Wednesday, August 13, 2014

JUST SAY NO-How to Be Vigilant About Your "Office Hours"


Monday I had a moment of feeling like a meanie.  Because I needed to go to the medical area on Tuesday for a doctor’s appointment I scheduled a lunch with friends nearby.  And because of the lunch date I booked a morning meeting I could attend along the way. 
I got an email from one of the two friends saying she would need to miss the lunch date due to other obligations. She suggested we simply reschedule for Wednesday.  My other friend chimed in saying-yes-she could also meet on Wednesday.  You know what I said?  I said no.  I told my friends I had scheduled lunch with them intentionally on a day when I would have to be away from my studio.  I had rounded out my day by adding a much-needed business meeting before joining them for lunch.  I told them I was sorry they needed to reschedule, but rescheduling would require me to leave my work two days in a row.  Instead, I offered them some alternate dates based on times when I needed to be out due to other commitments; when it would be convenient for me to meet up with them en route to these appointments.
Now you may think this is rather selfish.  After all in a democracy the majority of the people could meet on Wednesday so I just have to bite my tongue and eat my sandwich, right?



When you own and operate a business it is easy for those around you to forget you 1. Have a Job and 2. Have to Work.  I find this often with my closest friends and family members who contact me throughout the day.  Some are irked when I tell them their interruption is not convenient and I’ll have to get back to them after “work hours”. 

Just because you have the benefit of a flexible schedule doesn’t mean most of your time is free for others to use.  After all, your success is directly based on how much effort you are pouring into your enterprise.  So, here are a few things to remember:
You DO have a Boss.  The Boss just happens to be YOU.

If you worked at a company you would have to answer to the powers-that-be.  You would not be permitted to chat on your phone, text or email whenever a message popped up, run out to meet folks for coffee, lunch or shopping on a whim.  If you did these things it is quite certain you would be fired. 
While you don’t have a boss, you do have someone to answer to: yourself!  Set hours of operation for your business and stick to them.  If necessary provide your work schedule to those around you so they will know when not to bother you.

Respect Your Time & Space
You will be most productive if you carve out a space and a schedule for your enterprise.  Even if you can’t afford a separate studio or office you can claim set times when a shared area of your home is designated for your business.  Make it clear to others what the schedule is and that they are to respect your “zone” during work hours.  If possible, turn off your phone.  Resist temptation to play on the computer, using it only to further your career during hours of operation.  Remember most companies have VERY STRICT policies about internet use during work hours.  You too should adhere to these policies until you are out of the “office”.

Take A Break
This will seem like the opposite of my message, but give yourself time off.  While most people view owning a business as a dream come true, the reality is you actually work more than those who report to a company from 9 to 5.  After all your work essentially never ends; there is always more you can do to further your business.  It can start to feel like your nose never lifts from the grindstone.

This is why a schedule is so vital.  Add to your schedule exercise, rest, and spending time with loved ones.  It is easy to become isolated in your work which can bar you from fresh impressions, ideas and inspirations.  Even taking the time to meet up with friends can provide the benefits of networking, brainstorming and discovering new trends.
So, yes you do have to be vigilant about your work schedule.  But maintain a life of balance!  This will replenish your energy and revitalize your work!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Art of Communication-the Key to Operating a Successful Business

This weekend I am teaching a workshop entitled How to Stand Out, Part III-The Art of Communication.  This is the third in a series of workshops about brand development (How to Stand Out, Part I-The Art of Branding & How to Stand Out, Part II-The Art of Building Your Audience).  I am psyched about Part III.  It provides the tools one needs for writing, marketing, and selling one's brand with clarity, cleverness, and confidence. 
                                                                                                       found image
 
I find one of the biggest stumbling blocks for microbusiness owners is communication.  Often incredibly gifted people will fail simply because they do not know how to properly communicate.  They don't understand how critical communication is and all that it entails.  I am often reminded of this when I receive newsletters (e-blasts) from small businesses or artists.  The included images may be intriguing but I find my interest quickly fizzles as I read the "articles".  It must be remembered that content is just as important (if not more so) as visual aids.

This workshop will cover everything: the message conveyed through one's selection of products or services, how to market in person and online, and how to maintain a consistent personality when it comes to presenting one's brand.  Because parameters are required for any thriving business we will cover business policies and practices in addition to writing business documents such as contracts. Having structure not only allows customers to know exactly what he/she can expect from a transaction it also protects one's business from liability.

I think of the Steuart Henderson Britt quote: “Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing but nobody else does.”  I think that can be taken further to Doing business without communicating...  I see so many people with fantastic ideas scratching their heads because they cannot figure out why no one is jumping up and down over all they have to offer.  I think one major issue is that they think they are letting the world know they are here but in reality they aren't saying anything.  Don't assume that just because you have output you are actually being heard.
                                                              image courtesy ofhttp://dailydujour.com/category/blogs/ken-tanakas-blog/page/2/
I do hope microbusiness owners, artists, and the like will join me at my studio in Jamaica Plain on Sunday, August 3 from 4:30-6:30pm.  Perks beyond the lesson are easy access via public transportation, off-street parking, and a selection of complimentary hot/cold beverages.  Students will receive a comprehensive handout to review after the workshop.  And the workshop is only $30!  Students have the option of booking a private or semi-private session to attend Part I-The Art of Branding and/or Part II-The Art of Building Your Audience at a date/time that best suits their schedule.  The cost of attending all three workshops is only $75 (You save $15! Woo hoo!).  Part II-The Art of Building Your Audience is coming up on Sunday, August 24 4-6pm if you would like to join in. However, it is not necessary to attend Part I and/or Part II to get a lot out of the lessons in Part III.

