Thursday, June 5, 2014

Marketing Yourself

by Staci L. Smith

My most joyful times are spent creating.  I am an artist.  I love to be coming up with new ideas, and creating them in my studio.  Give me plain old clay, or a torch and some metal, and a day to myself, and I am in my happy place.

photo by Tammy Snyder

But I need to make a living at this too.  So I am forced to sell my products.  I am forced to find the right shows, price things, keep records, do taxes, have a website, and most of all, promote my business.

picture from a few years back, when I still did a lot of sea glass jewelry

For the longest time, this was really a struggle for me.  I felt like this was only a hobby, that, people were just being nice.  I felt almost guilty taking money for something I loved doing so much.  What could I do though?  I couldn't continue to do what I love without money coming in.

And now, 10 years later, this is my job.  And marketing my art, myself, is mandatory.  I have three kids, and this has to make money, or I go back to an office job part time.

See?  Don't they look hungry?  They eat sooooo much food!  lol

So, I have learned to market myself.  I did not teach myself, I learned tips and tricks from many many many other artists and friends.  I listened, I watched what they did.  I learned, slowly.

You know, point of marketing, is so that customers can find you.  There is a HUGE world of beads and jewelry out there.  How in the world, do you get people to find YOU online?  

Hold that thought.....Let me get a little sidetracked for a moment.........

This blog post stemmed from a question someone asked on Facebook the other day.  

You see, this year, for the first year, I entered some jewelry in the Bead Dreams competition.  It is a competition held at the Bead and Button show in Milwaukee.  It is a pretty big competition.  I have wanted to enter for a few years now, but have always been intimidated, and never had given myself time to create some really crazy art pieces for it.

Well, I finally did it.  I entered two pieces of jewelry into the polymer  clay category and one in the metal clay category.  I learned a lot about big wig competition too.  It's been a great experience.

The two polymer clay pieces got in!  Just to be accepted as finalists in this competition is huge honor.  They took 6 polymer clay entries as finalists, and two were mine.  I was floored!  

To see all the winners listed click this link

Just the other day I found out that I won First and Second place in the Polymer Clay category.  BOTH of my pieces got ribbons.

photo by Kristin Oppold

Photo by Anne of Gardanne Beads

Needless to say, the range of emotions is really hard to describe.  Mostly, I am overjoyed, to be at this place in my career.  I went between happy, and disbelief at first.  I think as artists we sometimes have trouble REALLY being confident in ourselves.   I have moved onto the sheer happiness of this honor though.  I am thrilled.

So of course, I posted this on Facebook.  My friends all knew I entered, they had supported me, given me advice on my entries, and been routing for me since I entered.  And, not to mention, I am proud of it!  And I shouldn't be scared to say that.  I am proud, because my work, my art, has grown, evolved, and gotten better and better over time.  

Of course, there were tons of congratulations, and well wishing.  I will not lie, it sure felt good.  But then, there was one, who asked, "How does this benefit her?"  I will be honest, this was not asked in a nice way.  They were persistent and not very kind.  But after I thought about it for awhile, I thought, well, there really are people who may wonder that.  Who wonder why someone would go through all the trouble to create competition pieces, to pay entry fees, ship their items and displays.....there may be people who really don't understand why someone would do that.  (so thank you to the person who tried to bring me down- you inspired this post.  I hope it helps others to market their business, and not be afraid to say, "this is mine, I worked hard, and its awesome!"

So, here are some tips, things I have learned, things that have helped me to go from hobby to business over the last 5 years.  

Before you read the list though, first and foremost, you must be confident in your work.  If you are not, why should your customers be?  So with that in's my list.

Network with other artists.  This is HUGE.  I have made so many fellow artist friends online, and we market for each other.  If you love someones work, share it.  Help them market.  And others will do the same for you.  

Blog, make a business page for Facebook.  This is what really did it for me.  This is what helped me to find that network of artists (now friends) online.  It was really hard at first, but over the last few year, it has become quite natural to talk about the business, my life and what I am working on.  I have discovered that I LOVE to share what I learn, because, it is how I myself have learned.  The kindness and openness of other artists is how I have learned what I know.  So I try to pay it forward.  

