Meet The Inventors: Linda Barutha of Artist2CEO, On How To Go From Idea To Store Shelf

Tyler Gallagher
Sep 16 · 10 min read
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I’m extremely proud of bringing a new substrate to the artist’s world. And, I’m proud of using manufacturers that hired individuals with disabilities. I also host a free bi-annual online summit and make it a point to include a fundraising component to my events. My September, 2020 event features donations to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. With a 600% increase in calls since the COVID-19 Pandemic, I feel compelled to contribute to this service.

As a part of our series called “Meet The Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Barutha.

Are you an artist looking to transition from in-person sales to online with total ease? Then, you need Linda Barutha. With 20 years not only as an artist who successfully ran a brick and mortar business and invented an art substrate, but also a PC consultant and web designer, Linda understands the unique demands of selling both in-person and online successfully. When she’s not helping artists, you can find Linda in her she-shed or watching her beloved Milwaukee Brewers play.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I’m the oldest of 4 and grew up on the south side of Milwaukee, WI. I think we were considered a low to middle class family in economic terms. But my recollection is that we were rich in love and happiness. When I was 10 yrs old my dad had a breakdown and was hospitalized. He was diagnosed as bipolar. I was determined to have a positive attitude and see us through. I have the same response to challenging times today — dig deep, find strength and persevere.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“We met for a reason — you’re either a blessing or a lesson.” This has been so true throughout my life. Anytime I have a bad experience, I can trace it back to something I needed to learn. And if you keep having similar bad experiences, it just means that you haven’t learned your lesson yet. I think the current COVID pandemic is showing brick and mortar’s the necessity of also having an e-commerce site. I’ve been an advocate for shops to take advantage of online opportunities for 20 years. And right now, there’s a never-before-seen spike in online sales so there’s no better time to get in the online arena.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Right now, my favorite book is The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. Reading this book truly transformed me. I’ve always been one of those people that would say I didn’t know who I wanted to be when I grew up. But over the past few years I’ve really honed in on what truly resonated with me and made me feel complete. I just didn’t know how to become that person. Reading The Big Leap gave me those answers.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

Absolutely! I was working a full time job for a telecommunications company when I also had a side hustle running a brick and mortar shop. At the shop,I taught evening and weekend mixed media art classes and sold both my art and art supplies. One day,at my day job,my boss brought in an entire set of encyclopedias to throw out in the large garbage bins. I stopped him asking, “Can I take those instead?”. He asked what I was going to do with them, and honestly, I had no idea. But I couldn’t see all those beautiful books being tossed out.

I felt compelled to think of a creative solution. I took them to my shop and started thinking about it. In mixed media art we love to use all different items to create texture in our work. My absolute favorite texture to work with is canvas fabric (aka duck cloth). But when you work with it, say by painting is or gluing something onto it, the overall piece is flimsy. So I got the idea to sew numerous pieces of book pages in between two pieces of canvas fabric. Then I took those sewn pieces and sewed them together into a journal.

Now I had an amazing fabric journal that withstood any type of medium you put on it — paints, glue, anything!

Once I created that one journal,I quickly started creating all kinds of other items with the same process. 12x12 scrapbook pages, luggage tags, different sizes of journals, etc. Then I designed other products strictly out of the canvas fabric, like little tote bags, envelopes, flowers, birds, and a ton of other accessories.

There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge? You don’t really feel like you have a business until others know about it. This is where growing an audience of fans in the online world can really make a difference. So even if you are working out of a brick and mortar, you still need that online connection to keep growing and bringing attention to what you have to offer. There are tons of organic ways to do this in the online space, many of which are collaborations with others. This is one thing I do well and often. Using the connections you already have and then collaborating with those connections to increase your online presence. It’s golden.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created? It starts with being very knowledgeable about the specific industry your product falls into. Then start googling to see what’s already out there. Make sure you are exhausting your search. Someone might have something similar, but not exact. To this day I haven’t seen anyone else in retail shops with recycled book paper sewn in between fabric.

Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?