Registration for Part III-The Art of Communication ends at 12pm Friday, August 1.  To sign up, contact The Focusing Series 617-955-3472 or focusingseries@gmail.com. You can also use this link to register via your Paypal account. The link contains a full workshop description.

Let's work together to ensure your words are truly being put toward the growth and prosperity of your dreams! I hope you will join me!



Thursday, April 10, 2014

What's In A Name? The Do's & Don'ts of Brand Naming.

A relative of mine recently announced the launch of a new clothing company.  While I was happy for her I have to admit I felt a sense of distress when I read the company name.  She had chosen a name that is already affiliated with…not one, not two, not even five, but TEN clothing and accessory companies. 

A few years back a friend decided to take a crack at becoming a professional photographer.  She spent precious time, money and energy on marketing-including building a website.  When I went online to have a look, I noticed there was another professional photographer with an almost identical name (you could easily get the two mixed up) who had an established career in our immediate area.  Her online presence was head and shoulders above my friend’s, and as far as potential customers were concerned, she had already staked her claim on the name.  I contacted my friend to let her know about the conflict and was shocked to learn she KNEW about the situation before she ever started marketing.
When it comes to creating a successful brand-one that signifies consistency in message and mission-your business name is the cornerstone.  Yet, many entrepreneurs and artrepreneurs put little or no thought into what to call their enterprise.  If you understand your company name creates a first impression on all potential customers and collaborators, why be blasé about it? 
The best way to begin your business journey is to put your best foot forward.  This takes proper planning: hours of organization and thinking through your specifics.  So don’t shoot yourself in the foot before taking that first step! Let’s cover some basics about finding the perfect name for your business.
 
Pick Something You Can Commit to:
Naming your business is like naming a baby.  Ideally you want to choose something you can commit to for the life of your brand. I often have to do damage control for my coaching clients (I work on an individual basis with artrepreneurs) when they’ve gotten too carried away with the Name Game.  I once had a client who registered five different names for his business and was using them interchangeably.  The biggest problem with this is that a brand needs to be constant and consistent in order to make an impact.  Using multiple names undermines any progress you can make on impressing an audience.

Your brand is your baby.  It should be something you’ve poured your heart, soul, mind and hands into creating.  Treat naming your brand with the care and consideration it deserves.
Can You Explain It in One Sentence?
To foster brand loyalty you have to share the purpose and passion behind your brand.  If someone asks, can you explain the why behind your brand name in one sentence or less?  Remember, you only have a moment-whether online or in person-to introduce someone to your brand.  Maintaining a captivated audience depends on the success of those initial few seconds.
I began signing my artwork “a2n2” in the eighties. This was years before I understood the vitality of branding.  But this tag has become the cornerstone of my enterprise.  When people ask why my company is called a2n2 I can tell them it is because my name has two a’s and two n’s: Anna.  But beyond that, a2n2 represents the personality, humor and contemporary design behind my brand.  Even if people choose not to become customers, at the very least my company name gives them a smile, i.e. a positive affiliation with my brand.
I am going to give you another example.  During a workshop I was teaching I had a student tell me he decided he was going to use the word “monkeys” in his brand name.  I asked him why.  He then went into a long explanation about how the word monkeys came from a joke phrase used in his previous work life. The students and I politely suggested he think of another brand name.  After all, his artwork had no affiliation with his prior career, and we told him “monkeys” tends to suggest something edgy (for example, the indie film “12 Monkeys”) whereas his watercolor landscapes had absolutely no edge. The fact he had to spend so much time explaining the concept behind the name didn’t do him any favors either.
Don’t underestimate the cost of a misleading or complicated brand name.  As preparation of this article I did some research and found by and large that companies with poor names did not have the commercial success of those with good ones.  In an effort to protect the businesses I have altered details a bit while providing key information.  For example, there is a spa that uses the word “trap”.  I don’t know about you, but I think only of negative connotations when I hear “trap”: enclosure, prison, danger, peril, etc.  A trap would be something to avoid and could not possibly provide the relaxing, pampering atmosphere of a spa.
Another example.  There used to be a hair salon called “The Private World of…” The end of the name was a person’s first and last name, presumably the owner of the salon.  “Private World”, especially a specific someone’s private world, comes across as just that-a place no one else is invited into, and frankly, it sounds a bit kinky, so why would I want to enter it anyway?   Is it any surprise the salon went out of business?
Here are some other examples:
A business that uses a combination of a color and a natural disaster as their brand name.  What do they sell?  Beauty products.
A business that uses the word “decadence” in their brand name while their inventory is made up of cheap “antiques”.
A business that uses “artistic form” in their brand name but sells low-end vintage clothing.
A business that uses “gallery” and “art” in their name but they sell beaded jewelry.
A business that uses the words “go”, “forward” and “create” in their name.  They sell- I’m not kidding when I tell you this-pet supplies.
People should readily identify the why behind your brand name when they read it.  If they can’t, you should be able to simply explain the why to them when speaking about your brand via marketing or in person. 
Get Specific
Don’t use words that are already overused unless you feel they really do describe your brand.  “Design”, "Gallery" and "Art" have been beaten to death by many whose services and/or product have nothing to do with any of those words.  Don’t be vague either.  I just found a company that makes quilts.  Their brand name included the words “universal” and “idea”.  Frankly, that name is just way too, well, universal and it has nothing to do with quilts.

