My friend Ansley came over the other day and we were daydreaming about renting out this abandoned house in Smyrna with a few other female artists, creating a space to host events, have open houses with featured artists, and even have a little sitting area in the front for people to come by and see us.
The conversation quickly turned to,"But how are we going to pay for all of this?"
In my realm of thinking, if you are not SELLING your art and making a profit, to do things like rent a studio space and host events, it is just a hobby. You can have all of the talent in the world but unless you have hella connections or are a prodigy that somehow gets discovered from your lack of trying, your art will sit against a wall in your house and do nothing in return for you.
*Lesson: This is one of the hardest parts about being an artist and building your own business - for any entrepreneur doing it on their own, really. Your efforts reflect your outcome.* <<< did I just make up this quote?!
I've been on both sides of this equation. When I graduated with my degree in Fine Art for Painting, Printmaking, and Drawing in 2013, I moved back to my hometown after traveling all summer. I had a huge studio downtown and so much space to make. But what did I do instead? I claimed I wasn't inspired (Honestly, I wasn't. Perry is small and lovely but not the best place for an artist finding her way.) and I never used the space. I don't know what I expected to happen to solve my woes but not utilizing what was in front of me was not a good way to start off!
Once I found my footing in Atlanta and created my bouquets, I knew I was finding my niche, at least for this season of my life. I knew this was the start of my career. So how did I get to this point of selling, being represented in different venues, and having consistent client commissions with the Bouquet Series?
And a lot of self-teaching, late nights, extra cups of coffee, a very business savvy + supportive family... I decided when I left my retail management job that I wanted to finally live out my dream 100%. So I'm going to list a few things that have really made a difference in my art career in just a few short months.
1. Email Marketing
Ok. This was pretty shocking to me. I'm hearing in my head "You've got mail" from the AOL guy and seeing Meg Ryan's face light up. I kind of thought that emails were only for big retailers but I couldn't have been more wrong. I recently listened to a webinar by one of my favorite entrepreneurs, Jenna Kutcher, about how imperative it is to build your email lists. Why? Because social media and ALL OF ITS ALGORITHMS should not be affecting your biz. (I'll touch on this next.) Think about it... how many emails do you get from retailers offering coupons, reminding you of their newest line they just launched, and even when you leave items in your cart? Email is the helpful, persistent reminder we all need in our life. And it's a great way to send large bits of information out to people who care about your business + what you have to say!
I'm using MailChimp as my email provider and absolutely love it. I've created a few landing pages for different platforms to use and made the link in my bio on Instagram go directly to my newsletter sign-up. With friendly reminders via my stories, the growth is slow but sure.
For instance, this method I'm using on Instagram works well for me because:
a. I already know they're interested in my content/products because they subscribe through a link in my Instagram bio.
b. This helps me tailor my emails to this specific group in a way that I might not for the people who subscribe through my Facebook page, marketplace lists, Pinterest, etc.
2. However. Instagram and Facebook do not *really* drive sales.
This is the next thing I had to come to terms with. Yes, Instagram has helped with a few opportunities for my art. It makes contacting someone very easy - I like to think of it as the text message of the internet. But more times than not, I can't even find my best friends in my feed. (Still waiting on Marky Mark Z. to fix this.) So if you're scratching your head because you put a lot of time and energy into your social media posts and captions, have 5,000 followers, and have only made one sale, THIS IS WHY. I believe that our Pinterest, IG, and Facebook pages are a great space to share snapshots of our products, life, videos, BTS moments, and ask questions to large groups and determine how to best use that feedback to better our business. And even more importantly, we need to be using these venues as a vehicle to drive consumers to our shops, websites, email lists, and upcoming events where we will be in person! Don't get me wrong, it's free marketing and consumer polls which is something we should all be grateful for. But you can't stop there and be lazy, expecting sales to fall in your lap. You have to give your followers direction and help them take the necessary steps to truly invest in you!