Honestly, I was blessed with a father that is truly the eternal optimist. He always encouraged me to approach every obstacle with a ‘can do’ attitude which therefore has always had my brain working in the same manner. My father had a challenging childhood. The youngest of 5 with immigrant parents, he struggled to complete his grade school days because he needed to go home during lunch to take care of his alcoholic father, who ended up passing when my father was just 14 yrs. old. To this day my father has never felt bad about these challenges. He just kept forging ahead and always made self improvements.

For the benefit of our readers, can you share the story, and outline the steps that you went through, from when you thought of the idea, until it finally landed on the store shelves? In particular we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

In my case, I was motivated to get my products on my own store shelves. So once I created my products, 3 more steps followed.

1.) Pricing. This Is unique because you automatically want to determine wholesale prices, which means you are determining your wholesale price before knowing what the manufacturing costs will be. In an ideal world I would have known that already prior to setting my pricing. But I got pretty lucky with my estimates.

Even though my initial “manufacturer” was a stay-at-home mom, I determined what I would pay her per piece just like you would pay a regular manufacturer. Next, I booked myself to vend at a trade show. This step was so critical because I knew it was the fastest way to get my products seen by my industry’s retailers.

The months leading up to that show I worked on product photography, catalog creation, line sheets and getting all of my products on my website.

The show happened and I came home with 14 new retailers and way more orders than my stay-at-home mom could handle. So I stepped up my manufacturer search. It was extremely important to me that I work with an organization that hires individuals with disabilities. Creating a business that’s rooted in equity and inclusion was (and still is) important to me.

2.) I started reaching out to manufacturers I found online, initially just looking for anyone that would do sewing. That was a huge disappointment. But I got lucky when a manufacturer recommended another that was located in my state, hired individuals with disabilities AND was the only manufacturer in the state that did sewing. I met with them, showed my products and received a proposal with pricing from them. In my manufacturing search though, I also found another organization that met the same qualifications. I met with them and their enthusiasm for my products was so enduring that I figured out a way to work with them as well. They didn’t do sewing, but they could handle all the die cutting and packaging.

3.) The above opportunities became quite instrumental in helping me down the road because without me knowing it, a Zulily rep had picked up my catalog at the trade show and a few months later contacted me with an opportunity for me to design 50 new products for a 1 week DIY craft sale they wanted me to participate in. That 2nd manufacturer was instrumental in handling the packaging and shipping of all the Zulily orders, and Zulily had run my products a few months later again.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that? The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

I felt that the success came after landing those initial wholesale accounts. But at the time, I really felt it was just the beginning so I didn’t really take time to breathe. Because as anyone with experience will tell you, building a business takes time.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take? Creation of your product is the easy part. The most challenging is knowing how to market your products. Seek out the support and accountability of someone that can guide you through this process. Investing in a coach that can help you strategize your marketing steps will be your best investment. I have actually pivoted my own business into becoming an artist income strategist exactly for this reason. I’ve taken all the hard knocks I endured in my journey and turned it into a career of helping others. During this pivot, I invested in my own coach which has truly catapulted my business.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I think that when it comes to the creation of your product, create what you like. But when you are ready to take your product to market, that’s when you want to turn to getting a coach for support, accountability and marketing strategies. This is what I offer both in an individual and group setting.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

I think your product dictates that. For me, I was able to bootstrap because initially I could afford to pay a stay-at-home mom to do the manufacturing for me and I had the tech skills to wear all the other hats of the business.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’m extremely proud of bringing a new substrate to the artist’s world. And, I’m proud of using manufacturers that hired individuals with disabilities. I also host a free bi-annual online summit and make it a point to include a fundraising component to my events. My September, 2020 event features donations to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. With a 600% increase in calls since the COVID-19 Pandemic, I feel compelled to contribute to this service.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to see a movement that brought manufacturing back to the U.S. I truly believe that our spending and quality of products would be better. Not to mention all of the jobs it would create. Creating a world of independent artists who are thriving online selling to Americans and honoring that American dream.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’d love an in-person conversation with Marie Forleo. After reading her book “Everything is Figureoutable”, I think we are like-minded and could come up with a joint project to do some good in the world together.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Tyler Gallagher

Written by

CEO and Founder of Regal Assets

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Tyler Gallagher

Written by

CEO and Founder of Regal Assets

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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