The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

Creating meaningful blog connections September 28, 2008

(Originally published on September 22, 2008 on The Next Stage)

On August 10, 2008, in the wee small hours of the morning, a propane station blew up in Toronto. The video and the information was all over the internet long before it reached the mainstream media, even Television.

Lorraine Murpny, taking over the world, one blog post at a time...

Lorraine Murphy, taking over the world, one blog post at a time...

Local blogger Lorraine Murphy, otherwise known as Raincoaster, was awake that night, and saw the first reports about the explosion coming in on her Twitter feed. She immediately blogged about it, linking to videos, photos, and other blogs. Her blog ratings for that post were very soon #1 on Google.

Lorraine Murphy is a professional blogger here in Vancouver. Her blogs include teenymanolo.com, ayyyy.com (link blogging), The Fearless City project, and, of course, Raincoaster. She is also a social media consultant, and teaches a workshop called Pimp My Blog (details at the end) on how to grow your readership in a meaningful way. She defines meaningful connections as “linking to you, reading you, leaving comments, or recommending you to their friends.”

She shared some of her tips with me, in this, the third of my three-part series on blogging.

1. Be aware of different ways for people to access your blog.

You can physically go to the website and read the blog, you can subscribe to the blog through RSS readers, or by email updates (Feedburner can help you to write the code needed to create this widget for your blog, if you don’t already have it). The more of those options you can make available to people, the more people you can get to read your blog.

2. Blogrolling:

Blogrolling is still happening, but it is not as popular as it used to be. Blogrolling is kind of like having a links page on your website—you put your favorite blogs on your blogroll, and hopefully, those to whom you are linking, put you on theirs. “In addition to putting someone on your blogroll, also write a post about it,” is Murphy’s big tip about blogrolling. It gives them an extra boost.

3. Linking to other blogs in your posts

Linking and quoting other blog posts is a great way to increase traffic to your blog. Murphy warns against linking to Wikipedia or corporate websites or BoingBoing. Your link love will go unrequited–they are too big to care too much about linking to you. Linking to other bloggers is going to get the attention of individual bloggers and draw them to your site as they check trackbacks.

4. Commenting on other blogs:
Probably the best way to create a following is to post high-quality, appropriate comments on blogs that you are reading. “Add value or add amusement,” Murphy says. Don’t forget to leave your name and the URL of your blog so that they can follow you back to your blog.

5. Write often, and write well.
“Keep it short,” Murphy says, “just get it out there!” She recommends 100-200 words per blog post, and be sure to include at least one image. “It’s a multi-media platform—use multimedia!” Use keywords, but not too many—Wordpress will only allow 10-12 keywords and categories per post. Write about only one thing in your post. Write at least one blog post per week, three is optimal.

6. Include buttons on your site to connect with social networking
Buttons for Facebook, Digg, stumbleupon, del.icio.us,technorati, feedburner, and fark, right on your website, will make it easier for people who’ve read your post to share it with their network if they really like it. If you have a WordPress or Blogger blog, this feature is built in, but if you are running your own show, installing these buttons could help increase your readership. “It’s good to enable people to follow you around,” says Murphy. But she also reflects that a very small percentage of her readership comes from hits off of Twitter or Facebook.

7. Know your blogging platforms
Tumblr is a new blogging platform, similar to WordPress or Blogger. It’s pretty slick, but unlike WordPress or Blogger, it doesn’t allow you to connect with people off of Tumblr. So your audience potential is smaller. The WordPress.com platform is probably the strongest blogging platform available, and is probably the best in terms of Search Engine Optimization.

8. Add your blog URL to your email signature
”You wouldn’t think that it would have that much pull, but it really does,” says Murphy.

Pimp My Blog
takes place on Saturday, September 27, 10 am—2 pm, at  Tradeworks Training Society, 87 E Pender St. The course costs $150, which includes all materials, including computers. Email raincoaster@gmail.com to register.

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Becoming more bloggable

Originally published on August 26, 2008 on The Next Stage)

If you google Vancouver blog, the number one hit is Miss 604. Rebecca Bolwitt is a born-and-bred-in-Vancouver professional blogger and podcaster, whose Vancouver-centric blog garners 40,000-50,000 unique visitors a month.

