Do you have a business disaster recovery plan?
Florida Keys-based ceramicist and painter Sally Binard’s home and livelihood were destroyed by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. With her studio and home in ruins, Sally had to start rebuilding her creative business.
Her experiences reveal how creative people can get ready for the worst…and rebuild after it’s over.
In this interview, we cover:
- How advice from Jack White changed Binard’s art
- Why creative entrepreneurs can achieve more with less
- How to prepare a business disaster recovery plan (Read more in my Forbes article here)
- The differences in her creative process compared to writers
- How she balances running a business with the creative process
And lots more.
Binard is also a former marine biologist. So I started by asking her why she decided to move away from that career and start a creative business in the first place.
Masterclass is one of the best places to learn from creative writers and entrepreneurs today, including the likes of Neil Gaiman and David Lynch. If you want to claim a free book from a Masterclass instructor, read this Masterclass review.
Bryan Collins: Perhaps if you could start by giving me a bit of background about your business and how it changed in 2017.
Sally Binard: I moved to the Keys as a biologist. I’ve always been involved in art, but I came down here as a Marine scientist and then at some point I ended up running a construction company, or an owner and running it. All the while continuing with my painting. And I opened my first Etsy shop in 2012 as a means of generating a little bit of income, seeing what my work, who it responded to. So that’s how I first got involved. And then around 2004 one night changed I directions a little bit and went into some pottery. In 2015 it took off by accident, kind of happened organically with a hobby and I started making succulents pots, very small pots. And it just grew through social media and the platform of Etsy.
Sally Binard: And so that was about 2014, 2015. At one point this little pottery business turned into 30% of my income. So I started taking it a lot more seriously at that point. And then 2017 was hurricane Irma and it wiped out my studio. In the Keys, a lot of the houses are built on stilts, so you’ve got a downstairs level and then the home actually starts above the first layer. So most of my heavy equipment was downstairs, my kiln, all of my clay. We were hit by a category four hurricane, 4 ft of water. I mean it just swept the entire downstairs studio away. The studio that was in the house was basically overtaken by mold and that part of the house was uninhabitable, couldn’t go back in.
Sally Binard: So I basically spent about six months not being able to create work on a business that was growing and thriving, and I had built by accident from scratch. I was applying business, like a business-minded attitude towards it. In the beginning. But since it happened organically, I was increasing my attitude, my business attitude as it was growing. And then when the hurricane came, it was just stopped. Done. And then I got the grant. I always joke that the hurricane, it’s a really good way to clean house and that’s a really good way to start from scratch and see what is important in your life. Because literally everything…
Sally Binard: I also totaled my car was, I got hit and my car was totaled. So I mean it was like one thing after another. A hurricane, a car, putting two animals down. It was like, “What is going on?” And I got the, I think it was on Instagram, I saw Etsy and CERF+ were advertising for this grant and it literally took me 15 minutes to apply for it. And several months later I got this email saying that we’re granting you $1,000. And although I had taken the business seriously because it was growing at such a nice pace and it was making me money, there was something about getting that money that legitimized what I was doing. To have an organization like Etsy and CERF+ say, “Hey, we value what you do and we want to help you rebuild it.” It gave me a boost when I needed it. So that’s where you know where things happened.
Bryan Collins: How have you changed your business since you relaunched this using the grant?
Sally Binard: How have I changed it? Well, the first aspect that I’ve changed is an evacuation plan. I will not let this happen again. I mean, I understand that things can happen in life and I can’t prepare for everything. But I think as artists, we don’t often plan for being shut down. You take for granted that you’re always going to have this, you know. So I prepare a lot more and I think of this is my livelihood. I do everything. I’m freelance, everything. I’m also a bookkeeper. I do that on my own. What do I have to do to be able to work in any environment? Should that arise.
Bryan Collins: Yep.
Sally Binard: Could you repeat the question, in how is it the business…
Bryan Collins: How has it changed – how you approach your business now versus a few years ago?
