Transform Your Art Into A Business

By MIRIAM DEVAPRASANA

SO you’re (finally) ready to put your craft out there and kickstart a business. But where to begin? Su Ling Teoh of Either / Or Design shares her experience building a homegrown brand with us.

Su Ling is a clay artist and jewellery designer who turned her childhood hobby into a career. No stranger to the Penang (and international) art circuit, Su Ling returned to her hometown after pursuing a degree in fashion and textile design. Inspired by the heritage and culture of Peranakan tiles in Penang, as well as the nostalgia of childhood, Su Ling established Either / Or Design in 2019. By incorporating the versatility of polymer clay and fine polish of Czech glass, her signature “Heritage Collection” received an overwhelmingly positive response, propelling her business to the local and international scene.
Su Ling shares some of the things she’s learned about taking Either / Or Design from the ground to higher heights.
1. Research Matters!
In the early stages, do plenty of research for everything. Think about product material, packaging options, and pricing. Look into what has been done and what others are doing. Remember that it’s not a competition, but for your business to succeed, you should know how and why your product differs from others.
Research is also essential to building a target audience. Who are your potential customers? What do they like? How does your product fit into current trends?
2. Develop a Business Plan
As you answer some of these questions, lay out your ideas in a business plan. You may not know everything, but you can start to make a rough plan about how you want to establish your business.
A business plan defines your brand’s objectives and how you will achieve your goals. It would help if you spent time developing a comprehensive plan, as this will guide the growth of your brand. A business plan prepares you for any bumps you might hit along the road. It also shows potential investors that you have done your homework. Some critical aspects to include are:
● Finances (how much can you invest in your business, what’s your monthly income target, monthly expenses, extras for just-in-case)
● Feasibility of your business (long term)
● Threats to your specific industry
● How to reduce risks
3. Funding
Either / Or Design has been self-funded since Day One. There were financial struggles, and Su Ling was forced to be creative and resourceful to get things done. For example, she promoted on free platforms consistently in the beginning rather than spending money on advertising. This was before she was able to form a clearer vision for what she wanted Either / Or to be.
“As of today, I have yet to find any grants which apply to the nature of Either / Or Design, but I find staying up to date with news about government or non-governmental grants helpful. Apply for whichever you are eligible for,” she shares.
In terms of investing finances into your business, invest in things that will add value to, and significantly impact your work. This includes tools that will help you achieve results in significantly less time. Avoid spending on things that won’t enhance your work much, i.e. too many props (for decorative purposes) for photoshoots.
If anyone invests in your business, use their money responsibly. You want to be accountable to your investors.

4. Deciding on a Marketplace
Again, do your research. Spend time and explore the area/city. Visit the various marketplaces, events, and weekend bazaars. Observe the people who visit them and whether they fall into your target audience. If they do, speak to the curator or the person managing the space. Then weigh your options according to how much you can spend on rent for product display and other financial requirements.
If you’re considering setting up an online business platform, you can start with a Facebook and/or Instagram page. Or you can look into selling on e-commerce platforms like Shopee, ETSY, buttermilk, and OUTLET. Look out for fees as different platforms have different costs.
5. Product Choice: Single or Diverse?
Offer products you believe in. Diversifying is always good, but it is essential to have a signature creation or collection that sets you apart from the rest. Perhaps start with that to test out the market. Then gradually increase your product choice.
Su Ling says: “Create a brand identity which reflects your signature style. Your brand value and business operation should stick to this.”

6. Invest in a Website
While using social media to promote your products are helpful, it should not be the primary platform. Social media are complementary tools to spread the word and engage with potential customers.
Instead, it is worth investing in creating a website to highlight your brand and that which adequately captures and features your product(s). Design it well, and focus on your product(s) and services. Think about user experience. Everything should be easily accessible.
A well-curated website gives confidence to potential customers about your experience and brand.
7. Engaging with potential (and returning) customers
Be active on social media. Share your work on targeted social media groups whenever and wherever possible. But avoid spamming. Reply to all messages and comments. Make personal connections and build genuine relationships with people who appreciate your work. Participate in events as well.
Additionally, always provide after-sales service whenever required. Communicate with customers after the sale to make sure they are happy with their purchase. This helps build a relationship with them.

Process of building polymer clay cane (or caning). - Photos by Su Ling Teoh.

8. Network and collaborate with other artists
“I cannot stress this enough – building relationships with other artists is very important,” says the designer.
Exchanging information and supporting other artists forms a sense of camaraderie. Your fellow artists go through similar challenges and struggles, so being a part of a support system to encourage and motivate each other is very helpful.
It also opens doors for opportunities, collaborations, and updates on upcoming events.
9. When things get difficult
Dealing with customers will be challenging as you build your brand and business. It can be very frustrating when they question your pricing and quality of work.
Learn to know your worth and the value of your work. The quality of your product(s) speaks for itself if you put in an honest effort. There is no need to short-change when customers bargain without a valid reason. Take on the attitude of a professional with a growth mindset when facing rejection, meaning always try to improve where you can without taking it personally.
10. Dealing with the lesser-talked-about things
Starting a business can be difficult and tricky – building a brand takes time. It’s important to recognise this so that you know they are just part of the journey.
There may be other struggles too.
“Like most creatives, I am not spared from having a creative block and am still finding ways to cope with it,” says Su Ling. “What I have found most effective is to continue doing what I know and add small changes or even recreate past designs with a twist.”
Time management may be another challenge as crafting and running a business require extended work hours. There will be sacrifices, and sometimes being a perfectionist does not help! Choosing progress, no matter how small, over perfection is helpful in terms of time management. Don’t overthink! Do not neglect the quality of your work, but don’t wait for the perfect time to get things done either.
Final Remarks

Turning your art into a business is a fun and exciting journey. You’ve worked hard on your passion and skill. Now it is time for others to appreciate them as well. Be consistent in what you do and know that every business takes time to grow. Keep learning skills to hone your creativity and craft. Talk to others, build relationships, and form collaborations. The return only comes when you get good at what you are doing. To be good at something, one must keep doing and learning.

Either / Or Design has been featured and recognised by various organisations, events, and mainstream media for its artistic value, uniqueness, and role in representing the heritage of George Town, Penang, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For more information and webstore, visit Either / Or Design here.



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