could say it's the "look at me" way of doing things and yes, it can work. It's risky though, because if, when people do look, they find your product or service not quite up to scratch, or simply not all that appealing in the market, you've lost them - and thrown the money down a drain. And with your resources spent, you may not get a second chance. I assume it's something like this that happened to Kunati, and it's not uncommon. Think how many fashion or music brands make a huge splash one year and are gone the next.

On the other hand, if you start small, even discrete, then one or two products that don't quite take off in the market won't do much harm, and may even be tweakable to get them right. It's an odd fact that our Baroque Bohemian Cats' Tarot and Bohemian Cats picture book weren't a great success money-wise in their first year - but the deck, the pictures and the products based on them, have done increasingly well since, and now look set to become classics. It just took us a while to understand their audience and market - and we had that time to do that because at no point had we hurled large amounts of our limited resources at it.

Quiet, low-cost, careful and adaptable isn't especially glamorous. But if you want a business that's successful medium-term, and can survive the ups and downs of real-world changes, then make small steps with their associated small, recoverable mistakes. Over time, many little steps add up to a good-sized, sustainable business that feels comfortable in its own skin, and never has to scream, "Look at me."