Monday, December 19, 2011

Resolutions for 2012

This morning I came upon this great blog by Dorie Clark about five things one should stop doing in 2012 (or any year for that matter). Often my New Year's resolutions lean toward how I can find more time by becoming more efficient.  For example this coming year, for the first time ever, I have decided not to buy a pocket-sized daily planner and use the calendar on my IPhone instead.  Now I realize many of you are asking, "What century are you from?" but I have this anxiety that I'll forget something unless I write it down.  I would like to get away from this stress, so this year I'm going to take the leap, or at least try it and see.  I'll still get to write out my tasks on the handy TO-DO list I keep on my office desk-studies have shown people do remember things better when they write them down rather than typing them into a technical device (see my previous blog), but at least now I will have less to carry around with me, and can save a tree in the process!
Be sure to read this blog:
5 Things You Should Stop Doing in 2012
What are you going to let go of/change/do more of in 2012?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Why the Pen is Ever Mightier

The other night a friend of mine poked fun at me for pulling out my old fashioned weekly planner when it came time to schedule our next get-together.  I am well known for sticking to pen and paper when it comes to organizing everything: my TO-DO list, my thoughts, my shopping list, my schedule...There's something about being from a generation that didn't grow up with portable electronic devices that keeps me from making the leap from paper to screen.  And it isn't like they aren't all there right in front of me, my IPhone, my laptop, my home computer.  But for me, the act of scratching a writing utensil across the paper solidifies a thought in a way that typing won't do.  For the most part, my activities on my electronic devices are fleeting.  For a moment I'm doing something on my IPhone or computer before fliting on to the next task.  That's why I'm concerned that if I rely on electronic lists and calendars I'll simply forget what I needed to do.  And now there is a study that supports me in my commitment to pen and paper.  Read the above article to find out why it's been shown the process of writing something down helps you remember far better than relying on technology.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lose the Weight! An Argument for Firing Bad Employees

I’ve always been a big believer that it is far better for a company to have a small team of great employees than to have a large team of mediocre ones.  In order for a tree to continue to grow healthy and strong, one must cut off the dead or dying branches.  Even if your team is a mixed variety of every type of employee, from fantastic to awful, you can’t assume the good ones will be able to bring the bad ones up to their level.  Like an anchor, negativity will in almost all circumstances weigh down the positive, which slows productivity and innovation.  It’s the old adage of one bad apple.  Here’s a great blog on this very concept and how it can adversely affect your business:

Years ago I used to teach children’s weekend art classes, and it always amazed me how one or two kids could ruin an entire classroom. Regardless of the enthusiasm and interest of the rest of the participants, the troublemakers managed to sway everyone to their side.  So if you think your company isn’t being harmed by your minority of naysayers, lazy bums, and schemers, think again.

I won’t name names, but there is a very well-known, highly successful hair salon in New York City where the salon owner has only two questions she asks candidates during a job interview. The first is: are you married? If the answer is no, she then asks, are you in a long-term committed relationship? If the answer is again no, the candidate does not get hired. 

While this method of hiring can potentially take a company down the slippery slope of discrimination, I think she is onto something here, and I think (and I know she knows this to be true) this is largely why her salon, in a city saturated with high-end hair salons, is so incredibly successful.  Creating and maintaining a dependable team of stable, committed people is more than half the battle in establishing a sustainable, dependable company.  While there are plenty of sound and balanced unmarried people, and far more unbalanced, wacky married people, finding employees that demonstrate loyalty and the ability to separate their personal and professional life is vital.  As an independent consultant to small businesses, I work with one company where this example has been quite vivid over the years.  The team members who tend to act less professional, damage the company’s reputation and have a negative attitude to boot are the ones whose personal lives are in constant disarray.  The team members who display competence and consistency are those who benefit from a constant foundation of stability in their home environment.  Even when a crisis arises in the workplace, they have an immediate method of coping. They handle difficulties with ease in a way those who are already hanging on by a thread don’t. 

Additionally the ones who are perpetually teetering on the edge demand the time and energy of those who aren’t; which piles additional tasks on your great employees and creates a distraction from work that could actually propel the company forward rather than simply fix a problem. 

In this economy you can’t afford to have your brand tarnished by unreliability, negativity, and instability.  The world is unstable enough, and consumers are on the lookout for companies that will provide a dependable product or service, along with a positive experience.  Negative employees cannot manufacture that positive experience.  Our workforce understands that the current climate requires a larger workload on fewer people.  But isn’t it better for your team to be comprised of great employees who can readily handle the challenges, rather than people who are going to derail your progress?

Read’s great article on three types of people to fire immediately to learn more:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Interview October 2011

I was recently contacted by a MASS Art student who had a homework assignment to interview an artist.  I thought it would be nice to share the questions and answers here.  Hope you find them helpful. -a

1. How do you combine studio practice with your life? (Location of studio in relation to your home. Is your studio at home or somewhere else?) 