Sally Binard: Okay. Well, one of the things is I actually apply for more grants now. I think that was the first grant I got. And then I went on a mission to look for other grants and I now have a regular schedule of applying for grants every month, I try and apply for two a month. And I’ve gotten a few. And again, it helps legitimise what you’re doing when people believe in you with money. I mean basically they’re investing in you.
Sally Binard: Since I do have a background in owning a business and bookkeeping, I just continue to try and become more efficient. I treat the art… I also joined an artist professional group, which was really crucial in training me a little bit, pushing me to find areas where I’m treating the art practice, not as a business and moving it in that direction.
Bryan Collins: So how do you balance spending time on your art and creating the products that you’re selling an Etsy versus working on your business?
Sally Binard: You mean the bookkeeping or-
Bryan Collins: Well I guess the bookkeeping or you talked here about an evacuation plan. The parts of running a business like for example, figuring out what products to sell next or looking at other opportunities. Stuff that’s not directly creative.
Sally Binard: Balance. I’m a scheduler. I like to write things. I like to create moments to do things. I’ve noticed that like I can bounce around between things. So I’ve tried to structure my time a little better. Through this artist development group, I’ve set aside studio days. I don’t always follow it. But Thursdays, that’s my studio day where I try and minimize distractions and just get in there and make art. And then there are other days I know, “Oh look, sales tax is coming up the 15th,” I’d like to have that done a week earlier. I can make sure that I get my Thursdays. So I am a fairly good scheduler and I think that’s been really important. Time management.
Bryan Collins: Okay. Okay.
Sally Binard: And it is an experiment. I’m constantly looking for ways to make things more efficient. Notice the time leaks.
Bryan Collins: Yep. Now do work with other people who will help you run your Etsy store or different parts of your business?
Sally Binard: No, I pretty much do it all by myself. But I’m slowly learning that community and reaching out to other people, maybe not even for logistical help. But for ideas, brainstorming, how do you do this with your business? And that conversation, I’ve noticed in the last year conversation between artists, conversations between business people were really helpful in expanding how I could run my business. Because in a vacuum. You just get like, “Oh I know what I’m doing, I know what I’m doing.” And it’s like, “Well, maybe ask Jim how he’s doing it,” and you a get away that is a little more, brings more efficiency to your life.
Bryan Collins: Okay. Okay. So it sounds like it’s important to be around other people who are involved in creative work as well.
Sally Binard: I think so. And I’ve always been a big fan of mentors. Finding people that you like how they operate and you like what the results they’re getting. And going to them and watching them and how they do things. Because I always say I’m efficient because I’m lazy. I don’t want to do something in an hour that I could do in 15 minutes. So I don’t want to reinvent the wheel and if I find someone that’s doing something in a way I’m like, “Huh, I’d like to do it that way.” I kind of pick their brain.
Bryan Collins: So a lot of creative people actually struggle to make a living from their art. For example, writers say it’s difficult to get paid to write. So before you set up on Etsy, were you able to make an income at all from your art or was it only when you got on Etsy and it started growing that you were able to make a living from your work?
Sally Binard: It started, because I had been on Etsy since 2012 and I was not a fan of social media. I don’t do well with Facebook. I think I find the interface very confusing and if I get on it, I will waste 30 minutes easily.
Bryan Collins: I think it’s built that way.
Sally Binard: Right. I don’t feel good afterwards. Somebody had told me to get on Instagram and I was like, “Ah, I really don’t want to.” And then I saw the interface. It’s simple and I was like, “I think I can do this.” And that’s when things took off. So Etsy and Instagram together is the formula that worked for me.
Bryan Collins: Okay. Okay. So it is great that there’s lots of tools these days and platforms for creative people who want to share their work or earn a living. That wouldn’t have been possible I think in the early 2000’s.
Sally Binard: No. Not for some… I’m a bit of an introvert when it comes to my art. I am working on challenging myself to not only use social media, to put myself out there. To have the conversations one-on-one, to learn how to do that. But in 2000 I wouldn’t have had the… You have to pound the pavement, pre-social media. And I’ve never been to art school so I don’t know if they teach that, how to get your work out there. I can’t imagine how I would have done it.
