10 April 2010

Relaxing Your Rules of Engagement

Ayumi Hamasaki CD cover for AUDIENCE
Photo credit: Ayu-mi-x/detail from Ayumi Hamasaki CD cover, AUDIENCE

As I entered week four of the spring installment of "Don't Get Good..." — my business intensive for self-employed artists — an interesting discussion came about in class regarding the importance of getting feedback from one's "tribe," as it may. It was rather apt, as the topic emerged during our session about identifying your niche.

One of my lovely participants sells gorgeous paintings. And obviously, her buyers must think the world of them since they've purchased many. Yet, when questioned on specifically what they liked about her work, that she didn't know.

I was happy that this issue came about, because it's a really common problem that can be solved quite effortlessly.

Why others are interested in us and what we have to offer may often surprise. Knowing what you're doing well — even if it's something you take for granted — is key to understanding how you're fulfilling someone's needs. It will also tell you how you can do more of that thing that others love about you enough to support your practice or small biz.

You may think it's your subject matter, your buyer may be enthralled with the colour or technique. You may think your services solve problem "A," your clients may love that your services solve problems "B" and "C," or better yet, they love your genuine and personable ways. You say they found you through an e-mail blast. Really, they're a friend of a friend. You get the drift....

A Slack Guide to Sussing Out Your Peeps

Artist: Sandra Brewster, Holes 2
ARTIST: Sandra Brewster, Holes 2

We all have so many, grossly advantageous opportunities served to us on a plate everyday to interact with our core audience — to build relationships. Yes, repeat after me: "I am building relationships."

One's niche market, for example, is usually comprised of a few communities that already make up our regular haunts (e.g., art community, women's community, health and well-being community), with a few others a bit outside of our regular stomping grounds or comfort zone.

Market research, schme-search is very handy — in fact, I'm the absolute last to discount it, truth be told. But I've got to tell you, there are so many basic, dare I say, lazy, carefree and enjoyable ways that we can get information that it's just too embarrassingly ridiculous to pass them up. And they usually start with a conversation. We're building relationships, after all. And usually our audience is staring us right in the face, have just bought our work, or are just a hop, skip and a shot glass to the right of us...situation etcetera, etcetera.

Situation ASK #1:

You're at an opening — either yours or a contemporary's. If you're alone, great! More networking and survey-on-the-go opportunities for you.

Ask some attendees what they think about the work, how they heard about the show, and perhaps how they know the artist (if you're not the artist in question). Bonus? Why not ask them what they do, with a, "So, are you an artist too?" opener (especially if you know full well that they aren't). Remember, this is a conversation. Don't just get your info and dash. Be engaged. Be sincere.

Why? Well, strategically speaking, this is something you should be doing at ALL of your own events. But forget that for the moment. If this is a contemporary of yours, then most likely you have an overlap in audience. Knowing how someone found out about a show lets you know what types of promotion is hitting the audience you want. And it goes two ways: You also get to understand the best ways to communicate with those who want to be kept in the loop. (Did I mention that you're building relationships?)

Knowing what people like about your work, and others who do work similar to yours, is also paramount. Who do they know (the artist, you, friends of the curator)? Well, that's just too obvious to get into. But knowing their walk of life isn't. (Did you know that some collectors find artists intimidating? Well, you may want to put that in your pipe and smoke it.) Meeting someone outside your lofty core is the best thing ever, and the idea of that just tickles me fuchsia.

Situation ASK #2:

You've left art prints at a store and are phoning to check out if they need more. The employee on the phone says to bring in a few more because they're selling, and then she casually mentions having recently bought one of your prints for a friend.

After thanking her for liking your work — and, silently basking in the glow of heavenly rays that shot down through the beams of your studio — why not ask her what sparked her to buy it, why she thinks her friend will like it, and which piece she chose?

Yeah, I know. This all sounds remarkably obvious, but how many of you are really getting deep down into some old fashioned communiqué? Already, you're moving into the fabric of your core market when you engage with them by asking just a few extra questions and paying attention to their responses. Get old fashioned. There's much to be said for some friendly banter while getting to know who supports you.

Situation ASK #3:

Someone e-mails you to enquire about your services.

Obviously your reply will be wondrously helpful and prompt. But if this is first contact, you may want to ask them how they found out about your services. Was it through another Web site, a brochure or business card left at whatever establishment you've been leaving them in, through a friend, an e-mail post, your mother....?

Good goddess, I could go on. But I think you get the picture.

The point of all this? Start actively engaging with the audience that surrounds you. Considering that you make contact with your supporters on a daily basis, it's a shame to ignore all that they could be sharing with you and the relationships you could be building.

Ready to buckle down and get to the nuts and bolts of your developing creative business? 

The summer installment of DON'T GET GOOD AT WHAT YOU DON'T WANT TO BE DOING: MorenaMedia's 10-Week Business Development Intensive for Self-Employed Artists & Holisitic Practitioners runs from June 21st to August 30th, Toronto. Please visit MorenaMedia.com for more information.
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