So what works? Here are a few examples.
Washed Up Creations for a jeweler who uses beach glass in her creations.
Yes Spaces for a design team who reinvigorates home and office spaces.  Let’s linger on this one for a moment.  I really want you to focus on how great this company name is.  It’s clear, clever, and right to the point while giving you a positive, excited and intrigued impression.
I’ve used this one in blog posts before because Dana is a super example of an artrepreneur who really has it together.  When I say the name Patterned Peacock what do you think of?  I think of fun, colorful, design, pattern, fancy…the list could go on and on.  And frankly that is precisely what the Patterned Peacock does!
From my own experience, I know a2n2 works for me because it is one of the top phrases people use in search engines when looking for my artwork and my company online.  Which brings us to…
Use the Google
Before selecting any name, including your own first and last name, google it!  You’d be surprised how many dismayed artists have come to me after finding someone with either the same or an identical first and last name, especially if the artist considered his/her name to be rather unique.  The good news is, if you google the brand names you are considering and find them already taken, you have saved yourself countless hours and dollars building up a brand that would never have made an impact in the first place.
I can’t stress this enough: do your research.  I once knew a salon owner who opened his business  with a name he used all over the space, his marketing materials, advertising, products, press releases…you name it.  He spent a fortune getting the brand up and running.  However he had forgotten to check and see if the brand name he was using was actually available.  As a result, L’Oreal-who had already trademarked the name-issued a cease and desist.  The salon owner had to undo everything he had done to build his brand at his own expense and start from scratch.
Summary
You have to find the perfect balance between becoming overwhelmed with the task of naming your brand (naming the baby) and being too casual about it.  Remember your brand name creates your first impression.  It is the cornerstone of your enterprise.  Give naming the consideration it is due.

 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Making the Connection: Upcoming Professional Development Workshops on Branding, Selling, Marketing & Audience Building

When I went to art school there were no classes in how to market and sell your work.  Not one professor ever even mentioned the word “Brand”.  As far as the school was concerned the curriculum was meant to hone our methods of making art. Come graduation we were entirely on our own, going out into a harsh economic climate that was not so dissimilar to what we have all experienced more recently.

People in this day and age are far more fortunate when it comes to branding, marketing, and selling products or services.  There are myriad ways to keep a company fresh in the public’s mind, many of them free of cost.  But at the same time, all of it can become quickly overwhelming for the small business or individual trying to tackle it all: What exactly is branding?  How is that different from marketing?  How can I best invest my efforts to ensure sales? How do I get comfortable selling my work?  Am I pricing my work correctly? How can I track which marketing techniques are paying off?  How can I guarantee I will stand out from the crowd?
Once I graduated from college I had to learn as I stumbled along. There were a lot of mistakes made-the expense of unfocused effort and funds, missed opportunities and me simply selling myself short.  The workshops I teach are meant to help small business owners and artrepreneurs avoid wasting time/money/energy by benefiting from my experience. 

These next handful of months bring-right at the start of the art show season-several workshops that I hope will provide great information and guidance.  My goal is to provide personalized education for my students so that each will walk away with a confident strategy for moving forward.  I am so excited about these workshops.  I hope you can join me.  There are a handful of them, so to keep everything clear, I’ve listed all of the options below in order by date:
It's in the Bag: What You Need to Make a Living as an Artist
@ a2n2 studio in Jamaica Plain (Boston), MA 02130
Tuesday & Wednesday, March 25-26 11-2 (both days) $90 OR Saturday, March 29 10-4
This intensive will cover exactly what artrepreneurs need to know in order to earn a living as an artist. How to build your brand, market your work, track your marketing success, create ways to get your work in front of the public, develop and engage an audience in order to build a loyal customer base, pricing your work and how to confidently sell your work in the moment of a sales transaction will be covered.  Students will gain a personalized, focused strategy to achieve a business that makes a profit and stands out from the crowd.
Registration deadline for the Tuesday & Wednesday, March 25-26 option is 12pm Monday, March 24.   Registration deadline for the Saturday, March 29 is 12pm Friday, March 28.                                         
To register for the workshop: focusingseries@gmail.com or 617-955-3472
Sales Skills & Strategies for Art Sales
@ Danforth Art Museum Thursday, April 3 6:30-8:30pm
Selling art can be just as hard as making it. Here you'll learn how to talk to potential customers about art-how to help them see the value in their purchase-in addition to other techniques that will inspire them to reach for their wallets.
Register here
How to Stand Out, Part I: The Art of Branding
@ a2n2 studio in Jamaica Plain (Boston), MA 02130   $30
Sunday, April 6 4:30-6:30pm.
We live in a brand-driven society and as the creative market becomes more saturated it is up to you to make sure you stand out. This workshop will cover what branding means for an artrepreneur and how to develop a brand using simple and inexpensive measures.  Participants will gain a clear vision of their brand's voice and how to move forward with marketing.  This workshop is Section I of a three part series.  Students are encouraged to attend all three-if possible. Save money by registering for all three workshops at once: $75 for Part I, II, III.
Register by 12pm on Friday, April 4. 
To register: focusingseries@gmail.com or 617-955-3472
How to Stand Out, Part II: The Art of Building Your Audience
 @ a2n2 studio in Jamaica Plain (Boston), MA 02130  $30
 Sunday, June 1 4:30-6:30pm
This workshop will cover how to develop a strategy for identifying and reaching your targeted audience-the people who are buying your work or the people you want to sell to. Focusing your brand and connecting with the right audience is more than half the battle when it comes to pricing, product and promoting.  This workshop is Section II of a three part series.  Students are encouraged to attend all three-if possible.  Save money by registering for all three workshops at once: $75 for Part I, II, III.
Register by 12pm on Friday, May 30.
To register: focusingseries@gmail.com or 617-955-3472
How to Stand Out, Part III: The Art of Communication
@ a2n2 studio in Jamaica Plain (Boston), MA 02130 $30
Sunday, August 3 4:30-6:30pm
This workshop will cover how to successfully and clearly communicate with the public in order to engage an audience and entice newcomers to your brand. Finding a consistent voice in marketing, artist statements and bios, and considering content when posting online via your website or social media will be covered, along with learning how to protect your company via contracts and other business documents. This workshop is Section III of a three part series.  Students are encouraged to attend all three-if possible.  Save money by registering for all three workshops at once: $75 for Part I, II, III.
Register by 12pm on Friday, August 1.
To register: focusingseries@gmail.com or 617-955-3472 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why We Do What We Do: A Shout Out for The Focusing Series

