Today’s Biz Ladies Profile comes to us from Susie Daly, co-founder of Renegade Craft Fair. Susie had always been an avid crafter and lover of handmade goods, and decided to channel that passion towards building an indie-craft market of her own design. Now in its 10th year, the Renegade Craft Fair has proven to be one of the most successful indie-craft markets around the world (not just LA, Austin, Chicago, Brooklyn, San Francisco and London) and continues to support the growth of the handmade community. Today, Susie shares a bit about her creative career path. Thanks for giving us this glimpse into your journey, Susie! —Stephanie
Read the full profile after the jump…
Renegade Craft Fair London
Why did you decide to start your own business?
When I co-founded Renegade Craft Fair 10 years ago, it wasn’t a decision I made from a business frame of mind. In fact, I didn’t even realize we were starting a business until a few months into the fair planning process. The impulse to organize an event came in the Spring of 2003, just as the indie-craft movement was gaining momentum. A friend and I applied to sell our handmade work at a local fair, but as it turned out, the event we wanted to participate in didn’t allow crafts and was geared more towards fine arts.
We thought about where to go from there, knowing that fine art fairs and traditional craft fairs weren’t a perfect fit for us. As we were chatting about it, my friend just happened to say, “I wish there was a sort of renegade craft fair we could participate in.” The idea struck me like lightning: we should create an event of our own. We knew there were many indie crafters emerging online, although this was a few years before Etsy launched, so the marketplace was not at all centralized at that point. We started the planning process immediately, and I went about getting a park permit for our very first fair in Chicago.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
We approached event planning as artists – we knew what we wanted out of an event, so we just went with those ideas, hoping that there were other artists out there who were looking for the same type of opportunity. Our vision for the business was simple: a curated indie-craft fair, open to emerging and established artists alike, with a simple application process, easy participation, and free for shoppers to attend. The name Renegade Craft Fair summed up the style of the event and set us apart from traditional art and craft shows.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
I didn’t get a lot of business advice when I was starting off, and I’ve learned almost everything I know in a very DIY manner. But in those early stages, we did have a CPA establish our business for us, and he stressed the importance of having our partnership outlined, even in just a basic way, so that if/when our partnership ever dissolved, we would have an understanding of how to go through that process.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
The most difficult part of planning an event of this size, then and now, is the unpredictability of all the different variables at hand. You wonder “Will we get enough artists to sign up? Will shoppers come to the fair? Will the weather be nice that weekend?”, and many other questions like this. For that first fair, we just had to wait it out and see with no previous experience, so that was probably the most difficult of starting my business.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
The biggest lesson has actually come from stepping back and examining the cumulative experience of it all. Ambition and a positive, DIY attitude is an asset for any business owner. Directing Renegade has taught me about business operations, human resources, organization tools, marketing, creating siteplans, production elements – some things I never thought I’d know anything about. Needless to say, it hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been a huge learning experience, and I’ve loved (almost) every minute of it.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
Although I loved running our brick and mortar store in Chicago (it had been a dream of mine since before RCF was around), I now realize that trying to run a shop and simultaneously grow RCF was a huge drain on money, resources, staff and myself. Looking back on it, I wish I would have stuck with having one business and pouring everything into that single venture. Since I closed the doors to the shop last year, I’ve been working like crazy to get RCF exactly where it needs to be organizationally and staff-wise, which is something that could have been in place years ago if I hadn’t had a separate brick and mortar business to tend to. Just because you want to conquer the universe and do it all at the same time, doesn’t necessarily mean that you can or should.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
RCF has been more successful than I ever would have imagined in my wildest dreams. I knew at the time we were filling a niche and creating something that was really special and unique, and I am thrilled that other people continue to be just as excited about it as I am. To hear that Renegade has inspired people to start their own successful business – from the hundreds of small-scale artisanal ventures, to industry giants like Etsy – makes me feel so happy and unbelievably proud. To be able to know that I’ve created opportunities for others to “live the dream” is definitely my greatest success.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
This Biz Ladies series, obviously, is an amazing resource! I also like Inc.com and EnMast.com for helpful articles and business tips. These quotes by Peter Drucker inspire me.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
First, consider your finances. It’s true what they say: it takes about five years for a business to turn a profit. For me, that was fine, I wasn’t doing it solely for the money – and Renegade eventually turned into my full-time career when it became successful. In most cases you’ll have to consider how you’ll make ends meet going into any new business venture.
Second, be prepared to cope with long hours and stress. When you run your own business, you shoulder a lot (if not all) of the responsibility, which can be a very heavy load. Know when to ask for help or hire a specialist, and develop your own stress relief techniques.
Third, try taking small steps in the right directions with your concept before diving in with both feet. Be focused but flexible. Try out your idea in a small arena, and if it thrives, you’ll have a better understanding of how to grow your business organically.