The Art of the Business

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

Putting a value on our work September 28, 2008

Filed under: Arts Marketing,Business of Arts,Finances — Rebecca Coleman @ 12:36 am
Tags: , , ,

(originally published February 27, 2008, on The Next Stage)

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: this is a column that is supposed to be dedicated to tips and tricks about marketing artists, right? So what the heck is this whole “putting a value on our work” thing?

Because, my friend, you have to be able to put a value on your work before you can market and sell it. That is probably oversimplifying the situation, but please just bear with me for a moment.

When was the last time someone asked you to help them out by contributing your artistic skills for free? Yesterday? Last week? Five minutes ago? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

See, there’s this perception out there in the world (and we as artists are guilty of it too), that because we get intrinsic value from our work, that we don’t need to be compensated financially. In an ideal world, we would all make a living from our artistic practice. Some of you out there already are (and you make me very happy and proud and give me a great deal of hope, so thank you). But for the rest of us, where does it end?

Beginning to value your work also means beginning to say ‘no’. And I don’t know about you, but I find that scary. Scary because, if I say no to someone, am I cutting off all future ties? Will I lose paying business down the road if I don’t give them a freebie the first time? Maybe. I can’t answer those questions for you. But what I have experienced is this: often unpaid work leads to more of the same. Conversely, paid work often leads to more of the same.

I’m not saying you should never volunteer your skills and services. I do it all the time. I’m doing it right now. I’m not saying you should never give a discount to a new client to make yourself a bit more appealing. What I’m saying is, be strategic. Weigh it. Don’t just say ‘yes’ to everything because you are afraid the well of opportunities will run dry. In fact, the very opposite may be true: when you start turning down unpaid work, you make space in your life for work that pays. And if you value yourself, so will others.

So, how do you put a value on your work? There are three possible ways.

The first one is called the going rate. Talk to people who are out there doing something that is similar to what you are doing. Ask them how much they charge. Do they charge by the hour, the contract, or the piece? It’s important to know this information, because it is not good to under-price yourself. You may get people hiring you because they think you’re a good deal, but ultimately people also believe they get what they pay for, and will be wondering what it is that you are not doing that the competition is. Also, price wars do not help anyone—if your competition starts underpricing you, then where will you be?

Second: look to your union or governing body or trade organization to see if they have any guidelines around pricing. They can often be really helpful in this respect.

Third: there is a somewhat complex formula you can use to calculate your hourly rate. Check out Flying Solo, a blog from Australia for the exact formula (math was never my strong suit!).

Here’s my last word on the topic: some people subscribe to the romantic, bohemian notion of being a “starving artist”. That’s cool, but if you belong to that category I’m asking you to stop reading my column, because there’s nothing here for you. You wanna be an artist and (gasp!) make money at it? Keep reading. But first, you have to believe you can do it. Or at least be a good enough actor to fake it.

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

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The first post… September 27, 2008

Filed under: Arts Marketing,Business of Arts — Rebecca Coleman @ 7:50 am
Tags: , , ,

(originally published on January 31, 2008 on The Next Stage)

As actors, we spend a great deal of our time training to become masters of our art. We go to theatre school, we read all the books on acting, we train with coaches, and we apprentice. At some point a lot of us decide, often out of frustration, to produce our own work. So we pick a project, put up the show, and then are incredibly disappointed when a mere 20 people (or less) show up every night. You lose money, you lose self esteem, you lose your moxy. You get pissed off—you wonder who is out there supporting theatre, where are your friends, where did all the people go whose shows you have been supporting all these years?

In April, 2001, I had that exact experience for the first time. In February, 2006, I produced my third show. Five Women Wearing the Same Dress did 88% at the box office and turned a profit.

What made the difference? Marketing.

Theatre schools teach us the best acting techniques, but they severely lack in teaching us the business. This column, which will be written on a monthly basis, is focused on that—the business of being an artist. I will offer you tips and tricks from my own experience as a publicist for the past six years. Because quite honestly, nothing makes me happier than going to the theatre and seeing a house full of people I don’t know. It’s the best.

Why are we so resistant to putting time into the business of our work? Well, first of all it’s not sexy. Wouldn’t you much rather be using your time creatively? Sure, of course. You can create all day, but if no one sees it (or ideally, buys it), what’s the point? Secondly, plain old ordinary ignorance. What are the best ways to market yourself? How do you do it? Many artists feel overwhelmed by these questions. And you may not want to hear this, but sometimes you just gotta do it—set aside the time and make yourself sit down and do it. It may not be sexy or creative, but it is so very important.

Where do you begin? Start by asking yourself this question: what is it that makes you (or your company, or your theatre project) unique? On any given night in Vancouver, there is a myriad of choices, and you are not just competing with other theatre offerings. Films, restaurants, live music venues are all competing for your dollar. So why would someone want to come and see your show? It may be a unique staging, a script that hasn’t been produced here before, a rising star, or a hot topic. But you need something that makes you stand out. You will use this “uniqueness” as the basis of all your marketing.

Are you still stumped? No idea what makes you or your company unique? Then the place to start is with market research. This involves putting together a survey and getting it out to at least your family and friends and, ideally, complete strangers. My friend Bart Anderson, who teaches at VFS, has a survey he gives all of his acting students. It includes questions that help to pinpoint what people see you as (age, race, occupation, etc) and what they don’t. (If you want a copy of it, just email me)

If you are lucky enough to be doing a show in the near future include an online link to a survey (you can use sites like Survey Monkey for free) or a hard copy of your survey in the program. Offer to put their name into a draw for a prize if they answer your survey. You can find out tons of information this way, about what makes you unique, what your audience is like, and how to reach them. For more information on how to create surveys for theatre read this article on the Mission Paradox blog.

Until next time….

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