The official site for the Detroit Art & Business Institute and Andrea Rosenfeld, professional artist and business consultant to the creative community in metro Detroit and beyond.

How to Build a Solid Creative Business: Think Big and Fail Small

How to Build a Solid Creative Business: Think Big and Fail Small

Thanks to for photo

Thanks to for photo

“Go big” seems to be my life.  I’m bold and tenacious and events tend to unfold for me with the top people.  Seldom do I start at the bottom and work my way up.  During a New York City wholesale show I met a man in the Honora Pearl booth who loved my jewelry designs and asked if I would create a small line for them to sell on QVC.  I thought he was a salesman working their huge booth.  Nope.  He was the owner of Honora.  Bam, I’m designing for Honora on QVC.  Did I want to work for Isaac Mizrahi, Ltd?  Sure!  Answer a job wanted ad?  Nope, not me.  Instead I’m brought over by their sample room head and invited on the team by the Vice President, herself.  After moving home to Michigan, I thought I could work in creative economic development… Yeah, that sounded wonderful!  Start searching for a job?  Didn’t have to because after a few phone calls, I’m introduced to Bedrock Real Estate’s VP of Development who interviewed me along with the Managing Partner.

But all the BIG opportunities also mean that I’m a big failure. Why?

Think about it.  When I’m put in front of those executives and top people, what happens when I fail?  I fail at the top level.  I fail big.  And yes, I’ve failed big quite a few times and up until an hour ago I was setting myself up to possibly fail big, yet again.  Being part of conferences as an expert is enjoyable for me so I recently decided to begin speaking and why not?  I boldly imagined that I could “start at the top” in a national conference in front of thousands of people.  *sometimes I’m way too big for my britches.

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I mentioned my vision to a good friend who’s an executive in the design and manufacturing industry who must think I can do anything because she replied,  “Yes!  Do it! You’d be GREAT!”, so, bold-way-too-confident-me immediately pulled a national conference submission form up and was all ready to begin entering data.  Then I stopped because I saw myself failing.  On a stage. In front of thousands of people. On a national level.  I closed the application because this time, I’m going to fail small.

Why do I think am I going to fail as a speaker if I begin big?  Because I’m not a great speaker.  I’m TERRIFIED of speaking in public.  Plus I have too much to talk about so before I speak on a national level, I’d best research what I share best, what people want to hear, hone my content and practice speaking it dozens of times on a smaller, more local level before I can even CONSIDER going up on a national stage.

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Take this story as a good example of why it’s better to start small/fail small. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People which has now sold over 15M copies started this way: “I prepared a short talk. I called it ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ I say ‘short.’ It was short in the beginning, but it soon expanded to a lecture that consumed one hour and thirty minutes.” After giving this talk for some time, Carnegie found that the attendees started discussing their experiences and some “rules” emerged. Eventually the talk became a course, and there was a need for a textbook of sorts.

I get it.  You have big ideas.  Big dreams.  Big plans.  You want to sell to clients on a global scale immediately and you KNOW you’ll succeed.  But do you have big money to invest and/or lose?  Do you have unlimited time and energy?  I didn’t think so.  Not only can’t you invest or lose too much money, you want to LEARN as you fail and succeed and the best way to do that is to begin small, local and control your growth.

Think large companies began BIG? Think again;

  • *Apple’s first computers were built in a small garage in Cupertino, California.
  • *In 1971, three academics each invested $1350 of their own money into the first Starbucks located in downtown Seattle.
  • *Jeff Bezos started Amazon in his garage and had his meetings in Starbucks.
  • *The Walt Disney Co. started in the summer of 1923 in a one-car garage that belonged to Walt Disney’s uncle, Robert Disney
  • *Whole Foods Market failed small with the owners being evicted from their apartment and began living in their small store, full-time.  They showered in their dishwasher which had a hose.
  • *The Nordstrom empire began with one little shoe store.
  • *Mattel was started by a husband and wife who made picture frames out of their garage. Their first hit toy in 1947 with the “Uke-A-Doodle,” a miniature plastic ukulele.

I caution each person to start small, start local, make your mistakes on a smaller scale, learn from your local and regional clients clients (all the time), hone your skills and product as you succeed and fail, then grow, slowly.

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