I don’t know about you, but when I was in art school the professors did everything they could to undo community-building.  Whenever possible they would remind us students that we were competitors not comrades. This fostered a sense of paranoia, pulling us further and further away from each other.  By the time most of us graduated we had no desire to interact with our fellow alumni ever again.

While this strategy may have been helpful in the past, I don’t think it is realistic in our current age and economy.  These days it is all about mentors, partnerships and networking.  I applaud the fact business has evolved from “every man for himself” to “it takes a village”. 
The Focusing Series was created out of a need to build that village in the art community.  I witnessed hostility rather than nurturing.  Wouldn’t artists benefit more from collaboration rather than competition?  They could learn from each other, develop products and projects together, and strengthen each other through wisdom and hands-on help so that the entire group could become more successful.
 
Many of us inadvertently hide in our studios in an effort to be productive while ironically missing out on developing as a professional.  Artists cling to the dated stereotype of being “scatterbrained” and “flighty”.  But in this day and age, as handmade becomes a valued commodity it is vital for artists to be able to handle the business side of their craft as skillfully as they do the crafting.
The Focusing Series is all about teaching those skills while providing a support system.  Our team is experts in their respective fields who are eager to impart their techniques. We teach small groups to allow each student a personalized lesson he or she can utilize successfully.  And because we understand the difficulties of an art career-including the frequent lack of funds-our workshops are inexpensive.
I can’t tell you how often artists will tell me they know they are missing out on opportunities and making mistakes because they don’t know what they are doing.  And yet, these artists are often the ones who never bother to register for the very workshops they need!  The Focusing Series has made it simple to sign up for education.  We even have a Lessons to Go section in our catalog.  These workshops can be scheduled at the time/date/location of your choice!  And my Two-Day Boot Camp is a one-stop-shopping experience to give you all you need to take your art career to the next level.
To view the entire catalog, click here.
I am encouraged by the beginning of this year’s Focusing Series.  This is our third full year in a row.  In January instructor Julie Boyer taught students how to nurture one’s creative practice.  This month I am psyched about Kathleen Robey’s accounting workshop: Bookkeeping & Deductions & Taxes, Oh My!  As a CPA, Kathleen has worked with many artrepreneurs and knows exactly how a creative business operates.  It is vital to understand the financial aspect of your art career, so take advantage of this opportunity!  Registration ends at 12pm Friday, February 21.
The greatest reward I receive from directing the FocusingSeries is seeing the immediate, positive results our students experience when they apply what they’ve learned to their creative enterprise.  Students have called The Focusing Series a “life-changer”.  And it is fantastic to see a caring, encouraging creative community develop as a result.  If you haven’t already, I hope you step out of the studio and join us!
 

 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Girl with the Yellow Shoes: How Are You Making Sure You Stand Out?

As a young teenager my sense of fashion was unique, but horribly misguided.  When I was fourteen or fifteen I owned a pair of ballet flats in loud, mustard yellow.  I walked to school every day, often wearing those shoes. 

I was reserved in my younger years.  My family moved around a lot, making me more reserved with each relocation.  By the time we had settled in Atlanta I wasn't one to actively seek out attention and if the focus was on me I felt uncomfortable.  So you can imagine my surprise when, during my sophomore year at the Rhode Island School of Design, a fellow student approached me to ask if-back in high school-I wore yellow shoes.

It turns out that this student had temporarily attended my Atlanta high school and his father would drive him to school every morning.  He said as they neared the school and saw me, his father would sigh and say, “Ah, there she is.  The girl with the yellow shoes.”
 
While I wasn't the least attractive girl in high school I certainly wasn't the hottest.  But those yellow shoes grabbed attention (of at least two people).  And judging from the reaction of the father when his son introduced us at a Parent's Weekend, the impression had stuck.

Now at this point you are probably saying, “Nice story, but what's your point?” Well, my point is this: your brand needs yellow shoes. 

You can't just count on your talent or the stellar product you create/the stellar service you offer (I hate to break it to you, but it may not be as awesome as you think).  And don’t even think about slicing the competition with your bargain basement prices. Nope.  In order to have success, in order to have a fortified brand, you have to have nuance-that indelible something that separates you from the crowd.