I interviewed Rebecca about how new media is changing the face of traditional media, and how we, as artists, can use it to help market ourselves.

RC: How do you think blogs are changing the face of traditional media?

RB: Blogs are making traditional media know that they need to be more immediate. The thing about a blog versus a newspaper is that it [the newspaper] can’t change. The thing about blogging is that you can post a news story in the morning, and it can change through the day. You can have comments on it, you can continue the discussion. What blogging is doing for traditional media is that it’s making them realize that it’s becoming a two way discussion. You can hear back from your readers, and not just in traditional ways like letters to the editors.

Secondly, you can also go mobile—people can get updates on their phone, have online subscriptions—RSS—so the news goes to your inbox every morning, instead of your front door mat.

Thirdly, anybody can be a producer. Anybody can produce content, have people pay attention to it and watch it. Everyone can be a part of what the internet is becoming. And what the internet is becoming is something that traditional media outlets can no longer ignore—since it is so huge, it is so big, and it’s engaging people in conversation.

RC: Do you think blogs are gaining in credibility (as compared to mainstream media)?

RB: Yes, definitely. If I’m writing a post about Vancouver history, I research my pieces; from my dad, from textbooks, from online sources. I can quote them, and link back to my original source, which you can’t always do in a newspaper. People can also call you on it if you make mistakes. In that way, blogs can be very credible. We are gaining in credibility, however it is a very slow process.

A lot of people are scared of bloggers. People are still very hesitant to trust bloggers, because there are few bad seeds out there, and there are some who are doing it just for fun, but there are also those who would like to gain credibility in the mainstream realm.

RC: If I have an art event to promote, and I invite the mainstream media to come out and see it, we have a kind of unspoken contract that we will let them in for free, and they will give us some press about it. Does it work the same way with bloggers?

RB: Absolutely. If you are willing to give me access to your event and blog about it, certainly.
The thing about bloggers is, if you invite us to your event, we are very open and honest and transparent. That’s the big thing about blogging. If we’ve been invited to an event for free and in exchange we are writing a post about it, we are going to be honest about our experience. We can say if we had a bad time—or not. That’s just the way it is. We have no editor to report to, just ourselves, and as long as we let them know. I don’t want people to think I am being paid off to write positive reviews.

RC: How do I know that a blogger is legitimate? Anyone can have their own blog, what if they are just looking for free tickets?

RB: This is a very valid question. To know a blogger is legitimate, you need to know their first and last name, not just their handle. You need to know who this person is. Google them, and find out that they don’t also have a blog that is terrible and illegal. Ask around town and see if people know them, have heard of them. But most importantly, read their blog, and see what they’re all about. Make sure they are the right type of person you would want at your event—if it’s a fit. Also, if you are looking for the most reach, don’t be afraid of asking for their stats. Bloggers check their stats. How many unique visitors do they have every month?

RC: How do I pitch my event to you?

RB: If someone copies and pastes a press release in an email to me without even a “Hi, Rebecca!” or a “Hi, Miss 604!” I’m probably not going to pay much attention to it. You need to be personal. You need to know what the blogger’s about. Read their site.

Let the blogger have free access to it. For me, if it’s not on my radar as something I’m already going to attend or can/would attend, I would need that incentive.

To pitch an event to a blogger, you have to realize what they are writing about, You have read their site, and then contact them, either through email or a contact form on their site.

RC: Is it okay to ask a blogger about their stats?

RB: Yes it is!! 90% of bloggers look at their stats, and where traffic is coming from. A big thing for bloggers is to give them link love. What that means is, if you have a website link back to the blogger once they’ve written about you. That makes us feel really good. We like that people are paying attention, that they are open to bloggers, open to communication. It makes me want to deal with them in the future, and recommending them to my friends.

RC: What are some good blogs to pitch to?

