biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies 09: ideas for making upturns in a downtime

by Grace Bonney

today’s third biz ladies post comes from ryan deussing of elsewares.com. i’ve read this post over several times since ryan first submitted it and i can tell you, it is chock-full of fantastic ideas. 15 ideas to be exact. ryan interviewed 15 indie business owners who shared their secrets for making the best of an economic downturn and their tips are incredibly helpful and inspiring for not only surviving but thriving in the recession. it’s a must-read. thanks so much for ryan and all of the business-owners for sharing their great advice!

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

Yes, a slow economy blows chunks. And no doubt, it can be a difficult time to be running a small business. But a slowdown can also be a great time to step back, take a look at your operation, and think about what you need to do to get back on the good foot. Move in a new direction? Develop new products? Collaborations? Special projects?

To put together this post, I asked some indie business owners to share stories about what they’re doing to try to make uptime out of this downturn. The response was fantastic – I hope these ideas inspire you (as much as they’ve inspired me) to put new energy into your own endeavors.

Got some related ideas or experiences of your own? Share them in the comments!

Good Idea: Make something special


I have been working for 9 months on a project called jewelry of the month. I set out with the intention of giving myself some creative freedom while offering my customers affordable limited edition jewelry. During these difficult financial times I understand that jewelry is among the things people stop buying – I am trying to give my customers something special and worthwhile for when they do decide to spend some money. It has been a fun and challenging project. In addition to using different techniques and unusual materials I will also collaborate every season with a friend who works in another medium.

Good Idea: Tap into your community

Sprout Studio

Here are a few things i am doing to try and make this downturn an upturn!

  • collaborating with fellow artists like, Mati Rose, to come up with completely original necklace pieces together – she does the paintings, I do the fashioning of the necklace parts.
  • delving deeper into scavenging more unique, truly different vintage bits & bobs to accentuate my bobby pins & earrings – the more my style shows through, the better! And the more no one else has any products that look like mine, the better as well
  • sharing spaces at craft fairs & integrating with my partners to show off our goods uniquely, but in a harmonius/cohesive tent space
  • using any down time i have to work through my business evolving into a creative gallery art space as well; more community, more awareness, more branching out = smart business
Good Idea: Make your mark locally

Jen Singh

I’ve started looking into local opportunities and my own community to start promoting my fine art work. One of my friends owns a pub in Oakhurst and I’m going to have a solo show in May. I ‘m participating in The Canvas Project 2 through Art House based here in Atlanta. Also, I’ve been helping a friend/neighbor promote her new venture, Lillibands. I’ve designed her catalogs and promotional materials and her business is taking off. My butterfly illustrations are featured in all her print materials and I designed her logo. Her rep is asking for a women’s line of t-shirts based on her fabrics and she want me to design them for her as well as get usage rights for my illustrations. My neighbor across the street is a musician and asked me to create original artwork for her cd packaging. I do pro-bono design work for my daughter’s school and have contributed an original painting for their upcoming silent auction. Opportunities for promoting have definitely been plentiful, and I only had to look in my backyard!

Good Idea: Offer fanatical support

Lisa Salamida

You have to offer value to your customers by giving them a superior product, of course, but also a superior service. One way to do that is to be as approachable as possible. I had noticed that product inquiries often take several days to sort out – in effect, playing an online version of phone tag. A customer might give up during that lag and not purchase anything. I offer live customer support, as best I can, through instant messenger. Using a client like Pidgin, I can have accounts for all of the biggest IM clients and be reachable during most of my waking hours. It’s a nice way to turn an inquiry into a sale, and offer the customer complete one-on-one, top-notch service. I’m only one woman, so there is a limit to how much I can be online, but I have been successful turning casual inquiries into sales, simply because people can reach me throughout most of the day!

Good Idea: Adapt to new realities

Cynthia Rybakoff

Normally, I create and sell high end sterling silver and 18k gold jewelry retailing from $200 to $2,500, but recently changed my design and merchandising direction, in order to stay flexible. It seems to be working, so here’s my recipe for turning things around quickly after a tough 4th quarter in 2008:

  • I’m working with more modest materials. Sterling silver is more recession friendly than 18k gold. Less expensive stone, wood and natural fiber accents will replace my beloved top shelf colored gemstones.
  • I no longer wholesale, as stores/galleries mark my products up by as much as 70%. With a direct sales model, the customer pays far less, and we are both happy. Supermarket is a major part of my new direct sales approach for 2009, as well as sales events at homes of friends and a table at the Brooklyn Flea and/or other outdoor markets.
  • Most importantly, I’m concentrating on creating more whimsical jewelry items with maximum visual impact that will retail under $100, with only a few fab items at no more than $300, like the Atomic Bubble Bracelet.
Good Idea: Make things that last

Joey Roth

I’ve learned from conversations with customers that while Sorapot is a luxury, it’s affordable compared to pre-recession practices like trying new restaurants and replacing the iPod with each iteration. In a larger sense, tastes seem to be shifting to physically and culturally durable objects that will become more beautiful and meaningful with use. This has always been my primary design goal, and I’m lucky to be starting at a time when society is transitioning to this way of thinking. People also seem to be digging deeper to find remarkable items, since they’re not buying as many things; this definitely favors a designer like me, who tries to keep things small and interesting, and markets completely through press and word of mouth.