Find Your Heart

Remember, people don't want a product or a service.  They want an experience.  And as a small business you have the edge on all the bigwigs.  Amazon.com can't provide the personalization customers long for.  Define the heart of your brand and share it with the world. 

Let's say you are a candy maker.  Great.  There are thousands of other candy makers in the world, from fellow artisans to small Mom & Pop shops to corporations.  How are you going to attract customers to your candy versus the option of grabbing a snack at the corner store?  Your candy costs more and it is less convenient to purchase.  You have to figure out how to differentiate your candy from the competition.  Think of how you can make your product unique in both variety and presentation.  What are some clever ways you can express product value.  What are the extra touches (benefits) one gains when choosing your brand over another.

Why do you make candy?  Is it because one of your most treasured memories is grandpa teaching you how to make candy in his old Southern kitchen, the one with the yellow flowered wallpaper?  Make this part of your brand's story: the name, the packaging (perhaps your label could be affixed to a swatch of antique yellow wallpaper-it's easy to create a jpeg that can be printed again and again, and then tied on with a piece of twine or burlap), the marketing. The ideas are endless-as long as they are consistent in theme.

Create Value

Value is more important than price.  Perceived value is more important than actual value. Remember, customers want an experience not just a product or service.  Name brands get away with charging exorbitant prices because they have masterfully crafted prestige around their product/service.  Through consistent marketing message these companies sell consumers the idea that life will be improved through purchasing their brand.  

How are you constructing value around what you offer?  Successfully building value will make it easy for customers to choose you over your competitors.

Know What You Sell

When you know your story, when you understand every nook and cranny of your brand's heart, your branding will be stronger and smarter because the message will be clearer and more consistent.

But I'm Already Marketing the Heck Out of My Brand!

Yeah, well so are your competitors.  We all have access to the same methods of marketing through websites, commerce sites like etsy, and social media.  And guess what, your corporate competitors have the megabucks needed for endless television and print campaigns.  They can also undersell you any day of the week.

If we go back to offering an experience rather than just a product or service...remember, you have to understand thoroughly what you are selling and why.  To get started on learning your brand, ask yourself these questions:

Why do I create this product or offer this service? (Why do you do what you do?)

What do I want to do with my product or service?

Who do I create this product or offer this service for?

How is my product or service unique?

What do I offer that no one else offers?

What do I provide that no one else provides?

Find Nuance through Niche

I'm not suggesting everyone should do this, but if your product or service is one that is all too easy to come by (photography, massage, jewelry, yoga, etc...) you have a greater need to pinpoint how you can stand out.  If your product or services are specialized in some way, it makes it simple to target your audience and tell your story.

For example, jewelry is tough.  There is a ton of competition.  I know of two jewelers who created successful solutions for brand strength.  The first decided to name every piece she creates after the first woman who buys it (or if it is a gift, the name of the recipient).  Therefore, every item in her inventory, be it earrings, bracelet, necklace, etc.., is named “Caroline” or “Esther” or “Allison”...you get the idea.  Not only is this a super way to engage potential customers as they are browsing her inventory, but I myself have witnessed the gleam in the women's eyes as they quickly scan the display looking for new, unnamed pieces.  The thought of having something named after them is just too tempting.  I'm sure it has generated at least a handful of sales over the years, if not more.

The second jeweler decided-after a rough go of getting his business off the ground-to create “recovery” jewelry: pieces that aim to spread hopeful messages of support and strength.  He based his branding on his personal experience of recovering from addiction.  Because his product is now niche, it appeals to buyers who are enduring difficulty.  It is a popular gift for people needing support (And let’s face it, who doesn’t?).  As a result of this jeweler finding a niche market, shops, galleries and catalogs are carrying his products.

No matter how you do it, spend a bit of time with yourself and your brand to figure out ways in which you can craft nuance. Your goal is to make your brand unforgettable, just like my yellow shoes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Don't Bother Me. I'm Working: How to Live the Creative Life


This month The Focusing Series offers Sustaining YourCreative Practice: Create the Conditions for Creative Ah-has by instructor, Julie Boyer.  She brings to the workshop her expertise as a professional organizer and an artist with a MFA.  I haven't seen her lesson, but I know it will be fantastic.

Having operated my business for over a decade, I can appreciate how much structure one requires to keep all balls in the air.  Anyone can tell you that those operating their own enterprise are generally far busier than those who work for others.  Unlike a 9 to 5 position, your work hours never really stop.  There is always something more that can be done.  And because I don't have employees, I have much to do beyond creating artwork. 

In both my blog and my professional development workshops I define one’s commitment to their art career as time/money/energy.  You need all three and here is how each is invested:

 Time + Energy

·         creating new product and/or offering services

·         promoting yourself through marketing & booking gigs

·         handling administrative duties such as accounting, customer service, researching and purchasing supplies, etc.

Money

·         buying art supplies, office supplies, marketing materials, etc.

·         paying exhibition fees

·         paying for marketing (advertising, packaging, visual presentation supplies, etc.)

·         professional services

Your level of commitment to your art career should match the amount of time/money/energy you invest.

With all that needs to be handled it is easy to allow creativity to fall to the wayside.

I can't stress enough how vital it is for artists to create a consistent schedule for creativity.  Incorporating studio time into your weekly schedule as often as possible reinforces your talent, making it easier to make high-quality work.  It helps you amass a sizable inventory, optimizing your chances for sales...and income. 

