Entries in art as business (4)


Building a Circle: Why You Should Network

Photo by Urban Pink PhotographyNetworking - for many it’s a dirty word. It often brings up feelings of anxiety and thoughts of sleazy salespeople. I use to feel that way too. I didn’t want to introduce myself to strangers. I didn’t want to feel like I was trying to “get” something from them. I also didn’t feel I had anything to offer in return. Granted I formed these opinions when I was fresh out of college trying to get a job in publishing and I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone.

I now have a totally different take on the subject of networking and as you can probably guess, I kind of like it. It’s still extremely hard for me to introduce myself to strangers and I often still feel I don’t have anything to offer, but deep down I know the later isn’t true which makes the former a little easier. Sometimes.

Turning The Tables

What changed my mind? Having the coin flipped. I’m no longer that kid fresh out of college desperate for a job and a little lost. I now have quite a bit of knowledge to share and connections of my own. I have learned that generally people like to help if they can. I have also been approached by fresh-faced kids who didn’t know what to say or ask, but knew that I might be able to help them. And you know what, I wasn’t bothered by them, I didn’t look down on them, and I certainly wasn’t weighing how much they could help me with what I was willing to share. I just wanted to help, because I know how hard it can be. I have a feeling most of the people I was brave enough to talk to felt pretty much the same way and the ones I didn’t talk to would have.

I still cringe when I walk into an event and only know the person I came with. I still have to psych myself up to talk to those one or two people I want to make connections with. I still don’t know what to say most of the time. But it almost always turns out well, sometimes even better than well. I can also honestly say it’s never turned out bad.

A Way To Build Your Business

I’m sharing all this because we've been doing a lot of networking lately to promote Lightbox SF. At first I felt like it was taking away from what I really wanted to be doing, that it was distracting me from the tasks that “needed” to get done, and it also felt like nothing was happening. I was reaching out to people trying to get advice, make connections and tell them all about Lightbox SF. I had some great meetings, I had some so-so meetings and I had a lot of unanswered emails. Then suddenly people started to reach out to us, they wanted to know how we might collaborate, and they wanted to know more about what we were doing. They had heard about us and were curious. How cool is that?

The other thing about all my recent networking was that none of it really had much of an agenda. I just wanted to tell people what we were doing, partially for practice and partially so that they had heard of us. However, many of my meetings ended up with plans to collaborate on an event or an offer to introduce me to someone I really wanted to know.

So I want to reintroduce you to networking because it can:

  • Spread the word about your business
  • Introduce you to people to collaborate with
  • Provide you with resources to help you grow
  • Lead you to new opportunities and friends

Give Yourself a Mission

Set small goals at first to get yourself more comfortable. Try something like attending one industry related event a week, or handing your card to 5 new people a week, or book one networking meeting a month. Tell people what you do as often as you can, get excited about it and they will too. And most importantly don’t expect anything from them except an ear to listen. Instead think of what you can offer, what your goal is and go with that. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Now for the self-promotional plug, Lightbox SF is hosting a Holiday Mixer. We want artists and those who work with artists to get out and socialize with each other. So we’re asking you all to join us at Heart Wine Bar, 1270 Valencia St. @ 24th on Wednesday, December 1st from 6-9pm for a glass of wine, a little nibble, and some old-fashioned networking.


What Is It You Really Want To Do?

Photo by Scarlet Beautiful 2Shelly and I have been asking each other and ourselves this question lately because we've found our direction has become a bit muddied. We started Lightbox SF back in June of 2009 with a pretty clear idea of what we wanted to do and little bit of an idea of how we would get there.

At the beginning of 2010 we enrolled in a business planning course. The goal was not only to write a business plan for Lightbox SF, but to truly test our ideas. We had no idea if the path we laid out had any potential of working. As you might imagine that path changed a little in the face of marketing surveys and projected financials, but the shift wasn't too dramatic, we stuck to the plan.

Then we set out to actually make this business a reality. We tried to carry out the plan that we had crafted, but things weren't working quite the way we thought they would so we tried new things, asked more questions, and shifted. We got lots of feedback, some we listened to and some we didn't. A slightly different business model began to take shape, but we also never really let go of the old one.

