PARTICIPATORY SPORT FOR CRAFT ARTISTS
This past Monday, I had the privilege of being a guest speaker for the Business-to-Business (B2B) Marketing and Intro to Entrepreneurship undergraduate students at Baldwin-Wallace College. Public speaking is one of my most favorite activities or as my smart-alecky husband likes to tell his buddies, “My wife loves to show pretty pictures and run her mouth.” While others may be intimidated by speaking in front of a large group, I find the experience fun and exhilarating and yeah my hubby is totally right, I do love to share pretty pictures and talk about my passion for the arts.
The students and I had a lovely conversation about how I built my career and my plans for the future. A large part of my presentation covered how I use marketing and networking to advocate for the arts and create opportunities for growing my business.
Whether or not we chose to work for an employer or ourselves, our careers are our business. Wonderful things can happen by daring to think differently about the strategies we use to get our message out to the rest of the world.
Since eMERGE began last May, I’ve attended a combination of 85 networking events, conferences, expos, pro development workshops, and informational interviews. During one of those events, I learned from Valeri Furst of Furst Communications, that every person one meets has the potential to provide 200 leads related to one’s pursuits. This is related to concept of Six Degrees of Separation. By employing an exhausting list of techniques I’ve been able to cut those Six Degrees down to 2 and create a slew of opportunities for my connections and myself.
A Broad Approach to Marketing
I take a very board approach to marketing and consider everything I do from the time I wake up till the time I fall asleep as a form of marketing. This includes the groups I associate with, wardrobe selection, organizing my calendar, event selection, personal and professional communication, and volunteer work to name a few.
Marketing and networking are about cultivating meaningful relationships. Just because one may have someone’s business card doesn’t mean you have a professional relationship with that person. It also doesn’t mean that that person knows you or cares about what you’re doing. It takes time and deliberate effort to build professional relationships and the effort is completely worth it because the people who know you and care about what you’re doing will end up telling others about your work and expertise. No matter how technologically advanced our world becomes, word of mouth is still one of most effective and powerful marketing tool out there.
Professional Groups, Trade Shows, Conferences, Networking Events
There is a professional group, trade show, conference, and networking event for every interest out there. By joining and participating in the professional groups and events related to your interest one can quickly learn who the “movers and shakers” are for their field.
Over the past year, I’ve expanded my network by engaging with a variety of groups related to my diverse range of interests. I’ve learned that the participants who attend these events are extremely committed to their careers and are abundantly passionate about what they do. These events are a great opportunity for meeting new people and planting the seed for building a professional relationship with them. These individuals often travel great distances to attend a major event and by meeting them one can learn a lot about other markets and expand one’s geographic reach.
The informational interview is a great next step after meeting someone at networking event. Informational interviews are often 30-45min in length and typically conducted over a casual cup of coffee. The purpose is to learn more about one another and to share information.
I ask for informational interviews all time. Sometimes a conversation at a major event, like a conference or trade show, can lead directly into an informational interview, especially if the person is from out of town. You’re both in the same place for a limited amount of time, so why not chat over a cup of coffee or lunch.
The trick with informational interviews is to be very mindful of the other person’s time. It is easy to monopolize someone’s day once you get them talking about their passion. I know that I can go on for hours about something I’m passionate about and before I know it the day is almost over.
At the end of the interview I ask for names of others I should talk to in order to learn more about the topics we’ve discussed. This is how one informational interview can quickly grow to 6 or 7 and then those can grow again and before you know it your network and opportunities have expanded exponentially.
Hand written thank you notes; yes, the kind with a stamp on them…
I follow up every interview with a hand written thank you note. The beautifully composed hand written note is a dying art and people are impressed and pleasantly surprised to receive one on their desk. I also include one of my business cards with each note I send. On more than one occasion, I’ve received a multi-paragraph email response to my note. This response often includes and invitation to attend another event or an introduction to another contact.
A thank you note via text message or email requires a minimal amount of effort. Recipients often tell me that they keep my thank you cards on their desk or memo board for weeks after our meeting. The same really can’t be said about texts or emails. At the end of the day wouldn’t you prefer to be in the keep pile rather than deleted?
Send “Fan” Mail
What gets recognized gets repeated!
I read everything I can get my hands on related to my interests. Anytime I read about someone doing something really amazing I send him or her and the writer a congratulatory note. If I’m able to track down their snail mail addresses it will be a hand written note. If that’s not possible, I send emails. Within that congratulatory correspondence I ask for an informational interview. There’s always more to the story than what’s been published and I want to learn more about what they’re up to because one of my contacts may be able to assist them in their efforts.
Volunteering is a great way to make new connections. For the past several years I have done some major volunteer work for the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG). This work includes working with the board, committees, Executive team, and other volunteers. While my initial motivation was to give back to my community and support my peers, I’ve made hundreds of life long connections and many of my closest friends are because of my volunteer work. Another perk of volunteering is acquiring new skills in a safe environment. Through my volunteer projects for SNAG I’ve gained valuable skills in arts management, volunteer coordination, and database management. These skills are highly sought after in the job market.
Dress for the career you want, not the one you have
For years I didn’t put too much thought into my wardrobe unless it was for an important meeting or major event. The typical jeans and t-shirt “fresh from the studio/starving artist” look worked just fine. Then over the past year I decided to step up my game and added more professional items to my wardrobe.