We all have obligations beyond our art, so don't beat yourself up if life too often gets in the way.  But it can be argued that more time is wasted than we appreciate.  To figure out where studio time can be found, do the following exercise:

Exercise I: How Do You Spend Your Time?
For two weeks keep track of everything you do in a twenty-four hour period.  Be as specific as possible and don’t fudge the results.

At the end of the two weeks assign each activity to a category (work, family, friends, health, sleep...). List the categories in order from those taking up the most of your time to those taking the least.

Analyze the data.  Is there time that could be put to better use?  Perhaps, for example, instead of 45 hours of television a week, you could designate 30 of those hours to art.

If creativity can't be a part of every day, create a weekly schedule where at least a few “art career” tasks are designated to each day.  And keep yourself accountable with smartphone apps, software, whatever tools work best for you and your “To-Do” lists.

Think Differently.
If you want to be creative, think creatively.  Having-however you want to phrase it-mindfulness, self-awareness or intention is the first step toward living the life you want to live.  When I don't have time to go to my studio, or when I am feeling creatively blocked, I find the following technique very helpful.

Exercise II: Do Something Creative Every Day
Give yourself the challenge of doing something creative every day.  You can easily accomplish this while going through your normal routine.  For example, during your lunch break commit to filling a page in your journal with sketches or writing.  While watching television, surf the internet for ideas, new opportunities for exhibiting your work or research what's happening in the art world (and see what your competition is up to).  Create inspiration boards.  Plan to take a certain amount of photographs with your phone or camera by the end of a day.  As you walk from errand to errand looking for subject matter, you will begin to see the world around you in a whole new way.

Even when I don't look like I'm working, I'm working.  While stretched out on my couch I note inspirational costumes and set designs in various shows and films.  When waiting for an appointment I flip through fashion magazines, making lists and taking photographs on my smartphone of trending patterns, hues, and fabrics.

You'll find integrating creativity into every day trains your mind to imagine.  You teach yourself to value creativity.

Carve out a Studio Space
Not everyone has the luxury of affording a studio, but that doesn't mean you can't designate a space for creativity.  One of my most productive periods was when I used a walk-in kitchen pantry as a studio.

Your studio should be a space where you can get into the creative zone; free from clutter and distractions.  Ideally the space should be marked for the purpose of being a studio and nothing else, though I realize this is not always possible. Make it clear to those around you that your studio time and space must be respected and that you are not to be disturbed.   If you have small children, arrange for them to be cared for while you create. 

I was recently told a beautiful story by a friend from Chile.  When she first came to America and was applying for a Green Card she asked her priest if she might clean the church where she, her aunt and mother attended mass.  The priest told her they already had a cleaning crew.  But she told me every day during the service she noticed how the sculpture of her beloved Virgin Mary was covered in cobwebs. The priest recognized how earnest she was and agreed to have my friend; her mother and aunt clean the church.  She said the first thing she did was lovingly wipe the webs from Mary's face.  She told me cleaning that church was one of the most loving, sacred experiences of her life.  She got to nurture the space, get to know it in a way she never would have had she not cleaned every inch.


We all need sacred spaces.  Your studio is no exception. The act of using your soul, heart, mind and hands to mold a new creation out of raw materials is a sacred act.  Treat it accordingly.  Set aside time to declutter, organize, and for goodness sake, clean!  I can't work in mess.  I get distracted and I find the dust can get into my paint while it is drying.  If you respect your creativity, if you value your output-Clean!

Be Honest with Yourself
As a full-time artist I know it is my responsibility to keep a studio schedule on top of all my duties as the owner of a company.  My clients deserve a steady stream of new inventory to select from.  Not surprisingly when there is a lapse in my studio schedule interest in my brand begins to wane. 

If you are finding other obligations keep getting in the way of your creativity, it may be time to acknowledge your art is more of a hobby than a career.  There is absolutely no shame in this.  I know many artists who intend to become full-time once things alter in the future.  For example, parents who have children still living at home plan creative pursuits once their children are grown.  In the meantime maintaining even a nominal schedule will hone your skills and keep the creative juices flowing.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Avoiding Amateur Hour: How to Protect Your Brand from the Wrong People


The summer before my junior year of college I worked at a movie theater. It was my first true insight into human nature from a commercial perspective. Going to see a film should be one of the most basic experiences of one’s life, but it was amazing how many people found ways to make it complicated. From not being able to locate the bathroom (under the big neon sign that said “Restrooms”) to not knowing what kinds of food we sold (despite the fact it was A) a standard movie theater with standard movie theater fare and B) there were huge signs at the concession stand that included pictures) the customers seemingly went out of their way to make what should have been a mindless excursion as stressful as possible.  

I quickly learned once I was working post-college, especially once I was working as an artist full-time, that this sort of person is everywhere.  And in order to keep on task and stay the course, it is up to you to avoid them whenever possible.  

What do you mean by amateur?                                                                                     
One definition of the word “amateur” is a person who engages in a chosen activity as a pastime (hobby) rather than a profession.  In my work as both an artist and educator (I am the director of a professional develop workshop series for creative entrepreneurs.) I work with hobbyists all the time. Most are lovely people who are happy to share their talent with the world.  It is a joy to interact with them.

I am referring to another definition of the word.  Amateur can also mean “unprofessional and unskillful”. This is the person you need to avoid in every facet of your life. These are the people who quickly become problems for you both personally and professionally.  

