This post is a reprint from an essay I recently wrote for the Chicago Craft Mafia website. I repeat it here as I think the concept of networking with your peers is relevant for everyone, whether you are in the crafts or fine arts. Our businesses can only grow from sharing what we know with each other.
Why did I apply and become a member of the Chicago Craft Mafia? I wanted to network with other creative entrepreneurs. I wanted a forum to ask business questions and get a range of answers. While there are scores of business groups across the Chicago region, the Chicago Craft Mafia is unique in that we are all involved in the craft industry. Many of us have full-time or part-time jobs on the side, but our craft and our business is our primary focus.
I joined the Chicago Craft Mafia in 2009. While my intention was to develop my little Etsy shop, I was also developing a growing interest in project designing – designing patterns and products for craft magazines, books, and companies. Everyone in the Chicago Craft Mafia has been incredibly supportive of this dual path and have offered invaluable advice and connections along the way.
The other week I had the opportunity to submit a project design to a large media organization, but I needed stellar photos. I’ve been getting along fine with my little digital point-and-shoot, but it had recently died. I had this fancy DSLR camera, but I didn’t have a clue as how to use it. I didn’t even have the manual as the camera was used. So, what to do? I called upon fellow Chicago Craft Mafia member Michelle Kaffko of Organic Headshots and Snarky Sleeves for a tutorial. Yep, that’s me in the photo practicing what I had learned (photo by Michelle).
My time commitment to the organization has ebbed and flowed over the years. We each participate in committees related to our interests and skill sets which in the past included organizing the DIY Trunk Show. I’ve especially enjoyed developing the Craft Rackets which will resume in the fall. As a trained teacher, it’s a natural fit for me to develop educational programming. I also like attending the Rackets and meeting other business owners.
Every month the members meet for a few hours to discuss Mafia-related matters, share upcoming show deadlines and discuss what’s new for each of us. It’s a great way to set personal and professional goals and feel that there is some sort of accountability. As a full-time professor, artist, project and knitwear designer, as well as mother, I find the balance to be more than a tad challenging. It’s incredibly easy for me to let things slide and remain static, so these meetings have been an immensely valuable format for me to keep myself moving in a forward direction.