...to STEP up your game. (No Huns will be defeated...for now.)
As we all slowly become vaccinated I'm sure many of you are anxious to reignite your creative career and engage with your audience again. So let's talk business because I know you want to get back to it! While we were limited during this quarantine break with how much we could do, it has also given us the very special gift of time. Time to rethink decisions of your work. Time to reimagine how you promote yourself and your art. Time to check in with our dreams and build a new plan going forward.
Have you done this? If you think of your creative work as a business then I certainly hope so! If you haven't, the only time you can start is right now. This week I'll focus on the six steps to treating your art like a business.
Step 1. Know Your Income/Expenses
Aka: create a budget. Tough love time: there's very little excuse for not creating a budget in the 21st century. Today apps/websites like Mint and others will literally do it for you with minimal effort on your part. So the reason you don't have a budget (if you don't) is probably fear. We're afraid seeing the "real numbers" will make our situation worse. The truth is: not knowing the real numbers is the fastest way to keep yourself a hobbyist who never even breaks even.
Businesses have one purpose: to make money. Not making money doesn't make it not a business, but working while holding the idea that losing money is fine also doesn't make you a business. See what I mean? I cannot tell you how many times I was happy just to "break even" on a self-produced concert. But that mindset kept limiting me to only making enough to scrape by and we don't want you to scrape by -- you wanna SOAR!
Step 2. Embrace Your Audience
Be careful hugging strange folks right now...but definitely engage with your audience on their level. What is it they enjoy about your art? Remember it is the audience not the industry who will spend their money on you. Musicians in particular often become enamored with pleasing this orchestra or that choral conductor that we skip over our audience entirely.
The people who attended your last gallery opening -- what did they say to you? How did they engage? This is where regular contact with the audience via an email campaign may help! MailChimp is great for this and entirely free. I'm sure there are other sites that are similar so use the one with the best means to get you in front of your ticket-buyers!
Another thought I have is that we as creatives often hold our projects closely to our chests until we feel it is polished and ready. But audiences LOVE the process. Don't be afraid to show your audience your process through emails, videos, and social posts. Remind them that even though you may not have a concert this weekend you are working on something and they will be delighted to feel like they are part of the creating process with you.
Step 3. Keep a Contact List
This seems like advice you get from your parents' friends, right? I remember attending college and a very nice lady from my family's church always reminded me to add work experience to my resume. I would smile, say thanks, and think I was so cool because I was already doing that. But thanks for the advice, Mrs. Nancy -- you really had my back!
Keep a list of all professionals you've worked with AND their email. You don't need an exhaustive list with phone numbers and social media handles that is meticulously color-coded. Unless that's your jam - then color-code away! This is a simple list so you know the people in your industry.
When was the last time you spoke with some of those folks on your list? If it's been a while send them an email just detailing what you've been doing, what you're looking forward to, and maybe a nice memory from your time working together. We call this networking. People LOVE receiving updates...even if they don't respond. And, trust me, many of them will neverrrrrr respond. That's okay! You're thinking like a business and business-folk network!
Extra tip: Feeling overwhelmed by this task? Divide the list into four groups -- we'll call them quarters. Now each quarter of the year you will connect with just those assigned to that quarter. Doesn't this seem a bit less intimidating now?
Step 4. Invest in Marketing
Do NOT go and blow a bunch of money on a marketing app. That's not what I mean. There are all kinds of free websites and blogs to teach you how to get better at marketing. Most will suggest the most basic thing you should subscribe to is consistency....which is free (I checked!). Marketing in the social media world may seem complicated, but it's pretty simple: put yourself out there.
It helps to know why you do what you do. Do you enjoy outreach concerts in the community? Tweet about it! Do you love getting dolled up as an opera diva? Share the production pics on Insta! Marketing isn't always about the bells and whistles. Most often it's about finding your voice (pun intended) and sharing that with the community.
Other ways to invest in marketing would be to look at the latest social media trends. Maybe spice up your profile with a linktree or color scheme. Start with one of your most-engaged posts from the past and see what about that can be branded. How can you recreate the power of that successful post more often? It's not always about being the most beautiful or showing the most skin. Some of my most engaged social posts have come from personal pain or triumphs...definitely never from having a six pack. (Hello, nachos!)
Step 5. Set Goals
Do you set goals? How specific are they? Are they always about making money? Are they never about making money? Do you write them down? Or keep them secret in your mind in case you don't reach them?
Naming your goals on a vision board (another creative outlet!) or simply in a document you review regularly will encourage you to keep on track. One great thing about goals is that they can be small. You may recall from last week's blog I didn't encourage you to save $500. We start with a small goal that seems tough but attainable. When you smash a goal you set a new, larger one! If you don't quite hit your target then recalibrate. Ask yourself: was the goal too large for now or could I try again with what I learned this time?
The best advice I can offer is that goals are not permanent. You are not married to your goal. They are a tool at our disposal to bettering our life. So use the tool and get smart with your goals!
Step 6. Create an Advisory Council
This isn't new advice really, but I think it is good so it bears repeating. You are not in this alone. Your friends, colleagues, and mentors want you to succeed. And, look, I know how much I love offering advice to folks (Why else would I be writing this at 7am on a Friday??) which means there are definitely people in your life and industry who can and will help you along the way.
But you have to ask. Gather 3-5 people whose opinions you trust and you think will be both kind and honest with you. Not because they will always be telling you "No -- that's crazy!" but because you need to feel reassured that what they say is always the best for you...that includes encouragement, too! Great people to start with are: your closest friend, a professor from college/grad school, an industry professional at a level beyond yours, a non-industry professional who is successful in their own career, your partner/spouse.
And really ask them when you have concerns about an upcoming project. You needn't wait until after the project is finished to gather their thoughts -- they can brainstorm with you during as much as after. They are here for your success!
Are you fired up now?? I hope so! As much as we love diving into our creative work, treating it like a business means it will actually work for us -- not just suck our hard-earned money. Now is the perfect time to reassess and reinvigorate your work and show the world how successful you are at what you do.