RB: Try pitching to the group blogs in Vancouver. I also blog for Metroblogging Vancouver, and we have about 8 authors right now. Some focus on politics, some on food, so you can submit to us and someone will pick it up. Beyond Robson is another Vancouver group blog. The good thing about group blogs is that, more than likely, someone will be writing about your subject matter, and pick it up.

Other good ones to submit to are ones you read. If you read someone’s blog, and you have an event coming up, pitch it to them. If it’s a food event, find some food bloggers. If it’s a sporting event, find some sports bloggers. A good way to find popular blogs is to just google them. It means that they are doing it right, and have excellent SEO (search engine optimization).

RC: Any additional words of wisdom for using blogs/bloggers to promote your art event?

RB: The biggest thing in dealing with bloggers is reading blogs. Find some daily reads, the ones that you enjoy, and those are probably going to be the ones you are wanting to pitch to. You don’t want to send them a big huge press release, you want to be personal. NO generic “Dear Sir/Madam”. Be personable. Blogging is very personal, it’s a real discussion, it’s person to person, it’s comments, it’s transparent. Bloggers love free stuff, and when they get free stuff, they will write about it. Make sure you supply them with your website so they can link back to you, which will help drive traffic to your site.

In conclusion:

  • NO copy and paste press releases
  • Let the blogger know you’re reading their stuff
  • Make sure the event is a good fit
  • Link back

– Rebecca Bolwitt, Rebecca Coleman, Simon Ogden and Rob Parker of YaYah Studios will all be participating on a panel discussion tenatively called The New Face of Marketing: Facebook, Text and the Bloggers’ World at the Making a Scene Theatre Conference on Friday, November 14 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Granville Island.

Miss 604 image via Miss 604

For a streaming or downloadable podcast of this post (the interview in its entirety), click here.

 

Welcome to the blogosphere

Originally published July 29, 2008 on The Next Stage)

To listen to the interview in its entirety, click here. (27 minutes)

If you are reading this, you already have at least a handshake acquaintance with blogging (given that it’s published on a blog and all). This month, I delve into the basics of blogging, with the help of the authors of Blogging for Dummies, Second Edition, Shane Birley and Susannah Gardner. Shane is a partner in Left Right Minds, a web development, arts management, business blogging and on line marketing content consultant company, here in Vancouver. He also writes a bunch of blogs. Susannah is the owner of Hop Studios, a web design company, and author of, among others, Buzz Marketing with Blogs. Oh, and she also writes blogs. Enough introductions, on with the show!!

Shane Birley, Susannah Gardner and Rebecca Coleman at the Left Right Minds Studio.

Shane Birley, Susannah Gardner and Rebecca Coleman at the Left Right Minds Studio.

What is a blog?
According to Blogging for Dummies, the word blog is an amalgam of two words: “web” and “log.” Another term you may have heard being bandied about is “blogosphere.” Shane says the blogosphere is simply, “everyone on their soapbox.” Basically, if you have something you feel like writing about, and are willing to put the time in, you can have a blog. And because the internet is so wide, you will probably get an audience, even if that audience is only your family and friends. But more about garnering an audience later.

As an artist, how can having a blog help me?
A blog can be a very powerful marketing tool, albeit an informal one, for several reasons.
Technical stuff: The more often you blog, the more often you will be indexed by search engines, and the higher you will come up in a search. “Search engines love fresh content,” says Susannah, “and blogs feed right into that. The more you put yourself out there, them more you make yourself a possible search result, the better the chances are, you will be able to increase your profile. In a fairly painless, non-traditional way.”
Get to know the person behind the product/service: “People respond to people,” says Susannah. “It is incredibly powerful to be able to speak to the artist directly—you don’t always have access to that. Blogs help to create a dialogue between the audience and the writer.”

What do I need to start a blog?
First, you need to decide if you are going to sign up for web-based blogging software, or use software that will post your blog under your own, dedicated domain name.
I am going to talk about how to start a blog using web-based software, as I think this is the most popular, and easiest route to go for a beginning blogger.
The two most popular blog software programs out there are Blogger and Word Press (this blog is done on Word Press). Signing up for either one is a very simple, three-step process.