Bryan Collins: So are you self-taught?
Sally Binard: Primarily, yes.
Bryan Collins: Okay. Okay.
Sally Binard: I’ve taken a few classes here and there.
Bryan Collins: So you’ve been through something very traumatic, but like what advice would you give to small businesses or creative entrepreneurs who want to prepare for the unexpected?
Sally Binard: You know I thought about that because I had not thought about what I would tell other people. So one the first things… Well the easiest way is to go to the Surf website and I’m not shamelessly promoting, but literally, if you go to the Surf website, there’s a checklist of things that… There were things on it that I had not logged in. And that’s the simplest way. But to get to the core of what it feels like to lose everything, I would say if you’re watching the news and watching what’s going on with climate change, you know the fires in Australia or the earthquakes in Puerto Rico. Watch that and put yourself in that situation and really imagine. Take 10 minutes and imagine what if a fire came through here. Look around your studio or your house. “What would I take? What’s crucial?” And I think if people took the time to really get in that space, they’d probably go, “I need a plan.”
Bryan Collins: Okay. You said there was an evacuation plan for you, but what would be other key elements of a plan like this? Like business insurance is something that strikes me.
Sally Binard: I do have flood insurance so that in any event that something goes happen, I can get compensated for my equipment. I have not looked into business insurance. Something I could do, but I think because I am so well prepared and self-sufficient in my evacuation plan, I haven’t thought of it. What was your question again? I’m sorry.
Bryan Collins: Just what will be the key elements of the plan that you’ve talked about?
Sally Binard: So for me, I had written down what’s crucial to my business. So for a pottery-based business, I need my kiln. I need my slab roller, my tools. I bought a kiln that is 110 so I can plug it into any outlet. I don’t need specific electric. I can lift it myself. I’m a 5’4 woman. I’m very small and petite. I can lift my own kiln and it can fit in the back of the Honda civic. It means I work smaller, but I’m okay with that. If I need a larger kiln and I can rent.
Sally Binard: So knowing what you need to take. I made a list of what is crucial to operate business, what is not crucial. And I have that list in place so that when that time comes, I don’t have to think. I know one, two, three, four, five. If I get that in my car, I’m pretty good. My computer, your backup documents. And then also determining what you can do on your own. When things kind of hit the fan, people aren’t available to you as much as you’d like them be because they’re dealing with their own stuff. So again, being a 5’4 small person, I had to think, “If I don’t have people to help me, what can I do all myself and what can I do by myself.” How can I orchestrate that so that I’m not really dependent on other people.
Bryan Collins: Yeah.
Sally Binard: And the last thing was, and it sounds so extreme, but [inaudible 00:15:20] too devastating. Practicing your plan. So I haven’t physically tried to load everything in my car, but I’ve done it already. Because one, it is time to do it. It always takes more time than you think it will. So planning basically.
Bryan Collins: Did the hurricane affect other people in the same way that it’s affected you and have they been able to rebuild their businesses? The people in the group that you mentioned, for example.
Sally Binard: most of those people were in Key West. Key West was not hit as hard as 25 miles up the road. I mean up the Keys there were houses… My neighbor’s house, we don’t know where it is, where it went. It just… There were some sticks left. But yes, people have been rebuilding slowly, very, very slowly. I moved into town, so I was fortunate that I could get started up in about six months. But it’s been a slow process up the Keys.
Bryan Collins: Yeah. And do you feel like you’re back, you were back where you are before the hurricane or do you still have some way to go?
Sally Binard: I’m back but in a different way. A more [inaudible 00:16:45], a more compact and condensed way. What I’ve noticed I need less. I am somewhat of a minimalist, but I minimized even more. And I realized that… I once saw an interview with Jack White, the guitarist?
Bryan Collins: Yeah.