Join in group sales, enter contests, blog hops- anything that gets you into the community more.  Blog hops are especially a wonderful way to broaden your reader base, and welcome new customers.

Write for magazines.  This is a wonderful way to advertise your business, as well as show off the fact that your work is indeed handmade.  People feel more comfortable buying from someone who knows what they are doing.  When you write for magazines, you get to show that side of you.  Check out the post I did on how to get started with that here.

Writing for magazines not only gives you credibility as an artist, it advertises your business, AND you get paid for it.

Let me share where some of these things have lead me, to encourage you.  By entering contests and such on blogs- I got featured by them now and again (blogs like Art Bead Scene and Love my Art jewelry).  Love my Art Jewelry used to have a contest, and entering that consistently is how I landed writing for this blog.  They would have never know who I was, and I would have never known I could write for a blog like this.  

Friends and networking has given me a life in the arts I never thought possible 10 years ago when I was stuck in the corner of my family room, home with the kids, stringing beads.  The encouragement, collaborations, friendships and cross marketing has been an amazing journey, and helped me to reach new customer bases at the same time.  There are many groups on facebook, but Creative Bead Chat is my favorite place to meet new artists and get valuable information and tips from others.

And Bead Dreams.  Well, there is a cash prize, but mostly, its just a plain old honor to be juried by Kalmbach judges and picked as winner.  I am hoping that my work being at Bead and Button will introduce it to new people, who I would never reach sitting in my PA studio.  It will be seen by hundreds, thousands of people.  And that surely can't hurt.

My next venture, is yet again, friend / artist recommended.  It has been recommended to me from the start.  TEACH.

So this year, I am teaching at Bead Fest in Philly.  I have always loved being with people, talking (and talking and talking), and sharing what I know freely.  So, I think I am going to like teaching.  I will let you know how it goes!  (link goes to my class information)

So, to wrap this up, everyone who you may see online, that has "made it" in your eyes, started out just like you.  They learned all they could about business (and are always looking to learn more), and they tried.  And they tried.  And at times they failed, and got rejected and felt like they were never going to make it.  But they didn't give up.  When I started out, I remember seeing these awesome artists, big names, like Lisa Peters and Marsha Neal......and now I know them, and they are just amazing ladies, and artists, that put themselves out there.  We know their names because they were not afraid to say, "Here it is, my work, my art".  

So go and pimp yourself out today.  Show off your stuff.  Be proud of what you make.  And lets encourage each other, lets share each others work, because we are a community.  We are all artists at different places in our journeys and careers.  But we are all the same, and we all need to stick together.

PS- That is one of ideas of our Boot Camp blog hops.  It is an opportunity for you to show off, and market to an audience that you may not have reached on your own blog.  Take advantage of it!  Show it off.  We here at LMAJ want you to succeed.


marlene quigley said...

You are a true artist and inspiration to me. I am 61 years old Staci and I have been dabbling in art for most of my life, Trying to make it isn't easy, I recognize I have talent, getting it out there and having people buy it has proven challenging, I will not give up, I feel its my purpose, I love to teach classes, to let people know that "they can do it" . Keep it up girl, you have IT.

From an Open Heart said...

Great post Staci. Most artists I talk to, the marketing of themselves is what's most difficult. It feels like bragging, which most of us are taught not to do. It is important to just fall in love with your own work and then be excited about sharing it with others. I look at my early work and cringe and sometimes still cringe at recent work that I put out there. But then I remember I was in love with it at the moment and thank myself for being brave. I love your work and am happy for you. Your success and wins don't take anything away from me. Rather, they encourage and inspire me to keep growing.

stacilouise said...

That is a wonderful way to put it, "fall in love with your own work and be excited to share it:". thank you From an Open Heart for those wonderful words!

Heidi Kingman said...

Thank-you Staci for daring to be brave enough to put yourself out there and for sharing your art with all of us. It isn't easy. And you absolutely should be proud of your achievements! They do inspire all of us to keep at it. I think you will be an incredible teacher (and really, you already are!). ;)

M Page said...