Now, here’s some stuff you might like to add on:
About Me/Profile:
“If you are wanting to use your blog as a marketing tool, and you don’t have a bio, don’t bother having a blog,” says Shane. “You’re talking about yourself, but there is nowhere they can go to get a background on who you are.”
Comment section: Blogs that elicit comments from their readers are considered to be successful. That doesn’t mean you should write stuff that it controversial just to elicit comments, but blogging is all about creating dialogue. So ask your readers for their opinions and comments.
Archives/Categories: This helps people to find similar posts to the ones that they like and enjoy. Most blog software programs have this built in.
Blogroll: Shane describes a blogroll as being, “a listing of blogs that you recommend to other people.” This is similar to a links section on a webpage, and all about cross-promotion.
Photos: add visual interest to your blog posting.
Widgets: third party pieces of software, which are embedded in your blog, and are little add-ons, like Flikr, which show your latest photos in your sidebar, polls, or ETSY, which allow you to show your latest products right on your blog.

What the heck is RSS?
Shane and Susannah both agree that RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. RSS is code, written in a language called XML. Every time you update your blog, the RSS feed goes out, and lets all the search engines on the web know that you have a new posting. Also, if you read blogs using a program like Google Reader, it lets people who subscribe to your blog that there is a new posting. Shane recommends that everyone “go to Google Reader and sign up for an account and take the tutorial.”
Most blog software has an RSS feed built in, so once you activate your blog, you don’t need to worry about it again, it updates automatically.

How many times a week should I blog? What’s the magic number?

This is a controversial question. The more often you blog, the more often you will be indexed by the search engines, which drives up your profile. However, you also have to be able to be inspired enough, and be able to sustain, writing 3-4 blog posts per day, if that is what you want to do. That can lead to burn out, or some pretty lousy blog posts. Or worse, you can overwhelm your audience, and you may lose them completely. Shane and Susannah agree the magic number is “ a couple times a week.” Shane recommends, if you are thinking of starting a blog, to “do it once a day for an entire month, and if you can, then you will probably be a successful blogger. If you do it for a couple of days, and can’t maintain it, maybe you should think about another medium, like audio or video blogging.”

How do I garner a readership for my blog?
Here are some suggestions from Susannah and Shane:

  • Make it searchable by search engines. Most blogging software will do this for you automatically, but you may also want to register your blog with sites like Technorati or Feedburner.
  • Put your blog address in the signature line of all your outgoing email.
  • Make a business card with the address on it.
  • Put your blog address on anything that gets handed out.
  • Let your friends and family know, send out a mass email, inviting people to read.
  • Buy advertising, such as Google Ad Sense.
  • Post comments on other people’s blogs, and include your blog address.
  • Make your blog posts related to something that is current and newsworthy, be topical.


Final comments?

Susannah: “In general, try to think about who you’re blogging for, and what they’re interested in. Don’t get fixated on traffic numbers. You want an audience that is interested in you–you don’t need 5 million readers, just the 50 who are actually interested in you.”

Shane: “Blogging is writing. Read blogs, comment on blogs, get involved in the community. Get out and talk to people. Nothing spreads like word of mouth, it’s faster than the internet and any RSS feed.”

Special thanks to Shane Birley and Susanah Gardner. Blogging for Dummies, the Second Edition, is available widely in bookstores, and I highly recommend it as an informative, but easy read.

Special Thanks also to Dave “the sound guy” Rankin.

And until next time, here’s to bums in seats everyhwere…

 

Managing your flow….

Filed under: Business of Arts,Cash flow,Finances — Rebecca Coleman @ 12:54 am
Tags: , , ,

Originally published June 26, 2008, on The Next Stage)

A bunch of years ago, when Julia Cameron first published her book The Artist’s Way, I, like most other artists I knew, went out and bought a copy, and started working my way through it. I loved it; I was doing my exercises, my morning pages, my artist dates. And then I came to Chapter 6, and hit the wall. It took me seven months to get through “Recovering a Sense of Abundance.” Why? It was a chapter on money.