Sally Binard: From the black stripes or the black keys. The White Stripes. Sorry. It just went through three days. And he talked about how the guitar that he used was a $25 guitar from Sears. Yep. And look at the music that this guy is making. So in effect it’s somewhat similar and I’ve noticed that you really, and as artists we’re so creative, we can make something out of nothing. That I didn’t need as much as I thought I did. And sometimes I think the art is better because you’re using your mind more. What can I do with… I made a slab roller out of a piece of wood and two small [inaudible 00:17:45]. it was a $6 slab roller. I had a $700 one with a fancy wheel and you know, so I may have to work smaller, but it’s just that, do I really need all this stuff?
Bryan Collins: So it sounds like you’ve applied some of the concepts from minimalism to both your business and your creative work.
Sally Binard: Yes.
Bryan Collins: That’s been helpful for you?
Sally Binard: I think so. If you get too comfortable you don’t push as hard.
Bryan Collins: Yep. One other thing I’m curious about is, so writers have a particular creative process. They might get up in the morning and sit down at their desk. They might have a writing prompt and they work on manuscript for an hour or two and try not to get interrupted. And then they might edit at a different time of the day. What does the creative process look like for you?
Sally Binard: Usually what goals I’m I want to hit. And then making a bunch of lists and I break things down into like, I’ll take one thing and I have to break it down into sometimes very individual tasks. So I’m trying to think of a good example. Not just like finish [inaudible 00:19:10] with wood bases. I would break it down into, okay, pick the pieces of wood, make sure you have enough glazes, what glaze colors. It’s almost like an outline. And that way I don’t have to think so much about the creative process. I can look in that and go, “Okay, this is what’s next. This is what’s next.” I hear a lot of artists who are very whimsical and, “Oh, just go in and it flows through me,” and I wait for inspiration. that’s [inaudible 00:19:37] it. I don’t produce very much.
Bryan Collins: So rather than waiting for inspiration, you were giving yourself tasks and breaking down projects into I suppose the next actions?
Sally Binard: Right. Yeah, exactly. Because I think if I waited for inspiration I’ll be in a hammock.
Bryan Collins: Yeah. Yeah. That’s good advice. Yeah. Do you have an ideal already morning routine?
Sally Binard: Yes. My morning routine is I wake up about 6:30. I have my coffee, I go outside, I do some reading, meditation. And the gratitude list. I do a little bit of yoga and then one of the things I learned from artists you is, do not just start working. I have little post-its and I have Monday, Tuesday and I have like a most important task. If the one thing I do today is this and I get nothing else done, I’m fine. I don’t beat myself up.
Bryan Collins: So just to go back to that… Are you saying that you set a priority before you get into dive into your work because…
Sally Binard: Right. Because it’s very easy for me to just start, “Oh let me do some accounting and I do some receipts,” and an hour has gone by. And that one thing that I really need to get done, because I don’t really want to do it, has been hijacked by entering receipts. Which I could do in bed in my pajamas on a Sunday night.
Bryan Collins: Could you give me an example of what your one thing was on a particular day this week?
Sally Binard: It’s been a full week. So today actually after I… Well it’s a bookkeeping thing. Oh that’s not very interesting. Most important thing. Well it’s tax season for me. So bookkeeping.
Bryan Collins: Yeah, taxes are important, Yeah.
Sally Binard: I have one client, I want to get that done. So I have an appointment for two hours with myself and I’m going to crank that out. And then actually my reward is I have to build a frame for a painting, a panel. And in my gratitude list this morning, I was like, “Oh, I’m grateful that when I’m done with my 1099’s I get to go cut some wood and get the nail gun out.”
Bryan Collins: I like that too. You’re rewarding a difficult task with some enjoyable creative work.
Sally Binard: Right.
Bryan Collins: So Sally, where can people find more information about you or your store?
Sally Binard: Well at Etsy, it’s Zebra Wing studio. I have a website, www.sallybinard.com and those are the two primary places.
Bryan Collins: It was very nice to talk to you today.
Sally Binard: Okay. You too.
Bryan Collins: Thanks Sally.
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