Every night from May to Labor Day, crackles, booms and pops echo across the lake as fireworks light up the summer sky above my temporary home.
Because I’ve been self-employed for over three decades, I probably take my freedom more for granted than many of my clients and friends who are corporate refugees, so I’m grateful for this nightly reminder to celebrate independence.
And speaking of celebrating Independence and “bosslessness”, I want to invite you to join me for a celebration of self-employment. My friends Sandy Dempsey and Alice Barry have gathered together a POSSE to plan the Joyfully Jobless Jamborree. Sandy initially came up with this idea to honor our friend and mentor Barbara Winter, author of best selling “Making a Living without a Job”. The theme of the event is “more time, more fun, more money”. Unlike the typical “pitch-fest” events, this is all about celebration, lifelong learning and the joy of being jobless. I hope to see you there. Read more about the Joyfully Jobless Jamborree here.
For decades superstar entertainers have done benefit concerts to raise funds for causes they believed in. I will always remember the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar for the relief of refugees from East Pakistan during the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities and Bangladesh Liberation War. The event drew 40,000 people and was the first benefit concert of this magnitude in world history. It featured Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Badfinger, and Ringo Starr.
The popular summer music festival, Bonnaroo donated $50,000 to Music City flood relief efforts and of course Nashville’s elite songwriters made enormous donations to the flood victims but you don’t have to be a rock-star or billionaire to make a difference.
I’ve heard from artists and crafters who feel called to make a contribution to aid recent disaster victims but think they must have name recognition like sea-life artist and environmental educator Wyland to be taken seriously. Not so.
Local musicians and indi crafters at the Chattanooga Market are sending proceeds from their art to Nashville flood aid and you can make a difference with your craft too. While the magnitude of these issues may feel overwhelming, every little bit helps.
Craft Hope for Haiti has an Etsy store where artist donate the profits to Doctor’s without Borders. Crafting a Green World and Etsy list artists and groups who are using their craft to raise funds for Earthquake victims.
Needleworkers and fiber artists making wash cloths for wiping the fragile birds and sea turtles in the gulf. Yarn shops are donating wool to clean up the oil.
And if you think any effort you make is too small to make a difference, consider eleven year old Olivia Bouler of New York who has raised $70,000 from donations for her bird drawings for the audubon society to help birds in the gulf oil spill. She said, “I want to help, and I want to make a difference and show that the birds are important, and we need to preserve them.” Olivia’s mother, a teacher, says her daughter has proved what she’s always told students: “you can make a difference, and I pretty much believed it,” she says. “But now I know it is truly possible.”
What can you do with your art, your music or other talent that can make a difference?
As always, you are invited to share here. We’d all love to know how you are using your gifts to benefit the world.
As a committed supporter of small business, I don’t frequent big box stores unless I can’t find what I need from an independent shop. On the rare occasion I do patronize discount houses, I am always disheartened (OK, sometimes I’m just plain angry) to see unlicensed knockoffs of hand made designs.
As an artist, making each piece by hand, how can you possibly compete with a copy of your own work made by children in China? Even if your designs are trademarked and copyrighted, you likely can’t afford the lost time or emotional reserves to fight these mass manufacturers. I’ve watched it happen to so many artists and I know it’s a struggle to stay ahead of the copy-cats.
So, what can you do about it? How can you differentiate your work from the inexpensive look-a-likes?
Well, the best way I know is to make sure that shoppers know the difference so that they appreciate the value of your work and understand why it commands a higher price tag. Otherwise, they are not going to pay $279. for a piece that looks just like what they’ve seen in the Target, Walmart or Macy’s. And the one element that makes your work worth paying more for is the YOUness. If your work doesn’t have a story, your customer can’t understand the value and there is no way they are going to pay more for something that looks just like the cheaper one.
Why your art needs a story
Now, more than ever, your art needs a story. Annette Simmons, author of The Story Factor, said “in today’s world almost anyone you want to influence is operating under a deficit of human attention.” They are drowning in facts, information and statistics. They need a story they can relate to. Most people don’t remember facts and figures. They do remember stories. As an artist, you need a story too.
If you’re showing your work at a juried craft show, chances are the attendees understand the value of your work. In that case, just being personable and explaining a bit about your process, inspiration, etc will help reinforce the old know-like-trust factor. They’ll be loyal fans because they know your face and like you. However, if you exhibit at an un-juried show, it’s likely that some vendors have slipped imports into the mix and you’ll have to work harder to make sure the customers know you.. Knowing your “story”, where you came from and how you got where you are now, adds that human element and makes your work worth the higher price.
If your art is represented in a gallery, you may assume that the clientele perceives it’s value. Don’t take it for granted.
