Last week, Fresh Collective’s Founder and CEO Laura-Jean Bernhardson had the pleasure of being a guest speaker at Jennifer Ger’s George Brown course The Business of Craft.
It was an inspiring experience, and Laura-Jean was excited to find out Jennifer had created the course herself. Here’s their conversation about this course and the challenges many crafters, designers and artists have to figure out the business side of things.
LJ: This course, The Business of Craft, is so needed! I wish I could have taken it when I was starting out as a designer! And you made up the course yourself, didn’t you? Can you tell me about how you developed the material and why you saw a need for the course?
JG: I had formal business training at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, and while I knew a ton about business strategy and managerial level decision making when I graduated, I was missing the tactical day-to-day knowledge of how to actually start, grow and build a brand.
Over the past 18 years of building Foxy Originals jewelry, my business partner and I have gone from selling jewelry in our dorm room to selling our line to large chains like Target, Barnes and Noble, The Bay and Indigo.
Through the process I’ve learned a ton. I meet many struggling small business owners who wrestle with the same issues about bringing their product to market as I had in the early days. After answering many of the same questions from different ‘makers’ I decided I’d take matters into my own hands and that’s when ‘The Business of Craft’ was created.
I put the course together through a lot of research, speaking with colleagues and fellow business owners and spending time really honing in on the best teaching methods to propel a business forward.
LJ: Working with so many emerging designers and makers over the years, I see similar themes in business challenges. What are the themes of the biggest obstacles or challenges you see your students facing?
JG: The course is in its third year and the same themes definitely crop up year over year. These can be surrounding how to price one’s product, general fear about ‘getting out there’ and promoting oneself and also fear of being copied, just to name a few.
LJ: What is your biggest piece of advice for someone starting a business as a designer? What’s the ONE thing they should definitely do in the first year?
The biggest thing a maker should do is understand the profitability surrounding their product. This means really knowing the true cost of their product- labour included, people!
Then they must understand what the market is willing to pay for their product in order to determine if they can create a healthy profit. If they are going to put all this time into building a brand, the first step is to ensure that what they are doing is profitable…because after all the goal is to quit our day job right?
If you can’t do that what you have is a hobby and not a business.
LJ: What was your biggest mistake when you were starting out? Do you have any particular failures that you overcame?
My biggest mistake was not understanding the needs of a retailer. We didn’t even have separate price points for retail and wholesale channels if you can believe it.
We were 19 and very green I’m telling you, these students learn from ALL of my mistakes so they’ll never have to make them like Suzie and I did.
LJ: Being with you in the class, I can see that you have a real passion for helping your students succeed and see what’s possible for their business and career. Like you really care about them, which is so awesome. Is there a personal passion or drive behind teaching for you?
I have a fondness for connecting with students and I find teaching fuels me with energy. I had many bad teachers over the years but the good ones were the ones that really explained things in a way that got me excited and their lessons stuck with me for life. I have so much to give my students and I work hard to connect with them in a meaningful way with useful course content and mixed teaching methods.
I’m fortunate to have turned my passion into a profitable business and I want to help others do the same. Seeing the graduates of this course move closer to fulfilling their business goals with the tools they’ve learned is such a joy!