 

This post has been a long time coming, a topic I am reminded to write about all too often.  What inspired me to finally post this was an experience I recently had.  The past six months of my life have been about working with amateurs who were offering temporary commercial space for creative entrepreneurs.  More about this in a moment, but the stress of constantly trying to withstand the antics of these individuals was a painful reminder of how discerning you need to be when it comes to who you invite into your life, into your business.  
Who can these amateurs be?  In your personal life they are friends or lovers, coworkers, companies you do business with.  In your business life they are anyone you have the possibility of transacting with, from customers to co-ops, employees to event organizers.

We’ve all had bad romances and crappy friends; poor customer service experiences and psycho bosses, so for the sake of keeping this brief, I want to focus on the effects amateurs have on your career, particularly when you are operating your own company.  You can’t underestimate the potential damage these people can do to your brand.  At the very least they will cause you to waste your precious time, money, and energy.

What do Amateurs do? 
                                                                                                                                                 It is my experience, from over a decade of working as a full-time artist; small business consultant, educator, and creative coach, amateurs do the following:

They don’t value your time and energy. 

This is the bedrock of every issue you’ll have with amateurs.  Whether it is cleaning up after their messes, or following them down various rabbit holes, amateurs function without ever seeming to spare a moment to consider how much they demand of everyone around them.

They have a faulty network.

Amateurs tend to encourage you to work with other amateurs.  They urge you to participate in unwise endeavors. They truly believe these people and these endeavors are beneficial.  It is up to you to turn down these offers.

A friend of mine has such poor judgment in her suggestions about who I need to meet and what I need to do that I have done all I can to distance myself from her networking offers. As friends we now connect in other ways, avoiding these “helpful” attempts.

They can't focus.

The other day an executive director I was meeting with said one of his biggest pet peeves is people who go on and on about how busy they are.  It has been my finding that the people who whine about how busy they are tend to be the ones accomplishing the least.

I have a friend who is perpetually askew in his priorities, constantly misusing his time and attention.  Not surprisingly crucial opportunities are always just out of reach due to misdirected focus and missed deadlines. Yet he is truly perplexed about why he never seems to get ahead.  

They are well versed in finger pointing.

This is probably the one thing amateurs are the most skilled at. Forget accountability. There is absolutely no way these people are going to acknowledge their weaknesses and make any attempt to change.  As far as they are concerned the fault is never theirs.

As a consultant I came up with an idea for one particular small business client.  Why not have a team member do a presentation at each staff meeting, sharing tips about their strongest attributes, so that the rest of the group could learn from them?  

It was amazing how responsive the balanced, professional team members were to this idea.  It was equally amazing how resistive the imbalanced, unprofessional team members were. They argued that they already knew what they were doing.  There was nothing more they needed to learn.  Nothing more to learn? Really?  Shoot me the day I feel I have no room for growth and improvement!  At any rate, due to the few amateurs, the idea was scrapped.

They fail at even the basics.

Much like the bumbling movie goers, amateurs have a talent of bungling even the most routine of tasks.  My recent six month experience working with the company offering temporary workspace was one jaw dropping moment after the next.  The situation at times caused overwhelming anxiety because even the most mundane of details got screwed up. These were “what-ifs” I had not considered because they were honestly as rudimentary as switching on the lights.  For example after waiting over a month for my rent check to be deposited, I finally contacted the business owners (who never bothered to be in touch with me or their other tenants).  Instead of apologizing for the oversight I received an email lambasting me for pointing out their lapse in processing my payment, (emails pointing the finger were a particular favorite of this company).  They excused their lack of handling the details of operating the business as “human error”.  Trust me, from what I have witnessed from working with these amateurs, Human Error could be their company slogan.

They don't appreciate.

Much like the finger pointing, you should expect ingratitude from amateurs. I find thank yous are not forthcoming.  Because they believe there in no fallacy on their part, no room for improvement, they feel you should be grateful to them, not the other way around.  

Why do I need to avoid amateurs?

I’ll keep this short and simple.  You need to avoid involving amateurs in your business because they will mar your brand. Whether it is an unprofessional employee, an unpredictable client, or an unreliable partnership (anything collaborative: a business partner, business associations or co-ops, fusion marketing, organized exhibitions and events. etc.) aligning your brand with the wrong people, group, or activities damages your hard-earned credibility.

How can I protect myself?

We all make mistakes that we can learn from.  And there are people who are gifted at pulling the wool over your eyes.  When I met with the owner of the company who was offering temporary workspace, he had me completely fooled.  It took a couple of weeks before I realized I had been sold a whole lot of air.

In this particular case, as I figured out the truth I adjusted to the circumstances.  Call it damage control, but I was keen to do all I could to distance my brand while lowering my expectations. I decided to make lemonade with the lemons. I kept up my end of the bargain by marketing for their company and working the hours I had promised. But I also made it a point to win customers with the high-quality experience one can expect from me rather than the disappointment one would experience with them. The consistency and strength of my product, presentation, and professionalism superseded their business approach.  As a result, I engaged new loyal customers who will follow me as I go on to better things.

Make sure you know what your brand is about.  Who are you?  What is your mission?  What do you offer? Who is your audience?  The surer you are about what your brand is and is not, the less likely you are going to end up dealing with amateurs.  For example, I get countless offers to participate in this project or that art show.  Because I know what my brand needs for progress, I know which types of opportunities are beneficial and which ones I need to turn down.