For several years I owned a contemporary craft gallery in a quaint coastal village. I represented artists and craftspeople from all over the US and Canada. Now you would assume that with the upscale ambience and the word “gallery” in the name, customers would expect to pay more for items that are handcrafted. But I was surrounded by souvenir shops housed in cute victorians, carrying items embellished with the local town name. Some of these shops had mass-produced Chinese copies of the same handmade-in-the-US yard sculpture that we carried. They were priced a fraction of the hand-crafted piece. My neighbors put a 4X mark-up on these imported knock-offs while my handmade pieces were at keystone (double my cost.) So, why did customers buy from my gallery and how did I build a loyal following for the artists despite the challenges of knock-offs? I made sure that everyone who walked through the door was greeted with eye-contact and a smile and told that the items in the gallery were made by hand. When a visitor looked at each display, they were told the artists name, a personal “story-bite” and a brief description of the craft process. For example, we carried a line of hand made venetian glass jewelry. Several neighboring shops carried manufactured jewelry made with Chinese “murano” glass-not made on the island of Murano at all. But visitors to the my gallery were told the story of the artist, Jane, an American opera singer who went to Italy years ago to sing and fell in love with glass. Fluent in Italian from her opera training, she was able to befriend the Venetian crafts people, were invited into their studios and taught the craft of making beads. She then designs her own beads and goes over several times a year to design her seasonal lines. She brings her beads back to her Portland studio where she hand makes her jewelry. My clients purchased her work because they felt a human connection to the item which increased the perceived value and they became collectors because they remembered her story.
So how can you, as a artist, differentiate your work from the knock-offs? Your work needs the story of YOU. Every piece you display for sale should be accompanied by a photo of you and a personal bio. Not a resume bio but a human interest story. No one is going to buy your art because you have an MFA in ceramics or a certificate in gemology. Art is an emotional purchase and it’s your story that speaks to the buyer. They want to know about your family, your pets and what inspired your craft.
It’s the story of YOU that will sell your art and turn shoppers into collectors.
Is your bio a resume of facts or does it tell a memorable story of who you are and what you stand for?
Chatting with artists and crafts people at a large juried show this past weekend, I heard the same complaint repeatedly. Many of the exhibiting artists said they would like to do less live shows and sell more in galleries and online but they found it difficult to get their work into galleries and even more of a challenge to sell online. They almost all had a website or a page on Etsy, Artfire or another handmade site. The problem was, in a sea of hundreds of thousands of artists with listings on these sites, they weren’t getting noticed or seeing enough traffic to make significant sales.
This complaint is not unique to the craft industry. Many new entrepreneurs seem to have the idea that all they have to do is put up a website (or list their wares on Ebay or Esty) and people will find them and buy their products. Then the surprise comes when they’ve spent money and time to launch the page and no one finds it.
Would you lease a retail space down a back alley accessible only by another back alley that no one uses unless directed by someone on the main street? And set up a gallery there to show your best work? Of course you wouldn’t. But that’s what you’re doing if you put up a webpage and sit around waiting for sales to happen. No one can buy from you if they don’t even know you’re there.
So, how do you get the merchants on the main street to recommend you and direct your ideal customer back to your gallery? That’s how you have to think about getting the buyers to your site or page.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Who is my ideal customer and where are they hanging out?
- What shops (or sites or forums) do they already spend time in?
- How can I reach them and get them back to see my work?
- Is there a way to get the main street “shop-keepers” to direct my ideal customer to my shop (site or page)?
One of the most valuable lessons I learned in the advertising world 35 years ago is that whatever business you are in, you are really in the business of marketing your business. Unless you are already generating enough revenue to hire a marketing team, you don’t have the luxury of spending all day every day making your art. A good chunk of your time in the beginning has to be allocated to getting your work in front of the person who will pay you for it. And the most efficient way to do that is to identify and align yourself with those who already have the attention of your ideal customer.
So, how do you do that? Here are a few tips to get you started:
What kinds of items are complimentary to what you make? For example, if you sell handmade bridal jewelry what other types of businesses would your ideal customer be patronizing? Likely someone selling handcrafted invitations, veils or headpieces, custom bridal shoes, caterers, photographers, wedding planners, make-up artists, florists, bands and DJs, etc. You might contact them and work out a mutually beneficial set up where you may do a guest post on their blog site with a link back to your site or an arrangement to feature each other’s products and services on your sites. Another free and easy way to get your name in front of those who will buy your product is to find these complimentary businesses on Twitter or Facebook and follow or “friend” them, build a relationship and then once you get to know each other, you can recommend the other’s businesses and link to their sites.
You can’t assume that your ideal client is an active internet user. Using the same example, while most young brides use the internet, what about the MOB who does all the planning? She may not be online so you will have to come up with some off-line ways to promote your business.
Consider organizing local, complimentary businesses as above for a trunk show and everyone can send invitations their own list. This means that you each have access to get your products or services in front of the combined clients of the vendors involved. This will benefit each of you and can be a fun, profitable event.
Be creative in the way you think about what business are complimentary to your own. And don’t overlook some that are not necessarily in the same industry. For example, still using the bridal jewelry example, a great resource would be the sales manager at venues such as hotel banquet rooms. Often the first thing a bride does is visit locations to hold the wedding so the sales and catering manager will have access to brides and their families before they’ve even begun the planning process.
What kinds of businesses are complimentary to yours? Who can you align yourself with to help you get customers to know you are out there?