As an artist it can be quite a challenge to keep one’s expenses from exceeding one’s earnings, so in order to cut corners, I use my home as my studio.  My home is an open, loft-like space, so it is easy to throw down a tarp, pull out my easel and art supplies, and create.  I find it is impossible to create successful artwork at “home”, so in order to get in the zone, I set aside specific days for studio time.

2. What keeps you sane in your studio, to stay engaged with your art?

Beyond setting aside specific days (anticipating my studio time helps me get in creative mode) I also insist that there are no interruptions while I’m creating.  This means no phone, no computer (unless I need it to create), and no television. It also means I get the house to myself during studio time.  The people in my life respect and understand why this is important. Putting these structures in place doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be able to create great art, but taking my studio time seriously at least gets me more than halfway there.

3. What do you do when you can’t realize an idea?

I find if life has gotten in the way and I haven’t been able to maintain a consistent studio schedule, my work falters.  There are times when I envisioned what I wanted to do and yet the end result is a disappointment.  But I know with enough commitment to consistent studio time, my work will improve, and I will be able to successfully accomplish what I set out to do. 

I think it is important to remember nothing is a waste.  Even if what you created isn’t up to snuff, that doesn’t mean the process was all for nothing. 

4. What motivates you to keep working? (What inspires you? What do you get out of making art?)

Creating gives me a peace and fulfillment that no other activity can offer.  It is what I am meant to do.  I find when I haven’t had time to do something creative in a while I get weird: I can’t sleep, and I start obsessing about baking!  (I don’t cook at all.)

Someone recently asked me why I am an artist.  I told him I am an artist because, for me, making art is like breathing.  If I couldn’t make art, my soul would die.

5. Does your art serve a purpose? (Is it personal or global?)

My goal is to create art that touches others.  So in a way it operates on both a personal and global level.

6. How often do you consider the viewer? (How do you want people to view your work?)

I am always reluctant to answer someone when they ask me what something I created means.  On the other hand, I enjoy listening to viewers’ interpretations of my art, and I love hearing from customers why they selected the piece they are buying.  I find that people understand exactly what I was trying to convey.

7. Tell me all the right and wrong things. 

Hmmmm, I’m not sure what this question means.  This doesn’t really answer the question, but I can say most creators, whether they are musicians, artists, and/or actors, graduate from school without an inkling of how to earn a living.  It has taken me years of trial and error to learn how to be a successful creative entrepreneur.  That is why I am now teaching workshops through the Jamaica Plain Arts Council and the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston, so that I may train others how to avoid wasting their time, money and energy along the way to reaching success in their field. All I can say is that artists must remember they are a small business and a brand, therefore they are a boss and business owner.  It is up to them to take the initiative and responsibility to be focused in their career.

8. How do you approach marketing and publicity?

This is a large part of what I teach, and there is too much to go into.  But I can say marketing oneself is a full-time commitment in and of itself.  I maintain my brand through a consistent online presence, guerrilla marketing tactics, and booking exhibitions.

9. How do you support yourself?

In addition to showing and selling my artwork, I teach for the Jamaica Plain Arts Council and the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston.  I also work on an individual basis as a Creative Coach.  And I am an independent consultant for local small businesses.

10. What is the greatest obstacle that you’ve had to overcome in order to continue to be an artist?

Time management!  I teach a class on that as well! J

Monday, October 17, 2011

Great, short article about Sacred Space

We all need sacred spaces where we can unwind, regroup, think, dream, create...the list goes on and on.  In my workshops I stress how important it is that creative entreprenuers maintain their work space as sacred, and how it is vital those around them regard it as sacred as well. 

Here is the link.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 3, 2011

June Client of the Month

Every month I ask one of my long-time clients to write about their relationship with the artwork they've bought from me: why they bought it, where they display it, and what it means to them. 
An Office Affair
Client of the Month: Mark
I couldn't have said it better, so I left it to long-time client, Mark to write in his own words what Retro Girls mean to him.  Mark "works" with a gang of Retro Girls paintings.
"I enjoy Retro Girls because the series' name really is appropriate to the content of the pieces. When I look at them, I feel as though I'm walking around the art studios of New York in the late 1950s and early-to-mid 1960s. The paintings combine a level of starkness with modernity and for me, there is always a sense of hope in them."
"In my office, my Retro Girls -along with the necessary family photos placed in a different area- let everyone know that I have eclectic taste and that I'm not just like every one else.  When you think about it, the series promotes the individuality of its collectors."

"Anna's work is like a window in my presently non-window office. I have five paintings positioned in a cluster as if it were a window area. In August, I'm scheduled to relocate to a window facing office and it will prove interesting to determine where I place the pieces, but I have ideas already!"