In a previous column, I talked about putting a value on your work. Sometimes, as artists, that’s hard to do—there is tons of competition out there, first off, always someone who’s willing to sell their stuff at a lower price to get the sale. Also, there is a kind of attitude in the world that, because we as artists get intrinsic value from our work, we don’t need to be compensated financially. Plus, it’s boring. And administrative. And not creative. Add to that the whole romantic notion of “the starving artist” (Moulin Rouge, anyone?), and no wonder we are often a mess when it comes to matters of money.

But if you want to feel like a professional and have others perceive you as such, you need to take some control of your cash flow. This month’s column is dedicated to some tips about just that.

1. You are a small business. If you are selling CDs, paintings, or working as a Production Assistant on a movie, you are self-employed. What that means is, your income taxes and CPP (Canada Pension Plan) payments don’t come off your cheque. If you bill the client for $1000, they give you a cheque (hopefully!) for $1000. It’s your responsibility to pay the taxes on that income. However, as a small business, you also get certain tax breaks (yay!—more on that later).

2. Set yourself up a separate bank account for your business transactions. Go for a credit union as opposed to one of the bigger banks, they will charge you less fees. Funnel all your business expenses and income though that account.

3. Taxes. It’s a good idea to take 20-25% of everything you earn and put it in a separate account from your regular business account. This money is earmarked for income taxes at the end of the year.

4. GST (Goods and Services Tax—5%): In Canada, you can make up to $30,000 in one year from your self-employment without having to charge your clients GST. However, once you hit that mark, you have to start. You can get a GST number from the Canada Revenue Agency. Many small businesses like to charge GST, despite the fact that they may not be at the $30,000 mark yet, and despite the added administration work of figuring it out (you get to write off all the GST you spend on your business), because it gives them the impression of being bigger than they are. You know, fake it till you make $30,000.

5. Set up a System Part 1. You can buy a small business software package like Simply Accounting or Quickbooks, or you can just use an Excel spreadsheet to track your income each month. You need to know two things: how much you have billed in any month (meaning, you send the invoices, but are still waiting for payment, like they owe you credit) and how much actual income you had that month (when people actually paid you and you cashed the cheque. Again, yay!). This spreadsheet, which shows both your income and expenses each month, is called a Cash Flow Statement. The goal is to keep it in the black, although this doesn’t always happen!

6. Expenses: When you go to file your income tax return at the end of the year, you can write off any expenses that are related to the cost of your doing business. For example, as an actor, you can write off headshots, acting classes, postage for mailing submissions, office supplies, books/plays, Casting Workbook, and even a portion of your rent, telephone, internet and car expenses. The list is extensive. Talk to someone at your local union office, or CARFAC (Canadian Artists Representation) if you are a visual artist, and they will often have a comprehensive list.

7. Set up a System Part 2: Part 1 was about tracking income, Part 2 is about tracking expenses. It is imperative to save your receipts for anything you think might be a business expense. Write on the receipt what it is related to, if it’s not obvious. Then clean out your wallet once a week or so, and dump all the receipts into a shoebox or a container someplace accessable. Once a month, go through the receipts, and enter them into your spreadsheet. You may want to break the spreadsheet down into categories, like Transportation, Meals & Entertainment, Books, Marketing, Bank Fees, etc. If you have a lot of expenses, you may need to do this more often than once a month.

8. Hire a professional. If you are totally lost with this stuff, or you are in a place where it is getting to be too much for you to handle yourself, you might want to hire a professional. An accountant can actually save you money, because they may know of hidden deductions that you were unaware of. A professional organizer can help you to create a system for your paperwork and for your computer.

Okay, so I’ll be the first to admit that all this talk of Cash Flow Statements and taxes and accounting is not the sexiest or most exciting topic in the world. However, getting a handle on your finances and setting up systems to deal with money can actually take a great deal of stress off, because you know exactly where you are financially, all the time. And that allows you more time to be creative, and to make a living at what you love to do. How awesome is that?

Finally, I’d like to give a plug to the Prosperous Artists blog and podcast. Dean and Rosh are based out of Michigan, and they have fantastic tips for the business side of being an artist. Coincidentally, the topic of their most current podcast is also cash flow.