Good Idea: Repeat what works

Cracked Designs

We try to differentiate ourselves in these tough times by focusing on creating new editions of our popular products. For example, we’ve created new and different editions of our popular ‘Journey Journal’. Since our original Journey Journal was so successful, we knew making more editions would be a smart way to keep our designs fresh.

Good Idea: Make something relevant

Reed Seifer

My sponges are inspired by the NY Library Lions, and specifically this information I unearthed: “During the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude, for the qualities he felt New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression. These names have stood the test of time: Patience still guards the south side of the Library’s steps and Fortitude sits unwaveringly to the north.”

Good Idea: Make a certifiably awesome promo video

Little Brown Pen

We started our business “Little Brown Pen” last August and had wild success. Much of it we owe to the video we put together. We had a hunch that this type of indie marketing would work, and it did.

Good Idea: Drive a hard bargain

White Cat Media

The ad market has tanked, but we are in growth mode because everything – talent, rent, services – can be negotiated down.

Good Idea: Give something away


Feed Your Soul is a free art project. Each month artists are invited to participate and to contribute a print which is totally free and available for download. This project is coordinated by Jen Wallace of Indie Fixx to help art lovers feed their souls with art in these recessionary times and to help artists promote their work.

Good Idea: Make it sexy

Andrea Claire

In the downturn – with more time on our hands for what’s important and more time to do fun stuff, I am promoting more sex… and in that spirit I have made some commemorative lamps – the Peep Show series.

Good Idea: Make things happen

Brooklyn Based

One of the smartest things we’ve done to weather this storm is to focus on our ability to mobilize our readers. We regularly send out emails about the best things to do in Brooklyn. So we figured, Why not produce lots of awesome events ourselves (and support local businesses at the same time)? So far this year, we partnered with Spacecraft to host a “Naughty Craft Party before Valentine’s Day”; we promoted food events like Natural Wine Paired Dinners at Roebling Tea Room and helped produce an Exclusive Wine Tasting at Red Hook Winery. And coming next month, we’re debuting a fantastic documentary film series at The Bell House, complete with recession-proof drink specials. It’s called Drinks on the Doc and it opens with Jesus Camp April 7.

Good Idea: Go corporate

Jess Wainer

I was recently given the opportunity to design and fabricate a corporate gift for a board member on the Board of Directors for Logitech. For this project I collaborated with Logitech’s brand and marketing team to create a unique glass art piece that commemorates this board member’s significant contributions to the company. Previously, I had not considered pursuing this business direction but the project was so stimulating and successful that I plan to continue developing the corporate gift element of my glass business. Since completing that project I’ve already moved on to a similar opportunity with a different company.

Good Idea: Crowdsource

Sara Selepouchin

I have a line of hand screenprinted housewares called girls can tell. This year, I’ve come up with a few ideas that have helped my business grow and stand out, even in the midst of the recession. My line of homewares grows and is inclusive of what people want; this adaptability has been key. For 2009, I’m releasing a new diagram design each week. The subjects come directly from buyer suggestions, via my blog. For example, if someone wants items with a diagram of a Kitchen Aid mixer, I draw it, burn a screen, print items, and about a week later, it’s available for purchase. By having customers engaged in the design process, I know I’m making something they like and will tell their friends about. The process is personalized and feels luxurious, even though they’re buying useful, affordable products. People are still spending money, but they want to get more for what they spend – not necessarily in a quantitative sense, but better quality things that feel special. This is a huge opportunity for small, agile designers.

Suggested For You


  • This is great advice. I had never heard of Supermarket before. What a great idea.

    I have found that giveaways are another way to get more buzz on blogs and cost less than actual advertising.

  • great ideas – good use of self promotion by most of the contributors. I really really want Atomic Bubble Bracelet – and I am a guy. Its a great design. And that red silk lampshade with the 70’s erotica inside. hot. might have to try that at home.

  • Sorry in advance that my comment has nothing to do with this post; but I didn’t know if comments from long ago posts were seen. I didn’t know how that all shook out, basically.
    But in one of the sneak peeks, somebody had hung up pictures of the Joshua Tree. Does anybody have any idea how big those photos were?
    Sorry this question is SO obscure.

  • These are great ideas! I just got a great deal on a one month lease for a pop up store for our business yesterday – it’s definitely a good time to be looking around for empty stores that landlords might want to fill temporarily for cheap with a cool idea to keep things lively!

  • Great ideas. I’m passing them on to my son, who, although he’s in a different line of work completely (real estate), is still trying to grow his business and make a name for himself. These suggestions are relevant, helpful and applicable to anyone weathering this market.
    Thank you

  • Giving stuff away IS a great idea and auction season is here. I donate to about ten different organizations a year. It’s a great way to support your community and causes you really care about. The additional exposure for your business doesn’t hurt, either.

  • These are all great insights from the other designers posted…collaborating, getting involved in the local community, engaging the customer in the design process, indie marketing- bravo!

  • Great article. Fabulous ideas!

    I was actually interviewed for this article by Ryan….glad to finally see it posted!

    In a down economy, it is crucial that we strive on building up our community of artists by buying local, shopping handmade & connecting with one another. Small businesses can thrive in this economy if we stay positive, create more, create often, and remain true to who we are as artists.

    I’m also a really big fan of http://kindovermatter.blogspot.com . Love what they’re doing…what the world really needs now is kindness & love. ♥

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