"The Retro Girls are a bit polarizing at work. Some people find them fascinating and seem to get lost in the details while others find them too stark, bleak, and even depressing. Truthfully, if everyone had something positive to say about them, then I probably wouldn't have been drawn to them in the first place. Retro Girls and Anna's work in general, for me, seems to be more for the contrarian than the conformist."

Monday, May 30, 2011

What Century Are You In?

What century is your business in? A handful of years ago I was hired as a consultant by a holistic health clinic. They were having trouble maintaining staff and clients, the once prosperous business had dwindled down to surviving hand to mouth, and now that the owners were getting older they wanted to build a reliable savings so they could schedule retirement. They realized things needed to change, so they asked me to help.

I went about my initial investigation by interviewing staff, observing the business practices and speaking with long-time clients. One client surprised me by saying she was merely staying with the business out of loyalty. She also told me she doubted I would make much headway in improving things, that eventually I would “hit a wall” because the owners were “very set in their ways.”

My findings fully confirmed her assessment. The owners, now in their golden years, had set up their business forty years before, and had never bothered to update. Their original business model was communal, meaning that there essentially was no staff beyond themselves. In fact, often clients would do administrative tasks to offset the cost of care. This mode of operation left too much room for error and at best ambiguous record keeping. And whereas in the “Age of Aquarius” the business practices may have been passable, over the years the community around the clinic had altered. The hippies of yore had been replaced by gentrified Urbanites who were not interested in a business that didn't even accept credit cards.

The meager staff was an impressive team: young, overly-qualified, and eager to make a difference, they were true gems that most businesses would cling to at all costs. But in this case they were under appreciated and finding it difficult to be productive in such a nebulous environment. Much of the way they were being treated, while perhaps acceptable in the past was borderline illegal under today's labor laws and employment guidelines.

I presented my findings as delicately as possible to the owners. We needed marketing-any marketing. We needed to update the website, hook into social media, tap the shoulders of the press, create events to get the public in the door to learn more about the clinic's offerings. The employees needed set boundaries and good communication (for a while I came in weekly to meet with them with amazingly positive results). The office desperately needed to be updated and reorganized. And for goodness sake, the business absolutely had to accept credit cards!

It started out good. The owners were receptive to the changes and reported they appreciated the immediate improvements. Unfortunately the more we progressed, the less the business resembled what they were accustomed to and that was scary for them. In the end I faced push back. A discouraged staff member left. One of the owners called me. I was told they would be in touch. When the other staff members learned I'd been let go they quit.

I'm not sure why many businesses get stuck in the age of when they “came of age”. It's like that episode of Seinfeld, when Elaine's friend refuses to get her hair styled any differently than the late 1960's poof she grew up with. Business owners develop a model, find that it works, at least at the start, and then give up attempting to improve or develop with the times. I can't tell you how often I'll pass a shop and upon peering into the window, find a bygone era gazing back at me, both in the layout and the merchandise. It later doesn't surprise me when I later find out that the business was established, say, in 1995.

Artists have a tendency if they're not careful to do this as well. How often have you gone to an arts festival and thought to yourself, “Wow, that person came of age in the seventies.” and voila, a person emerges from the booth who is exactly of the age you expected them to be.

This is not good. While it is in your best interest to maintain your signature, remain true to your brand, not keeping up with the times will kill a business. Yes, you may have developed a solid client base of peers who can appreciate your outmoded inventory and business practices, because they reminisce about the same yesterday you have-intentionally or no-sentimentalized, but eventually they will be too old to invest in what you are doing. In fact eventually they will die. And yes, you will die too, but if you want a business that's thriving, that when it comes time to retire, someone will want to take off your hands (for hopefully a lot of money so you can retire in style) you must ensure that business is not only vital, it's vibrant.

This is something I keep constantly in mind, not just as a business consultant, but as an artist as well. I came of age in the eighties, a decade I am very sentimental about, though I think every one is particular toward the decade they went from childhood to young adult. I try to be objective about my art: does it appeal to a wide audience? Would someone have to be in my age range to appreciate it? I have to say, judging from my client base, so far so good, but I always remain vigilant.

So what can one do to stay current and remain relevant to the world? Here are some tips:

Research new business practices, trends (and when I say trends I mean ALL trends: music, fashion, technology, commercial, the list goes on and on). Exploration should never end. In addition to reading, doing online searches, and continuing education, check out other businesses similar to yours. What are they doing? What is working? What isn't? Get out there to attend anything and everything: concerts, art receptions, fashion shows, book readings. No matter what the medium I promise you will discover a fresh pattern and become inspired. I had a business owner who refused to tap into the free and absolutely (depending on what your business is) necessary world of social media, which is certainly nothing new but has been such a tremendous part of life for so long it's obscene not to be immersed in the social layer. Creating and maintaining a buzz around her business would have been effective and a snap. Her excuse? She didn't understand how social media works. I'll say it again, do your research. When you find you no longer want to, it's time to quit.

