Photo by Julia Giacomini on Unsplash
Photo by Julia Giacomini on Unsplash

I spent about ten years of my life as a tattoo artist before moving into the tech industry. It was a roller coaster of a ride, but I loved it. One of the best lessons I learned while I was apprenticing was the importance of running the business before I focused on the tattooing itself.

In this series I’ll share with you a few tips and tricks I picked up along the way. I’ll share the good stuff and the hard lessons I learned so you can avoid the pitfalls. You might be starting up your own jewelry design shop or maybe a flower shop is calling to your soul. These are universal tips that apply to any business.

Tip 1: Find someone to apprentice you

Breaking into the tattoo industry is hard. You can’t just go to school and learn the techniques and health code procedures to do the job effectively and safely. I was working as a tech support guy at a local internet provider at the time. I was trying to help a customer get connected to the internet and after about an hour, I asked the customer if I could just drive over and help in person.

I arrive at his shop and discover that he owned a tattoo shop. We fixed his internet and I spent the rest of the day talking about his business and tattoos. I explained my interest in tattoos personally and asked if I could stop by once in awhile and chat again.

Our chats carried on for about six months before I was helping him around the shop in my spare time. I enjoyed the culture, the customers and the stories behind their tattoos, and the fact that technology had left the tattoo world alone. The way a tattoo artist tattooed me, is the same process my dad and grandfather would have got their tattoos. In fact, the “modern day” tattoo machine is just an electric engraver invented by Thomas Edison.

I was an apprentice without knowing it.

I would help mop up at the end of the day. I would prepare the tattoo stations when customers were ready for their tattoo. I would sit in the back and make tattoo needles for the shop for hours on end.

It was about six months later when I realized he was teaching me how to tattoo. He was just doing it the traditional way. Making needles was the most dreaded task in the shop. It was slow, precise, and you burned your fingers a lot. Everyone hated doing it.

Above all, I took great pride in it though. I would inspect every needle and make sure each point was sharp and straight. The sharper the needle, the less it’s going to hurt the client. I just wanted to make sure the artists in the shop had quality equipment and tools to do the job at hand.

There’s value in learning how to do things yourself.

Looking back at it. He was teaching me how to be resourceful. You see, it’s easy to hop online and purchase premade tattoo needles at a decent price. In fact, most tattooers these days just buy their needles that way. He knew this, but he wanted me to have the skills to make them if I needed to. He would tell me, “You can buy a car, but if you don’t know how to fix it, you’re at the mercy of the mechanic”.

He was showing me that I could still work should I run out of supplies. When other artists would wait for a few days for a new shipment of needles, I would spend a few hours and have enough to do the tattoos in my appointment book, and I could pick up extra work from clients who didn’t want to wait for the other artists to get their supplies.

I wasn’t just using the sterilizer, I was also learning how they worked so when I became a tattoo artist I knew how to test my equipment and know it was safe, and everything was sterile for the customer.

He was also teaching me how to be a tattooer, not just a tattoo artist. You see, knowing the ins and outs of the tattoo shop helped me appreciate where the industry started and where we were today. I respected the traditions passed down from tattoo master to apprentice and could explain to clients anything they wanted to know about the tattoo process before we started.

You have to know the pitfalls ahead.

The point is, I think this process is key when it comes to running your own business. You have to know the history of your industry. You have to know how to get by with what you have on hand at times to get the job done.

Maybe you’re a pizza shop and you’ve learned that rubbing butter and dipping your crust in cornflower will help the crust from burning. Or the flower shop owner that learned they could add some special mixture to the water in a vase to keep flowers bright under harsh lights at a wedding. What happens if the nice fancy espresso machine breaks in the middle of your morning rush hour? Can you fix it or do you know a work around to brew a shot of espresso without a machine?

Finally, before you open shop. You need to know the history of your industry and learn how to navigate the hang ups that could stop you from making money. If you’re already in business, find a mentor that can help guide and apprentice you along the way.

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