Coming up with creative solutions to painful problems is a challenge that’s frustrated me for years, constantly reinventing the wheel and looking to others for methods. It’s taken ages but I’ve come up with my own way to easily think creatively for solutions to frustrating problems.
To share this practical solution I thought you might appreciate a business case.
Real Life Example of Creative Problem Solving
It’s one thing to say “just do this and you’ll have the answers” and it’s another to actually have a real life example from a solo-micro business owner doing it herself. So I hope this business case is valuable to you.
The Smashing Impact of a Light Festival
I’ve realised that the annual light event we have in Sydney leading into our quiet time at market is really challenging for me in more than just financial terms. Vivid started as a two week event that turned into three weeks and is now four weeks, smashing into five weekends’ income in effect and knocks the stuffing out of 150+ micro creative businesses trading at The Rocks Markets.
Why does Vivid have this impact? Because about a third of our customer base are local Sydneysiders and if they aren’t coming into see Vivid they avoid the city, and The Rocks, for the entire time it is on. This is financially painful for us little local makers. While there seems to be an increase in tourists coming to Sydney for Vivid it is nowhere near the same number of people avoiding the city.
Vivid is Bad for Business
People fear that The Rocks is crowded with Vivid visitors even during the day, not realising the deadening effect it has on visitor numbers. If you don’t like crowds and want to have a near empty market space to wonder around, come during the day when Vivid is on. You’ll be greeted by grateful stallholders for turning up! We still have to pay our rents and mortgages, school fees, grocery and utility bills and run our micro businesses. So we’re eager for customers.
I’ve known for years that Vivid is bad for business, even if we trade at night those walking around aren’t there for shopping with local artisans, they are there for lights and food. But I’ve only just realised the other impacts Vivid has on me, my morale and self belief in my work and my business take a pounding during all of this.
Financially, Mentally and Physically Exhausting, and for what?
Plus I’m worn out by the extra market hours, getting to market at 8am to be leaving by 11pm if I’m lucky and back in the next day at 8am and all for less money and being far less productive during the week because I’m overly tired and feeling crap about what I’m doing. Over the Saturday and Sunday of the June long weekend I do 30 – 33 hours – and then another 45 minutes home due to road closures.
This realisation about the impact on my mental and emotional well being, and not just physical and financial health, has been like a liberating light bulb igniting. Now I can see that I have more choice about all of this. I don’t have to let the negative effects of Vivid keep harming me and my business for weeks after it, and maybe not even during it.
5 Other Ways Game to Find Solutions
While watching people walk past my stall one Vivid Saturday night feeling daunted by the next five hours ahead of me I started playing my “5 other ways” game. It’s one where I think up five other ways to do something.
Usually it comes up with something completely daft and at least two other reasonable options with a couple possible ones if my world was different. Sometimes it stops at just three ideas when I come across something of value.
It’s purpose is to get me thinking differently, creatively, to see other options and shift my mindset.
Creatively Finding Solutions
And on this night one of the options was to completely change Vivid – hmm, not likely and the tire, scared voice of a creative small business owner from The Rocks Markets wouldn’t really being heard by Vivid powers or Government employees. Trash that one.
I could sell something different – food for example. Lots of new skills, financial investment, new product approval hoops with the market management team and goodness knows what else. Sink that one too.
But what if I just did something different entirely? Wouldn’t it be great if there was something like the Tasmanian Craft Fair to head off to – get out of the city, a good country drive to a really fun four day fair in another part of the country? Now that would be fun.
I could include a couple of holiday days, I’d have something to look forward to, I’d see new things with my camera and travelling painting kit for new greeting card designs and I’d be exploring – always good for my spirit. Plus, I’d have a decent chance of making my living that I so need.
I didn’t even get to options four and five.
Keep on Exploring
Playing with this idea of an autumn/winter sales road trip was delightful. I stopped feeling trapped, I started seeing possibilities. I know how to make a sales road trip viable. Plus, I’ve put so much effort into the wholesale side of my business this year that I have something that can really be nurtured by such an adventure.
Why keep doing something that beats me and my business up? Why not do something positive instead and come back recharged with new customers?
Coming Up with a Good Plan
Thinking through it I started replaying my “5 other ways” game to explore what could be worth researching for the trip – to come up with a plan because I love a good plan.
How long a trip should I do? A few days at a time to a number of different places, regularly coming back into Sydney? Maybe a couple week – 10 day trips to various regions? Or what about a big three or four week trip? Each has it’s options, possibilities, challenges, potential.
Given Vivid is just going to continue I can test out ideas over a number of years. I don’t have to try to go everywhere the first time.
Leveraging off Success – off what is working
My first trip to Tasmania was based on which shops responded to my queries about visiting them. I had no idea about what to see or prioritise seeing in Tassie that trip so I let the shops be my guide, and what a good guide they were. I got to see enough of Tasmania to fall in love. Now I go every year and the trip pays for itself and is something I spend 11 months of the year looking forward to.
What a delight it would be to have another successful annual sales trip to look forward to rather than dreading something that knocks the crap out of me, my spirits, my bank account and my business!
From Surviving to Thriving
The relief that came from having a viable option to Vivid and the harm it does to me and my business was liberating. I don’t feel so threatened by something beyond my control, something that extends my quiet season by weeks and means I’m only barely surviving a protracted lean period.
The thought that I could actually transform these many weeks into something positive, something more than being in survival mode is exciting. It lightens the heart.
Imagine the impact of this change would have for the cash flow of the year? Even if it meant having average sales rather than dismal sales. Instead of being well behind the eight ball I could be at least on par or even ahead. What a relief that would be.
Setting Myself Up for Success
The only way to change something so detrimental into a useful, positive period is to put the preparation in, do the planning, setup the tools and stock levels to make it work.
That’s what I’ve done over the years for the Tasmanian tour and it has consistently worked, allowing me to breathe even if we don’t get our Christmas or Summer sales in. Being an outdoor market in all weathers has it’s impacts, from weekly heatwaves to eight weekends of rain. Climate change is happening and our businesses need to adapt.
Adaptability, Planning and Preparation
The key in making this adaptability work is in the preparation and planning.
It’s in finding out what is happening in different regionals with markets and festivals, who have the interesting shops and galleries that actually support Australian artists and artisans (bless their cotton socks), having the right designs developed, tested and in stock to take with me and having the budget in place for it all. All the fun stuff.
That’s where the time and effort come into play but every business and job has that.
Creative Thinking for Those Tricky Challenges
My five ways to do something method is a creative thinking tool I’m finding really useful for coming up with ideas and ways to fix a problem.
Vivid is causing too many problems for me and its continual time extensions could make the difference between just surviving and deadibones. While the adaptability, road trips, markets and fairs and growing my stockists could be the difference between surviving and thriving. So why would I continue to keep taking body blows from Vivid? That would be daft. Why not put the time and effort into the upside instead?
Changing things up and having a regional adventure with people who love seeing something different and supporting locally made is a load more fun and financially a whole heap smarter.
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