Perhaps you don't have the funds or the need to hire new staff members, but if you can, whenever you can, invite younger people to get involved with your business. Bring them on to assist with administrative tasks, or sales. Or hire them as consultants for marketing, business guidance. As often as possible find ways to get the youth perspective on your business. Ask for their assessment. Ask what they would do to improve things, reach a wider audience. I once worked for a jeweler who had clearly come of age in the sixties. His work had peaked in the late eighties. I sent a friend of mine, a woman who was in her twenties at the time, to find his booth at an art show. She called to say she had found him simply based on my vague description of his jewelry. Her assessment, “It looks like he made it all in 1988.”

No matter what your age, as long as you have passion, you're young. If you are excited about what you are doing, others will follow suit. Business, no matter what it is, is about interpersonal interactions. People are paying for an experience. The opportunity for a pleasant, memorable experience is guaranteed when working with someone who truly loves and believes in what they do. This is not to say every moment in your business is bliss, but if you find yourself longing for retirement, wanting to throw in the towel and walk away, it is well past time to reassess what you are doing with your life. People are savvy and they know when someone is simply going through the motions, regardless of how polite you are while doing so. Business will suffer, if not crumble completely if you are not truly invested in what you do. If your heart isn't into it, find something new to do.

I hope this has been helpful. I am just one voice of many out there. Find the people who can guide you and the ways in which you can expand your business comprehension. Believe me, it will pay off.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Client of the Month: Jenn

No matter how long I've been making and selling art, the way people connect with my work forever mystifies me.  Just like every other artist, my art is very personal and yet someone will come along and feel like it is speaking directly to them. 
Jenn and her husband bought my painting, "At Least Say You'll Write", a mixed media work on paper, professionally framed.  I painted it the day I found out one of my favorite bands was splitting up.  They were a relatively new band, no one had really heard of them yet, so I was in touch with them directly via Facebook (anyone who knows me knows I WORSHIP music, so I tend to be a bit of a groupie).  When they told me they had decided to part ways, it honestly felt like someone had died.  I was so sad thinking of all the great music they'd never make and I'd never get to hear that I spent the rest of the day painting. 
Jenn loved the painting right away and had her husband buy it for her for Christmas. Here's what she has to say about having "At Least Say You'll Write" in her home.
"This painting adds personality to our bare walls with its bright, cheerful colors and makes our house a home.  The birds sitting and alighting on the wire remind me of our urban landscape that is full of life.  The mixed media, including vintage paper, and dynamic composition add interest and energy.  This original piece can't be mistaken for something mass-produced and cookie-cutter from the mall!  We love it and the conversations that it starts.  We can't wait to see what Anna creates next." 
Thanks, Jenn for sharing!  Hey, do you want to be a featured client?  I'd love to hear how your art has changed your world, space, life....
Simply email me with a photo/s of you and your art and an email with your thoughts.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Another Creative Component of Your Art Career-Marketing

Recently I was one of three guest speakers participating in an artist panel discussion. All of us on the panel were asked if we spend more time creating art or marketing ourselves.  It surprised me that I was the only one who answered, “Marketing”. 

Marketing your brand is just as much a part of your art career, if not more so, than the work itself.  Artistic ability is going to only get you so far.  If all we had to do was rely on our talent, most of the actors, fine artists, and musicians in the world would be out of work. On the other hand, there are many incredibly gifted people that the public will never hear of, simply because they don’t know how to market themselves.

Marketing, especially on a limited budget, is a creative endeavor, so being a creative person you will automatically have an edge.  These days there are unlimited marketing possibilities, most of which cost little or no money, though they all demand a consistent commitment on your part.  Today I’m going to talk about utilizing online tools as a means of marketing your small business.

For those of us who are not egomaniacs, social media feels awkward at first.  After all, we’ve spent our entire lives being taught it is rude to brag and demand too much attention.  And that is what social media is all about-building up a public image that to some extent is false.  Depending on your core values, it can feel compromising to intentionally do all you can to grab and keep the focus on you, especially when we must use inauthentic measures to do so.  But when it comes to marketing you have to play by society’s rules.  You have to ensure your brand remains relevant to the public.

Marketing is a weekly, if not daily, component of your small business.  Decide which ways make the most sense for your brand.  Knowing your audience-or your targeted audience-as thoroughly as possible is the key.  For example, if your audience is primarily of retirement age, it may be a waste of time for you to be pushing your brand on social media websites like Twitter and Facebook.  However, email blasts may be a very affective marketing tool and readily welcomed by your clientele. 