So, until next time, here’s to bums in seats everywhere…

For a downloadable or streaming audio podcast of this article, click here.


 

Staking out your spot on the web

Originally published June 1, 2008 on The Next Stage)

Over the last few months, I’ve been exploring, through the column, ways to market yourself in more detail. This month’s column focuses on what is probably the most essential, the most indispensable marketing tool: the website.

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tell you: if you are trying to sell a product or a service, you need a website. It’s that simple. This month, I go in a slightly different direction and enlist the help of an expert, but I’ll get to that in a moment. I will also provide a list of resource URLs at the end of the article.

First of all, getting a URL (Uniform Resource Locater), which is your address on the web (ie: www.titaniaproductions.com) is easy enough to do. There are tons of companies on the web who can sell you one. Probably your best bet for a URL is to use your name, if you can, or your companies’ name, or some abbreviation of either of those. Keep it simple. URLs have to be entered exactly right, there’s no margin for error, so the simpler it is to spell, the better results you will have with people finding your site. Also, if possible, ALWAYS go for the .com extension. Get a .ca as a second choice, but try to avoid, at all costs, .biz, .net, etc if you can. Most people are so used to typing .com, it is almost a default.

Quite honestly, I get over my head pretty quickly with this technical stuff, so I enlisted the help of an expert.

David Rankin is a Usability Consultant and an instructor in the Interactive Design Program at Capilano College, and also an (amazing) Jazz singer and guitarist, so I asked him a bunch of questions about building an artist’s website.

David Rankin as his alter-ego, jazz singer Artie Devlin

TAotB: What is the most important thing to keep in mind when designing a website?

DR: Design to meet the needs of your audience. In order to be successful, your site needs to be driven by your audience’s needs and not by your own preconceptions of their needs. This approach, called User-Centred Design, will help users find the information they are looking for on your site more easily, enjoy the experience of browsing your site and (if you keep your content current) will keep them coming back for more.

You can start by observing individuals who represent your target audience, using your site. Take notes. Ask questions. Encourage them to give you feedback as to what works or doesn’t work for them. Let them know the intention of this exercise is to make the site better and your feelings won’t be hurt if there are aspects of your site they don’t like or think could be improved.

Videotape the session if need be. Ideally, this process would begin even before building your website, using early hand-drawn prototypes and/or testing your competitors sites. Focus groups work really well too. Bring in a few representative users and have a discussion as to what they require from your website. Often people are more than willing to do this for a small stipend or for that magical combination – free beer and pizza. I assure you, you will learn a ton by going through this process and will come to understand the needs of your audience more completely. Once you have gathered their feedback, you can then go about the process of redesigning your site to better suit the needs of the people who really matter – your target audience.

TAotB: What kind of information would you include on a website intended to market an artist or arts organization?

Many artist websites would include some or all of the following:

• a short Biography of the artist
Photos of the artist’s work or performances, with thumbnails
• A Media page if there is audio/video content
• Reviews or Testimonials from clients
• A News section that highlights the most current information about the artist or organization that may be of interest to their audience (performances, openings, awards etc). Maximize the impact of a News section by having it on the homepage
• A Contact page so interested parties can get in touch via email, and optionally snail mail or phone. Organizations may also want to include a map of how to get to their actual physical location. Google Maps is great for that
• A Webmaster link to help users report any problems they may be experiencing with the site
• And a Homepage of course!

Some artists also include a Press Kit section containing downloadable high resolution photos, press releases, concert riders etc. You may also want to include a forum or blog on your site. These are good for keeping in touch with your fans and colleagues, but can be quite time-consuming to moderate and maintain.

If you are an organization, your site should always contain a Mission Statement that briefly describes to your visitors the purpose of your organization. Your mission statement should be short–a paragraph or two maximum. They provide context for the rest of the site, so I would recommend putting them on your homepage . By not having a Mission Statement or having it buried somewhere deep in your site you run the risk of confusing and alienating your audience.

TAotB: Do you know of any really successful artists’ website that you can recommend we look at?

Yes. I think Madeleine Peyroux’s website is rather well designed and elegant. Lot’s of negative space in terms of the visual design – yet tons of content that is very well organized.