Staci--this is such an important, tough topic, thank you for writing about it.  

Put simply, in the basest economic terms, it cannot be denied that the publicity from a win in a competition like B&B or being accepted to a publication like the Lark 500 Series is worth a massive amount in marketing that most working artists could never afford to do for themselves. I am sure the traffic to your website, shop and blog will increase immensely as a result of people seeing your beautiful work.  People will recognize your "brand" and think of your work for shows, teaching opportunities, etc.  These are some of the direct, obvious benefits to you.  That answers the "benefits" question easily, if someone is looking at things in those terms.

But I believe people who measure benefits only in those terms have missed the point; there is something else I think is equally important if not so easily measured and was my gut reaction the question that person asked, "how does this (the competition, awards) benefit her?" So I'd like to throw my "two cents" in.

I believe that competition, if handled in the right way, provides an opportunity for us to challenge OURSELVES to do our best, and when we do that, we raise the bar, so to speak, for everyone.  You said you gave yourself permission and time to create those "wild" competition pieces--that is what entering contests always did for me.  

When we as artists, promote our individuality and our skills in our work while "competing" within the constraints of competition, we also give permission to others to do the same.  If I see fabulous work that I didn't do, I feel a thrill, a challenge in the most positive sense and it inspires me to dig deep, to find the best in myself and my own individual work.  That achievement in my own efforts fulfills me, enriches me and sets off positive ripples that extend far beyond my small life, my private experiences.  

There is a scene is one of my favorite movies, "Harold and Maude" that really drives this point home for me:

Maude: I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They're so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?
Harold: I don't know. One of these, maybe.
Maude: Why do you say that?
Harold: Because they're all alike.
Maude: Oooh, but they're *not*. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All *kinds* of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world's sorrow comes from people who are *this*,
[she points to a daisy]
Maude: yet allow themselves be treated as *that*.
[she gestures to a field of daisies].  

Art provides a vehicle through which we allow ourselves and our unique vision to be seen. When we do that, we inspire others to do the same and that then will come back to us, too.  But we have to put our work ( ourselves) out there for any of this to happen. This world needs more wonderful, kind, creative folks to put the beauty they manifest out into the world and to do so with healthy pride and self-esteem. 

Because if we are all bringing our best self, our best work to this world, all of us will benefit in every possible way. 

Thanks for putting yourself our there, Staci.

Shaiha said...

What a great post! It is so hard for most people to believe in themselves and well talk themselves up. I do sales for a living and yet when I was asked to write up a bio about myself, my mind goes blank.

Kathy Lindemer said...

Great tips and resources! Congrats to you!

Laurel Hanson said...

Congratulations, Staci! I hope the contest brings you tons of new fans and customers. Great topic! I've been investing in my education in this area, as I want to make a living with my jewelry. That's the dream, right?

I find when I'm not selling as much as I would like, my first thought has always been to evaluate my product or myself. Obsessively. Which only results in diminishing my own love and enthusiasm for that product. Yet there are people who can sell anything. So I now choose to focus my energy on learning the skills of marketing and sales (without being sleazy or manipulative).

One other aspect of this is pricing and value. We've probably all been asked, "why is that (fill in the blank) so expensive?" In order to make a living, we have to factor in all the costs - not just material and time, but all the costs of doing business plus living expenses. It's a balancing act to stay competitive and still pay the bills. I'm just in the beginning stages of figuring this out for my business, but I do try to educate my customers on why they should spend twice as much of their hard-earned money on my jewelry versus the cheaper one over there.

Lori Bowring Michaud said...

Congratulations Staci! Thanks for a great article!

Shirley Moore said...

Not only did I thoroughly enjoy reading your post Staci, but I also enjoyed the previous comments. Thank you so very much for this post. It truly is what I needed to hear, as I struggle to take that step, and open an online store, and put myself 'out there' with trembling heart. You are a special, incredible lady, whom I have watched and listened to intently. Thank you

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