Use every marketing opportunity to hone your brand so that with even the mere flicker of your logo people will know exactly what you’re selling.  And when I say “selling” I don’t just mean your product.  I mean the experience people can rely on having by doing business with you.  In this world of hustle, bustle and flash-frame attention spans, people want to recognize instantly what they’re looking at and whether it’s worth their investment of time, money and energy. 

You’ve heard the adage; you have to fake it to make it.  It sounds pretentious.  Heck, it is pretentious.  But it’s also true.  Take your positive attributes and amplify them.  Dissolve what you’re offering into attention-grabbing bullet points that express your brand with dynamic simplicity.  Figure out what separates you from the pack and work it, baby!Use every means possible, again most are inexpensive if not free, to reach and remind your audience of who you are, what you’re about, and why they want to do business with you. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yes, even you have to Dress for Success

Often when I'm teaching one of my business classes for artists, I get the question, "how should I dress?"  I think this is a great question.  If you’re like me, you thank the wardrobe gods (and goddesses!) that you are not one of the minions who have to sport a button down shirt, or worse, a suit and tie all week.  Back in my 9 to 5 days I gritted my teeth over the dress code.  Even shopping for the stuff was painful.  And believe me, there is little out there in office attire that screams (or whispers); “Look at me!  I’m creative!”

That doesn’t mean that we artists can ignore the timeless saying, Dress for Success.  As if I haven’t stressed this enough-YOU are a brand.  And that means every bit of your presentation both visually and philosophically has to be well thought out and thorough. 

It is stunning how often I’ll assume a homeless person has wandered into an art exhibition or event, only to realize he/she is one of the artists.  I sadly live in what GQ Magazine deemed the worst dressed city in the country-Boston.  I’ve spent years of my life dressed in funky duds, only to have passerby ask me if I’m from another country.  No, I am not from another country.  I just happen to refuse to be in public looking like I randomly wandered out of my house while cleaning a toilet.

Fashion seems to be getting worse.  I see men and women unapologetically traipsing about in pajamas, and somehow they don’t think this makes them appear to be a mental patient.  But we all know (or perhaps we don’t know, so here I am to tell you) that we dress for the part we want to play.  And if you want to be successful, you must dress like you already are.

Now here’s where you are quite fortunate, because being a successful artist doesn’t mean you have to be drapped in Armani.  We creative types have a “get out a jail free” card. We’re wacky, right?  We’re kooky!  We can pull off wearing our great aunt’s pillbox with a thrift store dress.  When I get a compliment on what I have on, it thrills me to announce the entire ensemble cost me $32.50. 

You need to remember that generally the people who buy art, who can afford art, are not going to be buying clothes from the Dollar-A-Pound bin.  So even though you are wearing your Dollar-A-Pound bin finds, you should be well put together and groomed.  And smell good, for goodness sake!

Remember you are a brand.  Ask yourself, “What do I have in my wardrobe that enhances my brand?”  Since my work is all about fun, bright colors and retro (Retro Girls & Birds) at art events I wear eye-catching outfits.  People come over to tell me I look like my art. 

That is what you want.  That is a very good thing.

If someone uses nature for inspiration, earthy tones in natural fibers is a suggestion.  Someone with a twisted, dark sense of humor in their work might want to take some cues from Goth fashion.  But no matter what direction you choose to go, however you dress, make sure you are approachable.  You don’t want to intimidate potential customers. 

I used to work for a jeweler, one of hundreds in the jewelry district of downtown Boston.  When one is that submerged in competition, talent alone isn’t going to cut it.  He would often have a psychic help out at the shop, a weird looking and weird acting guy who turned you off almost immediately upon interacting with him.  So it was no surprise that normal (as in pedestrian, just off the street, run of the mill, conservatively dressed with money) people were made uncomfortable very quickly when they came in to browse.  They would find an excuse to leave as soon as possible and yet another sale would be lost.

I like for my clothes to be a topic of conversation at an art opening or event.  It inevitably allows me to point out my artwork and tell people what I do.  Having a reason for people to approach you to engage in conversation is the goal at such events.  It leads to contacts and sales.  I remember at one show a fellow artist openly made fun of me (and my artwork for that matter) because of what I was wearing-a vintage velvet leopard printed cat suit.  She had decided to come looking like she’d just stumbled out of bed.  By the end of the night I had been booked at a new gallery and I had sold my largest painting in the show.  Little Miss “I Just Woke Up?”  Nothing.

So remember, dress for your brand.  If you’re having trouble finding clothes that excite you try Etsy.  I’ve been finding a lot of low priced, fantastic one of a kind fashion there.  Dress so that you’re memorable, but not too over the top.  Dress so that you’re approachable.  In other words, look fun and creative, not unstable and potentially dangerous.  If you’re not sure what works, have a friend or family member visit your closet.  You’ll be surprised how much you already have to work with.  Now, go get dressed!   