TAotB: Should you get someone to build your site for you, or is it worth it to try doing it yourself?

DR: I would recommend hiring an experienced Web Designer to create your site. For most of you out there, your website will be your primary tool for marketing your services and as such, you should budget for it accordingly. If this isn’t an option for you, you could approach some of the local colleges and universities web design programs to see if their students may be interested in taking you on as a project. If you have the time and inclination to design your own website, I would suggest you do some research first. There are many excellent websites, free online tutorials and books on all aspects of web design. Whether you choose to hire an Web Designer or choose to build it yourself, always design to meet the needs of your audience and you will do just fine.

Thanks, Dave!

Click to find out more about the Interactive Design Program at Cap College.

So, until next time, here’s to bums in seats everywhere…

******************************************************************************************************************

Here are some URLs you might find useful to look at when thinking about designing your site:

ETSY: if you are selling a something you made yourself, ETSY is an online marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade.

Doteasy: Sells URLs (just one of probably a million, but they are who I use, and I’ve been happy, so I thought I’d give them a plug).

Madeleine Wood: is a friend of mine, and an amazing painter. She is doing really well, and her excellent website has something to do with that.

Provost Pictures: is a company I have been working with for several years now, and we have just completed a complete overhaul of the site that I am quite proud of. This site also contains an example of a downloadable press kit. A big shout-out to Janet Baxter, who is our excellent webmaster, and also a photographer.


 

Facebook is your friend

Originally published on April 30, 2008 on The Next Stage)

You could not possibly be a bigger holdout than I was with Facebook. I resisted joining for a really long time. I thought “why do I need yet another time-waster when I’m online? I already check my email obsessively, do I need to have the temptation to be checking Facebook all the time now?” But, like most other people, finally I gave in. And yes, spent way too much time at the beginning updating my profile and searching for friends. But then I started to realize what a powerful marketing tool Facebook was, and now I use it at least half the time for that purpose.

In case you’ve been in a cave this past year without television, radio, internet or newspapers, Facebook is an online social networking tool. It’s free—basically what you do is sign up and get yourself and account. Then you get your own page, or profile, where you can put information about yourself, what colour socks you like, what you had for breakfast, what your dog had for breakfast. Then, you create a network by asking people to be your friend. Once someone is your friend, you can message them, send them virtual gifts, URLs, that kind of thing. Facebook also has groups and events that you can create or join. If you create an event or a group, you are its administrator, and that gives you the ability to message all the members of the group. It’s fantastic stuff.

A few words of practical advice about Facebook. First off, I wouldn’t encourage you to create a group unless you are pretty famous, or you have something quirky going on (I belong to “If Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea kissed me, I’d be a happy woman”, for example). You can also create fan pages, but again, I’d steer away from that unless you are Great Big Sea, or a decent-sized corporation.

What I do is create an event for all of my clients. Because my work tends to be rooted in dates (show runs, etc), creating events is perfect for me. It allows me to upload all the event information, pictures, and videos, URLs for media stories when they come out, and I am able to message anyone who said they are or might be coming.

If it’s your first time creating an event, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Be really, really careful about your dates. While you can go back and edit a lot of things on your event page, the dates you cannot.
2. Make your event accessible to the “global” Facebook community. I once made it available just to the Vancouver network, thinking that anyone from out of town wasn’t going to come to see the show anyway. But not everyone (even people who live in Vancouver) belong to the Vancouver network. Tricky…
3. When you invite people to your event, encourage them to invite their friends.
4. Know that only your opening night (or the first date you have on your event) will show up in the updated information on your Facebook account. After that, if someone wants to find your event, they will have to search for it. However, you can still message people during the run of the show to let them know it is half over, closing Saturday, etc.

Facebook is good for other kinds of artists, too. Musicians and filmmakers can upload videos, photographers and visual artists can make photo albums of their work. Dancers and actors can upload demos and trailers.

A word of caution: as with everything on the internet, be careful about how much personal information you include. Don’t have your home address up there. A lot of people I know don’t even have their email address. Make your privacy settings high, so that people have to be your friend (ie: authorized by you) to see anything on your profile.