3. Be a member of your community.
This one I am slowly working on and I'm including it because I know it to be true. It's very important in whatever industry that you're in to make yourself known. For me, I plan to attend more shows at galleries, shop twice a month at the stores I admire and would like to sell my work by the end of this year, etc. Making a rotation is not a bad thing. I also think it's important to volunteer for things within your realm of expertise, like being a judge for high school art competitions or mentoring the creative kids in your neighborhood. I recently went back home to speak to my high school's AP Art class (same one I took while I was a student!) to give them some insight on how I built this brand and my journey as an artist after graduating from right where they were sitting. Being that they were all angsty high school students they said nothing and asked zero questions during my ten minute speech. I knew it was all worth it though when one of the students came up to my booth at the market we participated in that same weekend and told me she loved my work and everything I had to say - that it helped her so much and she's really excited about pressuring art in college now. I was so happy! Changing lives, guys. (Kidding.)
Another great way to be involved in your community (and make money!) is to participate in markets and fairs like I just mentioned. I wrote a few takeaways from my first market in a previous blog post that you can find here. These might not be your jam if you're well into your career but if you're starting out, they are a wonderful way to network with other creatives, potential clients, and put your name out there in your city --- and don't forget about building those email lists! I had a sketchbook and pen at the front of our table in our booth so customers walking by could stop, look at my artwork, decide if they liked it, and sign up for my emails... all within a 5 second window. I also put my business cards right next to the sign-up form and over 150 had been taken in just two days. I sold not only my goal amount but roughly 30% more. How? Taking the time to talk to folks. I noticed that conversations I had with customers lasting over 1 minute resulted in an email sign-up 75% of the time. People want to invest in people that invest in them.
Another huge factor into exceeding our sales goal was facilitated by PAINTING LIVE.
Brandon was pretty amazed with the buzz around our booth once I started live painting. Normally, this kind of act freaks me out but by that point in my career I was so in my rhythm of how I created my work it didn't phase me. Just imagine the hyena scene in the cave from Lion King... but sweet. I also brought along a few items for purchase that I've done in years past, like quotes and other ink writing. These could be painted while customers were walking around the show and picked up upon the exit so it was kind of a no brainer for them. It was an experiment and worked out well but I'll be sticking to my bouquets and abstracts forever more.
*Lesson: Be aware of your pricing when you are a vendor in said markets. Know the crowd that will be attending + their purchasing habits so you can price accordingly. You can ask veteran vendors or the event coordinator what the trends usually are. Also, bring items that this crowd will respond to! Seven foot paintings are probably not the best idea. Lastly, do not mark down your art for this crowd - find a happy medium. Bring works on paper, smaller canvases, prints, and always mention that you do commissions!*
5. Don't be a stranger.
I could talk to a brick wall so starting conversations with strangers is something I can do in my sleep. However, I've had to teach myself over the past few months that even with drive and being proactive, when someone important enters the room, I must introduce myself to them to even start the chances of an opportunity happening. I'll give you an example. My old manager, Deb, is such a go-getter. We would go to events together, markets, shows... all kinds of things. Me being an artist and not wanting to come off as desperate or proud (what a horrible combination!) would never bring up what I did for a living unless someone asked. And I'd always try to downplay it through our conversations. Deb, on the other hand, would always go out of her way to introduce me to the need-to-know's in the room - the ones she knew could help advance my career in one form or another. She is all about making connections which is SO GOOD!
She taught me a very important lesson - no one is going to do this for me. If I want to have my work in so-and-so's store, I need to go there, introduce myself, make my case, and follow up. I can't be in a room full of influential people and shyly sip my wine in the corner! I've gotta network!
So don't be like me circa Summer 2017. Be proud of yourself and have a opening statement about what you do, how, and why. You are fierce and people will love your work!
5 1/2. Go the extra mile.
Send hand-written thank you letters after said conversations, follow-up emails and reminders with inquiring potential clients, and always carry 5-10 business cards on you. Simple.
Everyone is unique. These methods have worked for me but we both know that does not mean I have all the answers. Or that the same formula will work for you! If anything, I want this last post of the Bouquet Series to be inspiring and get yourself asking what can you can do for you. It's like exercise and dieting... everyone succeeds with different things. I also do not have my act together 100% (who does?!) so don't let these numbered, bold tips fool you.
My wish is for you to test some of these theories out and see how they can propel you to where YOU want to be. With all of these tips and tested theories, I hope that your creative juices are flowing and you're excited about the next steps you need to take to make your goals happen this year. And as always, you can email me with any questions. Good luck!