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Scraping the Barnacles Off One’s Soul: How to protect & preserve You

This past weekend, for lack of a better way to put it, I broke up with the writing group I had started and run for the past five years.  Over time it had ebbed and flowed, at low tide there were only two of us, at high we were eight eager women coming together to share our work and support each other.  As life changed and participants moved on, I did all I could to entice new members.  We met once a month for a few hours, but the group provided fresh perspectives and other voices, tools one could use to take one’s writing to that next level. 

It wasn’t that the participants weren’t amazing, it wasn’t that they didn’t have a lot to offer, it was what they were offering that finally led me to say “I’m through.”  More often than not I would find myself sitting and waiting in a living room I had just frantically tidied up-after tossing my husband out of the house-while listening to the kettle boil on the stove beside a row of tea boxes and empty mugs.  I would sit, pen and journal in hand, copies of my newest work beside me, and wait. Eventually I would get a text or phone call; a member notifying me that she was cancelling.  Others would show up, sometimes up to two hours late.  Some would not show up at all. 

Like many commitments I’ve made in my past to bad friends, bad lovers, bad jobs, and bad situations, this one elicited advice from those closest to me about how it was obviously well past time to move on.  But you see I tend to be a “drag a dead horse until its nothing but a pile of few sparse bones” kind of person.  I want to give bad friends, bad lovers, bad jobs and bad situations the benefit of the doubt, no matter how outrageous they are.  So in writing this I’m hoping you can avoid losing the time/energy/resources I have by sticking with bad for far too long. 

The older I get the more I recognize that life is very, very brief.  You have only so much time/energy/resources to go around.  Time/energy/resources (your material and emotional processions) are for the most part irreplaceable. You must carefully decide where to invest.  We have all had commitments go sour.  At some point, hopefully sooner than later, it becomes obvious the situation is a waste of our time/energy/resources.  It is how quickly and cleanly we can remove ourselves that will determine how much we waste.

As I announced to the two participants who had bothered to show (one ten minutes late, the other about an hour) that we would no longer be a writing group, it was all I could do not to mentally shoot lasers out of my eyes.  In the subsequent days of doing all I could to organize a final get-together and arrange for borrowed items to be returned to their rightful owners (the end of any type of relationship equals returning stuff) I continued my silent fuming.  I’m a compassionate person.  I know how easy it is to screw up and to find yourself stuck in the muck of those screw ups.  I know life often throws unexpected curve balls, knocking you off your feet.  I also know it takes only a momentary email or phone call to say you can’t be there, not today, not in the near future, not at all.  It’s hard not to be offended when people act so careless, so unappreciative. But just like my friend from Tennessee used to say, “You can’t raise other people’s children.” And if I’m being honest, the person I’m most angry with is me.  Because yet again I find myself in the predicament of having to painfully and tediously scrape off the barnacles.     

A friend of mine in high school used to call certain people “psychic vampires”.  You know, the people (or for the sake of my argument, the commitments) that leave you utterly drained and completely depleted.  Do you have someone or something in your life that does this to you?  Now the thing about psychic vampires is that they may not mean to be one.  They may not even know they are one.  We shouldn’t assume that just because our circumstances are wrong the others involved intended for the situation to be negative in the first place.  What may work perfectly well for another might be completely toxic for you.  And there’s only so many times you can buck up and keep going, giving it your all until you have nothing left to give.  Over the years I have walked away many a time (again usually well after I should have) after providing a polite explanation that sheds some light on the truth without offending, and while those left behind were perhaps scratching their heads,  I felt thrilled at the opportunity to channel my time/energy/resources into more positive endeavors. 

Please know that I am not endorsing bailing just because you’ve hit a rough spot.  Some commitments can seem hopeless (like a rocky period in a marriage, for example), even for quite a long while. It may feel like they’re begging you to evacuate, when what they really need is more of your time/energy/resources. There are also occasions when a commitment changes because you have changed.  What may have been positive in the past becomes unproductive.  You can appreciate what you’ve gained from the commitment while having the wisdom to say goodbye. At the end of last year I let a local artist group know I no longer wanted to be a member.  When I had first moved to the community this group was instrumental in helping me develop a full-time art career. Over the years my career had outgrown the group’s offerings.  It wasn’t a costly group to be a part of, the annual fee was nominal.  But it was too costly when it came to my investment of time/energy. So I thanked them for everything they had done for me, I wished them all the best in the future, and I moved on. 

If you are trying to accomplish anything in life you have to figure out as concisely as possible where you are going to focus your time/energy/resources.  This is going to require some sacrifice.  You won’t be able to see certain people or do certain things as often, if at all.  Gain always involves loss.  Decision always involves relinquishment.  If you’ve been reading this and thinking, “Hmmm, this reminds me of so and so”, or “my current job”, or “that group I’m in”-the list is infinite-it’s high time to say goodbye. 