Facebook is a lot of fun. But it can also be a great way of getting the word out, and building a buzz… And yes, I will be your friend, but only if you mention The Art of the Business.

So, until next time, here’s to more bums in seats everywhere…

For a downloadable or streaming audio podcast of this article, click here.

 

On the topic of touchpoints

Originally published March 31, 2008 on The Next Stage)

This month’s Art of the Business deals with a term you may or may not have heard before: touchpoints. A touchpoint is any way that your consumer, or end-user, comes in contact with your work. It could be a webpage, an e-newsletter, a poster or flyer, an ad in the newspaper. Marketing theory says that it takes, on average, between 6-8 exposures to your marketing materials, or touchpoints, before someone will even consider making contact with you.

Six to eight! We are so inundated with advertising and marketing these days, that we have learned to tune it out. So it takes a lot more hits, or more innovative ones, before we can actually make contact with our potential clientèle. And I’m not even talking about the sales process—but you have won half the battle just by making contact.

So, your job as an artist who, god forbid, wants to make money from their art practice is to increase your touchpoints as much as you can. Maximizing your touchpoints is going to help get your name out there, and make you easier to find.

How can you maximize your touchpoints? I’m so glad you asked. I will share a few ideas with you in this column, but I gotta save some for future columns…. I have to have something to keep you coming back for more, after all!

Word of mouth is always the best form of advertising. A couple of weeks ago, when I was looking for someone to move my stuff, what did I do? I picked up the phone and called a couple of my friends who had recently moved and asked them for recommendations. It makes my life easier, I don’t have to do a google search, and call 7 different moving companies. I already have the advice of someone I trust—I’m going with that. While I know that art is subjective and not a moving company, and you have to take that into account when you are asking people’s opinions, the bottom line is do the best job you possibly can and people will recommend you. Recommendations sell tickets. Or paintings. Or CDs. You get the point.

In my first column I talked about exploring what it is that makes you, or your show, or your film, unique. Let that idea or concept inform all your decisions about additional touchpoints. Whatever it is that makes you unique, settle on it, and then use it on everything. In marketing, that’s called branding. Think of the golden arches, or the Nike swoosh. You see those things, you know immediately what they mean. Ideally, you want your clients to do the same when they hear your name, or see one of your touchpoints—know immediately what it is you stand for.

Here is a not-totally comprehensive list of other ways to market yourself and increase your touchpoints, some of which I will get into in more detail in future columns:

  • Business Cards: you never know when you might meet Stephen Spielberg in an elevator. If you did, how would he get in touch with you about your fantastic film? A business card is a wonderful way of continuing that conversation.
  • Posters: don’t break your budget with posters, but do try to have one with a catchy, interesting image.
  • Postcards/Flyers: a combo poster/business card. Catchy image, all the basic info, and a way for you to continue the conversation: “You think my show sounds cool? Here’s a postcard with the info.”
  • Webpages: What do you do when you need something? You google it. Enough said. You need a website. Whether or not you pay to have someone build it for you or you do it yourself; what should go on it; etc., will be fodder for a future column.
  • Facebook/ You Tube/ My Space: free, useful, and everyone is on them. I am using these social connectors more and more all the time to market my clients.
  • Newsletters: a great way of keeping in touch with your end-user, or even your potential end-users. The key for newsletters is to make sure that they offer information that is useful and appreciated.
  • E-mail: It’s free! Everyone has it! I send usually between 2-3 for every show I do.
  • Brochures: more in depth than a poster or a postcard, less information than a webpage, it may be a useful marketing tool if you are promoting a season, or offering more in-depth services that require more information.
  • Leave-behinds: this is something that you leave with your client after the work is done. I know a closet-installer (hey, it could be an art!) who leaves a half-a-dozen nice wooden hangers (with his logo on them) in each closet he finishes. A nice touch, and a good way to spread word-of-mouth.

I will flesh out many of these in future columns.

So until next time, here’s to bums in seats…everywhere.

For a downloadable or streaming audio podcast of this article, click here.