Recently we had the opportunity to have a panel of small business owners give us feedback on a few key points of struggle. What we heard was confusion, they weren't sure exactly what our focus was, they thought we had too much going on. They were right.

Shelly and I had been trying so hard to make it work, and by that I mean make money, that we forgot what it was we really set out to do in the first place. We wanted to help artists and crafters make a living from their talent. We wanted to show them how to do it on their own, teach them to be savvy business owners. We did not want to do it for them, we did not want to be artist reps, we did not want to be elite and unreachable.

The waters had been muddied from too much reaching and grabbing and guessing. So we stopped for a moment and asked ourselves, "What do we really want to be doing?" The waters cleared and we can now see our path again. There is still much work to be done, more ideas to come up with, but we have the focus that we had lost.

So I challenge you, if you're feeling overwhelmed, unfocused, or misdirected, to ask yourself, "What do I really want to do? What is my mission?" You'll be surprised at how that one answer, if you're completely honest with yourself, can bring about so much clarity and vision.


Are You Unique Enough?

Today I want to pose a question and ruminate a bit about Unique Selling Propositions (USP). You may have heard the term before or something similar, but basically it boils down to: What do you offer that makes your business stand out from all your competition?

The question I want to pose to all of you is one that Shelly and I are struggling with currently, is your USP enough? We’re pretty confident we’ve got a distinct difference from the rest of our competition, that is those that offer business advice to artists, and it stems directly from who we are and our varied experience in different careers. But we’re wondering if it’s enough, do we need more distinction in what’s becoming a more crowded market?

I’d like to pose the same question to you and I really want you to think about it. Do you do anything that no one else can or does? Do you offer a service or material that’s not currently out there? Is your design style so unique that no one else can come close? There are a few of you that may answer yes to one of those questions, but many of you won’t. Don’t despair!

A USP can be something as simple as how quickly you complete custom orders or the personalized service you give in your shop. It doesn’t have to be amazing new technology or even a product no one else has seen, but it needs to be something that people want to come back for.

Zappos is a great example of a business that had success with a focused USP. There were many places to buy shoes online, so many in fact that the only distinguishing factor between them seemed to be price. Zappos enters the scene and offers free shipping, no matter what, and free returns. Those two simple things made clicking that buy button so much easier for customers. Zappos had more than $1 billion in sales last year.

I do want to stress that your USP also doesn’t have to be about price; actually it’s often not. Think of it from the customer’s point of view. You’re looking for a new pair of shoes and you see two pairs almost identical, but one is almost twice the price of the other. Seems an easy choice right? You choose the cheaper one. But what if you knew the ones that were more expensive would also be so comfortable you could wear them all day, running errands, to work, and even out for a night on the town and your feet wouldn’t hurt. However, the cheaper ones, even though they looked the same from the outside would give you blisters by lunch. If the expensive shoes fit within your budget, wouldn’t you buy them?

A USP is almost always about perceived value, not straight up cost. There will always be someone wiling to do it cheaper. Instead put your focus on your customer's needs. They like things to be easy, they like to have experiences that make them feel special, and they generally buy because they want something, not because we need it.

I’ll leave you with a few things to think about to help you come up with or refine your own USP.

What are the benefits of your product or service?

What do you do that’s different from your competition?

Do you or can you solve a problem for your customers or within your industry?

Be specific. Give proof of your benefit.

Can you consistently deliver on this USP? I mean every single time you make a sale. If not you need to find another USP.

Photo by HolgaJen


Art as a business

Many artists struggle with making money from their art, but not because of the reason you think. It's a larger social convention that making money from your art and more importantly making enough to have a comfortable living is selling out. I believe it stems from many things, but why is it that we can't treat art like any other business that an individual would undertake? It's not looked down upon to turn your love of gardening into a successful landscaping business or your passion for food into a thriving restaurant, so why not "market" your art as a similar business? Take what you love to do whether it be painting, photography, sculpture, etc and explore all possible avenues of using your talent to make money.

Megan Auman at Crafting an MBA just posted this great piece on another way to look at profit. Ultimately this is the key, we need to look at the whole idea from a different perspective in order to shift the larger acceptance.