When you do walk away, no matter how much vitriol the situation is egging you to spew, don’t.  Why?  Because this would be you investing yet more time/energy/resources into what you’ve already decided is a waste.  Simply brush yourself off, give a knowing smile and walk away.  No turning back.  No raging, gossiping, slandering or sobbing (though a good solid cry can be very cathartic).  Just take some quiet time to ask yourself what you could have done differently and listen to your answer (write it down if you need to) so you can avoid getting into this mess ever again. 

We all deserve to be appreciated.  We should as much as possible immerse ourselves in circumstances that grant us knowledge, balance and inspiration.  Remember the vast majority of life is mapped by the paths we’ve chosen, so if you find yourself dealing with the adverse, most times you need only to look in the mirror for the source.  I don’t say this to shame you, but to empower you.  Whatever you’ve stuck yourself in; you can get yourself out of.  This may mean pain, withdrawal, heartache and loads of change, but you’ll be better, stronger and more complete when you come out on the other side.

Want to save yourself the aggravation?  Try following your heart and listening to your intuition whenever a new path is presented to you.  You can preserve your time/energy/resources just by staying true to yourself.  Nancy Reagan tried to teach us to “Just Say No” in the eighties.  Learn how to say and stick to “No” when necessary.  Not so good at saying “No”?  Well, keep in mind, “No” is a lot easier to say than “Goodbye.”

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Do You Woo? A Bit More About Branding.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day I wanted to expand on my thoughts about branding using the analogy of romance.  The great thing about this post is that it can be helpful for anyone and everyone, because, whether we like it or not, if we want to be considered relevant in this consumer based society, we have to make ourselves into a brand. 

Now I must admit I missed out on the online-dating experience.  When I was single social media barely existed beyond email.  It wasn’t the force of nature it is today.  People who resorted to searching for love online were considered desperate.  But just as almost all social interactions and all business transactions have shifted to the World Wide Web, utilizing the internet to find that special someone is now considered pragmatic.  I know a handful of couples who are happily married after meeting online. 

I have said this before and I am destined to say it again, life can be lived-while not necessarily fully-completely online.  Branding is important for everyone regardless of one’s life circumstances.  The only variable is the reason why you’re creating a brand in the first place. So let’s proceed with my romance analogy.

Your Online Profile:

Creating a dating profile, for it to successfully sell you, has to be well thought out and well crafted. You have to determine which sites best suit who you are and what you are looking for.  Then time and energy must be spent on choosing the best words and images to draft a solid composite of how you want to be perceived in the few brief moments someone is going to spend glancing at your profile. When you’re looking for love you want to present you at your finest.  You exercise, dress up, behave. You may not be looking for love, but if you are a business looking for new customers, this process is just as important.  Careful consideration has to go into how you present yourself in today’s aesthetically conscious and brand-driven society. You have to know who your customers are, or who you want your customers to be.  Knowing this will then guide you to connect with the right websites and social media, while using the right design and marketing concepts.  You only have a fraction of a moment to appeal to your perfect customer, so you must ensure your brand is solid, eye-catching, and consistent no matter where that person goes to learn more about you.  Because let’s face it, we all use the Google.  In fact it’s prudent to Google yourself every once in a while.  I do it all the time.  If you Google me, you find exactly what I want you to find.  When you Google yourself, ask Is this how I want to be perceived?  Is there anything here that shouldn’t be? Is there anything missing? Using these answers as a tool, do what you can to reformat and refocus your online presence. Because the stronger and more solid it is, the more comfortable a potential suitor (i.e. customer) will feel about approaching you.  It must be your siren’s song, forcing the suitor to slow down and come closer for a better look. Let’s face it: suitor and customer can be interchangeable because for a business they are exactly the same thing.  While most of us don’t want a harem; those of us who own a business want a bevy of loyal customers. So now that you’ve formulated your online image to entice love, you have got to work on your woo.

First Date/First Impression:

All of us, ever since the day we were born, have been taught “Never underestimate a first impression”.  How many of us have met someone, made some snap judgments, and then gotten to know that person, only to realize later that our initial assessment was accurate?
I once read somewhere that one can learn on a first date what will be the end of the relationship.  You may scoff at this but it’s true!  Think about your relationships.  I’ve always been a long-termer; most of my relationships lasted WAY longer than they ever had a reason to.  Looking back over every one I have to admit that yes, the reason why it didn’t work out was blazingly obvious on that first date. 