I also never, ever, ever leave the house without wearing one of my pieces. It doesn’t matter if I’m walking my dog or just running to the grocery store or attending my graduate classes; I’m wearing one of my pieces.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. One never knows whom one will run into throughout their day, so looking professional, as opposed to a slob in ratty studio clothes, is important. On multiple occasions I’ve sold items directly off my body to a fellow classmate, neighbor or someone who enquired about the jewelry I’m wearing while I’m shopping at one of my favorite local stores.
I know there are many artists who make wearable work who do not wear what they make because they’re “saving” it for galleries and other events. Whenever I hear about an artist who doesn’t wear their work the first thought that pops into my mind is, “Well, if they don’t think highly enough of their work to put it on their own body, why should I?” I’m not alone in this thinking. I’ve asked several dozen of my contacts what they thought about this and the response was unanimous, “If you make wearable art, wear it everywhere you go!”
So what does all this mean?
By adopting the above techniques, along with dozens of others, I’ve experienced a rapid increase in opportunities and a shift in others’ perception of the arts and artists.
The arts are a niche industry. The “indoctrinated” tend to generously support it while others question its value. It has been my experience that many people who have not had much interaction with the arts or artists often believe the Hollywood stereotype of the starving, tortured artist. I see this stereotype as an insult to our profession and my marketing and networking efforts are an attempt to change this paradigm. In a few short months, my strategy appears to be working because several of my contacts have told me that they are starting to engage with the arts on a whole new level. They have a new appreciation of the arts and of artists as a result of their professional relationship with me, so I must be onto something….
As always, I hope you’ve found this post helpful and your comments are welcome. Thanks for reading.
If I could underline every word in this article, I would. Guys, read this, put it under your pillows at night, memorize it, and DO this. I have attended countless marketing seminars, this is it in a nutshell.
Great advice. Self-Marketing/PR fundamentals everyone needs to hear!
Thank you, Michelle!
Fantastic post, Michelle!
You state things so succinctly and clearly. Most of what you recommend in your article has been working for me beautifully the past three years in Greece, which is, by itself, a very difficult market.
One of my serious clients saw the first pair of earrings I ever made -at the hair salon, of all places- and bought them off me there and then ( I was stunned to say the least). After that first contact, word of mouth spread and despite the financial difficulties Greece is going through, I have not experienced any major decline in business.
Being courteous, professional and always on time with orders is greatly appreciated, as is sharing information and connecting with jewelers, designers and others of our trade. I will share this with my group of colleagues when we meet next week.
Thank you for sharing your experience,
I'm so glad that you enjoyed my post. Keep in mind that the strategies I've written about are only the teeniest tiniest tip of the iceberg in regard to what I've been up to since eMERGE started. If I wrote about every single marketing and networking tool in my arsenal it would be a mammoth series of postings and suck up a TON of bandwidth on Crafthaus ;)
I am deeply honored to know that you think highly enough of my writing to share it with your colleagues. Kudos to you for seizing on the opportunity at your hair salon. If enough of us consistently engage in similar marketing/networking activities we can make the term "starving artist" a thing of the past.
BTW I would be delighted to give a similar presentation to any group that is interested in learning more about marketing and career advancement.
great article. I'll start applying this today. thank you.
Michelle, this is a very informative post. I was intrigued with your inclusion of "dressing for the career you want." I say this because I've had some curious reactions from fellow artists if I come to a meeting or show or other event dressed up (that is, something other than studio clothes.) Usually the reaction is "My you're dressed up." When I work in the studio alone, going out is often my only chance to "dress up." There are definitely some ingrained stereotypes for artists. Dress "weird," outlandish, in grubbies, etc. My artist friends run the gamut in their clothing choices.
So this morning instead of tossing on the usual heavy sweater or sweatshirt, I chose a nice knit button front sweater jacket. It's still comfy but I feel a little more "polished."
I'm sure you looked fabulous :)
I've had similar reactions to the ones you have experienced. All I can say is one can never go wrong looking professional and polished. When given a choice I would rather be over-dressed than under-dressed. It effects your confidence and how others, especially customers, respond.
Several of my clients and professional contacts have emailed me privately regarding the "dress for the career you want" section of this post. They felt that if readers wanted to have an immediate positive impact on their careers, they should upgrade their wardrobe, especially for professional events.
Many of these contacts have galleries, boutiques, and shops where they invite their artists and designers in for trunk shows, receptions etc. A big factor in deciding who these business owners want to represent is how the artists/designers present themselves and how they communicate with others. If one looks like a slob, it sends a conflicting message to customers. Why would someone want to pay top dollar for an art object to someone who looks like they just rolled out of bed? Looking like a slob hurts one's credibility and the credibility of the people who are representing one's work.
On another note, savvy wardrobe choices can be a great conversation starter. I've lost track of how many times someone has come up to me to compliment something I'm wearing; a fabulous funky blazer, cool shoes (I have a collection of knee-high high heeled boots with funky patterns), my handbag, or my jewelry. Eventually the conversation leads to what I do for a living and we end up exchanging business cards. These new contacts end up on my mailing list and then buy my work at the various jewelry events I do.
Sorry for the rant, but sloppy dressing is one of my biggest pet peeves.....