I grew up with parents who were artsy yet business-minded, and role models like that have helped me succeed as a small-business owner. My jewelry company, Helen Ficalora, started inside my family's beach motel in Montauk, NY. Over the past 16 years, I've opened six stores around the country, and recently began selling my signature designs (including my best-selling ABC charms) via my website.
Creative entrepreneurs—such as those in the fields of design, fashion or film—often have a head for art, not for numbers. But I come from a background that incorporates both, and that makes a difference. My dad was a teacher, with a specialty in math, but he was also a sculptor and a painter. My mom was a bookkeeper, but also a painter. And they had me shortly after they started the Montauk motel business. So my whole life was in this dual reality of creativity and business. I learned to use both the left and right sides of my brain.
I was lucky to have that upbringing. If you need help balancing your artistic side with math and business, here are my tips.
1. Take an accounting class.
If you want to be a small-business owner, my advice is to take an accounting class. That's a joke, but I'm not really kidding. When I work on jewelry it’s almost like a spiritual experience. I don't really like the financial side of the business—I’m still terrible at pricing—but it's important to understand how cash flows in and out of your business. Otherwise, what you’re doing is a hobby, not a business with a shot at financial success.
2. Work with a business coach or professional advisor.
Especially as I began expanding my company, I needed help with everything from marketing to human resources to basic management. As an artist, I have some control-freak tendencies that make it hard to delegate responsibility. It was easier for me to pester a coach—rather than friends—with all my questions and concerns. Ultimately, working with a business coach built my confidence and honed my decision-making skills.
3. Find creativity in the business side of things.
The two are not mutually exclusive. For instance, when I was starting out in the early 2000s, most jewelry designers worked with agents or reps who managed the business side of things and helped get the jewelry into big department stores. Well, I couldn’t find an agent to take me on, nor did I really want to attempt the wholesale approach. I’m too sensitive about being rejected.
So I got “creative” and decided to open my own store in New York City. I spent six months building it out, picking the lighting and buying the right showcases. I threw a party for its opening. This business solution worked for me, and I’ve since replicated it five other times.
4. Be organized and stay focused.
Attributes like these are critical for business success. But in many ways, it’s the exact opposite of how you work as an artist, especially when you get lost in creating something beautiful. I was doing Bikram yoga when I first started my business. It helped me a lot. When I was doing a balancing pose on one leg, if I didn’t keep staring at a point in front of me, I fell over. It’s the same in business: Keep the focus. Avoid distractions. Not only will you stay on your feet, you’ll be positioned and ready for success.
Read more about Helen Ficalora.