In terms of business, the first date is the first interaction (it may or may not be a transaction) a potential customer has with you. Does you woo live up to your marketing?  This is the second part of branding.  As I’ve said before, image is only going to get them through the door.  What are you going to do to get to that first sale?  Your woo has to live up to the expectations of the customer.  Wooing by my definition is giving a customer a great product and great service at a price that reasonably matches the quality of the item/s and the overall experience they had.  Making sure this suitor has a fantastic first impression ups your chances of moving on from a first date to a relationship.

Looks Like We Made It….Well…

Now we all know, over time, we can get a bit lazy in a relationship.  It’s easy to assume, if someone has stuck around this long, they’re going to stay.  So if you want to keep that customer happy you can’t take them for granted!  The relationship needs to be nurtured.  Otherwise you may find yourself alone.  You don’t want your customer to one day say, “You’ve changed.  I don’t know who you are anymore.”

Remember there are plenty of other businesses out there similar to yours who are doing all they can to gain your customer’s attention.  There are ample opportunities to replace you and you will certainly start to destabilize your relationship is you believe you’re irreplaceable. If you’ve made your relationship vulnerable through neglect you are creating the risk of finding yourself alone.  So remember to offer consistent, personalized service.  And don’t forget those tokens of appreciation!  Let them know you care.    

I hope you will use this month to reevaluate your woo.  Figure out how you can strengthen and focus your visual aesthetic and marketing materials.  Decide if your online presence complements the image you want to project.  Refine your professional methods so you can stand out from the masses.  Do all you can to get and give more love in this world. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Brand Me, Baby!

Makery’s helpful posting on branding: Shop Makeover: Creating a Brand Identity for Your Shop got me thinking.  I teach workshops on how to create and maintain a brand, and in my posts I’ve discusses the ways one can offer consistent and professional service to customers.  But I haven’t taken a moment to discuss what branding is.  And for many of you who may be out there scratching your head, that is where we need to start.

Our internet culture has completely redefined how the world functions.  These days, for better or for worse, almost all interactions-from socializing to commerce-occur online. The pioneer users of social media understood it was a fantastical way to create a smoke and mirror effect.  It allowed one to present a completely manufactured persona to the world; most of the time this identity had little or nothing to do with reality.

As time goes on there are ever more ways to sustain a full-time life on the web.  Because of this who we actually are versus who we present ourselves to be has become even
grayer.  This is the core concept of branding. 

A brand is the collective experiences and images consumers associate with a company or an individual.  For the sake of any artisans reading this, let me use the example of a famous artist.  If I say “Andy Warhol” you automatically think of many elements of his career: perhaps his artwork, The Factory, the Velvet Underground, his public antics, or famous quotes.  While we may never be as famous and timeless as Warhol, we should strive to have that tight of an impact on the masses.  Every facet of Warhol’s life and art bleed into one another to create and reiterate a powerful brand. 

The trick is; if you’re offering something to the world, the transaction has to live up to the brand you’ve created. Smoke and mirrors will only get you so far.  There has to be something deeper to keep your customers satisfied and to gain a larger client base.

Think about global companies.  The ones we as consumers think positively about in our current culture are the companies that are working for the betterment of the globe and its inhabitants, right? That’s how companies want to be considered. Consider Starbucks.  When they first expanded, their brand was based on the idea that one could get the dependable experience of a cafĂ© with high-quality products no matter where they went.  But as they drove out independently-owned coffee houses and set up shop on every corner, public enthusiasm began to wane.  Starbucks has reestablished their brand by stressing fair trade, adding healthier options to their menu, and developing a reputation as a caring employer. Even though you are just one individual, you want to create a brand that has positive associations. 

So how does one go about defining one’s brand?

One simple starting point is to create a personal manifesto.  Use these questions to begin:

What can I live with (meaning it isn’t ideal but livable)?
What can I live without (meaning what are you willing to sacrifice)?
What can I not live with (what would be too compromising)?
What can I not live without (absolute necessities for your quality of life)?

These questions define your core values.  They define who you are. You need to establish a sound definition of yourself and else you leave up to the world to define you.

I must stress this again: branding goes well beyond the window dressing of your logo, your color scheme, your online presence and your inventory.  It has to have more substance.  Step number two should be to ask yourself: How am I relevant? What do I have to offer the world?  

Answering the above questions as concisely as possible will not only help you compose your business manifesto, it will guide you in determining what to sell, where to sell it, and how.  It will be the seed that leads to your marketing materials, your social media persona, and most importantly, your product.

A brand is everything you do: your marketing which includes the materials you use for displaying, packaging, and promoting, the events you participate in, how you handle yourself professionally, how you treat others.  All of this has to complement each other to reinforce your business and make you memorable.

The most important thing you need to do is keep your brand visible.  The easiest, most readily available way to know how to get yourself out there is to connect your head and your heart.  Develop your intuition and keep on constant lookout for new opportunities.  Opportunities can be right in front of you.  Start by thinking micro-economically or hyper-locally and expanding from there.