The same goes for people.  My time and energy is valuable to me, so I am wary whenever someone approaches me.  Potential clients or customers who send a few too many emails, make a few too many calls, ask questions they could readily find the answers to on their own...these are the ones who raise a red flag.  It is also my experience that people who feel the need to share too much information, most of which is irrelevant to the transaction that is taking place, are trying to take advantage of you in some way, even if it is just to have you hold their hand.  People who have no consideration for your time, energy and other obligations are not going to pay off in the long run.  I handle these people by letting them know politely, but quickly, that they have everything they need to make a decision (whether it is to purchase artwork or sign up for a workshop) once I have provided all the necessary information.  I then ask them to contact me when they know how they want to proceed.  You will find this an effective way not to burn bridges, in case a person does indeed prove to be a viable investment of your attention, while empowering them to take control of their own life.

It is okay to stop having contact with amateurs.  For example, I had a student a couple of years ago who wanted email after email, phone call after phone call to handle the simple registration process for my professional development workshops.  Even after she would sign up and be provided a confirmation that included the date and time of the workshop, and the location, she would contact me repeatedly to get that information.  While attending classes she was a distraction to other students, staring at her phone and text messaging during the lesson (Again, because amateurs do not value one’s time, energy or money she was disrespectful to me while she ignored my presentation, and she was disrespectful to the other students attending the class.).  Eventually I told her she required too much.  I removed her from my database; therefore she was no longer notified of upcoming workshops. Losing her as a student was a winning situation not just for me, but for everyone involved in the program.

Another example.  When I was managing a fitness studio I got a phone call from a relatively new client requesting a refund for a fitness package she had purchased.  It turned out she and her husband had been picking up their instructor (they knew her prior to joining our club) from her home and driving her to the studio to train them. On a recent day the instructor forgot her studio key and asked the couple to drive her back home so she could retrieve it.  Up until this phone call I had no idea this was going on.  I assured the woman it was not our company policy to have clients play chauffeur for our staff. Understandably, the circumstances had become so uncomfortable the couple wanted to move on. None of my solutions appealed to her.  As far as she was concerned the damage was done. The instructor had tarnished our brand and lost our money due to her amateurish behavior. Because of this she was fired.

Am I coming across as an amateur?

At one point all of us were amateurs, either due to immaturity, lack of experience, or ignorance.  We have to begin somewhere.  I cringe when I look back on the way I handled life choices in both the personal and professional realms.  We can get away with being amateurs for only so long. It is up to us how much we want to invest in growth, maturity, improvement and development.

Even if you are just starting out, there are some key practices that will separate you from the amateurs.  Making these choices can serve to help you by attracting positive attention and opening up doors to opportunities.

 

·         Be considerate

Acknowledge others when they gift you their time and energy.  Before approaching people, decide what you specifically need.  Make it easy-and a pleasure-to help you.

 

·         Be focused

Determine what you want to do and what you can accomplish on your own.  Only seek help once you have singled out where partners, mentors and investors are needed to help your plan succeed.

 

  • Be appreciative

Thank people for their willingness to come alongside you, whether it is a customer who purchased from you or an organization that put together a well-managed event you participated in.  Spread gratitude!

 

  • Cross your “t”s. Dot your “i”s.                                                                                  

Most companies ask potential employees to have a “keen attention to detail”.  Do what you need to do to be a detail-oriented, organized individual.  Use Smart Phone apps, make TO-DO lists.  Whatever method works-learn how to run a tight ship.

 

  • Follow the rules.   

We were all supposed to learn how to follow the rules by the time we left kindergarten. Unfortunately many of us forgot this important element of making life livable not just for ourselves but for everyone who has to interact with us.  If an organization hosting an event asks you-the vendor-to arrive by a certain time for pre-show set-up, show up in their requested time frame.  If a group asks you bring three particular items to a meeting, bring the three particular items.  It goes back to the idea of making it a pleasure to work with you.

 

  • Stop talking about it.                                                                                                    

Much like the person who whines about how busy they are while not actually accomplishing much of anything, I find people who go on and on about what they do tend to be the most amateurish in the bunch.  Maybe it is a form of overcompensation but trust me, your chatter isn’t fooling anybody.  Close your mouth and harness your efforts into taking action and actually doing something. Let your work speak for itself.

 

  • Separate the professional from the personal.                                                  

During the holiday season I had a booth at a weekend art show where I and everyone else involved (the customers, the other vendors, the show managers) got to watch one of the artists make out with her husband. Why she felt this was the appropriate time and place I have no idea. It certainly didn’t do anything for her brand to behave so unprofessionally. 

 

Unless you operate a family-run business, or your partner collaborates with you on your commercial endeavors he/she has no place when it comes to marketing your brand.  Your private life should not play a role in your professional life.  It astounds me how many people lose sight of this.  The other day I visited a brand new, high-end café in my neighborhood.  After overpaying for over-extracted coffee I watched as a group of people came in off the street and was immediately invited to go behind the counter to play with the café equipment.  At first I wondered (or rather, hoped) that these were journalists writing an article about this new business.  Unfortunately it became clear these were buddies of the owner.  By having this private exchange occur during operating hours the business lost the facade of being an upscale café; the precarious beginning of building their brand was already weakened.

        

Remember, it is up to you to present your brand in the best light possible-your personal brand and your company brand. It is up to you to project the message you want people to gain when doing business with you (or dating you, or befriending you…).  Decide that the time is now to take your game to the next level and ditch amateur hour.  You’ll be pleased with the results.